Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re draft order for the reconstitution of the National Economic and Social Council, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, Public Health (Tobacco) (Amendment) Bill 2010 — all Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1, on Second Stage of 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 ten minutes before the conclusion of the debate on Second Stage which is to conclude by 1.30 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 3, Communications Regulation (Postal Services) Bill 2010 — Report and Final Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2 but not before 3 p.m.

I am sure many of us will recall the "Prime Time Investigates" documentary during the week on crime which focused predominantly on Limerick. My son and I watched the programme together and we were horrified at the sense of despair and utter hopelessness of so many young people in that part of the country. They had deserted society simply because it seemed to have deserted them. In the light of the programme, I find it appalling, shocking and deeply saddening that the Government has chosen this week to reduce the budget for one programme which might have helped some of the people in question out of the difficulties in which they find themselves, namely, the youth justice programme which has been in operation since 2005. The Government has slashed the budget for the programme by 25%.

Child benefit and dole payments are being cut, yet it is intended to continue spending €100,000 per year in keeping minor offenders within the prison system. I would very much appreciate an opportunity to debate the matter at the earliest possible time, as we urgently need to examine prison policy. A total of 60% of prison sentences are for one year or less. I have said on many occasions since we entered into the economic crisis that it gives us licence and authority — in fact, it demands this from us — to do things substantially differently from now on. We need to focus on the prison system and fundamentally reform the way it works. On purely pragmatic grounds, spending €100,000 per year to keep each prisoner in the prison system represents a ridiculous waste of money and makes no sense whatsoever on humanitarian grounds. It is a self-defeating exercise. A total of 40% of former inmates reoffend. Therefore, the more people we send to prison, the higher the prison population will be.

In the mid-1990s Canada faced a budgetary crisis that required the government to cut public spending by 20%, something that seems familiar to us now. As part of the cuts, officials reduced the country's prison population by 11%. The state released low-risk inmates and introduced more community-based sentences. Crime did not surge and chaos did not reign. During the following decade the number of assaults and robberies decreased by 23%, burglaries by 35% and murders by an astonishing 43%. We need to get beyond the dichotomy of being perceived as being either tough on crime and, therefore, in favour of more prison sentences or soft on crime and, therefore, in favour of fewer prison sentences. It is not the case. Sending people to prison does not help to reduce crime. In fact, prison systems such as ours lead to more crime.

I was delighted last night when Senator Boyle stated his party should press to have its legislation passed and that he regretted the fact that there would be no legislation on Seanad reform. It is an extraordinary jump from not being able to reform the Seanad to discussing its elimination. This point needs to be responded to by the Government. I am trying to be helpful, as the Green Party wishes to pass a series of important items of legislation, of which I would be supportive, for example, the Bills on political donations and climate change. I will not rehearse the arguments in favour of passing them. Since the Lower House will be focused on finance and budgetary issues for the next month or so, why can these Bills not be initiated in this House?

The Green Party has a clear opportunity to examine how the Seanad can prove helpful and be supportive of national initiatives and ensure the party's business is placed on the agenda and addressed.

Although I have raised the next budgetary matter before, it is important that I have my comments recorded. The cut in the national minimum wage was not demanded by IBEC, the Competition Authority or Mr. Chopra and it was not a condition in getting money from the European Union. As there was no demand for the cut to be made, I ask the Government to reconsider. Among all politicians, there is a significant sense of embarrassment at the idea that we are still here while certain cutbacks are being made. Of all cuts, the one affecting blind people is the most difficult to take.

The Government probably did not give the matter enough thought. I will, therefore, offer a suggestion. Blind people and people with sight difficulties experience the added costs associated with maintaining a guide dog. Guide dogs are expensive to look after and feed. There are also veterinary costs. In addition to the support afforded to blind people and people with sight difficulties, will the Government consider providing an additional allowance for the support and maintenance guide dogs which would put people back on an even keel without undermining Government policy? It would not cost much to do this.

On the budget, there are many injustices. I want draw attention to one, in particular, the impact of the cut in child benefit on the poorest families. Child benefit was also cut last year, but some compensatory measures were taken to protect the children of poorer families. Why have no compensatory measures been taken this year? Presumably, the Social Welfare Bill 2010 will be before the House next week. If the Government found it possible last year to take ameliorative measures to protect poorer families following the cut in child benefit, why is it not doing so this year? Perhaps the Deputy Leader might like to comment, although his answer to all of these questions will be the mantra that it does not matter who is in government because they would all do the same. That is what he keeps telling us.

