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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 29 Nov 2012

Vol. 219 No. 3

Order of Business (Resumed)

Viva España!It would be timely for the Leader to consider allowing time for the continuation of consideration of the Registration of Wills Bill 2011, which I brought forward. The case of Heather Perrin, a former judge who is now serving two and a half years in prison brings this to mind. Ms Perrin, when practising as a solicitor, was responsible for a will that was defective and was to benefit her family. We know the case very well. When I raised the issue of the registration of wills I predicted such an occurrence. This is not the first time a solicitor has benefitted from a will and it will not be the last. I recommend to everyone to check their will, find out where it is and who the beneficiary is, just in case.

When I was preparing the Bill a letter was sent by the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Dermot Ahern, to the former Chief Whip, Pat Carey, in September 2009. The Minister said:

I should add that the views of the Law Society of Ireland on the desirability of establishing a registration of wills system were sought in 2005. The society's probate administration and trust committee subsequently notified my Department that they were opposed to the Bill on a number of grounds, both in terms of day to day implementation of its provisions and because it would infringe certain legal principles.

Now we know why the Law Society of Ireland was opposed to the Registration of Wills Bill. Now we know there have been difficulties and maladministration.

Is the Senator seeking a debate or the reintroduction of the Bill?

The Minister for Social Protection turned down the Bill. The previous Seanad, of which the Cathaoirleach was a Member, passed the Bill with the unanimous approval of Fine Gael, the Labour Party, Fianna Fáil and Independent Senators. We now know the difficulties that can arise because we do not have a system of registering wills.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

I know who recommended that the particular solicitor be made a judge. I know the name but I will not mention it here because the Cathaoirleach probably knows who the person is. Let us say, the person was probably a member of the Green Party. That is all I can say.

It was the Senator's Government.

I will say no more. My party was part of that Government, but that is irrelevant.

This is a wake-up call for the people regarding their wills. They should check them out today and make sure the people they want to benefit will do so, and not the solicitor involved in making the will.

I agree with Senator Darragh O'Brien that the Personal Insolvency Bill 2012 is the nuclear option. It is important to remind ourselves of that fact. It is also important to remind ourselves that large tracts of Irish society will not be able to avail of the legislation. I am thinking, in particular, of public and civil servants. We should not treat this matter glibly.

There has been unbearably slow progress in the banking sector towards the implementation of mortgage arrears resolution strategies, MARS. Some covered institutions have treated not only their customers but also the Oireachtas with disdain. They demonstrated this when they appeared before the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform. It has come to my attention that one institution, the EBS, is offering split mortgages and is allowing the parking of a portion of the mortgage without charging interest on it. The EBS is distinguishing itself in this. Other institutions are not offering customers that option.

Senators who have been members of local authorities will know that local authorities offer loans as agents of the Housing Finance Agency to people on low incomes who have been turned down by two commercial institutions. These loans have, of their very nature, been given to people on the margins of home ownership. One third of these mortgages provided by Dublin City Council are in distress. Local authorities are not in a position to offer MARS-style solutions to borrowers. I ask the Leader to bring this to the attention of the Minister for Finance before the budget. A local authority cannot offer a split mortgage or extend the term of a mortgage. These people are the responsibility of us legislators because local authorities act on behalf of the Government and these options should be available to them.

There are reports today of a shortage of nurses in operating theatres. This country has a serious shortage compared to the United Kingdom. In contrast, the Irish complement of numbers is one of the highest in the OECD. We had 36,000 nurses employed in 2011. We had 34,000 in 2005 and 25,000 in 1992. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Health if the nursing labour force is correctly deployed, in terms of patient care?

I join Senator Brennan in urging the Government to bring forward Senator Quinn's Construction Contracts Bill. We all know of many small subcontractors who have been put out of business by unscrupulous developers and whose livelihoods have been destroyed. There is total support for the Bill and agreement on it. It is incumbent on the Government to ensure that it is put through the legislative system as quickly as possible.

I welcome the publication, yesterday, of figures showing strong growth in tourism from North America and Europe. Tourism will probably be one of the main planks of our economic recovery. We need to do everything possible during the coming year to ensure that The Gathering adds significantly to tourism numbers. It is disappointing that numbers from Britain have shown a decrease over last year, given the high profile of the visit of Queen Elizabeth. There is much work to be done in Britain in the coming year to promote tourism to Ireland. We should debate this matter again in the House.

