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Seanad Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 18 Oct 2011

Vol. 210 No. 15

Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, Central Bank and Credit Institutions (Resolution) (No. 2) Bill 2011 — Second Stage, to commence at the conclusion of the Order of Business and conclude not later than 6.45 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed six minutes, and the Minister to be called on to reply to the debate not later than 6.40 p.m.

On another matter, I note that it is becoming a habit for Members to raise items on the Order of Business and then depart from the Chamber. I have no intention in future of replying to Members who will not remain in the Chamber to hear the replies.

I agree wholeheartedly with the Leader. I have been guilty in the past of being obliged to leave early but I have always excused myself to the Leader. It is good practice either to do that or to be present in the Chamber to hear the response.

We will not oppose the Order of Business, but I wish to raise some pressing issues and perhaps the Leader will be able to work them into the schedule later in the week. First, there are reports from RTE today, following an internal investigation conducted by that organisation, that some 35 children have died in the care of the HSE since 2010. It is shocking in the extreme. Will the Leader make immediate contact following the Order of Business with the Department of Health and the Department of Justice and Equality? The current Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, took a very active and vocal role on this issue when it was dealt with in the other House under the previous Administration. I am very interested to hear his views on this. It is incumbent on Members of this House to have a debate on that issue this week if at all possible. Notwithstanding the fact that there are many health issues to be discussed, and I accept the Leader's invitation to participate in the debate on 27 October in the presence of the Minister for Health, it is important to note the reports this morning that 8,000 more people are now on waiting lists. I am sure the Leader will agree that this is unacceptable.

A huge issue faces our capital city this evening. A total of 249 residents, including 96 elderly people and a number of children, two of whom are under the age of two years, are being put up in the Regency Hotel because a court has ruled that their accommodation is unsafe for habitation due to health and safety concerns about fire. Who certified these buildings? On behalf of this side of the House, I demand that we find out the names of the professional practitioners in engineering and in architecture who certified these buildings as complying with various regulations set out in the planning and the building control legislation. We have a responsibility to immediately repeal the Building Control Act and to change the rules in order to ensure fire certification is not just granted at design stage but at all stages up to completion.

I have heard about self-certification in recent days. There is no self-certification. Independent practitioners licensed and approved, whether by the Royal Institute of Architects in Ireland, Engineers Ireland or the various associations, who we assume operate to the highest standards in their particular professions are clearly not doing so. It begs the question as to how many other apartment blocks, housing developments or commercial developments throughout the country are defective as a result of an unhealthy proximity between developers and the various professions. If possible, will the Leader arrange an immediate debate on this issue? I am not sure who the most appropriate Minister is, although perhaps it is the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government.

While I appreciate a debate will take place in the coming days in the Dáil, could we too have an early debate on the Keane report? I appreciate we will debate financial matters this afternoon and we can touch on such issues but the nature of the issue of mortgage arrears and personal debt requires a specific debate in the House.

I join Senator MacSharry in calling for a debate on how to prevent a repeat of the incident with the apartment block in Donaghmede. It is an appalling outcome to see hundreds of people, including elderly people and families with young children, being put in most inappropriate and unsuitable accommodation for perhaps weeks or even longer because of the inadequate building and the failure to observe fire safety standards. I used the word "inadequate", although it is a gross understatement. I understand from reading newspaper reports and from what Senator MacSharry said that the building was approved on the plans and that at design stage, it looked as if it would be compliant with fire and safety regulations. Clearly, the actual building differed significantly from the plans. It is an appalling outcome and there are huge questions to be answered.

We must look at how legislation can assist. Is any reform of legislation needed to ensure this cannot happen in the future? I agree with Senator MacSharry that perhaps the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government should attend the House. I have also asked the Minister of State with responsibility for housing to attend the House at an early date. There are issues in this regard with which he may also be able to deal.

A debate on the Keane report would be useful. Many others, including me, have called for this already. I understand we will have that debate in early course.

