Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 10, NAMA Transparency Bill 2011, motion to discharge Order for Second Stage, to be taken without debate; No. 1, motion of referral to the Joint Committee on Communications, Natural Resources and Agriculture on the provision of funding through the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 10; No. 17, motion No. 6, calling on the European Commission to clear with immediate effect the application by the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources for onshore wind REFIT 2, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 2; No. 2, Health Insurance (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2011 — all Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 17, motion No. 6, and conclude not later than 3 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons during the debate on Second Stage not to exceed ten minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed eight minutes, the Minister to be called on to reply not later than 2 p.m., and Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken immediately at the conclusion of the debate on Second Stage; No. 3, Criminal Law (Defence and the Dwelling) Bill 2011 — Second Stage, to be taken at 3.30p.m. and conclude not later than 5.30p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed eight minutes, and the Minister to be called on to reply not later than 5.20 p.m.; and No. 4, Local Government (Household Charge) Bill 2011 — Committee Stage, resumed, to be taken at 5.30p.m. and conclude not later than 8 p.m., if not previously concluded.

Senators may disregard the motion circulated regarding the ordering of tomorrow's business as there will now be an Order of Business at 10.30 a.m. tomorrow because the Remaining Stages of the Local Government (Household Charge) Bill 2011 will have to be taken tomorrow. The motion, as circulated, did not account for that.

I thank the Leader for acceding to the request yesterday to resume Committee Stage of the Local Government (Household Charge) Bill 2011 today and to continue considering the legislation tomorrow. There should be adequate time this evening to deal with the remaining amendments. I thank the Leader sincerely for taking on board the views of the House in this regard. He has done so on a couple of occasions this week.

On behalf of Fianna Fáil, I wish the Taoiseach and the rest of his delegation well in their negotiations in the next two days. The Government's position in regard to treaty changes is unclear. I get the sense that the Government hopes any agreement reached at the negotiations can be dealt with under the existing treaties in order that a referendum can be avoided. However, media reports from the EU indicate that the agreement will be such that the Government will have to put it to the people. Is the Government in favour of what the Taoiseach describes as fiscal consolidation and more stringent oversight? Will that involve fiscal union?

Given that our corporation tax rate is back on the table, I ask the Leader to confirm that the Government's position is to oppose any change to corporation tax. The British Government is looking for a sweetheart deal on financial transactions in the City of London which, if permitted, would have a serious effect on the financial services sector in Ireland. Members will agree that the Irish Financial Services Centre has been a major success for this country. The Taoiseach was circumspect, at best, in his address to the nation and should have spent more time outlining to the people our position on Europe.

This House has debated at length the ECB's interest rate reductions and the Government's efforts to ensure our covered institutions pass them on to their customers. Four weeks ago I suggested that further reductions were on the cards. Are we going to continue dealing with the matter by way of a Mexican stand-off between the Government and the banks, with the regulator standing on the sidelines? I welcome that the ECB will announce a further reduction of 0.25% later today but will the Government make good on its commitment to ensure these cuts are passed on? Bank of Ireland refused to pass on the previous rate cut.

What will happen next week? Will the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste drag the banks into Government Buildings once again to provide nice footage for the television only for the banks to do what they like afterwards? Legislation is required in this area and we are finalising a Bill which will provide certainty for homeowners. Permanent TSB charges a variable rate of 6.1% to many of their mortgage holders even though the ECB base rate will be 1% after today. This cannot be allowed to continue.

I praise the courage of three feisty women from County Laois, Maureen Delaney, Bridget O'Neill and Catherine Kelly. These ladies, all of whom are in their 90s, won a great victory in the High Court yesterday after standing up to the HSE.

And the Government.

They carried the moral support from Members across this House into the High Court when they brought a halt to the HSE's plan to close Abbeyleix community hospital. This win is the first round of a long battle to save it and other community nursing homes in the midlands. "Abbeyleix" has become a byword for care in the community and the HSE has given a solemn undertaking before the President of the High Court, Mr. Justice Nicholas Kearns, to engage in meaningful discussions with residents and their families. A precedent has been set that the HSE cannot simply tell people they are going to be turfed out. I look forward to the Minister for Health visiting Abbeyleix at the earliest opportunity and, without pre-empting the outcome of the review of the decision on the future of Abbeyleix community hospital, if some people have their way it will be around longer than the Seanad.

We might get those feisty women to help us.

I am going to have a chat with Catherine Kelly about that.

People are rightly upset about the proposals on disability payments but I welcome the news that the Taoiseach and the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, have agreed to review the matter. I believe the decision will be reversed in due course in the interest of those who have profound disabilities. I thank my Fine Gael colleagues for their strong representations to the Taoiseach on the matter. Labour Party Senators Moloney, Moran and Kelly also made robust representations to the Minister. She is a listening and caring Minister and does not dismiss out of hand people who make constructive criticisms.

She just dismisses pay caps.

She does not accuse people who raise legitimate concerns of being whingers who should commit suicide.

We do not need anyone on the Opposition benches to teach us about compassion.

The fuel allowance, perhaps.

Senator Whelan to continue, without interruption.

He is able to take it better than Senator Bacik.

