Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, Climate Change Response Bill 2010 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and adjourn at 2 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes and on which Senators may share time, by agreement of the House; and No. 2, Multi-Unit Developments Bill 2009 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] — Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 2.30 p.m. The business of the House shall be interrupted between 2 p.m. and 2.30 p.m.

My wife and I own a rural pub in east Galway. Having spent more than two years as an Oireachtas Member, I am beginning to realise what an invaluable opportunity I have every week to talk to our customers, friends and others who own similar small businesses in east Galway. John B. Keane once remarked that there was no better way of assessing the mood of the people than by standing behind the bar of a pub in a rural town or village. That opportunity is an important antidote to the pomp and privilege that surrounds us in this House. If one is not careful, one can become completely detached from the challenges people face daily. Week in, week out I experience the complete and utter despair of people on the other side of my bar counter who no longer have any trust in the Government. Without that trust, the ship of State is listing badly and drifting rudderless on the rough seas of an economic disaster.

What remained of that trust suffered a fatal blow yesterday when the Taoiseach tried to convince the people that he had sat for three hours with the chairman of Anglo Irish Bank, a director of the bank and a board member of the Central Bank, whom he had appointed, and not discussed the affairs of the bank. He uttered the following incredible words in late November when introducing the Government's four year plan: "There are occasions when the imperative of serving the national interest transcends other concerns, including party political and personal concerns." I have two questions for the Leader, a businessman who knows what is happening in the real world. When does he believe a politician should place party or personal interests ahead of the national interest because that is exactly what is implied in the Taoiseach's statement? Second, when does the Leader propose to tell his party leader that it is high time he, at long last, placed the national interest above all other interests? The Government must go now, for the sake of the people. Three more months of this nonsense will sink us for good.

It must be very convenient for the Fianna Fáil element of the Government that its Members will happily discuss climate change today, a subject they have carefully avoided for three and a half years. Today it is a source of great relief for them because the rest of the nation is talking about Anglo Irish Bank and the relationship between the Taoiseach and people in the bank. That subject is the national issue of the day. Yesterday I spoke at length about the dangers of cronyism on the basis of the revelations known to us at that stage. It was bad enough that the Taoiseach was meeting Mr. Sean FitzPatrick so often and in such questionable circumstances, but what has emerged since has only confirmed the worst fears of Members on the Government side of the House. Not only was the Taoiseach meeting Mr. FitzPatrick, which was not, as he said, a sin in itself because he should be accessible to the leaders of the large banks in the country, that night he was also meeting three directors of Anglo Irish Bank whose connection with the party and himself was so close. Mr. Drury was a director of Anglo Irish Bank just before that and a friend of the Taoiseach.

We cannot have a debate on the matter now. It has been discussed in the Lower House and if Senators are seeking a debate on it, they should ask directly for one, not make speeches on it. There should be direct questions on the Order of Business.

I am seeking a debate and wish to ask the Leader questions. Does he think it is significant that Mr. Drury, a director of Anglo Irish Bank, also happened to be patronised by the same Government, undoubtedly with the approval of the Taoiseach when he was made chairman of the RTE Authority? That is a powerful gift within the power of the Government. Does the Leader think it is significant that Mr. Gary McGann who was also present also happened to have been chairman of the Dublin Airport Authority, another position in the gift of the Government? We are not just seeing a pattern of the Taoiseach meeting Mr. FitzPatrick but also a pattern of extraordinary interlocking relationships. Mr. McGann just happens to have been — I presume this is significant — the chief executive and a member of the board of Smurfit with Mr. FitzPatrick at the same time. It is an extraordinary circle. What is so worrying is not that the Taoiseach met Mr. FitzPatrick on one occasion——

The Senator's time is up. I call Senator Bacik.

——but the frequency and the pattern of these meetings.

The Senator has made his point. There is limited time available today. Yesterday was different. Members used the system yesterday, but they will not use it today.

We must not have the Taoiseach simply——

The Senator must resume his seat.

If it is of any comfort to Senator Ross, I intend to continue on the same theme.

The Senator must ask the Leader questions on the Order of Business.

With respect, I am asking the Leader for a debate today on the issue. Like Senators Cannon and Ross, I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to ensure the debate is held today. The critical debate taking place on the airwaves and in pubs, shops and houses throughout the country is about what was taking place between the Taoiseach and Anglo Irish Bank.

What does the Senator want? Does she want a debate on the issue?

She has said she wants a debate on it.

On what is she seeking a debate? Can the Senator be clear?

I am seeking a debate on the links between the Fianna Fáil-led Government and the leadership of Anglo Irish Bank in 2008.

That is fine.

We need to know exactly what the connections and relationships were. There is a drip-feed of revelations. Somebody happened to be in Druids Glen and to see that there were more than one or two directors of Anglo Irish Bank present. In fact, there were three directors and an economist present. It is deeply ironic that in 2008 the Taoiseach should have been seeking advice on how to improve the economy from Mr. Sean FitzPatrick, the man whose dealings were to bring it down and lead to the IMF bailout. We need to know the truth about the relationship. I seek a debate on that issue. I, therefore, propose an amendment to the Order of Business in that regard.

