Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, Communications Regulation (Postal Services) Bill 2010 — Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and adjourn not later than 7.30 p.m., if not previously concluded. The business of the House shall be interrupted between 3.15 p.m. and 5.30 p.m.

In the last few days, we have heard a new version from the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on the bank guarantee scheme, and this raises many questions. Today, hard working people in Ireland will find out the further cost of years of mismanagement by this Government. They will see tax increases, cuts in social welfare and threats to front line services to name but a few ways in which their lives will be impacted by this budget. The Minister for Finance told us last year that we had turned the corner. We know now that is not true because that has not happened. We face a most serious situation in the national finances today. The question must be asked how should the budget be judged. Fine Gael will judge it on a number of pillars. Will it introduce reform? The public are looking for reform of how we do our business. We have raised many times the way in which the budget itself is presented. There has been no new mechanism to involve these Houses in the budget. We will also judge it on whether it is fair and protect the most vulnerable. That is a key question for the many people who have had to claim unemployment benefit. Also, will it create jobs? Is there a job stimulus package? That is a critical question for those tens of thousands who have become unemployed. They must be given some hope and find a way back to work and education. That is a critical test of the budget.

Fine Gael has put forward its four year plan, a fully costed plan that has been made public and the Government is aware of our views. I hope some of the initiatives we have suggested will be incorporated. Today should mark the end of the Government's time, it should herald a new beginning for the country. The sooner we have a new Government in place, the better.

We will have an opportunity to discuss the budget further but I want to raise the issues aired on "Prime Time Investigates" last night about marginalised communities. It focused on a particular community in Limerick but at this time, when we are making serious decisions about budgets, we must think about those communities that are most marginalised. No family in this country should have to cope with the type of anti-social behaviour and the absolute stress they are being forced to cope with as a result of anti-social behaviour in their community. To see ordinary families facing such distress and upset while they try to continue their lives, while facing extraordinary anti-social behaviour, was harrowing in the extreme.

As we approach the budget and there is a focus on the involvement of Independent Members in the other House, in particular, I wish to note the extraordinary imbalance in the commentary. When Ministers vie with each other to direct money from the national lottery to their constituencies, or to secure school buildings or decentralised offices for their constituencies, they are considered to be looking after their constituents. When Independent Members try to do the same, they are considered to be holding the country to ransom. None of the Independent Members I have seen has held the country to ransom, all they have done is try to secure some help for their constituencies, the same as they would if they were members of Government parties and that should be remembered. There is a bias against Independent Members in such commentary.

We sat all night one night on the question of the bank guarantee. We went through every aspect of it and as asked every question. I remember, in particular, Senator Alex White asking the Minister to take us through step by step what happened on that night, how they came to certain conclusions and what the banks were saying. This was presented as an urgent priority that was brought to the Government at very short notice and on which they had to make quick decisions. The leader of the Green Party, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, however, said at the weekend that the Cabinet discussed this at a meeting on Sunday. If that is the case, this House, the Dáil and the people have been seriously misled. We were never given any indication of this extraordinarily serious matter. Everyone of us felt the Government was under pressure — I supported the Government in its decision on the facts given to me at the time — but every single Member of the Oireachtas, apart from the Government it would appear, was led to believe this came upon the Cabinet on the Monday, the night they met before bringing the guarantee before the Houses. This House is entitled to some explanation of this.

It is unfortunate that for technical reasons we could not deal with the Croke Park agreement this week, although the Leader assures me we will discuss it next week. At the start of this crisis, one of the first questions asked in the House was why there were no economists in the Department of Finance. The answer is simple: we could not afford to pay them. We will now, once again, be reducing all salaries in the public sector. To use a blunt instrument such as this is not the way we should do our business. We are walking into the same mistakes we made before. When the boss of Bord Gáis was asked yesterday morning how he would deal with the reduction in his salary, his answer was simple: he said he would go straight back to the private sector. The House should think about that.