Christmas is approaching but while it is the season of goodwill, it is also a stressful time for many families. This is the first Christmas in four years in which I have had a job, albeit a temporary one. I was astounded to find out this morning that people who through no fault of their own were made redundant in May have not yet received their redundancy payments from the Department of Social Protection. That delay is not acceptable because it is forcing people into the hands of money lenders.

Perhaps the Minister, Deputy Burton, will do something about it.

It was reported in today'sThe Irish Times that the former Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality, Seán Aylward, was appointed to the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture. I am flabbergasted by this decision. The committee carries out periodic visits, at any time and without notice, to any place where persons may be deprived of their liberty. Its purpose is to prevent ill-treatment of individuals who are deprived of their liberty in Europe. According to its website, members of the committee are independent and impartial experts from a variety of backgrounds, including lawyers, medical doctors and specialists in prison and police matters. When the Government came into power it made a wise decision to publicly advertise for membership of this committee through the Department of Justice and Equality. The advertisement stated that members of the committee would be chosen from candidates of high moral character who are known for their competence in the field of human rights or professional experience in the areas covered by the convention.

That is not fair.

After examination of the applications by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, three candidates were put forward by the Department, namely, Seán Aylward, Dr. Mary Rogan and Donncha O'Connell.

We do not mention names on the Order of Business.

They are on the public record. The names have been reported in the news.

On a point of order, there is nothing inappropriate about mentioning names in that context.

It does not matter. They are not here to defend themselves.

Everything I have said——

The Senator must refrain from mentioning names in the House.

I will mention no more names. The nominations were considered by the Parliamentary Assembly but the Committee of Ministers, which comprises ambassadors from members states, did not choose the Assembly's preferred candidate. This obsession with finding positions for former Secretaries General has to stop. It went to four rounds of voting. Ireland's reputation was deeply damaged.

I ask the Leader of the House to invite the Minister for Justice and Equality to the House to inform us of the instructions he gave to the Irish ambassador. Did Ireland disregard the decision of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe? This is very unusual. I spoke to many people in the Council of Europe yesterday afternoon about this and was told that normally the first choice goes through on the nod, unless a member state in some way indicates that it wants to contradict that choice. A member state had to intervene. This is deeply distressing for Ireland.

I pay tribute to the action of the Leader of the House yesterday evening in removing the guillotine from a Bill on Committee Stage and agreeing to continue the discussion this evening. That was a good day for Seanad Éireann. I thank the Leader, on behalf of the Independents, and I am sure other Members will agree.

I compliment Senator Whelan on his sterling work on behalf of the community nursing unit in Abbeyleix. One of the people who is currently happily living there, Richard Phelan, is celebrating his 100th birthday, and Deputy John Paul Phelan, when he was in this House, stood alongside me in a similar situation regarding a nursing home in Carlow. Well done to the Phelans, who are one of the seven septs of Laois.

I request a debate on economic and financial matters, not just in this country but internationally. I am sure some of my colleagues saw the astonishing and very worrying programme on the BBC last night about the role of financial institutions in the United States in precipitating the appalling global financial crisis. I have been speaking out about this for a number of years. Implicated in this are large institutions such as Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns and, of course, our friends the ratings agencies, which were criminally complicit in helping to precipitate this difficulty. Bearing in mind the fact that 6 million people have already lost their homes in the US, and that there may be a further 9 million who are in danger of losing their homes — that is a total of 15 million people — it seems that it is getting close to a crime against humanity, because losing one's home seems to be a pretty dreadful prospect for any citizen, yet nothing whatever has been done about the ratings agencies. They were at the root of this, yet they still appear to be ruling the roost and having an undue influence on the markets, to the detriment of ordinary people in this and other countries.

I would like the House to have an opportunity to consider this situation and see whether we in Ireland, as a member of the European Union, cannot make some concerted attempt to tame these organisations, because they are, after all, just issuing opinions. In the defences they gave, the various people who were filmed before committees of the United States Congress all said that they were not responsible because they merely gave opinions. Every single one of the leading people refused to be interviewed and, having not only destroyed their own companies but also had a deleterious effect on the world economy, some of them walked away with compensation of up to $400 million. I simply do not think that is acceptable. I would like to have, if we can, a wide-ranging debate on economic matters.

A couple of weeks ago I welcomed the fact that an independent inquiry was being set up to investigate the RTE programme "Prime Time Investigates: Mission to Prey". It was my expectation that this would cover all aspects of the programme. However, I was dismayed to read inThe Irish Times yesterday that only the segment relating to the defamation of Fr. Kevin Reynolds would be investigated. I asked on that occasion — I am echoing that call today — for the segment dealing with the allegations made against a deceased Christian Brother, Brother Dillon, to be investigated also. The family of the deceased——

The Senator will have to refrain from using names on the Order of Business or in the Chamber.

A Chathaoirligh, this is in the public domain and in all the news.

It does not matter whether it is in the public domain. As the people concerned are not here to defend themselves, we cannot use names. I ask Members of the House to refrain from using names.

The man in question cannot defend himself anywhere.

As he is deceased, he cannot defend himself at all.

