The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on the economy, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and adjourn not later than 2 p.m., if not previously concluded; on which spokespersons may speak for 15 minutes and all other Senators for 12 minutes and Senators may share time, by agreement of the House.
Order of Business
This day will go down in Irish and economic history as being a dark day for the economy, citizens, the taxpayer and the Government. If we were to repeat for decades all of the mistakes made in the misspending and waste to date of public money that have been discussed in the House on many occasions, including on PPARS, the botched decentralisation plans and the e-voting machines fiasco, we would still come nowhere near the figure the Government has today committed to a defunct bank. That is the context in which we are discussing the issue and how serious it is. The country faces an enormous challenge. We were told originally that the bank bailout would cost €4.5 billion and that it would be the cheapest in the world, yet we have now been told it will cost us €34 billion. The result is that Ireland will have the largest budget deficit in the eurozone. This crisis has cost the country dear and will continue to cost us. It raises many questions. What did the Government know? Why did it not know the full extent of the banking crisis? What was the Department of Finance doing? There are many questions about why information was not placed in the public arena when it should have been.
The Government's irresponsibility was evident again last night when the bank guarantee extension was introduced before we were given the figures today. It was yet again the wrong way to do business.
I make one plea that we have a real discussion in the House; that we have honesty on the figures; that we examine the implications for the taxpayer; that we look at the implications of the Croke Park agreement and the implications for the almost 500,000 who are unemployed, and that we look at where we are going with budgetary strategy. Can we have a real discussion in the House of what is happening with the cutbacks to front-line services? We need to have reality figures, not fantasy figures, which are we are finally beginning to see.
It is hard to believe the Government which was wrong about the bank guarantee, on the cost of the bailout, the measures needed to reassure the bond markets, growth projections and so much else. I ask that this afternoon we begin with a debate on the economy but clearly we need ongoing discussion of the approach to the budget and the real decisions that have to be taken which will have a huge impact on the lives of citizens. The rate of emigration among our young people has increased by 33% year on year. The best and brightest are leaving the country because of the Government's mistakes. It is time to replace it, but in the meantime can we have a real discussion in and proper use of the Houses of the Oireachtas in the decisions we have to make in the lead-up to the budget?
Much of this material will be discussed during today's important debate. I welcome the fact that we are having the debate on a day when it is highly topical. This is something we have always sought and I look forward to the contributions from Members on all sides of the House. However, Senator Fitzgerald has raised a very important issue. Questions are being raised which we must examine from a disinterested or non-political viewpoint. I can understand somebody getting figures wrong or being wrong, but I wish to be reassured that information was not kept from us. We need to hear today how the Government went from the position it held two years or one year ago on the banks to the one it now holds and about the steps that brought the figure from €5 billion to a possible €34 billion or the more likely €29 billion. I seek an honest assessment, to which I will give an honest response. It will not be an effort to set the Minister up for a fall. I simply wish to know how we reached these positions. I can understand how no one can have great certainty; therefore, what has happened today is important. However, it is awesome and terrifying and we need to be together in dealing with it. In that context, certainty is required on a number of issues.
We had a debate yesterday in which my colleagues, Senators Harris and Buttimer, took strong positions on the public sector. Obviously, Senator Buttimer's position is closest to mine, but that is not the issue. The points raised by Senator Harris must be discussed. While we were speaking in the House, two men, Mr. David Begg and Mr. Jack O'Connor, were outside the gates being threatened, barracked and jeered because they were taking a responsible position in an effort to ensure Irish workers would not end up on the streets, as they were being pressurised to do by European colleagues. It is not as simple as cutting costs, as Senator Harris would maintain. The Croke Park agreement is not just about cutting costs. While there is a requirement to reduce numbers and costs, it is also about service quality, which the Members of this House will be demanding time and again. The importance of the agreement is that whatever we do will be done on the basis that people buy into it, see the national position and recognise they must take a hit and that service quality, effectiveness and productivity must be at a higher level than anywhere else in Europe. That can be done if we work together. However, I seek recognition in the House of what responsible trade union leaders — I am not saying every trade union leader is responsible — are trying to do to help the country to get out of this situation. They are showing the moral courage which is lacking in many other parts of Irish society. They are standing up and taking the hit.
I will conclude on a less international matter, the name of my home town Daingean Uí Chúis — Dingle. Thug an Rialtas geallúint dúinn go ndéanfaí athrú ar ainm an bhaile, that it would go back to its original Irish and English titles of Daingean Uí Chúis and Dingle. I seek an indication of the timescale involved. It is a matter of huge concern to people i gCorca Dhuibhne atá ag maireachtáil i gCorca Dhuibhne agus atá ag brath ar an ainm sin ó thaobh tionsclaíochta agus turasóireachta, mar shampla. It is a brand product and name they need.
We now know the bank guarantee scheme was absolutely calamitous for the State. At the time it was put in place there were many economic, banking and financial views and opinions offered, but in the sea of information and technical language one view was excoriated and the person who expounded it was attacked relentlessly by the Minister for Finance and various members of the Government. He was Professor Morgan Kelly who suggested the cost of the Anglo Irish Bank bailout could amount to €15 billion. If only it was.
