Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, Student Support Bill 2008 — Second Stage (resumed), to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and adjourn at 5.15 p.m., if not previously concluded, on which spokespersons may speak for 15 minutes and all other Senators for ten minutes and Senators may share time; and No. 2, Welfare of Greyhounds Bill 2010 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 5.15 p.m. and conclude not later than 7.15 p.m., if not previously concluded, on which spokespersons may speak for 12 minutes and all other Senators for eight minutes and Senators may share time, with the Minister to be called upon ten minutes before the conclusion of the debate for closing comments.

We see little attention being given today to the issues facing the country; instead the focus is on the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party. The point is being missed: the people have not lost confidence in the Government because of errors made in communication, they have lost faith because of errors, misjudgments and bad decisions made by the Government that have left hard working families to pay the price for generations to come. The Government has forgotten that it was the decisions made by it that led to the IMF bailout. That is the problem and what concerns the people. Anything else is a distraction.

There is no better example I can give to highlight the poor performance of the Government than what we have learned in the last few days about the payment of bank bonuses. I have raised this issue on a number of occasions, but it is extraordinary to read that further millions have been paid in bank bonuses. It is even more extraordinary that the Department of Finance did not even know about this. The Minister must start an investigation to find out what is going on. It is quite extraordinary. I ask the Leader to ensure a full report on this issue is made available to this House as soon as possible.

It is quite extraordinary to read the details of this matter. Millions of euro are concerned. Other banks covered by the guarantee scheme paid out a total of almost €46 million in bonuses between 2008 and 2010. Anglo Irish Bank was responsible for some €20 million in bonus payments in the last months of 2008 and AIB was responsible for €20 million. This is quite extraordinary at a time when people are telling us on the doorsteps how much money they have lost this week from their social welfare payments and pay.

Added to this there is the universal social charge and the hike in VHI premium costs. No wonder people are angry. What we need is not a change in Fianna Fáil leader but an election and a new Government as soon as possible.

It is a parlous situation. It appears as if the Taoiseach has lost the confidence of a significant number of his own Cabinet members, which must cause difficulty. The sooner this is resolved, the better, especially in a time when we are getting rather inappropriate lectures from people such as Mr. Lorenzo Bini Smaghi of the European Central Bank laying the blame entirely at the foot of the Irish taxpayer. I have tried to refute this argument in this House and hope it will be refuted magisterially by writers forThe Irish Times, in which newspaper Mr. Smaghi’s comments were cited.

The financial circumstances are appalling. I spoke when the universal social charge was mooted first, and I predicted the way it would go. Senator Fitzgerald is perfectly right is this regard. I listened in horror to a man saying on the radio before lunchtime how he would have to remove his family's VHI coverage and to another whose gas and electricity have been cut off. The latter has a house full of children, one of whom is recovering from swine flu. The family has no means of cooking. This is appalling and must be addressed.

I would like to make a few positive points. I wish well my colleague, Senator Shane Ross, who has announced his intention to stand as an Independent candidate in the general election.

That is not relevant to the Order of Business. The Senator should ask questions to the Leader.

My question, then, is whether the Leader welcomes the candidacy of a Member of this House and whether he joins me in congratulating Senator Ross.

Congratulations to Senator Norris.

I would like to raise a couple of other positive issues. Last week I went to the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition. If one ever needs to be lifted out of a feeling of despair, one need only meet the wonderful young people involved. This year saw the largest ever number of entrants, who entered 1,735 projects. Three hundred and forty schools, from all 32 counties, were involved. I spoke to a number of the entrants, one of whom was a fellow who had created an application for a mobile telephone such that it could be turned into a defibrillator so sudden adult death syndrome could be addressed immediately by a very large number of people. I asked the student whether he was applying for a patent and he said he was. Another student had just obtained a patent. Last year's winners, John O'Callaghan and Liam McCarthy, from Kinsale community school, have a patent for a project on the development of a convenient, simple test for somatic cell count, which is important to milk production. Well done to these fantastic, enterprising, creative, imaginative and gifted young people.

Will the Leader take up an issue that I am sure must be close to his heart, that is, the closure of Fitzgibbon Street police station? I wrote to the superintendent and asked about this. The station is supposed to be closed for refurbishment. I asked two questions, namely, when the refurbishment programme would start and when the station would reopen, and the answer I got stated: "I do not have this information because it is not within my knowledge at present as a district officer." The plan is to refurbish Fitzgibbon Street station but I have been given no information in regard to when this work will commence. The station, which is in the inner city, is being abandoned and we must do something about it.