Today sees the introduction of one of the harshest budgets in the history of the State. This comes on the back of a series of fateful decisions by the Government, of which none, perhaps, is as important as the bank guarantee in 2008. The version of the story we have been told up to now, which we all believed, was that it was necessary to introduce the guarantee to avert an impending crisis in the financial system. When my colleague Senator Alex White asked the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, why the guarantee was introduced so quickly on that fateful night in 2008, the Minister said:

[B]y Monday evening it was clear to the Government that the huge battering the Irish bank shares had taken on the Stock Exchange reflected a general collapse in market confidence in the whole Irish banking sector. This was a very serious situation.

He said the guarantee was his answer to this situation. However, according to the version we heard last weekend from the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, there had been a meeting of the entire Cabinet the previous day, Sunday, at which this was discussed and agreed. The Minister said on Saturday morning that it was not a spur-of-the-moment decision, although I read this morning that he has since rowed back slightly from those comments. However, the fact remains that this is the first time anybody has ever heard about a Cabinet meeting taking place on the Sunday. There is still a discrepancy between what the Minister, Deputy Gormley, is saying and what the Minister for Finance told this House. I ask the Leader to ask the Deputy Leader, who is the chairman of the Green Party, whether he can corroborate those statements by the Minister, Deputy Gormley, at the weekend, because it runs entirely contrary to what the Minister for Finance told this House.

The spin at the time was that there was a sudden crisis and that we had to introduce the guarantee to avert that crisis and save the banking system when in fact there had been discussions throughout September. The Government knew what was happening with Irish Nationwide Building Society and Anglo Irish Bank and it had been contemplating such a guarantee throughout that month. It ignored the €7 million report from Merrill Lynch, it approved the guarantee at the Cabinet meeting on Sunday and then, on the fateful Monday, it invented the crisis in order that it could push its policy through. We need to hear more about this and we must have clear and concise reasons for what happened. This is a sore that will fester until we get the truth.

I can sense the concerns of some Senators today and the need to rewrite history. My recollection of the events of 30 September was that a number of events had preceded them. There was an ongoing concern about the viability of banks prior to that date, and the Cabinet had several discussions about the policy options open to the Government and the likely consequences of any particular policy option. It is true that the preferred course of action, if a particular set of circumstances arose subsequently, was a bank guarantee, but the events of 30 September were immediate and significant and a particular response was required. They were not preceded by a decision.

We were never told by the Government about such a meeting.

I have a particular recollection of ongoing debate at that time about the policy options that were available. None of us knows what was said in the Cabinet conversations, but I am led to believe that some of the people who are most opposed to the existence of the bank guarantee, namely top-level economists, were among those who advised in favour of such a guarantee at the time. In view of the level of conflicting advice, to go back to the events of two years ago and see them in a context that did not exist is not helpful. I am convinced that the events of 30 September resulted in an emergency reaction that determined Government policy. That remains the fact of the matter.

That is not the issue.

(Interruptions).

No interruptions, please.

That is not the issue at all.

Please, no interruptions.

When we came in here on that night, the Minister stood across from us and said the bank guarantee was not going to cost us anything. When I tabled an amendment to that legislation to the effect that we should not spend more than €10 billion on bailing out the banks, the Minister stated neither he nor his Government envisaged spending anything like that sort of money. No one from that side of the House, including Senator Boyle and his colleagues in government, gave us any indication at that time that the Minister, Deputy Gormley, was privy to other information that could have been shared with the House to help us make a more informed decision. We were always given the impression that the Minister, Deputy Gormley, was woken in the middle of the night, not that he sleepwalked his way into this.

It was not true then either. Which story does the Senator wish to believe?

(Interruptions).

Please, no interruptions.

(Interruptions).

Senator Twomey to continue without interruption, please.

Senator Boyle has tried to take the high moral ground with the Green Party as to how they would act in government.

Please, questions to the Leader.

They have been just as deceitful as their Fianna Fáil colleagues in the Cabinet with regard to giving information to the people. All through this year since the last budget and with regard to the banking crisis, it has been nothing but lies after lies after lies.

"Lies", a Cheann Comhairle. What about Standing Orders?

The Senator is not back in the Dáil yet.