As we cart billions to the Anglo Irish Bank incinerator, we must be mindful of a number of commitments given at the time by the then Minister for Finance and now Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen. His first commitment was that Ireland would be the first country to come out of recession. That was an example of the triumph of vanity politics over reason and experience. No one has doubted the sincerity of or the effort made by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, but when it comes to political and economic judgment, it was absolutely hopeless. On 16 September 2007, following the Northern Rock debacle in the United Kingdom, the then Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, said the Government would not bail out banks from the consequences of their reckless lending. However, the figure is now running into unimaginable proportions and no one is in jail. A number of months ago in the House I referred to the deaths of two people who were members of the criminal world in this city. All media organs reported that they had been known to the Garda, as if their lives had been worth less than the lives of others because of that involvement. However, people who were involved in the near collapse of the economy are known to the Garda but will probably never serve as much as one month in jail. It is absolutely unthinkable that they appeared before an Oireachtas committee in June 2008 and gave a commitment that the banks were sound and the balance books were good. Now we know the lies they told. Who will pay for this economic mess? Will it be pensioners, students and the unemployed? I fear it will not be Fingers and Seanie.
The seriousness of the economic situation in which we find ourselves cannot be overstated. I am encouraged by many of the contributions from the Opposition benches which recognise the need to tackle it. We must recognise that we are very much a hostage to international factors and that the actions we take within this jurisdiction will determine whether we can emerge from it in a healthy economic state. Despite the figures announced today, I remain confident that we can, but it requires a degree of political sophistication and maturity that, for the most part, has not always been evident. It is unfortunate to hear analogies with what happened in Pearl Harbour being used in the other House, particularly when that event was ultimately followed by the dropping of the atomic bomb.
The bank guarantee was necessary. It has been described by the Governor of the Central Bank as too broad in its focus, but the bank guarantee extended last night was different. It offers means to the Minister for Finance to exclude certain financial instruments. Mistakes have been made and lessons have been learned. What astounds me is not so much the figure for Anglo Irish Bank, as it has been slowly emerging, particularly through the efforts of NAMA, but the sum of €3 billion going to Allied Irish Banks. It is something of which we all should take stock. A major mistake was made in appointing personnel from within the bank. The people appointed then are now standing aside.
Why were they not removed sooner?
The question is how we should deal with this. The debates we will have in the House will not only be about how we should resolve the banking crisis which affects the country's credibility economically, but also how we should deal with the huge obstacles presented in budget 2011, budget 2012 and budget 2013.
Those who are profiting politically are those who are saying "No." Those who want to face up to the country in which we must live will be there to take the decisions that must be made, be it the Government or the parties which make it up.
There is no doubt that we are in a sad and sorry state. We all wish the State well in its recovery and the crisis must be dealt with. The sad aspect is that we are still dealing with those who lent recklessly and consistently concealed from the State the information now becoming available. They dishonestly and deliberately misled the State. The Minister for Finance and the Department were consistently told lies. There was a consistent and continuous cover-up. That is the reason for all these revelations.
There will be statements on the economy after the Order of Business and I hope Members will not start the debate on the Order of Business.
I appreciate that. I welcome the fact the situation in Allied Irish Banks, a truly systemic bank with branches throughout the State, is being addressed. Sadly, wrong appointments were made. There was never a total clear-out either at board or senior management level. The sad fact is that inside the banks, including AIB, there are people managing the impaired portfolio who were responsible, at least partly, for that reckless lending and could have been involved in the cover-up. In the interests of the taxpayer the Minister needs to get a firm grip on the situation with regard to further appointments, the total clear out of the board and the senior management level. This should have been done before but now it will have to be addressed because it will be nationalisation effectively for quite a while. We must wish it well in the interests of the economy and the State.
I wish to refer to another matter and about which I know Senator Ned O'Sullivan and others also have concerns.
Speakers are limited to two minutes and that time has expired.
I appreciate that but I must refer to Kerry Airport and the threat it is under from Ryanair. This is reckless. These people are breaching — welching on — a public service obligation agreement. I wish the Minister for Transport well in addressing this issue and examining the options because the service is vital for tourism.
The Senator's time is expired.
I support Senator O'Toole on the Dingle-Daingean Uí Chúis issue and having the name properly restored. This was voted on and passed years ago and should have been dealt with by now.
In 2006, as many of my colleagues will know, I produced a policy document, A New Approach to Ageing and Ageism, in which I made 28 recommendations. We have a long way to go before we get all these recommendations implemented. There are one million people over the age of 60 living on the island of Ireland. I do not think anyone could have missed the fact that this week was positive ageing week. I am pleased that the topic of older people has been given more attention.
There are three areas of concern with regard to ageing. It is unjust and a denial of the human rights of Irish people who want to stay in work after the age of 65 in the private and public sectors that they cannot do so. A person should have a choice to stay in his or her job if he or she wishes. There is discrimination in the health service. A woman between the ages of 50 and 64 is given a free breast cancer screening whereas there is no free breast cancer screening after the age of 64 even though a woman is seven times more likely to develop breast cancer after that age. International travel for people over the age of 65 is three times more expensive than for people under that age. These are issues to do with the human rights of older people.