Senator Fitzgerald is absolutely right. Having spoken to citizens, I note many have gone beyond anger at this stage. There is a real sense of paralysis, particularly in recent days. It is extraordinary. People are filled with awe that they are expected to watch something that seems to pass for politics, namely, the circus that surrounds the leadership of Fianna Fáil which is being indulged across the media as if there was nothing else of importance that we could debate in the serious economic climate. Some members of Fianna Fáil have gone on radio to tell us that, if the party can crank up the Taoiseach again for a few weeks and if he gives a few prize fighting performances on radio and television, everything will be fine.

Questions to the Leader, please.

The world has moved on from such cynicism. Senator Fitzgerald is right, we need change and a new Government. There is no reason the Government should stay in office beyond this week or, at most, ten days, in which the Finance Bill could be disposed of.

Last week I asked the Leader a question and he stated he would revert to me with an answer. Perhaps he might do so today. What are the Government's intentions regarding the referendum on children's rights? A new wording has been prepared, but there are issues with it. The committee spent two years debating the question and a year has passed since we produced our report. There is a danger we could rush into accepting the new wording in the three or four weeks or whatever length of time remains before the general election which some seem to believe will not be held until the middle of April or later. We should go back to the previous forum, an important one which lasted for more than two years, to re-examine the new wording. I share some of the concerns expressed about it. What are the Government's intentions in this regard?

Will the Leader arrange a debate on the Government's decentralisation programme which is efficient and effective?

It has been a flop.

I would like the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, to be invited to come to the House. Yesterday the offices of the Property Registration Authority were opened on Golf Links Road in Roscommon town opposite the Sacred Heart Hospital. Some 90 civil servants will be employed there, with the potential to have 250 employees in total. The offices cost €11.5 million to build. I visited them this morning and congratulate all concerned. I congratulate, in particular, the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, as well as myself for bringing the project to Roscommon town, in addition to another project, the General Register Office on Convent——

Is the Senator congratulating himself?

Senators, please.

The offering of congratulations is rare.

No one else will do it.

Questions to the Leader, please.

The use of the word "congratulations" might be a little excessive. It would be worthwhile to show how Fianna Fáil has encouraged and supported decentralisation, despite the efforts made by the Opposition.

Was the decentralisation programme not stopped? The Senator will soon be decentralised.

This morning I was told someone hoped Fine Gael would not get into power because it would relocate 30,000 civil servants to Dublin. This is causing fear among civil servants.

(Interruptions).

That is not relevant to the Order of Business.

Fianna Fáil will soon be decentralised to the four corners of the country.

No interruptions, please.

I thank the former Minister, Mr. Charles McCreevy; the former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern; the Taoiseach; the Minister for Finance; and all those involved in the development in Roscommon. It is a great day for the town and the west.

Judging from what is being said on the doorstep in Galway, there is both anger and despair. The universal social charge——

(Interruptions).

Questions to the Leader, please.

I will come to them. The universal social charge is affecting everyone. In particular, those aged over 70 years are angry. Everyone's income is lower and emigration is also a factor. Let us consider the reality. While Nero fiddles——

Fine Gael should have negotiated.

——Rome burns. While the Taoiseach busies himself in defending his capacity to be leader, he has forgotten he is Prime Minister of the country.

Does the Senator want a debate on the matter? This is not the time for speeches. Questions to the Leader, please.

My question is this——

That is what I want to hear from every Member.

Why have the Government and the Leader's party——

This is not a question.

——not defended us against the comments of the French President, Mr. Sarkozy, to the effect that Ireland should not benefit from EU aid while retaining a low corporation tax rate? In Galway it accounts for the creation of 12,000 jobs in multinational companies. This shows how weak a negotiator the Government is. Where is its robust, definitive response? Let France, President Sarkozy and the European Union know this country is not a carcase to be picked at. We are fully compliant and supported France when it needed EU aid to bail out Renault.

We are not dealing with France now or talking about what happened in the European Union.

We are talking about——

We are taking questions to the Leader.

——a key member state of the European Union. It goes to prove Ireland's clout, post the bailout, is as diminished in the European Union as the public finances. There is only one way to rebuild our reputation and that is through the holding of a general election.

