Order of Business

The Order of Business is Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, on the Order Paper. No. 1, statements on the Arts, is to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and conclude not later than 2.15 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed six minutes; questions to the Minister from other Senators will be taken in turn. There will be a sos from 2.15 p.m. to 3 p.m.

No. 2, Private Members' business, will commence at 3 p.m. and conclude not later than 5 p.m. No. 3, Twenty-Ninth Amendment of the Constitution (Judges' Remuneration) Bill 2011 — all Stages, will commence at 5 p.m. and conclude not later than 7 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the contributions of group spokespersons to the Second Stage debate not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes. No. 4, resolution to be prescribed for the information of voters pursuant to section 23 of the Referendum Act 1994, No. 12 of 1994, in relation to the proposal to amend Article 35 of the Constitution which is contained in the Twenty-Ninth Amendment of the Constitution (Judges' Remuneration) Bill 2011 and is the subject of a constitutional referendum, is to be taken without debate.

The Leader may have heard the news this morning of potential job losses in Aviva, which news has been in the ether for some months. Aviva's location of its European headquarters in Dublin three years, which did not create a massive amount of jobs, was seen at the time as a statement of intent in regard to the company's operation in Ireland. The Leader might recall that approximately six years ago, Aviva, then Hibernian, moved 500 call centre jobs to India. Obviously, all of us in parties and none want to ensure the Government does what it can before there is an announcement of job losses. The rumours have not been dismissed by Aviva in any shape or form. Unlike in the case of TalkTalk where the Government was not given sufficient time — I am not criticising the Government in that regard — a warning has very definitely been signalled and I ask that the Leader raise the matter directly with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, and the Taoiseach. Will he inform the House of any contact the Minister has had thus far with Aviva? I am aware the Minister was quoted as saying he had heard the rumours. This is more than a listening exercise. I want to know what the Minister has said.

I seek clarification on the Government's stance in regard to support for Palestinian statehood at the forthcoming UN Convention. While we have heard mixed signals, I read with interest the Tánaiste's comments in one of the morning newspapers during his visit to the US. As was mentioned yesterday, there is a motion on the Order Paper from many Members on this side and Independents asking the Government to support the Palestinians in their quest for statehood. What is the Government's position on this issue? It appears it will toe the European line but I hope that is not the case. All Irish Governments up to now have had a proud tradition of supporting the Palestinians. I am concerned that we seem to have rowed back somewhat given that we have been to the forefront in supporting the Palestinian cause. Anyone who read today'sThe Irish Times will have seen an eviction order has been placed on a Bedouin tribe and the Israelis want to relocate them to a rubbish dump in Bethany. This is the type of government we are dealing with there. Taking unilateral action is probably the last thing the Palestinians wanted to do, but it is their last option. I hope the Government will support the Palestinians in their call for statehood.

Will the Leader clarify if we have a date for the Minister for Health to come to the House? Do we know if he is coming in within the next three to four weeks to deal with the many health issues that have been raised in this House because his silence on many of the issues has been deafening?

I join Senator O'Brien in expressing concern about the rumour, and it is only a rumour at this stage, of prospective job losses at Aviva. The trickle of rumour leaves the employees in Aviva in an appalling position of uncertainty. Coming on the heels of the TalkTalk announcement, it gives rise to grave concern. We in the Labour Party group will have private Members' time next week when we will seek to address this issue of big companies pulling out and leaving our workers in the lurch, particularly at such short notice.

I wish to take up a point raised by Senator Darragh O'Brien on Palestinian statehood. There are no mixed messages here. What the Tánaiste is seeking to do is to change the EU position because the Irish position — the Labour Party and the Government position — has always been supportive of Palestinian demands. Senator O'Brien and his colleagues will see that the Government motion, No. 14, states that Seanad Éireann reaffirms the long-standing support of the Irish Government and people for the establishment of a Palestinian state. It is more nuanced because we are approaching such a——

Motion No. 4 is much clearer.

As the Senator is well aware, we are seeking to do the best we can to support the Palestinian people's demands. Many of us individually signed the Sudaca advertisement inThe Irish Times.

Many of the Labour Party Senators, myself included, and Deputies signed it. That is a long-standing position that my party and I hold and that the Tánaiste is seeking to promote in government.

We still do not know whether we are going to support the Palestinian call.

We want to achieve an EU common position on that issue. That is a goal worth achieving.

Why can we not take the lead on it?

No interruptions, please.

Protect the Government.

The Government is seeking to be careful about this, to promote the Palestinian cause in a way that is diplomatic and that tries to bring the other EU countries with us. If we cannot do that, then obviously we have to look at it again. The Tánaiste has been very fair about that.

Today is September blue day. I am not wearing blue myself — just to rub it in to my colleagues from Kerry — and although they may feel a bitter about it, I know some of them are wearing blue.

It sits very hard but I will do it.

I am delighted that Senator Moloney is wearing blue today, even though I am sure it goes against the grain. It is worthwhile that all of us support blue day, an initiative to promote men's cancer awareness. There has been a great deal of positive outcomes from the pink day for breast cancer. Research shows that women generally tend to be much more proactive about looking after their health. This is a good opportunity to promote men's cancer awareness, to support the Irish Cancer Society, which is having a briefing at 1 p.m. today, and to show our support by wearing blue. It is also an opportunity to show our support for the Dubs, if that was also necessary.

