Senator Darragh O'Brien raised the increases in the variable mortgage rate by Bank of Ireland and ICS Building Society. It is a matter of concern. However, as pointed out by the Senator, Bank of Ireland is a majority private-owned bank and must be run on a commercial basis; the State owns 15%. The Government has targeted assistance measures at protecting the homes of those who are facing real difficulties in paying their mortgages, as I have outlined previously. Rising mortgage rates remain one of the biggest challenges facing the country. The Government has outlined its five part response to assist those in mortgage arrears.
It involves providing comprehensive advice and assistance for those in mortgage difficulty, introducing innovative new measures to deal with debt outside formal judicial bankruptcy, rebalancing personal insolvency legislation to strike a fairer balance between debtor and creditor, introducing measures to assist families to stay in their homes, if possible, and challenging the banks to live up to their responsibilities in the crisis through the speedy roll-out of their own range of forbearance measures. When the Personal Insolvency Bill is brought to this House - it is currently before the Dáil - we will have the opportunity to discuss the very important matters raised by Senator Darragh O'Brien.
Senators Bacik, Reilly and Healy Eames raised the European youth guarantee. Senator Reilly also sought a debate on youth unemployment. We have had a number of debates on job creation but the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, will be in the House on 18 October, as I mentioned last week. Matters relating to youth unemployment relevant to her Department can be addressed to the Minister during the debate on that date.
Senators Bacik, MacSharry, Leyden, Moloney, Mooney, Conway, O'Keeffe and others raised the gangland killings and the murder of the elderly gentleman in Sligo. These brutal events have shown the savage disregard some people have for human life. The Garda is determined to do everything possible to bring the evil perpetrators to justice. Like other Senators, I call on anybody who might be able to help in any way to contact the Garda. The Minister for Justice and Equality is in ongoing contact with the Garda Commissioner about all aspects of serious crime and the Garda will continue to bear down heavily on the activities of those involved in gangland crime. That is clear from the series of recent operations launched by the Garda against criminal gangs and the many drug seizures that have taken place in recent weeks. The Minister and the Government will continue to support the Garda in every way possible in counteracting this evil menace in our society.
While recently enacted legislation underpinning the State's response to organised crime has been fully utilised by the Garda, the Minister has given a commitment to keep under review the question of whether improvements can be made which would render it more effective. In particular, he has requested his Department to review the operation of the organised crime provisions in the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009 to see if they can be strengthened. He has made it clear to the Garda Commissioner that he is open to considering any change in the law which the Garda believes would be helpful in tackling these activities.
Despite these shocking events, we should remember that every week the Garda is successfully bringing people involved in gangland activities before the courts and securing convictions, and that a substantial number are serving sentences in prison. That should not be forgotten. The Garda is devoting all the necessary resources to these investigations and disrupting gangland crime. Despite the constraints on the public finances, substantial Garda resources remain in place and must be seen in the context of the programme of real reform which is being delivered in An Garda Síochána under the Croke Park agreement. The Minister has full confidence in the Garda Commissioner and the members of the force in continuing the delivery of this reform, to provide for more effective front-line policing to investigate and detect heinous crimes such as these.
People have also spoken about the punishment fitting the crime. I could not agree more with them. Recently we saw the case involving drugs activity off the coast of Ireland in which one of the perpetrators was sentenced to 28 years in prison. That is the type of sentence which I believe should be handed down to such perpetrators.
In response to Senators Barrett and Cullinane on the Higher Education Authority report, I look forward to reading it when it is published, which I hope will be soon. I agree with Senator Cullinane about the reports on Waterford and the south east. Expert reports have been commissioned on several occasions and Waterford Institute of Technology has jumped through all the hoops, but every time the bar is raised. That must be borne in mind when these reports are published. There are universities that in the past vigorously opposed the raising of Waterford Institute of Technology to university status. There must be balance in this debate.
Senator Mullins and many other Senators raised the issue of organised crime. I will try to get the Minister to come to the House to debate the matter.
Senator Quinn raised the consultation document to be published today on the future of the Seanad. I am sure it will make for good night-time reading for all Members.
On the fluoridation of water, things have changed over the years. I will try to get the relevant Minister to come to the House to discuss the issue soon.
Senator Reilly mentioned youth unemployment, an issue I have addressed. We will have the Minister in the House to discuss the topic.
Senator Whelan asked about teachers being transferred in County Laois. This is happening in many counties. We will have the Minister for Education and Skills in the House soon and those matters can be addressed then.
Senator Colm Burke asked about the backlog of legislation in the Attorney General's office. The office is under tremendous pressure because the Government wishes to bring in a lot of legislation but I will bring the matter to the attention of the Government Whip. On the Health Service Executive (Governance) Bill that is being brought to the Seanad tomorrow, I assure the Senator that the debate on it will not be guillotined. I propose spokespersons be given 12 minutes and all other Senators eight minutes on that subject. If there are Members still offering at the end of the allocated time, I will adjourn the debate and we can continue the Second Stage debate next week. This is important and we have had requests from many Members to deal with health issues in the House. This is the opportunity to address those concerns.