Questions to the Leader, please. The Senator has made her point.

I say to Members on the Government side: for God's sake, go. Their time is up. That is what they should tell the Taoiseach today.

The Senator's time has expired.

I do not share the anger expressed, but I certainly share the sense of hopelessness and despair referred to by Senator Healy Eames when I listen to Opposition Members and think they could be in government in two or three months' time. I understand why people have a sense of hopelessness and despair.

At the death of the country.

I agree with Senator Fitzgerald——

The Senator had better wake up after 13 years in government.

Senator Walsh is not meeting people on the doorstep.

Please, Senators.

It is disgraceful that bonuses are being paid in the banks. On occasion I have been highly critical in the House of excessive public service pay levels. The taxpayer is now having to support the banks in the interests of the overall economy. In this regard, it is unconscionable that some of the money is being siphoned off to pay bonuses in a situation where the banks are insolvent. That would not happen anywhere else in the private sector and it should not be allowed to happen in the case of the banks. I, therefore, ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the issue.

Before Christmas we were promised there would be an ongoing debate on the Croke Park agreement. I ask for a debate on it as a matter of urgency. I read recently about the negotiations that were taking place on privilege days. Apparently, an attempt is being made to add the number of privilege days to one's annual leave entitlements. Compensatory leave is also given in the public service, which is a disgrace. Those working in the public service and the Houses get up to 11 weeks' holidays following the inclusion of compensatory leave——

That is not as long as the Seanad takes.

The taxpayer is paying for this.

(Interruptions).

If there is a change of Government——

(Interruptions).

——this issue will definitely not be addressed by the Labour Party which is in hock to the unions and will not be in a position of independence to make essential changes. If taxpayers were aware of half of what was happening with their hard-earned money, there would be a revolt.

Do we have to listen to this rubbish?

(Interruptions).

Please, Members, there should be no interruptions.

I should be very careful in case I say too much about the outcome of the High Court case, as the matter may well be referred to the Supreme Court, but it is appropriate that something should be said about the High Court's decision last week with regard to the Seanad and the payment of expenses.

That matter is before the courts and I will not allow any discussion to take place on it.

It was determined by the courts.

It has not been finalised. I do not wish to go down that road. There may well be an opportunity later if Members wish to discuss the matter but not today.

I will defer to the Cathaoirleach for the moment, but it is important to make certain points. There is an issue in the public mind about the quality of the Seanad, its ability to investigate its own affairs——

No, Senator, we are not pursuing the matter now.

——and what happens when claims or allegations are made against politicians.

Members should not pursue the matter.

We will need to debate it. I am putting the Cathaoirleach on notice that I will be raising it in due course.

Questions to the Leader, please.

No matter how bad the national finances are, the fact that the funding for Operation Anvil, the Garda Síochána's biggest ongoing operation to tackle organised crime, has been cut by more than 50% should not be let go unchallenged or without criticism. When I raised the matter a number of weeks ago, I said that no matter how bad things got, it would still be necessary to prioritise in favour of essential services. At a time when so many people are concerned about organised crime, it is madness to cut the budget for Operation Anvil to that extent. I have a similar concern about the ability of the Garda to investigate prostitution in this country.

The Senator's time has concluded.

While a number of prosecutions are being pursued, I ask the Leader when we will see progress on the promise by the Minister for Justice and Law Reform to consider the issue of prostitution and the need to criminalise the purchasers of sexual services.

Last Friday evening, I joined Senator O'Reilly and other Oireachtas colleagues from the Cavan-Monaghan constituency in attending a public information meeting organised by Cavan Chamber of Commerce on the future of Quinn Insurance. A number of contributions were made by interested parties and the staff, representatives of various interest groups and Oireachtas Members who attended left the meeting with one question unanswered. Why are the administrators of Quinn Insurance not examining the proposal that Anglo Irish Bank and representatives of the Quinn family have worked on for more than nine months and which would retain the company in Irish ownership and repay €2.8 billion of the money owed to the State by the Quinn family? I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Finance into the House in order that we can ask him whether the proposal is being examined and, if not, who is preventing an examination or what difficulties have arisen in respect of it.

Has the Leader invited the Minister for Health and Children to discuss with the House the increase in charges announced by VHI? I tabled two amendments on this issue to the Order of Business last week.