Will the Leader invite the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to the House early in the new year to discuss how we can contribute significantly to ensuring The Gathering is the success everybody expects? The Notre Dame v. Navy American football game in Dublin this year brought more than 30,000 Americans to this country. It is an indication of what can happen when things are well planned. I welcome the fact that tourism is making a major contribution to economic recovery.

I will make a brief comment on the scaremongering over the property tax. There will be some relief-----

The Senator is well over time.

The figures we have seen in the newspapers this morning are far less than the thousands that were referred to by some of our opponents on the other side.

The Irish Independent knows about it but we do not.

Will the Leader invite the Minister of State with responsibility for housing, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, to the House to discuss the 2012 unfinished housing developments survey? The survey shows there are 1,770 unfinished housing estates in the State, which is down from more than 2,800 a number of years ago. The Minister of State should come to the House to discuss this survey given that it reports that more than 1,100 unfinished housing estates are in a seriously problematic condition. The Gathering next year has been mentioned and Ireland is known as the island of saints and scholars but we also have many unfinished housing estates and vacant properties, especially in rural areas. Leitrim, Cavan, Roscommon, Longford and Sligo have the highest number of vacant dwellings in the country. Every Member of the House is aware of this issue. I am anxious that we discuss the report in further detail and the progress made to date. The Department has made €3.5 million available to make these unfinished developments safe. We must push that process forward. Not only are these estates unsightly but there are also concerns about their safety. Unfortunately, there have been accidents and loss of life on some unfinished estates, as has been documented. Perhaps the Leader will invite the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, to the House to discuss this issue.

I welcome reports this morning that the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, IBRC, is at last taking action to explore the role of its auditors and the apparent failings of oversight in the catastrophe that has overtaken that institution. I believe I can speak for many people in voicing frustration with the slow pace of the investigations in this area. Perhaps some of the other banks and financial institutions could usefully follow the lead of the IBRC in this regard.

Another report, Growing Up in Ireland, was published this morning. The report has been tracking the progress of 7,500 children over recent years. It is good to see that our 13 year olds are doing well and generally are happy. One point that might raise concern, however, is the suggestion that 25% of 13 year olds are experiencing difficulty with being overweight. Senator Eamonn Coghlan has been doing much good work in the year since his report was published. We could usefully assist Senator Coghlan with his progress on this report if we had another debate in the House about this. The chief researcher said this morning that there are no plans to follow up this report in another three years. Is this due to a lack of funding or is it considered the best way to proceed? If it is due to a lack of funding, that would be inappropriate and I call on the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Health to make funding available to ensure this valuable project can continue.

In the past two days a right-wing member of the Hungarian Parliament issued vile and outrageous statements relating to Jewish people living in his country. He called on the government to draw up a list of Jews, whom he believes constitute a threat to national security. This was part of a criticism of Israel's policy relating to the Gaza Strip. For anybody who has studied the history of the Holocaust, to hear somebody from Hungary, of all places in Europe, and particularly an elected member of the parliament, revisit the past in such a vile and contemptuous manner must be a cause of serious concern, especially to the European Union.

As any commentator could point out, there is real danger with increasing austerity policies being implemented by various governments. I have raised the issue of our democratic traditions in Europe and the increasing popularity of far right parties. The Greek election is a typical example, where a party with strong links to neo-Nazis was elected to parliament for the first time. Will the Leader ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, in his capacity as chair of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE, of which Hungary is a member, to issue a public statement on behalf of the people condemning without reservation this vile statement by the Hungarian Member of Parliament? He should go even further and call in the Hungarian ambassador to Ireland to express his disapproval. The reason I say this is as there is a very small Jewish community in this country, this does not necessarily resonate with most people in Ireland. Also, as Ireland was neutral during the Second World War, many Irish people have no real comprehension of what happened in Europe with regard to the Holocaust. However, it is clear to anybody who has served in a European body. Senator Colm Burke will share his views with me on this, having served in the European Parliament. I served in the Council of Europe for several years and Senator Norris was to the fore in highlighting the plight of Raoul Wallenberg who, ironically, helped to save Jews in Hungary in the closing days of the war. I was anxious to raise this important matter and I hope the Leader will respond on its seriousness. Countries such as Ireland, with a strong democratic tradition, should publicly criticise the statements made by this man who was a student in Trinity College Dublin and who spent five years living and working in this country. That is another reason we should have an input.

I welcome the announcement by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Leo Varadkar, yesterday of the retention of the Coast Guard stations at Valentia and Malin Head. They have rendered sterling service to the State during the years.

