Order of Business

On behalf of the House, I extend our heartiest congratulations to Senator Alex White on his elevation yesterday. We wish him well in the future following his promotion.

Senators

Hear, hear.

The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on the economy (resumed), to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and conclude not later than 5.30 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, with the Minister to be called on ten minutes before the conclusion of the debate to make closing comments and take questions from party leaders or spokespersons; and No. 33, motion No. 17, regarding domestic electricity prices, to be taken at 5.30 p.m. and conclude not later than 7.30 p.m.

Will the Leader of the House explain why the House did not sit yesterday?

Why is no legislation scheduled for the week?

Will the Leader outline the work programme for the House in the weeks to come? Why is there no legislation before the House? Why is the Government not giving this House legislation? Why is no legislation being initiated here? Has the Government run out of steam to the extent that no legislation is ready to be put before these Houses? At a time of unprecedented social and economic turmoil in this country, and with these Houses not having sat for 12 weeks, it is extraordinary that the Government has not prepared any legislation. It is quite unacceptable. Will the Leader provide an explanation to this House as soon as possible, preferably when he is replying at the conclusion of the Order of Business?

We have heard again today about the extraordinary waste of money on electronic voting machines, in FÁS and in the HSE. It is very difficult for people who are under so much pressure and who are having their electricity cut off or are having to watch every penny or deal with their incomes being halved or lost to see such a waste of money at Government level. It is quite extraordinary that the culture of Government has not changed.

I want to make a point about the role of the Opposition at budget time. There has been a great deal of discussion about the possibility of a national Government being formed in the national interest. As an Opposition, of course we have the national interest at heart and will do the right thing. I challenge the Government to do things differently in the run-up to this year's budget. The role of Opposition in this Parliament involves talking constructively about the challenges facing this country. Will the Government set out what it will do to change the way it behaves when making budgetary decisions? Will there be advance scrutiny of the options being considered by the Government? Will we have an opportunity to amend the proposals that will be made by the Government? Will targets be set for individual Departments? Will such targets be evaluated and monitored? As we can see from all the waste that is reported in each day's newspapers, that has not happened to date. The system must change, as we can no longer have this all or nothing vote on budget day. I challenge the Government to specify what it intends to do in the national interest to change the culture it has allowed to grow in the past 12 years in setting and debating the budget in the Houses.

I also raise the question of the reason the House did not sit yesterday. While I acknowledge the Leader comes under pressure from the Government, all Members were under the impression that the Seanad would sit three days a week from the outset of this session last week. It is embarrassing, gives snowballs to those who are critical of the House to throw at Members and completely unacceptable. The Government should be ashamed of itself for not bringing forward legislation. I recognise that the economy correctly is taking up 99% of the Government's time. However, does this mean there are departmental draftsmen doing nothing? Members are waiting for legislation to be presented. To be helpful to the Leader, I remind him that there are 12 Private Members' Bills, including some produced by one of the Government parties, on the Order Paper. Some of the aforementioned legislation was withdrawn on the basis that the Government would make progress on the issues involved. I refer, for instance, to the Credit Union Savings Protection Bill which I introduced, Senator Bacik's Climate Protection Bill and the Construction Contracts Bill produced by my colleague, Senator Quinn, among others. The Members concerned await replies on issues that were meant to be dealt with at departmental level. I suggest to the Leader that Members should begin to make progress on some of this legislation to show the world that this House can operate, legislate and deal with issues of importance to ordinary people, even if the other House is in a legislative stasis.

Last week, in common with three or four other speakers, I raised with the Leader the importance of having a debate on the Croke Park agreement. Over the weekend I noticed that some Departments of State still had not brought forward their cost cutting and savings proposals for implementation.

Who will ask the reason for this and examine what they are saying? I ask the Leader for a date on which the Minister of State with responsibility for the public service will come to the House to explain to Members some simple matters such as the objectives in this regard, the exact numbers he expects to cut from the public sector, the exact number of millions of euro that must be saved and how this will be achieved. He should do so in order that everyone can get behind it, as there are examples of waste.

I will conclude by referring to an extraordinary case that came to light over the weekend. Six months ago a homeless man walked into a supermarket in Galway and stole a €6 bottle of wine. He was put in jail in Cork where he has been kept for six months. He appeared in court last week and the regulations require that three members of the Prison Service bring him there and back. It is time we began to examine such matters, asked the reason and when it is going to stop.

In fairness, the judge complained.

Yes. However, Members of the Oireachtas introduce legislation and the regulations to deal with such matters must be examined. For instance, the House recently passed the Fines Act and dealt with other related matters. I ask that Members get their act together and deal with business of relevance to the people.

I thank the Leader and colleagues for their gracious remarks. As for the failure of the House to sit yesterday, I agree with my colleagues that it is embarrassing. However, it is just as embarrassing when one considers not so much the quantity of Seanad sittings but their quality. The Cathaoirleach should bear with me, as I do not for one minute suggest debate in the House is not of high quality; when it happens, it is. However, I agree with Senator Fitzgerald who touched on this issue, that the procedures must be loosened in order that Members can genuinely delve into and scrutinise subjects, particularly the four-year plan the Government is to bring forward.

Members cannot simply have a set piece debate, for which a Minister comes into the House to make a speech, followed by others by a series of Members. Instead, the quality of discussion must be examined, as well as the ability of Members to make a genuine contribution to the public debate that must happen. This is not taking place, although Members on all sides of the House have been calling for it for years. This is not to point the finger at anyone, except to state Members have taken an overly conservative approach to how they organise their business. They could be doing a great deal more and make a much better contribution, even in respect of Opposition proposals. Members on the benches opposite like to have the odd cut at the Opposition that it lacks proposals, disagrees with any proposals made and so on. Such proposals should be discussed, debated and scrutinised on the floor of the House. In that way, we could make a genuine contribution to the public debate that needs to happen. I ask the Leader once more to determine whether we can put our heads together in dealing with this urgent question in order that we can genuinely earn our keep in the Upper House, a real issue for the people. I refer not only to the number of times we sit but also to what we do when we sit.