I also ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Finance to explain to the House how Bank of Ireland can award bonuses to its staff. We have appointed public interest directors and bailed out the banks. As public stakeholders we own the banks, yet the bonus culture continues to exist in them. Does the Leader agree that a cosy cartel continues to run this country? According to the Minister, he has to conduct an investigation. The payment of these bonuses is a scandal which needs to be addressed immediately.

I join Senator Healy Eames in suggesting that, rather than play games in the Fianna Fáil Party, the Minister for Foreign Affairs should explain to this House and the nation what he has said to President Sarkozy in response to the latter's remarks on Ireland. We are a strong and vibrant member of the European Union and President Sarkozy has further sullied the name of our country with his remarks. How dare he intervene in our affairs? What has our Government said about it? Nothing. Why has the Minister not rebutted these claims? Why has he not stand up for the ordinary citizen of this country?

In fairness, he is busy.

He is too busy canvassing for the leadership of Fianna Fáil and Senator Boyle's party has acquiesced.

The Senator's time has concluded.

Does Senator Boyle agree that President Sarkozy was wrong?

I can hear the Senator.

Is President Sarkozy wrong?

Yes, he is wrong.

I ask Senator Buttimer to resume his seat.

Is he wrong? "Yes" or "No"?

Senator Buttimer's time is up.

Is President Sarkozy wrong? "Yes" or "No"? It is a very simple request.

I ask Senator Buttimer to resume his seat.

I have asked a question but it cannot be answered.

I have answered four times.

The Green Party is too cosy in government.

I have answered it four times.

I ask Senator Buttimer to resume his seat and not to interrupt. I call Senator Hanafin.

It will be on "Oireachtas Report" tonight.

I call Senator Hanafin to speak, without interruption.

Anyone who has read any of the treaties, including the Lisbon treaty, would know that President Sarkozy has no right to dictate in any way.

(Interruptions).

Senator Healy Eames is not allowed to interrupt. I will ask her to leave the Chamber if she continues to interrupt.

Perhaps the IMF spoke to President Sarkozy.

I will ask Senator Buttimer to leave the Chamber if he continues to interrupt. The same applies to Senator Healy Eames.

It is clear from the treaties, which all of us debated and worked and voted for, that the Irish people are the only people who can change our tax status from which foreign industrial companies have benefited.

There are times when we need to commend the benefits of the tough decisions made by Government. The fact that farm incomes grew by 34% in real terms in 2010 is something from which we should all take comfort. I am quite conscious that we have set strong targets for exports from farming to help us to grow this economy. With that in mind, I look forward to the debates which will take place on the carbon emissions legislation to see how we can reconcile the necessary growth from the farming community and the very stiff regulations which will be put in place. I am sure our Green Party colleagues will be able to outline how that will be done in the coming months.

(Interruptions).

It is not a Green Party Bill. It was approved by the Cabinet.

I note the Opposition has spoken about the unnecessary amount of time being spent on the leadership contest in Fianna Fáil.

Is there a leadership contest?

That is not relevant to the Order of Business.

The Opposition has said that it is unnecessary and time wasting and yet it was the first item raised by the leaders of Fine Gael and the Labour Party on the Order of Business.

I call Senator Regan. Senator Hanafin's time is up.

They said it was unnecessary, yet they spent their time talking about it.

I refer to the latest flip-flop by the Minister for Finance. Having fomented dissent against the Taoiseach, as leader of the Fianna Fáil Party, he announced on the one o'clock news that he would hang in with the Taoiseach.

This is not relevant to the Order of Business. It is questions to the Leader. What happens in any party is not relevant.

(Interruptions).

The Seanad is no joke.

The Green Party is leaderless.

The Seanad has nothing to do with leaders of any party.

This is a matter of public record. I am talking about the one o'clock news today on which Deputy McGuinness outlined precisely what happened. This flip-flop by the Minister has no consequence because it really does not matter to this country who is leader of Fianna Fáil, whether it is Deputies Brian Cowen, Micheál Martin or Brian Lenihan.

Is Fine Gael not keeping Deputy Enda Kenny very quiet?