On behalf of the family, I am calling on the Minister to ensure the segment dealing with the deceased Christian Brother be included in the inquiry. The family are firmly of the belief that the solitary allegation made against him was untrue, and in that three-minute segment his good reputation, built up over 60 years, was severely damaged. They believe he has been defamed, and I have no reason to believe they are incorrect. All I am asking is that this segment of the programme be included in the inquiry. In the interest of natural justice, this must happen. Even though the man is deceased, his family are living throughout this country, and they are entitled to attempt to have his name cleared. In addition, because there will be continuing calls for inquiries about this segment, it would save the State money if it were included in the proposed inquiry. The family members have written to the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, and also to the chief executive of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. I am asking the Leader to liaise with the Minister and insist that this segment of the programme also be investigated as part of the independent inquiry.

In response to Senator van Turnhout, I presented the three names at the Council of Europe, and I did so in an unbiased way. I presented the CVs of the three people to the committee. The committee recommended people in order of choice and, as it happens, Seán Aylward was not number one, although he was number one going into the committee until there was an objection to his name. I would like a full investigation. In fact,The Irish Times can check this out and see exactly what happened. The Council of Ministers was quite in order to make the final decision with regard to the excellent qualifications of Seán Aylward, and I congratulate him on his appointment.

I have pointed out to Senators that we cannot be using names.

I am trying to provide balance.

There is no such thing as balance in this regard.

I am trying to bring balance.

The Senator cannot use names in this House, as he well knows.

They are used everywhere else except here.

By way of further clarification, I am available to brief the press later in the day to get the facts on the record with regard to this matter. I did not rise to speak about that, however. I wished to ask the Leader of the House about a separate issue, but I did not realise this would be discussed today. I am trying to bring some balance back to the issue because I am well aware of the details. I know the facts of the situation.

The Senator is running out of time.

When we return in January I will ask the Leader an innovation and job creation day in the House with the Minister, at which the talents that are in this Seanad can bring up ideas. I will give an example. In the budget there is provision for VAT refunds on wind turbines for farmers, which is very welcome. I would like to see that extended to businesses — and private homes — that choose to go in this direction. I also believe there should be a VAT refund scheme for works such as rewiring, roofing and replacement of windows and doors, in a balanced way, which would create jobs. There are great opportunities in those areas.

Is the Senator looking for a debate?

In conjunction with the day of innovation in this House, I suggest that among the Seanad we should have——

The Senator is out of time.

We should have an innovation day in the AV room to allow people to come here from all over the country and put their ideas to Members of this Seanad, who would form a small group to evaluate them. We have a lot to do in the new year, and I ask the Leader of the House to add this to his list.

I ask the Leader to seek clarification from the Minister for Health, or to ask the Minister to attend the House on the issue of the new GP card that has been extended to those in the long-term illness scheme. It is confusing because under the long-term illness scheme, patients receive free medication for chronic illnesses rather than acute illnesses but under the terms negotiated with the Irish Medical Organisation the GP visit card is for acute care. Are people with a long-term illness entitled to free medication for acute illnesses and general practitioner, GP, care for their chronic illness? Has this been negotiated with the Irish Medical Organisation? I am aware of wealthy people — I will not mention names — who have an illness such as diabetes which is well under control and who can easily afford their GP care.

We should be considering extending GP care. It is the long-term goal of the Government to extend GP care to all citizens but we should start by extending it to those most in need. The medical card should be extended in the first instance to the low and moderately paid people who are struggling to pay mortgages and so forth and, of course, to people in the long-term illness scheme who are also on low and moderate incomes. Will the Leader either invite the Minister to the House to clarify that issue or seek clarification on it from the Minister?

I share Senator Mullins's concern about the excessively limited terms of reference of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland inquiry. Will the Leader agree to hold a debate on standards in the media, which I requested a couple of days ago, and will he endeavour to hold it early in the new year? I believe everybody supports holding such a debate.

Everybody should always be ready to admit that they were wrong. The former Tánaiste and Attorney General, former Deputy Michael McDowell, has spoken in his usual eloquent way about how he now believes he was wrong to once have believed that the Seanad should be abolished. The Taoiseach should take a leaf from his book. I was most dissatisfied by the manner in which the Taoiseach presented his intentions to the people of Ireland last Sunday night.

It was not a matter of submitting the issue to the people for a decision but a referendum to abolish the Seanad. From the outset this proposal from the Taoiseach has had a shallowness which deserves criticism. There has not been a proper debate in either of the Houses about how our political institutions should function. There are rumours this morning that the Seanad is for the chop in February and that it will happen very quickly and with immediate effect. If that is true, it is not the way to shape the democratic institutions of the State.

Can we have a full day's debate, or even longer, about the functioning of all our democratic institutions, especially the Dáil and the Seanad? On a day when it is being reported that people are extremely concerned about the amount of heckling in the Dáil, we need a far more profound reflection on how our political institutions are to be shaped. It is the responsibility of the Government Senators to show some initiative in this regard.

Being nice and compliant to the Taoiseach will get us nowhere. The people want to see whether we have minds of our own and whether we are capable of scrutinising legislation and policy with the distinctiveness that has characterised the Seanad in the past. Let us do that again and make our case to the people but let us start by making the case in this House and by having the debate here.

I wish to raise an issue regarding yesterday's proceedings, although Members might not like me doing so. It reminded me very much of a chocolate manufacturer who decided to have a meeting of all the employees in the morning to have a vote on what chocolate they would manufacture during the day and after spending an hour and 20 minutes deciding what to do, he ended up with the same agenda with which he started. Yesterday, an hour and 20 minutes were wasted——

The Senator is wrong.

It was a huge waste of everybody's time and of taxpayers' money.