My question to the Leader is in regard to No. 15, motion No. 6 on the Order Paper which deals with the missing children hotline. This motion, which I drafted with my colleagues Senators Mark Daly, Feargal Quinn and many others who put their names to it, has agreement across the House. Unfortunately, children are falling between the gap of the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, both of whom consider responsibility for putting this hotline into operation is the other's. Everybody agrees we should have it. Sixteen EU states have it and yet we cannot get it over the line. I ask the Leader to provide Government time, at the earliest opportunity, to discuss a definitive plan as to how the hotline can be put into operation — not to discuss the needs and merits of its — and to uphold our obligations to the children of Ireland and also to the EU.

I ask the Leader for a debate on the functioning of democracy here. The Seanad and the Dáil are under review, which is proper, but there is very little in any of this about the participation of the people. Most of the ills, economic and social, not just in Ireland, come from the fact that the preservation of the system and the interests of the establishment have been put firmly above the welfare of the people. That is the wrong order. This affects all our institutions from the local to the highest office in the land. Seanad Éireann is the place where we should have that discussion of ideas to bring the people of Ireland fully in at this difficult time.

It was stated in the House yesterday that the points system for university entrance is fair and transparent. It is probably fair for many students and families who can afford to go to the third level education, but I am not sure if it is fair for those who cannot. The points system has narrowed the learning opportunities for a great number of students in that the leaving certificate is an extremely result-focused process, a matter to which the ESRI report, published yesterday, draws attention. I met a student a couple of weeks ago and asked how she got on in the leaving certificate. She said she got 460 points. However, that was not the question I asked. When I boorishly pointed this out to her, she looked at me blankly and said points are all that matter. From her point of view, she is right. It is an awful indictment of our education system that after 13 years one is judged in two weeks at the end of it. The report also points out that students who get grinds do better in examinations than those who do not and, of course, grinds are available only to those who can afford them.

A conference taking place today in University College Dublin is discussing the future of education. Given that we need a debate on the education system here, I ask the Leader to ask the Minister to come to the House and address the issue. We need to stop codding ourself when we say that our education system is fair. We all know that if we can afford it, it is probably fair; otherwise, it is not.

I join Senator Darragh O'Brien in again calling for the Minister for Health to come to the House as a matter of the utmost urgency for a debate on a series of issues that all of us on all sides wish to discuss, not least the most worrying one that €6 million is being written off in by HSE west.

Will the Leader schedule an early debate on social welfare, in particular on the processing of applications? The social welfare service is being inundated from all over the country by people applying for the various benefits to which they are entitled as a consequence of being unemployed or whatever. The length of time people are being asked to wait for relatively simple administrative processing is disgraceful. An example is that of an ill, elderly man from Tubbercurry in County Sligo who, having finished on illness benefit, applied for invalidity benefit in August. After four or five days of trying, he got through to the relevant office in County Longford last Friday. When he highlighted when his application was made, the person told him with a chuckle and in a dismissive tone that the office would get to him in approximately six months. This is disgraceful. An ill, elderly person is facing into a difficult winter and will require these benefits. A conciliatory and courteous tone should be used when dealing with the public. We must do all within our power to put adequate resources in place to ensure the processing is done in an efficient and effective manner. Were it in the private sector, this service would be out of business. While the State is under great pressure, surely we could do more to facilitate needy people. Will the Leader arrange a debate on this matter?

Regarding Aviva's announcement about potential job losses in the Leader's part of the country, will he suggest to the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise ad Innovation, Deputy Bruton, in whom I have great confidence, that a pre-emptive strike be made so that all Enterprise Ireland and IDA companies be audited in terms of their outlook, their challenges and so on? In this way we could isolate companies that are considering moving their operations outside Ireland and take steps to ensure they stay and to protect jobs to the fullest extent possible.

I wish to raise the issue of cartels. We have just heard that a whistleblower has approached the Competition Authority about the cement industry. According to that person, a massive cartel has been operating in a region for many years. Its aim has been to increase the price of cement and restrict competition in the area. The authority is investigating. When completed, will the Minister alert local authorities, the National Roads Authority and other public bodies that have used the companies involved so that they might reclaim what they are owed from overpricing? This should accrue income for those affected.

It should be possible to estimate how much it costs to produce cement from the rock to the road, but it has not been done. In future, the ESRI or another body that is qualified to conduct an analysis should make such estimates in respect of every product in order that those who are sourcing commodities, be they local authorities, the NRA or so on, can have an idea of the average price of cement. They should not need to rely on the word of people in the business. A scientific analysis should be possible. I ask the Minister to provide for this and to alert local authorities and others under his Department to ensure they claw back money from the cement companies that have been abusing the situation.

I thank the whistleblower, although I am disappointed that he was part of the cartel and waited until he went into receivership to blow the whistle. I hope his actions will teach others a lesson.

Senator van Turnhout drew attention to the motion on the missing child hotline, which should be given a high priority. Senator Daly has also put a great deal of work into it. It has identified a matter in respect of which we are slipping behind the rest of Europe. There would be no cost and we could do it readily.