There have been flip-flops by the Minister for Finance of a much more serious nature in the economic sphere and I will cite three. The first was the bank bonuses where he maintained that his hands were tied and that he could do nothing about them, yet he subsequently passed legislation to deal with that issue. The second was that subordinated bondholders could not be touched, yet legislation was ultimately passed by the Minister to deal with that matter. The most extraordinary one was the EU-IMF bailout in which he treated with contempt, as did the Taoiseach, anyone who suggested the rates of interest were excessive and unsustainable, yet he unashamedly indicated yesterday that he was going to Brussels to renegotiate the rates.

I call Senator Keaveney.

What was impossible is now possible. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Finance to the House to explain himself on the EU-IMF deal.

Point made; time up.

At a time when people want to run for election to the other House on the basis of getting rid of cronyism it is interesting that a journalist would invite someone to appear on his prime-time RTE programme——

We are taking questions to the Leader on the Order of Business.

—— and give that person a platform that no one else is allowed to have. The only time I was invited to appear on national television was when we were being asked to stand over——

Does the Senator have a question relevant to the Order of Business?

——the relevance of the Seanad.

We are taking questions to the Leader on the Order of Business.

The only time we were brought on was to defend ourselves and only as members of the audience, not as main players.

I seek clarification that the Road Traffic Bill will be brought before the House because it is definitely being brought before the other House. In that context, does the Minister have responsibility for road safety, given that my Adjournment matter was ruled out of order again today?

I have made a decision on that matter.

We are making this House totally irrelevant.

Senator, please.

We are being asked outside the House how relevant we are.

I have ruled on the matter.

We raise issues here only to be advised that an issue does not come within a Minister's remit.

When the Bill is brought before the House, the Senator will have an opportunity to speak on the matter.

With due respect, a Chathaoirligh——

If there are road safety and road traffic Bills being brought before the House, we should have an entitlement——

That will be the time to discuss it.

—— to raise issues of safety on the Adjournment. It is appalling.

I ask the Leader for a debate on what is happening in the North and the north west. Last week the Minister announced he was withdrawing the PSO in respect of the Derry to Dublin link road. The Labour Party has announced it will withdraw the money for the project. A Sinn Féin Minister will not deliver on the rail link between Belfast and Derry. The PSO has been removed because we have good road and rail links. This is both very serious and unacceptable for the north west. For those who are worried about the shape of the next Government, when we see the money going to the North being considered irrelevant and unnecessary, the people of County Donegal will say "No" to the Labour Party because of the way they are being abandoned.

I had hoped we would start the new year with quality debates, not the flip-flop we are witnessing across the floor, with no chance to discuss the real issue.

We are getting to Government Senators.

Did Senator Ormonde hear what the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Martin, had to say this morning?

I have an issue to raise on health information. During the Christmas break I discovered that many could not properly read the instructions on medicines and could not read health information. What is the HSE's national service plan for 2011 on health information? There are volunteers who provide courses on literacy and numeracy through the VECs. We should have a module in civic education in schools on health education to help those parents who may be not good at reading or writing.

Very often they throw away instructions on medicines because they have not read them properly. I would like us to have statements in this Chamber on the HSE's strategy, in conjunction with those of the Departments of Education and Skills and the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, to help those who may not be good at reading or writing and do not have the confidence to deal with these issues. We could do it as part of the senior cycle in schools through modules on health education. There is social and civics education.

Health education forms part of the curriculum.

This is an area that is being neglected and it would save taxpayers money because so much money is being wasted on prescriptions, with tablets being thrown out because people have not read or do not understand the instructions. This is an issue I would like to see pursued. We have an opportunity to commence that debate.

One can sympathise with those who resent the kite flying of President Sarkozy and particularly what one could call an intrusion into the internal affairs of this country. The best comes out in the Irish character when we are provoked in that way. Often it forces cohesion between the different groupings, both in this House and elsewhere, and we see that happening in this instance. I would be disappointed if that were not the case.

One of the best ways of responding to this type of provocation and questioning of our independence and sovereignty is to show respect and admiration for our history and for our patriots, those who gave us the opportunities and the wherewithal which we have today to deliver on our own destiny. Previously I raised the question of the upcoming celebration and commemoration of 1916 in a short number of years. I raised it in particular in the context of the buildings in Moore Street. The will of the people on this issue would be without doubt unanimously that we must protect and develop that area.