We talk about being relevant. Let us at least try to get our house in order. One of the issues the Leader should consider——

I agree that a two hour debate on the budget is not acceptable.

I have no difficulty with somebody proposing an amendment to the Order of Business.

That is very good of the Senator.

However, six amendments from one group was a little silly. It does not show the public that we are able to organise our affairs. I have no difficulty with taking proposals from the other side of the House. One of the things that works in Europe is that everybody has a say in what is done. Everybody has a say in the decision making process on how this country is run. The evidence for that was seen in the last 24 hours when there was a rowing back on the disability benefit as a result of very constructive criticism of the budget decision. We should all have a part to play in the decisions that are made on how this country is run. Regardless of whether it is from Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, the Independents or any other group, if it is a constructive proposal we should take it on board. However, please do not waste time when we know well what the final decision will be. Let us be constructive in this House. Will the Leader consider the issue of each group having the right to propose one amendment to the Order of Business on any given day?

One of the problems in this House is that when the budget was announced we were given two hours to debate it. During that debate a number of people who made very short contributions highlighted the harsh cut for people with disabilities. As a result of that and representations from Members of the Lower House, the Government accepted the cut was wrong and is now reviewing the situation.

We should have had more time to discuss the budget and to examine other harsh cuts that were announced, such as the changes to the one-parent family payment. Consider the position of families who are living in consistent poverty and who will be affected by those changes. They will pay an additional €6 per week towards rent supplement and lose €120 per year for fuel costs. Families with three children will lose €228 per year and a family with four children will lose €432. If they have a child going to primary school, they will lose another €50 and €55 if a child is going to secondary school due to changes in the back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance. The point is that we should have had more time to discuss all those cuts.

I agree with the last speaker that we must be constructive and make constructive contributions. However, we must be given the opportunity to make those constructive contributions. Before the budget this year I asked that we would be given an opportunity to fully proof the budget before it came before the House. We might not be here next year. One of the things we said we would do next year is change the way we do our business and change the way this House and the Lower House frame and discuss the budget. I hope, if we are in that position next year and fortunate enough to be able to scrutinise the budget, I appeal to the Leader to arrange that we do so in a comprehensive and constructive way. We are elected to scrutinise but we were not given that opportunity either before or after this budget.

I fully agree with Senator Mullen's comments relating to a debate on the Seanad. Members on this side of the House share his views, and I am sure all Members will tell him as much privately as well.

With regard to the call for a debate on mortgage interest rates, Senator O'Brien pointed out that current mortgage interest rates are up to 6% while the European interest rate is 1%, so there is a 5% margin on many mortgages. Over the years mortgage companies always said they could only pay their depositors what they charged their borrowers, which meant that if there is a high mortgage interest rate, at least depositors were getting a high return on their deposits. That is not the case now. The Senator is correct that we should ask the Minister for Finance what can be done for people with mortgages. Extra relief was provided in the budget for people with distressed mortgages or high borrowings over the last four or five years, but there are many people who borrowed money in the last ten years before the bubble burst. They should also be looked after. The main point is, however, that if Permanent TSB is charging borrowers 6% and it is borrowing the money at 1% there is a 5% margin, which is far too big. It is making a profit and that should be passed back to the borrower. The Senator is correct to seek a debate on the matter, in which I support him.

While I compliment my colleague, Deputy Michael McGrath, on getting the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, to admit on live television that the cuts would be reversed, the fact is that these are not cuts but prospective cuts. We have not succeeded in getting the Government to reverse the cruel, cold cut to the fuel allowance. It will affect the poorest, oldest, sickest and the most marginal in society.

The weather is improving.

They are the people who will be down €2 a week. They are the people that Government targeted because it was afraid to do what we did in previous years and what were described inThe Irish Times today as brave budgets where everybody across society was hit according to what he or she could afford. In this budget specific sectors have been targeted. It thought it would get away with the changes to disabled allowances but enough people had sense to challenge it. Until now it has gotten away with the changes to fuel allowance——

What about the Christmas bonus?

The most important issue facing us is the European situation and it is crucial that we have a full debate on it. The story on the front page ofThe Wall Street Journal today noted the Central Bank was considering printing punts again. We need a debate on what is happening, what the Government negotiating position is and whether we have put anything forward.

There is a lot of talk about treaty change and avoiding the need for a referendum, which I do not accept. If the Government does something that is unconstitutional it does not need a treaty to make it unconstitutional. It could decide to do something to give more scrutiny to Europe which would be unconstitutional and unacceptable. It should be put to the people in a referendum regardless of whether the treaty is changed. The most important thing is that the Taoiseach does the best job possible, which is to put a sterling defence of Ireland and Europe's interests, not just the interests of the biggest states. It is important that the Leader set aside time for a debate on that issue.

I have an issue for the CPP.

The House has made an order that we have only one issue.

This is a procedural issue on which I want clarity. I request the Leader and the CPP to review the situation where one cannot name people who are regularly named on the public record and are consistently and regularly discussed in the media. To say that we in this House cannot name people during our discussions is ludicrous and puts us into a bubble in which none of us wants to be. The situation needs to be reviewed as a matter of urgency.

I agree with Senator Mullen on the RTE documentary which is the subject of a Broadcasting Commission investigation. When something is rotten to the core the core and not just part of it needs to be investigated. The programme has been demonstrated, through the courts of the land, to be rotten to the core. I call on the Leader to ask the Minister to direct the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland to conduct a full investigation of the entire programme from A to Z, not just a portion of it.