Will the Minister for Health and Children come to the House to explain why she has not increased the availability of breast cancer screening? I have made this request to her on numerous occasions, including at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Health and Children.
I draw attention to the fact that when a person reaches 70 years of age, he or she is required to be medically certified as fit to drive. How dare they make this a requirement. The rules for older drivers need to be overhauled. People may not wish to go to their GP for a certificate. If people in rural areas are not free to drive and get around to meet people and go shopping, they may be at risk of being isolated which can lead to sickness and depression. I thank the Cathaoirleach for being lenient with the time I have taken to speak about positive ageing week.
I welcome what Senator O'Toole said. I know this is a bad day for the economy and I know that people think the rock of the banking debacle lying on them is the worst they have to deal with, but there is a larger rock coming down on them and that is the public sector finances to which the Minister referred yesterday. If there is to be any credibility in the Croke Park deal, cuts in numbers are going to have to be delivered soon because the deal is running out of road and credibility with the public. I hope the Minister of State, Deputy Dara Calleary, takes serious action with regard to the TUI. We cannot have this game whereby the TUI does not sign up to the deal and then wants the benefits. That must not be allowed. So far as I know, the Minister of State is of that mind but the problem has been that once it gets to the Secretary General and into the Department of Finance and the Department of the Taoiseach, cowardice and soft soaping start to appear.
I agree with the point made by Senator O'Toole. Yesterday I saw David Begg and Jack O'Connor, the leaders of the trade union movement who were trying to do their duty, being barracked by the usual bunch of Trots who want it every way. They want to be a part of the Croke Park deal and they want the benefits but they also want to be outside the deal and posturing as socialists. This must stop. If one does not sign up for the deal, one does not benefit from it. I hope the Minister of State, Deputy Calleary, is backed to the hilt by the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan. I will be keeping a close eye on it because I will be back to it if they do not back the Minister of State. The Croke Park deal is meant to deliver cuts, we want to see numbers cut, we want to see credibility in the deal and, in the meantime, we want the Trots to get off the backs of the legitimate trade union movement.
I endorse and support what my colleague, Senator Coghlan, said about Kerry Airport. Will the Leader arrange for the Minister for Transport, Deputy Noel Dempsey, to attend the House and brief Members on the ongoing critical situation? Aer Arann ran a very good operation for a number of years——
——but this was underbid in a reckless, ugly, capitalist move by Ryanair——
——which said it could run a better service for less money and less subvention. Now, completely in breach of its contract, Ryanair has given just one month's notice to Kerry Airport that it will withdraw all operations. This is the ugliest face of capitalism I have ever seen.
To cut its costs, it scuppered the service.
The Minister for Transport is addressing the situation and I compliment all the Oireachtas Members for Kerry South, Kerry North and west Limerick who are working together in a non-partisan fashion. Will the Leader arrange for a debate on the issue because, as a major tourism county, Kerry is greatly dependent on its regional airport?
I endorse and support Senator Joe O'Toole's comments today and yesterday on the Croke Park agreement. He is talking sense. The Croke Park agreement is one of the critical steps on the road to recovery. When we have rounded this famous corner, it will be seen to have been one of the major turning points. I commend the trade union leaders, Jack O'Connor and David Begg. The way in which they were abused yesterday was criminal. One would wonder what heads these people have when they heckle the people representing the workers and who have a responsibility to workers to try to hold and create jobs. One wonders about the priorities of such people. Senator Harris is right in calling them crazy Trots or whatever he called them. There is no sense to them.
I refer Members to a very good article in The Irish Times last week by David Begg on the subject of where we are going in terms of our attitude to job creation. That subject could be debated in this House. Ba mhaith liom cuidiú le Senator O’Toole ó thaobh Dingle-Daingean Uí Chúis as that is long overdue and should be put to bed.
I add to the concerns raised about the bank bailout. Even though we were hostage to international fortunes, we are also captive to our own bad economic regulatory affairs and to the lack of accountability by the Government, the Financial Regulator and the boards of governors and boards of directors of the banks. When will we see people held to account and held responsible for their action and inaction?
The people have been told lies and misled and there has been concealment and dishonesty. The only ones to have paid are the people. When is this going to stop? When will we see people put in jail, debarred from serving and made to pay a price? The public have paid the price.
Like others, I would like a debate on aviation, something I have called for numerous times. A policy is being pursued by the Dublin Airport Authority to the effect it is Dublin and Terminal 2 at all costs and forget about Shannon and Cork.
Cork is the capital of the southern region and international flights from America cannot land in Cork Airport even though it is the gateway to the south. When will Government aviation policy deal with the cost of airport landing charges, handling fees, the €10 travel tax and the monopoly exercised by the Dublin Airport Authority over Cork and Shannon airports? When will the Minister be fair to the regions? There is talk about balanced development and the national spatial strategy and all of that but when Dublin controls everything, the rest suffers. When will it end?
Without taking away from the seriousness of the banking and financial crisis in this country, I ask the Leader to have a debate on the fishing industry as a matter of urgency. This was promised to me in May 2009. Stringent new requirements of the Department of Transport mean 33 fishing vessels in Rossaveal, Dingle, Castletownbere, Union Hall or Dunmore East will be tied to piers at a loss of 150 jobs. Fishermen and farmers along the coast did not gain much from the economic boom in this country. They toiled and went out in bad weather and some lost their lives over the past number of years. I hope they will not suffer in the decline. They are looking for very little.