As the Senator will find out.

Straitjacket syndrome.

If anything the Government does is criticised, the Senator's answer is that we would do the same in government. Is this the level of politics at which the Green Party has arrived?

Questions to the Leader, please.

I have a second question, on the important issue of the future of this and the Lower House. We deserve clarity, not just rumour. The airwaves have been full of rumours following the announcement of the leader of the Green Party on 22 November that it was time to have a general election and that it should be held in the middle of January. On the same day the Taoiseach stated: "It is my intention at the conclusion of this budgetary process with the enactment of the necessary legislation in the new year to then seek a dissolution of Dáil Éireann and to enable the people to determine who should undertake the responsibilities of government in the challenging period ahead thereafter." Is it still the position that, once the budgetary measures and the legislation required to enact the provisions of the budget have been completed, the Taoiseach intends to dissolve the Dáil and hold a general election? Alternatively, are we now in the hilarious situation where the Taoiseach is presenting the impression that he still intends to dissolve the Dáil but that the Green Party will not let him?

(Interruptions).

It never ceases to amaze me the extent to which some Senators, Senator Alex White in particular, can raise rumour to fact, believe what they want to believe becauseThe Irish Times tells them it is so——

Just answer me.

Answer the question.

——and choose not to believe what is stated in the House. The position is clear.

Is the Green Party still talking about a general election in mid-January?

The calling of the election is the constitutional prerogative of the Taoiseach.

This is like "Lanigan's Ball".

The leader of the Green Party announced that, following the completion of the budgetary process which would involve the passage of the Finance Bill in both Houses, we did not intend to remain in government.

He specifically gave the date of the middle of January.

This is clear, concise and precise and dependent on the co-operation of the Opposition in both Houses.

For goodness sake, the Senator should listen to himself.

If Senators are so concerned about calendar events, I encourage them to co-operate.

Is it power-sharing?

Questions to the Leader, please.

The process is already being assisted. The Dáil and the Seanad will be reconvened earlier, while the publication of the Finance Bill will also occur earlier.

It will not be the middle of January then.

Members, please.

I will put to bed Senator Alex White's particular belief the general election will be held in January.

No. I cited the Minister, Deputy Gormley's statement.

He did not say that.

The Green Party will pull the plug in January.

No interruptions, please.

The Minister said the election would be called in January.

He stated the general election would be held in the second half of January 2011.

I agree with Senator O'Toole, in that——

(Interruptions).

Members, please.

Senator Boyle is making it up as he goes along.

Senator Boyle to continue, without interruption.

I will not even go there. I support Senator O'Toole's request to process certain legislation.

Will the Deputy Leader manage it?

I have mentioned it to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and believe he wishes to raise the matter at the next Cabinet meeting. Draft legislation on both matters has been prepared and could be initiated before the recess. I hope the proposals made will be given active consideration.

Was it to be in January 2012 that the Green Party would pull the plug?

A matter on today's crowded Order Paper is not for debate, but a debate at the earliest opportunity on the change in the construction of the National Economic and Social Council, an important body for social partnership, particularly in the context of long-term strategy, would benefit the House. Both Houses need every assistance in formulating a long-term strategy because the people are crying out for such a vision.

I support the remarks made by my colleague, Senator Cannon, on what is necessary in the prison system.

(Interruptions).

Members, please.

Senator O'Toole raised interesting points about legislation, to which Senator Boyle responded, but I would also like to hear the Leader's response. Is there a timetable for the processing of this and other legislation? The points made by Senator O'Toole which Senator Boyle welcomed should be taken on board. The Seanad could play a constructive role before the dissolution of the Dáil.

Another serious matter has been confirmed. As suspected for some time, the banks deliberately falsified information and misled the National Asset Management Agency. There are other problems with NAMA, for example, how the investment market should be kickstarted, given that NAMA's portfolio amounts to a figure of €81 billion, two thirds or more of which is invested in Ireland. The market is so stagnant that there will be no movement, unless NAMA takes the initiative.

Is the Senator seeking a debate on the matter? If so, he should ask the Leader.