It is significant that AIB conducted a bond issue yesterday of €500 million - we are aware of the one by Bank of Ireland - which was four times over-subscribed.

That is great. It might give some relief to its customers.

It indicates that investors have confidence in the measures this Government is taking to restore order to the public finances and to help our ailing economy. It is to be welcomed. It is a sign that the banks are at least moving in the right direction. They might not have got the credit right, but Mr. Duffy will appear before the committee again today. He is making valiant efforts in the right direction and we should salute this.

In light of the settlement of €500,000 made by The Sun for telling lies about an Irish citizen, the resignation in shame of the editor of the Irish Daily Star, and the publication at 1.30 p.m. today of the report of the Leveson inquiry, will the Government introduce the Privacy Bill? There are two privacy Bills on the Order Paper, mine and the Government's. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, has frequently referred to his intention to bring this Bill forward, but nothing has happened. When will the Government stop huffing and puffing and do something? Irish citizens are also threatened by the same malign forces, as I know too well.

I refer to the situation in the economy and wish to draw a number of items together. Ernst & Young stands impugned today and its negligence, if such is proved, will have cost the Irish people billions of euro. A property tax is proposed when many people have a tiny disposable income at the end of each month. With regard to nurses, there is a report today which states that front-line services have been cut back. As far as I can see, the administration is left untouched. Services are reaching a point that is infinitely worse than that in the neighbouring island and patient health is now seriously threatened. Senator Crown spoke passionately about the cystic fibrosis unit. People, whose faces and voices we know, are hurting.

Despite this, we heard today an English businessman living in Donegal remark, complacently and, I thought, rather patronisingly, on how well behaved the Irish population were. It is about time we became less well behaved and raised these questions. We need to take the opportunity of having the Presidency of the European Union to confront our masters in Europe with these issues. The people are really suffering and it is a time for an end to kowtowing and forelock touching. I for one do not accept the usual excuse that it is post-colonial fatigue. That ended 100 years ago. I do not usually use slang but we should get over it. We need to get a bit of backbone, man up - as I understand the phrase is - and confront our slave-masters in Europe by refusing to take any more of this austerity which is driving not just the economy but the people of Ireland down.

I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments of Senator Mooney. The former French President Clemenceau said that a patriot loves his country and extreme nationalists hate all others. We are seeing a growth in extreme nationalism in Europe that 100 years ago broke up Europe and caused the deaths of up to 100 million people. We should be careful when we slag off our European neighbours that it is not feeding into such extreme nationalism. The Senator spoke about the Member of Parliament in Hungary. I hope that is an isolated case.

I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to come to the House on foot of the judge in Cork pointing out that many businesses in Cork and elsewhere are closing owing to the high levels of commercial rates. We must look again at the rating system for commercial units. Small businesses are required to provide the finance for local services while many individuals are refusing to pay the household charge that should cover these services. It should be remembered that those who are not paying the household charge are putting pressure on small businesses because, apart from the Government funding, the local authorities have no other source of income to provide local services. While these individuals refuse to pay €100, small businesses are being asked to pay €2,000, €3,000 or €4,000 just to maintain a business and keep the doors open. There is a responsibility on certain parties in this Chamber to urge that we pull together because small businesses cannot take it anymore and the burden needs to be spread out. People living in larger houses worth €1 million are refusing to pay €100 while a small business with two or three employees trying to survive might be paying €5,000 a year in order that the local authorities can provide the services that people demand. The Minister should come to the House to debate the inequality of the rates system.

I agree with the leader of the Fianna Fáil group on the mortgage issue. People should only pay what they can afford after they have paid for fuel, food and the care of their families. This Government and previous Governments have failed to help the increasing number of people in mortgage difficulty.

I join Senator Paul Coghlan in welcoming the announcement on the Malin Head and Valentia Coast Guard stations. There had been a threat to both stations in the Fisher report which came before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications on 24 October. The criticism in the draft Fisher report was startling. Senior management had allowed vital communications equipment to sit in boxes for three years, knowing that the existing equipment had a death certificate issued on it by Motorola. Motorola had advised the Irish Coast Guard service five years ago that the communications equipment that co-ordinates rescues at sea was liable to catastrophic failure at any moment. Disturbingly, research prior to that committee meeting had found that the draft report, which the Minister never saw, contained serious criticism of senior management. That draft report stated that during the internal consultation meetings it was very clear that many experienced people within the organisation below senior management level felt that the Irish Coast Guard service could be run better. A common observation from external and internal stakeholders was the apparent lack of direction due in part to the director's time spent abroad. All of this was removed from the report presented to the Minister. What we see is manipulation of draft reports by senior management in the Irish Coast Guard service. A 19-page reply to the draft Fisher report went back.