Senators will have noted that one Irish bank pays its executive on the basis of a 13 month year. The sector has difficulties with counting, as we have seen. I ask the Leader to request the Minister for Finance to inform the bank that we have been working on a 12 month year basis for a couple of millennia now and, more seriously, that none of the €2.4 billion we put into the bankrupt bank is to be used to pay people on such a fictitious basis. The Minister for Finance has a turn of phrase which might make the letter well worth writing to these incompetent people.

Senator O'Brien is correct to raise concerns regarding the summit which is about to take place in Brussels. We all wish the Taoiseach and his team well. As has been articulated, the future of the euro and the eurozone could be at stake. We are dealing with speculation. What is out there are the opening positions of the various members, their first choices and some speculation which may or may not be inspired. If there is a treaty change there will have to be a referendum. It seems referenda are becoming popular and we could have a flood of them. If that has to happen it will happen.

On the question of corporation tax, we heard the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, give a very firm undertaking in the other House. This country's position on that and a range of issues is known. We have to have oversight and there must be budgetary rules. I do not think some of the discipline being imposed at European level is necessary for this country but as a good member of course we accept it. I do not see it leading to treaty change and we should not be jumping the gun. The Leader will schedule a debate next week. We will have the European summit report and deal with facts, not fiction. We should hold our whist.

I take the Cathaoirleach's point on raising only one issue. I do not like to do disagree with the Chair but the issue of naming people has arisen over the years. Members of the House have privilege. The issue is the abuse of privilege. When names are in the public domain it is incumbent on us not to name people in a particular context. That is not abusing privilege, rather it is using it in the public interest.

I congratulate Senator Whelan on the success of the Abbeyleix nursing home. Clearly his impact on the Minister is a lot more penetrative than Senator O'Keeffe who did not manage to deliver the centre of excellence to Sligo. Perhaps the Minister of State, Deputy Perry, who said there would be 100 days for the return of cancer services could also be revisited. Clearly Labour Party politicians in the midlands have a much more penetrative impact on Government policy. There is no better man than Senator Whelan to achieve that for his constituents. I hope it will——

On a point of order, Senator O'Keeffe is not in the House to defend herself and should not be named.

I am afraid I will use absolute privilege.

Senator MacSharry to continue, without interruption.

Perhaps Deputy McLaughlin and the Minister of State, Deputy Perry, may now, given the great example shown by Senator Whelan from the midlands, unite in the interests of the people of the north west to show that the people of Ireland are equal, something which was shown very forcefully and successfully by Senator Whelan. I look forward to them raising the issue of discrimination against the people of the north west in terms of health care and cancer services. I look forward to raising the issue of health insurance is afternoon.

We have had the Taoiseach's proposed abolition of the Seanad, to which he referred on Sunday night, and the suggestion today that there should only be one amendment on the Order of Business per day. Why not pass the enabling Act, burn down Leinster House and abolish the fuel allowance altogether?

I will attempt to restrain myself on the issue of Seanad reform. I welcome Senator Mullen's contribution and it would be appropriate to have a lengthy and comprehensive debate in the House on political reform. I wish it were as simple as abolishing the Seanad but we all know political reform is about the Dáil, the electoral system, local authorities, our system of government, Dáil questions and no answers, Seanad adjournments and how we practise politics in this country. If it was as simple as abolishing the Seanad it would have been done long ago. Our broken economy and country, which stems from broken politics, needs a response by way of a full and lengthy debate on political reform. At some stage we will have a referendum on the future of the Seanad, not its saving or abolition. We will have to respect the decision of the public.

My other request of the Leader is that he would try to arrange that the Minister for Health would come into the House to discuss setting up an expert group to deal with the ABC ruling of the European Court of Human Rights. We are all aware of the fact that the issue of abortion is politically sensitive and arising from the ruling the Government is obliged to respond by some mechanism. The largest expert group on this subject in the country is the people. People elected to this and the Lower House have a great deal of communication with their constituents on this subject. I would like a political input at this proposed table of expertise. I respect that experts have expertise, but they also have prejudices. There should be a political input to the debate, because it is a matter which concerns elected Members of both Houses. It should be dealt with in the final phase by politics and politicians, not by experts. I hope the Minister will facilitate us by attending a debate in the House, and perhaps in the other House, where he can hear the political thinking on the issue before he establishes an expert group.

When the very survival of any organisation is threatened, it tends to focus one's attention. However, this House has not been devoting sufficient attention to its own survival. If the Seanad is abolished and we have done nothing about it, it will be very much our own fault. The way we behaved here on Tuesday night, where we organised ourselves in such a manner that we did not manage to have nearly the impact we should have had, and the reaction yesterday from this side of the House, with ten or 12 votes, are damaging the reputation of the House. In the wake of what happened Tuesday night and yesterday morning, we can blame only ourselves. Such a discussion will place an onus on us to behave in a different way in the coming year.

I found Michael McDowell's comments of interest in this regard. He argued that if the proposal to abolish the Seanad is primarily a matter of cost, then we in this House should focus our attention on how we might reduce that cost. Nor is it just a question of cost; rather, it is a cost plus a benefit. In this regard, I urge the Leader to allocate time very early in the new year for a comprehensive debate on how we can make a case for ourselves. Such a discussion will place an onus on us to behave in a different way in the coming year.

