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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 4 Jul 2012

Vol. 216 No. 8

Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, motion of the Seanad Select Committee on Members' Interests noting a report to the Standards in Public Office Commission, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate, No. 2 Credit Guarantee Bill 2012 — Report and Final Stages, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1, and to conclude no later than 1 p.m., No. 3 Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2012 — all Stages, to be taken at 1 p.m. and to conclude no later than 2.30 p.m., with the contribution of group spokespersons at the debate stage not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be given 10 minutes to reply to the debate with Committee and Remaining Stages taken immediately thereafter, No. 4, the Gaeltacht Bill 2012 — Committee Stage resumed to be taken at 3 p.m. and to be adjourned at 5 p.m., if not previously concluded, and No. 22, motion No. 10, Private Members' business to be taken at 5 p.m. and to conclude no later than 7 p.m.

I wish to give advance notice to the House that we will sit on Friday, 13 July and Friday, 20 July to deal with legislation before we rise for the summer recess.

I thank the Leader for the advance notice regarding the Friday sittings.

Fourteen times in the last two months I have raised the issue of pyrite and the lack of action from the Government on the matter. I remind Members that there are potentially over 70,000 houses affected by pyrite. They are predominantly in Dublin and on the east coast in the greater Dublin area. I have visited many houses affected by pyrite and many of them are unsafe and uninhabitable. The houses are valueless but their owners must pay their mortgages. HomeBond has washed its hands of the issue and insurance companies and local authorities do not want to know. The Government has put together an expert group that was supposed to report in February, then it was March, then April and then May. I know that the Leader has done his best and I am not criticising him. All I ask is that people, including the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, visit a family or home where people have been affected by pyrite, where their house is unsafe, where there are cracks in the walls the size of a fist, where they cannot use the bathroom, where they are paying mortgages of €1,500 and €2,000 per month yet they have no recourse to anyone. I have reminded the House repeatedly that the longer the delay the more people will become statute barred and they will not have recourse to the courts. The average remediation cost for a standard three bedroom house is €30,000. Of the 72,500 houses estimated to be affected only 700 houses, or 1%, have been remediated which was due to a court case taken by a builder against the quarries.

I give the Leader advance notice that Fianna Fáil has prepared a Bill called the home remediation Bill 2012 that I intend to publish before the summer recess in order to give real support to people affected by pyrite. I have held off publishing my Bill because I want to see the Government's report by the pyrite expert group. I hope that its report is published before my Bill. I sincerely ask the Leader to return next week with a date on when the report will be issued. If not, I will publish my legislation and we will proceed with it.

Last February the Minister for Health attended the House for a debate on the HSE's service plans. We need an urgent debate on the HSE and its financial situation. I raised the matter two weeks ago. I estimate that we will have an overspend of close to €1 billion by the end of the year. A few months ago seven directors were announced but they have not been appointed. It is the Minister's board but he made it stand down. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, is exceptionally concerned about how the HSE operates but the Minister for Health is clueless about it. I would like the Minister for Health to come the House before the recess for a proper debate on the Government's plans for the rest of this year and how we will arrest the overspend and ensure that front-line services are protected. I want him to explain why the one group of people that have not been affected by public sector cuts are the consultants, his colleagues. He used to represent them at the Irish Medical Organisation. I would like him to come here and explain the logic of that when normal nurses, orderlies and hospital staff have all suffered cuts. The Minister's friends have not. I want him to explain why a public consultant is paid €200,000 from the State before he or she deals with private practice. We need the debate and I ask for it to take place urgently.

Yesterday, we had a useful session in the House when we discussed the finance statements with the Minister for Finance. Today's newspaper headlines show some more room for cautious positivity with the tax take for the first half of the year €500 million ahead of target. The Minister fairly set out the position yesterday and spoke, in particular, about the recent positive announcement on the decoupling of bank and sovereign debts, which we all welcome. It would be useful to have him back in the autumn. Yesterday other Senators called for debates on finance in the lead up to the budget or even earlier in September or October. It would be good to hold a debate at that point on finance and on the outcome of the negotiations that are taking place at EU level about decoupling and breaking the vicious circle of state and bank debts. We all recognise that the talks taking place in Rome today between Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Monti of Italy are very important, particularly as the Finnish Government has expressed strong opposition to decoupling. We must watch that debate with great interest.

