The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re Value-Added Tax Consolidation Bill 2010, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, motion re reports on macroeconomic and fiscal policy, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 1; and No. 3, motion re fifth report of the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security entitled, Second Report on Climate Change Law, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2 and conclude within two hours, on which spokespersons may speak for ten minutes and all other Senators for seven minutes and Senators may share time, by agreement of the House, with the Minister to be called upon to reply ten minutes before the conclusion of the debate for closing comments and to take comments from leaders or spokespersons.
Order of Business
It is extremely disturbing to see the Government using taxpayer's money to try to block the democratic right of citizens to vote. I cannot believe that, after Senator Doherty won his case, it will now use more public money in a last ditch effort to stop people using their votes. This is extraordinary. I cannot believe I am seeing this following a judgment by the High Court or that the Government is intent on leaving three Dáil seats empty and continuing to deny people in the constituencies of Waterford, Dublin South and Donegal North-East the right to vote. This is what dictatorships all over the world do — they use mechanisms to stop people voting and giving them the right to vote. This is extraordinarily serious.
Who on the Government side will cry halt? I ask the Green Party that question. What we are seeing is extraordinary; it is about denying people the right to vote.
There is a constitutional point to be determined.
We criticise regimes when they do this. It is extraordinary that the Government is to move one writ but, it appears, not the others. As Deaglán de Bréadún rightly observes in The Irish Times today: “It has taken the High Court to spell out the Coalition’s constitutional duty and emphasise that the citizen is supreme”.
It is time to realise the international bond markets are not impressed by this behaviour either. We heard this morning the interview with the analyst who said broader factors were impacting on the bond markets, quite apart from the fiscal and economic policy that will be followed in the next few weeks. These factors are influencing our reputation as a democracy internationally and at home. It is time, therefore, the Government realised the seriousness of what is being done and how it is behaving. Somebody must cry halt. Last night in the House the Government's position was defeated and the Minister's view rejected.
As was Deputy Kenny's.
How does the Leader intend to respect the motion passed in the House and the Independent Senators who initiated it? When will the Minister respond? The Government amendment to the motion was defeated. Will the Leader inform the House about the intention of the Minister?
Senator Fitzgerald has raised an important point, but I do not fully agree with her. Since the Government has decided to proceed with the by-election, it could not be said justifiably that appealing the decision to the Supreme Court is an attempt to stop people from voting. That is just a logical position. However, the Senator's earlier points were absolutely correct. An issue needs to be addressed and determined in this regard. I consider what is occurring as an extraordinary use of taxpayer's money and I am concerned about the separation of powers.
I am not coming down on one side or the other, but I am worried about crossing that border. Senator Fitzgerald is correct that it is long past the time when the by-election should have taken place.
The Government acted with alarming alacrity in response to the decision of the High Court yesterday. On the basis of the importance of the Houses of Parliament regulating their own affairs, it took a decision last night of which I approve. Similarly, this House took a decision last night. It may not be completely in line with the Government's policy, but the Seanad is a House of the Oireachtas and its decision was made democratically. The motion asks the Government to extend immediately the right to vote to graduates of all universities from 1 January. I ask the Leader to do what he believes is right in this regard. Will he now put it to the Government that it should give effect to the will of the Seanad? Will he obtain for us a formal response from the Government? The speech made yesterday by the Government cost it the vote last night. It was mocking and disgraceful. That is the reality; I do not want to move further into the debate.
The Green Party should note that there is now an open goal. Action on the decision taken can be conceded at no cost to the other side of the House. This should be done to show we believe in what we say. Given that we regulate our own affairs under Article 15.10 of the Constitution, we must realise that if it is acceptable to go to the Supreme Court, it is also acceptable to put in place what we have decided on.
We should consider positive developments. Having listened to the analysts, I do not know what we can read into the figures for two good months in which the level of unemployment has dropped other than to say I am delighted with this.
I do not know what we can make of the fact that this is the most attractive country for foreign direct investment, but I am delighted about this also. I am also delighted that the value of our exports in the third quarter of the year is the highest it has ever been. These are important points.
There are steps that can be taken. Why will the Government not take a decision on the metro north project? Every analysis shows that the investment will be repaid on the double and create 6,000 jobs at no immediate cost to the Government.
I do not mind Senators disagreeing with me on this, but they should listen to what I have to say first.
Siemens Ireland which has been based in this country since it gained independence and which built the Ardnacrusha power generating station offered to put in place for free water meters in every home. This would create jobs and a new conduit for the Government. We should take advantage of this and move quickly on these issues.
How anybody could disagree with Senator Fitzgerald's contention that it is reprehensible for the Government to force people to go to court to have their basic democratic right to representation vindicated beats me. If the Government wants to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, that is a matter for it, but it should not be done to block the other by-elections from being held. They should not be made contingent on the Government going to the Supreme Court. If there is an issue to be resolved by the Supreme Court, let it do so.
The issue in this case is not the separation of powers but the right of citizens to representation. Senator Fitzgerald is absolutely correct that it is extraordinary that people must go to the High Court. Members constantly argue in the House that the power of the courts is too great, but citizens are being forced to go to the courts to have their right to representation vindicated. That is extraordinary. One could not reasonably disagree with a single point Senator Fitzgerald made in this regard.