Is the Senator seeking a debate?

I seek a debate on the Irish Coast Guard service and how it happened that a Minister saw a final report when all the criticism of senior management that was in the draft report was removed. The final report sent to the Minister was entirely different from the draft.

The Senator is way over time.

At the time I called for the head of the Irish Coast Guard service to resign.

Many Senators have indicated.

He was not fit for his job. I state that again.

I ask the Cathaoirleach to indulge me briefly. I pay tribute to all Members of the House who took part in the fashion show for motor neurone disease on Tuesday night. Despite some media comment, I commend in particular some of the male Members who took part.


I join other Senators in commenting on the banking situation. I agree with many of the sentiments expressed on all sides of the House about the behaviour of the banks. However, I find one element quite perplexing, which is the role of the banks' public interest directors. On the one hand the banks' chief executives tell us that public interest directors' first responsibility is to the bank and that they have a duty to work collectively with the board of directors to ensure the bank becomes profitable and successful. However, they were appointed as public interest directors. I do not know what is going on here, but they are certainly not serving the public interest. In my humble opinion their positions are untenable. It makes a mockery of the people, the Government and the future of banking in this country.

The Senator is right.

Unless there is absolute clarity on the role of the public interest directors and the areas of public interest they are obliged to serve, their positions are untenable and they should resign. I call on all banks' public interest directors to consider their positions and resign because clearly they are not serving the public interest.

I travel around the country frequently and I am struck by the number of closed shops in the main streets of many of our towns. In recent years we have heard how tough business is. As mentioned by Senator Harte, Judge Kelleher recently stated that 170 shops that had been unable to pay their rates to Cork City Council were on his list. He said that he expected a further 200 on his list before Christmas. There must be some other way to make local authorities operate. The Senator pointed out that many householders are complaining about having to pay €100 whereas a shopkeeper must pay €4,000 or €5,000 in rates each year. There must be a different way; I do not know what it is. Relying almost entirely on the rates of shopkeepers to run our towns and cities will result in more main streets becoming empty, taking the life and soul from those towns.

Senator Norris referred to his Privacy Bill and the other privacy Bill. Senator Norris's Bill is No. 17 on the Order Paper and has been there for months with an indication that it is to be resumed. We had a good debate on that Privacy Bill. As Senator Norris mentioned, what happened with the two newspapers yesterday and the Leveson inquiry in Britain today remind us of the actions that have been taken in the past and that we should do something about it. I urge the Minister to introduce and develop a privacy Bill. Regardless of whether it is his privacy Bill or Senator Norris's, something should be done.

In the debate on pensions, I would like to see a provision to allow people who are coming close to the end of their paid working life to withdraw a small portion of the voluntary contributions they have paid, as this could generate far more business in the community.

I support Senator Brennan's call for the Construction Contracts Bill to be brought to Committee Stage as soon as possible. I call on the Leader to request the Minister to include it in the schedule for the first term of the new year. In my area, I have seen the subcontractor, or "subbie", being caught all the time. They are the last payee at the end of the chain. In the Ballylynch regeneration project in Carrick-on-Suir, the main contractor went bust and at least five subcontractors were caught for sums of up to €40,000. In recent days, I have been contacted by a local subcontractor who was providing biomass boiler units specifically for schools and public buildings, all publicly funded contracts. He has provided biomass pellet boilers for the only two passive energy schools in Ireland and he has not been paid. He is being left high and dry. The sooner the legislation is enacted, the better.

I also raise the value for money review of the Reserve Defence Force announced by the Minister last Wednesday. That review recommended closure of the RDF unit in Clonmel. Less than a year ago, when it was announced that the Army barracks in Clonmel would close, I requested the Minister to ensure the Reserve Defence Force remained in the town. A premises was found.

It might be more suitable to raise this issue on the Adjournment.

Now that I have started, will the Cathaoirleach let me finish?

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

There are 54 people from Clonmel in the Reserve Defence Force. They are being requested to travel to Cork city for training, 75 miles away, twice a week and on Sunday. It would take four minibuses to bring them to and from Cork six times a week, and the cost of these trips would pay the rent of the building.

The Senator is over time.