Quite clearly these lies date back even further than the budget last year.

On a point of order, Cathaoirleach——

I cannot stop someone making a political charge.

Charging a Member with "lying" is not allowed under Standing Orders.

Someone is not telling the truth.

A Chathaoirligh, I find your rulings increasingly extraordinary. One thing is perfectly clear: I have been stopped for using pretty mild language. Lying is outlawed in every parliament on this continent. If you cannot see it then there is something very seriously wrong with this House and with your rulings in particular. I am horrified by it.

Members are experienced enough not to use that type of language and I call on the Members who use that language simply to withdraw it.

My apologies. I withdraw it and substitute for it the word "untruths" if that is what the Cathaoirleach wishes.

As Members have mentioned, it is budget day. I look forward to the debate tomorrow when we will have an opportunity to discuss the measures and to express the hope that today's announcement will be fair and, to the maximum extent possible, that it will protect the most vulnerable in society. In that context if it is so deemed that higher sections of the public services or the semi-State sector must take pay cuts then, unlike Senator O'Toole, I have no difficulty with it. If people within the semi-State sector or the senior Civil Service determine, following a pay cut, that they must revert to the private sector then I wish them well. We will be sorry to lose them. However, no one will hold the State to ransom, regardless of whether it is a salary issue. I share the view that we must have economists working for us but I do not share the view that we cannot afford them. There are many economists available and they need not be those who command the massive salaries and who go on various television shows as celebrity economists.

Following the budgetary discussions tomorrow I call for an urgent debate on the new system of dealing with mortgage arrears introduced by the Central Bank yesterday. Senator McFadden remarked last week that she had encountered a family which, to pay the mortgage, had to turn off the electricity and not fed the children for a few days. This is replicated throughout the country. These will be further replicated and we must have the legislative reform for which the Prevention of Family Homes Repossessions Group has pushed for some two years now, that is, to amend the Enforcement of Court Orders Act to prohibit the granting of a court order for the repossession of a family home. It would cost the State more to house, heat and feed these people. We must protect family homes, not trophy homes. Whether it is this or the next Government, this legislative reform must take place quickly to give families the protection they require.

With regard to the bank guarantee, I share my colleagues' concern. I voted against the guarantee. I also asked several pertinent questions. I asked about the exact amount of the guarantee, which was some €440 billion. Then I asked the Minister and his advisers our gross national product for the previous year. They did not know and had to go out and make a telephone call. Is that not extraordinary? When they came back, it turned out that our gross national product for that year was less than half what we were to guarantee. It was quite extraordinary and one of the principal reasons I voted against it. I am concerned that, not only in this Parliament but across Europe, politicians are playing their own narrow sectional, national and partisan games. There is no doubt the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is making a mistake when she sets her face against the development of euro bonds. This is the weapon about which I was talking last week that might help to rescue the situation and she opposes it for perfectly sound national electoral reasons. If the euro is to survive, there is an inevitability that centrifugal forces will drive it towards such centralisation. If it does not, the euro will fracture.

I believe we are entitled to know various matters about the bank guarantee. Recently I tried to put some bondholders' names on the record but the Cathaoirleach stopped me. I will now try to do so again and, subsequently, will be looking for the Cathaoirleach to explain why he stopped me. Will the Leader confirm that one of the bondholders is Goldman Sachs? This company has been described as a vampire squid on the face of the public purse and we are entitled to know if it is one of the bondholders. Money has been taken from the people referred to by Senator MacSharry who have had to switch off their electricity supply and live in squalor, fear and the cold to pay these big financial institutions which have gambled. It is wrong, unethical and unjust. We need to know to whom we are giving the money.

Time, Senator.

I want to end on a positive note. There were some wonderful programmes on television last night. I hope RTE which is consistently under attack will be supported and given money to develop creative programmes. Last night "Nationwide" carried a wonderful celebration of the magnificent institution,The Munster Express, a report on a young farmer with cystic fibrosis——

Time, Senator. I call Senator Leyden.

——as well as a report on a lady of certain years in County Laois. It was a wonderful and inspiring programme.