Will the other group leaders let me know if they are willing to support a motion for cross-party support, that Seanad Éireann condemns the continued detention since 10 September of internationally renowned psychoanalyst, Dr. Rafah Nashed, by the Syrian Government, and which I have already circulated? I am very grateful to Senators Rónán Mullen and Jillian van Turnhout for assuring me of their support. Colleagues will recall that I have already raised this matter. It would be very appropriate for the Seanad to call on the Government to join others, including the EU High Representative, Catherine Ashton, in calling for the immediate release of Dr. Rafah Nashed. The Governments of Argentina, Brazil and France have already called for her release and her continued detention in her in a women's prison in Damascus is an appalling abuse of her human rights. It would be a useful exercise for us to call for her release and that of others arbitrarily detained by the Syrian regime.

In the context of an ongoing debate on the referendums, which is rather more muted than the debate on the presidential election, the Seanad debate on the Oireachtas committee referendum was a very good and an informative one. Is there some way of disseminatingthe speeches from that debate? I have sent them to anyone looking for information on the referendum. It would be a very good way to inform people about the content of that referendum.

I refer to the second editorial in The Irish Times today, namely, the Battle of Clontarf mark II. Some 3,000 people attended a protest on Sunday against Dublin City Council’s proposal to build a 9 ft. high barricade along the seafront from the railway bridge at Clontarf to the wooden bridge to access the Royal Dublin Golf Club. As speakers, including Roddy Doyle, said at the meeting the view of Dublin Bay should be one of the attractions of the city and should not be hidden.

I understand the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, and the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, have strong views on the issue, as well as the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, who is responsible for tourism. The right hand side of the wooden bridge at Dollymount is where the flooding problem is and on the left-hand side a large area is silting up because of a causeway built by the city council to stop the water escaping into Sutton creek. The people would welcome more water. The sailing club in Kilbarrack had to shut down due to a lack of depth, while the other side of the causeway is flooding. The causeway should be breached and the water allowed to flow into Dublin Bay through the creek.

The people of Clontarf should be able to continue to enjoy the amenity of looking across to the mountains, ships and sea, as Roddy Doyle said. It is an area where people play and train for football. I hope the Minister, Deputy Hogan, takes the short journey from his office in the Custom House to see the project at first hand and report back to the House that there are perhaps better ways of dealing with the flooding problem in Clontarf than building a 9 ft. high barricade.

Like other speakers, I express my good wishes to those living in Priory Hall in Dublin. It is appalling that people have to move out of their homes because of faulty building standards. It is symptomatic of what took place in this country in the past ten to 15 years, when there was very light regulation of myriad sectors.

It is a shame to say that four or five years ago one could put the phrase "architectural services" over one's door and masquerade as an architect even though one might not have had any qualifications whatsoever. One could also call oneself a quasi-engineer and get away with it. The problem is that thousands of people handed over good money to such people and expected their facilities to be properly certified. Ordinary decent people put their faith in the hands of so-called professionals who have turned out to be not at all professional or ethical in the way they did their business.

I agree with Senator MacSharry. The people who are responsible for this need to be brought to justice. I admire the judge who said he is going to monitor the situation on a weekly basis. I have no doubt that he will ensure there will be prosecutions. It is an appalling situation. I ask the Leader for a debate on the regulation of the architectural and engineering industries. Are they regulated enough? Has the new legislation covered them and dealt with the obvious flaws in the system in the past decade?

We need to ensure that what happened in north Dublin never happens again in any new building. Are other investigations taking place? Does the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government have concerns about other apartment blocks in the city or elsewhere in the country?

I ask the Leader to consider making a report to the House on the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board. New appointments were made on 7 June for a three year period. Under the 1995 Act the board can recommend up to seven people for judicial vacancies. Only one or two of those recommended can be appointed. The board has no statutory powers. It cannot call people for interview or discuss their background and would not be aware of any contributions to political parties or party affiliations.

They know all about it.

It would be useful if we could discuss the future role of the board. The new Government has promised transparency and that everything will be above board, fair, honourable and honest. It would be only right and proper that judicial appointments are made on the advice of the judicial advisory board. The person it recommends should be appointed on the basis of merit.