In the next day or so will the Leader find out what the position is on the referendum on children's rights? What is the position on setting a date, on which the Government has been cogitating for the best part of a year, certainly eight or nine months? It is simply not acceptable. The Minister said the relevant proposal had been submitted to Departments. I believe it was the Deputy Leader who said on the last occasion that he had been briefed that the proposal had gone around Departments and that responses were awaited from them. What responses have been received? If Departments have given their responses, have they been discussed by the Government? In view of the fact that a commitment has been made on the holding of the by-elections, the writs for which are apparently to be moved by the end of March, is it intended that the referendum on children's rights will take place on the same day as the by-elections?

I call for a special debate in the House on the four-year budgetary framework which will certainly be produced before the budget in December and determine our economic future. The four-year period will encompass the next general election, irrespective of the composition of the next Government. All parties in both Houses should be fully and actively involved in dealing with the framework. How it is to be quantified or qualified is for the parties to consider.

Let us consider today's announcement by one of the credit rating agencies. We have not been led too much by rating agencies. The Fitch agency has marginally downgraded the country's debt rating from AA- to A+. It attributes this to uncertainty over a broad political consensus on our future economic approach. Above all else, this is the issue we all need to face.

When people talk about the failure of the Tallaght strategy, particularly as it affects the Opposition parties, the remarks do not bear comparison with reality. The strategy which was adopted in 1987 was followed after the general election of 1989 by an increase in the number of votes and seats won by the Fine Gael Party. It has not had a higher number of votes or seats since. The return of lower vote totals and numbers has been related to a return to oppositional politics. The last thing the country and economy need is oppositional politics. If we are to proceed by way of a collective approach to the next budget under the four-year budgetary framework or a different Government composition, or have an election before or after such a process, it behoves us all to enter into the debate and decide how we can deal with these problems.

I congratulate Senator Ross and Nick Webb on their bookWasters which highlights the issue of waste which has been highlighted in this House many times.

Is advertising relevant to the Order of Business?

The advertising is peripheral.

It is very relevant to the Order of Business.

I do not believe it is. I want questions to the Leader. I do not know whether he will answer on what the Senator has just stated.

I refer to waste in FÁS, the HSE and CIE, organisations to which the Government, under the Taoiseach, has made appointments and which share responsibility. We did not have to wait for Senator Ross's book, in that successive reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General highlighted the extraordinary catalogue of waste in public bodies. The problem is solved, however, because the Taoiseach said, yesterday I believe, that the Government would not condone waste. It is interesting that most of the information highlighted in the newspapers, Senator Ross's book and other reports has come via freedom of information requests, yet only one year ago the Taoiseach was saying such requests were a waste of time and that the freedom of information system was being abused. However, it is that system that ensures people can hold the Government to account. It has exposed the waste we all condemn. We should have a debate on the issue of waste and loss, at the taxpayers' expense, in these organisations.

On the budgetary issue, we are in a perilous economic situation. We have a short window of opportunity within which to get things right if we are to go back into the international markets next year. It is important that the Government works with the Opposition in resolving the problems. It is not good enough to say to the Opposition to put forward any good ideas it might have for the Government to kick about. There must be a change of attitude by Government which will bear a heavy responsibility during the next few months.

I condemn the bombing last week outside a hotel in Derry which, fortunately, did not result in any loss of life. I and many of my friends in Northern Ireland had thought that day had passed. People in Northern Ireland do not want a return to having to look over their shoulders in case a bomb goes off and maims or kills people.

The PSNI is doing a reasonably good job and must be credited on having recruited in recent years many Catholic young people from the Nationalist side of the community. Any movement which seeks to prevent that is not good for the body politic of this island. It is a retrograde step. That this bomb went off at a time when the former President of the United States, Mr. Clinton, was in Northern Ireland to send out positive vibes to the communities was a travesty of justice. It is a shame this happened at a time when Members from this House and the Lower House are due to meet our counterparts in Northern Ireland. We have more in common with the people of Ireland than we acknowledge. We should assist in every way we can to ensure a normal life for the people of Northern Ireland. This House should condemn in the strongest possible terms what happened in Derry last week.

The debate on taxis on "The Frontline" television programme on Monday was interesting. It was the type of debate that should take place in this House. One person was missing from the debate, namely, the taxi regulator who refused the invitation to attend. I assume the regulator is a paid public servant. If there is a case to be made for taxi regulation, and I am sure there is, the regulator should attend such debates.

I do not know why the regulator refused to attend. There is no excuse for it. Will the Leader ask the Minister whether this is a policy of avoiding confrontation and explanations, a policy that should not be supported?

Some time ago, I complained in the Chamber about the loss of a dermatologist from the Midland Regional Hospital Mullingar. I am pleased to advise the House that a replacement has been found. Dr. Barbara Wynne commenced duty in the hospital last Monday. She has a staff of two, including a secretary and a nurse, and will have backup from St. James's Hospital.

Will the Leader arrange for a debate on diabetes with the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney? This is not the first time I have raised this issue in the House. I raised it on many occasions during the last session. I ask that the Leader, in co-operation with Senator Feeney, our spokesperson on health, would arrange for a long and meaningful debate on diabetes. I spoke recently to a general practitioner who told me that he discovers, on average, two new diabetics every day he practises, which is a frightening statistic. I do not propose to discuss in detail the implications of the condition and will withhold my comments until the debate takes place. I hope it will be held early in the session because during the previous Seanad I sought a debate on the issue for more than two years. It was eventually held, but only 75 minutes were provided for it and I believe only one spokesperson from each side had speaking time. One Senator, in particular, the late Kate Walsh, was very exercised about this at the time. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the issue as soon as possible.

