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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 27 Oct 2011

Vol. 211 No. 3

Order of Business

It is proposed to take No. 1, statements, questions and answers on health, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and conclude not later than 1.45 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed seven minutes, following which questions will be taken from the floor. The group spokespersons will ask most of the questions which were submitted. The Minister will then respond, after which the other questions tabled by Senators will be asked. I do not think an opportunity will arise for Senators to ask questions not tabled and submitted in advance but we will see how it goes.

I give a guarded welcome to the moves towards a resolution in the EU with the decision and agreement yesterday to deal with the Greek situation. Yesterday evening, the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy Creighton, confirmed the issue of debt write-down and burden sharing for Ireland was not even on the agenda. What is the Government's position on this? The Government is supposed to set the agenda on behalf of the Irish people. When the Irish people see the Greeks securing a write-down of50%, at the very least the Government should be in discussions with its European partners with regard to the Irish situation.

Watch this space.

I will.

I remind the Members opposite that a senior Minister of the current Government stated not one red cent more would go into the banks until burden sharing was on the agenda. Will the Leader clarify whether the Taoiseach or the Irish delegation raised any matters yesterday relating to burden sharing and writing down of Irish sovereign debt, in particular the banking debt?

My next question relates to another pre-election promise made by Fine Gael which was that there would be no reduction in the number of special needs assistants. Earlier this year, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, stated 475 special needs assistant posts would be withheld. This was a unilateral decision and it was not written into any agreement. Of the 475 posts which the Minister held back until later in the year while the needs of pupils with special needs were being assessed, how many have been allocated? I would like a specific answer to this and if I cannot receive one the Minister of the Education and Skills should come before the House to answer the question. The Government promised no cuts to the number of special needs assistants but cuts of approximately 10% have been made. The unilateral decision was then taken to hold back 475 posts and I want to know how many of these have been filled.

The answer is in the record of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Jobs, Social Protection and Education.

How many of the posts have been filled? Does the Minister intend to hold back further special needs assistant posts next year?

To hear Senator O'Brien speak about his new-found concern for the number of special needs assistants when it was Fianna Fáil which introduced the cap on special needs assistants last year——

What about the 475 posts held back unilaterally by the Minister, Deputy Quinn?

Senator Bacik to continue, without interruption.

It is ironic——

You are in government now. It is your job.

The Minister, Deputy Quinn——

Senator O'Brien, please allow Senator Bacik to continue, without interruption.

If she is not able for it, she should not be there. It is as simple as that.

Please have some respect for the Chair.

All that she will be able to do is throw back the same garbage every day.

Please allow Senator Bacik to speak, without interruption.

I gave you the courtesy of listening to what you had to say.

Senator Bacik should speak through the Chair.

As Senator Darragh O'Brien is aware, the Minister held back a certain proportion of special needs assistant posts in case of unforeseen circumstances.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

If we are to hold a debate with the Minister, these facts must be taken into account. The first fact is that Fianna Fáil introduced the cap and the second is that the Minister held back a number of posts because that is good planning.

How many of those posts are being filled?

What does Fianna Fáil know about good planning?

I ask the Leader to arrange a debate early in November on the implications for the economy of last night's summit meeting at EU level. Senator Darragh O'Brien was correct to raise the question of the implications for the economy of the write-down of Greek debt but he is premature to suggest it should have been addressed last night. The critical issue last night was the horrifying spectre of Greece and achieving a write-down of Greek debt. We should welcome the resolution of that problem. We can now consider the implications of the write-down for Ireland. To hear the Senator lecture the Government on what it should do to write down debt——

We obviously hit a nerve.

—— when the previous Government got us into the mess after 14 years of mismanagement——

Senator Darragh O'Brien has some neck.

We did last year what the Taoiseach did not do last night.

Please allow Senator Bacik to continue.

Senator Darragh O'Brien does not know when to stay quiet.

Senator Noone, please. Does Senator Bacik have a question for the Leader?

I think she has lost the run of herself.

We should welcome that European leaders have come to an agreement on the Greek issue and we must look forward to the implications of this deal for the economy. I encourage the Government in all it is doing at that level.

It is welcome that we are holding a debate on health issues today. It is important that as many Senators as possible contribute to the debate and put the questions we all have to the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly. I hope Senators and the Minister can keep their contributions tight in order that Senators from both sides of the House can ask as many questions as possible. A key question which I am sure the Minister will answer concerns the steps being taken to end the two tier health system and introduce universal health insurance, as promised in the programme for Government.

We should welcome the deal emerging from Brussels as good news. Too often in the past, the light at the end of the tunnel turned out to be an oncoming train but on this occasion we can say that our prospects are looking up. I thank all who contributed to yesterday's debate on the motion on gendercide. In particular, I pay tribute to several Government speakers.

We are not reopening yesterday's business.

I am about to ask the Leader a question because there was disquiet about the inadequacy of the Government's amendment.

There were very few votes against it.

The House accepted the amendment.

There was a large majority.

It was a matter of concern that it did not mention sex selective abortion.

Unless Senator Mullen has a question for the Leader, I ask him to resume his seat.

Will the Leader facilitate Senator Healy Eames and me? Senator Healy Eames expressed the wish that we could agree a better motion on a cross-party basis. Time could be provided for that.

The House made a decision yesterday. We are not reopening the case.