Senator, are you seeking a debate on this issue or do you have a question for the Leader?

I seek a debate on the matter.

Bear in mind that the House does not have a function in the appointment of people. Do you have a question for the Leader?

The question is simple. I ask the Leader to consider facilitating a discussion on the role of the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board with a view to giving it a new role as the body that would recommend judicial appointments in future. That would be more transparent and honest. For the next number of years, people who are not affiliated to Fine Gael or the Labour Party will not have a look-in. Let us be honest about that, and it is unfortunate.

We would consider Senator Leyden.

Senator, you are going down the wrong road. You cannot make such insinuations.

It is a very good and accurate road.

Do you have a question for the Leader? You must respect the independence of the body about which you are talking.

Do you have a question for the Leader?

I ask the Leader to place this matter on the agenda. We should discuss the role of the advisory body.

I note that RTE did not carry my comments about the appointments.

Senator, you have asked a question.

I ask the Leader to consider this matter and to have a debate in the House on the role of the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board. It was set up by an Act of the Oireachtas in 1995. As Members of the Oireachtas we are entitled to bring the members of the board to account.

Senator, you will have nothing to say when the debate is held if you continue talking.

He might surprise you, a Chathaoirligh.

By that time, someone from the west may have been appointed to something.

I commend the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Róisín Shortall——

Senator, do you have a question for the Leader?

I ask the Leader to invite the Minister of State, Deputy Shortall, to attend the House to discuss a very important issue which I commend her for raising on 23 September, 1 October and again today, namely, the underpriced selling of alcohol in off-licences and supermarkets. However, while the Minister of State may talk the talk, she does not walk the walk. Nevertheless, I commend her for at least trying to raise this very serious issue. I believe she would be happy to address the House on it.

I thank Senator Leyden for pointing out the obvious. What went on for the past 14 years will not continue for the next four or five years. He can be sure of impartiality in that field.

We will wait and see.

With regard to the call for the Minister of State with responsibility for housing to attend the House to discuss Priory Hall, in particular, and cowboy builders in general, this problem is a product of the Celtic tiger. The taxpayer will pay the bill for Priory Hall and other similar building problems in every other county.

I ask the Minister of State to contact every county manager and planning office and ask them to review all the building projects they consider might be compromised. This is a huge problem. The bill will run into billions of euro. I do not know what it would cost to demolish and rebuild Priory Hall or to relocate the residents. The cost of relocation is only part of the cost. There is also the humiliation of families having to carry their goods out of their homes in plastic bags to the backs of cars and go to a hotel. This was not their fault and there has not been a flood or natural disaster. The recklessness of a developer and his associates is to blame, and we know who they are. The judge in the case said this was one of the worst cases for centuries. No one has ever been evicted from their home in this country. Yesterday, people were evicted from their homes.

The previous Government must take responsibility. They may blame the builder, who is a convicted person of ill-repute. He is, ultimately, seen as a fool who has cost money to the economy and hardship to young families and elderly people who should not have to go through this.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader or is he supporting the call for a debate?

I am asking that the Minister come into the House to discuss the issue and be called on to contact every county manager in the country to determine how immediate a problem this is.

Sinn Féin supports Senator Bacik's motion on Dr. Nashed, which it is hoped can be discussed in the House. However, even if it is not discussed, Sinn Féin will support the motion if put before the House.

Also, I support the call of previous speakers for the Minister with responsibility for housing to come into the House to debate planning and development regulations in this State, in respect of which one of the issues at play is enforcement. There is a wealth of planning regulations in this State. Many Members of the House who were previously councillors will have experience of the planning process in terms of development plans and will understand that there are in place robust regulations and that part of the problem is enforcement. This needs to be factored into any discussion we may have with the Minister.