The reason I raise it, and I hope the Leader may get the opportunity of responding on this, is that it has gone unnoticed that Dublin City Council has taken a positive move in this regard. It has been proactive through a resolution, which I believe was put forward by the Labour Party in recent weeks. I compliment the party on that because we needed that guidance and leadership from Dublin City Council. It will count for nought, however, if Parliament does not respond to it at this time. I am just a little concerned that the wheels are moving too fast. I ask the Leader to give Members time specifically to discuss that. If we do that, we will be sending a message to the world that our sovereignty is beyond reach and it is our intention in a few years time to demonstrate to the world the type of nation we are, the independence we have and the leadership we have provided, not just here but to the world in other cases as well. I ask the Leader for the opportunity to discuss specifically the national monument which is Moore Street in order that we can show support for Dublin City Council in that regard.

I also want to comment on our 12.5% corporation tax rate. It is recognised by most political parties that it is of paramount importance for foreign direct investment and the creation of jobs in this country to retain that 12.5% tax rate. It is regrettable that President Sarkozy has come out against Ireland on this tax. We are a sovereign nation and can have whatever tax we wish. It is the prerogative of President Sarkozy to reduce his own country's corporation tax rate if he believes ours is of such benefit to us. I look at Taiwan, one of the most expanding nations in the world, which has growth rates of 9% to 10% and which has recently reduced its corporation tax rate from 22% to 16%. We do not intend to take lectures from President Sarkozy or those from any of the other countries on our tax system. We will deal with it as we see fit and as long as we can repay our debts to the European Union, it cannot have any say in our tax system.

Some political parties, such as People Before Profit and others, suggest that we should increase our corporation tax rate, and this at a time when we need to create jobs, we need foreign companies to come to this country and we need foreign companies with a presence in this country to stay here. This suggestion by People Before Profit and the alliance of the left, or whatever they call themselves, that we increase our corporation tax rate by 2% to 3% or even more to solve our economic problems is an absolute disgrace. It is a mockery where economics is concerned.

Will the Leader advise if any meetings or discussions have taken place in recent months on Seanad reform? I made a number of suggestions on improving the efficacy and productivity of structured Seanad debate.

Do they concern residency?

There should be no interruption when Senator Callely speaks on the Order of Business.

I would welcome the Leader indicating what progress, if any, has been made on same. It would be helpful if a progress report could be circulated to all Members of the Seanad and I urge the Leader to do this in the course of the next couple of weeks if possible.

Will the Leader also indicate when the finance Bill will be published and outline the Seanad schedule to accommodate same? Will the Leader indicate the position of the legislation dealing with a directly elected lord mayor for Dublin and outline the likely schedule associated with same?

It is interesting to hear Senator Callely speaking about Seanad reform. I am impressed at Fianna Fáil holding a parliamentary meeting to decide on a vote of confidence in which only Deputies are invited to participate. The party has not invited Senators. That is nothing to do with me but it is quite interesting.

Party business is not relevant to the Order of Business.

It is an automatic procedure.

It may be an automatic procedure but to the best of my knowledge, when Fine Gael did something similar, and its members speak about abolishing the Seanad, the party invited Members of both Houses to contribute.

That is Fine Gael.

I thought it of interest.

We have a much more democratic party.

It seems much more democratic.

Deputy Enda Kenny was lucky to have the Senators. I hope he reciprocates their actions.

The party had to make up the numbers.

Senator Quinn, without interruption.

The comments on corporation tax serve as a reminder that we have been able to apply the 12.5% rate without much question for many years. It has proven very successful and I agree entirely with Senator Cummins in his comments on the benefits we have experienced. When people run into debt, they also run into difficulties. A debtor finds that those to whom money is owed can begin to argue that because they provided help, they can talk about topics such as corporation tax. It is a reminder that there are costs associated with bailouts. We must be careful and not assume that these issues do not have a cost.

My attention has been drawn to a topic of which I was not previously aware. We are trying to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship in small and medium-sized enterprises. Last month a ban was imposed on access to debt judgments, and this deprives small businesses of information they used to get. An Irish organisation called Irish Judgments Limited used to provide the details of debt judgments in the Circuit and District courts, giving the information toStubbs Gazette and others in order that small businesses could decide whether to give credit to other businesses. Last month a stop was put to this in Ireland, although the process still occurs in England, Scotland and Wales.

I do not know the reason for this action but it seems the decision will deprive small businesses and enterprises of a very useful tool they had previously to assess the creditworthiness of other parties. I suggest that the Leader ask those responsible where the decision came from and whether it is possible to reverse it.