I also seek a debate on the continued lifespan of the Government. In the light of the drip-feed of revelations about the Taoiseach's cronies in Anglo Irish Bank, we need to know when the plug will be pulled. Clearly, the Green Party does not have the spine to do it; therefore, I call on Fianna Fáil backbenchers and Senators to pull the plug now. It is outrageous that we will be represented abroad on St. Patrick's Day by members of a Government which has lost all public trust. Now the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, has suggested the Opposition should be trotted out too to try to give a fig leaf of public approval and democratic assent to the Government. It is outrageous that it is still in office and that we still do not know when the Oireachtas will be dissolved. The Green Party need have no fear because the Labour Party is committed to introducing climate change legislation. If the Oireachtas is dissolved, we will introduce a stronger Bill than the weak measure before the House today, although I welcome its publication at last, three and a half years too late.

I also seek a debate, if there is still time in the lifespan of this Seanad, on penal policy and the Labour Party document on a fair and effective penal justice system which was launched earlier this week. It sets out coherent and evidence-based proposals for reform of the penal system. It is a matter on which I, Senator Cummins and other Senators have been seeking a debate for some time. We should debate the proposals which the Labour Party has brought forward in its policy document.

Will the Leader provide clarification of the legislative programme? Apparently, a number of Bills are due to be published, but the Bill on female genital mutilation is not included, although the Minister for Health and Children promised me that it would be published. As I understand it is about to be published, can the Leader explain why it is not included in the list? Will he ensure it is included in the list for publication?

It is somewhat ironic that Opposition Members are seeking time for debates while wanting the business of this House to be suspended forthwith.

If the House is to continue, I said.

That said, there is undoubtedly a need for a debate on the continuing revelations before the Lower House. The further questions that arise from the information being given and the way in which the information is being given — it is becoming known to many of us for the first time — require a detailed and serious debate with appropriate answers.

Will the Senator support the proposed amendment to the Order of Business?

Senator Boyle to continue, without interruption. We are taking questions to the Leader.

It does not change the immediate situation of needing to pass the Finance Bill.

The suggestion of my colleague, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, should not be shot down so easily. If we are concerned about how the country is represented by the President and members of the political system——

Hear, hear. I said it yesterday.

——it would be an appropriate way of doing so. There will be an election in March and the Finance Bill should be completed by the end of February. I hope there will be an opportunity to pass several legislative measures, one of which is before the House today. It might not be the burning issue of the moment, but it is important legislation. I look forward to the support of many Members of the Opposition for the Bill, ignoring many of the spurious arguments that will be raised against it. Vested interests are planning a campaign to ensure it will not see the light of day. Aside from the very serious economic issues facing us and the governance issues with regard to the quality of public life, anybody who believes we are living on a precipice in terms of the future of the planet will treat the legislation seriously.

I hope others will consider the wider issues being discussed in the Lower House and that we will have an opportunity to discuss them here. They are leading to public disquiet and putting people in invidious positions. We should not be in a situation where information is revealed in this way. We should be given appropriate answers, as they are demanded.

It is the country's ambition to use the agriculture sector as one of the main engines to revive the economy. The ambitions of Food Harvest 2020 form part of this. We depend on agriculture, the vehicle that will bring about economic restoration. The pig industry forms a major part of the agriculture sector in County Cavan. There are 750 jobs dependent on the pig industry in County Cavan. There has been a 30% increase in feed prices over recent weeks and months and pig farmers are paying this.

Is the Senator looking for a debate on agriculture?

I am coming to the point. At the same time, prices for pigs remain low. The pig farmers are on the verge of going out of business, and one large piggery in Cork did just that recently. We are talking about 750 jobs and real people in the real economy. In the midst of our debates here, we could lose the sense of the fact that what happens here impacts on real lives. Will the Leader facilitate a debate with the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food as soon as possible to discuss the crisis in the pig industry? It is a short-term crisis due to the price of feed. Pig farmers need loans but they cannot get credit from banks and other financial institutions. They cannot pay for the feed and the millers are no longer able to give them feed. We met them the other night in Cavan and the crisis is as real as I am outlining. There were people on the verge of tears. It is a very serious situation and I cannot emphasise this sufficiently.

I appeal to the Leader on this humanitarian issue. It is also an animal welfare issue, as hundreds of thousands of animals may die. I want the Leader to arrange the debate as soon as possible to look at a loan system that would be repaid when the cycle of pig prices increases for these people. The debate should take place immediately, even if we have to extend the sitting of the House.

When political charges and counter charges are made across the House, especially in light of the events of the last 24 hours and the revelations in the Dáil yesterday, it might be expected that we on this side would go to ground. Far be it from that. I echo much of what our colleagues, Senator Boyle, has said. All of us on this side of the House would welcome full transparency and any clarity that needs to be brought to the debate that has taken place. It is a political charge, however, and I believe the Taoiseach has responded to the questions made in the other House. I do not believe there is any evidence that the Taoiseach acted other than in the national interest, and this has been endorsed by third parties who have been involved in the banking issue since 2008.