Senator Harte spoke about builders taking responsibility. It is also important that the Government take responsibility. I ask the Leader to arrange for a debate on a big issue facing this country in the next few weeks, namely, the handover of €700 million to a single unguaranteed bondholder as part of Anglo Irish Bank bonds to be paid back in the next few years. The sum of €700 million will be paid on 2 November and €1.2 billion will be paid in January. This is at a time when Members of this House are raising issues such as cuts to special needs services, the closing of hospital wards, cuts in the education sector and across the board and in respect of social welfare payments which will affect families. We are facing into a budget which, depending on which Minister one believes, will contain cuts ranging from €3.6 billion to €4 billion. This is happening at a time when the Government is to pay €700 million to one unguaranteed bondholder despite that we are not compelled, legally or morally, to do so.

I call on the Leader to provide this House with an opportunity to discuss the implications of these types of decisions by the Government on behalf of taxpayers.

I wish to raise two issues. Would it possible for the Leader to ask the Minister for Education and Skills to come to this House to explain why sample papers for project maths, which is a new syllabus, were only made available to students last week? It is not good enough that these sample papers only became available last week. Also, students and teachers have expressed concern about the Irish sample papers. I would welcome a discussion on this issue in the House with the Minister for Education and Skills.

This morning, I received from the secretariat of the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform a transcript of extracted questions asked by individual committee members at its meeting on 2 September last and matched up corresponding replies received from the various attending witnesses. I asked several questions at that meeting of 2 September, one of which related to the increase in variable rate mortgage repayments to which the Governor of the Central Bank, Professor Honohan, replied:

Senator Sheahan mentioned particular investments by the credit unions, which is a matter for another day. We know about these and the background to them. We are also aware of increased repayments on mortgages that have not been restructured because, as Mr. Elderfield mentioned, we have insisted on particular treatment, whereby borrowers are not moved from tracker to standard variable rates. The example the Senator has given is one in which the standard variable rate has gone up. That has been concerning us, but we do not have powers in this regard.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

I am getting to it. Mr. Elderfield, when visiting UCC on Friday last gave a direction to the banking fraternity in regard to increases in standard variable rates despite his stating previously ".....we do not have powers in this regard." Would it be possible for the Leader to invite the Governor of the Central Bank, Professor Honohan, and the Financial Regulator, Mr. Elderfield, to this House to discuss this issue?

This is a matter the Leader can raise with the Committee on Procedure and Privilege.

I raised another issue, that of investments by credit unions. The Governor's answer, which I have in black and white, was that he did not want to address the specific investments that I mentioned. This answer is not good enough. If the Governor and his deputy will not give answers at a committee meeting, I suggest that they be brought before the House to give them.

This is a matter for the committee that the Senator attended.

This is the answer I received from the Governor.

The Senator is out of time. Does he have a question for the Leader?

Yes. Will the Leader arrange for the Governor of the Central Bank to attend the House in order that he might answer questions——

That is a matter for the CPP.

——without giving the types of answers he gave at the committee meeting?

I support Senator MacSharry and ask that the professionals involved, including architects and solicitors, as well as the company be added to the list of people who should be investigated and held to account. They extracted considerable and handsome fees and have some responsibility for this unfortunate situation in Donaghmede.

Will the Leader agree to work with the leaders of the groups in the House to table a motion in support of the recommendations of the Oireachtas sub-committee on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings? The Dáil passed an all-party motion and the Seanad should at least do the same. Unlike the Dáil, we should then pursue the matter.

In a similar vein, will the Leader consider a second all-party motion condemning the British Government for its failure to hold a public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane in 1989? Following Judge Peter Cory's investigation, this matter formed part of an agreement between the Irish and British Governments to the effect that public inquiries into a number of murders would be held. While an investigation concerning Billy Wright was held in the North and the Smithwick tribunal investigated the shootings of RUC members Harry Breen and Robert Buchanan, it is unacceptable that an international agreement has been disregarded by the British Government, as evidenced by the Prime Minister's announcement of a paper review of the murder. The family's members are dissatisfied and I am delighted that the Government is supporting them.