Senator MacSharry made a point concerning social welfare and social protection. My attention was drawn to two figures published a few days ago by the Comptroller and Auditor General. Last year saw an €83 million overpayment in social welfare, €31 million of which was down to fraud. This is a jolting figure. Can we do anything about it?

My attention was also drawn to the fact that there was a tax amnesty some years ago for those who admitted their guilt. When it was proposed, there was an outcry from us all to the effect that the then Government was helping those who defrauded the State. However, the amount of money returned was considerable, far more than anyone anticipated. Has consideration been given to the possibility of a social welfare fraud amnesty? I am not proposing one, only that it be considered in light of the fact that some people might have histories of social welfare fraud. A sum of €31 million is a great deal of money. According to the Comptroller and Auditor General, some €300 million is still outstanding.

I call for a debate on social housing, in particular long-term leasing. I do not know whether it has been an issue elsewhere, but people in County Donegal who are offered long-term leases are being told by the local council that, according to the Department of Social Protection, they will not be entitled to exceptional needs payments, which are used to furnish the properties. I have been contacted by several of the affected families. Were they tenants in standard council houses, they would receive the payments. When I spoke with the county's housing officer, he told me that the council's hands were tied. Where Donegal County Council is concerned, the only show in town is long-term leasing. I do not know about other counties.

This is a catch-22. A young couple rang me yesterday morning and this morning to tell me that they have been offered a property and must sign for it by today or tomorrow, although the council will not hold them to ransom on that. If they do not take the property, it will be regarded as a refusal. If they leave their current home and take the property, they will not have the financing to furnish the property. Many of the new long-term leasing properties are new houses with floor coverings and nothing else. Will the Departments of Social Protection and the Environment, Community and Local Government examine this catch-22 situation?

I call for a debate on social housing with a specific emphasis on long-term leasing. As a member of Donegal County Council, I welcomed this initiative when it was introduced by the former Government. Long-term leasing has merit, as it provides housing at short notice for young couples, single persons or whoever. However, an anomaly has arisen and other Members may have had similar experiences in their counties. Could they speak with me about the issue?

I support Senators' calls for the Minister for Health to attend the Chamber. It is beyond a joke that, week in week out, Senators from all parties ask that he discuss with us the important health issues at play in hospitals across the State. A number of weeks ago, I raised the issue of the impact of the public service embargo on health services. I will provide an example to which the Leader can respond. In County Waterford, the budget for community services has overrun by €3 million, resulting in 22 beds being removed from community care for the elderly. St. Michael's ward, a long-stay geriatric care facility in Dungarvan Community Hospital is to close because agency staff are being let go.

As I stated several weeks ago, the embargo is forcing hospitals to close wards because they cannot employ regular staff and must take on agency staff. This demonstrates that the embargo is a crude instrument. It is not working and is driving up budgets for hospitals rather than driving down costs. Unfortunately, it is now resulting in front-line services and beds for the elderly being taken out of the system, including from St. Patrick's Geriatric Hospital in Waterford, where 22 beds were closed, and St. Michael's ward in the hospital in Dungarvan. When will the Minister for Health attend the House to address all these issues of concern?

I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister come to the House today. We should propose an amendment such as this every day until we have a very clear commitment from the Leader of the House that the Minister will attend. It is not good enough for the Minister to simply hide away from elected representatives in this House. He should attend the House and account for himself.

With regard to Palestinian membership of the United Nations, it is not good enough for this State to wait to see what the President of the United States or European Union will do. Both parties are watching each other. This is an opportunity for the Irish State to show leadership. That is what we need to do. We should consider our affinity with the Palestinian people. Let the Government show leadership, both in Europe and the rest of the world and give a clear and unequivocal commitment that we will support the right of the Palestinians to a seat at the United Nations.

Can the Senator clarify the amendment?

I propose amendment No. 1: "That a debate on health matters with the Minister for Health be taken today."

On the present rumour about the closure of Garda stations, I would like to offer the Minister a few words of caution. I received a telephone call at 10:30 a.m. from a person in Kerry who, on leaving a certain post office, saw a person with a conviction for robbing another post office sitting outside in a high powered Mercedes. I made seven telephone calls before I could get a garda, and that garda was off duty. He was on his way to investigate the matter when I was entering the House. While it is only a rumour that Garda stations are to close and the Minister has made no decision on the matter, or on the replacement of Garda squad cars, I ask him to bear in mind my point. We will know shortly the outcome regarding the person sitting in the Mercedes.

I share the concerns of other speakers regarding the rumours about Aviva, which followed swiftly the TalkTalk bombshell. It is a matter of great concern. I would like the Government to have a greater sense of urgency in dealing with this. The trend is very worrying, primarily for the employees. I have had some calls from people insured with Aviva and from elderly people whose private pensions are managed by the company. I would like the Minister to assure us that the movement, if it takes place, will not impair the service or the security of the investments in any way.

I call the Leader to arrange a debate on the Defence Forces. There is renewed speculation on the closure of Army barracks, despite this being denied by the Minister in today's newspaper. The rumours are causing concern among families and members of the Defence Forces, PDFORA and the officers' association, RACO. We need to have those concerns allayed. In the course of the debate, I would like to focus on the work of the FCA, the excellent voluntary service with a presence in almost every town in the country. To what extent is the Government committed to continuing to support the FCA and what resources does it plan to put in place?