Regulations require people to spend up to €100,000 on vessels worth no more than €10,000 or €15,000. What is valuable to these vessels is a fishing licence, which is worth a substantial figure up to €150,000. The Minister told me the Department of Transport regulations must be enforced. There is a code of practice. These daytripping vessels go out at 6 a.m. or 7 a.m., subject to weather, and return at night. They are supporting indigenous fishing families along the coastline. Fishermen are a quiet race and rarely protest outside this House. However, they are suffering and I ask that we have a debate on the fishing issue, including the Common Fisheries Policy that will be signed off in Europe in the next short while. The critical issue is fishing vessels between 15 m and 18 m. As of midnight, they will not be allowed to fish and this affects 33 families, most of whom are involved in family run businesses. I feel very strongly for them. These people are entitled to fair play and fair procedures at the same time as we have debates on major economic issues. If fishermen and farmers in this country are unable to work or progress, the situation facing this country will be much sadder.
I echo the calls for an urgent debate on air transport policy. The shocking revelations of the past 24 hours must lead us to conclude that we need to examine urgently job creation and the conditions required for job creation across the country. If the Government is serious about balanced regional development, it must look to ensure the future of Shannon Airport and other airports serving the western region. I ask for the patience of the Cathaoirleach to hear these words from a person who said that Shannon is being run by remote control from Dublin and, as part of Aer Rianta, does not have the freedom to compete for business to the fullest extent with Dublin. "The dead hand of Dublin was slowly strangling Shannon Airport'' he said and as long as Shannon and Cork remain under Aer Rianta ownership and control, they offer no competitive threat to the company's main profit generator, Dublin Airport. He said he wanted to see Shannon Airport thrive and prosper and "We believe that the airport must have complete freedom to market itself as a regional gateway to the mid west and west of Ireland in direct competition with Dublin." Those remarkably prescient words were spoken 11 years ago by Des O'Malley, when he recognised the threat that existed to Shannon Airport. That threat still exists and is more serious now.
No matter what one thinks of Mr. O'Leary, we must conclude his track record in the aviation business is second to none. He has pointed out quite correctly that Shannon Airport was dying on its feet. At the height of Shannon's success in 2008, Ryanair employed 300 staff in Shannon, had six aircraft at the airport and served 53 routes around Europe. Two years later, Ryanair has one aircraft there, employs 45 people and, after its Paris route closes in a few weeks, it will serve just six destinations from Shannon. Something urgently must be done. Along with everyone on the west coast, I welcome the recent announcement of the proposed M17 motorway, which was announced with great fanfare. This will serve a major tranche of the west coast and link with the newly opened M6 motorway. Part of the reason for the new road network is to ferry passengers safely and efficiently to Shannon Airport. Unless something is done urgently, that road will ferry people to an empty airport in two years' time.
Next year will mark the 70th anniversary of the execution of Tipperary man Mr. Harry Gleeson for a gruesome murder. In the intervening years, much analysis and research has been carried out on the case. Mr. Marcus de Búrca did a masterly job of dissecting the case in his book. He showed a litany of false procedures, evidence that was tampered with and local conspiracies. A recent television programme upholds the points put forward by Mr. de Búrca. The legal people involved in that said there is a need for the State to re-examine the case and offer a pardon to Harry Gleeson, as late as it may be. Justice delayed is justice denied. We owe a debt of gratitude to people like Mr. Marcus de Búrca and TG4 for taking cases such as this and arguing the need to revisit them. Throughout his life until the very end, Mr. Seán MacBride contended that Harry Gleeson was innocent and the victim of a miscarriage of justice. His solicitor, Mr. Timoney, said that in the final moments before his execution, Harry Gleeson said that he was an innocent man and hoped that sometime in the future someone would take up his case and the real culprit would be found. I ask the Leader to take up this matter with the Minister for Justice and Law Reform and appoint a High Court judge to examine the case. Having looked at it, there is no doubt in my mind and there is no doubt locally that Harry Gleeson was an innocent man. Some 70 years later, it would be wrong not to use the opportunity to clear his name. It is good for society and it would be good for justice.
I join colleagues, led by Senator Fitzgerald, who expressed concern about what is happening today. Today is the culmination of a dreadful process and represents a dark and disturbing day in our history. While we must recognise its gravity, we musttry to progress from here. It merits repeating that the advice of Fine Gael on Anglo Irish Bank should have been taken. The advice of Fine Gael on the economy should have been taken. It is not wrong to repeat that because the public needs to hear it. Based on my experience of meeting people over the summer in their homes, on the streets and at clinics, people need to see tangible evidence that top salaries in the public service and the banks in this country will be capped and the bonus system will stop. Senator Buttimer's point yesterday about the lowly paid public servants is correct. If it does not end, we cannot maintain the confidence of people in any rectification. There must be clear evidence we are dealing with waste and quangos. Department by Department, State board by State board, there should be an audit of areas of waste and expenditure. That can be achieved without affecting front-line services. There is an abomination of waste in this country and if audited and eliminated, we could correct the finances.