I also ask the Leader for a debate on the proposed merger of the Irish Human Rights Commission and the Equality Authority. I have just come from a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality where we heard submissions from various interest groups on the heads of a Bill. The committee will publish a report on the heads of the Bill that the Minister for Justice and Equality has published. It would be useful for the Seanad to have a debate on the committee's report prior to the Bill being published and I hope that the legislation will commence in this House, as a lot of justice Bills are. It would be good to have a debate on the issues involved. There are some particular issues that groups like the Irish Human Rights Commission and the Equality Rights Alliance have raised about the heads of the Bill. They raised issues that they would like to see addressed in the drafting of the Bill. We might usefully debate it in the Seanad early in the autumn.

I have come from the same meeting as the Senator and echo her call for a debate. She raised an important issue. One of the central issues emerging on the workings of the new body is the question of what constitutes appropriate independence. There is an understandable fear of excessive Government interference in the appointment and workings of such a body. In some quarters there is a suspicion about the appropriateness of the Oireachtas having to oversee appointments. Perhaps if people had a better understanding of the precise balance of power between the Oireachtas, the Executive and the Legislature then they might not be so worried. They might see the Oireachtas as a suitable ally to ensure independence.

It is also clear that independence from politicians is not the only type of independence that is important. Our colleague, Senator Zappone, served with great distinction with the Irish Human Rights Commission and I know people are grateful for her good service. Another person that I would single out is Professor William Binchy who has provided a unique and irreplaceable voice in articulating what I would regard as an authentic human rights vision. He was a Government appointee. Whatever mode of appointment there will be for the new body, it is possible for watchdogs of human rights to lose perspective and they do not always guarantee a full independence of mind or a full diversity and inclusiveness of vision. I will examine the legislation from that point of view. I hope that whatever we establish takes a broad and inclusive view of human rights considerations and that it does not become the preserve of particular visions that might be in the ascendent within the current establishment.

I shall comment briefly on the concern expressed this morning by my former boss, Dr. Seán McDonagh, on the particular importance of mathematics in education. It is an issue that we need to continue to debate. I heard the Minister for Education and Skills discuss it and we need to engage with him further. Yesterday, I spoke to a member of the United States Senate and it is concerned about how Europe is addressing its economic challenges, how we will guarantee our competitiveness in the long term and whether we are ready to make the sacrifices necessary in order to ensure competitiveness. It is critical that we produce students that will attain a high standard in subjects like mathematics and we need to continue to debate the matter in the House.

I wish to raise the same issue as Senator Mullen and to discuss and call for a debate on mathematics. I wish to discuss the uptake of higher level mathematics and standards attained. It was the subject of a report from the National Competitiveness Council that was announced on radio this morning and I heard the Minister being interviewed on the subject. This year there is 25 bonus points for students taking honours maths exams but he said that it was not enough. He was not given an opportunity to expand on his comment. We should focus on the matter. Last week we discussed the Gaeltacht Bill and will do so again today and tomorrow because it is important but mathematics is extremely important too. The subject has not been discussed openly enough when we debated it here and in the Lower House. It is essential for the future competitiveness of the economy, as the National Competitiveness Council has said. If the IDA and Enterprise Ireland are focusing on jobs that require a level of mathematical attainment, the education system needs to respond to that. Legislators also need to respond to that demand.

I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 11, First Stage of the Access to Cancer Treatment Bill 2012, be taken before No. 1.

The time between now and the end of the session is limited and the House will be sitting on Fridays. Could the Minister for Health be brought to the House? As Senator Darragh O'Brien has said, some of the commentary at the recent meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts is worrying. The chief executive of the HSE, Mr. Cathal Magee, has indicated that the HSE may have a deficit of as much as €500 million. Like Senator O'Brien, I fear it may be worse than that. Mr. Magee said assumptions on which the HSE 2012 service plan was made are no longer valid. In an alleged aside to Deputy Deasy, it is claimed he said that if the HSE were to operate to the plan it would have to close beds, wards and possibly even hospitals. We are concerned on this side of the House, as I am sure all Members are, about the protection of front-line services, which are critical to people, between now and the end of the year. I ask the Leader to raise this matter with the Minister, with a view to bringing him to the House.

As today is 4 July, it is appropriate to send our good wishes to all our American friends and to welcome the many visitors from the United States who are in our country at present. I hope they have an enjoyable visit and spread the good news that our country is open for business and available for investment.