Last week, I referred to EU scrutiny. We have 175 pages to read ahead of tomorrow's meeting of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade. This is no way for the Houses to do business where EU scrutiny is concerned. Not one member of the committee will have read all of these pages. Given the impact of the various directives and proposals from Europe, this approach is a shame. I appeal to the Leader, the Cathaoirleach and the CPP's other members to take this issue on board. The House was to have played a role in examining all EU proposals. It would have benefited the House and enhanced the Government's response. As Senator Daly stated last week, 480 observations on these proposals have been made to the EU. Not one observation has come from Ireland. This is unacceptable and we shouldcry halt.

I join Senators MacSharry and Bacik in asking the Leader to provide for an early debate on the Keane report. The report deals well with the matter of people who are no longer able to pay their mortgages. Its suggestions on mortgaging to rent and reforming bankruptcy laws are welcome. However, the Taoiseach stated in the Dáil last week that he would welcome further suggestions. We need a full debate on what is a serious issue, particularly for those who wish to hold onto their homes but are unable to pay their full mortgages. Also in that regard, following a request from the Leader to arrange a meeting with NewBeginning, I have arranged it for 7 p.m. this evening in the AV room and I hope Senators can attend.

Last week, a paper was published in The Lancet, perhaps the world’s most prestigious medical journal, outlining the implications for the citizens of Greece of cutbacks in terms of delivery of and access to their health system. For the first time we saw a real verifiable matrix which showed that this is not some vague aphoristic theoretical worry about what might happen if there are health service cuts at a time of budgetary constraint but what actually happens. It showed alarming declines in the provision of service for a number of conditions and quite alarming increases in areas such as HIV infection and other illnesses. There is a budget coming up in the near future and it is widely predicted that in the clichéd prevailing circumstances we will see some further cuts in the health service. It is already creaking and the potential that another round of cuts will bring real verifiable and life-threatening complications for patients who need the health system is not something which is theoretical; it is very real.

It is distasteful for people to hear endless whingeing and bleating, often from well paid consultants, about deficiencies in the health service but I want to propose what I believe would be a small partial solution. I ask the Leader if he would bring to the attention of the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Health the possibility, following somewhat similarly the philosophy of the old Irish sweepstake which was originally set up to fund hospital work in Ireland, of a national health service solidarity bond. This bond would be a call to the citizens of this country to get a low yield, long-term low interest rate bond guaranteed by the Government, effectively giving to the Government a supply of cheap low interest credit for a fixed period of time, perhaps ten years. This, however, would have to be ring-fenced for the health service. We would have to get a guarantee that it was not being used to pay Mr. Roman Abramovich — I am sorry, I know I am not supposed to mention individuals here——

He will not mind.

——or any hypothetical oligarchs who may have substantial investments in failed Irish banks, but that it would be used specifically for the purpose of maintaining services within the health services currently constituted. I believe that this would be feasible. If it was appropriately constructed, perhaps — I do not know as I am not an expert in these matters — with some degree of tax efficiency, etc., it could provide an opportunity for those who are well paid, who are well disposed towards the health service and who wish to make a patriotic investment in their country to provide a source of credit at a time when we do not have access to traditional sorts of credit. I would be grateful if the Leader would bring these issues to the Ministers in question.

There are an increasing number of break-ins in rural areas. In the past ten years or more, a number of Garda stations throughout Ireland which were not regarded as viable were closed. As Senators will be aware, in recent times there seems to have been an increasing number of thefts of items such as copper, money and jewellery. While there might have been some scaremongering allied to this as well regarding further closures, I do not know whether there is any hard evidence. Community alert committees are important throughout Ireland. They have done valuable work and maybe there is a need for more of them. The gardaí stay in touch and monitor the situation with the people involved in these communities and it is highly important work. Perhaps in due course the Minister for Justice and Equality could come to the House. I am not saying that any further closures are planned, but if some further rationalisation down the line is planned, it would be nice to know of it in advance. It would be helpful to local representatives throughout the various local authorities if they were made aware in advance. Much liaison is taking place and perhaps there is a need for more of it between local representatives and community groups. The Leader might consider whether it would be possible to invite the Minister to the House, if it is appropriate and if there is anything further planned. I am not saying there is.

