Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re arrangements for the sitting of the House on Tuesday, 19 June 2012, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business without debate; No. 2, Competition (Amendment) Bill 2011 — Report and Final Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 and to conclude not later than 1 p.m.; No. 3, statements on the Euroscience Open Forum 2012, to be taken at 1 p.m. and to conclude not later than 2.30 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be called on to reply to the debate not later than 2.20 p.m.; and No. 4, statements following the referendum regarding the Thirtieth Amendment of the Constitution, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 3, with the contribution of all Senators not to exceed eight minutes.

As Members will be aware, the Seanad Public Consultation Committee hearings on how lifestyle changes can curb cancer rates will take place on Tuesday next in the House. I encourage as many Members as possible to attend. It is my intention once the report has been completed to invite the Minister for Health to the House to review it and discuss its recommendations, as we did with the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, yesterday in respect of our first public consultation on the rights of older people. On Tuesday next, Second Stage of the Criminal Justice (Search Warrants) Bill 2012 will be held after the hearings.

I wish to advise Members that Second Stage of the Gaeltacht Bill 2012, or Bille Gaeltachta 2012, will be taken in the Seanad on Thursday, 21 June. Officials in the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht will give a briefing on the Bill to Opposition Senators at an information session next Wednesday, 20 June at 5 p.m. I have provided details for the Department which will issue an invitation to spokespersons directly.

I am glad to hear some of my colleagues are on board in my campaign to halt the monster sewage treatment plant project in north County Dublin. Perhaps the reason is boundary reviews are due to be undertaken soon. I raised the matter with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, in a good debate on public expenditure a number of months ago in which he committed to review the project, which will cost €2.1 billion. I ask the Leader to use his good offices and follow up on the matter with the Minister to see if the review has started.

I was concerned, as were a number of people who contacted me today, to read the piece in theIrish Examiner and listen to the interview with the chairman of the Labour Party, Deputy Keaveney, on Newstalk, in which he stated clearly that should Ireland require a second round of funding — he used the words “in the unlikely event”, but most of us would agree that we will require it — the decision on whether to accept it or the Labour Party should proceed in government would have to go before Labour Party members. I voice a note of caution for the Labour Party. We dealt with such a group in the previous Government when the Green Party Ministers had to go back to party members every time they wanted to agree to an order of business. That is not the way to do it, as the Government has a mandate. Deputy Keaveney mentioned that the Government had inherited the memorandum of understanding; it did not. The Government renegotiated. It made great play of the fact that it had renegotiated the most recent one — the July memorandum of understanding.

Recently there was a vote on how the European Union should proceed on the ESM and the fiscal stability treaty during the course of which debate we spoke about the importance of stability, both within Europe and the country. I genuinely do not believe comments such as those made by Deputy Keaveney are helpful in carrying out the job of government. He stated effectively that at the end of 2013 they would be going back to Labour Party members to decide on whether they should remain in government. The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, should be requested to come here to clarify whether the formal position of the Labour Party is as enunciated by the chairman of the Labour Party. If that is the case, it will introduce a large degree of uncertainty between now and when we exit the programme at the end of 2013 in that every month we will be wondering what is happening.

I would have thought it was a most unhelpful comment. I also thought it was not coincidental that the Tánaiste, because of Government business, was not at the Labour Party Parliamentary Party meeting when the matter was raised. However, it needs to be clarified, as it is a concern. I say to my Labour Party colleagues that policy cannot be driven by popularity ratings in polls. As the Labour Party is teetering on single digits, it seems its members are a little nervous.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

I ask the Leader to request the Tánaiste to come to the House to clarity the position and state whether the programme for Government still stands.

As the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, will be in the House to take the Competition (Amendment) Bill 2011, I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that we allow him 30 minutes to update us on the Government's response in the ongoing dispute at Lagan Brick in Kingscourt. The employees who number more than 20 have been on strike for nearly six months and we have heard nothing from the Government on what is being done to assist them. As the discussion on the Competition (Amendment) Bill should not continue too long, I suggest the Leader provide 20 or 30 minutes to allow the Minister to discuss the serious issue of workers' rights and how the workers are being treated at Lagan Brick.

Senator Darragh O'Brien might be mischief-making. He knows perfectly well that the programme for Government stands.

Deputy Keaveney was mischief-making with his union buddies.

Senator Susan O'Keeffe to continue, without interruption.

I have a problem with her preferred choice of leader.

The Senator will find that the programme for Government stands as is. What Deputy Keaveney was referring to was what would happen should some event happen. I am of a mind to say my party will not be taking advice from Fianna Fáil on relationships in a coalition.

We know what can go wrong.

It is only friendly advice.

The Senators know all about it and are not seeking it nowadays.

Senator Susan O'Keeffe to continue, without interruption.

I will certainly not be taking advice from Senator Darragh O'Brien on how to provide for stable government.

Will the Senator tell that to the chairman of her party?

Senator Ivana Bacik did not seem to know anything about it last night on the "Tonight with Vincent Browne" programme.


Senator Susan O'Keeffe to continue, without interruption.