I thank Senator Boyle for his advice. Given that the Green Party is in danger of extinction, he is as well giving it now.

The threat posed by the Real IRA and other so-called dissident republicans was highlighted again this week when a car bomb exploded in Derry. Although these groups have little or no support in their communities, they continue to pose a threat to peace on the island. I commend the Garda Síochána and the PSNI which are working closely together to gain intelligence that will put the individuals in question behind bars where they belong. While the forces of law and order have had many successes, the groups in question continue to pose a threat to citizens, the institutions of the State and peace on the island. I urge that all necessary resources be made available to put these criminals out of commission.

I bring to the Leader's attention the results of a recent survey carried out by the Irish Bank Officials Association of the abuse of bank officials by members of the public. I am not referring to Mr. Seán FitzPatrick or Mr. Michael Fingleton but to ordinary bank clerks who do a decent day's work and have always paid their taxes. They have suffered greatly as a result of the bank crisis in so far as their jobs are on the line and many of them have lost out, as the values of bank shares provided as part of profit-sharing schemes have fallen.

I will give the House an idea of the abuse faced by bank officials. The survey found that 75% had reported abuse at work, while a further 20% had reported abuse, including verbal and physical abuse, being spat at and so forth, by members of the public outside their workplace. While there is anger in the community, some of it justifiable, I am becoming alarmed because a certain group appears to believe that being angry is a licence to abuse people. When one hears angerMeisters such as Joe Duffy and others in the media orchestrating public anger, I wonder how it will be directed.

We have had a garda abused in the performance of her duty in Leinster House and an absolute idiot trying to drive a concrete mixer through the front gates. He even had sympathisers among members of the public. I am beginning to wonder whether people are losing the run of themselves. I ask the Leader——

What about theNews of the World?

Please allow the Senator to continue, without interruption.

While I do not know anything about theNews of the World, every Member should share my concern——

The Government side is locked in a cupboard.

I will ask Senator Buttimer to leave the Chamber if he continues to interrupt.

——about unacceptable behaviour of people who are purported to be angry.

It should open the doors to see the real world.

The Senator behaves like Mr. Angry most of the time. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the treatment of individuals on the front line, including bank clerks, gardaí and even Members of the House. I have been personally abused on the issue of the banks by people in County Kerry, many of whom did not pay their way even when times were good. We need to get some perspective on the matter.

That is a very unfair comment.

Those who have seen recent advertisements placed by theNews of the World may well have reflected that while we have always known Fianna Fáil has skeletons in the cupboard, it is now clear that this is the case.

We are on the Order of Business. The Senator must put a question to the Leader.

(Interruptions).

I join previous speakers in congratulating Senator Alex White on becoming a senior counsel. I also congratulate Senator Ross on the publication of his book.

Like other Members, I question why the House did not sit yesterday and why more legislation is not being taken in this Chamber. As Senator O'Toole indicated, there is a great deal of legislation on the Order Paper. I introduced No. 13 on the Order Paper, the Climate Protection Bill, three years ago this week. This legislation deals with a critical issue facing the country. At the time, the Government promised to introduce its own legislation. I understand the Cabinet committee on climate change and energy security was due to sit at 2.30 p.m. today. According to the Twitter grapevine, however, that meeting has been postponed. Will the Leader and his deputy indicate why this is the case? I will call a vote on my Bill tomorrow if I do not receive a satisfactory answer today.

I wish to seek a debate not only on the economy and the budget but also and specifically on the alternative proposals for the economy that were put forward earlier today by the community and voluntary pillar and the Wheel, which comprises 17 different NGOs. We were provided with a very useful briefing by representatives of these organisations at a meeting held earlier in Buswells Hotel. Those to whom I refer put forward a five-point plan as to how they see an alternative budget — which would not make cutbacks that would impact on the poor and the vulnerable in the way the Government is proposing — shaping up.

The net result of the litany of waste relating to many State organisations such as the HSE is that services cannot be accessed by the most vulnerable who need them. An example of this is the fact that cystic fibrosis sufferers have been promised adequate facilities, on a national basis, to meet their needs. The Government and the HSE have consistently failed to meet those needs. It is a matter of getting our priorities right, of tackling the waste to which I refer and of holding the relevant organisations to account. We must also have a Minister who can be held to account.

A matter of extreme concern arose at the weekend, when four teenagers, one of whom is only 14, were admitted to the adult psychiatric facility in Waterford. This is an indictment of the health service. A great deal is said about A Vision for Change and the mental health services. How have we arrived at a situation in 2010 where a 14 year old is held at an adult psychiatric facility? What happened at the weekend was wholly inappropriate and is in complete contravention of the policies adopted by the Department of Health and Children and the HSE. How was this allowed to happen? The Minister for Health and Children should come to the House to provide answers.

Agencies such as Barnardos and the Psychiatric Nurses Association are very frustrated because their members are doing their best on the front line but are not in a position to provide the services required by the most vulnerable in society. This is a direct result of the litany of waste that bedevils the HSE. There is a need for an urgent debate on this matter and the Minister for Health and Children must come to the House to account for what is happening.

I wish to seek a debate on the governance of this country, a matter of some importance at present.

The Senator's party is in government.

It is his party's job to govern.

Let us seek a debate on the matter.

(Interruptions).

During the 1980s, I was obliged to emigrate. I did not want to do so but I had no other choice. I have received correspondence from people who have indicated that they are being forced to emigrate. The latter is a sad development.