Senators Fitzgerald, Norris and Alex White discussed the economy and I welcome the announcement on exports last week and the success of Bord Bia in particular. We should give the Government the credit it deserves for our strong export figures over the past two difficult years. Senator Norris also expressed serious concern about families in real poverty, especially those with no heat, electricity or gas. I will see what we can do about that. We will make inquiries after the Order of Business to ascertain the up to date position. Irrespective of how little money they have, families should not be left without electricity or gas, both of which are basic essentials on a par with tea, butter, bread and sugar. Energy is essential for the survival of families and the least the Government can do is ensure it is provided for them.

I join Senator Norris in congratulating Senator Ross on his endeavours in Dublin South. He follows other Senators in announcing he will stand for election in Dublin South. I understand a fourth Senator will make a similar announcement in the near future.

The Leader would be very welcome to stand in the constituency.

I extend good wishes to all candidates in Dublin South, a constituency anyone would be proud to represent and one which has been fortunate to benefit from massive infrastructural investment. I look forward to assisting colleagues in the area.

Senator Norris also congratulated the 1,735 young enterprising boys and girls who entered the Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition. These young people are the future of the country and I join the Senator in congratulating all those who participated in the event, especially those who won awards. The exhibition is an outstanding success. Every January it is uplifting to see what the young brains of the country are achieving at a young age.

I concur with Senator Norris on the lack of investment in the inner city of Dublin. The former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, is a champion of the inner city who will be sadly missed now that he has decided he will no longer represent the area. His decision will leave Senator Norris and the constituency's Deputies with a challenge on their hands. As the Senator noted, funding for Fitzgibbon Street Garda station is crucial and must continue, if possible.

Senator Alex White referred to the forthcoming referendum on children's rights, an issue about which I asked a question last week. I will inquire as to the timeframe for the referendum and inform the Senator of the up to date position tomorrow morning.

Senator Leyden celebrated and rejoiced, with the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, in the opening of decentralised offices in Roscommon, his local town. This development provides a major boost for the town, the west and rural Ireland in general. I congratulate the Senator and the Minister of State on their achievements in this regard. I hope, however, that the Senator is wrong regarding the possibility that a new Government will reverse policy and relocate 30,000 public sector workers to Dublin. I hope a new Government will support rural areas. The population of the west, from Senator Keaveney's constituency in County Donegal along the coast to County Waterford, is declining. In the light of considerable reductions in the cost of staff and property and the construction of new dual carriageways and motorways between Dublin and Waterford, Limerick, Cork and Galway, companies have an ideal opportunity to invest on the western seaboard.

Senator Healy Eames referred to job creation and recent public comments. As Senators are aware, more than 600,000 jobs were created under various Governments led by Fianna Fáil and more than 1.5 million people are still at work. All parties, whether Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Labour Party, the Green Party or Sinn Féin, must prioritise job creation for the 250,000 people who have lost their jobs. It is clear what will happen at the polls to any political party which fails to do this. No other party has a more successful record on job creation than Fianna Fáil.

Senators Norris, Walsh, Buttimer, Hanafin, Ó Murchú and Quinn referred to the payment of bank bonuses. That incorrect information was provided for the Minister for Finance is unacceptable and the matter must be investigated urgently. We fully support the Minister in his efforts and I will have no difficulty in setting aside time to discuss the matter. The example given by us in public life and in the public sector through everyone taking a reduction in wages, as have bank staff, means the bonus structure must be discontinued in these difficult times.

President Sarkozy has outlined various matters regarding the 12.5% corporation tax rate which is in the hands of the Irish people who have a veto. The message to the world is: hands off our 12.5% corporation tax rate. This is an island nation. As such, everything must be brought in by air or sea and we must have an opportunity to play a leading role in the European Union. President Sarkozy's comments demonstrate sheer greed. Why should such a powerful nation like France deny a little island nation like Ireland which has a population of 4.5 million people the opportunity to survive and its people a chance to make a living and rear their families, as they are doing so successfully and well? I fully support all of the comments made regarding our 12.5% corporation tax rate.

Senator Walsh called for a debate on the Croke Park agreement. I will schedule the next debate on the agreement for early next week. I have taken note of his comment that there are those who get 11 weeks holidays. I presume this figure includes sick days and the 22 or 23 days some sections of the workforce receive. It is unacceptable and unsustainable that one should have 56 days leave.