I am entitled to ask the Leader to allocate time for a debate on a better worded motion that could attract agreement from all sides. I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for seeking to ensure fair play while the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, was responding to certain comments that I made in this House. I assure Senators that I do not mind if the Minister makes comments in my absence because what goes around comes around.

Senator Mullen——

The Minister is not present.

The issue is relevant.

We are not reopening the debate.

On a point of order, Senator Mullen made an allegation about the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, in his absence and he is doing the same today.

That is not a point of order.

An important issue has been raised.

We are not reopening yesterday's debate. Does the Senator have a question for the Leader on the Order of Business? As he will be aware, the Order of Business pertains to today's business.

Yesterday the Minister made a certain comment. I am in a position——

I have ruled that we are not reopening yesterday's debate.

I want to ask the Leader a question because the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, gave a particular response to my comments.

The ruling is against Senator Mullen.

Does Senator Mullen have a question on the Order of Business?

The Cathaoirleach may be able to assist me. I am in a position to state that I know senior people in the Labour Party have been throwing their weight around on the issue of the legal services legislation.

This is a floating allegation.

I want to clarify——

Do you have a question for the Leader?

Senator Mullen is making a sweeping allegation.

Senator Bacik should resume her seat.

Will the Leader accept that I raised an appropriate question yesterday when I asked the Minister, as a member of the Government, to account not only for himself but for his associates and other Labour Party Ministers?

That is completely out of order.

I asked whether any of them is seeking to operate a chilling effect——

Senator Mullen, please resume your seat.

—— on members of the legal community by suggesting——

The Senator is being disrespectful to the Chair.

I am raising an important issue of public interest.

I call Senator Healy Eames.

Last night's Private Members' motion generated a forthright debate on the issue of gendercide, infanticide and fatal neglect of children in certain countries.

We debated that matter yesterday. We are not reopening it today. Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

I have a question but I ask to be allowed to formulate a sentence.

The Cathaoirleach is exercising censorship today.

At that point it emerged that there was cross-party support——

There were nine votes against the amendment.

Does Senator Healy Eames have a question for the Leader?

I ask the Leader to allow time for this House to prepare a cross-party motion that would achieve agreement on this issue.

This must be a House of solutions.

That can be done outside the House. It does not have to be done on the Order of Business. Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

I have asked my question.

That can be done outside the House, as the Senator is aware.

Senators Henry and Bradford and I contributed to breaking a world record in Trinity College Dublin on the rewrite a story campaign for mental health. It is worth noting that 1,000 people rewrote the story.

It is important that we grapple with the issue of special needs assistants, which was raised by an Opposition spokesperson. The question about the precise number was answered in the Joint Committee on Jobs, Social Protection and Education. As a former teacher and teacher educator who observed special needs assistants as they worked with teachers and children, I consider it right and proper that we have forward planning rather than allocate all the assistant posts without accounting for future needs. I ask the Leader to facilitate a solid, wholesome and holistic debate on children with special educational needs. We do a disservice to our children by focusing solely on special needs assistants. We must ask what is best for the child. The education of the parent is a key piece of the puzzle. The parent cares for the child 18 hours per day and 24 hours per day at weekends. The teacher's job is to educate and the special needs assistant's role is to care for the child, but they are only a tiny part of the jigsaw. I ask Senators to refrain from playing politics with children with special educational needs.

Last night's eurozone deal on Greece is highly significant for Ireland. It would be foolish if we did not grasp this moment to further negotiate the terms on offer to us. The people who offered the deal know we would be foolish not to capitalise on it. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance have our best interests at heart. We do not want to go down the road of Greece because nobody will do business with that country. This is an important space for Ireland.

The Minister, Deputy Shatter, has indicated in the other House that some Army barracks will be closed imminently. Senators will be aware that the closure of rural Garda stations is on the agenda. I understand it has already been decided that stations where just one member is serving will be closed. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the Minister and the Garda authorities are considering the closure of other rural Garda stations on the basis of what is called operational activity. I ask the Leader to attempt to establish or clarify the exact position. Perhaps that can be done the next time the Minister for Justice and Equality comes to the House. Senator Leyden spoke yesterday in the context of the imminent closure of Boyle courthouse. The wholesale closure of services across rural Ireland will have a devastating effect on local economies. The distances between the remaining Garda stations in which members will be located will be so large that it will be almost impossible for the Garda authorities to properly monitor areas of wide dispersal, like my own county of Leitrim, and ensure people are safe in their own houses. It is a very real concern.

Does the Leader know whether the party Whips in both Houses ever meet representatives of the news and current affairs department of RTE to discuss the coverage of Oireachtas proceedings? Perhaps he can get back to the House with an answer to that question. I am sure all of us will agree that we owe a debt of gratitude to RTE for the manner in which it carries out its work. In fairness to RTE, "Oireachtas Report" reflects the work of both Houses. The absence of any coverage of the Seanad in the printed media, with the honourable exception of The Irish Times, reflects badly on this House. I do not wish to go into the questions that have arisen about balance, fairness and objectivity. I understand that traditionally, the party Whips met RTE officials on a regular basis to ensure both sides were ad idem in terms of how the coverage was carried out. Perhaps the Leader might comment on that or inquire into it. If there have not been any meetings, does he agree that such meetings should take place? Perhaps a regular schedule of meetings could be set up between the RTE authorities and the Whips of the parties in this House and the other House.

The Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, will come to the House in an hour's time. We have been calling on him to do so for months. Each of us has raised specific health matters on the Order of Business. We have always been given a reply to the effect that the Minister will eventually come to the House to answer such questions. In the interests of fairness and to facilitate good contributions, I ask the Leader to give each Senator at least two minutes to ask questions. Most of the 60 Senators will have to wait for the spokespersons and the Cathaoirleach to speak. It would be a question of extending the sitting time of the House today by one hour, at the very most. The Minister will also have made a contribution. I ask the Leader to extend the amount of time allowed for questions to at least two minutes per Senator.

When I was starting in business, my father told me that when one is in business, one's good name is much more important to one than almost anything else. He mentioned the effect of not paying one's debts. The deal that was made in Brussels during the early hours of this morning seems to suggest that Greece will not pay its debts. Some people are saying we should be treated similarly. The steps taken by the Taoiseach and the Minister yesterday are very important. I support them entirely. We have a good name. We have established a good name. We could say it was not our fault, but that of the banks, that we ran short of money. However, we need to make sure we maintain our good name.

It will not be easy. I was in Greece a couple of weeks ago. There was no doubt that a lack of belief in themselves was contributing to what was happening in Greece. We must make sure that does not happen with us. It is important that we have established a name for ourselves by the time we go back in 18 months' time or whenever we need to borrow again. I congratulate those who have refused to say we should not pay our debts, who have not argued it is the fault of the banks or somebody else rather than our own fault, and who have not said the Germans should not have loaned moneys at such low rates. I hope what I am saying will strengthen the resolve of those who say that we made a deal and we should stick to it.

I would like to make another reference to my family. I have a 20 year old granddaughter who was born in and lives in France. She is spending this year in China because she wants to be a diplomat in the French foreign service. This is not something we do in Ireland. We send our diplomats to China, Japan or Korea for three or four years when they are in their 40s or 50s. They never really know the language. They never really get to the kernel of it. What they do in France is different. They get people who are prepared to live in, and steep themselves in the culture and language of, those countries. I suggest we should consider doing the same. I ask the Leader to draw the attention of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade to what happens elsewhere. We should encourage a cadre of young people in their early 20s to join our diplomatic service. We should say we want them to live in countries like China, Japan or Korea in the knowledge that they will become diplomats in the future and be appointed as ambassadors when they are in their 40s and 50s. It is something we should consider. We are not looking far enough ahead to where we are going. We are not realising that new developments are taking place in the Far East. I do not believe we have done nearly enough to ensure our future is secure there.

It has been brought to my attention that when NAMA was established, Members of the Oireachtas were restricted from engaging with it. I understand the legislation was tweaked thereafter. I am looking for an open and transparent debate on the workings of NAMA. I have been told that a director of NAMA also acts professionally as a receiver and that a client of his recently took possession of a NAMA property through the tender process at very favourable terms. I do not believe it is appropriate that a director of NAMA, who is in that role——

We cannot deal with specific cases on the Order of Business.

I am looking for an open and transparent debate on the workings of NAMA, which is working under a veil of secrecy. To whom is NAMA accountable? I thought that as a country, we had moved away from shady deals of this nature. I would like an open and transparent debate. Perhaps the Leader could arrange for senior officials from NAMA to come to Leinster House 2000 for a question and answer session, if that is possible.

I have been working on the issue of rates for some time. I have been in contact with officials in the Valuation Office, which is reviewing all rates but unfortunately does not have the manpower it needs. There has been a 30% reduction in certain categories of rates in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, where such a review has been carried out. The only problem with the Valuation Office's review of rates is that it will take about ten years for the office to do the whole country. I suggest that local authorities be allowed to assist the Valuation Office in the review of rates, if at all possible. Local knowledge is of paramount importance when rates are being reviewed. As I have said, rates for some businesses in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown have decreased by 30%. Rates are calculated on the basis of floor area, plus the best achievable rent. As we all know, rents have dropped by half. We need to share some of the burden because the Valuation Office does not have sufficient staff. If local authorities could be engaged to do the Valuation Office review, the mess that is our system of rates could be sorted out in a short amount of time.

In the course of recent months, all parties have requested the Minister for Health to attend this Chamber. We have waited five months for him to come here for statements on health and to take questions from Members from all parties and groupings. I have a question for the Leader if he is in a position to answer it. Will the Sinn Féin Party be given an opportunity to make a statement? If not, that would be a mistake. The Minister for Health is coming in and all groupings should have an opportunity to put those questions to him. Before I proceed, is it possible for you, a Chathaoirligh, or the Leader to answer that question?

Is it for group leaders?

Yes, but I am sure that the Sinn Féin Members will get an opportunity. They have already tabled questions to the Minister.

That does not clarify the matter.

I am sure that they will be given the opportunity to ask those questions during the debate.

That does not clarify the matter for me. Does that mean that we will have time to make a statement, the same as the other groupings?

No statements. As I said at the beginning, group spokespersons——

Here we go again. Sinn Féin is being told that it can ask a question the same as anybody else and it might get one minute, but I am not going to accept that again on behalf of the Sinn Féin Party. It is absolutely——

Three quarters of the Members of this House will not get an opportunity to ask any question, yet Sinn Féin will.

On a point of order, unfortunately it is the political system that is the problem here.

That is not a point of order.

Will the Senator please resume her seat?

It is difficult for the system to accommodate three Members. It is a matter for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.

I call Senator Cullinane to speak without interruption.

I completely agree with Senator Noone that it is the political system that is wrong, but the political system can change.

Not in here it cannot.