I welcome the Amnesty International 70 page report, Deadly Reprisals, which it compiled by sending its brave members on the ground to dangerous and difficult places in Syria. They did this work at the risk of death and have confirmed, as the organisation can do given its status as an international organisation, that it is state policy to overthrow those opposed to the government. Amnesty International has established that at least 10,000 people, mainly men and boys, have been killed since March 2011. Each time I stand in the Chamber I raise the matter of Syria. I urge the Government to keep it to the forefront of our efforts. It is nothing short of disgraceful what is happening in Syria.

I support the Leader on the Seanad Public Consultation Committee hearings planned for next week on the subject of cancer. They will deal with how we, as a society, can get a clear message across on how we can reduce the number of cancers. The evidence is incontrovertible. Some 30% of the most common cancers can be prevented. There is the unwelcome news from the World Health Organization that diesel fumes give rise to a 40% greater risk. This raises a serious question, if the risk is heightened so much by diesel fumes. This research was published yesterday by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and while I suspect it will not form part of our discussions next week, it should at least be in our minds.

I seek clarification of the position on Cregg House in Sligo, which matter has been raised in the House previously. I have taken advice this morning from the HSE and seek an assurance for those using Cregg House which offers services for those with intellectual disabilities that they will continue to be provided, despite the fact that the Daughters of Wisdom have stated they will withdraw in the longer term, in order that there will be no short-term risk to those using the services, their families and staff. I seek clarification from the Minister on the deficit of €1.3 million with which Cregg House cannot cope. The HSE states that this deficit is not necessary. The truth lies somewhere in between. We need to know what is happening in order that services at Cregg House can continue to be provided and rooted in the community.

I wish the Irish team the best of luck today as it prepares to play Spain. It will, I am sure, be a difficult match, but we wish it well. As spokesperson on agriculture, I also wish those involved in the Taste of Dublin festival well today.

I express concern about No. 1 on the Order Paper in which it is stated there will be no Order of Business on Tuesday next. Unless the Leader is able to give a satisfactory explanation, I shall vote against the Order of Business today.

Would the Leader be kind enough to clarify for me a serious report I have received? Apparently, there was a programme on Channel 10 News in Israel on which it was stated they had in their possession a communiqué to Jerusalem from the deputy Israeli ambassador, Ms Nurit Tinari Modai, in which she stated they should be working against Israeli activists supporting Palestinian human rights. I have worked with many of these groups, including Professor Gideon Halper and the Rabbis for Human Rights. I want the Leader to ask the Government to establish the credibility of this communiqué because if true, it is extremely serious. Ms Modai suggests undermining, attacking and shaming these activists, publishing their names and photographs and suggesting they are working for Mossad, a move that would certainly expose them to considerable danger. According to media reports, she states it is possible to obtain the name of Israeli activists and Israel should "try to hit [the activists'] soft underbellies, to publish their photographs". This, she wrote, might "cause embarrassment for their friends in Israel and their family" and sow suspicion among non-Israeli activists that "they may actually be working on behalf of Mossad". Significantly and worryingly she states: "The activity of those activists against the state is, in my evaluation, not necessarily ideological (!) but grounded in psychological reasons, (generally of disappointment with the parents, [or] sexual identity problems) or the need to obtain a residency visa in one of the countries in Europe." I am well aware of the circumstances and if the deputy Israeli ambassador is sending these types of communiqués, we have real cause for concern about the activities of the Israeli embassy. I seek clarification on this matter.

I strongly support the view expressed by Senator Susan O'Keeffe on Cregg House, which I visited during a tour of the country last year. I was immensely impressed by the work done there, the professionalism and expertise of its staff, the caring atmosphere at the facility and the happiness of the people who are using it. I did not see any waste of money and saw nothing but devotion and professionalism. Some of those using the resource are extremely vulnerable people whose lives have been made immeasurably better by the combination of the Daughters of Wisdom and the State. While I did not see a single nun on my visit, I gather an elderly nun lives at the centre. I understand, however, that the nuns have effectively had to pull out because of a decline in numbers. One must pay tribute to them for the work they did in establishing this wonderful facility. I pay particular tribute to the staff who continue to work there. They are of the highest international standard. If we allow the vulnerable to be attacked in this way, it would be a major reproach. I compliment Senator O'Keeffe on raising this important matter from the Government benches and will support her in anything she wishes to do to help to ensure Cregg House continues to operate. I am sure those using the service and their relatives will be reassured by the Senator's clear statement that there is no immediate prospect of disturbance to the facility's users.

I very much appreciate that Senator Norris is genuine in his comments on human rights in the Middle East. However, we sometimes fail to see, particular in respect of Israel, that there is another side to the story. While the Senator's worries need to be taken seriously, I am not convinced the Israeli deputy ambassador is any way responsible for any of the types of activities described. To respond to his comments on homophobia, it is fair to point out that the only country in the entire Middle East where a gay person can feel safe, secure, wanted and welcome is the State of Israel.

That is not entirely true.

I would certainly not like to be a gay person in Iran, Iraq or Syria. I had intended to speak on the situation in the Middle East and request a debate on the frightening circumstances that have arisen in Syria, which brings me back to the issue of balance. Where are all those who were so busy on their little flotilla and so worried about Palestinians and Israel? They have gone very silent on the situation in Syria. We need a balanced approach to the Middle East.

The Senator's approach is not terribly balanced. It is a smear balance.

The immediate crisis in the Middle East is in Syria. The Oireachtas and the Government need to be seen and heard on this issue. I ask the Leader to try to arrange a debate on Syria this week. I hope the House will unite in condemning the appalling tragedy being foisted on that country's people by its own so-called Government.