Please, Senator.

Let us have more home-produced programmes and less of the tripe bought in from abroad.

The Senator is out of order.

That is interesting coming from Senator Norris, considering his double-jobbing between radio and television.

Last night "Prime Time Investigates" presented a sad, serious and hopeless situation in certain estates in Limerick. Will the Leader arrange a debate on the Limerick regeneration project? Judging from last night's programme, it seems all of the investment has been made in vain. No one gave the other side of the argument. The Minister responsible must explain the position on the regeneration of Limerick city. It was tragic and appalling to see what had happened to some of the estates, some of which are no-go areas. I had never seen anything like it before. It is hard to believe it is happening in our own country. I commend "Prime Time Investigates" and want the Government and the Ministers responsible to explain where the money has gone so far in the regeneration project and what has been achieved. This House has a role to play and I hope it will have one in the future.

Will the Leader arrange a debate before Christmas on parliamentary democracy?

The events of the initial bank recapitalisation underline the fact that the Government has lost the trust and confidence of the people and cannot be believed. The issue is not whether the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, was asleep or what the Government did prior to the weekend before the guarantee was given. It is why it indicated to the people and this House that the bank guarantee was the subject of an eleventh hour decision that had to be made when it had already met on the Sunday to discuss it.

Yes, that is the issue.

They misled the people and broke trust again. Budget day will bring to an end the argument and the notion that the bill for the recapitalisation of the banks is the cheapest in world history. Instead, it will be the most expensive. It is the people – the gnáth duine, the ordinary man and woman – who will pay for the Government's failure, dereliction of duty, abdication of responsibility and gross mismanagement. It is the time the Leader's party faced the consequences of bad governance, but that will require more than a debate in this House. It will require a fair and just budget. I do not want to hear mealy-mouthed Members across the floor——

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

I am asking him questions. I do not want to hear mealy-mouthed platitudes from Members on the other side of the House. We need to see a budget that is fair, equitable and aimed at those who can afford to pay most. That means an awful lot more than just cutting ministerial pay, even though that would be a start. That debate needs to begin out on the hustings with a general election because the Government has lost all credibility.

I commend Senator Norris on naming a number of programmes that were aired last night, although I did not get to see any of them. I note that none of them concerned the people who are currently involved in double-jobbing between radio and television programmes. Senator Norris is right when he says that we should try to expand the amount of talent within our national broadcasting company, and not have people monopolising radio and television programmes. The question concerning today's budget is whether it will examine that issue, given that the politicians were clearly told to stay away from double-jobbing.

The reason I did not see the programmes last night is that I left my house yesterday at 10 a.m. in the car to come to Dublin. I was trying to beat the weather because the gritter had gone past the house at 9.30 a.m.; therefore I thought it was safe to drive. As I slid sideways and forwards through the traffic and finally got to the bottom of the road safely, without taking six or seven cars with me, I parked and returned home.

I am seeking a debate on how Ireland copes with bad weather and why the National Roads Authority has monopolised salt supplies. The effect of the NRA centralising salt supplies means that Donegal County Council does not have any salt. The council always used to be able to manage salt reserves by getting extra supplies from Carrickfergus at a quick turnaround. I am thankful I was not a cancer patient yesterday trying to get to Dublin or a tourist trying to get to an airport. I left the car and tried to get a bus, but there were no buses because the road that had been gritted with a mixture of salt and sand was impassable half an hour later due to falling snow. A friend gave me a lift in a four-by-four to Derry where I got a train that was 30 minutes late because the driver was delayed coming from Donegal.

We are on the Order of Business now and the Senator has sought a debate.

I just wanted to give an outline of how one decision——

That is not necessary.

——by the NRA meant that thousands of people were discommoded in the north west yesterday. Roads are closed today, thus discommoding thousands of others. We need an urgent debate on why we cannot cope with a small bit of snow and ice.