With all due respect to Senator Bacik, whom I greatly respect, it is a charge too far to suggest that the duly elected Taoiseach of this country should somehow be prevented, at a very difficult time for our economy, from representing the country during the March celebrations. It is something other countries would die for. To have the focus on Ireland——

On a point of order, I just suggested it might be a different duly elected Taoiseach.

That is not a point of order.

How is that a point of order? Where is that in the Standing Orders?

Senator Mooney to continue, without interruption.

I raised this issue last year and I was pilloried in the media, members of whom suggested that I was proposing that the media should not hold politicians to account on how much it would cost the State to send Government representatives abroad. As someone who travelled extensively in the past, and many on both sides of the House have also travelled, representing their communities, counties or their country throughout various St. Patrick's Day celebrations down through the decades, it would be a national sabotage to suggest that we should not continue with this particular tradition. This is especially the case given a meeting of the joint committee on tourism yesterday which I attended and at which I, with colleagues from all sides of the House, listened to the Secretary General, Mr. Con Haugh, who is retiring next month and to whom I express my sincere appreciation for an outstanding contribution to public service over three decades, describe a tourism renaissance for the coming year. It is predicted, and it is to be hoped it will happen, that we will increase our tourist numbers because it is vital to the economy at all levels. I hope that there will be an agreement that those who represent this country in March are doing so in the national interest.

I formally second Senator Bacik's amendment to the Order of Business. I agree with Senator Boyle on the importance of getting the Climate Change Response Bill 2010 through the House. I regret very much that my friends in Fine Gael have sought to amend it. The reason they give is that there has not been all-party consensus on greenhouse gas emission reductions, but in fact there has. There have been two reports of all-party committees endorsing these reductions. In fact, they endorsed stronger measures than those put forward by certain interests which have lobbied Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and me. I will be speaking a little about that during the debate.

I deeply regret the regulation emerging from the European Union that will go towards the privatisation of the postal service in this country. I deeply regret this and deplore it. I have no doubt whatever that this will lead to cherrypicking. This is exactly what happened in Britain. The most profitable services will be targeted by commercial interests and this will lead to greater charges for people in remote and rural areas of this country. I simply think that is utterly wrong. I hope we can find a method of challenging this, because it is one of the elements that keeps our rural communities together.

It is a great pity we did not challenge, as I recommended to a Government of a different complexion at the time, the intellectual copyright regulations because that led to the unfortunate situation concerning the James Joyce estate which inhibited scholarship and performance in many cases. I say this with particular emphasis because this is the 70th anniversary of the death of James Joyce who is unquestionably the greatest novelist of the 20th century and someone of whom, I am glad to say, the entire country is proud, as it rightly should always have been.

Yesterday I asked the Leader whether he could indicate to me what progress he had made with the other group leaders about structured debate on topical issues. One of those issues for debate is our exports. I congratulate all involved in this turbulent period for the tremendous improvement being made in the export industry.

I have also called for a debate on food labelling. It is now even more important to have the appropriate beneficial aspects of food intake properly labelled. We will see great progress made in this area in the years ahead due to consumer demand and we should take the opportunity to lead on it in this House.

I congratulate Bord Bia and those Irish food producers that have done so well in what they have achieved during this turbulent economic period. It goes to show that the "can do" attitude of the Irish people means we are able to meet the challenges at this testing time. I urge the Leader to have a debate to ensure all the appropriate supports are in place for all the tremendous food producers.

After yesterday's revelations that there were three directors of Anglo Irish Bank directors at this meeting, it is clearly evident that there was a think-in on Anglo Irish Bank and on banking policy at that time. The Taoiseach's story at this stage is in shreds. It is as believable now as the dig out stories of his predecessor, Deputy Bertie Ahern.

The Senator knows the Order of Business is about questions to the Leader.

Why is the Taoiseach being so defensive on this matter? If he is innocent, why does he look so guilty? The Taoiseach is now our most toxic asset. We have an extraordinary opportunity in the US to establish a new beginning and set a new image for this country. We have an image of our Taoiseach in the US that is one of derision, following the feature on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno", and this reflects badly on the country.

That is not relevant to the Order of Business.

I do not believe the Taoiseach should represent this country in the United States on 17 March.

Please respect the House. That is not relevant to the Order of Business. If the Senator wants to ask the Leader for a debate——

It is of vital national interest——

No. Please respect the House.

The importance of the United States to this country——

I am not interested in what is happening in the United States.

There is US company investment of €100 billion, the employment of 100,000 people and a contribution in tax revenue of €3 billion every year. We need a new beginning and a new image to be projected in the United States and I do not believe the Taoiseach can do this.

The Government and especially the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, have stated they cannot do anything about bank bonuses, yet we passed a Bill in respect of the matter before Christmas. Subordinated bondholders could not be touched, but it has transpired differently. The Minister for Finance has also said——-

Questions to the Leader, please.

The interest rate and the conditions of the IMF-EU bailout cannot be changed——

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

——yet we read this morning that the rate of interest is under consideration.