Since April I have repeatedly raised the issue of commercial rates. The Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy John Perry, gave a commitment in the House to a full review in this regard, but nothing has happened. A friend recently told me that a ridiculous practice is happening throughout the country where, if a local authority is finding it difficult to extract commercial rate payment from a business, it will employ a team of solicitors to do so on its behalf, to whom it pays 10% of the payment in question. Moreover, the solicitors are employing debt collectors to do the work, with the latter receiving a further 10% of the rate payment. Will the Leader urge the Minister of State to fast-track this issue? If we can afford to do without 20% of commercial rates through the payment of solicitors and debt collectors, surely that 20% could instead be passed on to hard-pressed business owners by way of a rent reduction? I urge the Leader to convey these concerns to the Minister of State, who is slow in dealing with the issue.

Given that I seconded the motion proposed yesterday by Senator Fiach Mac Conghail regarding the budgetary changes to the disability allowance, I welcome the Government's decision since then to suspend those changes. It is not clear what the ultimate outcome of this deferral will be. It does not yet constitute a U-turn, but I hope that is what will happen. I hope the proposed debate on the abolition of the Seanad does not take place after its abolition, in the same way that the debate on the budget is happening after the budget.

The urgency that was brought to the issue of the disability allowance and the behind-the-scenes machinations which led to a Government change of heart should also be brought to bear on the issue of the lone parent's allowance. Many single parents have been in contact with me to express their concerns and the relevant organisations are up in arms about the decisions made. As such, I propose an amendment to the Order of Business — it is not a facetious proposal — that the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, come to the House today for a debate on the matter, even if it is only for an hour and with limited speaking time for representatives of each grouping. There should be an opportunity to discuss the implications of the proposed budgetary changes before the Social Welfare Bill is brought to the House, with a view to reviewing some of them.

A group of barristers and solicitors has indicated its intention to go on strike today, with the result that the Criminal Court may be unable to hear any cases. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, has described this proposed action as "extraordinary" and has called on those involved to avoid a walk-out. The strike is being organised by the Criminal Law Practitioners Organisation on the basis that a 10% reduction in legal aid fees will see defence lawyers earn less than prosecutors.

We would all agree that the legal aid system is one of the most useful provisions within the legal system, providing services to those who could not otherwise afford them. However, the scheme has been over-subscribed for several years. I understand the overrun this year could be as much as €10 million. As such, something must be done to reform the system. Will the Leader invite the Minister, Deputy Shatter, to the House for a general discussion on the free legal aid system? It is a vital service but, as with all other services, it must be run within its means and in such a way that resources are allocated to the most needy and worthy cases. I call on the solicitors and barristers proposing this action to argue their case rather than strike. They should use their advocacy skills on the Minister to ensure that those who require legal aid will be able to access it, within the budget allocated to the scheme.

Like my colleagues, I look forward to the debate on the forthcoming referendum on the abolition of the Seanad. We must make the case that this House has a role to play. In this regard, I welcome the Leader's efforts to persuade his colleagues in Government that the Seanad should have a primary role in the scrutiny of EU legislation. As I have pointed out before, 138 pieces of European legislation have been submitted for scrutiny by member states prior to their enactment by the European Parliament. While a total of 428 submissions was made by Parliaments throughout Europe in respect of these legislative proposals, Ireland was responsible for only one of them. Getting rid of nearly 25% of parliamentarians will result in even less scrutiny of EU legislation. The Leader is working to ensure the House will have one sitting per month dedicated to such scrutiny. I would propose that such sittings should take place more often.

I just attended a presentation on the Ballymurphy massacre, an issue which all Members should investigate further. We are all aware of Bloody Sunday, but there is less awareness of the events of 9 and 11 August 1971, when 11 civilians were killed in Ballymurphy by the same British army parachute regiment that was involved in the massacre in Derry. That regiment should be disbanded because its record on this island is nothing short of atrocious. The investigation into what happened in Ballymurphy is being supported by the bishops of the Catholic Church in Derry.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Yes. I am calling for a debate on the Ballymurphy massacre. One of the most disturbing aspects of the case was that a priest, Fr. Hugh Mullan, was killed while waving a white cloth, an image familiar to us from photographs of the scenes in Derry on Bloody Sunday.

The Senator's time is up. I call Senator Susan O'Keeffe.

He was accused of being——

Please, Senator. I have called Senator Susan O'Keeffe.

Senator Daly should show some respect for his colleagues.

I echo the calls for an improvement in the way Members behave in this House. At a time when we constantly talk about how we look to the world, we are not showing ourselves up in a good light. I ask the Leader not to organise a debate on the future of the Seanad in Seanad time. If we are to have a debate on the future of the Seanad, we should not take up the time of this House to do so and I fervently oppose such a debate. Senator Daly and I have asked for scrutiny of EU legislation in this House. However, given the way the Opposition is behaving, I would not ask them to scrutinise a paper bag.

Why have the Senator's colleagues asked to join the finance scrutiny committee?

Senator MacSharry appears to have entirely forgotten——

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Yes. The question I have asked is that the Leader does not organise a debate on the future of the Seanad.

Senator MacSharry appears to have forgotten that the Government of which he was a party member took cancer services away from Sligo.