With regard to the debate that took place last night which is relevant as the House looks to its future, the question of reform of the Seanad, as opposed to its abolition, has been debated here and in the media. After the debate last night, there is no question but that the reform option is rapidly running out of road.
If anything, the Minister of State's speech last night confirmed this as the view of the Government. It is clear on the basis of the outcome of the vote last night — the Leader must face up to this — that the Government and the Leader have lost the confidence of this House on the reform agenda. The Leader lost the vote on this important question. I asked him last week on the Order of Business to indicate one thing he had done in the course of the life of this Seanad to reform the procedures used. He told me he had introduced a procedure, whereby Ministers answered questions. He did not introduce it as it has been included in Standing Orders for many years. The fact is that he has achieved nothing in terms of procedural reform.
The Leader will have another chance in a few minutes to tell us.
The Leader will reply later.
He can think of something else he has done.
The fact is he has done absolutely nothing. We on this side of the House have made proposals to liberalise the way we debate the economy but no action has been taken. We asked for a petition system to be introduced, but nothing has been done in this regard. The Leader has no interest in reform of the Seanad.
There is no point in saying we should have reform when the Leader is doing nothing about it.
He has lost the confidence of the House because he lost the vote last night.
The decision yesterday by the High Court demanded a response and I am glad the Cabinet took the opportunity to make an appropriate one. There is no pride in denying the people of Donegal South-West a by-election for 18 months. I am on record as having said that period was too long. It exceeds the previous record set in 1994 after a Fianna Fáil-Labour Party Government had refused to hold by-elections in Mayo West and Dublin South Central for 15 months. There is a need for a collective understanding, from the Supreme Court's perspective and in terms of legislation, in defining when by-elections should be held. That is the wider point at issue that needs to be tested in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court case is not an attempt to delay the holding of the other three by-elections.
If not, the Government should name the dates.
There should be no interruptions. Senators are not entitled to interrupt other speakers.
The three by-elections will be held by the end of March. It has always been the intention of the Government to hold them together, with a wider electoral contest, to save as much money as possible. The wider electoral contest will either be the referendum on children's rights or the election of a mayor of Dublin. That remains the policy position and it will be acted upon. I am trying to provide clarity as I know certain Members have a particular interest in the matter. As a matter of course, the Government always goes to the Supreme Court on losing a High Court action where an issue of constitutionality is affected.
It does not always do so.
There are plenty of cases in which it has not done so.
There are to be no interruptions.
I will point to very obvious examples where this has caused tremendous heartache for people. I refer to education-related cases such as the O'Donoghue case and the Sinnott case and health-related cases such as those involving those who had contracted hepatitis C. These cases were taken by other Governments of other compositions. It is an established practice.
On a point of order, the House should not be misinformed. There are plenty of instances in which the State has not appealed a High Court decision.
The Senator will have her opportunity to speak.
There are to be no interruptions.
That was a point of order.
What was the point of order?
Senator Bacik made a point of order.
In respect of what Standing Order?
Procedure should be followed, please.
Listen to the girl.
The Supreme Court——
Senator Boyle's time is up.
May I make a second point? With regard to the vote last night, the views of this House need to be respected and responded to. This needs to be done as quickly as possible. I will play whatever role I can as a Member on the Government side in bringing the matter before the House as quickly as possible.
There is no doubt Mr. Justice Nicholas Kearns, President of the High Court, delivered a very fine and considered judgment yesterday. However, he did not deal with the separation of powers issue. I understand and respect the views of the Attorney General, Mr. Paul Gallagher, on that matter. As other Members on this side of the House have stated, it is a separate issue from that relating to the inordinate delay in holding the outstanding by-elections. The two issues must be separated and that relating to the separation of powers must be parked.
I take Senator Boyle's point. Perhaps there is a need to decide, in a political context, what should be the normal period to be observed before by-elections are held. Should it be three months, six months or should some other timeframe apply? That matter should be resolved in order that disputes and political bickering will not arise, especially during periods of financial and economic crisis such as that which we are enduring.
Whatever about his past record — Members on the opposite side of the House may differ with us in this regard — John Bruton——
He has a very good past record.
I am of the same view.
Senator Coghlan should put a question to the Leader.
John Bruton was responsible for imposing a tax on children's shoes when he served as Minister for Finance. He was subsequently demoted.
Let us forget about the past. Senator Mary White must respect the fact that John Bruton is the best defender Ireland has at present.
We are not discussing John Bruton or anyone else in the House.
We are discussing the speculators who are betting against this country——
The Senator should put a question to the Leader.
—— and those who are trying to bring it down. We are also discussing market sentiment and bond yields.
We are on the Order of Business.
There is no indication that the Government intends to bring forward the date for the budget. It appears to be moving in the opposite direction and will delay publishing the four-year plan in order that there will not be a gap between the two. Will the Leader comment on this matter, on which I requested a debate on yesterday's Order of Business?
The Senator's time is up.
In light of what happened last evening, the Leader should make a statement to the House this morning.