Earlier this morning, I attended an interesting briefing given by the library and research service in partnership with the Central Statistics Office. As a result of that, I ask the Leader to organise, in the next Seanad session, a full and comprehensive debate on the 2011 census results. They give interesting information that should be of interest to policy makers and politicians like ourselves who are shaping policy for the future.

Our population has risen by 8.2%, 348,000 people, since 2006 and by 30% since 1991, and the average age of our population has increased to 36.1 years. We have 136,000 elderly people living alone and 475,000 people living in rented accommodation, up 57% since 2006. Surprisingly, two thirds of households use public sewerage schemes, which seems a high number given the recent brouhaha about the septic tank charge. The labour force is growing at the rate of 1.1% per annum and unemployment in the 15 to 24 age bracket is 38%. There is some significant information there which we need to tease out to help us make important decisions for the future. I ask the Leader to consider having a debate on this matter in the next session of the Seanad.

All Senators will have seen yesterday's newspaper report of a woman in County Donegal who had to transport gardaí to her burgled home because no Garda car was available. When she reported the burglary, she was told by a garda that he did not have access to a patrol car. Could the Minister for Justice and Equality be brought to the House to discuss this issue? The Garda press office has not released a comment on the matter. There has been a growth in crime in rural areas. In Manorcunningham, where this occurred, a blind pensioner was recently robbed and there have also been robberies at a local chip shop and car dealership. It is alarming that there is no Garda patrol car in the area. We need to consider the lack of resources available to gardaí. We must not encourage criminals by slow Garda response time. Lack of resources allows criminals to get away with their crimes.

I welcome the Being Young and Irish event hosted by President Higgins in Áras an Uachtaráin yesterday. The President has sought submissions on this issue. Senator Mullins mentioned youth unemployment. I renew my call to the Leader for a discussion on youth unemployment, emigration and the wider area of youth policy. Yesterday's Financial Times reports, “In the hour it takes students at Trinity College to sit through a lecture, eight people leave Ireland in search of work.” I renew my call for a discussion on youth unemployment and emigration.

I raise an issue mentioned by a colleague yesterday and in a national newspaper this morning. I refer to absenteeism in the health service. The health service appears to be unable to respond to the issues that cause absenteeism. For example, nurses who are pregnant are not assigned to lighter duties. One report said more than 50% of nurses who were pregnant were on sick leave for more than four weeks prior to taking maternity leave.

We need to respond to the demands of employees in order to reduce absenteeism. The HSE does not appear to have adopted a structured approach. The matter needs to be brought to the attention of the Minister and it would be appropriate to have a debate on it. How do we reduce absenteeism, particularly in the HSE and among nursing and administrative staff? It is easy to blame employees but employers need to anticipate why the problem is arising.

In one hospital, absenteeism among nurses between January and March of this year was 15%. That level of absenteeism cannot have been caused by employees alone. There must have been a total lack of response to issues by management. At a time when the health budget is overrunning and absenteeism is a huge cost, it is time this problem was tackled in a structured and proactive way.

I support Senator Bacik. It would be a very good idea to discuss the report of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. There are serious concerns about a possible breach of the Paris principles. Earlier, we heard about the arms length principle. The Minister is purporting to appoint someone directly, virtually by name, to this post. I objected to this when Fianna Fáil tried to do it. The appointment to a board by a committee appointed by the Minister violates every notion of independence and is an appalling example of creeping bureaucracy.

What is the status of the proposal to introduce gay marriage? The Minister for Justice and Defence, Deputy Alan Shatter, made it clear at the meeting of the European Gay Police Association that he would, urgently, bring the matter to Cabinet. The Tánaiste, Deputy Gilmore, indicated strong support for it recently. The Taoiseach has suggested tossing it into the constitutional review committee which seems to be a kind of dustbin for everything, except Seanad Éireann.

Questions have been raised about the constitutionality of this measure. In the Irish language version of the Constitution, Bunreacht na hÉireann which takes precedence over the English language one, the word used for family is teaghlach which comes from tigh, meaning house. What is meant, intended and specified in the superior version of the Constitution, which has force in law, is a word that means household community. A gay couple living together constitutes a household community. The question is not whether or not it would be unconstitutional to introduce gay marriage but whether or not it is a violation of the Constitution to deny gay marriage. The Irish language version of the Constitution would seem to support this.

I would be grateful if the Leader could answer the serious question I raised about Mrs. Nurit Modai, the Israeli deputy ambassador. I raised this matter some weeks ago and have yet to receive a reply.