On top of that, the Minister announced in the constituency two weeks ago that the Army barracks is to be used for a new Garda barracks, offices for the county councils and the VEC. Will the Leader put to the Minister that it makes sense to allow the RDF to remain in Kickham Barracks and use one of the existing buildings?

A very good point.

I call for a debate on alternative budgets. I called for it last year and I believe we should have it again this year. It is not too late because we are sitting tomorrow and on Monday. It would also be important to discuss the National Recovery Plan 2011-2014, because that national recovery plan was drafted by the Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government. It was signed off on by the then Minister, Deputy Micheál Martin. That national recovery plan included a property tax, water charges, reductions in front-line staff in the public sector, increases in third and fourth level education fees and cuts to social welfare payments.

The people regretted it.

When Fianna Fáil members are talking about their alternative budget, they should be reminded of the national recovery plan on which they signed off.

The Fianna Fáil alternative budget is costed.

Senator Cullinane to continue, without interruption.

Somebody mentioned fascism yesterday when Members were being interrupted. I remember it was a member of the Fianna Fáil Party.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

With respect, when Fianna Fáil states it is in favour of a property tax but not just yet, this applies when it is in opposition, but if it gets back into government, all the content of its national recovery plan, including property taxes, water charges and cuts to social welfare will be brought in.

The Senator must be affected by the opinion polls. Sinn Féin is going down in the opinion polls and we are going up

There has been no election called, as the Senator knows; therefore, we will wait and see.

On a related matter, a new survey by the Irish Dental Association shows that the changes made by the Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government to the free treatment under the PRSI and medical card schemes has meant that more people are putting off going to a dentist and are only going when they are in severe pain. There are growing problems with people not going to a dentist as early as they should and that is because of the changes that were brought in, which must be reversed. The survey shows an increase in waiting times for children to see orthodontists. That needs to be dealt with. I ask the Leader to organise a debate on the survey commissioned by the Irish Dental Association.

I am not going to try the patience or the courtesy of the Cathaoirleach by trying to squeeze in four or five items. This morning I received a very disturbing and alarming petition from the Mountmellick Business Association. On top of all the other difficulties those in business have in the current climate, there are people accosting shoppers and others going about their business in the town's main street and square when dropping relatives to the GP and taking their children to school. With the depletion of Garda resources, there are no gardaí on the street or in patrol cars. We will discuss the Europol Bill later today, but there is hardly any point in discussing security and policing co-operation across Europe when we cannot keep the main streets of our town safe. I am fearful that something serious will happen and somebody will be seriously injured in Mountmellick unless Garda resources for the town are improved.

The Minister for Justice and Equality confirmed before the joint committee this week that a further 1,200 gardaí are scheduled to retire. This will bring the Garda personnel levels below a sustainable and safe level. I support Senator Landy's call for the Minister to consider reopening the Garda training centre in Templemore because it will be two years at the earliest before any new garda can be put on the beat. It is welcome that the Minister has made resources available to the Garda Síochána to purchase 212 new patrol cars, which will become available in December and January. I hope some of them will be provided for the Laois-Offaly division and the town of Mountmellick to make the streets safe.

I wish to raise the issue of the property tax and the impending budget next week. The domestic economy is in free fall. People are not spending money. Any shopkeeper will say that, at this early stage of the Christmas season, the Christmas trade is down on last year. People have no money and cannot afford to spend any additional moneys on the household charge or the property tax. Whatever one's political philosophy on the household charge, it was unsuccessful, very badly handled and the money that was to come in was already removed from local authorities. One cannot blame the local authorities. It was the decision of the Government of the day to remove that fund. I think it is a wrong time for a property tax when 20% of all home owners are in mortgage arrears, when the value of houses are in negative equity and people are losing their jobs. More than 1,200 have lost their jobs each week this year. Introducing a property tax at this time will stagnate the domestic economy.


I will take no lectures from Sinn Féin because the Leader of Sinn Féin spoke of a figure of €800 million, another Deputy said it would yield €300 million, and I note that in the party's budget submission another figure is given.

Is the Senator looking for a debate on the issue?

Whatever works on the day is Sinn Féin policy. We will certainly not subscribe to that.

The Department of Finance's figures-----

As our budget is pre-costed by the Department of Finance, they are not the only figures. I am intrigued to see that Sinn Féin is focusing on a party in opposition. Obviously, they are only focusing on the narrow agenda of political opportunism.

The Senator is over time. I am calling Senator Heffernan.

Before the budget next Wednesday we should have a debate in the House on the property tax.