I admire Senator Coghlan's passion. Former Taoiseach John Bruton is the current tsar of the Irish Financial Services Centre and is doing an excellent job promoting the centre at home and abroad.
A question to the Leader, please.
I wish again to raise the issue of the State raising funds through the sale of national solidarity bonds in the hope that we might get another opportunity to debate it. The conditions attaching to these bonds are quite restrictive. In that context, I ask the Minister for Finance and his Department — this matter was raised with the Minister at our special meeting with him yesterday — that the terms and interest rate relating to these bonds be improved and that the term of investment be reduced to a minimum of three years rather than five. There is some €100 billion in savings in the State, which is currently obtaining €250 million from the national solidarity bond initiative. That initiative was first put forward in this House. Deputies and Senators should promote national solidarity bonds by making application forms available at their clinics and by distributing as much information as possible in respect of these bonds. In addition, the national solidarity bond scheme should be extended to the Irish abroad, as happened on previous occasions. Given that some 40 million people in the United States of America claim direct links with Ireland, there would be great potential for selling these bonds abroad.
I request that the Minister for Social Protection advertise the fact that the thousands of Irish people who worked in Britain in the 1960s and 1970s are — in light of the national insurance contributions they paid — entitled to pensions from that jurisdiction. I have brought this matter to the attention of people and have received a response. I am aware of a number of individuals who applied for and have been given quite generous by the United Kingdom authorities. We provided very good pensions to those in Britain who had pre-1953 contributions in this jurisdiction, and rightly so. This matter should be highlighted to the widest possible extent and the Minister for Social Protection should place advertisements relating to it in all local newspapers.
I wish to seek a debate on education, not just in light of yesterday's events — some aspects of which were deplorable — but also that at least €26 million in the building fund for schools remains unspent.
It is actually €300 million.
I apologise for getting the figure wrong. This means that there is €300 million left to be spent with only eight weeks remaining in the current year. I visited the community school in Kinsale, County Cork, earlier in the week where I met the headmaster and his students. It is a remarkable and splendid school but conditions there are cramped. The school is on the list for an additional building. Why are schools such as this, which have fine staff and splendid students, not having their needs addressed, particularly at a time when €300 million in funding is going to disappear back into the Department of Finance? What is happening represents a real dereliction of duty. One of the reasons provided in respect of why €300 million still remains in the fund to which I refer is that building costs have dropped. Members on all sides of the House have highlighted the latter fact on numerous occasions and stated that, for this reason, there should be an intensive building programme which would lead to the creation of further employment.
I also wish to raise the matter of copyright in the music industry. I have been in contact with the editor of Hot Press magazine and Mr. Paul McGuinness and I indicated that I was interested in pursuing this issue in a serious fashion. I received misleading information to the effect that the Leader was going to raise this matter yesterday. I checked the position and discovered that this was not true. I have now received a letter inquiring whether I am genuinely interested in the matter because the Leader is going to raise the matter today. I did not receive any indication that this was going to happen. Will the Leader clarify the position in respect of this matter? It is very difficult for people such as me who try to take the work of the Seanad seriously and who try to pursue issues such as music copyright which have a major impact on the music industry and artists. It is very frustrating if the impression is given that matters are being raised when, apparently, action is not being taken.
Yesterday, we received very positive news in respect of the economy when it was announced that, for the second successive month, the number of those who are unemployed has decreased.
The cost of borrowing increased again.
In addition, the amount taken in through corporation tax has increased significantly. It does not follow that jobs are created first and then businesses profit. It is the other way around. Yesterday's announcement is a good indicator that there will be further increases in employment in the future. The quantitative easing taking place in the United States is another positive factor. I am saddened, however, by the fact that commentators appear to be seeking every reason other than those of a positive nature for the drop in unemployment. This is indicative of how some elements in the media view the way the economy is being run. I am of the view that it is being run prudently and that matters are more positive in nature than the elements to which I refer suggest.
I congratulate the Opposition on winning the vote on Private Members' business yesterday. It is some achievement to win a vote against the Government. I question how realistic it would be to have 23 people elected separately. The quota required would be in the order of 50,000 and some individuals might attract 70,000 votes. How could we expect those elected on foot of receiving 70,000 votes to be informed by a Minister for Finance, who may only have garnered between 10,000 to 12,000 votes in a general election, that they cannot deal with financial matters? If people want to change the way the Seanad operates, they must be realistic. Some of the ideas put forward were fairly hare-brained in nature. It was suggested, for example, that the Seanad election could be held on the same day as a general election. How could candidates from the various panels canvass Deputies and councillors in the middle of a general election campaign? If people want good Seanad reform, they should consider the allocation of extra responsibility rather than changing a system which does not necessarily need to be changed.
The debate on this matter took place last night.
In the context of the by-elections, while we can welcome yesterday's result from the High Court, we can also expect that there will be a confirmation from the Supreme Court that there is a separation of powers. I have good news for the Opposition. A by-election was already held in Dublin South and there was a huge waste of public money when the candidate who won did not remain a Member of the Dáil for the full term.