I would like it on the official record, if possible. Due to other circumstances I may not be able to wait for the reply. The Leader may decide not to grant me the courtesy of replying on the record but if he sends me a note I shall put on the record.

I support the call by Senator Reilly for a debate on youth unemployment. The Joint Committee on Jobs, Social Protection and Education, of which I am a member, is taking this issue very seriously. We are concerned about emigration among the youth of this country. I have previously suggested that we should give half of social welfare payments to employers in order to employ people but if we are serious about keeping those younger than 25 years old in this country we need to think about more than subsidising employers. I suggest that employers should receive the full payment for any individual under the age of 25 who is on social welfare. At the end of the day there would be a net gain for the country from such an initiative. If we paid a full social welfare payment to an employer in order to employ somebody, he or she would still be paying tax, PRSI and the universal social charge. The issue of self-esteem also arises. In order to retain the qualities we have in this country we need to think seriously. If we are already paying to keep people in bed, we should be doing the same to keep people in work. This House needs to arrange a serious debate on the issue, alongside the debate that is taking place in the Joint Committee on Jobs, Social Protection and Education.

I join Senator Mullins in congratulating the American people on their Independence Day and I offer my best wishes to the US ambassador, Dan Rooney, and his wife. It was great that the ambassador attended yesterday's discussion in the House along with the British ambassador. I ask the Leader to correspond with the US ambassador on behalf of the Seanad. All of us would agree that it is an important day and there are so many connections between our countries that the fact that the Seanad is thinking of them today would be appreciated.

I ask the Leader to arrange an early debate on job creation. I am particularly interested in a statement made over the weekend by Eddie O'Connor, who is the CEO of Mainstream Renewable Power and former chief executive of Bord na Móna. Mr. O'Connor proposes to create 40,000 jobs with a €12.5 billion plan to export electricity from Ireland to Britain. Ireland will meet its mandatory targets for renewable energy by 2020. This proposal should be supported by the Government and Mr. O'Connor should be invited to work with it on job creation because he has a good track record in this regard. We could cut imports of oil by €3 billion per annum. There is no doubt about the number of jobs this plan could create. We have one of the best opportunities for developing wind energy and Mr. O'Connor proposes to construct wind turbines in Ireland. Wind turbines do not need to be located in tourism areas and can be sited where they do not affect the environment. I look forward to debating the Bill prepared by Senator Kelly, if it ever sees the light of day again.

I am confident that it will.

I am delighted that the Bill will be regenerated and renewed in this House. In some countries, wind turbines are located along major highways or in industrial estates and, as such, do not affect local residents. I am losing confidence in the Government because it is not really achieving much.

We had a great record when it came to job creation.

That is a joke.

I second the proposal by Senator MacSharry.

Senator Leyden should have done that at the outset but he lost the run of himself.

I was too involved in job creation.

I acknowledge the presence in the Visitors' Gallery of Councillor Seanie Lonergan from Cahir, County Tipperary, and his colleague. It is nice to see local government members visiting the Chamber to see how we operate. If Senator Leyden wants to be updated on the Bill to which he referred, Senator Kelly and I would be glad to facilitate him.

I refer to the difficulties affecting the non-principal private residence charge. Senator Mooney raised this issue in the context of a debate with the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan. I ask that the Minister of State examine the issue further. A group of people in this country are unable to live in their own houses because their financial circumstances prevent them from meeting their mortgage payments. They are living in rented accommodation while trying to rent out their houses. They only own one house but they are none the less required to pay the non-principal private residence charge. These individuals have been badly affected by the Celtic tiger and are in grave financial difficulty. They have been forgotten in all the efforts this Government has made to assist those who face mortgage difficulties. I might add that the Government has been working very well in this regard. This charge has been left out of the loop and I ask the Leader to communicate with the Minister of State on the need to investigate the effect of the charge on those who can no longer afford to live in their own houses.

I wish to address a matter that has been raised by other Members, namely, the cost of sick pay to the public sector and the taxpayer. This issue was highlighted on several radio stations this morning on foot of the response to a parliamentary question raised by a Deputy in the other House. On last night's Adjournment Debate I spoke about the proposed transfer of sick pay costs from the Department of Social Protection to employers. If the Government agrees this proposal, employers who are already under pressure to sustain employment, provide services and play their part in economic growth and recovery will face an unjustifiable, unfair and discriminatory cost. The response I received on the Adjournment Debate was very poor and it was unfair to employers.