I would like there to be an audit of Army property around the country. I wonder whether the many barracks and slua halls are fit for purpose. Are they providing value for money? We could usefully have a debate on all these issues.

I, too, would like to raise the issue of Aviva workers and the rumours that have been circulating in recent weeks. They have been heard in the media both last night and this morning, which is of great concern to the workers in the company. Our thoughts are with them today if there are to be job losses on the heels of other announcements regarding jobs, particularly those in Talk Talk in Waterford.

We all know the Minister is in the United States at present working to ensure the sale of MBNA will be to a buyer interested in maintaining the facility in Carrick on Shannon. That is very important. The Minister has been very proactive in that area. He spoke to the media last night and is aware of the rumours surrounding Aviva. He will be doing what he can to ensure, if at all possible, that job losses are minimised. The job of the Government is to continue to ensure the economic environment is protected such that there can be job creation and so existing jobs can be protected. That is important.

Governments do not create jobs but work on the environment in which enterprise can flourish. The report of the National Competitiveness Council last week will be a roadmap showing where we should be going to ensure we return to competitiveness. It will point to the skills that are needed. I do not know the position on Aviva, or whether skills comprise an issue, but we certainly must determine the skills in which there should be investment. We could probably debate this in the House at some stage.

I strongly support the efforts of the Cathaoirleach and Leader to reform the House and make it more relevant and meaningful to citizens. Innovations such as the questions and answers session are commendable. I propose two addendums to that agenda. The first concerns the fact that the Government Publications Office no longer sells the printed versions of the debates in this House. One can obtain only those of the Dáil and committees. This might be considered. The second addendum concerns the fact that the coverage of both Houses is strongly geared towards insomniacs. There are morning people, including in this House.

There are a lot of them.

On the "Today in Parliament" programme on the adjoining island, Mr. Sean Curran presents in the morning an account of what the UK Parliament is doing. Such a programme would be most useful. We should reach out to people who require a printed document and to morning people, whom I am sure would be delighted to be informed about the deliberations in this House and the Dáil.

Hear, hear. Well said.

On foot of Senator Barrett's point, I, having worked with the BBC, would like to say that "Today in Parliament" became known as "TIP" and "Yesterday in Parliament" became known as "YIP". While I support the idea that we should have a programme such as "Today in Parliament", I hope the acronyms do not stick.

I take issue with Senator Cullinane's suggestion that the Minister for Health is hiding from us in this House. I, too, have asked for the Minister to attend the House on several occasions.

He told the people he would resign if he did not get the hospital back.

Many Members would like him to attend so we can raise various issues with him directly. To suggest a Minister is hiding when there are so many important matters to deal with——

He said he would resign if cancer services were not restored in Sligo.

It is a cheap shot to suggest a Minister is hiding from us.

Will the Minister for Health ensure people such as young Meadbh McGivern will not have to worry about how they get home when their transportation is arranged? Our thoughts are with Meadbh as she recovers in London and with her brave parents. Without their decision to enter the public arena we would not have discovered the incredible mess that surrounded the transportation of patients such as Meadbh. The head of the HSE, Cathal Magee, has given an assurance to the McGiverns that he will do whatever is necessary to ensure her safe transport home whenever that may occur, and we all pray it will be sooner rather than later. The idea that Cathal Magee would have to intervene specifically in her case raises the issue that it is still done on anad hoc basis. Will the Minister for Health give this matter priority so that the HSE, in its reorganisation of transport for patients such as Meadhbh, will ensure that coming home is treated as importantly as leaving?

I second the proposal by Senator Cullinane to amend the Order of Business to ask the Minister for Health to come to the House. As was pointed out last week, he most certainly is hiding. The only legislation with which he came to the House was something which was agreed on by all parties. We will have a very useful question and answer session with the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, which has been organised by the Leader. This is a great idea, and if the Minister for Health has time, and if it would not be too much bother, perhaps he will participate in a question and answer session in the House and not come to discuss a Bill which has all-party agreement. I guarantee that every seat in the House would be occupied and we could put the questions that all of us, on both sides of the House, have. Then we would not accuse him of hiding from us and going to China, as Senator Leyden pointed out, on a very dubious mission. He has the ability to go to China but not the ability to cross the corridor to come here.

I propose that during each term every Minister comes to the House for a question and answer session. All Members would find this most beneficial.

Senator Darragh O'Brien spoke about Palestinian statehood. In the article inThe Irish Times, the Tánaiste quoted Robert Emmet’s statement about Ireland taking its place among the nations of the earth. Palestine is seeking to become the 94th state recognised by the United Nations. I agree with the Tánaiste that we can disagree with our friends. We can disagree with the United States and Israel.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

The motion will be put before the United Nations next Friday and I hope the same motion will be tabled and supported by all parties in the House. I hope we will vote on it and recognise the Palestinian state. While I agree with the deputy Leader that we should try to bring around the EU to our point of view, we all know it is not likely because the EU cannot get its house in order on any issue when it comes to foreign policy. If the EU is not willing to support the resolution that comes before the General Assembly, then Ireland should act alone, have its independent foreign policy and support Palestinian statehood. Back in 1919, we found ourselves alone when no one would support us at the Versailles——

Does the Senator have a second question?