I wish to comment on the protest involving students which took place yesterday, the events that occurred outside the Department of Finance and the comments that have been make in respect of the latter. It has been frequently stated in this House that the future of the country depends on the attitude and skills of young people. I witnessed at first hand objects being thrown at the front gates of Leinster House and I saw many hundreds of people galvanising themselves very strongly and, in some cases, violently. Yesterday, a certain part of a peaceful protest was taken over by those who have no priority other than to do damage and cause disruption. These individuals do not have an interest in the legitimate issue that was the subject of the protest.
What happened yesterday was just another manifestation of the aching despair that is going through the marrow of the country. In that context, I refer to the comments that were made earlier on "Morning Ireland" and, more significantly, the BBC by someone who appears to be a respected analyst. If she is not so respected, she certainly represents an organisation to which people listen. She said she could not see any way Ireland could avoid accessing the European rescue fund.
We are having a discussion today on how our sovereignty can be best conducted and represented. Another organisation which is listened to said it does not believe our sovereignty will be intact by the middle of next year. That is not acceptable to the country and it should not be acceptable to any political party in the State that a comment like that can be made. The message must go out that not only will the Government take any steps that are necessary to ensure that does not happen but any future Government, regardless of its composition, will do the same.
Yesterday was quite a significant day in more ways than one. I wanted to pick up on the comments made by Senator Coghlan and complement the former Taoiseach, John Bruton, on his comments which were very much in line with those of Senator Donohoe, in that a very positive message is being sent out, particularly to the bondholders, that it is hands off Ireland.
It was also significant that at the IBEC conference at which John Bruton and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, spoke the message which came across from all of the participants, not from the political class but from those who are driving the economy and creating jobs, was that there was far too much negativity in the media about the current state of the economy which was feeding into the type of reaction to which Senator Donohoe and others referred.
In that context, I ask the Leader to convey good wishes to the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, on the fact that the figures which were published yesterday showed that for the second month running there was a decrease in the live register and that the percentage of those unemployed had fallen by the highest rate since 1996. I want to debunk the mantra, which has now become constant among those who have criticised the Government's economic and job policies, that there are 100,000 people emigrating from this country. I want to blow that myth out of the water.
The current CSO figures which I have show that the pattern of emigration has remained constant in the past five years and the net number to April 2010 of Irish nationals who have left this country is 27,000. The remainder of the 65,000 who have left the country are non-nationals many of whom are, I presume, returning home. To put the figure of 27,000 in context at the time of the boom in 2006 the net outflow of Irish nationals was 15,000. Let us get real about this. This is another aspect of the debate which is centring on Ireland's economic fortunes. If one is going to criticise Government policy, one should at least get one's figures right and not scare the hell out of people in the country.
I add my voice to the others which have called for a debate on the consequences of the High Court decision and the issue of the right to vote and the representation of people. I take issue with what Senator Boyle said because he appeared to support the principle confirmed by Mr. Justice Kearns in the High Court, yet he justified the State's decision to appeal to the Supreme Court on the basis that it was in accordance with the precedence. It is not. There are plenty of precedents where the State decided not to appeal a decision it has lost in the High Court to the Supreme Court.
The problem for us on a broader political level is that the continued uncertainty, even over the date of the by-election in Donegal South-West, because the Government has not given us the date, is contributing to the failure. I would be grateful if the Leader could clarify the date. The Government said it would be held before the end of November.
It is to be announced.
Questions to the Leader, please.
This is an important question to the Leader. What is the date for the by-election and the budget? Again there is still uncertainty. The budget is currently set for 7 December but there is now a question mark against whether it can be brought forward. The uncertainty is contributing to the slowness and lack of any economic recovery because people are fearful and need more clarity and certainty.
On the issue of Seanad reform, as we all know the Government lost the vote last night in this House. We on this side of the House have been calling for Seanad reform for many years. The University Senators are unanimous in their endorsement of the need for reform. We now need to see action from the Government on reform. One of the key promises made by the Minister, Deputy Gormley, when he was elected was that he would ensure reform of the Seanad. We still have not seen it and we do not need any more empty debates, rather, we need real action to fulfil the mandate the Government now has, having lost the vote yesterday in the House.
Seán Lemass, on 21 March 1928 in the Dáil said Fianna Fáil was a slightly constitutional party and once again the party lives up to its slightly constitutional reputation. On the one hand, it states it had a constitutional imperative to introduce a law on blasphemy which nobody wanted, yet at the same time it could subvert the Constitution and the democratic process by refusing to hold by-elections which everybody wanted. The Green Party has been complicit in this as it voted down two motions on moving writs for the by-elections, notwithstanding its PR stunt yesterday in jumping the gun and calling for an immediate by-election in Donegal South-West.
In one respect I welcome the appeal to the Supreme Court because it would give a definitive constitutional decision and direction on this point. Without a Supreme Court decision the Government simply will not get the message that it cannot, beyond a reasonable period of time, refuse to hold by-elections. In its recent report the Joint Committee on the Constitution suggested unanimously that a six month period should be enshrined for holding by-elections.
I wish to refer to another constitutional matter which is before the courts and which has been decided, namely, the NAMA case. The courts interpret the law and will not pass judgment on the merits of the NAMA Act. However, I question whether Members of this House and the Lower House fully realised when they proposed and supported the NAMA Act that they were signing up to a Soviet Union-style expropriation of profitable business enterprises for reasons of State. The European Commission did not sign up to that either in its decision. It is a matter of public interest and EU law, and my motivation in raising the matter is because it is a matter of public interest.