I supported the centre of excellence for cancer services.

I second the Sinn Féin amendment on lone parents.

Given that the Government brought in such a cruel budget, it is absolutely incredible that the Taoiseach would have the audacity to try to manoeuvre us out of our elected and democratic roles in the Seanad. I find it amazing and I wonder if he is breaking our constitutional rights. He has never come to the Seanad to speak to Members. I wonder what the people would think of the fact that the Taoiseach has not come to the Seanad to discuss the main issues affecting the country. With all due respect to my colleagues who have criticised the behaviour of Seanad Members, watching the behaviour of Deputies in the Dáil during the Budget Statement, the people would willingly get rid of the Dáil before they would get rid of the Seanad.

That is not a matter for this House. Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

It is like a kindergarten.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Yes, I have a very important issue for the Leader and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald. As many know, we would not have created our Celtic tiger without the contribution of women to the economy. When the country was growing at a fantastic rate, we did not have a sufficient number of people for the jobs that were available. Many women went back into the workforce and kept the Celtic tiger going until the inflow of people from eastern Europe.

The Senator is out of time.

The Cathaoirleach will be very pleased with the issue I am raising. We know that modern fathers wheel buggies and bring their children to the crèche at 7 a.m. or 7.30 a.m. They change nappies and they are sharing in the joys and pain of parenthood. It is a tonic that the British government intends to bring in legislation that fathers can share parental leave. The Fianna Fáil Party delivered free pre-school education. I drove that issue during the last Seanad.

The Senator is out of time.

It should be possible for the 26 weeks that women are on paid maternity leave to be shared with the fathers. The only way the human rights of men can be acknowledged is if this leave can be shared.

I hope I can show the same restraint as my senior colleague, Senator Bradford, with regard to the Seanad. I agree with what most speakers said and, in a move away from tradition, I agree with Senator White and especially Senator Mullins. If workers in a company were hearing rumours about potential job losses, there would be very bad feelings. As a matter of courtesy, we should be addressed in this House and we should be facilitated. I also agree with the comments that this should be discussed with us but not during Seanad time. I will come in here on a Sunday or at any time to discuss this issue.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

I have made requests for some time for a debate on the future of the Seanad at whatever hour is deemed appropriate by whomever the Taoiseach deems qualified to speak to us about it. It is a crude suggestion to cut off one arm of the Legislature when the other arm is completely dysfunctional. We function compared to the Dáil. We all have to get together on this issue and I want a debate on it.

I wish to respond very briefly to Senator MacSharry's comments. I would love cancer services restored to what obtained prior to their removal by the Fianna Fáil Party.

Get Senator Whelan to lead the charge.

I ask the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, to look at the HSE and the way it treats people, particularly those who are waiting for hip operations. I have been contacted in recent days by people in Sligo who are waiting for such operations. They are on a public list and therefore must wait between 20 and 24 months. If they were lucky enough to have €20,000, they could get it done within three or four weeks. This is veryunfair.

I refer to the weekend television programme about children in need of dental treatment. A young girl with gum disease would have to have her teeth extracted rather than filled because, under the rules, all one is allowed on a medical card is two fillings per year. In the case of serious dental problems, this should be increased and the teeth of young people should be saved.

As we are out of time, I ask Senator O'Donnell to be very brief.

I congratulate Senator Thomas Byrne. I think he is extraordinary. The members of the Fianna Fáil Party have become psychotherapists, turning around everything the Government got wrong. They did not turn anything. Backbenchers and outsiders turned things.

I was watching "Prime Time".

On the question of the Seanad, it is entirely pointless for Members to be talking in the conditional tense, what could or should have been. We should be talking in the present and future tenses. When I was appointed to the Seanad I said initially that we could be an epilogue or a prologue. It is not up to anybody else to tell us whether we are going to be an epilogue or a prologue. It is entirely up to ourselves to decide that.

Senators O'Brien, Byrne, Coghlan and others raised the EU summit that will be taking place over the weekend. My understanding is that a paper was submitted by Mr. van Rompuy which will be discussed. The Government has made a submission on it and there will be a discussion. We will await the result.

As far as the Government is concerned, the rate of corporation tax is not on the table. It has made that perfectly clear and that will remain the situation.

Senator Harte agreed with Senator O'Brien on passing on the interest rate reduction to mortgage holders. That is the Government's position. Senator O'Brien mentioned that the Fianna Fáil Party has a Bill, which we were promised about six weeks ago.

At least we have it done before the Government.

The Government stance is that we urge all the banks to pass on the interest rate reductions to mortgage holders.

Senator Whelan raised the issue of the Abbeyleix nursing home. The matter went to the courts. Meaningful discussions should always be held prior to the closure of nursing homes throughout the country. The Senator also raised the question of delays in redundancy payments. I have had representations from people in that regard also. Redundancy payments should be made in a proper timescale.

Senators van Turnhout and Leyden asked for a new committee on the prevention of torture and the appointment of a Member to it. As the Minister will be in the Chamber most of tomorrow, there may be an opportunity in some of those exchanges to question him on this issue.

Senator Norris called for a debate on the banking sector, economic matters and the power of rating agencies, in particular, an issue he has addressed on several occasions in the House.