I have previously given examples to the Leader and this House.

On a point of order, the answer to this is that Sinn Féin should have five people elected and then they will have permission.

That is not relevant. I call Senator Cullinane.

That is an outrageous claim to make. It just shows that people in this House are not open to change. It is disgraceful that the second largest opposition party in the State is not being given the opportunity to put questions to the Minister for Health.

This is a separate House.

Others can talk about procedures and Standing Orders, but a precedent was made when previous Ministers attended this House and Sinn Féin was given an opportunity.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

I am asking the question.

Is the Senator proposing an amendment to the Order of Business?

The question is, why is the second largest Opposition party in the Oireachtas not being given an opportunity to put questions to the Minister for Health?

This House is run by Standing Orders.

Members who were appointed to this House are being given the opportunity.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

The political parties and other Independent groups were all part of blocking Sinn Féin from asking the Minister for Health those questions, and they are hiding behind procedures.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Why are the Leader and other groupings — Fianna Fáil, the Labour Party, Fine Gael and the two Independent groups — denying Sinn Féin the opportunity to put questions to the Minister for Health? They are hiding behind procedures and Standing Orders, while saying that that is the system. We can change the system, but if we do not then this House should be abolished.

The Senator is out of time.

When the Minister for Health is here we will resist it, and will do so in the coming weeks also. We will keep resisting until the Leader acknowledges and recognises that Sinn Féin should be given speaking time.

The Senator is out of time and should resume his seat.

Senator Cullinane obviously has no respect for the Chair.

On a point of order, I totally subscribe to what Senator Quinn said, on the one hand. However, in circumstances where there is only one round of speakers, could we have an amendment to the Order of Business that would allow a second round of speakers five minutes each?

The Senator has already spoken.

As that would take care of Senator Landy's point as well, there would be proportionality.

Senator Mullen is completely out of order. He has already spoken and should resume his seat.

On a genuine point of order, every Member of the House knows that he or she can table an amendment to the Order of Business. Maybe they are not doing so because some of their colleagues are not there to second such an amendment.

Members of the House will have to learn about the Standing Orders of the Seanad.

On this election day, I would like to believe that in the lifetime of the Government we will find a way of including friends, colleagues and family members who have gone abroad so that they can vote in Irish elections. The Leader should ask the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to attend the House for a debate on how, not if, we are going to do this. We should discuss whether this House can be instrumental in making such a change, as well as the sort of reforms we wanted to bring about and that we all talked about before the election. Many Irish emigrants want to take part in elections here. If citizens of other countries who are living abroad can do so, then I am certain we can do it here. The House should take a lead on this matter.

I also wish to call for a comprehensive debate on the agreement reached this morning. As with the Keane report, Government Senators and Deputies are rushing out to welcome this without actually reading the document. It may in fact be welcome and might require a constitutional referendum that we may support, but we do not know yet and will have to examine its implications. I would encourage the general public to read the document and to assist that process we should have a full debate here. There is a significant lessening of the Government's position on corporation tax in the document. There is also a massive budgetary oversight in this document, which has been agreed by the Government this morning, whereby we will have to stick to what the Commission tells us to do in our budget. We will have to stick to independent growth forecasts and, in addition, we will not be able to do what the Minister for Finance did last week in rejecting what the fiscal council or the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, said.

We may have to hold a constitutional referendum on a balanced budget amendment to ensure that we cannot constitutionally go below the European targets. If a balanced budget amendment had been made to the Constitution in 2008, we would have had to slash social welfare rates by about 40%. The Government has taken absolute ownership of our sovereign debt. While they once said it was unsustainable, there is now an absolute commitment to paying every last penny of it back.

That was the Senator's Government.

No. The Government told us it was unsustainable and that it would renegotiate it.


Senator Byrne to continue, without interruption.

As regards bank recapitalisation, what we did last year, which was continued by the Government, to make our banks rocket proof was assailed and attacked by all those parties. Now, however, they are welcoming measures in today's document that do the same thing and, in fact, do not go as far. Without having read the document, they are welcoming terms and conditions — that are being given to other European countries that have to do what we did last year — which are better than those we had last year. There is no talk in the document about whether we will benefit from a reimbursement of moneys or a reduction in terms and conditions.

Does the Senator have a question?

This document should be teased out and not welcomed immediately. I wonder why we are not getting a reduction like the Greeks. What is the reason? Senator Quinn is right and I agree with him but I would like to see it being properly teased out. In that context, a full debate in Seanad Éireann is necessary as soon as possible when everybody has read the document. I was on local radio today with a Labour Party Deputy who admitted he had not read the document. That is a disservice to the public.

Does the Senator think the Deputy had time to read it?

The document was available at 7.30 a.m.

Senator Byrne should not presume, perceptively or otherwise, that I have not read the document.

That is not a point of order. I call Senator Coghlan.

Senator Byrne presumed that none of us had read it. His speech was based on that presumption.

We should all be calm because, no doubt, a debate will follow once we have had a statement from the Taoiseach when he gets home. I am sure the Leader will facilitate such a debate and I ask him to do so. Overall, Senators Mullen and Quinn undoubtedly caught the mood. This is good news for us and the markets have already indicated that. The most important element of it is the huge increase in the European Financial Stability Facility from €440 billion to over €1 trillion.

It is not available to us though, unfortunately.

Let us wait until we see all the details. I have great time for the Senator's party leader here, Senator Darragh O'Brien, but they should exercise more caution and less haste in levelling criticism.