It is interesting to see Members on the other side of the House bickering among themselves. There seems to be a turf war going on between Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin but I do not rise to speak about that issue.

That is irrelevant.

Senator Heffernan to continue, without interruption, please.

I wish to speak about the appalling scene that we witnessed last week in my local primary school. I am from Kilfinane in County Limerick and I could not believe that in the freezing cold and driving rain there was a stand-off between local parents, the school staff and local subcontractors from the surrounding areas of Bruff, Elton and Murroe. Everyone knows one another there. In the approach to Christmas, it was disgraceful that hard-working, honest, decent family men felt they had no other option but to take matters into their own hands in an effort to recoup some of the money they were owed. This is not the first time that some of those subcontractors have been left high and dry, almost broke and on the verge of bankruptcy by the same Government job. Below-cost, yellow-pack tenders are being given out to dubious "John Wayne" contractors. When it comes to capital programmes in schools, and investing in the future of our children, the cheapest is not always the best. We should demand a state-of-the-art facility.

What Minister sanctioned those? Would he be a Labour Party Minister?

I will not delay the House for too long but I wish to commend the school principal, Siobhán O'Flynn, her dedicated staff, the parents and gardaí for keeping their cool in a difficult situation.

What about the parish priest?

This is too much detail. Does Senator James Heffernan have a question for the Leader?

That leads me on to the Construction Contracts Bill. Last May, my colleague, Councillor David Moloney, tabled a motion at Limerick County Council. I have a letter from the Construction Industry Federation saying that 125 days have passed since the Bill came through the Seanad.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

I commend Senator Quinn for his initiative on this Bill. It is time to stop dragging our heels on this and to introduce this important legislation, if not before Christmas then shortly thereafter. The Minister should commit himself to introducing legislation giving contractors, subcontractors and workers protection and proper payment for their work.

When will the Leader invite the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, to the House to discuss the alleged reform in the local government document Putting Labour First? It is important that this document should be discussed. It is also important that the review of the local electoral areas be published as soon as possible, not next summer. It is intended to publish it by the end of June 2013, but that is an outrage. Perhaps the Leader can give some clarification on that matter.

I join Senator Landy in requesting that the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, who is also the Minister for Defence and has responsibility for closures, attend the House to discuss the future of the Defence Forces and, in particular, the Reserve Defence Forces.

I refer to the comments made earlier by Senator Leyden about the legal profession. I remind him that it was a member of the legal profession who identified the error that was made-----

-----or the deceit that occurred in this matter. If Senator Leyden applied the same rules to his own party as he seems to have applied to the legal profession this morning I do not think he would be talking that loudly about it.

What about the Moriarty report?

I agree that this matter should be reviewed. Even if the will was registered it would not have identified the changes that were made by the solicitor involved in it. Maybe we should come back to the issue of registration of wills.

It is a sensitive profession, is it not?

Senator Colm Burke to continue, without interruption. Does he have a question for the Leader?

Senator Terry Leyden does not apply the same rules to the leader of his own party.

I predicted this was going to happen.

The issue of rates is extremely important, as is the way in which local authorities are currently managed. As regards the template involved, if one compares one local authority with another, are we getting the same value for money in different areas? People talk about shops paying €4,000 or €5,000 in rates, but it is far more than that. In Cork city, for instance, a shoe shop in Patrick Street is paying annual rates of €22,000. The Rochestown Park Hotel in Cork is paying rates of €500,000.

A question for the Leader, please.

My question concerns having a debate on this issue, including not only the reform of local government but also about having value for money in each local authority area. We need to examine this quickly because I am not convinced that we are getting value for money, given the way local authorities are currently run. We need to keep this under constant review.

Ba mhaith liom díospóireacht maidir lenár gcuid acmhainní nadúrtha. At a time when we are seeing serious fiscal restraint, many people, particularly along the west coast, are asking what we are doing about exploiting our natural resources. A report by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Natural Resources and Agriculture said the oil and gas licensing regime should be changed. We had statements on that matter with the Minister, although we have not yet seen any action on it.

In addition, two Bills on wind energy have been proposed by Senator Kelly, and another has been put forward by Deputy Penrose in the Lower House. There is much concern about the development of wind energy, certainly along the west coast. It is very developer-led and we seem to have a lack of cohesion and strategy at national level on licensing wind energy. I would therefore welcome a debate with the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, on how we will get the best benefit from all our natural resources, including wind, oil, gas and tidal, so that we can get more money back into the State coffers to ease budgetary pressures. That needs to be done as a matter of urgency.