I ask for all-party agreement when the motion on recognition of Palestinian statehood is tabled on the Order Paper next Tuesday.

As the person who suggested yesterday that we have a question and answer session with the Minister, Deputy Reilly, I have every confidence that the Leader will organise it at the earliest opportunity.

When did the Senator table that motion?

He is agreeing with the motion.

We will see how he votes on it.

It is cheap opportunism to expect him to attend at the drop of a hat.

It is not; we have been asking every week for him to come here.

It will be scheduled in due course.

We are asking for the same thing the Senator is asking for. Do not give out to us; we are following the Senator.

I share the concerns expressed this morning about the rumoured job losses at Aviva. It is very disappointing news. We in this House need do everything possible to promote job creation and, as the Government has stated, to create an environment for the creation of employment.

This morning, we all received correspondence about the possibility of 500 jobs being temporarily lost in betting shops throughout Ireland because of outdated legislation which forces them to close at 6.30 p.m. from the end of September unless racing takes place in Ireland. Online betting can operate seven days a week, 24 hours a day and the betting shops are at a disadvantage. I am not one to promote gambling in any shape or form——

The Senator has been known to have a flutter.

No family secrets now.

A question for the Leader, please.

I would be much happier seeing somebody having to go to the bother of going to a betting shop to place a bet rather than being addicted through the Internet.

A number of Senators have offered.

Will the Leader speak to the relevant Minister to see whether we can initiate legislation to help save the 500 jobs that will be lost at the end of September? It is a significant number and I do not see why the law cannot be changed.

In August, a shiver ran through the people of Leitrim, Roscommon and Longford when MBNA announced it would leave the international credit card business. Fortunately, tomorrow the Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, will attend a meeting, along with the IDA head of financial services, Kieran Donoghue, in Charlotte, North Carolina, to find out why MBNA Bank of America intend to leave the international credit card business and whether it involves a sale or a wind down. A total of 750 people are employed by MBNA Bank of America in Carrick-on-Shannon and salaries totalling €26 million a year are pumped into the local economy and the hinterland of Carrick-on-Shannon. If MBNA pulls out in an unsatisfactory manner there will be devastation in the communities of Leitrim and Roscommon. I call for the Minister to come to the House as soon as possible after his return to bring us up to date on the matter. The Government should be about jobs.

As I stated on many occasions in the Chamber, I established Lir chocolates with Connie Doody, during the previous recession and we now employ 250 people. I saw with my own eyes the devastation when people have no jobs and I saw the transformation in their self-confidence and psyche when they got a job.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

The driver for the Government must be to hold on to jobs and get us back to being a decent economy where we do not have emigration, people's hearts breaking and people's mental health suffering from losing a job.

I wish to raise an issue with regard to health. I remind Senators that we inherited a dysfunctional health service from the previous Government.

The present Minister negotiated a consultants' contract when he was president of the Irish Medical Organisation——

We should not forget——

——which is the biggest problem the country has.

Senator Burke to continue, without interruption.

I will give an example——

Does Senator Burke have a question?

I do. I will give an example of the lack of organisation in the service. The centralised recruitment system was established by the HSE as far back as last December. It took until 29 June before agreement was reached with the Irish Medical Council on how the recruitment of new doctors would be managed.

We have a doctor as Minister for Health.

He was on the inside track when the previous contracts were negotiated.

We have a Medical Council which sets the standards.

These points can be made during the debate.

The issue I want to raise is the fact that the junior doctors who came here in August gave a month's notice from the jobs they had held. They are professionals who resigned. As of today's date, they have not been given a date to sit the exams to enable them to practise here. Some of them have been here for more than ten weeks and they cannot sit the exams. They have been told they may not be able to sit them until October. They live in guesthouses and are paid €100 a week. They have young families to support at home.

Bring the Minister for Health to the House and tell him.

This a Medical Council issue. I want the Minister, the Medical Council and the HSE to deal with it immediately. It should not be left until October for those people to sit the exams. They are professional people who gave up good jobs. They came to this country to get us out of a bind in terms of a shortage of junior doctors that we inherited from the previous Government.

The Senator should support the amendment to the Order of Business and have the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, attend the House another day.

The Minister must deal with the issue with the Medical Council and the HSE.

Senator Mark Daly was correct that there are times when we should be willing to disagree with our friends. He was speaking in the context of Palestine. That is also true in the context of the decision of the state of Georgia to go ahead with the execution of Troy Davis. I have not heard whether there has been any positive development in that story. It is remarkable that the country which most of us would regard as the leader of the free world sees fit to take life in the context of applying the death penalty. Amnesty International's US branch has pointed to the many doubts about Mr. Davis's guilt. It says that to allow a man to be sent to death in this circumstance is an outrageous affront to justice. We need to be clear that capital punishment is not just wrong when there are doubts about the innocence or guilt of the person who is sentenced to death. It is wrongper se. It is wrong in itself. We have often discussed the issue in this House. The current controversy over Troy Davis affords us the opportunity in this House to bring forward an all-party motion on the subject. We would do well to do so in early course

There have been many comments in these Houses in recent days on the ongoing issue of education. It will come as no surprise to people to hear that maths is the most popular subject for grinds at second level and that Irish is also popular in that regard. The fact that close to half of leaving certificate students are taking grinds at second level raises serious questions about the meaning of free education. I will conclude on this point. We must have a debate about that matter. It points to the vital importance of primary school and stable family structures because if children do not attend primary and secondary school in a situation where they can compete equally and if they do not have the family environment and the quality of second level education that would allow them to progress without the need for grinds then there is not real equality in this country as people progress to third level. This is an important and troubling subject which I hope we can discuss soon.