I wish to make a correction to what Senator Bradford has said and ask him to withdraw some of his comments, as I believe I have a right to do. The Senator is a good friend of mine but I take great offence at any suggestion that people like me who support Palestinian human rights were not involved in Syria — I was involved in Beirut at the peril of my own life — Iraq or Iran because I was.

Senator Norris, please.

All I asked for was a clarification of a diplomatic communiqué because if it is true it is dynamite——

The Senator must resume his seat.

——and reflects on other issues, including a previous election.

The record of the House will speak for itself.

That is the reason I wanted to speak the truth.

In light of the speculation on the boundary reviews, I note with interest that many Senators from the west are not present in the House. I wonder if they are meeting on the roads to Ballinrobe, Ballymoe, Williamstown and similar places on which current speculation centres. Senator Averil Power from my party is raising an issue about north County Dublin. Everyone is making way for the various eventualities.

I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by the leader of my party, Senator Darragh O'Brien, on the Lagan Brick dispute, which is now six months old. Although it commenced on the same day as the Vita Cortex dispute, it has not received anything like the same publicity as the latter. The affected workers, who are from counties Meath, Cavan and Monaghan, are suffering and have been badly treated. The discussion of the Competition (Amendment) Bill is an opportune moment for the Minister to outline to the House the Government's response to the dispute and the hardship Lagan Brick workers are suffering. This is important because the men in question — the group is primarily made up of men — have not received the support they require from various arms of the State. I have raised the matter on the Adjournment and my colleague, Deputy Brendan Smith, has raised it in the other House and the response in both cases has been less than satisfactory. The House must discuss this dispute as it has gone on for too long.

I call to mind the workers in Panda Waste in County Meath where a major fire broke out last night. I understand people living near the facility have been affected by smoke, although it seems no one was injured. Conscious that the company is a major employer in the area, I hope things will go well for it in the period ahead.

I am pleased Senator Diarmuid Wilson is present as he will be delighted with the news I have to report. I was in contact with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, yesterday who confirmed the deadline for receipt of the questionnaire on local government will be extended to 22 June and a pragmatic approach will be taken in cases where people did not receive the survey in a timely manner. He also assured me that the responses he receives will have a strong bearing on the decisions he makes on the reform of local government.

It has already gone to print.

I am sure Senator Wilson will not interrupt me as he is a gentleman. I am pleased to be able to relate that news to the House.

The pillar banks are supposed to make available loan facilities to small businesses. Approximately four months ago, when I raised this issue with the Minister of State, Deputy John Perry, he indicated, at my request, that representatives of the two largest banks would give a presentation in the audio-visual room on the methodology of providing loans to small businesses. This meeting has not yet taken place, which is not the fault of the Minister of State. I ask the Leader to contact the Minister of State on this matter and ensure the meeting is held. Senator Tom Sheahan raised this important issue on the Order of Business yesterday and on Tuesday. Given that the banks are now owned by citizens, they have a duty to appear before us and make the presentation we seek. I ask the Leader to pursue this matter on behalf of small businesses.

I refer to the national procurement service and the control it exerts over public bodies in the seeking of tenders. Last month, three local authorities, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, South County Dublin and Fingal county councils, were criticised for awarding a €750,000 contract for the supply of library books to a British company. While the reasons for awarding the contract are understandable, it means an Irish company which tendered at a price only 1% or approximately €7,000 higher than the winning tender lost out and ten people will lose their jobs. I am not certain if those figures are correct.

I understand we do not have the freedom to award contracts to companies on the basis that they are Irish. In conversation with people in France I learned that French public bodies are a little smarter than their Irish counterparts. Apparently, they do not require contracts worth below a certain threshold — perhaps €25,000 — to go to public tender. This allows them to break down a contract into a series of small tenders valued below the threshold. While they are acting in a self-interested manner, it is also a smarter approach than that which is taken here. I would like to draw attention to the fact that while we want best value for money, we want to maintain jobs in Ireland as well. Whenever we have the chance, perhaps we could act in a smarter way by reducing the amount of tenders to the amount that does not necessarily apply under European rules. It is something we should take into account.

It is always good to hear Senator O'Brien's interesting take on the Order of Business. I note from his comments this morning that Fianna Fáil is not interested in an early general election and that he confirms the party's continuing commitment to stability and a steady hand on the tiller, which thankfully this Government is providing.

We will bide our time.

In that respect, we welcome the IMF's sixth review of our funding programme with Europe, following which the tranche of €1.4 billion is being released. The IMF welcomed our financial sector reforms. It is good to know that there is an agreement between the Opposition and the Government on this issue.

We all know how people in this business play for space.

He is chairman of the Labour Party. He is not just some innocuous backbencher. Perhaps he is.

Senator Coghlan, without interruption.

Senator O'Brien may well say that, but I could not possibly comment. We will see how these matters play out over time.

Have you a question for the Leader?

I am sure the Leader will confirm what I am saying and welcome that agreement coming from Fianna Fáil.

It was announced yesterday that resource teaching time for children with learning difficulties is being reduced by 15 minutes per week, or 5%. This is on top of the 10% cutback from last year, which means each child with a special need will lose 45 minutes of learning support. I have spoken to many teachers in Waterford over the last few months and years on this issue, and they are very concerned that children with special needs are not getting the attention, care and support they need.