That is the result of Government policies.

In the 1980s, there were continual calls for elections. A government would only be voted into office and people would call for another election to be held. Those were unstable political times. I agree with Senators Fitzgerald, Alex White and others who stated that a level of consensus is required in respect of the four-year budget.

I said that there is a need for a new approach from Government in respect of that budget.

There should be no interruptions.

I stand corrected. I agree that a new approach from Government is needed.

There is also a need for a new approach from the Opposition. There is a need to examine the position with regard to the governance of this country. It is clear we are in a crisis and there is a need for everyone to pull together. The last thing people need is to hear Deputies or Senators bickering about who should hold ministerial office, who should take various actions, etc. What the people need——

The Green Party would never do that.

Almost every member of the Green Party who holds a seat in the Dáil also holds a ministerial position.

How many Green Party backbenchers are there?

Members, please.

The Senator's party is in government.

I am putting questions to the Leader and calling for a debate on governance. There have been calls from various Senators today relating to the four-year budget framework coming before the Houses of the Oireachtas. We must be imaginative and have an approach that includes everybody.

I will not say anything about the economy now as I will take a slot in this afternoon's debate and I do not want to waste time, which is short. I am in the process of putting a motion on the Order Paper and I thought it might have been on today. It concerns a really shocking development. I was staggered when I heard the HSE proposes to impose a 50 cent prescription charge on all medications. It specifically indicated the terminally ill and the homeless.

This is the most disgraceful measure I can ever remember from a public authority. It is also dangerous for the health of the people involved and it oppresses the marginalised and vulnerable. On top of this, it exposes the public to health risks through the potential spreading of infection. It is problematic to get patients who are mentally ill, such as those with schizophrenia and other difficulties, to come to clinics to take medicine anyway but this constitutes the erection of another dangerous barrier. It is shameful and I call on the House to condemn it outright.

I regret the current position in the House with regard to legislation. I will consider the positives. My colleague, Senator O'Toole, underestimated the contribution of the Independents and private Members from all sides of the House. There are no fewer than 16 Bills from private Members as opposed to the three which the Government has managed to squeeze from the bureaucracy. Every Member in the Independent group has presented significant legislation in the past year, which is an important and interesting point.

I support Senator Quinn and I was not aware that the taxi regulator had refused to turn up. The taxi regulator is not a popular person with the taxi industry. There has been an unregulated deregulation in the form of a big bang. Over the weekend, another young taxi man in Dublin took his own life. There is a taxi man outside Leinster House on hunger strike as we speak in this Chamber. Luckily, the taxi organisation has put its members in touch with the Money Advice and Budgeting Service as they cannot afford to go to the dentist. They are working 17 or 18 hours a week; it is a dangerous issue which must be discussed.

Last week and today Senators have argued that all parties should come together with a common purpose. Senator Harris brought the issue up in his article at the weekend. We need constructive co-operation. Nobody has a monopoly of ideas in any party and it is time to put petty politics out of the agenda for a short while.

The Senator's party should start accepting Fine Gael proposals.

The Senator should allow me to have a say. I am sick to death of this type of one-upmanship in politics. It involves putting down colleagues for one's own good at any cost. That seems to be a core activity in this Chamber and I do not like it. It should not be so. I love the cut and thrust of good politics but I am sick to death of the approach to politics where people look to destroy their colleagues at any cost.

That is not happening over here.

I am not into that but I am into constructive co-operation at all costs. I also want to raise the issue of overseas development through Irish Aid as it relates to the United Nations summit. I would like the relevant Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Peter Power, to come to the Chamber to give us an update on the challenge and commitment of 0.7% of GDP for development aid. Will the Leader see if he has time to give such an update?

I do not often disagree with my colleague, Senator Ned O'Sullivan, but I must do so on some of his points today. I wholeheartedly agree that any abuse of bank officials in their work or on the street is unacceptable but the Irish people have shown extraordinary forbearance in the past six to 12 months in light of the economic position that has developed in the country. If Senator O'Sullivan believes people are showing too much anger, perhaps he should get out a little more and talk to them. They are being extraordinarily understanding of some of the decisions that his friends in government made over the past eight years that have brought us to the pass at which we are now.

I agree with Senator Boyle about changes to the budgetary process. He spent years in the other House talking about how the process should be changed. Now, however, he is in a position to do something about it. Fine Gael has produced alternative budgets for the past three years and brought forward numerous proposals, none of which has been listened to by the Government. It was interesting to hear Senator Ormonde and others on the Government side speak about confrontational politics. They want to listen to the Opposition now that they have made a hames of everything. They did not listen to us for the past seven years when we had constructive proposals, especially for dealing with the excessive reliance of the economy on the property sector. I even recall the Taoiseach, when Minister for Finance, laughing from the ministerial chair in the Chamber at Opposition Senators who warned about the difficulties in the property market. I will not be lectured to by Senator Ormonde on this or any other issue.

I join colleagues in expressing disappointment with the lack of debate in the House since the return from the recess and that it will sit for two half days again this week. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business concerning school transport, a small but significant issue for the families concerned. For the past 18 months I have asked the Leader for a debate on the allocation of catchment areas in the school transport scheme. In my part of County Kilkenny it is a significant issue because the areas have not been revised since the 1960s. It is time they were revised because many families throughout the country are undergoing hardship as a result. Why can this issue not be debated after Private Members' business is concluded?

On Sunday, 26 September at the Augustinian church in Drogheda, I had the honour of being invited by Fr. Iggy O'Donovan to give the sermon at a celebration of positive ageing week. For Senators who may not be aware, Fr. O'Donovan supports allowing women to become priests. More than 500 people were in the church that day. Never did I think I would have the experience of speaking from the altar in a Catholic church on positive ageing and the contribution of older people in society.