I add my voice to those seeking a discussion on air services, particularly the public service obligation for Derry. I do not exclude Donegal. When we talk about job creation we talk about the importance of tourism and tourism related industries. One of the greatest keys is access. We in the north west have a difficulty with our geographical location and the fact the local airport for the area is in a different jurisdiction. We had to battle against Belfast when I got the Dublin-Derry issue back on the agenda again. MLAs and MPs in the Northern Executive and the British Parliament were circulated by the airports in Belfast to try to stop that at every cost because they saw it as a threat to their airport. We now have the new leader of the UUP running the gauntlet to try to stop us getting a decent road from Aughnacloy to Derry. Access is key for us. Between 48% and 52% of passengers using Derry Airport come from Donegal. Derry is a city of culture. It will be the stopover for the Clipper service and it will be the location for the north west Milwaukee festival in the next couple of years. We need the access to be kept open. I look forward to a chance to debate that not only in the Seanad and in the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement which is due to commence at 11.30 a.m., but also in the inaugural North-South meeting of MLAs and the Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas that will take place next week. I wish that event well. It is time to get over the small-minded pettiness that politics sometimes throws up and look at real geographical movement and at trying to develop the island of Ireland in all its potential and economic value.
We are talking today about the difficulties we face as a region and as a jurisdiction but we have considerable potential if we work together as one entity rather than engaging in small petty political lambasting of each other.
As I spoke twice yesterday on the economy and I have to speak on it again today, I do not intend to say very much about it but I say this: I listened to the broadcast this morning on the early news and I could sense a shudder of fear going through the people. We all feel that fear. That is why speeches like that of Senator Marc MacSharry yesterday, which was a clear clarion call that dealt directly and honestly with the situation and called for us to look forward and be constructive, are a very important contribution because when people are frightened they need something like that to look forward to.
I wish to raise another issue. I ask the Leader to intervene directly with the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills on this and to allow us to have a debate on the operation of the residential institutions redress scheme. I say this in light of the situation regarding Bethany Home in Rathgar which operated between 1921 and 1972. This was an organisation run by Protestant evangelical groups for the accommodation of prisoners, prostitutes, alcoholics and unmarried mothers. Many children were born there. I attended recently a service of commemoration in Mount Jerome Cemetery where there is an unmarked grave in which more than 200 children are buried.
In 1939 the State's inspectors reported cases of serious medical neglect and the State deflected that and publicly instructed the institution not to include under any circumstances Roman Catholic citizens in their remit. They were sectarianising it and deflecting the situation which was appalling. The Department of Health and Children in recent years told the then Department of Education and Science that Bethany Home did come under the remit of the redress scheme but the then Department of Education and Science rejected that advice. The legal situation is perfectly clear; the home was registered by the Minister for Justice and Law Reform as a place of detention for offending female, non-Catholic children and young persons under 17. We know the legal position. The Government must act on this.
This is vitally important. The Church of Ireland Archbishop, Dr. John Neill, has expressed grave concern about this and has stated within the past two weeks that he is deeply concerned at the information revealed by recent research and the Church of Ireland has repeatedly petitioned the State to have the home brought under the remit of the residential institutions redress board. The Church of Ireland archbishop, the Department of Health and Children and legal authorities all say that should be the case but it has not been done. We would not know about it but for the remarkable and courageous work done by Derek Leinster, a survivor of the home, and the academic and historian, Dr. Niall Meehan. The Seanad should play a role in this because in this economic situation human rights must not be forgotten.
In light of the facts that we have this morning of the very disturbing figures, albeit that they are horrendous they are manageable, it is not necessarily a time just to say that is then and this is now. We do have to look again and see what actually happened. It is my contention that not only was there reckless lending but there was knowingly reckless lending. That is something we must ensure never happens again. If it was the case that bonuses were paid not on the quality of the loans but on the volume of the loans we must ensure that it cannot and does not proceed into the future. This is a serious matter and it could happen again. It is not the case that there is €29 billion of non-performing loans; €29 billion has just been written off which means that non-performing loans are much higher than that. It is again my contention that there was deliberate and knowingly reckless lending. If that was the case we must ensure it never happens again. People should be held accountable.
I seek cross-party support for a debate on transport. I notice when driving that people are still using mobile phones as they drive. When people go to drive-through restaurants they do not all bring their meals home — they eat them as they drive. One can now play movies in cars which must be a distraction. In time I have no doubt there will be a supermarket offer for a mini deep-fat fryer that one can plug into the cigarette lighter to have one's chips on the go. If human nature is not going to change we have the capacity to put into cars technology that will prevent collisions. As human nature will not change is it not time that we in this country gave a lead and put in technology that will prevent collisions automatically if a car is within a certain distance of an object that it could hit?
I wish to pick up on the theme raised by Senator Fitzgerald about the challenge the country is facing. I was listening to the radio this morning and heard what was going on as I was on my way to drop off my young son at primary school which he has been attending for three weeks. Young life is full of possibility. Schoolchildren are going to a place that is secure, provided for by the State, and is kind and full of comfort. People want them to do well.