Now that the Financial Regulator, Mr. Matthew Elderfield, has written to the Committee of Public Accounts confirming the position, I hope that he, the Governor of the Central Bank and the Director of Corporate Enforcement will follow through. Perhaps the Leader might enlighten the House this morning in regard to the matter.

As the country comes to terms with a very difficult budget, I want to raise an issue that I have spoken on many times, namely, the maximum chargeable interest rate for loans. Licensed money lenders in this State can legally charge extortionate rates of 187%, and as people try honestly and in a resilient fashion to make the adjustments the budget demands of them, they may well seek to resort to the likes of Provident Financial plc, which openly charges 187%, and other moneylenders with extortionate rates. This takes advantage of people, and other countries such as Germany have faced up to this issue where there is a maximum chargeable rate. I believe 187% is legalised criminality by way of extortion. When people run into difficulty trying to meet these extortionate rates, they may resort to illegal moneylenders and we know the criminality associated with that. In whatever time is left I ask for an urgent debate on this. I urge the Leader to write immediately to the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Justice and Law Reform to ask that a maximum chargeable rate be applied forthwith.

As regards the completion of the budgetary process and the expected dissolution of the Houses of the Oireachtas to facilitate an election, it is worth noting that the Finance Bill last year was not concluded until well into April. Therefore an early summer election may well happen.

Further clarification.

I spoke twice yesterday on the economy and put on the record a heart-rending letter from a woman who is experiencing the impossibility of meeting her very basic commitments to her family. I am not going to read the letter into the Order of Business again, but we have to realise that one simply cannot get blood out of a stone. We have all got to take whatever cuts we can, I would tell the Government, but they can only be the cuts we can take. I believe in the old socialist maxim, "From each, according to his ability, to each according to his need". However, one can only take it from the people who have it to give, and for that reason I believe every measure should have a means test of some type applied to it to determine whether it is possible for people to pay up without damaging their families or their health, welfare and education. That is vitally necessary and in this context I know the bank executives who won a court case and got €40 million in bonuses were legally justified in their action, but I wonder about the morality of it. I wonder whether they realise quite how provocative it was in the light of the degree of suffering going on in the country, and given the general view that it is the executives of the banks who were very largely culpable for the crisis.

I want to raise another matter that relates to our near kin, horses. Ireland is supposed to be a horse loving country. An extraordinary situation has developed, however, in terms of the very large numbers of abandoned and stray horses around the countryside. These poor wonderful animals have no capacity to fend for themselves, because their nature, apparently, is just to stand in a field. They will not jump over a hedge and look for food. Often they are spancelled, tied and tortured. We need to investigate the operation of the Smithfield market which, although it has a long tradition in this city, is being radically changed. It is now becoming a funnel for horses to be sold very cheaply to unsuitable purchasers.

I would like a discussion on this important matter of animal welfare, whether the legislation is appropriate and if there is enough of it and what we can do in negotiation with the farming community and others, along with the horse breeding industry, to tackle this very regrettable situation.

I want to raise again the issue of the Donegal Youth Council. It has lost its co-ordinator post and the council has been suspended. We talk here about getting youth involved in democracy and cite the Oireachtas as being more user-friendly towards young people, in giving example etc. However, the fact the youth council has lost its co-ordinator, which has effectively suspended that body, is just not in order. To set the record straight, a Chathaoirligh, this issue was ruled out of order earlier this week on the basis of the Minister having no responsibility in this area. However, I can clarify that having spent some time with the Minister's officials last night, it was realised that the Minister very much has a role in relation to this matter.

That leads me to question the incidence of other matters being ruled out of order recently, for example the issue concerning television pictures and the change over from analogue to digital that I know will cause chaos later next year. Given that the Minister was able to address this subject when it was an all-island issue, but could not do so when it was of concern only to the Republic of Ireland, can that question be raised again with the Department and the Minister ordered or asked to discuss with the Seanad the general issue of the changeover from analogue to digital and its implications? We are moving to SAORVIEW and it will be anything but for those who are experiencing difficulties with their television pictures at the moment.

I again raise the issue of organised crime in sport. If I am asked by the Council of Europe to produce a report on having an international agency involved in overseeing organised crime in sport, surely this House has the right to ask our Minister for her views in relation to this matter. Therefore I believe it is most important that Ministers address the Seanad on issues that are of importance, and not have them ruled out of order given that subsequently they may be found to be in order.