I am aware that some of what might be mentioned in certain places could involve a little scaremongering. However, if there is to be further rationalisation, it would be timely that we might know about it.

I support my colleagues on their criticisms of the repayment of some of the unsecured bondholders. It is a startling fact that €34 billion worth of bonds were repaid to investors — investors are risk-takers — despite the fact that these bonds were insured by a Government against default. We did not ask the bondholders whether they were insured, we just wrote the cheque for €34 billion and sent it back to them. It is hard to credit that this country would pay that money and then cut our own citizens' services and entitlements. This is the height of bad government. Senator Crown referred to people who had paid for the insurance but did not need to exercise it with the result that the insurance company in question avoided any liability because of what could be described as bad management by the Government. Some of the implications for Ireland in the document mentioned are referred to as being of "some significance". This is the report we have received. Decisions on Libya, Belarus and other wide-ranging decisions were taken on 4 March 2011 when we did not even have a Government and they were rubber-stamped by the European bureaucrats and without much notice having been taken by anyone.

Other speakers have referred to the issue of the apartments at Priory Hall and that it will cost €200,000 to provide accommodation for the residents up to 28 November. Nobody knows what will happen after that but there are vacant apartments in the vicinity, in Belmayne and Clongriffin, which are in the control of the Government by way of NAMA. They are fully fitted out and ready to be used and yet €200,000 will be expended on hotel accommodation. Why are the facilities which, unfortunately, we own, not being used to accommodate these people? I note that unqualified people can set themselves up as architects and engineers because there is no law to stop them. Similarly, one can set up as a psychologist, put up a brass plate, take the money from people and give them advice which one is not qualified to give. This is also a failure of regulation and there are no implications for those who——

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

With my other colleagues, I ask the Leader to bring the Minister to the House to discuss the crisis situation for those people who are being evicted. We also need a debate on the issue of bondholders to which I referred.

I join my colleagues in expressing our support for the residents of Priory Hall and hope that this matter will be resolved quickly. It should not come as any great surprise to most people in this House that we are now beginning to see problems emerging as a result of the madness and the cowboy activities that went on during the Celtic tiger days. The dogs in the street know many homes and buildings were very poorly constructed and light touch regulation and lack of enforcement were major contributing factors. I join previous speakers in asking the Leader to ask the Minister to attend the House for a discussion on this matter. I look forward to the day when the Oireachtas, following the passing of the referendum the week after next, will have the power to investigate this type of wrongdoing and activity in this development. This is the only case that has come to light but I have no doubt we will see more examples in the future.

On a more positive note, as somebody who called for the abolition of the travel tax, I am pleased the money is being put to good use and I welcome the announcement made by the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, in the past few days of a €9 million winter marketing boost for tourism through which Tourism Ireland will promote——

Does the Senator want a debate on that issue?

I express our appreciation and thanks to the Minister for promoting Ireland to 20 million potential overseas visitors. It is good to note there has been an increase of 12.5% in the first seven months of this year in visitors to this country.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

I want to see more of this type of initiative happening in other areas where we can build on the good work that has been done over the past seven months. I hope we will see tourism making a major contribution to getting us out of the economic difficulties we are in.

Senator Leyden, take note.

I support the call made by Senator Jim Walsh for an all-party motion on the Dublin-Monaghan bombings, as happened in the Dáil. It would be nice if that happened at a fairly early stage. I would also like to commend the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Gilmore, and the Government on their persistence in seeking justice for the family of the murdered solicitor, Pat Finucane, and for his memory. When we consider the outrage that was there at the time of the killing, not just in Ireland but also internationally, it was clear that the only reason Pat Finucane was murdered was because of some people whom he defended in the courts. It is generally accepted throughout the world that people involved in the legal process do not become targets in times of conflict. When the Finucane family got an invitation to visit the British Prime Minister, I am sure their hopes were high that they would get a positive response and that there would be a public inquiry into Pat Finucane's death. They were exceptionally disappointed when they got a negative response.