The Senator has made his point. He has gone over time. My hands are tied because of the time allowed today.

The Minister for Finance must make a statement on the inconsistencies of his policy in this regard.

I call for a debate on smuggling and how best to tackle it. I raise the issue in the light of the major seizure of illegal drugs in County Louth last night when approximately 8 million cigarettes were seized by Customs officials with an estimated street value of €3.4 million. It seems the cigarettes arrived in Dublin Port in a container from China. We must discuss how cigarettes are being brought into the country. Is there a common route? Are certain countries commonly used for this purpose? We must get to the bottom of the matter. In the Border counties the black economy is a jobs killer because it is not allowing people to be employed and pay taxes. This issue must be addressed urgently.

Yesterday I spoke about the positive attitude we had sought to take. I wish to make a point on the significant export benefits derived from the food business, a matter on which Senator Callely has remarked today. We must encourage this. I have a problem in that every time we refer to the Minister with responsibility for agriculture, he or she also has responsibility for food. I have argued that we should have different Ministers with responsibility for food and agriculture since there is a difference between the two. Agriculture has driven the business rather than food production.

Let us consider an example. I was a member of the expert food group which helped to establish Bord Bia in 1994. I produced a minority report which made the point that in the future jobs would stem from the food business. If a food company decides that its ideal product should be imported from somewhere else, that is the way the food business should be developed. There have been some good examples. Let us consider McDonalds as one. When it opened here first, there was an outcry, especially from potato producers, because it was importing chips from Holland. They argued that this was outrageous, that McDonalds should establish in the country and not expect to buy Irish potatoes. However, McDonalds argued that Irish potatoes did not suit it and that it was the customer. Irish potato growers had to change their product and as a result, McDonalds stopped buying in from Holland. We must remember we are driven by customers. I fear that when there is a Minister for and a Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, they will always act in the interests of agriculture first.

Let me provide one instance. Last year there was a pigmeat problem in Ireland. When all Irish pigmeat products had been taken off the shelves, I saw a product which had been produced in Munster. When I informed the manager of this, he said no, that the pigmeat had been imported. It was a great product, but there was an outcry; people wanted to know why we were importing pigmeat from elsewhere. The reason is the market is consumer and customer-driven. We must ensure we continue to do this.

We led the way with the plastic bag tax which has done wonders. The Environmental (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill which will be introduced in the coming weeks will enable a tax of up to a 70 cent to be levied on plastic bags. This is an error. We have succeeded, but let us not kill the golden goose. We are moving in the right direction and have done well. Let us ensure, therefore, we will not damage it.

The credibility of the Government in political and economic terms has been damaged significantly at home and abroad. In some respects, one gets the sense in listening to Senator Boyle that if it comes down to saving the country or the planet, the Green Party will take the easy option and save the planet. There is a serious problem in the country and the Green Party must face up to our economic concerns.

Local roads in County Wexford resemble a war zone. In spite of this, the Minister for Transport has postponed the upgrading of the bypass for New Ross and Enniscorthy for at least a further five years. Some of the policies being brought forward by the Government contradict other aspirations such as those of the Food Harvest 2020 report. There is, therefore, a need for the Minister for Finance to come to the House and state what he will do to give the finance needed to repair roads throughout the country, not only in County Wexford, and clearly outline the plans to be pursued in this and the coming months. That is on what the focus should be placed in the coming weeks before the Dáil is dissolved. We should focus on economic issues and not allow ourselves to be distracted. It seems legislation is being put through for the sake of it.

Will the Leader join me in calling on the Taoiseach to explain to the House and the people what took place during that golf game? It was not any old fourball. They were not simply four guys who had got together on a teebox to play a game of golf.

It was a threeball.

Let us have the facts.

I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister for Health and Children come to the House to discuss and seek the postponement of the proposed fee increase by VHI. It is incredible that we have not heard from her in the House. Some people cannot make a decision regarding their health insurance premiums because they cannot access the information they require. They are concerned about a lack of coverage. We have an obligation and a duty of care to people. The Minister for Health and Children, within whose remit VHI falls, should come to the House to debate the issue. On behalf of the people, we should seek a postponement of the fee increase by VHI. Therefore, I call on the Leader to join me in asking the Minister to come to the House which should, collectively and united as one voice, seek to bring about a deferment of the fee increase by VHI.

I second the amendment to the Order of Business which is worthwhile and crucial.

I refer to the serious issue of obesity. I believe prevention is better than cure. Obesity related illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, etc. are causing our hospitals to be clogged up and over-worked. I listened to the radio this morning. Insomnia in Abbey Street has taken to putting a calorie count on the board with its menu in order that people will have a choice. This empowers them in such a way that they know the calorific value of food they eat. This is the only way forward. This has been happening for years in the United States which is beginning to tackle its serious obesity problem. There is also a huge problem in Ireland. Those of us involved in "Operation Transformation" last year met Dr. O'Shea who is doing fantastic work. However, he will be fighting a losing battle if we do not put in place legislation to ensure mandatory calorie counts in restaurants, especially fast food restaurants, where the obesity problems of children can be tackled.