Many of my colleagues have referred to today's forthcoming budget. In that context, I am asking the Leader for a debate on the fourth report of the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service, entitled Report on Macroeconomic Policy and Effective Fiscal and Economic Governance. This report has been endorsed by all parties in the House and seeks a more effective way to deliver budgets through the Houses of the Oireachtas and ensure past mistakes are not repeated. The core of the report is about ensuring Parliament has a more powerful and proper role to play in developing budgets and tracking their implementation. I have no doubt that if this report were to be implemented — and I hope it will be by the next Government — it would make a major contribution towards ensuring our current difficulties are not repeated.

I concur with Senator Norris's request for a debate on the role of Irish art and how we can support it. I saw a magnificent film at the weekend, entitled "His and Hers" and supported by the Irish Film Board, which concerns the lives of couples in the midlands. It is a wonderful piece of art that speaks to the lives of people in Ireland and will be of help to them.

A debate has also been sought on who the bondholders are in Ireland. If international banks are bondholders, which they are, can the Leader clarify the degree to which Irish pension funds are holders of senior debt in our banks?

Some time ago, I went to Limerick and visited some of the areas which were affected by anti-social behaviour and criminality. I also met members of the regeneration team on that occasion. I was particularly impressed by their commitment as well as their knowledge of the problems involved and how to confront them. They were determined to give back a decent life to decent people. I was involved in the establishment of a project in the region and I was pleasantly surprised at the number of young people, almost 400, who came forward to be part of the project. It struck me that, unfortunately and necessarily, we must highlight particular elements in those areas but the vast majority of people are ordinary decent, honest to God people who want to live their lives and give a future to their children. As we watched the programme on television last night, we could once again see the extent of the seriousness. Can the Leader arrange for a debate as soon as possible to give everyone the opportunity to bring forward their experiences? It struck me that the women on the programme who were prepared to explain what was happening showed great courage in doing so. Knowing those areas, there are people in those areas try to silence such people. In the midst of the serious issues of the budget, the human issues must be given attention. My hope is that the regeneration will go ahead and we will engage as much as we possibly can with those people affected.

Today the OECD reported that literacy level in Irish schools has fallen dramatically in recent years. The country has gone from fifth to 17th in the rankings. There is a need for the Minister for Education and Skills to evaluate this as a matter of urgency and to come into the House to explain the action she intends to take to address this alarming development.

Regarding "Prime Time Investigates", it is appalling that the ordinary, decent people involved who want to live their lives in comfort find themselves in the situation shown in the programme, but we have such anti-social behaviour in many estates throughout the country. My understanding is that local authorities cannot act because they are waiting for court cases to be heard before taking action. While we definitely need reform of the political system, we also need reform of the courts system. These issues should be speeded up and there should be complete reform of the court service to expedite matters of national interest. These matters are also of interest to ordinary decent people trying to live their lives in their homes.

I too saw the programme last night. I was struck by it and I began to think why this was happening and why society cannot come to grips with what is happening. The regeneration project was wonderful. I listened to the people who took a leadership role. Despite this, it seems we cannot break the ground on it. This has nothing to do with money. Civil society must play this role to a greater degree. We have gone beyond pumping money into this or going to the local authority or the key people in society. This must come from a bottom-up approach and that is the way forward for the regeneration of Limerick. Society must play a big role and society throughout the length and breadth of Ireland must be questioned about where we go from here.

Comments were made about parliamentary democracy. I have been calling for reform of parliamentary democracy for a long time. I am tired of lines about lies, being deceitful and being mealy-mouthed. These lines are most unprofessional. I have respect for each parliamentarian in this House and I expect to receive the same treatment, but I do not. It is not good enough that we should be passing snide remarks across the Chamber at one another. It is not right. It is not professional. We are all professional people and we should know how to do our business and talk about policies, not talk about personalities. I would love a debate on the reform of our democracy and parliamentary approach.

We should also consider other issues such as civil society and how best we can all play a role. It is not about us alone. I cannot do very much on my own. I need to go out into the community, help out and get people around me. I am not playing a leadership role unless I do that. I am not good enough to do it in this House, neither is anyone else either. A debate on that would be worthwhile.