Matters on the Adjournment are a matter for the Chair, and if senior officials in a Department indicate they have no responsibility in a matter, I have no choice except to rule it out of order. I leave it at that and——

On a point of order, I believe Ministers need to be asked to come to the Seanad to discuss important issues.

At all times I go to the very highest level in a Department, and when I get a decision I either allow the matter on the Adjournment or not. I only rule matters out when officials are not in a position to reply.

I was very saddened to hear the terrible news from Waterford city, where two five year olds were found by a social worker to be scavenging the public bins in the streets. This follows on from Senator McFadden's experience last week, where she told of families on the bread line who cannot feed their children. We need to be concerned at that this is happening around the country. Even families that are working are on the bread line and find it increasingly difficult to feed their young children. We need to be very much aware of this as parliamentarians and as an Oireachtas. I am not sure whether the recent budget was poverty-proofed because more poverty traps are being created in the measures being implemented by Government. This is the real impact of cuts on those who are most vulnerable.

I believe in enterprise and in people working their way, but when we reach these levels of destitution, we must take into account what we see before us. The initiative as regards cuts in child benefit might have been done better. Funds allocated for child benefit should have been targeted at the most vulnerable. There are people in receipt of child benefit in Ireland who are millionaires, and this is patently unfair. Then we see an example such as this in Waterford city, and it will happen in other towns and villages. It just happened to be discovered yesterday, and I am aware the HSE is investigating. However, it is time we took notice of reality on the ground and measures in the budget need to be examined very closely and poverty-proofed before being implemented.

Hear, hear, well said.

I share many of Senator Coffey's concerns. As regards child benefit, we should have a debate, in particular, on the computer systems in use, because quite frankly, although we have some of the world's best computer professionals in Ireland, many computer systems are well out of date. I raise this in relation to child benefit in particular because, apparently, the reality is that it is impossible to tax child benefit because the various computer systems do not talk to each other. Whether we agree with taxing child benefit is beside the point. Our computer systems should be modernised and many things are not being done in terms of tax simply because we have not got adequate systems. That needs to be debated here because, ultimately, who will instigate reform in this area? Our job as politicians is to ensure we have computer systems that are at least up to the level of business in this country, whereas in reality we do not.

I endorse the points made by Senator O'Toole. His point on the Seanad dealing with the non-financial business of this House is a very positive suggestion and I ask the Leader to consider this House sitting longer than the Dáil, or indeed coming back earlier than the Lower House to do just that.

I am a former patron of the Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind, which is probably one of the leaders in the world in terms of what it does. We should all be proud of what it does. This is an issue we should consider in the context of the comments made by Senator in that regard.

I endorse Senator Norris's point about horses. There is in Dublin at least a register of horses but in place such as Galway there is no register, even for stray horses. We need seriously to examine this issue. Horses are, owing to poverty, being left to starve.

The Government is more interested in animals than people.

It is important——

That is the Government's problem.

The issue was raised on that side of the House.

That is where the Government's priorities lie.

Members, please.

Senator Coffey should criticise his colleagues.

People must come first.

There must be no interruptions.

People are sick of it.

Senator Ó Brolcháin to conclude.

I have stated that I find what Senator Coffey said appalling, that there are children scavenging in bins. This does not mean we should let horses starve either. Horses eat grass.

The Government needs to get its priorities right.

If the Senator is trying to justify——

The Government should get its priorities right.

I must ask Senator Ó Brolcháin to conclude.

If people are trying to justify cruelty to animals, that is an appalling indictment and is outrageous. Senator Coffey should withdraw his remarks.

This year's budget in many ways hits the poor and ordinary people who did not create our troubles. One measure which stands out and that should be reconsidered and discussed in this House is the reduction in the carer's allowance. People who are carers make an input into the economy. They create wealth in the sense of reducing the need for institutional care.

They create wealth in the sense of providing a service at home. They are cost neutral. There have been many consultative studies and so on in this country and a great deal of money has been spent on experts to advise experts, many from outside the Civil Service, but a proper study has never been undertaken of the import and potential of carers to keep more people at home and out of institutional care. The cut in the carer's allowance is wrong and should be revisited. We need to have a debate on the effect of carers in homes, the happiness they create and the quality of life they provide. In these times when economics have taken supremacy over all other social sciences, the value of carers in economic terms is underestimated. We need to re-examine this cutback. I appeal to the Leader to provide time for that debate.