Senators Mooney and Donohoe reminded us of the positive attitude we should be taking and Senator O'Toole also reminded us of the good news on the employment and export figures and the fact we are the best and most attractive country for foreign direct investment. I mention this because we cannot say these things often enough. We hear enough negativity and we can do something about it. Senator O'Toole mentioned Siemens Ireland and the offer of something like €1 billion which would achieve a huge amount of savings in terms of water rates.
Last night's debate and decision were eventful. I am anxious to know from the Leader what will happen about it. Is it the case that we will nod our heads, say it is interesting and not do anything about it? We cannot do that. If one is to show respect for this House one has to take into account that there was a vote last night which went in a particular way. It cannot be ignored and something should happen because the Seanad is in danger of being ignored on many other occasions.
On Saturday the mass of remembrance and thanksgiving for those who are involved in organ transplants to will take place in Corpus Christi in Dublin. I mention it because the figures published today by the British Medical Association, BMA, show Britain has had an increase in organ donation last year of 5%. It is ahead of us in the number of organ donations and transplants it has. We are in 15th place, compared to Norway which is first and Portugal which is second because they have taken steps to encourage organ donation. The chief executive of the Irish Kidney Association pointed out that Norway is a wealthier country in Ireland and has the resources to have transplants, but Portugal is not. We had a debate two years and two months ago. The Minister, Deputy Harney, said she wanted time to consult before she introduced presumed consent and we have not had word back. Now is the time for the Leader to check with the Minister to find out what is happening. If she says we will not have presumed consent which the BMA is looking for in Britain at least we should know. We had the debate and it seemed to get very good attention but let us make sure the Seanad is not ignored again.
I ask the Leader to call on the Minister, Deputy Harney, to come to the Chamber to give us an update on the effectiveness of her recently introduced cancer excellence scheme. Any fair-minded person, upon hearing of this scheme two years ago, would have argued that it was the right way to go, but only on the basis that they would receive excellent care when they got there. The experience in Galway is quite the opposite. Between the two main hospitals in Galway, there are 140 beds closed. Any one of us who has had a near relative or friend going through the chemotherapy process knows what a harrowing experience it is. It renders the person very fragile, both emotionally and physically. It is disgraceful to have appointments being made for chemotherapy care and to have patients arriving at the hospital, assuming they will undergo chemotherapy and being turned away. That is what is happening at present in Galway in this centre of excellence.
On local radio in Galway last week we heard the harrowing account of a man bringing his wife on two occasions to the so-called centre of excellence only to have her turned away and not receive her chemotherapy treatment.
That is true.
He now visits the hospital on each occasion to ensure a bed will be available for her before he brings her to the hospital. The standard of care we give to the sick in this country must reflect our values as a caring society. Turning away sick and vulnerable people is not excellence, but the very opposite.
I, too, welcome the fall in the live register figures. It is a positive news story this morning. Having spoken to some employers in recent weeks, they are determined to get the heads down, plough on and get out of this recession as quickly as possible, despite all the factors against them.
I was disappointed to hear this morning of more than €300 million of the capital budget of the Department of Education and Skills not being used. There are so many projects on the list that need to be built right now — the Loreto school in Wexford is one that springs to mind — that we should move immediately to building those projects as soon as possible. When we look at the way schools projects are dealt with by the Department of Education and Skills, and even planning projects within the Department of Health and Children, it beggars belief that it takes years for an ordinary school with four walls to move from one stage in the planning department to another. I cannot understand why that takes so long. In the private sector it does not take nearly as long. Why have we so many people employed to do these things if they cannot even be done in a speedy or even an average normal fashion? If a person was building a house, a hotel or whatever, it would not take even a quarter as long. The matter needs to be debated and I would ask the Leader to hold such a debate soon.
The debate on Seanad reform last night was embarrassing for Members on the Government side of the House because we too believe in Seanad reform. It threw up the archaic nature of our systems and procedures in this House. We really need to look at them because we all believe in Seanad reform.
If, as the political pundits seem to agree, there will be a change of Government at the next general election which may be soon, then I hope the new Government, represented by the Opposition parties here, will remember the old principle of clawback in the media, that whatever they give they take back with interest. Nothing will change for the new Government in terms of bad press coverage, public pressure, street demonstrations, etc. If anything, it will be much worse. That being so, the Opposition parties should exercise a little discretion on good news. I agree with Senators Mooney and Quinn that the negativity needs to end.
On the general situation that will face the new Government and in its interests, I ask the following questions. What disciplinary action has the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills taken against the civil servants who failed to spend the money they were given and which failure has been to the detriment of the building industry and of the children? The answer is that nothing will be done about any of them. That will go on until the Department of Education and Skills, like all of the other Departments, is privatised apart from a small hard core of public servants for discretion and confidentiality purposes. Ten or 20 would be adequate. If that was a private sector firm, heads would be rolling this morning.