Is the Senator seeking a debate on this matter?

I have not criticised it.

Let us wait for the debate. Did the Fianna Fáil Senators hear the sound words of Deputy Seán Fleming on "Morning Ireland" this morning? They should take note of that too, because I think he has a point. Let us await the debate therefore.

What he called for was not in the agreement.

Like Senator Byrne, I am also concerned by the rush to welcome what was agreed at 4 a.m. Anything that is agreed at that hour can generally have flaws in it.

Dead right. The Senator should tell us about his own theories on last night.

I hear my learned colleagues opposite agreeing to that statement. I presume they were not out last night until 4 a.m.——

Senator Daly to continue, without interruption.

Is the Senator referring to the bank guarantee scheme?

——but not elsewhere in Europe, I would say.

A Senator

The Senator should keep going until he gets something right.

While I take on board all that was said by Senator Quinn, I ask the Leader for a debate on what emerged last night. There is now talk of a referendum next spring. As I told the German ambassador, when he was in the Oireachtas during the summer, and to his colleague from the Bundestag, there is no chance that a referendum will be passed in Ireland. It is as simple as this: if the Greeks get a write-down on favourable terms and we do not get the same deal, we will have to acknowledge a direct link between our continuing to pay back money in a manner no longer required of the Greeks and the closure of Garda stations and the withdrawal of special needs assistants. When that is put to the people, as it should be, they will reject the referendum on the basis that Ireland has less favourable terms than other European states. Nice words from Ms Angela Merkel and others are not simply enough. Very limited comments this morning indicated that the markets welcome the development. The thinking behind the referendum is based on the creation of a more centralised Union, basically a united states of Europe. The constitution that the Union tried to pass was shot down by the Dutch and will not be passed by the people under duress.

I welcome my Kerry colleague's seeking of transparency in NAMA. He was obviously reading transcripts of my statements on the lack of transparency therein.

He is not present.

On his concerns over directors and cosy deals, the committee found out yesterday that some of the people who liquidated their companies are to be paid commission if they get back more than half of what they lost. The people need to know the facts and to have transparency. Everything should be in the public domain and anybody should be able to find out what properties are in NAMA.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

I am asking him for a debate. I support the call of the Fine Gael Senator from Kerry for a debate on the lack of transparency in NAMA.

Was the Committee of Public Accounts not transparent?

Senator Daly to continue, without interruption.

My other colleague from Kerry does not seem to agree, but I am afraid the evidence is mounting against Senator Coghlan. There is no transparency and the taxpayer is carrying a huge burden as a consequence.

I did not read the document in the middle of the night and do not proclaim to be an expert on NAMA or any matter relating to negotiations. However, I read a document last night containing very good news. I want the Minister for Finance to come to his House to explain its detail. I refer to Anglo Irish Bank's selling of assets worth €3 billion in America in recent weeks. The result is that the Government will now definitely not pay the bank €700 million next week. I would like the Minister to explain the positive ramifications of the sale.

I commend the Government for the efforts it has made since entering office on renegotiating with the banks the terms of the loan. The news to which I refer is a consequence of the negotiations, which have been ongoing since April. The taxpayer will save €700 million because of the work of the Government on negotiating with the Irish banking organisations. I welcome the news and hope the Minister can come to the House next week, not only to discuss the negotiations that occurred during the night but the ramifications of the aforementioned good news for the State.

Some days ago, a number of Senators raised the failure of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to sign the commencement order for the Dog Breeding Establishments Act 2010, which was passed earlier in the year. There was a very good contribution by Senator Power in this regard on the greyhound legislation. A programme on TV3 on Tuesday night highlighted puppy farming malpractices in the State. It was horrific to watch it. I am sure all Members have been e-mailed today and yesterday by various organisations that support the implementation of the legislation. I checked the status of the commencement order yesterday with the Department. The answer I got, which I found very difficult to accept, was that it was not signed because the Government is waiting for the Welfare of Greyounds Bill 2011 to pass. There is no link between the two and, therefore, no reason the Minister has not signed the commencement order of the Dog Breeding Establishments Act. I call on him, through the Leader, to sign it forthwith and allow the legislation to be implemented to address the horrific carry-on in puppy farms throughout the country.

I welcome today's debate on the health service and thank the Leader for organising it. I am slightly regretful over the time allocations in that an allowance of seven minutes is a little short. In important financial debates over recent years, spokespersons have had up to 20 minutes. Given that this is to be the first occasion on which the Minister of Health will be present for a general debate on health, it may have been more appropriate to allocate a little more time.

I join others in calling for an early debate in the context of the economic decisions taken in Brussels during the night. It is to be welcomed that the member states are acting together but I have concerns nevertheless. This is not just a matter I am raising today. When the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, was present, concern was expressed that a sweeter deal would be done for Greece than was done for us. I predicted this and it is a very real issue. We all welcome the fact that the Union may be a step closer to a solution to the crisis, but, having been clubbed over how we would capitalise our banks and over capital ratios and how shareholder value was effectively wiped out in our affected institutions, we must note that there will not be similar consequences for institutions in mainland Europe. As the crisis continues to worsen and the short sellers of the world realise they are to lose regardless of the outcome, the established nations will have pushed for a deal to facilitate what is effectively a 50% write-down of state income.