Today's edition ofThe Irish Times, a sponsor of my all-Ireland inspirational life award, seeks nominations for the award of people and organisations which have helped enhance the lives of older people. I am supported in this endeavour by Dame Joan Harbison, Northern Ireland’s advocate for older people. I suggest Senators get their copy of The Irish Times. As I am Fianna Fáil spokesperson on older people in the Seanad, I have put my heart and soul into getting this award to be an all-Ireland one, to cover both North and South.

North and South working together will also deal with those responsible for the recent atrocious bombing on the Culmore Road in Derry and who threaten lives in Northern Ireland and its political stability. As Senator Carty said, there was a callousness in this attack considering it was just after the visit to Northern Ireland of the former US President, Bill Clinton, the main architect of the peace process.

I was very much taken with Senator Mary White informing us she had been preaching from the pulpit last Sunday. Will she clarify if she is a candidate for the priesthood as well as for the Presidency?

Questions for the Leader, please.

I want to raise the matter of the relationship between the Government and the Opposition, one which I raised last week. I am glad I did because it has caused some debate since then. I raise it in the context of the call for a debate by Senator Boyle on the four-year agreement that will be negotiated between the Government and the European Commission. I have three questions for the Leader. This is a hugely important matter, if not the most important, that the country is examining. If there is no consensus in the Houses of the Oireachtas on the targets of the programme, what right does the Government have to negotiate a programme which it will not have to implement, as in all likelihood there will be a new Government after the next general election? The agreement which it is in the process of negotiating will determine not only the budgetary priorities but also how it will spend money. The Leader's party will not be in government to implement it.

My second question concerns the discussions which will take place this month at the European Council on a proposal made by the European Commission that if a member state breaches the terms of an agreement it has made with it, that member state should be fined by it for not delivering on the programme. A new Government could find itself in a situation where it would have to deal with a programme it had not negotiated, to which it had not agreed when in opposition and then be fined by the Commission for not implementing it.

I want to conclude with a political question——

Time, please, Senator. I am against the clock.

If the Leader's party is in opposition after the next general election, as I hope it will be, I assume it will be bound by that agreement and that it will not be able to oppose a new Government in its implementation. While the question of agreeing to a Tallaght strategy is one all Members of the House need to consider, it is one Fianna Fáil should be considering seriously also.

On that issue, to suggest the Government of the day cannot put together policies covering a number of years is ridiculous in the extreme. A Government has ownership of particular legislation, development plans and so on. Obviously, if and when one is in government and disagrees with things, I am sure one can go and try to renegotiate. In the meantime, something unprecedented and historic has happened in recent weeks. Last weekend the Taoiseach indicated to the Opposition that dedicated personnel within the Department of Finance——

——-would specifically liaise with——

There will be one such person.

What does "liaise" mean?

Yes, there will be one key contact person. This is very efficient——

(Interruptions).

No interruptions, please.

——and the Opposition can bring forward proposals which the Department of Finance will cost. This has never happened before. I, for one, hope and I am confident that this process will not be superficial because, as I said last week and Senator Bradford and many other Members said in the past few days, we must have some input to what will clearly be an extremely difficult and painful process. It is essential that the public has a sense of public ownership of the policy that will be adopted, or the country will be in serious trouble. If Members on the other side of the House believe the process is superficial and that the proposals they have brought have not received a good hearing, let us debate the matter rather than participating in a constant Punch and Judy show in which people say one should have done something else, that their manifesto and bicycle are better and all that kind of rubbish which, unfortunately, is strangling the country.

The Government is very slow to accept any of our proposals.

President McAleese, in opening an extension to the Institute of Technology in Sligo at a cost of €12 million yesterday, said that in the 1960s, because of poverty, a lack of resources and ambition, we had been resigned to mediocrity. Clouds of resignation prevented us from moving forward. She also said the clouds of indignation today could paralyse us. Let us not let that happen. Let us proactively bring proposals forward together. Let us embrace what the Taoiseach has suggested in a positive manner. Never before in the history of the State has the Taoiseach of the day invited Opposition parties to come with their proposals which will be costed by the Department of Finance. If they are worthwhile, we will embrace them in order that all of Irish society can have a sense of ownership of the budgetary framework.

Last week saw the first tentative moves towards a civility in this House and towards an agreement that everyone and every party has an obligation to do their best to take the country out of this terrible period it is in. I have criticised the Taoiseach before for his tribal approach to politics. He has been partisan, but he seems to have learned some lessons. Now I want to say to Fine Gael that it is disgusting to listen to it resile from the move it made last week towards talking to the other side, and no other explanation can be found for it except that it is because of a problem that it has with its leader.

That is not relevant to the Order of Business. Questions to the Leader please.

I am handing it out to both sides. I support the call of Senator O'Toole for a discussion, which will have to involve all parties, on the Croke Park agreement. As the late and much mourned Moss Keane said about one of the first matches he played for Castleisland, it was the kind of game which was of more interest to the participants than to the spectators. That is the kind of politics we are getting from this House today. The retreat from cross-party co-operation is pathetic. Even if Fianna Fáil was looking for cross-party Government only out of desperation and weakness, it is what the people want. They want some kind of civility while the Government winds itself down. They want the Croke Park agreement discussed. So what if it is a sign of weakness by Fianna Fáil? Have Fine Gael Members not got the magnanimity, courage or decency to rise up as they did last week and make the offers they made last week? They are behaving like frightened rabbits only because they have a leadership crisis.

We are going to do it. You are not listening to us.

You were appointed by Deputy Bertie Ahern.

I support the calls made last week from the Opposition benches for constructive co-operation with the Government.

You have always got that. I do not know what you are talking about.