I do not refer to multinationals; I refer to the shopkeeper or barber who may employ two or three people and to the country's chambers of commerce. I call for the Minister for Social Protection to come to the House to discuss her proposals for targeting employers and those who are employed in small businesses. We need an urgent debate on this issue because it is unfair at a time when absenteeism is not being addressed in the public sector that absenteeism in the private sector is going to be passed onto employers. It is time the Minister woke up to the reality that faces a private sector which employs almost 1 million people in this country. It is justifiable to ask the Minister to come before the House prior to the summer recess.

I support the calls for a debate on sick leave in the public service. An urgent debate is required on the astronomical costs involved and I call on the relevant Ministers to participate. The demand for sports capital funding this year — which is seven and a half times every €1 available — is unprecedented. Members will be aware that applications for funding under the 2012 sports capital programme closed on 4 June 2012.

That only applies in Mayo.

Senator Brennan without interruption, please.

I hope not. Some 2,150 sports clubs and organisations have applied for funding, totalling €224 million. However, there is only €30 million in funding available. This means the Minister will be only able to grant a fraction of the funding being sought. The task of assessing of applications will be difficult. There is no doubt but that there will be many disappointed clubs around the country. However, that is the luck of the draw. Some 60 applications, totalling €4.8 million, which is less than one sixth of the total amount of funding available, have been submitted by organisations in County Louth. I am sure there will be many disappointed clubs in my county too.

I take this opportunity to congratulate Mr. Paul Beecher from Tallow, County Wexford, who was the first Irish winner since 2003 of the famous Hickstead Derby last Sunday evening. Mr. Beecher took the lead in a two horse jump off with a home bred horse. He came thirteenth place last year in the same derby. It is great to see Irish riders feature strongly in the top ten finishers. While, unfortunately, we do not have an equestrian team at the London Olympics——

Is the Senator seeking a debate on equestrian matters?

——Mr. Beecher's win augurs well for the upcoming Olympics in Rio in 2016.

My daughter graduated from Trinity College Dublin in 1987. Similar to what is happening these days, 37 of the 38 people in her group emigrated the following day. It was interesting to hear the Prime Minister of Portugal yesterday encouraging young people there to emigrate, which brings to mind what happened here in 1987, namely, the response of the then Government, under the late Charles J. Haughey, to Dermot Desmond's proposal for the Irish Financial Services Centre which proved successful and the steps taken to encourage businesses to gain confidence. Senator Ó Domhnaill referred earlier to barber shops and other small shops. The success we need in our economy is not likely to come from one big enterprise. Senator Leyden also drew our attention earlier to the proposal from Mr. Eddie O'Connor in regard to electricity and wind power. The Government needs to ensure that every step taken encourages job creation and does not place barriers in the way of employment. One such barrier is the proposal that small businesses will bear the cost of sick pay which up to now was met by the State. We must find a way of ensuring small businesses are encouraged to start up and create jobs.

I heard yesterday that the British Government is investigating if it can put in place a barrier to Greek people entering the United Kingdom. The fear is that if Greece leaves the eurozone there will be huge emigration from Greece to Britain. If Britain is to put in place such a barrier, will we be able to protect ourselves given our open relationship with Britain? Following the collapse of the Argentinian economy in 2001, huge difficulties arose in terms of emigration. The concern is that if something similar happens in Greece, the same problems will arise again. We need to ensure we are not threatened by such difficulties, in particular if Britain is to put in place barriers in respect of the migration into Britain of people from other parts of the European Union.

I was over-indulgent during the Order of Business yesterday in terms of the number of speakers I allowed, resulting in a Minister having to wait 20 minutes to come into the Chamber. I do not want a similar situation to arise today because the time allocated for the Order of Business by the Whip has been exceeded. I call Senator Moran.

I wish to raise again the issue of symphysiotomy, in respect of which the Walsh report has been published. I remind those women subjected to this procedure that meetings on this issue are ongoing throughout the country, including in Cork today, Drogheda tomorrow and Dublin on 19 July. Professor Walsh is eager to speak with the surviving women of this procedure. It is important all victims and survivors of symphysiotomy have their voices heard. As such, they should attend meetings and discuss their issues with Professor Walsh so that they can bring closure to this dreadful situation.