Will the Leader allow for a change in the orders of the Seanad? It looks as if the question of the very existence of this House will arise in the next term. We must position ourselves now in such a way as to show the value of this House. Accordingly, will the Leader include a regular slot for several weeks for European scrutiny issues? The question will be how the House will prove its value in the future. While its value was appreciated in the past, it is how we position ourselves for the future that will determine whether this House survives.

The one aspect of the famous dinner at Druids Glen that I regret is the surreal nature of some of the debates around it. On the one hand, it is clear the Taoiseach is beleaguered. There seems to have been an embarrassment about even mentioning the name of Mr. Seán FitzPatrick which has led the Taoiseach into unnecessary trouble. I am inclined to think, however, that Mr. Gray's statement makes it clear no inappropriate discussions took place on this particular occasion. It seems to me that it was the type of discussion that one ought to be having.

The problem is that for those looking in at how we conduct our debates, they see us getting equally exercised about issues that matter and ones that do not. I understand why there is the temptation to take the road of oppositional politics. I subscribe to the view the Taoiseach has drawn unnecessary trouble on himself in this case. However, for us to have discussions as mature adults as to whether the Taoiseach is fit to represent us abroad on St. Patrick's Day seems to be losing a grip on reality.

I will repeat my proposal from yesterday that we should have a cross-party international representation committee which would identify people who would travel on behalf of the country.

There simply should be a new Taoiseach by 17 March.

We should not confuse the issue. An election will come in due course. The duly elected Taoiseach, no matter how beleaguered he or she might be, is entitled to and has a duty to represent the country abroad. There are many other important places, not just the United States, where we ought to be represented on St. Patrick's Day.

I am glad the Minister for Justice and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, is considering a change in the laws on prostitution. This is an issue I have raised on numerous occasions.

Time, Senator.

I proposed amending human trafficking legislation along the lines of the model used in Sweden which would criminalise the user of the person in prostitution. There was much cynicism and negativity towards my proposal when I raised it first. I am glad the Government is now taking it seriously. We need to make this country a cold-house for people who traffic persons. One positive way of doing this would be to ensure any person using another person in prostitution is deemed to be committing an offence.

Will the Leader arrange a debate on employment and job creation as a matter of the utmost urgency? I must also express my heartfelt regret at the Government's decision to cease the public service obligation, PSO, routes from Sligo, Galway and Knock airports. I accept value for money issues were raised and it may be difficult to get the European Commission to approve the PSOs. However, if we are to be serious about the national spatial strategy and the selection of gateway centres, Sligo included, we must ensure they are served by the most modern and effective transport connections. The Government's regrettable decision on the PSOs will have a grave impact on the capabilities and marketability of Galway, Sligo and similar towns as locations for foreign direct investment.

Will the Leader make contact with the Minister for Transport, Deputy Noel Dempsey, and the Taoiseach to ensure the core airport management operational expenditure subvention, OPEX, and capital expenditure grants, CAPEX, are maintained to allow the airports in question make a justifiable and credible bid to keep the connecting routes open with Aer Arann and the other airlines involved? If we are to navigate our way out of this recession, it is essential gateway centres play a part in job creation. To do that, it is our responsibility to ensure they have all necessary infrastructure in place, transport included.

We have been long accustomed to the occasional story of the existence of a golden circle. In light of recent revelations, however, it appears there was an inner sanctum within the golden circle, centred round Anglo Irish Bank and the people prominently associated with it. What is Leader's take on this?

The Senator is getting close to the bone there himself.

Yesterday the Leader said he would outline today the Bills the House will take this term.

I have the list here. I always listen to Senator Coghlan.

Questions to the Leader, please.

Senator Hanafin proposed the Seanad scrutinises EU matters with MEPs present in the Chamber, a proposal promised by the Leader a long time ago. Both sides of the House feel such a move would be very important. Where do we stand now on this proposal?

Touching on Senator MacSharry's point, I am also concerned about job creation. Large numbers of apprentices were hindered in completing their training courses due to the downturn in the construction industry. I am not aware of all the ramifications concerning FÁS. However, in every local authority area there are large numbers of unfinished estates. In County Kerry alone, there are 70. It would be wonderful if these apprentices were taken on to complete these estates which would allow them complete their training and receive their certificates.

During the past few days, I received a message from the Irish community association in Shanghai. It is excited that for the first time the route for its St. Patrick's Day parade there will be recognised by city officialdom. One reason it is now recognised is the success of the Irish entry at Shanghai's World Expo 2010 which I had the privilege of visiting. Over the six months of the exposition, millions of people queued to see the story of Ireland.

For several years, the St. Patrick's Day parade in Tokyo, where there is a branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, has been allowed to go down the city's main thoroughfare with young Japanese people performing Irish music and dances. Such events are replicated across the world.