I want to ask the Minister for Justice and Law Reform whether he will look again at the situation whereby every public march in recent years, from Love Ulster to the May Day demonstration and the demonstrations yesterday, has been hijacked by the same group of people — local thugs from around town, persons wearing Celtic jerseys, Éirigí and a motley collection of Socialist Workers Party persons. It is not good enough that young gardaí and the man who is outside the gates of Leinster House with his candles, which were broken yesterday, should be injured and hurt for the sake of exercising some vague constitutional provision to march. Why not march into the Phoenix Park and give people a place to march to? Like the constitutional right in America to bear arms, it is a constitutional right that needs revisiting, especially in current times. Lastly, I ask the Minister for Finance to stop terrorising old age pensioners and others and just make a few hard cuts in the kind of people who failed to spend the money in the Department of Education and Skills yesterday.
I join Senator Harris in condemning the thuggish behaviour of a small few yesterday who were supposedly protesting in the name of a legitimate cause. It is not good enough that young gardaí and members of the security forces must endure that type of loutish behaviour. I am all in favour of people having the right to protest, but it is about time that the people who are on our streets supposedly protesting took responsibility for their actions and that these people are held to account.
I also join Senator Harris in asking the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills to come into the House to explain why the €300 million has not been spent in the Department's budget. It is far too simplistic to blame civil servants for it not being spent. Has the Leader any concept of €300 million? It is almost one third of €1 billion. Look at the number of jobs in the construction industry it could create for idle qualified trades people and builders. More importantly, at another level, look at what one third of €1 billion could do to help us in the smart economy by educating young people in less crowded classrooms and in decent facilities. It is not acceptable that the money is not spent. It is not acceptable merely to blame the civil servant. Where is the political master, the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Coughlan, who is deputy head and the second person in charge of the Government? That shows that we need reform of how we do business by reforming the public service and by creating efficiencies. It is the deputy leader of the Government, the Tánaiste, who is responsible for the Department. Can she come to the House to explain why the money is not spent?
Yesterday I made the point that I believed there were people on the sidelines waiting to exploit the anger and emotion felt during the current economic crisis. I do not believe these people genuinely want any solution to the problem. What we saw yesterday mirrored exactly the point that I was making. I suggested that we should look closely at what is happening in Greece where we saw it as peaceful protest initially, then becoming violent and eventually becoming exceptionally extreme. People will be listening closely to every word we utter in this House, in the Dáil and in public as well. I do not believe we have reached as yet the ultimate of this type of protest. I agree fully that the majority of those protesting yesterday were good, decent young people who were exercising a democratic right, but Senator Harris has put his finger on it. All the various protests which have taken place in this city and other parts of the country have invariably been hijacked. Yesterday, I walked right through the crowd and could see the two elements there, but what I also saw were the young gardaí outside who were never exposed to this type of extreme violence previously. It is vital for us not only to condemn what has happened but to analyse and make quite clear that it makes no contribution whatever to a resolution.
We also should be careful. I praised Fine Gael yesterday morning and I will do so again this morning. The balance that I hear from that part of the Opposition to my way of thinking is being influenced by the knowledge that there is a greater danger to our democracy awaiting us, not just the IMF. I genuinely hope we all take time to realise what is that danger.
I want to make a point on the decision made by the Government last night to appeal to the Supreme Court the judgment secured in the High Court on behalf of the people of Donegal South-West. I do not agree with statements today made by the Labour Party and by other Opposition parties on local radio stations that there was no choice for the Government but to appeal it to the Supreme Court. It is clear that the issues at hand were dealt with fairly and squarely by the President of the High Court. Precedents such as the McKenna judgment mean the courts have a right to step in when the rights and entitlements of citizens are being denied by the Executive. That was the finding of the President of the High Court yesterday, that my rights and the rights of 71,000 people under the Irish Constitution were being denied by the Executive. The Supreme Court stated in the McKenna case that the courts have the right to step in when the Executive denies the constitutional rights of the citizen, and that they then, and only then, should interfere with the running of the Houses of the Oireachtas. It is a disgrace that the appeal will be launched. It is clear there is only one reason the Government is doing so, which is to frustrate the attempts of my party or any other citizen to take a legal challenge on the Waterford and Dublin South by-elections in particular.
It is interesting the President of the High Court, Mr. Justice Nicholas Kearns, referred in his findings to the 90-day recommendation that came from the Oireachtas Constitution Review Group. There is now serious scope for people to seek recourse to the courts with regard to forcing both by-elections, given that the Government does not intend to hold those by-elections until mid to late April, which will mean the seats will have been vacant for more than a year. It is doubly a disgrace that the Government decided on the same day on which people woke up to learn €6 billion of cuts would be inflicted on them to spend hundreds of thousands of euro of taxpayers' money defending the case.
Yesterday, we spoke about Seanad reform and I commend Senator O'Toole on tabling the motion. I did not necessarily agree with everything that was stated, but with regard to what we can do I appeal to the Leader to restore some confidence in the Seanad — if it can be restored — by convening an all-party meeting immediately with the purpose of introducing a Bill to allow for the automatic filling of vacancies in by-elections within 90 or 180 days. Let us discuss it together. Let the Seanad state we respect the courts. Everyone states they agree the filling of casual vacancies should not be left to the Government, depending on how popular or unpopular it is. It is something positive we could do and the public would welcome the Seanad taking that initiative. I ask the Leader to do so today.