Before I raise another important issue, I want to support the call by Senator Ó Clochartaigh for a full debate on the viability of wind energy.

I wish to raise again the brutal murder of Fr. Niall Molloy in 1985. It is an issue that is gathering serious momentum at the moment and quite rightly so after 27 years of inaction. The Minister for Justice and Equality's own party colleagues are raising the issue in the Dáil because they believe that an injustice has been done. His own party colleagues are unhappy that he has not taken those Topical Issue debates in the Dáil or the Adjournment debate here. To be honest, I do not know how much more evidence is required in order for the Minister to call a full investigation into this matter. The public are continually frustrated by his inaction and what appears to be a toothless Garda investigation, which will undoubtedly show that there was no cover-up. I am calling on the Leader to ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to dispense with the Garda investigation into this matter and move quickly to a full independent commission of investigation. Otherwise the people will lose faith in the Minister, his office and the Government.

Senator Darragh O'Brien referred to the budget and property taxes, but I think he is speculating on what might be in the budget. He will know the facts on 5 December.

I was hoping the Leader would be able to say that with a straight face, but he has not managed to do so.

I can assure the Senator that he will know the full facts on 5 December, which is only a week away.

We want to know today.

The Senator should not hold his breath as he will not have to wait for too long. The Government has taken many measures to assist people in mortgage arrears.

I have outlined them on many occasions in the House. Last year's budget was a typical example where mortgage interest relief was increased for those who had bought their houses during the boom. That Government commitment was honoured. We will be debating the Personal Insolvency Bill for a number of days as well. There are many other measures but I certainly agree that there are more things that we can and should do.

Senator Higgins referred to a recent report on loans to small and medium-sized enterprises. According to the survey, 39% of SMEs requested credit, while 61% did not. As regards the reasons for not requesting credit, 79% said they did not need it or did not have sufficient funds to request it.

On the decisions on credit, 60% of applications were approved or partly approved, 19% were declined and 21% are pending. When the pending applications are excluded, the approval rate is 76%, although there is still room for improvement in lending to small and medium-sized enterprises, irrespective of the contents of the report.

Senator Crown raised the issue of cystic fibrosis and the problems in St. Vincent's Hospital. There are currently 29 CF inpatients and of the five concerned who were refused access when they presented at St. Vincent's Hospital on Monday, four have been admitted and one has declined a bed but that patient's treatment is being managed by the hospital. St. Vincent's Hospital is dealing with some infection control issues that have made bed management more complex. The hospital is, as always, trying to ensure no CF patients are exposed to the risk of such infection during their treatment.

A protocol for the treatment of CF patients at St. Vincent's Hospital was signed off on with the HSE, the hospital and the Cystic Fibrosis Association in July 2012 which provided for up to 34 beds to be available for CF patients at the hospital and that a ten bed day unit would be used effectively to help ensure patients would be treated in the optimum setting. The agreement was for up to 34 beds to be available in the new wing of the hospital for CF patients but this did not involve the structured use of ten day beds as well as the 20 single occupancy inpatient beds in the new wing of the hospital. Infection control issues can make bed management difficult and require that everyone in the hospital operate to all agreed protocols to ensure the facilities involved are used to the optimum level at all times. There is also a need for agreed clinical protocols to address how cystic fibrosis patients-----

On a point of order, will the Leader clarify which public relations company has issued this statement on behalf of the hospital?

The Leader to continue, without interruption.

I am issuing this statement now; it is a Government statement, if Senator Crown would like to listen to it. He was very fast to raise the issue, which is a very important one, and I am reading the notes I have on it. I will leave it at that if the Senator is not prepared to listen to the rest.

Senators Brennan and Mullins and several others raised the issue of delays to the Construction Contracts Bill. I will ascertain the position of that Bill from the Government and give the House an update on it. It is a serious-----

I understand the Leader's tetchiness but we would all benefit if he would finish reading the note because it is such an important issue which a number of us have raised. I know that Senator Crown did not intend to offend the Leader.

The Leader should be allowed to continue, without interruption.

I will find out for the House what is happening with the Construction Contracts Bill. The delays are despicable and we should have acted on this matter by now. It has dragged on for far too long and I agree with Members who have raised this matter today.

Senators Leyden and Burke raised the issue of the registration of wills. Senator Leyden has his own opinions on the matter that may or may not be shared by other Members.