All Members accept it is a very positive asset for Ireland. For several years, however, the message has been percolating from this country regarding a limited attitude against sending representatives to the Irish Diaspora, comprising 40 million people in North America alone. Members of the diaspora feel very hurt that when they are doing work for this country, not just in a cultural but an economic sense, we would start cutting St. Patrick's Day visits by public representatives. It is important to realise it is easy to disillusion and discourage those very people who are voluntarily promoting the country. Never was such promotion more needed than now.

I have no hesitation in saying that I would be very happy and proud if the Taoiseach represented us in whatever part of the world he chooses. I would say the same of any Taoiseach from any other party. Accordingly, we should have a united approach that we will not allow this attitude of cutting back on visits to prevail.

We are united on that all right.

This attitude hurts the cohesion and solidarity among the Irish Diaspora for centuries.

I join Senator Hanafin in calling for a debate on political reform in general and on reform of the Seanad in particular. Such debates must take place in the context of overall political reform. Politics must be examined from local level up to Presidential level. Examining the position of the Seanad in isolation is the wrong way to proceed. As Members of this House, this is a matter upon which we must focus. It is important, therefore, that the debate in question should take place prior to the general election. There is great uncertainty with regard to the Seanad as matters stand and there will be enormous uncertainty if a new Government comes to power following the election. It is important, therefore, to lay down a marker and engage in the relevant debate before the general election campaign begins in earnest.

Senator Twomey made some extraordinary comments and seemed to suggest that the Government in general and the Green Party in particular are taking the easy option of saving the planet. I do not believe that saving the planet is an easy option. The Senator appeared to state that we should save Ireland before saving the planet. On what planet does Senator Twomey live if he believes Ireland can exist independently of the remainder of the Earth? Perhaps he would like all of us to emigrate to Mars. Saving the planet is far from an easy option. If the Senator believes that saving the planet would be easy, I would love to see himtry.

I seek a debate on corporate governance. I refer to a report on this issue published by the think-tank TASC last year in which it was reported that 39 individuals held powerful positions in 33 of our 40 top public organisations between 2005 and 2007. These 39 people also held 93 directorships across the relevant companies during the period in question. The report also shows that all 39 held directorships on at least two boards of the top 40 organisations in this country. The figures to which I refer highlight the close relationships that are at the heart of business and political life in Ireland. Of itself, this is not really a problem. However, it has become clear to many people that what I have outlined is giving rise to the type of crony capitalism which lies at the core of the collapse in this country'sfortunes.

The crony capitalism to which I refer has been given concrete manifestation by the Taoiseach walking around a golf course with individuals who were at the centre of the affairs relating to a bank which contributed to the collapse in Ireland's finances and then claiming that no one who was present discussed the affairs of said bank. It is obvious to everyone that what occurred has reduced the credibility of the Taoiseach's office and also that of the Government. It is also obvious that the only solution is not a change in the leadership of Fianna Fáil but rather a change of Government.

I support the request from Senators Hanafin and Ó Brolcháin for a debate on Seanad reform. I have called for such a debate on numerous occasions. Following events during the past month or so, it is almost as if we are running out of time toengage in a debate on this matter. If such a debate is to take place, it must be meaningful in nature.

I agree with Senators Mullen and Ó Murchú regarding the democratic right of an elected Taoiseach to represent the country in Washington on St. Patrick's Day. I am extremely disappointed that I was obliged to listen to the type of despicable and disgusting character assassination perpetrated by Members on the other side of the House this morning in respect of a man about whom they know very little. Yesterday, the Taoiseach provided the Lower House, to which he was elected, with a frank and open statement in respect of a game of golf in which he was involved. I do not play golf but those who do play the game lead me to believe that one can go out in the morning and play a round with a number of individuals and that in 99.9% of cases, one will proceed to have dinner, tea or a drink with the same people that evening. I am also informed by men and women who play golf that one could play 36 holes with another individual in one day and never have the occasion to discuss either business or anything else meaningful. That is the nature of the game.

It is extremely rich for Senator Cannon to almost state that the Taoiseach was telling lies, particularly in view of the fact that the former had no difficulty in accepting his appointment to this House from a previous Taoiseach.

That matter is not relevant to the Order of Business.

It is very relevant.

No, it is not. The Senator should put a question to the Leader.

I am coming to my question. Now that the shoe is on the other foot and in the interests of making political gains, the Opposition is casting slurs on a very good, intelligent and capable man who is guilty of no wrongdoing.

We just want the facts.

Senator Feeney's time is exhausted. Members should not address each other across the floor of the House. I want to put a stop to that practice.

Senators Regan and Cannon are so focused on making it up as they go along——

The Senator's time is exhausted. I must call the Leader to reply to the Order of Business.

——that they have become blinded and are unable to see the truth. Reference is often made to presenting a good image to the general public.

The Senator's time is exhausted. She has made her point.

Members of the public see political parties for what they are.

The Senator has made her point.

Those opposite were allowed to make their points and no one shouted them down.

They did so within the time allotted to them.

I am trying to make a point and I have been shouted down by the Chair.

I want to be fair to everyone. I am disappointed with regard to the approach Senator Feeney has taken to the Chair of the House. From today onwards, my hands are tied with regard to the time limits that apply to Members' contributions on the Order of Business. I would appreciate it if people would observe the time limits to which I refer. When Senator Feeney's time was exhausted, I called on her to conclude. I call the Leader.