Let us compare that to the situation in which the country finds itself this morning. I wish to draw attention to one fact that has not been discussed in the House so far, namely, the statement by the Government that it will defer our monthly bond auctions for two months. The implications of that are so stark and serious as to be nearly unspeakable in terms of what it means for the country. The Governor of the Central Bank spoke this morning about the need to reprogramme budgetary priorities. We find ourselves today with debt as a percentage of national income of approximately 32% with a commitment to move to 3% by 2014.
We are facing a profound and existential crisis in the country today. Senator Buttimer has called many times in the past year for a debate about the future of politics. I echo that call. We are calling again and again for our people to come together in a common purpose to make our country secure. It is now apparent that our politicians need to do the same.
We must find a new way of working together and create new institutions and a new culture that will make that happen. A definition of insanity is often offered to be to do the same thing again and again and to expect a different result. We are facing such a crisis in the country that it is incumbent on all of us to reflect on how we do our business and to find a way to change that to keep the country secure.
I agree with Senator Donohoe that this is a national crisis and that everyone has a role to play. On the bonds issue, we are funded until the middle of next year so there is no need to raise further funds in October and November. I believe December is a closed month. It would be irresponsible to have a bond auction especially given that the current rate is 6.9%. That is far higher than Ireland should be charged at this stage.
I commend the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, and the Government on making very hard, strong decisions last night. Like Senator Donohoe, I appeal for a type of Tallaght strategy. Never before have we needed such a strategy involving in particular the main Opposition party. From what I can see, the less responsible the other party, the Labour Party, is in regard to the guarantee——
We are taking questions to the Leader.
The point I am making is that the Labour Party goes up in the polls and Fine Gael, which is being responsible, goes down in the polls. The more irresponsible one is as far as national funding is concerned, the more popular one is in the polls.
The Senator's party is up three points for bankrupting the economy. Well done.
Irrespective of the cost of €34 billion, at the end of the day, this is a very wealthy country.
Tell that to the 450,000 unemployed.
We can have that discussion during statements on the economy later.
I appeal for the type of leadership shown under Mr. Alan Dukes, who is playing a very important role in regard to Anglo Irish Bank at present. He was a very responsible leader of Fine Gael, although a price was paid for that when he lost the leadership of that party. I believe Fine Gael will act in a very responsible manner. There is a very good case for the extension of this Parliament for another few years because of this emergency. It is in the Constitution. I feel we should bring on board responsible members of the Opposition——
It is the Government's only way of staying there, its only way of surviving.
There should be no interruptions. These are questions to the Leader.
We need to be here until 2014.
No caesareans — it is full term.
Members, please. I call Senator Bradford.
I support every word of my colleague Senator Paschal Donohoe. I say to Senator Leyden that it is not a Tallaght strategy or a national government we need to speak about but we certainly need to speak about a new type of politics. My fear is that there is an inclination to replace the economics of illusion which has brought us to where we are with what I would call the politics of delusion. The politics of delusion is the simplistic view that somehow changing the chairs on the deck will bring salvation to the country; it is not as simple as that.
There was talk earlier of jailing bankers, and all of that is fine. However, when all the bankers are jailed and all the bank boards have been replaced, while it will be satisfying for the majority of our citizens, the current budget deficit will still be almost €20 billion and the real problems will not have gone away. The figures presented to us last night as part of the bank bailout and economic recovery presentation are absolutely frightening but they must and, I believe, can be tackled and challenged. However, we need a new type of politics to do so.
We in this House are better placed than those in the other House to talk about that type of politics and the type of political response which is required. I speak not of a national government but of the need to have a national political truce. We on this side of the House should co-operate with the Government in order to put through the next budget which will decide the fate of the country.
Hear, hear. Well said.
We should play our part and we should decide with our political partners on this side and on the other side of the House a date next September or October for the next general election. Between now and then, we should put petty party politics aside and decide to put Ireland first. Politics can wait and elections can wait but Ireland cannot wait. It is as serious as that. The old thinking and the old tweedledum versus tweedledee is not just out of date but it is dangerously irrelevant to the Ireland of today. Let this House lead with a mature political reflection on where we are and how we can get to where we should be. We have a few weeks, not months, to turn around the ship of state. I appeal to all of my colleagues to think differently and maturely on the crisis we face.
I agree with Senator Bradford. We need to move politics to a new age, given the difficulties the country now faces, and we need to have co-operation. We must forget about the politics of the past, when the nod and the wink moved the line forward. We must consider co-operation. I welcome Senator Bradford's comments in regard to having that co-operation in the lead-up to the budget and thereafter next year, given the current fiscal difficulties the country is facing. The world would look at Ireland as being a better place if this were the case because we are being portrayed in a negative manner by some of the world's media, which is having a negative effect on the world markets and affects our borrowing capacity and the cost we are paying for that borrowing. We must be responsible as public representatives in articulating views and in co-operating with each other on both sides of the House. I hope we can set the example here in the Seanad and perhaps the other House would follow.
On a second issue, I agree with Senator Hanafin that we have to draw a line in the sand with regard to today's figures. However, we can only draw that line in the sand if those who created the problem within the banks are punished. They have to be punished and they have to pay the ultimate price, whatever that price may be, and people in higher echelons will decide what that price may be. Ordinary people out there trying to pay their mortgages or rent deserve to be assured that those people are punished for the wrong they demonstrated and inflicted on the Irish people.