I support my colleague, Senator Ormonde, in what she just said. In every walk of life and at every level in our community the human spirit is stronger than anything that can happen to it. That is the attitude we all need to have. I have seen it at different levels in various communities. With a can-do positive attitude and the human spirit we can address and face anything that may cross our paths, including along the lines on which Senator Ormonde touched. I very much agree with what she said. We have seen all too much of that. Some of us have experienced it at first hand.

I wish to raise two issues. The first is domestic violence. Sadly, there is an increase in the level of domestic violence. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate, if at all possible, at an appropriate time with appropriate briefing documents on the level of support for people who experience domestic violence. Is there anyone out there who is aware of the various legal procedures, some of which are causing obstacles with regard to domestic violence? Groups exist that are very involved. They can certainly supply the information. It would be very much welcomed if a brief could be put together.

The final point relates to something which will be necessary, in particular in the first quarter of next year, namely, a debate on health-related matters. We are aware in particular of difficulties in accident and emergency units at the moment. We are also aware of a large increase in fractures and bone damage. That will require a certain priority in the first quarter of the new year when surgical procedures may be necessary. We should put in a special effort with the National Treatment Purchase Fund to address that, which is why I seek a debate on the matter.

I join other Senators in calling for a debate on reform, not just of our political system but of society as a whole. It will happen whether any of us like it. I would prefer not to see bloodied revolutions. I would prefer to see a reasoned debate and a reasoned, quiet reform of our society. People are calling for the abolition of the Seanad, for example, which is a knee-jerk reaction to reform. I would far prefer to see things reformed for the better rather than just thrown away.

We have been waiting decades for it.

Reform always comes from without. When I was growing up people used to say it is not what you know but who you know. That is something which needs to be ditched. The clientelist politics we have in this country is not the way forward. It is not the norm elsewhere in Europe to the same extent. Even at a local authority level we have the business of repairing potholes which permeates as far up as Cabinet level. Parish pump politics has to go. I would like to have a full debate on reform. There will not be a vote on it but we need to put our ideas honestly and openly before the Government finally ends. We need to put our views on reform in the public domain.

I watched the television programme on Limerick last night. I feel very sorry for all the good people in the area that was mentioned. I cannot help but notice that much of today's anti-social behaviour, from unprovoked attacks on people to rob them to the extortion of money from those who owe money to drug barons and drug pushers, is generated by the drugs problem. Therefore, the sooner we get to grips with it, the better. What really annoys me is that some prominent people in society make excuses for the use of cannabis. Anyone who knows anything at all about drugs will tell us about how dangerous a drug cannabis is. Not only is it a gateway and soft drug, it also causes mental illness. Anyone who advocates its legalisation needs his or her head examined. If we could eliminate the drugs problem, we would be able to eliminate much of the anti-social behaviour in society. I feel sorry for those who live in certain areas of the country, not just the area in Limerick mentioned last night. In the main, drugs are at the centre of all of the problems encountered.

Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Hannigan, Boyle, MacSharry and Buttimer expressed their opinions on what is an important day in the calendar of the Houses, budget day. The budget is designed to make the adjustment to meet the requirements of the Exchequer, be it in respect of social welfare, education or health services, as well as to pay members of the Army and the Garda and workers throughout the rest of the public sector. It covers all of the State's expenditure. The budget to be announced today is one of the most crucial we have ever had. I wish the Minister for Finance well. There is an onerous responsibility on all public representatives, be they in government or opposition, to ensure the budget will be voted through. The debate on the budget in the Seanad will be held tomorrow morning after the Order of Business and I will allow the longest time for every Member to make his or her views known to the Minister and the Department.

Senators Fitzgerald, Leyden, Ó Murchú, Cummins, Ormonde, Callely and Glynn expressed their views on last night's "Prime Time Investigates" special on anti-social behaviour in a certain part of Limerick. I watched "The Frontline", on which representatives from Limerick correctly pointed to all of the great things happening there. I refer, in particular, to a gentleman who was an employer. Two other gentlemen highlighted the fact that difficulties had been caused by young people not having opportunities to gain employment, undergo training and so on. The regeneration of Limerick under the stewardship of Mr. John Fitzgerald has been exemplary. He was an incredible city manager in Dublin——

——and I look forward to the Oireachtas assisting him in relieving the plight of the people of Limerick.