We can all have differences of opinion on the cuts being put in place by this Government, but surely the State should be able to shield children with special needs from cuts. Surely they should be saved from the kind of cuts to which everybody else is being subjected. If we cannot shield children with special needs, then I believe we are failing as a State. To add insult to injury, this is part of the troika arrangement which capped the number of learning support and special needs teachers at 9,950. So when the IMF comes into town and tells us that we are meeting all of its targets, it is also referring to these targets where we are putting caps on the number of learning support teachers and making sure that children with special needs are not getting the support they need.

The savings that are to be made by this decision are quite small. Surely the money could be found elsewhere and we should be able to protect special needs. The Minister said that he was quite satisfied that this was a very small reduction, but he has taken that reduction in isolation, because we have to look at the reduction last year and the year before, and the cumulative effect that these reductions are having on some of the most vulnerable children in this State. It is time to have a real debate in this House about special educational needs, the resources available and the cutbacks that are having an impact on the most vulnerable in our schools.

I support comments already made about the service provided in Cregg House, and the compassion and care provided to the service users there. I have experience of this because I know a service user who benefitted greatly from that care and compassion. I call on the HSE to make a public statement today on its future intentions for Cregg House, because the people and their families who have loved ones in the care of Cregg House deserve clarity at this very difficult time. We also need clarity on what will happen to this €1.3 million deficit.

I support Senator Bradford's call for a debate on Syria. What is going on there is absolutely appalling. I wish to commend Amnesty International's condemnation of the situation and its description of it as a "humanitarian disaster" in its report this morning. I am glad that Amnesty International has finally come out with a report on the situation in Syria. The international community has a responsibility to act now; not next month or in six months. People are losing their lives due to the inaction of the international community. It happened in the past, it is happening now and it cannot happen any longer. I would like the Tánaiste to come into this House next week and outline what the Irish Government is doing on Syria. I know the Leader is doing his best, but this House has a proud record on humanitarian work and we have a role in promoting that.

I note the withdrawal by the ESRI of its report on unemployment.

You are over time.

However, I think a debate on unemployment is long overdue. I know the Leader is working hard to facilitate that and I hope we will have such a debate in the near future.

I wish to disabuse any notion conveyed by Senator Coghlan that Fianna Fáil is supporting the Government. How could he possibly support——

I said it was supporting stability. I am talking about our joint interest in supporting stability.

Senator Mooney, without interruption.

——the Government which, in 14 months, has generated more hostility among the electorate than Fianna Fáil did in 14 years?

Senator Mooney will not fall out with me over this issue.

That is a particular legacy it will have to contend with in future. If Brian Cowen had been a bit more selfish——

That is an extraordinary statement. I have heard of rewriting history, but really——


Senator Mooney, without interruption.

That is what Fianna Fáil did when it was in government. It propagated misinformation.

If Brian Cowen had been a bit more selfish and put party interests before the country——

He did not. That is the point.

Have you a question for the Leader?

We have borne the legacy of the decisions he took in the interests of the country and history will judge him accordingly.

I would like to support the comments already made about Cregg House. I will be very interested to hear what the Leader has to say about this, although I appreciate that it is a topical issue that has just come before him. Senator O'Keeffe will know that all eight Oireachtas representatives for the Sligo-North Leitrim constituency have met with the relevant Minister on this issue. Senator O'Keeffe has not been behind the door in going to the media on each and every occasion in respect of Cregg House, so I find it a little strange that she is now asking the leader of her own Government on its position on Cregg House, when she knows it full well. There are difficulties with the deficit and with governance in Cregg House that have to be resolved. The Senator will also know that when we went on that delegation to the Minister, he made it quite clear that the Government was not going to take up the slack on the issue. There is a responsibility on the Government to take some action on the deficit. It is difficult to see the Senator wringing her hands and asking the Leader what should or should not be done, when she knows full well what should be done for Cregg House. It is a sad situation and the nuns have had no choice whatsoever but to take the action they are taking. Senator O'Keeffe will again be aware of that.

This is a very serious issue that is affecting 200 people with special needs and their families. It cannot go away and it needs to be addressed. I hope that the Leader will have some words of comfort to offer on the issue. I also fully support the views expressed about the proposed amendment to the Order of Business.

Having called for a debate on the situation in Syria last Tuesday, I would like to support strongly my colleagues who have echoed that call this morning and who want an urgent debate in this House. We must fear that a similar situation to what happened in Bosnia in the early 1990s could happen in Syria. The matter must be discussed urgently in the House.

I call for a debate on obstacles to employment creation. We heard much about the so-called ESRI report, whether it was factual or otherwise, but we must be concerned by a report in this morning's newspaper that in the past five years a restaurateur has failed to attract any application for seasonal employment from an unemployed person. Despite the fact that the restaurateur is prepared to pay well over the minimum wage, he cannot attract anyone in receipt of social welfare benefits. That is a serious matter at a time when there are 450,000 unemployed. We must have a forthright discussion on the issues that are causing people to remain on social welfare payments as distinct from taking up part-time employment.