It seems to me that Senator Bradford, who made the suggestion, has a certain self-confidence and belief that his party will be in government some day because he wants to do what is right for Ireland. We have gone way past indignation. We need to deal with the difficulties we face.

We are bankrupt.

We are not bankrupt.

We have had 15 years of failed government.

You bailed out the banks.

You bailed out the banks and you did not tell the truth.

Members, please.

You did not tell us the truth.

Senator Healy Eames, do not interrupt, please. A number of Members did not get to speak last week and they will not get to speak again today.

If I might have the opportunity to say what I want to say?

If I might have the opportunity to say what I want to say, the difficulties we face have been misrepresented on the radio and television and in the newspapers. We faced much worse difficulties in the 1980s, and after the 1980s we had a long and sustained boom from 1994 to 2007 which brought the country significant growth and opportunities. We are facing difficulties that are manageable but to hear the radio programmes, which really should be——

A Senator

Censored.

Has Deputy Hanafin participated in these radio programmes?

No interruptions, please.

They should change their name to "Indignation Hour" because all they are looking for is something else. There is no balance.

There is no happy hour either.

There is no balance at present.

There was no balance from the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, last night.

Even on the way to the Chamber today, I heard it reported in all seriousness that the price of Irish bond yields had reduced from 6.43% to 6.4%. We are not on a variable rate. We do not have to accept any particular price. We buy the bonds at the price at the time.

As the Government has made it clear that we will not be in the market for bonds until the middle of next year, why is this nonsense being perpetrated when we had much worse difficulties in the 1980s and we got through them properly?

Seven Members have indicated that they wish to speak and I have five minutes left; therefore I ask them to be as brief as possible.

I want to speak about what I have heard. What Senator Harris spoke is cant dressed up as rhetoric. If Fianna Fáil was so interested——

Questions to the Leader, please.

I will seek a debate on this. If Fianna Fáil was so interested in protecting this country, why do we not have a reverse Tallaght strategy? Why does Fianna Fáil not present its four-year plan, go to the people and then offer its support to the new Government? We all know that what will happen when Fianna Fáil comes back into power is it will continue with the same old nonsense, which it perpetuated in the past couple of decades, of attack, attack, attack. Its members have never in their lives understood the meaning of consensus.

I am surprised at Senator Harris, who understands politics better than most, that he goes on with that rubbish he was talking about here because we understand perfectly well——

Questions to the Leader, no comments across the floor.

——how to work consensus politics in this country if it is necessary.

I would not take too much from what the Department of Finance is saying. It is the same Department that has been advising the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, for the past two years on his banking policy, which is turning out to be more like a Monty Python film than high finance. Two years ago the Minister told us it was going to cost us nothing to bail out the banks, then it was going to be €4.5 billion and now it is turning out to be €50 billion. How can one believe that you can trust somebody within the Department if that is where he is getting his advice from?

We need a new Government because the people are angry with what the guys opposite have done. This is not a four-year county development plan, as Senator MacSharry might like to point out. This is about how the Government has eviscerated the economy, destroyed people's lives and put 450,000 out of work. That is what this debate is about. That is why the guys opposite need to walk off the pitch and then support the new Government in trying to get this country back on level pegging again in the next number of years.

I cannot let Senator Twomey get away with what is gross historical revisionism. Briefly, as has already been referred to, if one looks at the record of Government, from 1994 to 2007, there has been unprecedented growth in this country. There are more people at work in this country than there were in 1997. There are more teachers and doctors. There are more people who are out working and there are more people contributing to this economy. I hate this sort of revisionism.

I compliment Deputy Ó Cuív, who was the first Minister in recent times in the Government to at least stand up to Mr. Vincent Browne, as one of a range of political commentators who have somehow created this urban myth that Fianna Fáil has somehow destroyed the country. Remember what was going on up to 2007.

Does the Senator mean it is only a myth?

That is Fianna Fáil's problem.

We are talking about constructive debate here.

A 30% increase in emigration.

I would like those people to give me some examples of what it is they are talking about because it is all very well to sloganise.

Anglo Irish Bank, the biggest bank failure in the world.

I would like them to give chapter and verse of what specifically they are accusing the Fianna Fáil Administration of. Then we might have some credibility.

Senator Donohoe had his opportunity to contribute.

In all of these events, it is easy to have collective political amnesia. The main reason that the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, is being attacked is because the bankers lied through their teeth for the past two years.

Why did the Minister not know?

(Interruptions).

NAMA had to drag them kicking and screaming into the sunlight where they had been lying secretively, had been defensive——

The Government was made a fool of.

——and had been refusing to give the full story. It is not unique to Ireland. Today political commentators in Britain are saying the British banks, which are now being held up as some sort of a model because they are making profit, are also continuing to lie to the British Government. Let us get matters in perspective here.

The Government and all of the persons in it, and, to take the lead from what has been said, nearly 100% of those on all sides of this House and the other House, care for this country and are doing their level best to try to get us out of a situation that is not of their doing. Why is it we have such an island, insular attitude? The entire world is in recession right now.

I have one last point. The Cathaoirleach has indulged me.

I want to ask the Leader when it is planned to bring the immigration Bill before the House.

There are six more Members offering. I will take Senators Cannon and Healy Eames and I will have to take first in the morning the others who will miss out.