Before becoming a Member, Senator Glynn gained considerable experience in the health sector and he has given the House advice on the abuse of drugs. I will have no difficulty in arranging a debate to determine how we can play our part in supporting everyone who is trying to address the difficulties being experienced in a minority of areas of the country, which is how we want to keep it.

Senator O'Toole correctly outlined the significant work done by Independent Members of the Oireachtas since the foundation of the State. Every Member, as an Independent Deputy or Senator or as a member of a political party, works in the best interests of his or her constituency; that is what he or she has been elected to do. Independent Members are no different from any other Member. As I told the Senator last week, the contributions of the Independent Members I have known during the many years I have been a Member have been exemplary and I commend them for their commitment.

Senator O'Toole also mentioned the Croke Park agreement which will return to the Order Paper next week when the Minister of State, Deputy Calleary, will attend the House for a debate on the issue.

Senators Twomey, MacSharry and Norris spoke about banking, Cabinet confidentiality and various matters that have been highlighted in the media in recent days. I believe 30 September was a difficult day for the Government.

Senator Norris wanted to know who the bondholders were, whether they were the pension funds or various sectors of the Irish banks, and if credit union money was invested. Any fair-minded Member of either House can attest that there was great concern on the part of the Government towards protecting every Irish citizen, whether it was in terms of savings, pensions or whatever, in the national interest. The decent people who had worked so hard for generations to have those small amounts of savings in place for the next generation certainly had to be looked after and protected.

Senator MacSharry wanted a special debate on yesterday's Central Bank announcement about mortgage holders who are in arrears, which I welcomed. I have no difficulty with this, but perhaps in the budget debate tomorrow that might be mentioned by the spokespersons. I will discuss this at next Tuesday's meeting with the group leaders to see how it might be progressed, because I would like to have this debate before Christmas.

Senators Norris, Keaveney and Donohoe congratulated RTE on its very many outstanding home produced programmes in recent days. Those of us who have been big supporters of RTE for most of our lives would agree. Certainly the "Nationwide" programme last night was exemplary. I congratulate the presenters, producer and everyone associated with it, and last night's programme was just outstanding. One would be proud to be Irish and see what had been achieved in the 35 years the programme covered, especially in terms of the Army, women in the Army and how it has progressed so well in playing its part worldwide.

Senators Buttimer and Ó Brolcháin again called for a debate on parliamentary democracy. I have already made a commitment in this regard and I will have no difficulty in allocating time to it, if possible.

Senator Keaveney and many colleagues referred to the difficult weather we are experiencing. I record our thanks and gratitude to all the local authorities, the Garda Síochána, the Army, which is doing tremendous work, Civil Defence and everyone playing his or her part in no small way in probably the worst weather conditions Ireland has faced in the past 30 years. I certainly take the point made by Senator Keaveney about funding for the NRA and what is left aside for rural Ireland. People in rural Ireland must be allowed to continue to survive, live and be able to play their part in their communities. We should not be completely blocked in for days and weeks, as has been the case, and there is no difficulty with the House having a debate on this. I shall certainly pass on the Senator's strong views to the Minister after the Order of Business.

Senator Donohoe called for a debate on the fourth report of the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service, and there is no difficulty with this taking. I shall try to arrange to have it debated before Christmas, if at all possible.

Senator Cummins called for a debate on educational issues which he outlined to the House, and there is no difficulty about this. He also called for a debate on reform of the court services. This is an area in which Senator Cummins has a good deal of expertise, I appreciate the gravity of the request and I shall do everything I can to ensure this is also debated as soon as possible.

Senator Callely again called for a debate on domestic violence and legal procedures. The Senator has vast experience in this area, given his former portfolio as a Minister of State, and there is no problem in having a debate on this. The Senator also called for a debate on health matters, which I will have no difficulty in arranging at the earliest opportunity.

Order of Business agreed to.