A total of 84% of the age cohort from 65 to 74, and a total of 89% of those aged 75 and older, rely on social transfers including the State pension to protect them from the risk of poverty. Any cut to the State contributory pension, for which people have already paid through their PRSI contributions will be resisted by older people. Older people have already taken a 2% effective cut because of the elimination of the Christmas bonus last year. They pay carbon costs and increased dental costs. If there is any change in the State contributory pension and if protests are held outside the door I will be there with the older people. It is my responsibility. I am spokesperson on older people and yesterday I spoke at our policy group meeting with the Minister for Finance and I will do so again with the Taoiseach this morning. They will be absolutely out of their minds if they touch the pension.
There is incompetence in the Department of Education and Skills. People at the top of the Department earn mega-salaries and they could not spend €330 million. For God's sake, there is something wrong in the streets of Denmark.
I support Senator Fitzgerald who stated conditions and wider factors in Ireland are impacting on the bond markets. Loath though I am to state it, at present we have a very poor reputation in Europe. I experienced this at first hand on Tuesday at an OECD meeting during an informal chat with other parliamentarians. It is not good and we have to take responsibility for it. It is about leadership in this country and about the Government. The Government must give leadership that will raise our confidence. The way it flagrantly went in the face of citizens in recent months and years with regard to the by-elections is being seen exactly for what it is——
Questions to the Leader, please. We do not want speeches.
——anti-democratic for the sake of political power. It is in the Government's hands to change but I don't know if it can. Has the Government forgotten there are people out there, that there is a citizen, and that there is a taxpayer who pays our bills? This is how out of touch it looks.
I do have some good news. A year and a half ago, I and a few others set up a job creation initiative in Oranmore. This recession has been going on for a long time, and at the time, it was a local response to a national crisis. In the past two days, I have been contacted by Oman with 100 teaching jobs on offer and those involved want to attract only Irish teachers. This is good news because they are stating they believe in Irish teachers and our education system. The message from the OECD is that education is the driver of growth. I regret to state those jobs are not in this country but it is still a vote of confidence in our education system.
I call Senator Bradford.
My question is——
No more questions. Time is up.
With respect, when will the Minister——
Time is up.
——come to the House to discuss the quality of our education system——
I have called Senator Bradford.
——and to answer the very important questions about the €300 million not spent?
I thank the Cathaoirleach; I did not want to interrupt my acting leader.
No interruptions, please. The Senator's time is moving on.
Keep women at the top.
We have had some interesting debates in recent weeks on economic matters, the budgetary situation, the Croke Park agreement and related matters. In view of the fact that today we are advised the Government will pronounce its judgment on the level of fiscal adjustment to be provided for in December's budget, it is very important that the House reverts next week to a debate on economic matters. If, as we are advised, a sum of €5 billion will be withdrawn from circulation, there is a duty on us all of us to debate this figure and the options, and to highlight areas where money could be saved or better spent. We all have a duty in this regard.
What has really frightened me in recent days are newspaper headlines concerning the forthcoming budget and the fact that it now appears the future of the Government is dependent on a number of Independent Members of Dáil Éireann. It is quite scary that Independent and maverick Deputies of all shapes and sizes can dictate the economic agenda of Government and the economic future of the country. This is why, even at this very late stage of the game, it should be very much part of the Government's agenda to debate very frankly with the Opposition parties the economic choices available and see whether some degree of consensus can be found. There is much good will on this side of the House and on the part of my party to try to work with the Government, if it offers some degree of economic leadership. I am frightened, however, at the prospect of a number of Independent Deputies, for whom their constituency and not the country is everything, will dictate what happens and what does not happen in December's budget. Let us play our part next week by reverting to an economic debate. At least we can debate the principles and see whether some degree of progress can be made.
I ask the Minister for Education and Skills to come to the House to discuss the €330 million left in her Department's capital fund for building projects, given that there are only two months in which to spend it. I agree with Senator Harris that no heads will roll and that this is immoral. A school in my parish has eight prefabs which means children are being taught in substandard accommodation. The design team was appointed four years' ago and I fail to understand the reason the school has not been helped. I am sure there are hundreds of other schools in the same situation. It was suggested on radio this morning that perhaps a slush fund was being created for use in a general election. I ask the Leader to deal with that suggestion.
Senator Harris exhorted us to do our best to dispel the negativity. There are two sources of negativity that need condemnation by the House. Ms Megan Greene from the Economist Intelligence Unit suggested Ireland was destined——
I ask the Senator not to name persons outside the House.
I apologise. She suggested Ireland was destined to take the same road as Greece and become dependent on an international bailout. This view is not sustainable and is a slanderous attack on the country. In fact, her argument did not stand up to critical questioning on "Morning Ireland". It is based on a negative frame of mind rather than on fact and she was unable to substantiate it. This is worthy of mention.