Senators Cannon, Ross, Bacik, Boyle, Mooney, Regan, Twomey, Buttimer, Coghlan, Donohoe and Feeney expressed their views regarding the Taoiseach playing a game of golf in Druids Glen on the first day of his holidays in 2008. I play a great deal of golf. I have not had the opportunity to play much during the past 12 months as a result of the demands placed on my time by the affairs of State. If someone spoke to me about business while we were on a golf course, I would never play a round with him or her again. I do not know anyone who would engage in a discussion on business when involved in a game of hurling or football. Golf is even more intense than either of the latter, particularly as a result of the fact that there is no referee involved. One is obliged to play the game for oneself. During the Order of Business, many Members have referred to golf as if they were professionals when the truth is that they do not have a goddamn clue about what they are talking.

The late P. G. Wodehouse would be delighted by the fact that golf is being discussed to such a degree on the Order of Business in this House.

It is probably one of the pleasures of this job that I am obliged to listen to quite a number of allegations——

It is all so innocent.

——relating to a decent and honourable man. I do not know of any constituency which would not want the Taoiseach as its representative in these Houses. The Taoiseach is an effective politician and he has proved his worth to his country. He has put his country first — before both his party and himself. If he had not done so during the past three years, we would be facing into our third general election in a short period as opposed to the first since 2007. The position would be the same as that which obtained in the period 1981 to 1982. There is no need for me to outline the unfortunate events which occurred between 1982 and 1987 when that crowd opposite were in power. During that period, people were paying almost 70% in income tax and levies.

We got the country back on its feet in the wake of the mess created by Fianna Fáil.

That is what the people will be facing into when the general election campaign begins.

During that campaign, will the Leader inform people about how games of golf proceed?

I am merely making a simple——

The Leader should reply to the questions that have been posed on the Order of Business.

——observation that is based on experience I possess.

Was that experience gained on the golf course?

Why will the Leader not deal with the questions that have been posed by Members?

It is not possible to buy the type of experience to which I refer. A great deal of hot air has been vented on this morning's Order of Business and all I can say to the good people opposite is that they should keep taking the tablets.

Senator Bacik made an extremely worthwhile request in respect of time being made available for statements. As stated yesterday, due to the amount of legislation with which the House is going to be obliged to deal — I intend to read into the record the list of legislation that is to be passed during the remainder of the lifetime of the current Dáil and Seanad — it will be extremely difficult to take statements. If at all possible, however, I will take statements on certain matters.

The Senator also referred to the reform of the penal system. We previously engaged in a debate on prisons and I will pass on the Senator's views to the Minister for Justice and Law Reform.

Senator O'Reilly referred to Food Harvest 2020 and Senators Quinn, Ó Murchú and others highlighted a number of success stories in the area of exports. I will examine the Fianna Fáil Private Members' time slot for next week. With colleagues on this side of the House I am leaning towards the view that the topic for Private Members' time will be the success of our exports, especially last year, which was our year of need.

Senators Mooney, Mullen, Ó Murchú and Feeney called for a debate on tourism and congratulated Con Haugh, the Secretary General of the Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport, on his marvellous achievements. They also referred to the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and Ministers representing the country abroad. As Senator Ó Murchú said, it is a window of opportunity given to us every year in the month of March and on which all the agencies and Governments of all political persuasion have worked hard over the years. This is a time when we must go out and support those who have been supporting us for generations. Exports are the future for the economy and to think any other way would be damaging to the country.

Senator Norris raised the issue of the postal service changes. I listened attentively to what the Senator had to say in that regard. He also raised the intellectual copyright regulations and the 70th anniversary of the death of James Joyce, which is today.

Senators Callely and Quinn referred to exports and the success of Bord Bia and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in that regard. Bord Bia's figures indicate that exports are up 11% on last year, which must be commended.

Senator Regan raised the issue of the Finance Bill. It will be before the House as soon as it is concluded in the Dáil. As currently planned that will be before the end of February.

Probably the 24th.

Senator Carroll referred to the 8 million cigarettes, with a value of €3.4 million, seized in his constituency of Louth and called for an urgent debate on the black economy and everything to do with smuggling. I will certainly give that issue priority in terms of debates because something must be done to address what is happening in that area, particularly in light of what Senator Carroll outlined to the House.

Senator Buttimer called for a debate on VHI and asked that the Minister come to the House to allow us discuss the matter. I gave a commitment in that regard yesterday on the Order of Business.

Senator McFadden raised the issue of obesity and the provision of calorie charts in restaurants, which is a very good idea. The Senator referred to "Operation Transformation", which has captured the interest of the nation. Many people are being encouraged to get back to fitness, and we want to support that in any way possible.

Senators Hanafin, Coghlan, Ó Brolcháin and Feeney raised the issue of Seanad reform, European scrutiny and having our MEPs come to the House. It was my intention that we would have that debate in this spring session. I will see if it is possible to provide time in which it can take place. I have no difficulty in agreeing to that.