With regard to Senator Quinn's point, of course we want to pay our bills but it is vital that the Government not lie down. I have every confidence in the Government in terms of determining a solution that is best for the people. For me, the book is open again. It is open for Greece and may have to be opened for Italy and others. The terms and conditions that apply to the process for Greece are not as draconian as those applied to Ireland. It is paramount, therefore, that the Government dig in on this. While we welcome the agreement made during the night, the Government should dig in. At the next meeting, Ireland's deal needs to be on the agenda. We need to secure concessions for the Irish, who have been guinea pigs as the European masters worked their way through the process to determine what works. Now that those masters have defined the process that will work, they need to reconsider some of the draconian measures enforced in Ireland. It is imperative that this be done to be fair to the people of Ireland. I will make a point on inequality in the next debate. Let absolute equality exist among the nations and citizens of Europe.

We need to take stock of what occurred in Greece, consider our position and, as my colleague said, wait for the Taoiseach to come home and not be alarmist or have knee-jerk reactions. I pay tribute to the Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance and the Minister of State, Deputy Creighton, on their hard work. They must be absolutely exhausted.

I was shocked to learn yesterday that there is no continuing professional development in education. This is not the case in my profession, the legal profession. While there is ongoing training in the education sector, it is not compulsory. This says a good deal about how the education system in this country functions. To me, it makes no sense that it is not compulsory. I call on the Leader to schedule a debate on the education system at some stage. We discussed so many issues at a group yesterday which I had not been aware of but one cannot be aware of everything. I call on the Leader to ask the Minister, Deputy Quinn, to the House soon to discuss it.

I refer to Senator Mooney's point about RTE. We should have Noel Curran in here. It is about time RTE started showing politics as it is, objectively and at an hour that suits people who are sane. Unless one is a night owl or a lunatic, as we all are, one cannot know what is going on here. We hear comments such as, "The Chamber was empty." and "What are they at?" If one sat in the Chamber all day long one would get nothing done. That is the reality and it is about time the people realised it.

You are out of time, Senator.

If the Cathaoirleach will indulge me — it is not a busy morning — I wish to come back to Senator Quinn's point about the education system.

I presume the Leader will comment on all these points.

I was lucky enough to spend time in Italy on the ERASMUS programme. I studied Italian there and went out with an Italian - the best way of all to learn a language.


Senator, we do not need to know all your history.

Do you have a question for the Leader?

My question for the Leader is——

I hope this is not on "Oireachtas Report" this evening.


The Senator should quit while she is ahead.

Can I just say what I want to say?

Does the Senator have a question on the Order of Business?

I have a question on the Order of Business. Can we have a debate on the education system? Veterinary surgeons are now being trained in the Czech Republic and there are approximately 40 students from Ireland going on intake. There are also approximately 40 students in Kraków, Poland studying medicine. The daughter of the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, is studying physiotherapy or something like that in Holland. We need to get people over there.

You are out of time, Senator.

This is a remarkably interesting point.

It is totally irrelevant.

It is not irrelevant.

It is absolutely irrelevant. I call Senator Crown.

This morning's proceedings on the Order of Business would not make great viewing.

I will ask Senator Noone to pass on the matriculation details for that foreign college of physiotherapy and will have a chat with my daughters about it. I echo the Senator's remarks. We had no concert on the matter but I intended to bring up the issue of the necessity for a debate on a particular aspect of the education system which concerns me. We need fundamental, core curricular reform and a core reform of the philosophy of what we aim to teach our students and of what they should have learned at the end of a secondary or high school education. At present because of the necessity of pointsmanship, as it were, on the one hand, and of getting subsistence grades to pass, on the other, we are somehow missing the point of the skills which people should have not only to function as citizens or potential members of the workforce, but also as people who understand the environment in which, one hopes, they will live long lives.

It is critical to try to bring in a mandatory requirement that everyone up to school leaving age, which should be 18 years of age, would have to learn science, in addition to learning the English language and mathematics. I do not suggest everyone should have to do chemistry, physics and biology to the high matriculation levels in place now. However, consideration should be given to the introduction of a consolidated broader science curriculum that people who do not intend to specialise in science would complete. People should be able to understand the big issues of the next century such as ecology, energy policy, population policy and health policy. People should be able to understand, interpret and perhaps have some informed judgment about the various health opinions that they will hear expressed by mainstream and other health practitioners. It is important that people have some rudimentary understanding of the realities of biology and the laws of nature.

It should be mandatory for everyone to study a contemporary modern foreign language in addition to English. I do not intend to get involved in the polemics of the debate about the Irish language. I left school well skilled in written and spoken Irish, about which I am glad, but I am sad to say that I did not leave with a good proficiency in French other than to exam level. This requirement should be at the core of our educational curriculum. In this modern internationalised world in which we live and in which we are so heavily interdependent educationally, financially, fiscally and in terms of the workforce, no one should leave our schools without a decent working knowledge of another contemporary foreign language. I call on the Leader to bring these points to the attention of the Minister for Education and Skills or to invite him to the House to allow us to take part in deliberations on the question of the curriculum.

I wish to comment on the important matters raised by Senators Quinn and Crown. We are not doing enough in the area of education. With regard to the diplomatic service, last year I had the privilege of being in Georgia in eastern Europe for the local elections. I was joined by a member of the diplomatic corps, a young girl from Dublin based in Bulgaria. She was fluent in Russian because she studied in Russia for two years before joining the diplomatic corps. Another person with whom I worked in Brussels went on to learn Arabic and ended up working for the European Commission and now that person is in charge of all EU projects in Iraq. In fairness to young Irish people, they are taking on the challenge. They are studying languages and, as a result, do a great job in marketing Ireland abroad.