I wish to refer to the issue of the Department of Transport's awarding of the PSO to the regional airports. It is of vital importance that the PSO is protected in any budget and in any upcoming reorganisation of the regional airports. I come from County Donegal, where there is no rail access and where road access is not brilliant, although improvements are underway and are planned by the Northern authorities in conjunction with the Minister here. I ask that we have a discussion on transport, discuss the regional airports and also have a discussion with the Minister on ensuring the development of the road to Donegal proceeds, given the negative press it is receiving from elements in the North.
I ask Members to be brief as time is up. I call Senator Doherty.
All of us are taken aback by the statements early this morning. I want to focus on one point, namely, political accountability. Government Members in this Chamber have mentioned that the scale of the debts is manageable but the reality is that the people who will manage them are not the Minister for Finance or the Taoiseach but the people in our communities who will see more cuts inflicted as a result of today's announcement. This must be resisted. There is talk about national government, which might have happened because the polls for the first time have shown that both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil combined have less than 50% support of the people; therefore it would not really be a national government if that were the case.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business in the context of political accountability. It is important that we look forward but we also need to have political accountability. Particularly given the RTE "Freefall" programme, which Members of the Government might not have seen because of the think-in in Galway at the time, we have seen clearly what happened and who was informed in regard to the insolvency of Anglo Irish Bank, a bank which was guaranteed because the Minister for Finance came in and briefed Members of these Houses that it was a liquidity issue — a cash flow issue — not a solvency issue. Whether the Minister for Finance deliberately lied to people of these Houses and withheld information in regard to that matter——
That is outrageous. The Senator should withdraw that remark.
——or whether he got it completely wrong is irrelevant. The reality, as we know today, is that €34 billion is the price tag of that decision. The Minister for Finance got it absolutely and terribly wrong. There needs to be political accountability. We cannot allow somebody who is charged by and has the confidence of these Houses to make decisions, to brief Members of these Houses, to state categorically that it was not a solvency issue——
The Senator's time is up.
——when the information was out there in the public arena——
Senator Doherty's time is up. I call Senator Daly.
——and put us in a position where we guaranteed a bank which is costing us €34 billion.
I formally propose an amendment to the Order of Business that Seanad Éireann debate a motion of no confidence in the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, today.
The Senator's time is up. Statements on the economy will follow and the Senator will have time to contribute on that later. I call Senator Daly.
On a point of order, is the Cathaoirleach accepting my amendment to the Order of Business, or is he just pushing it aside because it is a motion of no confidence in the Minister for Finance?
The Senator must give formal notice.
I am proposing a change to the Order of Business in order that we can debate——
Will the Cathaoirleach accept the amendments to the Order of Business proposed earlier, in respect of which no formal notice was given? I am asking that we hear statements to express no confidence in the Minister for Finance. I formally propose an amendment that statements be taken.
I can accept such an amendment.
It is an amendment to the Order of Business.
Is the Senator proposing an amendment to the Order of Business?
Yes, that statements to express no confidence in the Minister for Finance be taken.
I want to be fair to everyone. The Senator had gone way over time and I was trying to allow another Senator to speak, which is why I was not taking his amendment. However, I will take the amendment proposed to the Order of Business.
I thank the Cathaoirleach.
Senator Daly is next, but time is up and I must put others off.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for giving me the opportunity to speak. When the Minister of State attends the House, will the Leader allow me to contribute on Deputy Burton's comments on radio this morning which were nothing short of reckless? The Labour Party's finance spokesperson was discussing defaulting on senior bondholders which legally would be the same as defaulting on deposit holders. As such, Deputy Burton was proposing that the Government should default on deposit holders.
That is utter rubbish.
I wish to indicate to Members that my hands are tied in respect of the time allowed.
As Senator McCarthy is well aware, that is what Deputy Burton stated this morning. She wanted to give bondholders a hair cut to a figure of 50% but no better man than the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, to put the matter in simple terms.
Some €34 billion. That is simple enough.
He stated it would be like going to a bank manager, telling him or her that we would default on a loan and asking for another one. This is what the Labour Party proposes to do in government. It wants to go back to the market to ask for more money, despite defaulting on our loan.
The Government is defaulting on citizens.
We have gone over time.
It is as simple as that. If this is what the future holds for the country under the Labour Party in government, God help us all.
In support of my colleague from County Donegal, will the Leader arrange for the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, to attend the House to discuss the issue of regional airports? We had a positive meeting with the Minister last night about Kerry Airport, but other regional airports will be affected by the conclusion of the funding allocation in July next year. I thank the Cathaoirleach for his indulgence.
I have to call on the Leader to reply.
I formally second the amendment proposed by Senator Doherty.
On a point of order, the Cathaoirleach indicated to me that I would be given a chance to speak.
Unfortunately, I am unable to give the Senator that chance. My hands are tied by the rules of the House and we are three minutes over time. I will not call anyone else. Three others Members have indicated their desire to speak.
On a point of order, I will not make a statement,——
I will not hear anyone else.
I formally second the motion to amend the Order of Business.
Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, McCarthy, Boyle, Coghlan, Harris, O'Sullivan, Buttimer, Cannon, O'Reilly, Norris, Hanafin, Donohoe, Leyden, Bradford, Ó Domhnaill, Doherty and Daly made their views known to the House on the announcement made this morning by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan.
Yesterday Senator O'Toole and others asked me to contact the Minister of State, Deputy Calleary, concerning a debate on progress under the Croke Park agreement. The Minister of State will be only too pleased to attend the House given an opportunity to do so but definitely bimonthly to provide an up-to-date report on events for which he has been given special responsibility.
On the announcement made this morning by the Minister for Finance, the House will discuss the economy later and I can confirm that the debate will continue next Wednesday. It will be an opportunity for every Senator to make a contribution. I congratulate most Senators on the responsible way in which they have conducted their affairs, but under no circumstances can I agree with Senator Doherty. Deputy Brian Lenihan is one of the most outstanding public representatives to have held the portfolio in the history of the State.
He got it terribly wrong.
No interruptions, please.
I came through the gates of Leinster House——
No matter how good or nice the man is, he got it terribly wrong.
The Senator is misguided. May I give him the benefit of my experience?
I am sorry. Did the Minister get it right? If it was just a cash flow problem, we would not be paying €34 billion.
I ask the Senator to resume his seat.
The Minister got it wrong.
The Senator should resume his seat or leave the Chamber. There should be no interruptions while the Leader is replying. I ask the Leader to reply to the points raised.
I first passed through the gates of Leinster House in 1962 and I have met no one with greater ability or who has shown greater honesty or integrity than the Minister.
He has been a shining example in the national interest. The personal sacrifices he is making in the name of the people——
It is the people who will have to make sacrifices because of the cuts that will be imposed as a result of the decisions taken by the Minister.
The Senator should understand that this is Seanad Éireann. I do not want any interruptions. He should understand the rules of the House. I ask the Leader to reply to the points raised on the Order of Business and not to make comments across the floor.
I am addressing my remarks to the House through the Cathaoirleach. The Minister has been a shining example and motivator for the captains of industry, in particular, those who are providing and creating employment and will play a part in the future. This must be acknowledged in the Upper House.
I thank the leaders of the political groups and all colleagues in the House for the responsible way in which they are conducting themselves. I agree with Senator O'Toole on the leadership being given by the trade union movement.
Among others, Senators O'Toole, Coghlan, O'Sullivan, Buttimer, Keaveney and Ó Domhnaill referred to Dingle and asked about relevant developments under the legislation. I will make inquiries in the office of the Minister today and revert to the Senators directly.
Senators called for a debate on regional airports, particularly Kerry, Cork, Shannon, Derry and Waterford airports.
Of course. Senators asked for the matter to be debated with the Minister at the earliest opportunity. I will see what I can do in that regard.
Senator Mary White referred to the considerable success of Positive Ageing Week and gave various examples. She is to be highly commended for her stance and publication in this regard. She referred to the human rights issues involved in making a choice to work beyond 65 years of age, breast screening for women aged over 64 years and requiring someone over 70 years of age to have a doctor's certificate. I will pass on her comments to the Minister and have the matter debated in the House the next time we discuss the health portfolio.
Senator Ó Murchú referred to the late Harry Gleeson — next year will mark the 70th anniversary of his death — and called on me to ask the Minister to appoint a High Court judge in order that the case might be reopened and the State might consider granting a pardon. The Senator outlined what could have been a serious miscarriage of justice. I will consult the Minister and do everything I can to determine whether he will respond positively to the Senator's request.
Senator O'Donovan called for a debate on the fishing industry, particularly the Common Fisheries Policy, the codes of practice and new regulations to be introduced tomorrow. He outlined his serious concerns about the right of the 33 families in question to live and work in the place where they were born and reared. I will have no difficulty in allowing an all-afternoon debate on the Common Fisheries Policy. I know the potential is enormous and there could be significant job creation if everything was put in place to exploit this natural resource that we have as an island nation.
Senator Norris spoke about the redress board and the archbishop in the Church of Ireland regarding Bethany House. I fully share the Senator's sentiments and I will do everything I can to highlight this issue for the Minister and see what can be done.
Senator Hanafin called for a debate on transport issues, particularly those involving black box technology. Part of this technology can ensure a vehicle would be at least 25 metres from a vehicle in front. The distance can be changed to 30 metres or 50 metres depending on the programming. I saw it in America when I chaired the Oireachtas committee dealing with enterprise, trade and small business. It works very well in the state where we visited a university and the matter is worthy of a debate in the House at the earliest possible time.
Senator Pearse Doherty has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That statements on the lack of confidence in the Minister for Finance be taken today." However, the amendment has not been seconded and subsequently falls. Is the Order of Business agreed to?
On a point of order, I clearly heard Senator Hannigan formally second my motion. If this is political——
As far as I am concerned, I did not call him. I did not call anybody else in that respect on the Order of Business. Unless called on the Order of Business, a Senator is not entitled to second any proposal. People have a free right to oppose the Order of Business if they wish to.
I believe this is a case of protecting the Minister for Finance in not allowing the debate to take place.
I am not protecting anybody here and I am independent. Members may want to play local politics in this Chamber.
This is national politics. It is the biggest decision taken by the State in a long time.