I welcome this morning's announcement by the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, that 37 business development managers are being appointed to community enterprise centres throughout the country, three of them in my county. This is a positive development which I hope will result in a significant number of jobs being created through the centres in the various counties. In Ballinasloe, Tuam and Galway city we very much welcome the fact that new possibilities will be created for people through these centres that are doing such good work. I wish to refer, in particular, to the centre in my town which has already created 180 jobs. We hope to see this number rise to well over 200 in the coming months.

I express concern about the third leak of a sensitive report on the Irish economy from Germany's Parliament in just over six months which the European Commission has described as "extremely regrettable, unfortunate and irresponsible". I do not wish to draw inappropriate comparisons, but students of history will remember how Bismarck adjusted the wording of a particular telegram, the Ems telegram, in order to heighten tensions between France and Germany in the run-up to the Franco-Prussian War. I am not trying to cast aspersions on the intent in this case, but the Germans should know their history and the German Parliament should know that this kind of thing is not conducive to good relationships between countries, particularly at a time when Germany holds the whip hand to such a degree in Europe and people are concerned about the "Germanisation" of European policy. Smaller countries, in particular, are understandably sensitive that they find themselves in a position of vulnerability where their financial and economic affairs are now subject to scrutiny in foreign parliaments. That is all the more reason parliamentarians should act with responsibility and decorum. This is not only extremely regrettable but also potentially very harmful to this country's interests, the interests of the European Union as a whole and the necessary harmony between member states at a time of crisis. Mr. Dan O'Brien, writing inThe Irish Times today, makes the valid point that if there had been such leaks in the run-up to the Belfast Agreement, no agreement would have been possible. Three times is three times too many. The Government must take the lead in communicating its views, not just to the European Union and the European Commission but also to the German Government and ask it to communicate its displeasure at what has happened for a third time to the German Parliament. I hope there will be an end to the leaks.

I wish to respond to Senator Thomas Byrne's comments on the west and Senators from there. I assure him the west is fully represented in the House this morning.

"The West's Awake".

The west is wide awake.

I join colleagues in raising the issue of Cregg House. It is regrettable to hear that the sisters are withdrawing from the services. We should have a meeting with the HSE and the Minister to see if there is any way we can at the eleventh hour solve the problem. There is a deficit of €1.3 million. We must make an effort because we cannot allow vulnerable people with disabilities to be affected. We must and will meet the Minister once again on the issue.

I compliment Senator Denis Landy on ensuring the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, extended the deadline for the return of the questionnaire submitted to councillors on local government reform, something his colleague could not achieve. It would not make a difference, however, if he was to extend the deadline for another month. The proposals are already in place and about to be published by the Minister.

On a point of order, it is a period of a week.

The Minister is not interested in hearing what we or councillors have to say on local government reform.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

On numerous occasions we have requested the Minister to come to the House to outline his plans and give us an opportunity to bring forward our proposals, but he has ignored us. I could understand he not being allowed to attend before the referendum, but there is no excuse for him not to come before this House in the coming days.

I join my leader, Senator Darragh O'Brien, and Senator Thomas Byrne in requesting the Leader to provide 20 or 30 minutes for the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, to outline the Government's position on the dispute involving the Lagan Brick workers who are almost six months in dispute in Kingscourt, County Cavan. I would really appreciate it if the Leader could facilitate our request.

Just down the road in Bailieborough, County Cavan, Flair International, a company with a skilled workforce and a very proud tradition for many decades — it provided employment for more than 100 people at one stage — which was producing a quality product for a substantial export market went into liquidation on 6 June and 56 workers lost their jobs. All they will be entitled to is statutory redundancy payments. If the Leader can facilitate the appearance of the Minister for 20 or 30 minutes, I ask that he also address the latter issue to ensure the workers receive their full entitlements.

I join in the call for a debate on the situation in the Middle East. I do not necessarily agree with my colleague, Senator Paul Bradford. I visited Gaza four weeks after the Israeli forces had used white phosphorous and cluster munitions in an incident in which more than 340 children were killed. The problem is of long standing and in Gaza, in particular, little progress has been made in finding a solution to the problem. As I indicated previously in the House, Gaza is a strip of land stretching for 35 miles — the same distance from Cork to Youghal — and 10 miles wide, with 1.5 million people locked inside it. It is time we had a reasoned debate on how we can find a solution to the problems within it.

When we have a debate on the situation in the Middle East, we should also have a debate on the arms trade and how it is in its interests to ensure the conflict continues. Israel is the fourth biggest manufacturer of arms and munitions, yet it imported €1.4 billion worth of munitions from the United States in a four year period. We should discuss why very little work is being done at a European or an international level to restrict the work being done by people who are making large sums of money out of conflict. That is an issue to be considered also.

I refer to the level of absenteeism in the health service. It is an issue we must examine. We have a problem with absenteeism in certain categories. I will quote two figures.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

I do. If we are having a debate on health care, we must also examine the issues of value for money and the cost of absenteeism. Absenteeism among the medical profession, wherein some people work 60 to 70 hours per week, is less than 1% whereas the level is as high as 5.7% among management and general support staff. These figures do not add up. It is about time we held a serious debate on the issue. People are getting full pay while on sick leave. No changes have been made despite the restricted funds we have available for health care. We need to get value for money. Although some people are sick or have genuine reasons for being absent——

The Senator has gone over time.

——there is a significant difference between 1% and 5.7%.