I was going to raise the issue of a vacant stand at a food fair in Brussels last week which was one of the first opportunities we had to generate new employment in the country, but the constant calls for a consensus approach from the Government side, and the call, in particular, for a debate from Senator Boyle this morning, must be addressed. I ask the Members opposite for one example in the past five years when they have taken on board one constructive creative idea from the Opposition, either in this House or in the other House, because that simply has not happened and it would never happen while Fianna Fáil is in government. Earlier this year we had a debate about water services following weeks of a drought in particular parts of the country and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government sat there and smirked across at us at our idea of generating a single national water authority. There was one fantastic idea that could have been taken on board by the Government but was not. What made that approach even more laughable was that the very same idea was contained within his own Green Party plan for economic recovery. It is now time to acknowledge that Fianna Fáil does not understand consensus nor has it ever understood it. The bedrock of our recovery economically must be based on trust. Benjamin Disraeli once said that all power is a trust. That trust has been shattered by Fianna Fáil and, unfortunately, by the Green Party by its association with Fianna Fáil. Fianna Fáil has chosen to break the people's trust. A national Government is not what we need. A new Government is what we need, and one without any Fianna Fáil presence.

I have two requests for the Leader. I would like an urgent debate on the need to save Galway Airport for one reason, namely, thousands of jobs are at stake. Some 82% of local and multinational businesses in Galway and the region have stated that Galway Airport is essential for connectivity to international markets for our exports, which is what is needed for the economy. Exports are the shot in the arm, straight into the vein, that is needed. I request a debate on that matter, with the Minister for Transport in attendance, as a matter of urgency.

I request a debate on another matter with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, and the Taoiseach in attendance. I am calling for truth from this Government. I am unhappy with how Ireland's case is being perceived internationally and with how we are being presented internationally, largely because I do not know what deals have been done by the Minister for Finance. I have three questions in this regard. Who exactly is insisting on the 3% borrowing limit by 2014? Is it the bondholders?

Why exactly is the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, so keen to protect the bondholders? Has a deal been done on our corporation tax rates? Is that really what this is about? Bondholders are the biggest risk takers there are. Why have we not at best negotiated with them?

The regulator said today that we should do that.

We are beholden to everyone except our own. There was no sovereign responsibility to the bondholders. Our sovereignty is now on the line and we must protect it. What I am asking for a little bit of honesty. I request the Leader to ask the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, to address those questions. I second the amendment to the Order of Business.

We should not let the occasion of the third greatest sporting event in the calendar of sport pass without congratulating the European team, especially Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Padraig Harrington, on their success, on being terrific ambassadors for Ireland——

——and on what they have done to enhance the image of Ireland, build confidence and give us an uplifting experience at the weekend. It was wonderful to watch television at the weekend and see the success of our sportspeople in Europe.

Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Alex White, Boyle, Regan, Bacik, Ormonde, Donohoe, MacSharry, Harris, Hanafin, Twomey, Mooney, Cannon and Healy Eames gave us the benefit of their serious concerns about everything that is happening with the banks and the proposals for the next four budgets. In response to points raised by Senator O'Toole and colleagues regarding the Croke Park agreement, I gave an undertaking to the House last week that I would arrange for the Minister to come to House on a bimonthly basis. I have arranged for an all-day debate on the Croke Park agreement next Wednesday, with the Minister of State, Deputy Calleary, and the Minister of State and the Government Chief Whip, Deputy Curran, in attendance to deal with various aspects of the agreement. It is my intention to roll over the debate into the following week if colleagues wish to have further clarification and an update on progress on the agreement.

With regard to the sitting days of the House, we always returned from recess one week after the Dáil. That was not possible on this occasion because the Dáil had to deal with urgent banking legislation and the Seanad also had to pass it by midnight last Wednesday. I then afforded the House the opportunity, with the permission of all colleagues and party leaders, to commence a debate on the economy, to which all spokespersons made their contribution last Thursday and that debate is continuing as and from today. The House will sit three days every week from now until Christmas with the exception of the bank holiday weekend when the Dáil and the Seanad do not sit on the Tuesday after the bank holiday weekend, as has been a long-standing precedent Those are the arrangements for sitting days and I thank all colleagues and party leaders for their co-operation. I take seriously the views of all colleagues in the House on the running of the House.

Senator Alex White raised the matter of making the House more relevant and put forward proposals in that respect. The Committee on Procedure and Privileges, under the stewardship of the Cathaoirleach, can tease out this matter. I am duty bound, in accordance with the Standing Orders of the day, under the stewardship of the Cathaoirleach, to run this House and make proposals to it in that regard.

Senators Boyle, Ó Brolcháin, Phelan and Harris raised the matter of the next four annual budgets and the need for a broad consensus of appeal in this respect about which everyone is talking. Senator Harris is an independent observer. He is very respected and his column is read every Sunday and believed, which is very important nowadays, especially in the case of the Sunday newspapers. It behoves us all to bear in mind that neither the person nor the party takes precedence over the country. Everything Members of both Houses do for the duration of their membership during these difficult times must be in the national interest. I welcome the comments of quite a number of colleagues, including Senator MacSharry's, who wish to proceed down that road during these difficult times when we are experiencing a downturn in the economy which, as Senator Mooney said, is worldwide.

I watched the coverage of the speakers at the Conservative Party conference last week, with that party having came to power in England with a brand new mandate.

That is what we need — a new mandate.

I ask the Senator to afford me the opportunity to continue uninterrupted, as I did not interrupt him. The one-liner — more for less — was used by speakers at that conference. The British are experiencing the same difficulties as those about which the Taoiseach has been telling us for the past 12 months, and quite a number of other countries are experiencing similar difficulties.

We should be honest with each other. We all want to make effective use of our time here. We make a difference by being Members of this House, as do Members of the Dáil. I welcome the views and help offered by various Senators on the Opposition benches and we will continue to work with them as closely as is possible in this regard.

Senator Regan called for a debate on the waste of funds in organisations and I will have no difficulty in arranging such a debate. Senator Carty and Cummins condemned the bombing in Derry and complimented the PSNI on the serious and difficult work it is doing in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland and in the interests of maintaining peace. I, too, was uplifted by the visit of the former president, Bill Clinton, to the north of Ireland last week and I look forward to attending an event in Newcastle tomorrow with parliamentarians from the Assembly and from Dáil and Seanad Éireann to work in co-operation in the best interests of the people of the island of Ireland.