Senator Mullen spoke about the Minister for Justice and Law Reform examining the new legislation on prostitution. I will have no difficulty in arranging that debate at the earliest possible time.

Senators MacSharry and Coghlan referred to employment and job creation. Senator MacSharry referred to gateway centres in Galway and Sligo, spatial strategies and asked that the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, would come to the House to discuss the capital expenditure, CAPEX, grants and to ensure they are maintained. This is a serious situation for these areas of Sligo and Galway in particular. As Senator MacSharry stated, their very survival depends on the CAPEX grants and I fully support him on that. We will pass on his strong views to the Minister to see how we can assist in any way in that regard.

Senator Ó Murchú outlined the huge success of his experience in China and Shanghai and in particular outlined to the House what will take place on St. Patrick's Day in Tokyo, Japan. We will support in any way we can everyone representing Ireland at ministerial level as well as the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the President, given the good work they are doing in selling the message about all that Ireland has to offer and all that can be achieved from this.

What about the timetabling of Bills?

I want to outline the timetable for forthcoming legislation. The Minister of State, Deputy Curran, yesterday stated that the political environment means that it is expected that the current Dáil and Seanad sessions will be interrupted by a general election. It is in recognition of this that we are setting aside the normal publication of an A, B and C list and instead bringing forward a legislative work programme for the remainder of the 30th Dáil and the 27th Seanad. This work programme of legislation entails the publication of Bills in coming weeks and enactment by the Houses of the Oireachtas. In some cases, legislation may have been published or may have commenced debate in the Houses of the Oireachtas.

The Government partners are committed to the full enactment of the finance Bill and other budget related legislation, including the public service pensions (single scheme) Bill, the betting (amendment) Bill and the social welfare (miscellaneous provisions) Bill. In addition to these and provided adequate Oireachtas time is available in the coming weeks, the Bills also for enactment are the criminal justice Bill in regard to white collar crime, the Bretton Woods Agreements (Amendment) Bill, which will be in the Seanad next week, the electoral (amendment) Bill on corporate donations, the NAMA (amendment) Bill and the patents (amendment) Bill. Legislation published includes the Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill and the Climate Change Response Bill, initiated in this House and which will be taken after the Order of Business.

Legislation which has commenced in the Oireachtas includes the Local Government (Mayor and Regional Authority of Dublin) Bill 2010, which is on Report Stage in the Dáil, the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Bill 2010, which is also on Report Stage in the Dáil the Communications Regulation (Postal Services) Bill, which is a Seanad Bill and is now on Second Stage in the Dáil, the Nurses and Midwives Bill 2010, which is on Report Stage in the Dáil, the Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2009, which was a Seanad Bill and which is on Report Stage in the Dáil, the Welfare of Greyhounds Bill 2010, which was initiated in the Seanad and is on Second Stage; the Criminal Law (Defence and the Dwelling) Bill, which is on Committee Stage in the Dáil, the Construction Contracts Bill 2010, which is on Committee Stage in the Seanad, which is Senator Quinn's Bill and on which we are doing everything we possibly can to ensure it goes through both the Dáil and Seanad before we have a general election, the Multi-Unit Developments Bill 2009, which is before the House, and the Student Support Bill 2008, Second Stage of which commenced in the Seanad yesterday.

While this list is not exhaustive, it does give a broad indication of the busy legislative session I believe the Oireachtas will be engaged in in the coming period.

We will not get through it all. The Leader is not intending to do it all.

Senator Ivana Bacik has proposed amendment No. 1 to the Order of Business: "That a debate on the link between the Fianna Fáil-led Government and the management of Anglo Irish Bank in 2008 be taken today." Is amendment No. 1 being pressed?

Amendment put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 17; Níl, 29.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Cannon, Ciaran.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • Norris, David.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • Regan, Eugene.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Ryan, Brendan.

Níl

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carroll, James.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Dearey, Mark.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Ó Brolcháin, Niall.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Brien, Francis.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ivana Bacik and David Norris; Níl, Senators Niall Ó Brolcháin and Diarmuid Wilson.
Amendment declared lost.

I wish to make an announcement in respect of the voting figures as displayed on the monitor. Senator Bacik inadvertently voted "Tá" twice.

Senator Bacik will get to Dáil Éireann, that is for sure.

(Interruptions).

Members, please. The Senator voted in her own seat and that of Senator Alex White. Consequently, the "Tá" vote has been amended with the consent of the Tellers and the result now is Tá, 17; Níl, 29 and the question is defeated.

Senator Buttimer has proposed amendment No. 2 to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Minister for Health and Children on the need to seek a postponement of the increases in premium charges proposed by VHI be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 19; Níl, 27.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Cannon, Ciaran.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Norris, David.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Regan, Eugene.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Ryan, Brendan.

Níl

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carroll, James.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Dearey, Mark.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Ó Brolcháin, Niall.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Brien, Francis.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Jerry Buttimer and Maurice Cummins; Níl, Senators Niall Ó Brolcháin and Diarmuid Wilson.
Amendment declared lost.
Order of business agreed to.