Senator Mullen referred to the funding of Operation Anvil and I support his call. The Minister for Justice and Law Reform faces very difficult decisions in how he handles his budget. I send him our best wishes following his operation last Friday. Let us hope he makes a full recovery. He was in pain for some considerable time when he taking Bills in this House and we wish him well.

Senator Mullen referred to future legislation on prostitution. I am awaiting a response and will revert to the House when I receive it.

Senator Wilson sought a special debate on the Quinn Group and its difficulties. A number of interested parties have made proposals and it is unacceptable that they have not all been examined and considered. I have thought about this since the request was made and will allow time next week for statements. The Minister or Minister of State at the Department of Finance will be present in the Chamber to hear the serious concerns brought to the attention of the House by Senator Wilson and others.

Senator Buttimer asked for the Minister for Health and Children to attend the Chamber to discuss the subject of VHI charges. I will endeavour to have a date included in the diary, but the difficulty is——

It should be held now.

I see that the Senator has shifted seats. Is he moving over to this side of the House?

I am getting closer to government.

This is where the Senator started and we might have room for him in the future.

Mine is a party of government.

No interruptions, please.

This week the House will consider six Bills, which presents a difficulty. There is so much legislation to be considered and improved before the general election is called——

The Leader must consider the people also.

I thought it was just the Finance Bill that was to be taken.

Fine Gael will raise a matter in Private Members' time in two weeks. At the leaders meeting we will discuss whether we can accommodate the request made by Senator Buttimer and other colleagues to have the Minister for Health and Children attend the Chamber. The matter is urgent and it is necessary to debate it.

Will she be here this week?

We have six Bills to consider this week.

The matter is not important enough for the Leader to order a debate.

There should be no further questions to the Leader who is replying to the Order of Business.

His reply is like a fairytale; he is making it up as he goes along.

On the matter raised by Senator Hanafin, the success of those involved in farming, following a 34% increase in the past year, is long overdue.

I welcome it and congratulate everyone associated with it. Also, this must be taken into account in regard to climate change proposals, which are before the House for consideration and Second Stage of that Bill will be taken in the House tomorrow.

Senator Keaveney asked about the Road Traffic Bill. That Bill will be before the House at 2.30 p.m. tomorrow and the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, will be in the House to take it.

Senator Keaveney also called for a debate on the North, in particular on the importance of issues related to the north west. I fully agree with the Senator, who is a champion in this House in highlighting the difficulties and the very many issues about which she is concerned regarding her native county of Donegal and the plight of those living in the north west. I will support her in any way that I possibly can in her call for such a debate.

Senator Ormonde called for the issue of health literacy to be addressed and for a programme to be put in place and she asked what the HSE strategy in this regard will be. Perhaps this matter could be raised with the Minister for Health and Children when she will be in the House to deal with the VHI issue and all other issues related to health. Senator Ormonde's request for such a debate is a serious one that must be addressed.

Senator Ó Murchú raised the matter of the centenary celebrations of the men and women of 1916, quite a number of whom gave their lives for this country. Those people have given us the Ireland we have of today. The Senator raised in particular the preservation of the buildings in Moore Street in regard to Dublin City Council and I note all the issues he outlined. I have no difficulty in allocating time for such a debate and if I cannot find time to arrange for it having regard to all the Bills that are to come before the House, I will arrange for the debate to take place in the next Fianna Fáil Private Members' time.

Senator Callely raised the matter of Seanad reform. All the submissions on it from the various groupings and parties of the House are with the Minister responsible. The Minister promised a White Paper on this matter, the publication of which we await. I announced last week the programme of Bills to be published and that were listed for our consideration, one of which is the Finance Bill which will be taken in February. Another Bill that has been published is the Dublin Lord Mayor Bill, the progress of which we await. If time permits, that Bill will also be taken

Senator Quinn raised a matter regarding an information agency that has been a useful tool for small businesses. I fully agree with him on this matter and I will make inquiries about it.

Is the Order of Business agreed?

I have a question for the Leader.

No, the Senator may not put a question to the Leader.

On a point of order, is it possible under Standing Orders for Senator Walsh to name the civil servants and public servants who have 55 days holidays?

No, Senator. Is the Order of Business agreed?

Senators

No.

Question "that the Order of Business be agreed to" put and declared carried.