The National Competitiveness Council's report highlights Ireland's under-achievement in mathematics. According to that report, Ireland is ranked 32nd among the 65 OECD countries, which is a huge decline since 2003. I welcome the comment by the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, on "Morning Ireland" this morning that he is currently consulting with universities on changes to the points system. However, he also reiterated that any reform will take five to ten years to implement. I call on the Leader to ensure that everybody is fully briefed on this issue and that people have the opportunity to consult with the Minister. It is important that the teaching profession in particular, who are the people at the coalface, is allowed to have its say. I welcome the Government's commitment to literacy and numeracy education in primary schools, in respect of which teaching training colleges now provide four years teacher training, which will go a long way towards ensuring improved literacy and numeracy skills training for young trainee teachers and, it is hoped, our pupils.

I support the sentiments expressed by Senator Brennan this morning in regard to sports capital funding. During the good years, excellent infrastructure for amateur sports in particular was put in place in communities throughout the country. The question is often asked if this is a luxury that should be sidelined at a time when the country is economically challenged. However, it must be acknowledged that the availability of such facilities ensures we do not have anti-social behaviour from young people who have nothing else to do in our communities. It is also a nursery for the champions who will eventually emerge. We all know what this means to Ireland in terms of recognition and acknowledgement. It is also a morale boost for people when these champions are successful. In this regard, two people come to mind, Senator Eamonn Coghlan, a Member of this House, and Ronnie Delaney. Therefore, if we are measuring the importance in an economic sense of the grants Senator Terry Brennan mentioned, we must put it in context. I am aware of quite a number of projects which started in better days with these bodies raising money to develop them and eventually applying for a capital grant, but now they are in a cul-de-sac. Ireland is very appreciative of sports, and I mean "sports" in a sense of diversity also. Will the Leader, in so far as is possible, indicate the House believes that the idea of sports as a luxury or a hobby must be re-examined? If possible we must ensure we can get a greater pro rata base of grant. As has already been mentioned, what is available is €1 to €7.50 which is quite a big gap. Perhaps there is still an opportunity prior to the budget to revisit this issue.

Like my colleagues I also wish our US friends a happy 4 July. Having spent 20 years in the United States, I remember this day very well with wonderful barbecues with a few soft drinks to go along with them and wonderful sunshine. I wonder whether the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government can do something about our 4 July here in Ireland, put a cover over the country and give us a little heat.

This morning, we heard about 38% youth unemployment and a €1 billion overspend in the health budget. We also heard about sick pay issues, which means sick people are out there. We also heard the maths level in Ireland has reduced dramatically, but the Minister for Education and Skills has indicated the possibility of a 25% bonus for those pursuing higher level maths to try to boost the overall ability of students here. Yesterday, I heard on the radio the chief executive officer of the Gaelic Players Association speak about his and sports people's frustrations with regard to sport, and I would rather say physical education, being taken seriously in schools, particularly secondary schools. I hope in the coming months an announcement will be made on the points for life initiative I brought to the Seanad and something will begin at primary school level. I wish to identify the frustrations expressed. In Northern Ireland, physical education is taken very seriously and physical education A level grades can go towards pursuing a career in sports management, sports marketing and physical education. When we consider health and unemployment in Ireland, I have no doubt if the Government and the people of Ireland are serious about the pride and morale sport gives to the country, we must nip in the bud physical education not being taken seriously and I call on the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Minister for Education and Skills, who I understand has been working on making it a points programme in secondary school, to take action now and not merely speak about it. Will the Leader identify the status of the negotiations on this? If we are waiting for five or ten years for reform to take place in the Department of Education and Skills it will be too late. If we can implement this immediately, our health budget will decrease and the physical fitness level of the youth of Ireland will increase.

I have in my hand a pre-qualification questionnaire, which is part of a tendering process sent out by UCD to provide third level online educational programmes. It is a standard document as part of a tendering process. However, what amazes and alarms me is that on page 6 one of the criteria for successful applicants is that the relevant turnover must be a minimum of €1 million. The tendering process is not decided on a graduated points scoring system; it is a pass or fail. If one has a turnover of €1 million, one is still in the running, but if one does not, one is not. This strikes me as being particularly strange because this is public money coming from the Department of Education and Skills. The Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, is doing great work on developing a smart economy in the country but this eliminates potential developers of these IT services due to their scale and not their ability. It is very strange. Will the Leader facilitate a debate on this element of the smart economy and the tendering process in general with the relevant Minister to inform us on his latest thinking?