To clarify, did Senator Wilson second the amendment?

It had already been seconded by Senator Byrne.

However, I would be glad to second it.

Yesterday morning, I attended the publication of the Women's Aid 2011 annual statistics report. As many Senators know, Women's Aid is the national organisation providing support and information to women experiencing domestic violence. It has the only free national domestic violence helpline, with specialised and trained staff and an interpretation service covering 170 languages. I was fascinated to learn that we could provide such a service. Women's Aid offers a Dublin-based one-to-one support service and a court accompaniment service. It also refers women to local refuges and support services throughout the country.

Women using the organisation's helpline disclosed 13,000 incidents of physical, emotional, sexual and financial abuse in 2011. There were 2,000 disclosures of direct emotional, physical and sexual abuse of children in homes where mothers are being abused. This is a 25% increase on the previous year's figure. Ms Margaret Martin stated:

1 in 5 women in Ireland are affected by physical, emotional, sexual and financial abuse. The sad fact is that it can happen to any woman, in any home and at any stage in her life. In 2011, women disclosed that they were punched, slapped, kicked, held down and strangled and beaten with household items. Women told us that they were constantly belittled, criticised, blamed and stalked and harassed via technology both during the relationship and after leaving.

Is Senator White seeking a debate?

I am seeking a debate with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. Weekly and sometimes daily, the tabloid media present us with stories of celebrity marriages and fairytale "bling" situations. CNN has a visionary project that aims to eliminate slavery around the world. It advertises this project every night. Would it not be good if our tabloid, sensationalist media took on the issue of domestic abuse and spelled out that——

Has Senator White a question for the Leader?

——one in five women in this country——

Look at what the media does with the information.

Daily, the national tabloids present us with sometimes obscene, borderline pornographic pictures. Why would they not do something to help society——

Has the Senator a question for the Leader?

——instead of coming up with titillating headlines to get sales?

Given the withdrawn ESRI report, it would be helpful if the Leader asked the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, to attend the House urgently to clarify the facts about social welfare entitlements. This issue needs to be resolved quickly. Many concerns are being raised nationally, but we want to ensure our social welfare rates encourage work.

I must express my outrage at a third leak from the Bundestag and Germany's most powerful finance committee. Do German politicians not realise our sensitivities? It is an insult to Irish people. We just concluded a long, arduous and confusing campaign and got a "Yes" vote. We are playing our part. The Commission must take responsibility and take action against the Bundestag, which does not deserve to receive another report unless it commits to preventing leaks without the agreement of all EU committees. Our finance committee received the report from the Commission at the same time. This situation is not good enough. It is important the Leader asks the Tánaiste and the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy Creighton, to convey our concerns. If every European parliament behaved in that way, we would never get anything done. I agree with Senator Mullen, in that work should be done quietly until an agreement or decision is reached. Leaks prevent progress.

Perhaps the Taoiseach should put another call through to Angela.

Unhelpful leaks prevent progress.

Perhaps the Taoiseach should ring Chancellor Merkel to hear what she says.

Senator Healy Eames is out of time.

I appreciate that, but——


I am not happy with Germany's actions or with the Commission's lack of action against Germany. The Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister of State should convey this concern. I stand today to represent the Irish people on this matter. This situation is not good enough.

Perhaps I stand alone, but I welcome the leaks. It is important that such information be in the public domain. The report clearly states that public service pay is too high and unsustainable, as everyone knows, and that reducing it, especially at the top levels, would be preferable to reducing numbers and affecting the delivery of services. This is common sense. The information should have been put into the public domain when the troika gave the report to the Government. Why was it not?

These Houses are meant to debate difficult issues and different opinions. I feel strongly on this matter and I am seeking a debate with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, even though there has been no reform. According to recent information, taxation receipts have increased dramatically in the past five months, but our expenditure has exceeded targets by 3.6%. Between 2009 and 2011, the previous Government set targets to reduce the public service pay bill by 4% on an annualised basis. The current Government has lowered that target to 1.75% during the next three years. It is doing precisely what it recommended should not be done when it was in opposition, namely, trying to tax itself out of the current difficulty. We are taking money out of the productive economy and hard-pressed home owners who are trying to meet their mortgage repayments to pay for the public service and unsustainable social welfare rates that are far beyond those found in other EU countries. This situation cannot continue, given the fact our economy lacks competitiveness.

Fianna Fáil increased the rates.

No Minister takes competitiveness seriously. We need a firm debate on the issue. We need to reduce our economy's costs. For years, I have referred to the scandal that is legal fees, yet nothing has been done to arrest that situation.

That is incorrect.

We need to take stock of what we are doing if we are to correct this economy and chart it on the right course.

Will the Leader ask the Taoiseach to extend a welcome to the 12,000 international pilgrims in Ireland for the Eucharistic Congress? Ireland Stand Up made a call yesterday evening. A welcome from the Taoiseach would be appropriate. They are adding to our economy and that should be recognised.

The Senator is way over time. I call Senator Michael D'Arcy.

The points made by Senator White are worthy——

Several Senators have indicated they wish to speak.

——of a debate. It has its genesis in the fragmentation of families.

The Senator is supporting the call for the debate on that matter.

Will the leader arrange for a debate on this issue?

Senator Mooney has had a long and distinguished career in broadcasting. If it ever finishes, he could take up a career in comedy. He certainly made Senator Wilson laugh with his comments earlier.