I refer to the negative reaction to the protest by students. With Senator Healy Eames, our education spokesperson, I saw the entire protest on the Merrion Street side of Leinster House. Thousands of students had gathered, but there was no violence. There was a very pleasant, good humoured and constructive atmosphere. The few who hijacked the protest near the Shelbourne Hotel belonged to a distinct group. They included many middle-aged adults. Their photographs are being shown all over the world today and it is bad publicity for the country. It is important, therefore, that we dispel such negativity. The vast majority of the students involved in the protest were excellent. The one thing they will want to hear today following all the bad publicity is an assurance from the Leader and all Members of the Seanad that something will be done about job creation in the budget. It is not enough to talk about fiscal correction only. I, therefore, ask the Leader to consider the immediate introduction of a national insulation scheme to boost the construction industry, generate taxation revenue, bring an end to fuel poverty and affect the importation of fossil fuels, a point I will develop later. I thank the Cathaoirleach for his indulgence.
Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Alex White, Boyle, Coghlan, Mooney, Bacik, Regan, Doherty and Healy Eames all gave their opinions on the High Court's decision on the holding of the Donegal South-West by-election. I suggest we have a debate on the filling of vacancies in general which would encompass a debate on the European list system under which a vacancy can be filled the following day. We should include all of the options for consideration in such a debate. I will discuss this at the leaders' meeting on Tuesday.
Senators Fitzgerald, Hanafin, Quinn and McDonald asked about Seanad reform and the outcome of the debate last night on the Private Members' motion. We now know that the Minister intends to publish the White Paper and I will have no difficulty in discussing his proposals as soon as the White Paper is available. All groups and parties have made submissions to the Minister and the Department and we await their response. No one is holding up the process. I am and always have been in favour of Seanad reform, but the decision rests with the Department.
The Cathaoirleach and Members are bound by Standing Orders. Senator Alex White is also a member of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges which controls Standing Orders. I will be as efficient as I can be in responding to all requests made by colleagues on both sides of the House on the Order of Business.
Senators O'Toole, Hanafin, Mooney, Quinn and McDonald asked about providing information for the House on positive announcements with regard to corporation tax and the monthly unemployment figures which are good for a second month. The way the economy has to be addressed has changed completely. The construction industry was a massive contributor but is now practically non-existent. Everyone has to look for alternative ways of earning income and generating wealth. That Ireland is seen as the most attractive destination for foreign direct investment is a fantastic vote of confidence in this and previous Governments, IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland.
I suggest the proposal made by Siemens be discussed at the leaders' meeting next Tuesday to see how it can be progressed. It is an incredible offer to the State.
Senator Leyden asked about the national solidarity bond to raise funds from our own people. I will convey his strong views on the issue and that of pensions to the Minister.
Senators Norris, McDonald, Harris, Buttimer, Healy Eames and McFadden asked about the sum of €300 million saved owing to the competitive nature of tendering and the value for money obtained by the Department of Education and Science. It is good news that such savings have been made by the Minister and officials. They have obtained value for money and made savings to the tune of savings of €300 million, which must be commended.
Why has the money not been spent?
I am sure all Members will agree we must consider how we can reinvest the money in the education portfolio next year.
Senator Norris asked about copyright in the music industry and intellectual copyright in general. I have decided to arrange an all-day debate on this topic next Thursday. It is a very serious matter, on which guarantees need to be given, as Ireland's international reputation is at stake.
Senators Donohoe, Harris, Buttimer, Ó Murchú and Mooney asked about the students who came to Leinster House yesterday in vast numbers to make their views known in no uncertain terms. Others have referred to them as good decent young people. However, the scenes outside the gates cannot be allowed to be repeated. Young gardaí put their lives at risk to protect this institution. Violence cannot be condoned. I will fully support anyone who wishes to make his or her views known in a march or demonstration. However, it has to be peaceful.
Senators Mooney, Harris and others referred to negativity in the media. I welcome the fact that in the past few weeks it appears the national broadcaster is demonstrating balance. This House criticised it previously. As we all have, I have been listening to the national broadcaster on my way to and from Leinster House. Balance is returning to the media and there is a sense of responsibility, which I welcome.
Senator Quinn referred to organ donations and transplants. As I said previously, we debated this issue two years ago and I have no difficulty doing whatever we can to promote this. It makes common sense. I will have no difficulty in providing time for a debate.
Senator Cannon referred to cancer patients in Galway. What he said was alarming, to say the least. I will contact the Minister's office after the Order of Business because we were given assurances in regard to these centres of excellence. Regardless of the recession and the downturn, these centres of excellence must not be affected. Word should be sent to the HSE that this House will accept nothing but 100% support. A poor person with cancer sending her husband to see if there was a bed available in order that she could get chemotherapy was unacceptable and disgraceful. I will see what I can do. If we need to debate this issue in the House next week, I will set aside time to do so.
Senator Mary White has stated that 84% of our elderly people rely on the State pension. As we all know, more than 500,000 people are over the age of 65. I support Senator Mary White in terms of anything we can do to make Government realise 84% is a serious percentage. We support most of what Senator Mary White said.
Senators Bradford and O'Reilly called for a debate on finance. We have had many debates since we returned after the recess and I will have no difficulty in providing time in the coming weeks to discuss the Minister for Finance's announcement later today.