I wish all our US colleagues and cousins a happy 4 July. I also wish to raise an issue mentioned by others with regard to sick leave in Departments. Last year, 185,000 sick days were taken at a cost of €27 million. The biggest culprit was the Department of Social Protection with 71,000 days. If we are to get the country back on track we must consider the excess in certain areas, such as, with regard to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the €1 million spent annually on school allowances for staff posted overseas, the €800,000 spent on top-up health insurance for overseas staff and the €280,000 spent on disturbance allowances to allow diplomats to return from postings. Yesterday, I begged the Minister for Education and Skills to cover the €350 required for school transport in an extreme case. Last week, I begged the Minister for Health to intervene in the case of a 14-year-old girl with autism who has fallen through the cracks and has been on waiting lists for years, yet we have excess and waste in the public sector. A small number of staff in the protocol section and press office of the Department of the Taoiseach have a clothing allowance of €444 per year. If we are serious about getting this country back on its feet and out of the quagmire it is in and about change, we must get tough on allowances. We must get tough on the waste in public spending and we must do it now — not next month or the following month but now. I call on the Leader to bring the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform before the House to discuss these matters.

I am up against the clock but I will allow Senators Jim D'Arcy and Keane to speak briefly before I call on the Leader.

Like Senator Moran and others I note the report from the National Competitiveness Council which has raised serious concerns about maths in our schools. According to the report, Irish students lag well behind students in other developed nations highlighting concerns about the country's future competitiveness. The National Competitiveness Council blames uninspiring teachers — I may have been one of them myself — a lack of application and the CAO points system. The report makes a number of recommendations, including new targets for the number of students sitting higher level maths in the leaving certificate. Speaking on RTE's "Morning Ireland" Dr. Seán McDonagh stated maths is important and is key to Ireland's future competitiveness. I would like to raise another issue in this matter, and that is parents. While parents can help their children with English, history and other subjects, they do not seem to have the same facility with maths, particularly as the teaching of maths has changed. The Leader has stated the Minister for Education and Skills will come to the House shortly. I suggest to the Leader that the Minister considers a series of programmes on RTE, similar to "Buntús Cainte" years ago but geared towards parents and children on the teaching and learning of maths. We must use the new media to communicate to parents so we can involve and commit them to joining their children and teachers in a renaissance of maths in schools.

I am sure the Senator's students found him interesting and inspiring.

I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach. It is nice of him to say so.

Like other speakers, I would like to comment briefly on the waste of money that is associated with our sick leave and expenses regimes, as reported in the public media today, yesterday and the day before. We need to reflect on where all of this has come from. I compliment the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, on what they have done in this regard. When they had been in office for approximately a week, they asked for moneys and expenses to be reviewed in every Department. Some of these allowances, including overseas allowances, have been there since the year dot. Some of them are used and some of them are not. Some very good public servants do not get a penny extra in allowances. In the cases of those who do, all of that has to be rooted out. The Minister, Deputy Howlin, appreciates that everybody should get a good salary for doing a good day's work. The itemised lists of public expenses and expenditures were published after a question on the matter was tabled. That information was available because of the ongoing work that was started in each Department a couple of months ago. The Government has said it wants a 5% reduction this year. The reduction next year might be 10% or something like that. Work is ongoing. Those who have spoken on the matter seem to think that this issue came into the public domain yesterday or today and that nothing is being done about it. I assure them that something is beginning to be done about it on foot of the work that has been done since the Government came into office. People get sick, but we cannot have abuse of the sick pay regime. Such abuse has to be rooted out. That work is ongoing.

I call for a debate on a bond system for educational establishments that have connections with universities in other countries. I refer specifically to a flight school that has gone into receivership. It is connected to a school in Florida. Dozens of trainee pilots from the flight school in Waterford are now out of pocket to the tune of €80,000. What will they do? I presume the Minister for Education and Skills is responsible for ensuring that when schools like this are established, they have a bond or insurance to ensure that students who sign up to these courses, in order to get accreditation or training abroad, do not lose €80,000 if the thing goes belly-up. I ask the Leader for a debate on this matter.

Senator Darragh O'Brien has rightly raised the issue of pyrite again. I understand his frustration. He has raised the matter on several occasions on the Order of Business. I understand the frustration of those who are affected by this problem. The latest information I have on the matter is that the pyrite report will be brought to the Government shortly and will be published before the summer recess. I hope it will be published before the summer recess. It would not be before time. It has been delayed for a number of months. I hope it will be published before the recess, which will begin in a couple of weeks.