I support the request by Senator Jimmy Harte for a debate on social housing. That is basically what was requested. There are tens of thousands of people on housing lists and thousands of vacant properties across the country. The rental accommodation scheme, RAS, which is useful, appears to be underfunded. The rental allowance scheme is being abused in many cases. The Minister must attend the House and attempt to devise a solution to house the people of this country given that tens of thousands urgently need housing. It should not be beyond the bounds of possibility that we can resolve the problem.

I wish to comment briefly on the debate on the recognition of the state of Palestine. Most people seem to have a simplistic view on the intricate situation in the Middle East. It is politically popular and correct not just in the House but outside it to wear the Palestinian hat but there is another side to the equation, namely, Israel. I am not surprised that the case for Israel is not stated clearly in this House because both in the Oireachtas and historically in this country we chose to see no evil and hear no evil when the Jewish people were being sent to the gas chambers and concentration camps. I do not hear much about the fact that almost on a daily basis missiles are sent to Israel and people are killed. I hear little objection to the fact that one state has an avowed aim to wipe the state of Israel off the map. That is the policy of the state of Iran.

The other state is robbing land from the Palestinians.

Does Senator Bradford have a question for the Leader?

I would like the House to have a substantial debate on the situation in the Middle East. I recognise the need to protect and define the Palestinian state but I also support the state of Israel. We need a substantive, inclusive and informed debate on the situation in the Middle East. I wish it were as simple to resolve as some of my colleagues appear to suggest.

I am disappointed that you disallowed my Adjournment debate this evening, a Chathaoirligh. When I was in the Dáil I raised a similar matter on the Adjournment and it was allowed at that time. The Adjournment debate I put forward today——

I ruled according to precedent. Senator MacSharry had raised a similar motion yesterday.

I am explaining the context.

I will discuss the issue with Senator Byrne further in my office.

A Minister of State came before the people of Slane during the summer and told them that the Slane bypass was a top five priority project for the Government. It was the first time I had heard the words "top five priority project". I conducted a freedom of information request and to no great surprise found that there is no such thing in the documents I received. I am sure Senators would be delighted to hear what are the other four of the top five priority projects. We would like to find out what they are. There is nothing in the documents I received through a freedom of information request that would indicate there is any such thing as a top five priority list or that the Slane bypass is included in it, which it should be if there is such a list.

Broken promises.

It is a broken statement. In the context of the Minister's statement I felt it was important for the Minister for Transport to attend the Seanad to explain what a Minister has said and not what the NRA has done. In addition, the Minister also told the people of Meath that not only was it approved for planning permission, for which €1.5 million was allocated by the previous Government, but that money had been approved by the Government for the compulsory purchase of the lands. We are all delighted to hear that in Slane and elsewhere in County Meath but there is nothing in the documents released under the freedom of information request about funding being approved. I am entitled to raise the issue because it was first raised by a Minister. I will seek to raise the matter again tomorrow because it comes from the mouth of a Minister.

On health, it is important that the Minister for Health would attend the House. Sligo and Leitrim are represented by more Senators than anywhere else and they are going through a lot with the MBNA situation. It is an important issue. I am half-Sligo myself in that my wife is from Gurteen. The promises that were made to cancer sufferers and patients are among the most disgraceful promises made to sick people in this country.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Three Senators and a Minister said they would resign. The question is that those Senators said they would resign but they are not holding to that promise.

Fianna Fáil did nothing about it.

They told sick people——

The ball was in its court.

Senator Byrne should be allowed to speak without interruption.

I supported the national cancer strategy.

Does Senator Byrne have a question for the Leader?

The emphasis is on people getting better and improving cancer services in this country but the Government is no longer supporting the strategy. I fully supported the strategy although I lost services in my own area. There is no problem in that regard.

Does Senator Byrne have a question for the Leader?

The Minister for Health needs to come to the House because there are sick people who are upset because of the sick promises that were made to them by individual Senators. The Minister must be held accountable. He came to the House to discuss the female genital mutilation Bill — important legislation that had cross-party agreement — but he refuses to come to the Seanad to discuss the issues about which people worry on a daily basis. It is about time his colleagues told him that straight instead of standing up for him. I support the amendment tabled by Sinn Féin.

I refer to an event which took place yesterday and is also taking place today and tomorrow, namely, the ploughing championships that celebrate their 80th birthday. President McAleese has described agriculture as the star of the Irish economy in tough financial times. We have record levels of Irish food exports and increased numbers entering Teagasc for farming courses. I ask the Leader to pass on the need to celebrate and nurture the future success of Irish farming, which is vital for the economy. We must ensure that the education system provides the necessary training and courses to encourage more young people into farming.