I support Senator O'Toole's call on the need to bring the climate change legislation into this House immediately on the basis that we need to create jobs in the green energy area. It is critical to debate that legislation given our potential to export energy. I ask the Leader to provide time for a debate on those two issues. The madness of discouraging our carers at a time when this country needs to create jobs is appalling.

I support the call by Senator MacSharry for a debate on official legal moneylenders. This matter needs to be investigated because of the attraction of moneylenders to people currently encountering difficulties. I also support Senator O'Toole's call for this matter to be addressed in the finance Bill and urge the Leader to put that to the Minister.

On the travel tax, I compliment all Members of the House and, in particular, the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Culture, Deputy Hanafin, who proposed this change. Senator Cannon made the point some time ago that it would be beneficial to consider free flights into Ireland for a particular period, in particular from Britain. This would make a major difference in terms of filling hotel rooms. The Senator also pointed out that if we can bring people into the country, even if we subsidise their flights, it would be a good investment.

On the budget, the Minister for Finance has proposed a four year national solidarity bond, which I welcome. Previously this bond was for ten years but it has now been reduced to four years. While I welcome that the bond is sold through An Post, I raised yesterday with the Minister during a Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party meeting that the banks we own wholly or in part, Allied Irish Banks and Bank of Ireland, should be allowed to sell these bonds because post offices are often busy dealing with pension payments and so on. I believe this would make the bonds more accessible to the public. The national solidarity bond has raised approximately €300 million and is a welcome provision that was raised initially in this House.

I am grateful to Fianna Fáil whose carry on with the Green Party has probably ensured we will not have a Seanad election until May, which will be extraordinarily welcome. I encourage Fianna Fáil to continue its game and let the Green Party run rings around them in order that we can campaign.

The Senator must put a question to the Leader.

I apologise to the Cathaoirleach. That was an aside. I am not surprised that the banks are again getting bonuses, as reported in today's newspapers. That is what we have come to expect from them. The Government now has a duty, because it in effect fully controls Allied Irish Bank, to stop these bonuses being paid to people——

Senators

Hear, hear.

——for performances in 2008, when we all knew the banks were bankrupt. I cannot understand how one can reward people for being principal players in a State owned company which has brought the State to its knees. I simply do not understand this. It is no good saying there are legal reasons and so on. It is unacceptable, ethically, that people should be rewarded for this type of performance. The bonus culture——

The matter was decided by the courts.

I am asking the Government, through the Leader, to do something about this. I am not at all convinced this will not continue to happen. We have had assurances on this before. We were told before that these bonuses would no longer be paid but that is not the case. This bonus culture appears to be prevalent and not alone in AIB. In regard to the €250,000 cap imposed in the budget on the semi-State chiefs in a great flurry of trumpets this apparently is only basic pay. Apparently, these people who are earning up to €750,000 per annum are being asked, and are all refusing and not volunteering——

Except for one person, Mr. Dick Fearn, who only earns €258,000 and as such will be only sacrificing €8,000. The people at the top are refusing to accept this cap.

Time, Senator, please.

On top of this, these people are to receive performance related bonuses. Why on earth is the Government allowing——

I call Senator Hanafin.

——people at the top of semi-State bodies to receive performance related bonuses when they are losing money?

I ask Senator Ross to resume his seat.

I do not understand this. I ask that the Leader answer that question for me today.

The Senator's time has expired. I call Senator Hanafin.

They should get a negative bonus.

Like other speakers, I have a huge difficulty with bonuses being paid. The budget has imposed cuts in three main areas because the bulk of public spending is in these areas. These areas include, health, social protection and education, all of which are essential for people. The reason for this is not the finances of the State because they are in a robust state, but the banks. Not alone are the banks costing the State so much that we have to cut back on essential services in health, social protection and education, to add insult to injury they are insisting on payment of bonuses, which is terribly wrong.

I ask the Leader to request the Minister for Finance to come to this House to tell Members who demanded that the minimum wage be cut and explain why it was cut. Minimum wage recipients, those who need money most, will lose approximately €46 per month, almost €1,000 per annum, as a result of this reduction. Why was the minimum wage reduced? Perhaps the Members opposite can explain that.