Can the Senator translate that because I did not understand it?

Senator Michael D'Arcy without interruption.

For some time I have raised the matter of schools that qualified for DEIS status but were not awarded it. Last night, I raised it again on the Adjournment and requested the schools to be identified. The response from the Minister last night stated they would not be identified.

We cannot re-open yesterday's debate this morning.

Let me finish, a Chathaoirligh. Will the schools be identified so that we can see the scope of the problem and the extent of how much money may be required to ensure the most vulnerable pupils are catered for? I will be putting down an all-party motion on this matter and hope all parties will support it.

Members rightly bring up issues of human rights and human rights abuses across the world. This morning Members referred to human rights abuses in Syria and the annihilation of its citizens by their Government. Members also raise human rights abuses in Palestine and in Colombia here and at the foreign affairs committee. Accordingly, will the Leader organise a debate on human rights abuses in the North of Ireland and the possible breaches of the Good Friday Agreement and the Weston Park Agreement, both signed by the British and Irish Governments, that stated on-the-runs would be treated the same as those prisoners covered in the agreements? Yesterday, we had a briefing organised by Deputies Éamon Ó Cuív and Maureen O'Sullivan on Gerry McGeough. His 11 year old daughter spoke to us about the conditions in which her father is held. He has suffered two heart attacks due to a lack of exercise and poor nutrition. Doctors have said because of his health conditions he should not be in prison. Some 100 miles up the road there is a person suffering human rights abuse in prison. I want this issue debated in the House.

Yesterday, we discussed the issue of pardons. The issue of the Good Friday Agreement is relevant in the fact that——

Has the Senator a question for the leader?

The issue of pardons and human rights issues in the North of Ireland are relevant to this debate. While we broaden our sympathies, we need not lessen our loyalties. We had an interesting case where the Minister for Defence yesterday referred to Derry as Londonderry. Recently, he seems to be getting many words wrong.

Both are legal and right and recognised as such.

Derry City Council.

Senator Daly without interruption. Has the Senator a question for the Leader?

He also described the position of the then Government, the people and the Army on neutrality during the Second World War as morally bankrupt.

Has the Senator a question for the Leader?

The Senator said the same yesterday. He should be fined for repetition.

Senator Norris, can you please refrain from interrupting other Senators? Senator Daly must conclude and I call Senator Moran.

I just want the record from yesterday to be clarified regarding a statement by another Senator. I want to quote——-

Senator Daly, we are way over time and I have called Senator Moran.

I just want to quote one of those who deserted. He said it was due to poor conditions, boredom and the better pay in the British Army.

That is a great tribute to the de Valera Government.

Senator Daly, resume your seat.

I have no problems with pardons. I wanted to clarify that for Senator Gilroy.

Will the Leader organise an urgently needed debate on disability services? I have raised it time and time again. I apologise if I make this a personal issue but I do so as the parent of a child with a disability and representing many people with disabilities in my area. Recently, respite services for children with disabilities were reduced to ten days out of every 30 with no prospect of respite services for the immediate future due to a €1.5 million cutback this year and €4.5 million over the past several years. It is imperative that services are available for our most vulnerable and youngest children with disabilities. I recently heard someone ask why we need to pay nurses to watch over children when they sleep. As the parent of a child who sleeps at most three hours a night, respite is my lifeline. We talk about trying to encourage women into politics. Oireachtas life does not particularly lend itself to being a homemaker. It makes it especially hard when one is coping with a child with a disability.

Recently, I spoke with the elderly parents of a paraplegic 37 year old with an intellectual disability who will not get a place in residential care. They were told the best solution for them would be to move into a nursing home where the average age would be 70 years. No one would like to see a 37 year old told this is all that is left for him or her. We need to examine our disability services and ensure the money follows the patient. There have been cutbacks in many disability organisations. Many of them cannot cut back any more.

I find it incredible for Senator Walsh to call for a reduction in social welfare rates when Fianna Fáil bought three elections by increasing social welfare.

Has the Senator a question for the Leader?

What about the promises in the programme for Government?

There seems to be no consistency in how District Court judges determine maintenance payments when families split up. In many cases in Roscommon which involve couples on social welfare, I noted a judge made an award of €80 to the woman who had custody of the children. In other neighbouring counties, if the man takes charge of the children, the judge will determine he gets a payment of €5. Some judges are putting people into consistent poverty through the awards they make. Talking to solicitors, I note many of these judges do not have the expertise to deal with these issues and come down on men unfairly over women. Will the Leader organise a debate on this matter? I am all for what is reasonable and fair so that those on social welfare can make the payments awarded by judges.

I welcome Ireland's selection as host for the European team track and field championships next year. Athletes from up to 12 countries will participate in these championships and it will be a major tourism boost.

We have many search-and-recovery and sub-aqua units in various parts of the country, particularly along the coast. Can we have a debate with the Minister on these units? The Dundalk sub-aqua club has a voluntary search-and-recovery unit on call and ready at any time to respond to calls for rescue or recovery of missing persons from rivers, lakes, harbours and coastal waters in the north east. They have assisted the emergency services in Northern Ireland, and they traverse the entire country. There was a recent dreadful tragedy at Union Hall——

Is the Senator seeking a debate?

