Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Alex White, Keaveney, Ross, McCarthy, Coghlan, Buttimer, Healy Eames, Feeney, O'Reilly, Norris, Mooney, Dearey, MacSharry, Donohoe and Ó Murchú all called for further debates on the forthcoming budget. For the past few weeks we have debated the finances of our country, the banking difficulties and the challenges facing the Government and all parties in both Houses in regard to the forthcoming budget. I have no difficulty in arranging for the Minister for Education and Science to come to the House and hear the views of colleagues on the proposals in respect of and the challenges facing the budget allocation of the Department of Education and Science. I will endeavour to have that take place in the next few weeks.
Senator O'Toole asked about the Government's policy on the missing persons telephone line. I will endeavour to see what I can do to enhance the proposal put forward. The ISPCC's offer to operate the telephone line appears to be practically cost neutral to the Government. I will lend my full support and that of the House with a view to making progress in that regard.
Senator Ó Brolcháin called again for a debate on media reporting. As I stated last week, I do not have a difficulty in allowing such a debate to take place.
Senator Butler supported Senator Carroll's call made yesterday for a reduction in VAT on energy saving measures. This issue could be teased out during the debates on the budget for which the Minister for Finance will be present.
I look forward to the visit next week by representatives of the Spirit of Ireland group. As it demonstrated on previous visits, the group's proposals offer a great opportunity to reduce Ireland's dependency on oil. I support the work it is doing.
Senator Dearey requested that the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Pat Carey, come before the House to discuss the Department's support for those unfortunate persons with addictions who avail of services such as counselling. This is a worthwhile request which I will facilitate.
Senator McCarthy expressed his serious concerns about the collapse of the banks and asked what was the up-to-date position on the ongoing inquiries in this regard. While such inquiries take time, I understand they are proceeding with speed and that there will be developments by Christmas.
Senator Coghlan asked what was the position on the Seanad Electoral (Panel Members) (Amendment) Bill. We will review progress as the legislation proceeds through the House this afternoon.
Senators Alex White and Buttimer called for a debate on the role of government. I do not have a difficulty with such a debate taking place.
Senator Mary White expressed strong views on State pensions and Senators concur with most of her comments. As she indicated, the State pension is a lifeline for older persons whose participation in voluntary organisations and groups in their retirement years is crucial. They make an immense contribution and we do not want to interfere in a manner that would inhibit the great work they do. They reflect everything that is good about our nation.