Will the Leader explain to the House what the Green Party is going to do? I call on the Green Party to state whether it proposes to stay and participate in or leave government. Is it hitching a lift to the middle of nowhere? If it wants an election, it should tell us when it wants one.

Will the Leader invite the Taoiseach to come to the House? There is a spring in the step of Government Members having witnessed the Taoiseach being reincarnated this week, while the Fourth Estate is ecstatic. However, the leader of the Government needs to explain why he presided over and participated in a Government which got us into the economic mess we are in today. Senator Harris speaks about a national consensus and a new movement. I want a new Ireland. The poet, Theo Dorgan, gave a fine address in UCC yesterday. We must be a hopeful, forward looking nation, but we cannot be under the Government which leads us. Is this about the Taoiseach holding on to his position as leader of Fianna Fáil or the base Fianna Fáil vote? Is this about him upping his performance to appease parliamentary party members or is it about the people? If the budget announced this week taught us something, it is that people matter. Does the Leader get this?

The Senator's time is up. He has made his point.

Does the Leader get it?

The Leader fully understands what the Senator said.

I am not sure he does. That is the problem. He does not understand at all.

The Senator should resume his seat.

Listening to Senator Buttimer, one would think the political leadership of the country equates to the political leadership of the globe. He should take cognisance of what is happening around the world in places such as Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy. We are in the season of play. If the Senator had his way, he would be one of those in the mob shouting, "Crucify him, crucify him." We know how wrong they were.

The Senator should put a question to the Leader.

Senator Callely has some neck to lecture me about morality.

No interruptions, please.

Senator Callely is part of a Government which has nearly raped the people.

He should read what the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, said about him yesterday.

He should not dare lecture me on how I should behave.

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

I was provoked by Senator Callely. He named me; I did not name any Member in my contribution.

No one interrupted the Senator.

I believe in looking at the glass half full and always try to have a positive attitude and ensure the best solution is found to every problem.

Previous speakers have knocked bankers, but I very much welcome Citibank's announcement that it will create 250 new jobs which will not be as cash tellers in branches. Citibank is leading the way in the field of service innovation and the jobs announced will complement the 2,200 jobs the company has provided since it set up in Ireland in 1965. Ireland competed with other European destinations for these jobs and Citibank states the reason Ireland won is its long-standing and well respected operation here, the talented and well education labour force available and the pro-business environment.

Although we sometimes deservedly criticise Green Party members for being a little flaky in many ways, will the Leader pass on to Senator Ó Brolcháin my compliments and great admiration for the way he stuck to his guns on the issue of animal welfare? Concern for animals does us credit as a society and it in no way suggests we have our priorities wrong when, in addition to being concerned for our fellow humans, we also want to create a society in which animals are cared for and respected properly. That is a tribute to human dignity.

One of the more regrettable features of the budget is the way in which it further penalises one-income married couples. It has hit such couples harder than single people and extended the philosophy of tax individualisation. The tax burden on a one-income married couple on €45,000 per annum will increase by almost €200 more per annum than for a single person on the same income. Such a couple will almost certainly have dependent children. Why is the Government increasing the tax burden on such couples beyond that on a single person who is likely to have no dependants? This is perfectly in line with the four-year plan which, regrettably, proposed a direct attack on stay at home mothers and appears to be a sop to the IMF and the European Commission. From where is this hostility coming? Who is behind the agenda to force women, in particular, into the workplace and children into day care as a priority? Families should be allowed to make their own decisions. Those behind this decision see no value or role to be served by one parent staying at home to care for their children or an elderly relative. That is regrettable.

Given the tentative proposal to reduce public service salaries by introducing a cap of €250,000 per annum, will the Leader find out from where that figure came? Could the Government not be more adventurous and propose a lower cap of, say, €150,000 per annum?

I am stunned that €40 million will be paid in bonuses by AIB. It may be an entitlement legally, but morally it is indefensible. Was the Government aware that this was in process when nationalising the bank? What type of negotiators did the Government employ since they could not strike a deal on behalf of the taxpayer contingent on bonuses not being paid? Then AIB would have had to put it up to its workers to roll back on the bonuses to be paid. We need such negotiations.

I refer to the new universal social charge which will replace the income and health levies. Is it true that it will affect everyone, including those who hold medical cards? I have received a disturbing e-mail, as I am sure other Members have, about a family with a medical card who will lose €67 a week if this is true. That is exactly the amount they need to pay their mortgage. The parents have everything worked out for how much they need for food, light, heat and so on.