Yes, and the Seanad should recognise the part these people play on a voluntary basis. They take time off from work, often a week or a fortnight——

Those points can be made during the debate.

That is okay. Will the Leader arrange a debate involving the Minister responsible for the marine at an early date?

Senator O'Brien, the Leader of the Opposition, spoke about the programme for Government. I assure the Senator that the programme for Government stands and the Labour Party is part of the Government. The Government is stable.

That is excellent. I will sleep well tonight.

With regard to the request for the amendment to the Order of Business, the relevant Minister will take the matter as he is here for the Competition (Amendment) Bill after the Order of Business. The Lagan Brick issue is with the Labour Relations Commission and there is probably not much for the Minister to add. He will speak on the matter for a maximum of 20 minutes. The time will be provided.

That is much appreciated. I thank the Leader.

Senator O'Keeffe, along with Senators Norris, Conway, Mooney and Comiskey, spoke about the Cregg House issue. Everybody complimented the devotion and professionalism of the staff in Cregg House and there is clearly a problem with the deficit there. I will take up the matter with the Minister for Health and perhaps an Adjournment matter could be raised as well. Senator Comiskey has stated that Members could try to arrange a meeting with the Minister in order to solve this issue. I will bring the matter to the Minister's attention and I recommend that Senators with an interest in the matter would try to arrange a meeting with the Minister to discuss it. The issue must be solved and everybody agrees that tremendous work is done in Cregg House, which should be complimented.

Senator Norris spoke about the Israeli Embassy. If the Senator provides me with all the information he has, I will pass it to the Tánaiste and we can see where it goes from there.

I thank the Leader. What about the Order of Business on Tuesday?

The public consultation committee will sit from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. next Tuesday, with business after that. The Order of Business for that day would only contain the Criminal Justice (Search Warrants) Bill 2012, and it is not necessary to have an Order of Business.

It is a very bad practice. I will not call a vote on the Order of Business on this occasion but I will the next time.

The Leader, without interruption.

A number of Senators correctly raised the situation in Syria. Approximately eight Senators also raised the matter on Tuesday, and there is much repetition in that regard. I replied comprehensively on the Syria matter, expressing the Government's absolute horror and revulsion about the recent events there. I will try to arrange a debate on the matter with the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade in early course, as it is necessary.

I am thankful for Senator Landy's clarification with regard to the extension of the timeframe for the questionnaire for councillors. He also spoke about credit for small business, which was also raised by a number of Members, including Senator Sheahan yesterday. There was a call to bring in representatives of the two banks and I will raise the matter with the Minister of State responsible for small business, Deputy John Perry, as requested by the Senator.

Senator Quinn spoke about the national procurement agency, rightly pointing out that we must maintain jobs, where possible, at all costs. We should examine the procedures that exist, and the French have given an example of how to bend procedures in order to comply with the law. That is something we should be doing and I will raise it with the Minister. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, will be here to deal with the Competition (Amendment) Bill. There was a very comprehensive debate on all aspects of that Bill over a number of months, and the matter could be raised on later Stages of that Bill.

Senator Cullinane spoke about special needs resources and Senator Moran spoke about disability services. I will certainly endeavour to have the relevant Minister in here to discuss those items. Senator Mullins mentioned obstacles to employment creation, an issue which has been discussed on numerous occasions in the House. It can also be discussed in conjunction with the Competition (Amendment) Bill. We all welcome the appointment of business development managers throughout the country to assist enterprise centres, and we hope jobs will flow as a result.

Senators Mullen and Healy Eames spoke about the leaks from the German Parliament finance committee. I agree completely that this is not conducive to good relations and it is regrettable that these leaks have taken place. The Government relayed its displeasure about the previous leak and I am sure it will do so again on this occasion. I agree with the comments of both Senators in that regard.

I have acceded to the request to discuss the Lagan Brick issue, as raised by Senator Wilson. I do not know if the Minister will be stretched on the other company.

It is about jobs.

The Senators can try to do so. Senator Burke called for a debate on health care and absenteeism. Senator White outlined the position on the Women's Aid statistics report, and it is frightening to hear that 13,000 cases of abuse were registered last year. She quite rightly highlights the domestic abuse taking place in the country and perhaps we can arrange a debate around that subject in the early course.

Senator Walsh raised a number of items and the Minister for Finance will come to the House on 3 July. Perhaps he will have the opportunity to discuss some of those items on that occasion. Senator D'Arcy raised an issue on the Adjournment and is clearly not satisfied with the reply. I am sure if he could take the matter up directly with the Minister, he will get the necessary response. The Senator should explore that option before putting down motions in the House.

Senator Daly raised the matter of human rights issues in Northern Ireland, which concern the Good Friday Agreement. I am sure the relevant committee will deal with that subject. Senator Kelly raised the issue of maintenance payments and we may be able to discuss that. There is little we can do with what the judges decide.

Senator Terry Brennan rightly praised the search and rescue units for the wonderful work they do all around the coastline, on which they are to be complimented. I am sure all Senators would join in praising those involved.

I did not receive an answer to my query.

I replied to it when I replied to Senators David Cullinane and Mary Moran on the matter of special needs and disability services.

I thank the Leader for acceding to our request. On that basis, I withdraw our proposed amendment to the Order of Business. I look forward to the discussion with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.

Order of Business agreed to.