Senator O'Brien and others spoke about the overruns in the HSE. The HSE has outlined several possible means of addressing its financial situation, including a reduction in the use of agency staff and the implementation of reforms under the Croke Park agreement to achieve more cost-effective use of human resources. The HSE has also submitted its mid-year cost containment proposals, which are being assessed by the Department at present. The Department of Health has indicated that approximately 70% of the HSE's €13 billion budget is spent on pay. Some 18% of this is classified as non-core pay, including overtime, premium payments and allowances paid to staff. Given that the health service operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it is imperative that we find ways of addressing the growing deficit through looking at non-core expenditure and working hours. That is the position. It will not be easy. It is a difficult situation. Plans are in place to address the matter.

Senator Bacik said that Senators should be allowed to make pre-budget statements. I have given an undertaking that we will have such statements. I hope they can start when we return for our next session.

Senators Bacik and Mullen raised the question of the proposed merger of the Irish Human Rights Commission and the Equality Authority in the context of a report that has been drawn up by the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. I will try to arrange a debate on the committee's report about this important matter.

A number of Senators, including Senators Mullen, Jim D'Arcy, Moran and Clune, spoke about the National Competitiveness Council's report on mathematics in education. It is right and proper that we debate the report in the presence of the Minister. I will try to arrange such a discussion because the matter has been raised by five or six Members on the Order of Business this morning.

Senator MacSharry proposed an amendment to the Order of Business to allow a Bill, No. 11 on the Order Paper, to be published. I will accede to his request. I have no objection to it. I will accept the amendment to the Order of Business on that basis.

Senator Mullins called for a debate on the results of the census. Perhaps we will discuss this broad area in the autumn. I have noted some of the statistics that were quoted by Senator Mullins this morning.

Senators Reilly and Kelly raised the question of youth unemployment. I am endeavouring to bring the Minister to the House to discuss that matter and the issue of emigration. I have made a request to that effect.

Senator Reilly also expressed concern about the ability of gardaí to access patrol cars in the context of recent events in County Donegal. I am aware that the condition of the Garda fleet needs to be addressed by the Government. A number of cars are approaching the 300,000 km limit. For insurance purposes, that is the maximum number of kilometres they can have travelled. Some money will have to be found to address the problems in this regard, including the lack of patrol cars throughout the country.

Senator Colm Burke spoke about absenteeism in the HSE. It is obvious that we have a problem with absenteeism in the public service. I will endeavour to bring the Minister, Deputy Howlin, to the House to discuss the issue of sick pay costs, which has been raised by a number of Members. The Croke Park agreement will have to be honoured and pushed on if problems like sick pay and sickness costs are to be addressed. I hope the Minister, Deputy Howlin, will come here to speak about such matters.

I suggest that the question raised by Senator Landy with regard to housing was addressed and answered by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, when he was in this House yesterday afternoon.

Senator Ó Domhnaill raised the question of sick pay and mentioned the proposed increases in PRSI and tax, etc. These matters will be discussed by the Cabinet in the context of the forthcoming budget. They certainly will not be addressed anywhere else.

Senators Brennan and Eamonn Coghlan spoke about the sports capital grants. Approximately €250 million in grants is being sought, but we can offer just €30 million. It is good that we are in a position to award some grants to sporting organisations. They have not been made available for the last year or two. It is good that some grants will be made available to sporting organisations. Senator Coghlan also referred to the importance of physical education in primary and secondary schools. I will take that matter up on behalf of the Senator.

Senator Quinn spoke about small businesses. The Government has taken a number of initiatives to assist small business. However, I agree with Senator Quinn that anything that adds to the cost of small businesses and affects their competitiveness must be addressed by Government.

Senator Moran referred to public meetings on the subject of symphysiotomy, a matter she has raised on many occasions.

Senator Gilroy spoke about the smart economy, the tendering processes for services and the amount of money required by businesses to qualify. We will invite the Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, to address the House on that matter.

Senators Sheahan, Jim D'Arcy and Keane referred to the need to eliminate waste and excess in the public service.

I referred Senator Norris's correspondence about Mrs. Nurit Modai to the Tánaiste. I have not received a response on the matter.

Senator MacSharry has moved an amendment to the Order of Business, "That No. 11 be taken before No. 1". The Leader has indicated that he is prepared to accept the amendment. Is the amendment agreed to? Agreed.

Order of Business, as amended, agreed to.