However, I understand that one thing came out of that meeting. It was quite clear that the British Prime Minister believed there was state collusion in the killing of Pat Finucane. We all know full well this issue is not going to go away. It may even pass from one generation to the next. I commend the Government and would like the Leader——

Does the Senator want a debate on it?

I would like the Leader to convey our views to the Tánaiste and urge him and the Government to continue along the lines they have been taking, because it would make a lot of sense to have the public inquiry sooner rather than later. As long as we are waiting for this inquiry, the matter will fester and will only create enmity. I compliment the Government on meeting the Finucane family so quickly after it was refused an inquiry. That sent out the right signal.

Senator Leyden, take further note.

I would like to focus on the Department of Education and Skills. We are all aware that given our financial circumstances and given it is one of the top-spending Departments, there have been huge cutbacks in the Department. However, we need to use common sense when it comes to making these cuts, rather than purely look at things as though through the lens of an accountant doing an accounting exercise. Our civil servants seem to forget that their decisions impact on ordinary human beings and, in this case, on a segment of society that is particularly vulnerable and relatively voiceless. One would also have to ask whether the savings accrued are even worth speaking about.

I refer to the 1,300 visually impaired students attending mainstream education all round this country at both primary and secondary level. We are all aware of the benefits of mainstream education for the students in question as well as the wider student body. However, the continuation of these blind and visually impaired students in this type of education is coming under huge threat due to the cutbacks being inflicted on resource hours for these children. In recent years, there has been a 10% cutback in resource hours. Let Senators here imagine the case if they had a blind child in school and were told there would be a 10% cutback in resource hours. That does not appear much, but when these students are only left with three and a half hours per week, the percentage is very serious. The three and a half hours allocation is applied as the standard resource, with no regard for whether the child is totally blind or visually impaired. As Senators can imagine, this causes huge problems for all the stakeholders involved with the child. It does have an impact on the other children in the mainstream class, whether the civil servants like to admit it or not. No more than 40 of these students are totally blind and each of them has no choice other than to learn through the medium of Braille. Learning the Braille code, as well as all the other challenges facing a blind child that are not encountered by a sighted child, is an exhaustive process. Therefore, one must question the standard allocation of resource hours across the board without any consideration——

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

I do. On a point of clarity, a blind child must follow the same set national course as a sighted child, as well as learning all these new skills. I would like the House to examine the one size fits all approach to education, which applies in other cases, in respect of visually impaired children and whether this type of approach follows international best practice. We are not supposed to be spending any money but it is a minuscule amount of money to give these children back a couple of hours so that they have five or six hours a week.

I have heard some of the debate on the radio about the Priory Hall incident. I am surprised at the lack of information. It is not just about the builders being responsible; other people, including engineers, signed off on payments. Planning regulations apply to every property sold and an engineer must sign a certificate of compliance with planning and building regulations. For the certificate to be acceptable, the engineer must have insurance. To suggest that unqualified people were signing off on these certificates is incorrect. The sad aspect of this is that, where a person is buying a house in a building estate, the person is entitled to send in an engineer at various stages before payments are certified. We abolished the staged payments system, which has not necessarily worked to the purchaser's advantage. With apartments, we do not have the same facility for the purchasers' engineers to inspect the work as it is being done. Perhaps the Minister should revisit the matter of how new complexes are being built so that purchasers' engineers can inspect the building as it is being built, in the same way as applies to housing.

These are matters the Senator can raise during the debate.

Perhaps the Leader can convey to the Minister the possible need for a change to the regulations.

The Leader of the Opposition, Senators MacSharry, Bacik, Conway, Harte, Cullinane, Walsh, Daly, Mullins and Burke all addressed the plight of people and families in Donaghmede. This item was raised on the Order of Business last Wednesday or Thursday. At that time, I replied that the people who had certified these buildings included architects, engineers, the lenders who had lent the money and the legal profession on behalf of many clients. Many questions must be asked and answered about this situation. The judge stated that the situation was totally unacceptable and one he had not come across before. I assure Members that we will have a debate on the matter at a later stage and the Minister of State with responsibility for housing will be present. It is an appalling situation that families, children and elderly people have had to put up with in 187 apartments, of which some 137 are occupied. That they have to leave their homes in this day and age is disgraceful. Many people have to answer for this debacle.