The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Coveney, praised the previous Minister, Deputy Smith, yesterday for his work as Minister.

Senator D'Arcy should be allowed to speak without interruption. Does he have a question for the Leader?

I just asked the Leader a question. I did not hear what the Minister for jobs said.

She will not be replying to the Senator. I call Senator Leyden.

I support Senator Susan O'Keeffe's request to the Leader. He will be concerned about the successful outcome of Maedbh McGivern's case in London. I have no doubt that the Government and the Minister will see their way to providing transport for her. It has been a successful operation and we are all delighted with her progress. The family have gone through a very difficult time. The relevant authorities have now streamlined the transport of seriously ill patients. I know the Leader of the House will be sympathetic to this proposal. We should all agree that the Government jet should be made available because of the danger of infection in planes, as Senators will be aware.

I support Senator Mary White's proposal concerning MBNA. I happen to be a contributor to MBNA so I feel I am in a strong position to say that it is an excellent company. It built up Carrick-on-Shannon and the surrounding areas. In addition, MBNA has been involved in all sorts of charitable organisations supporting schools and educational development generally. It is an outstanding company and I am sorry that the Bank of America has decided to get out of the credit card sector. Nobody is in a better position to speak about jobs than Senator White. She created sustainable jobs from nothing and they remain in County Meath.

The Minister should utilise the abilities of those in this House to assist in trade missions. Senator White would be an ideal addition to a trade mission to the United States or elsewhere, as would other Members of the House. Senator Clune also referred to the MBNA situation, so I hope there will be a successful outcome because it is extremely grave.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

I am asking the Leader to arrange for the Minister to attend the House to report on the progress he is making on replacement jobs and the sale of MBNA, which is of crucial importance to Roscommon, Leitrim, Sligo, Longford and the surrounding areas.

Like others, I am concerned about the situation in Aviva. Unfortunately, the rumours circulating in recent weeks were substantiated on "Prime Time" last night. There was a time when companies who were making staff redundant would call them into a meeting before it became known through the media. The staff would be advised beforehand of what was going to happen. It is most regrettable that those rumours were confirmed for the workers on television last night. This practice seems to be developing, but it is most regrettable. It is a sad day for the insurance business. Ordinary policyholders have been through enough worry with the situation in the Quinn group, and now they are in a similar situation with Aviva. I ask the Leader to impress on the Minister the necessity for clarity on what will happen with the latter company and the fate of those jobs in particular.

When the Minister for Health attends the House, the Leader should ask him to formulate a proper policy for community hospitals. Raheen Community Hospital in County Clare closed a five-bed ward a week ago, which is most unfortunate. Similarly, the friends of Ennistymon Community Hospital, also in County Clare, have €500,000 sitting in a bank account.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Yes, I have. They are prepared to build a ward for the HSE to provide more beds. They are afraid to do it, however, because they do not know what the hospital's future will be, or what the policy is. There are great communities that are prepared to work in partnership with the HSE and the Government, but people must be up front in stating what is the situation and what needs to be done. Community hospitals and their partnership with various communities can provide a model for the future.

The Leader should ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to attend the House to explain how our justice system works. How is it that a little old lady of 65 can be sent to prison indefinitely, while we still have bankers and investors who have not yet been imprisoned? This is because Teresa Tracey was affirming her right to keep trees on her land, whereas EirGrid and the ESB wanted to fell the trees. This lady is being kept in prison indefinitely until she purges her contempt of court. It is an important issue because individuals should have their rights upheld. The Leader should therefore ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to attend the House to explain this situation to us.

Some 27 Senators have made contributions on the Order of Business. As we are out of time, I regret that I am unable to call Senators Coughlan, Healy Eames and Mulcahy. I will given them first choice tomorrow. I call the Leader to reply.

As the Cathaoirleach rightly pointed out, some 27 Members contributed to the Order of Business. I will do my best to get through them as quickly as possible.

Senator O'Brien mentioned the rumours of job losses at Aviva, which are a source of great concern to the workers, their families and everyone else involved. Aviva is undertaking a review of its operations in Ireland, but until that has been completed it would be premature to speculate on its outcome. I can confirm that IDA Ireland is working with Aviva management to mitigate any negative outcome from the review. We all wish that any job losses will be minimised in that regard. I hope the rumours will prove to be false and we will have very few job losses in Aviva. The matter is under review, however, and the IDA is in negotiation with management.

Senator O'Brien and others also referred to the Palestinian request to the United Nations for statehood. Government motion No. 14 states, "That Seanad Éireann reaffirms the long-standing support of the Irish Government and people for the establishment of a Palestinian state, based upon Israel's pre-1967 borders with mutually agreed land swaps". It is a worthy diplomatic motion.

Is there anything wrong with non-Government motion No. 4?

Government motion No. 14 should be supported by the House.

Non-Government motion No. 4 is also on the Order Paper.

Senator Bacik also raised that question, as well as the issue of men's cancer awareness. It is blue day in the Oireachtas and I see many people sporting blue. I was even accused of wearing Dublin colours this morning.