Is the Senator seeking a debate on the matter?

A new poverty trap is being created, as Senator Coffey pointed out. The Government parties do not get much right, but they should be careful to poverty-proof policies and fix anomalies.

The public's trust in politics is declining. Transparency Ireland has announced that Ireland is rated top of the world by its own people for cronyism, clientelism and corruption. What will the Government do to bring about a new politics that will engage the people in order that they can trust their leaders? Fine Gael has a plan. What is the Government's?

I refer to the Taoiseach's outburst in the Dáil yesterday and interview with Seán O'Rourke on RTE Radio. It was characterised as a robust defence of the budget, but his entire approach amounted purely to bullying. He is good at this. Insulting and shouting down the Opposition and dismissing all other arguments is not political debate; they are bully boy tactics. That is what he went back to yesterday.

A question, please.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

The Taoiseach's popularity rating in the most recent opinion poll was 8%. Does it have to be at -8% before he realises that people have seen through these bully boy tactics? During the 2007 election campaign he dismissed the Opposition's views on the economy.

That is not relevant to the Order of Business. Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

It is relevant. The Taoiseach said, "If the car is going well, you don't change to a Lada ... The Opposition don't know what they're talking about ... You need experience, you need mastery of detail."

Is there a question to the Leader?

He said a politician needs political skills to bring people with him to run the economy.

We are not entitled to make political speeches here.

These are the bully boy tactics that have landed Fianna Fáil, the Government and the country in the state it is today. Like most bullies, when he got to the top position, he could not hack it.

I did not get a chance to read the OECD report yesterday, but having acquainted myself with it a bit more, I would like to call on the Leader for a debate on education. The problem with debating education in this House traditionally has been that there are so many teachers in both Houses of the Oireachtas that the debates always descend to a level of letting the Government spend more money, whatever Government that might be, and that everything will be fine. It is clear from the OECD report that there is a problem with teaching skills as well as everything else. It is no good throwing money at the Garda Síochána if we have bad cops. It is no good throwing money at the ESB if technicians are just working four and five hours per day.

The problem with teaching is that it seems there is a problem with teaching skills. If there is, then there is a managerial problem to be fixed. I would like a proper debate that would allow us to raise some of the unpopular things. There is a duty among Members of these Houses to say things that vested interests cannot say, whether those interests are teachers or anyone else. One of the things that strikes me is the fact that much teaching is very difficult. It involves rote skills and hard brutal learning of facts and figures. Mathematics especially involves hard work. It seems to me, as an outsider, that in recent years since 1980, there is much child-centred nonsense going on that makes the relationship between teachers and parents more emollient, but the fact remains that teaching is hard work. Much of it would be unpopular with parents if it were done properly.

In the past 40 years, picking up the habits of Britain, we have gone for all this trendy stuff and green flags, and we have forgotten that de Valera was educated in national school. There is no great curriculum around him. Michael Collins was educated in national school. How is it that they could come out and take on an empire? They were mathematically numerate and highly literate. How come, despite the fact that our teachers are some of the highest paid in Europe, and despite the fact that university lecturers are some of the highest paid in Europe, we still have problems with core teaching values? Much of that comes from the fact that we need to return to some traditional habits of teaching. We need to accept that, just like playing the violin, it is not easy all the way.

We had little or no legislation in this House for the first seven or eight weeks of this term. It now appears that the Green Party wants three or four Bills passed before we have a general election. It makes one wonder whether it was January 2012 they had in mind for a general election rather than January 2011. The Leader might be in a position to inform the House of the intended sitting days for next week, whether we intend to sit the following week, and the position on an early return in January. Such information would be helpful to Members.

Senator Cannon spoke about the "Prime Time Investigates" special on Limerick. We have discussed this issue in the House and I support his strong views on this, especially in respect of the new justice programme.

Senators Cannon, O'Toole, Alex White, Boyle and Coughlan all called for a debate on prisons. We have had a debate on prisons, but like education, it is a subject we must debate again at the earliest opportunity. I will have no difficulty in allocating time to it in order that we can hear the new proposals on how to tackle the challenges facing those who offend. I am pretty familiar with the Canadian experience and I fully agree with what Senator Cannon said.

Senator Harris called for a debate on education and teaching skills. I will have no difficulty in organising this, and I will try to have the debate in the first week back after the Christmas recess.