Similarly, there are many young people going to, working and studying in China. When I was Lord Mayor of Cork we started a joint programme between UCC and two universities in Shanghai. Now there is an exchange programme under way whereby students from UCC go out to Shanghai for 12 months and some stay on working for a period subsequently. I take on board the point the Senator made.

Having been in Georgia for the local elections brought home to me the importance of the democratic system. Although we criticise it sometimes, there are many good things in this country which, sometimes, we do not appreciate.

I wish to raise a matter related to VHI. I know the Minister for Health is coming to the House today but there has been a breach of competition rules in respect of VHI. A new hospital has opened in Cork with 75 beds which cost more than €75 million. It has four operating theatres, MRI scanners and new equipment lying idle because VHI will not agree to give cover to patients who would go there. The Mater Private Hospital has agreed to take up——

The Senator can ask the Minister that question today.

I have a question for the Leader. I will write to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children to ask it to bring in VHI and I call on the Leader of the House to support this move. The agency is in breach of the Competition Authority rules because of they way it is dealing with the matter. The matter should be discussed and dealt with.

I support the request to have a debate on what was agreed in Brussels last night at the earliest possible stage. In so far as I am aware of the outcome I welcome the progress made. However, we must acknowledge there remains a long road to travel. I agree with Senator Feargal Quinn's comments on the Greek debt situation. The cry of some people is that Ireland should default. I concede that cry is not coming from within this House but let us ask ourselves about the cost of the so-called easy option of default by Greece. As we speak, tens of thousands of Greek civil servants have been sacked, Greek social welfare rates have been cut by 50% and the Greek economy is crumbling. This is the price they are paying for default and it is a price we have no wish or cannot afford to pay, politically, socially or economically.

Progress is being made and it is no harm to reflect on where the country was at this time 12 months ago. At the time, the Government was not split in two, it was split in about four parts. The Taoiseach was about to resign and there was internal combustion within both Government parties. Banks were collapsing and the economy was falling down all around us and there was almost a state of economic fear among the people. We have made solid progress in the past 12 months, but there is still a long way to go. It is important that we debate the Brussels deal with a view to considering where we go from here. I hope the Leader will facilitate such a debate in the coming weeks.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames requested that we come together to agree an all-party motion on the issue discussed during Private Members' time last night. I note with satisfaction that there is an all-party motion, non-Government motion No. 6 on the Order Paper, on a difficult situation in Iran. Similarly, we should be able to reach all-party consensus arising from last night's discussion on gendercide. It is fair to say the Government amendment was carried strongly. However, it is also fair to say, as anybody who participated in or observed last night's debate would agree, that there would have been equal support for the original motion. I call for a discussion among the party Whips to devise an agreed all-party wording arising from last night's debate.

I support Senator Paul Bradford's call for a debate on last night's developments in Brussels. I am sure we all welcome these developments. I congratulate the Taoiseach and the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Lucinda Creighton, on their contribution to a resolution of the Greek problem.

I am pleased to note that a proposal raised yesterday in the House by Senator Feargal Quinn in regard to the extension of daylight hours was supported at yesterday's meeting of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality by the Chairman, Deputy David Stanton, and the Minister, Deputy Alan Shatter. It would be appropriate to commence debate in this House on the desirability of accepting that proposal. This issue is generally raised just as the time change is about to take place. I ask the Leader to organise a timely debate on the matter, perhaps in the new year.

An individual has been protesting outside Leinster House since last July. He is there almost every day looking to engage with any Member who will speak to him. This person is making outrageous allegations against the Garda, the Judiciary, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Courts Service. It projects a poor image of the Oireachtas. Will the Leader explore the possibility with the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, of carrying out a preliminary investigation to ascertain whether there is any basis to this individual's allegations? If there is not, he should not be allowed to position himself permanently outside Leinster House making these allegations. On the other hand, if there is any substance to his claims, it is a different matter. It would be appropriate for the Minister to examine the issue in the interests of fairness to the individual concerned who enjoys some support and the bodies and persons about whom he is complaining.

I join in the calls to invite the Minister for Education and Skills to the House for a debate on the education system. Will the Leader ensure the issue of multiple intelligences is to the fore of the agenda for that debate? I have heard calls in the House for compulsion in respect of science, mathematics, foreign languages and other subjects. The theory of multiple intelligences, on which my master's degree is based, recognises eight intelligences in children and adults. Unfortunately, we are not to the fore in this country in ensuring the education system caters for all intelligences. In Germany, for example, much greater heed is taken of the various intelligences. Each intelligence, be it science, the arts, languages or anything else, is as important as any other. Likewise, the left and right sides of the brain are equally important. Some place a greater value on the mathematical side of the brain because of the needs of the economy. However, we must also acknowledge the social side which recognises the person and places a duty on the Government to everybody on earth. I ask the Leader to ensure these principles inform the debate. The theory of multiple intelligences should be recognised in the education system.