Senators Quinn and Harris raised the issue of the major difficulties being experienced by those in the taxi industry. I can give a commitment to the House now that I will endeavour to have a debate on this matter take place within the next two weeks. Taxi drivers are under siege in their fight for survival. The money they are earning currently is embarrassing. It is an insult to any person in the industry to be just trying to survive, sitting in a car 14 or 15 hours a day, for the small income he or she earns. We all know that too many licences were granted and we have to do something about this. It is an issue for the local authorities and should be left to them to deal with. This matter must be addressed.

It was down to the Minister for Transport.

There is never the wrong time to do the right thing. The right thing for me to do here is to ensure we have a debate on this matter in the next two weeks.

Senator Glynn called for another debate on diabetes services. I will have no difficulty in allocating time for such a debate. I join the Senator in welcoming the good news from the Midland Regional Hospital Mullingar in which a dermatology unit is now up and running.

Senators O'Sullivan and Phelan raised the position of Irish banking officials whose jobs are on the line and who have suffered losses in terms of shares they were given as bonuses. Front-line people in general across the State are experiencing difficulties they have not experienced previously because everyone is hurting. Everyone is experiencing difficulty in one line or other in terms of their family members.

Senator Bacik spoke about the need for the Government to come forward with Bills. I hope to announce the list of proposed legislation for the current session in the House tomorrow.

Senator Coffey mentioned the issue of cystic fibrosis. He also highlighted the case of four young children who were admitted to an institution over the weekend. No one can condone what happened. I will endeavour to have the Minister come to the House to update Members on that incident and to speak about the health portfolio in general.

Senator Ó Brolcháin spoke about the governance of this country. I have given a commitment to have a discussion on the Croke Park agreement in the House next week. I will pass on to the Minister Senator Norris's strong views on the recent introduction by the HSE of a 50 cent per item charge on prescriptions for medical card holders.

Senator Ormonde asked me to invite the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power, to the House to give Senators an update on Ireland's commitment to overseas development aid. I understand that, for a nation of its size, Ireland is seventh best in the world in providing overseas aid. I do not have any difficulty with such a debate taking place.

Senator Phelan suggested that the Minister of State, Deputy Haughey, should address the House on the proposal to revise the school transport boundaries. As I have fully supported the calls for school transport boundaries to be changed, I would have no difficulty in arranging such a debate. I am sure the Minister of State will be agreeable to coming to the House. I will ensure such a debate takes place in the next few weeks.

Senator Mary White spoke about positive ageing week. The Senator is doing great work in leading the way with and sponsoring the all-Ireland inspirational life awards. Her efforts to encourage a positive attitude to ageing offer a huge ray of hope to senior citizens. I have no difficulty in supporting the call made by the Senator.

Senator Donohoe spoke about a proposal with regard to fines, which will be considered at a ministerial meeting that will take place this month. That can be discussed during the debate on the economy that will take place after the Order of Business in the presence of the Minister.

Senator Hanafin outlined his strong views, which we welcome, on the need for balance in the media. I have given a commitment to arrange a debate on balance in the media, which is urgently needed, during this session. The media has a responsibility to report on both sides of the difficulties and both sides of the successes. I do not know whether that is happening in the print, radio and television media. It does not appear to be and it is our duty to ensure there is balance in all sectors of the media. That is why they got their licences. They have to tell the truth of the news rather than transmit the image of continuous bad news that is coming all the time. As I said in my local newspapers this week, this country does not want three general elections. We need one election in a five-year period. If the Government has done anything, it has established a five-year cycle of government.

This one will not last five years.

That gives certainty to the markets and everyone who knows the Government will serve a five-year term.

That will not bring certainty to the markets.

A division in the Dáil last Wednesday night was decided by 74 votes to 81. As someone who has been a Member of this House for a long time, that indicates to me that the Government will serve a full term.

Why not have the by-elections?

Senator Healy Eames spoke about——

I am reminded of the Leader's prophecy on house prices.

The banks and the Central Bank were wrong on that one too, and so was Fine Gael.

The Leader's predictions are very dangerous.

I read the Fine Gael manifesto. I got part of the idea from the manifesto. I should not have read it, unfortunately. I should not have taken it as sacrosanct. That is where I got part of the idea.

The Leader should read some more of Fine Gael's ideas.

At that time——

He could start by reading Deputy Bruton's ideas on youth employment.

We are on the Order of Business. There should be no interruptions.

Senator Healy Eames called for the Government to support continued investment in Galway Airport and to do everything it can to retain the airport as important infrastructure for the city of Galway and the people of the west. We fully support that call here today.

Senator Phelan has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate on the school transport system be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 25; Níl, 26.

  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Cannon, Ciaran.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Harris, Eoghan.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • Norris, David.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Prendergast, Phil.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Regan, Eugene.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • White, Alex.

Níl

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Butler, Larry.
  • Carroll, James.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Dearey, Mark.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • 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.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Maurice Cummins and John Paul Phelan; Níl, Senators Niall Ó Brolcháin and Diarmuid Wilson.
Amendment declared lost.
Question put: "That the Order of Business be agreed to."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 27; Níl, 24.

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Butler, Larry.
  • Carroll, James.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Dearey, Mark.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Harris, Eoghan.
  • 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.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Cannon, Ciaran.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • Norris, David.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Prendergast, Phil.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Regan, Eugene.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • White, Alex.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Niall Ó Brolcháin and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Maurice Cummins and John Paul Phelan.
Question declared carried.