It is all legislation between now and then, and legislation must take priority.

Senators O'Toole, Coffey, Ó Brolcháin, O'Reilly, Buttimer and Mullen spoke about various areas of serious concern in the budget. I agree with Senator O'Toole on the issue of cutbacks affecting the blind. They are a cause I certainly have supported all my life. One of the greatest gifts the good Lord can give any person is sight. As someone who has had difficulty with sight since I was 12 years old, I appreciate having my sight. The proposal by Senator O'Toole for an additional allowance for guide dogs is a very good one. Anything that can be done in this regard will be fully supported and we will see what we on the Government side can do to have this included.

Various areas like child benefit and carer's allowance were mentioned. The child benefit rate will be €140 per month for the first and second child, €167 per month for the third child, and €177 for the fourth and subsequent children. The additional benefit and grant for multiple births will continue to be paid, and there will be no change in the weekly qualified child increase paid to those getting weekly special social welfare payments. Schemes that have been fully maintained in the budget include the family income supplement, the back to school clothing and footwear allowance, the domiciliary care allowance and the widowed parent grants.

We have all praised carers as the unsung heroes of our society. The half rate carer's allowance will continue to be paid to people who are full-time carers and who are getting another welfare payment. Extra payment for caring for more than one person is retained. Carers will continue to get an annual respite care grant of €1,700 for each care recipient. The carer's allowance rate for carers aged 66 and over will not change. The rate for carers under 66 will be reduced by 3.8%, or €8. I think that clarifies the serious concerns expressed by colleagues on budgetary matters.

Senator Boyle called for an urgent debate on the reform of the National Economic and Social Council, NESC. I will have no difficulty in allowing it to take place after Christmas.

Senator MacSharry and Senator Leyden raised a serious issue in the House, namely, those who are hard pressed with their debts. Being able to charge an interest rate of 187% is of such serious concern that I will certainly discuss it with the Minister before we go home this weekend. This is appalling and must not be allowed to continue. I thank Senator MacSharry for bringing it to the attention of the House, and supported in doing so by Senator Leyden. It certainly is shameful. It is an absolute disgrace that this is being allowed to continue legally. The Minister has an urgent duty to address this in the finance Bill.

Senators Norris, Ó Brolcháin, Ross and Healy Eames called for the Minister to participate in a debate on the bank bonuses, which go back to 2008. These were also an issue in the courts. The thrust of the argument is that everyone must play their part. A signal is being sent to the rest of the workforce of the country that must be examined by the Minister and addressed by the Government. I agree with many of the sentiments that have been expressed in this respect.

Senator Norris, supported by Senator Ó Brolcháin, spoke about the animal welfare Bill and stray animals, especially horses. I will pass on their strong views to the Minister.

Senator Keaveney spoke about the failure to replace the Donegal Youth Council co-ordinator post. This is a serious concern for the Senator and I will pass this on to the Minister. She also spoke about her concern about the changeover from analogue to digital television. It certainly is a massive challenge.

The Appropriation Bill 2010 is the last Bill we will discuss next week. Senators who raise different issues and concerns on the Order of Business might participate in this debate. I will discuss with the party leaders at our meeting next Tuesday the possibility of extending the discussion on the Bill over a few days at the end of this term and the start of the next term in order that colleagues can debate issues of concern to them, such as organised crime in sport which is a concern for Senator Keaveney. Senator Leyden mentioned the four year national solidarity bond and I certainly support that great call. Already €300 million has been taken in, a large sum, and we should do anything we can to support it.

Senator Buttimer commented on the Government's mandate. The mandate is given by the people in a general election then the Dáil reaffirms this mandate on a weekly basis for the Taoiseach and the Government to continue. We all saw the budget being passed by 82 votes to 78 votes, a majority of four, followed by majorities on many other votes yesterday which confirm the Government's mandate.

Senator Callely welcomed the 250 new jobs coming to Ireland from Citi. It has been here since 1965 and the reason for these 250 jobs in the service innovation area was because of the pro-business workforce Ireland has been recognised for and I certainly welcome those new jobs, that is great news coming up to Christmas.

Senator Cummins asked about the legislative programme for next week. I propose the House will sit four days next week, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and on Friday we will review progress on when the House will sit again.

Order of Business agreed to.