Senator Hayden asked about local authority loans and the anomalies with interest rates on local authority loans covered by the Housing Finance Agency. Several other Members have raised the issue of local authority rates for commercial premises. I have been informed the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government will be in the House on 22 January to deal with local government reform and I hope these questions can be put to him then.

Senator Barrett asked if the nursing workforce was being managed properly for patient care. I will raise that issue with the Minister.

Senator Mullins asked about tourism figures. The increase in tourist numbers is to be welcomed and we hope The Gathering next year will lead to a further increase. I assure the Senator we will have a debate on the tourism industry early in the new year.

Senator Reilly asked about unfinished housing estates. On 6 February, the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, will be in the House to outline the position. There has been a decrease of 37% in the number of unfinished developments since 2010, with a 27% decrease in the number of vacant units, with 296 developments effectively resolved in the past 12 months. The Minister of State will give further details of progress on 6 February.

Senator Gilroy alluded to the recent Growing Up in Ireland report and outlined some of the problems it noted. We can arrange a debate on the report and other issues in the new year.

Senator Mooney raised the outrageous remarks made by a Hungarian MP recently and called for the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to condemn these comments. I will pass on the Senator's comments to the Tánaiste.

Senator Paul Coghlan welcomed the retention of the Coast Guard stations on Malin Head and Valentia Island. That was wonderful news to hear. Senator Daly also welcomed it and I am glad to see the two Senators are at one on an issue. Peace reigns in Kerry again, which we are delighted to see.

Senator Norris asked about the Privacy Bill. The last time I sought information on this Bill for the Senator a couple of months ago, it was not a priority. I will make further inquiries on the matter to find out the Government position on it. We are also aware of the Senator's views on austerity, which he has annunciated on many occasions in the House.

Senator Harte alluded to extreme nationalism, again noting the comments of the Hungarian MP, and also raised the question of rates on houses and commercial premises. That issue can be raised with the Minister when we discuss local government reform.

Senator Conway called for the clarification of the roles of public interest directors in banks. We will seek that clarification for the Senator.

Senator Quinn made a number of points on rates and the Privacy Bill. He also raised a question he has asked on a few occasions, which has also been raised in the other House by Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, of AVCs and people getting access to them. We will find out next week if there will be progress on that issue in the budget. Personally, it would be a good idea for people to be able to gain some access, although not full access, to the contributions they have made to AVCs.

Senator Landy referred to the position on the Reserve Defence Forces in Clonmel. I suggest the Senator raise the matter on the Adjournment and have the Minister respond.

Senator Cullinane asked for a debate on alternative budgets. This year, the House has had more debates on various aspects of the budget and specific departmental budgets than in any previous year. While there are serious disagreements between the prospective allies, Sinn Féin and the Fianna Fáil Party, on their budget proposals, we will leave discussions on the matter to the parties in question.

Steady now. The Leader should not lose the run of himself.

Senator John Whelan referred to Garda resources in Mountmellick. The process of reducing Garda numbers to 13,000 has not yet concluded. The Senator also welcomed the decision to make provision for 212 new patrol cars and these will soon be introduced. I was not aware of major security problems or a lack of Garda resources in Mountmellick. I suggest the Senator raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Senator Ó Domhnaill was critical of the property tax. It is hard to take such criticism from members of a party which advocated the introduction of such a tax not long ago.

Senator James Heffernan referred to recent problems with subcontractors who worked on Kilfinane national school in his locality. I will revert to the House on Senator Quinn's Bill and the progress or lack thereof made in recent months.

The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, will come before the House on 29 January to address the points raised by Senators Diarmuid Wilson and Colm Burke.

Senator Ó Clochartaigh asked that the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, come to the House to provide a progress report on wind energy. We will try to arrange a debate on the issue, to which Senator Kelly also referred. Senator Kelly also asked that the Garda inquiry into the death of Fr. Niall Molloy be dispensed with. We should await the outcome of the inquiry before proceeding on this matter.

On a point of order, while we all appreciate the rapidity with which the Leader possessed himself of the information on cystic fibrosis patients, if he were to make a gracious gesture by circulating the full text to Members and Ms Orla Tinsley, I would not call a vote on the Order of Business. Will he circulate the text?

The Leader has replied.

Question put: "That the Order of Business be agreed to."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 28; Níl, 18.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Harte, Jimmy.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Mac Conghail, Fiach.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Whelan, John.


  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Crown, John.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Brien, Mary Ann.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden; Níl, Senators John Crown and David Norris.
Question declared carried.