On a similar matter, I have arranged a debate on the Keane report on Tuesday. Members asked for it last week and it has now been arranged.

Senator Bacik called for an all-party motion on Dr. Rafah Nashed. We will look at that matter and can have a motion on it. Senator Crown mentioned a similar motion. I am sure we can also come up with an all-party motion on the item he raised last week, which he has circulated to the party leaders.

Senator Barrett spoke about the flood defence wall in Clontarf. I nearly said "the Battle of Clontarf". The idea of having a nine-foot barrier to prevent flooding does not seem very pleasing. It is an amenity that residents and people in the area have enjoyed for a long time and it would be a shame if it was lost. I will raise the matter with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

Senator Conway raised the question of regulation of the various professions and asked whether the legislation was robust enough. This is a question we can address to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government when he comes to the House.

Senator Leyden spoke about the role of the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board. We will certainly have a more transparent system with the appointment of the board than we had previously.

Better than last week.

At least they will be qualified.

I am sure the matter will be addressed in the House. We will also have the legal services Bill, which is a very important Bill——

Will everyone in the Visitors Gallery get one?

——dealing with consumer protection. I am sure it will be welcome on all sides of the House.

Senator Leyden also raised the question of below-cost selling of alcohol. This is a matter that the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Shortall, has dealt with on several occasions. I am sure she would be willing to come to the House to discuss it again.

Senator Cullinane mentioned the payment of a large sum to a single bondholder at Anglo Irish Bank. The Government is in constant negotiations with our EU partners and the troika to renegotiate the bailout, with considerable success, as everyone will recognise.

Senator Sheahan mentioned sample papers for project maths and Irish. This issue can be raised with the Minister for Education and Skills when he is in the House next week to deal with Committee Stage of the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) Bill.

Senator Sheahan also expressed concern that the Governor of the Central Bank and the Financial Regulator had given answers to the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform that were in conflict with statements they had made elsewhere. This is something that should be raised with the relevant committee. If the people in question are giving one statement to a committee and another to a collection of bankers, it is a serious matter which the Senator should address to the committee.

Senators Walsh and Ó Murchú asked for an all-party motion on the Barron report. I would certainly be amenable to the placing of such a motion on the Order Paper and will try to address this at an early opportunity. Similarly, there is the question of a public inquiry into the death of Pat Finucane. Last week, the Taoiseach made a clear statement in the other House on this matter in which he outlined his concerns. The family met the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade only last week and Senators can be assured the Government will continue to pursue this matter with the British Government until it is resolved.

On the issue of EU scrutiny, I agreed last week with Senator Walsh that there should be more such scrutiny in this House. I am working on this issue and hope we will see some progress.

Senator Jim D'Arcy spoke about New Beginnings. I compliment the Senator on his invitation to the group to address interested Members in the audio-visual room at 7 p.m. today.

Senator Crown suggested that we introduce a ten year health service bond. This is something I will certainly raise with the Ministers for Finance and Health.

Senator Coghlan mentioned the closure of Garda stations. This is something we can address when the Minister for Justice and Equality comes to the House. There are many rumours circulating. We will arrange a discussion with the Minister to deal with the issues.

Senator Rónán Mullen complimented the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Leo Varadkar, on the €9 million winter tourism marketing promotion. The 12.5% increase in tourist numbers in the first seven months of the year is welcome. This significant turnaround is a result of the policies the Government is implementing and I hope it will continue.

Senator Mary Ann O'Brien called for a debate on education and skills. The Minister for Education and Skills will be in the House next week for a debate on education issues. We all recognise the difficulties experienced by visually impaired students.

Order of Business agreed to.