Senator Darragh O'Brien, among others, referred to yesterday's events in Brussels. The developments have been generally welcomed, but we need time to digest everything in the agreed programme. As some have observed, working the deal does not mean passively submitting to it; rather, it means attempting to make the deal serve us in a better way in negotiating on issues. However, the deal is working for Ireland. The economy has begun to grow, the public finances have stabilised and the budget deficit is starting to decline. Investors' confidence in our ability to tackle successfully our economic and budgetary problems has greatly improved in recent months, as everybody can see. It must be acknowledged that we have secured better terms under the deal. As Senator Feargal Quinn observed, our good name is of paramount importance. Renegotiating the deal would be enormously costly and disruptive. The alternative to working it is to repudiate it, which means walking away from a set of international commitments solemnly entered into by the Government. Ireland is certainly not Greece. The Government will continue in a meaningful way to secure the best possible deal for the country. I will arrange a debate on the matter as soon as possible, once Members have had a chance to digest the contents of the report.

In regard to today's debate on health, 36 questions have been tabled to the Minister for Health who has given an undertaking that if he does not have time to answer all of them, he will provide written replies. However, I am confident he will be able to deal with all of the issues raised. I am criticised, on the one hand, for not allocating enough time for spokespersons, while the argument, on the other, is that seven minutes is too much and that a smaller allocation for spokespersons would allow other Members an opportunity to contribute. I am sure spokespersons will ask the questions tabled by them and their colleagues, after which there will be an opportunity for other issues to be raised. The Minister has pressing engagements in the remainder of the day and must depart at 1.45 p.m. As such, extending the time allowed for the debate is, unfortunately, not feasible. However, we may invite the Minister to return at a later date for further discussion.

I will go along with the Cathaoirleach's ruling on Senator Rónán Mullen's question about last night's Private Members' debate. I do not intend to get into that discussion today. The Senator made certain allegations about the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, which he subsequently withdrew.

I asked certain questions.

There were other questions about the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, which he addressed yesterday——

The Government is very vindictive.

The Leader must be allowed to continue without interruption.

Now allegations are being made against other senior Labour Party Ministers.

The Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, did not fully answer my question about his colleagues.

We have had allegation after allegation, followed by withdrawal——

I have ruled the matter out of order. I ask the Leader to refrain from commenting on it.

The Leader is out of order.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames called for a debate on education, with particular reference to special educational needs. Senators John Crown, Catherine Noone, Cáit Keane and others also raised points on education. The Minister for Education and Skills will be in the House on Tuesday, 8 November for a debate on junior certificate reform, in particular, and curricular reform generally, and there will be an opportunity to raise many of the points Members have mentioned.

Senator Mooney mentioned the cutbacks in the areas of justice and defence. Yes, there will be cuts; many of them have been outlined, while others are still to come. There will be cuts in practically all Departments, which will be outlined in the next number of weeks. It is unfortunately the case that we have to have these cuts. We need to trim our sails to run the economy in a proper way, and that is what the Government is intent on doing. Unfortunately, this will have economic implications for communities in which military barracks, courthouses and so on close. However, the Government is committed to having balanced budgets in the future and running the economy as it should be run.

I am informed that the Chief Whip recently met representatives of RTE and TG4 with a view to asking them to increase their coverage of the Oireachtas. RTE has agreed to do so, and the Chief Whip will be pursuing the matter further with the broadcasters soon. I will keep the House informed of any information as it comes to hand.

I was going to mention the issue of Central European Time, which was raised by Senator Mullins. This will be discussed by the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. I understand that when the Minister, Deputy Shatter, took a Topical Issues debate on this matter in the Dáil yesterday, he made it clear that there were no immediate plans to change the current arrangements. The Senator will be forwarded his comments. However, the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality will be seeking submissions on the matter in November.

Senator Sheahan spoke about NAMA and also made some important points about the review of rates. We will certainly ask the Minister for Finance to come to the House to discuss NAMA. A number of other Members, including Senator Daly, spoke on that point also. I have already spoken about questions to the Minister.

Senator O'Keeffe called for the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to come to the House. He is due to do so in the next couple of weeks. The Senator may raise the question of votes for people who have emigrated at that stage.

Senator Coghlan's wise words about the eurozone document were "Festina lente”. We will have time to digest this document and have a debate on it.

Senator Landy made an interesting point about the €700 million Anglo Irish Bank bond, saying it would be paid from the bank's own resources owing to the sale of assets. The Senator also called for the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to sign the commencement order for the Dog Breeding Establishments Act 2010. I will certainly take up that matter with the Minister; I cannot see why the Act has not been put into law. I was one of the first Members to raise the issue of puppy farms eight or nine years ago in the House. I will take up the matter with the Minister and update the Senator on it.

I dealt with a number of the points made by Senator Noone. I am glad she did not address her comments in Italian as I would not have been able to answer her.

Senator Colm Burke spoke about education, and also about the diplomatic service and how our young people were contributing abroad.

Senator Mullins mentioned the gentleman outside the House. If this gentleman has information, he could pass it on to the Minister for Justice and Equality. I am not aware of the intricacies of the situation. Perhaps the Senator might bring the matter to the attention of the Minister.

On a point of order, I am grateful to the Leader for his response, but I understand RTE will not be transmitting "Oireachtas Report" tonight despite the fact that it is included in the schedule.

That is not a point of order.

I ask the Leader to convey——

The Senator knows that is not a point of order.

——the displeasure of this House at its non-transmission. The Minister for Health——

We are not having a second Order of Business.

——is coming to answer questions on health and the people of Ireland will not have an opportunity to see the workings of this House.

Will the Senator, please, resume his seat?

I ask the Leader whether he said the statements would conclude at 1.45 p.m. or 2 p.m.

I said the debate would conclude at 1.45 p.m.

Order of Business agreed to.