Senator van Turnhout mentioned the children's information hotline and I will consider giving Government time for such a debate shortly. I hope we will have clarity on the matter soon.

Senator Norris spoke about the need for further democracy in involving people in the operations of the Oireachtas. That is one of the reasons we established the public consultation committee which I hope will address the gap in democracy that has been evident for some time.

Senator Gilroy spoke about the points system, which was discussed on the Order of Business yesterday. It is a worthy point. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, attended the House yesterday for an interesting debate to which quite a number of Members contributed.

Senator MacSharry referred to waiting lists for social welfare applicants. The attitude of staff that he described is totally unacceptable. The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, will attend the House next month when she will be able to take a number of questions on social welfare matters, including the problems outlined by Members today.

Senator Keane referred to a cartel in the concrete industry. I will certainly ask the Minister to examine that situation and I am sure he will do so.

Senator Feargal Quinn mentioned social welfare fraud and the possibility of an amnesty. That matter can be raised with the Minister when she is here next month. She will be taking statements as well as questions and answers in that regard.

Senator Harte raised the lack of exceptional needs payments for people taking up long-term house leases. I know it has been a problem and it can be addressed by the Minister when she next attends the House. There has been a discrepancy in the amount of money allocated by community welfare officers for exceptional need payments in the various areas throughout the country. The Minister is endeavouring to address this matter.

Senator Cullinane spoke about the overrun in health service budgets. It is time the hospitals and everybody involved must realise that they have to live within their budgets. This has to be done and the HSE and hospitals must realise their budgets need to be realistic. There is currently an embargo on staff recruitment in the health service and throughout the public service.

Senator Cullinane has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business which I do not propose to accept. The Minister, Deputy Reilly, has just returned from representing the country and the Government at a UN conference on health. The request for him to attend the House is on his desk and I hope to have a date fairly soon.

Senator Sheahan asked about Garda stations and this matter was discussed yesterday. The Minister is carrying out a review of the entire Garda organisational structure. This is necessary in the context of dealing with the very difficult financial circumstances facing the State but also for the modernisation of the force. The purpose of the review is to ensure we will have the most effective arrangements in place to meet the challenges which the Garda Síochána will face in future years.

Senator O'Sullivan called for a debate on the Defence Forces. He outlined the work and the service of the FCA. I will arrange to have this debate as the House has not had a debate on the Defence Forces for quite some time.

Senator Clune spoke about the points system. Other Senators spoke about Aviva and MBNA and the need for workers to upskill to allow for future investment in the country. This matter was raised with the Minister last week and I hope he can come to the House again. As he was here only last week, it may be another while before he is available but we will take on board the points made by Senators Leyden and White and ask for a report on his deliberations as regards MBNA and the protection of jobs in Carrick-on-Shannon.

Senator O'Keeffe spoke about the case of Maedbh McGivern. I am sure all Members wish this young girl a very speedy recovery. The question of safe transport home will have to be addressed as this should not be an extra worry for people who have undergone life-saving operations. It is only fair that safe transport home would be provided for them.

Senator Daly asked for the Minister for Health to come to the House. I have already dealt with that matter and I hope that when the Minister comes to the House there will be more Members present than were here last week for questions to the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. As I stated, Members were shouting for the Minister to come to the House but only three or four Members were in attendance at some stages for the session of questions and answers with the Minister. In this regard, it is very irresponsible of Members to be standing up and demanding that Ministers come to the House to answer questions.

Senator Mullins spoke about betting shops and the loss of 500 temporary jobs as a result of the closing hours. We are due to have betting legislation before the House, possibly before Christmas. I am sure that matter will be addressed in that legislation.

Senator Colm Burke raised some very relevant points regarding junior doctors and their problems with sitting examinations. I will bring this matter to the attention of the Minister for Health.

Senator Mullen referred to the death penalty and said that the current controversy in Georgia over Troy Davis affords the House an opportunity to bring forward an all-party motion on the subject. I am sure there would be no problem in obtaining all-party support for such a motion.

Senator Bradford supported the request by Senator Jimmy Harte for a debate on social housing. He also asked for a debate on the Middle East. He outlined his support for the State of Israel. I hope to have the Tánaiste in the House for statements and a question and answer session on that issue.

Senator Byrne asked for time for a discussion on the Slane bypass. This issue was dealt with and ruled on by the Cathaoirleach.

Senator Jim D'Arcy referred to the 80th anniversary of the National Ploughing Championships. All Members will agree that the education system should be geared towards supporting young people who wish to work in agriculture.

Senator Leyden also raised the question of MBNA. I thought he was going to propose Senator White for the Presidency but it did not get that far.

Senator Ó Clochartaigh also made some points and asked for the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House to deal with a matter.

Senator Cullinane has proposed amendment No. 1 to the Order of Business, "That a debate on health matters with the Minister for Health be taken today."

Amendment put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 16; Níl, 31.

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D’Arcy, Jim.
  • D’Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Harte, Jimmy.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Mac Conghail, Fiach.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O’Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O’Keeffe, Susan.
  • O’Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Whelan, John.
  • Zappone, Katherine.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ned O’Sullivan and Trevor Ó Clochartaigh; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O’Keeffe.
Amendment declared lost.
Question, "That the Order of Business be agreed to," put and declared carried.