Senators Mullen and Mullins referred to the allegations regarding a former Christian Brother, now deceased, and urged that all segments of the RTE programme in question be investigated. I certainly agree with that. It is my understanding that the matter is being investigated by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Natural Resources and Agriculture, of which Senator Whelan is a member. The committee has deferred bringing in the director general until the report on that broadcast is published. Likewise, I propose that we defer our debate on standards in the media pending publication of that report.

Senator Moloney sought clarification in regard to the GP-only medical card. The Senator might consider raising this matter on the Adjournment. In addition, I will seek clarification from the Minister in this regard.

Senator Burke spoke about the workings of the House. Members are entitled to propose as many amendments as they wish to the Order of Business. However, it was ludicrous yesterday, when almost every member of the Cabinet was requested to come into the House. It is absolutely ludicrous that such requests are made. It is difficult enough to get Ministers in here to address legislation at scheduled times; to expect the entire Cabinet to address the Chamber immediately following the Order of Business is utterly ridiculous.

Senator Cullinane raised the question of the budgetary process. We will have early debates on the budget next year. Senator Byrne raised the budget provisions in regard to the fuel allowance, and several Members raised issues relating to social welfare benefits. The fuel allowance will be available for six months. The provision can be examined in the debate on the Social Welfare Bill next week. In mentioning the cutbacks in the fuel allowance, I note that the Senator did not mention the ending of the Christmas bonus by the previous Government.

Has the Government reintroduced it?

Senator Conway referred to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and the issue of naming people in the House, a matter also raised by Senator MacSharry. I will raise that matter with the committee.

Senator Barrett pointed out that the chief executive officers of some banks are paid on a 13-month basis. We would all like to be paid that way, but it is certainly ridiculous.

Senator Paul Coghlan called for a debate on the EU situation. I am trying my best to arrange for the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy Lucinda Creighton, to come to the Chamber next week, although I understand she will be away for part of it. It is important that we have a debate on the outcome of tomorrow's EU summit.

Senator MacSharry referred to a situation in Sligo. I do not wish to get involved in Sligo politics.

National politics.

All politics is local.

I ask the Senator who removed the cancer services from Sligo General Hospital.

Who promised to restore them?

Sligo people have clearly been discriminated against for 14 years.

Senator Whelan is my man.

The Government will try to redress that situation in the coming years.

Senator Bradford and others called for a debate on political reform in general and Seanad reform, in particular. We have a difference of opinion on whether that debate should take place here or outside the House. I understand a wonderful debate on the subject took place in Trinity College last night, in which the Deputy Leader, Senator Bacik, participated.

Was she for us or against us?

Whether the debate takes place in this House or in an appropriate forum outside it, that issue will get an airing. I will certainly consider having such a debate in the House, but there is a difference of opinion on whether we should take up the time of the House to discuss its future or if the debate should take place elsewhere. Senator Quinn proposed that there be a cost benefit analysis of the Seanad and its future.

Senators Kelly and Harte called for a commercial rates review. I will raise that matter with the Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy John Perry. However, it should be borne in mind that the collection of commercial rates is a matter for local authorities.

Senator Ó Clochartaigh proposed an amendment to the Order for Business to allow for a debate today with the Minister for Social Protection on the budgetary provisions in respect of the lone parent's allowance. I do not propose to accept that amendment. The Senator will have an opportunity to table amendments to the Social Welfare Bill next week. If they are accepted, that will be well and good. However, it is ridiculous to propose an amendment to the Order of Business when we will be discussing the matter in a few days.

Senator Keane referred to the threatened strike by a group of solicitors and barristers in protest at changes to the free legal aid scheme. I hope those involved will come to their senses and that negotiations will take place on the matter. It is of no benefit to anybody to have walk-outs in the Courts Service.

Senator Daly called for a debate on the Ballymurphy massacre and urged that the Seanad have a primary role in the scrutiny of EU legislative proposals. I understand the committees currently deal with EU scrutiny matters, but there is scope for action in this regard, as mentioned on several occasions by Senator Burke. We are examining scenarios where the Seanad might deal with such proposals, but it would mean additional resources for the House in order to accommodate those debates. We will have to be apprised of the content of the directives and so on prior to discussing them. It is a question of resources in that regard.

Senator White referred to Seanad and Dáil reform. I remind the Senator that the electoral commission remains open to submissions until the end of January. If she wishes, she can propose that the Dáil be abolished or the number of Deputies be dramatically reduced.

(Interruptions).

Senator White also raised the issue of shared parental leave. She will have an opportunity to raise that issue with the Minister during next week's debate on the Social Welfare Bill.

Senator Comiskey referred to problems with dental treatment services, a matter I will raise with the Minister for Health. However, the reality is that resources are very scarce and there will have to be cutbacks, as we have already seen in the budget. We must try to live within our means. The Government was elected in order to fix the economic problems with which it was presented. It is doing its best to do so. Unfortunately, that will necessitate cuts in many areas of expenditure.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh has proposed an amendment to the Order of Busines, "That a debate on the proposed reduction in the one-parent family allowance be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 19; Níl, 30.

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D’Arcy, Jim.
  • D’Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Harte, Jimmy.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O’Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O’Keeffe, Susan.
  • O’Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Whelan, John.
  • Zappone, Katherine.
Tellers: Tá, Senators David Cullinane and Trevor Ó Clochartaigh; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O’Keeffe.
Amendment declared lost.
Order of Business agreed to.