Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on the report of the expert group on the judgment in the A, B and C v. Ireland case, to be taken at 2 p.m. and adjourn not later than 4.30 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; and No. 2, Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill 2012 - all Stages, to be taken from 5 p.m. and conclude not later than 6 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons on Second Stage not to exceed five minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed three minutes and the Minister to have five minutes to reply. Committee and Remaining Stages will be taken immediately thereafter.

Immediately following the Order of Business there will be tributes to a former colleague, Trevor West.

Yesterday was an important day. Fianna Fáil disagrees with many items contained in the budget. The Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, was in the House yesterday for statements on the budget. One issue on which there is agreement across the House is the requirement for more time to debate the budget. Many Senators, on all sides, who wished to contribute yesterday were unable to do so.

That is not true.

It is true. I was here.

Senator Darragh O'Brien to continue, without interruption.

The Leader should arrange a meeting with the Fine Gael and Labour Party Senators to discuss the issue. The reason time is required for further debate is that while the budget was announced yesterday, it was only late last night or early today that people came to understand what it really means. I will give an example. The respite care grant has been cut. This is reminiscent of the cut to the disability allowance last year, a decision the Government had to reverse.

I am asking Senators of good conscience to ensure this cut does not proceed in any shape or form. This 20% cut in the respite care grant will affect more than 70,000 families, 5,000 of whom depend on it solely as the only grant they receive from the State.

Nobody can tell me the budget is grounded in fairness, as it should be. I have given only one example but the budget is not fair, in any way, shape or form. In addition, the Government did not reverse the home help cuts of 950,000 hours it brought in last year - it made no mention of them yesterday. Senator Kelly can shake his head all he likes. It is a fact.

There was that cut, the cut to the respite care grant and the cut of €10 to child benefit. There was a Labour Party promise on the last named but I am sick of talking about those promises because they mean nothing.

They are irrelevant.

Senator Bacik knows that.

Is the Senator seeking a debate on this issue?

Senator Bacik and all her student friends in Labour Youth were among those who stood with the Minister for Education and Skills, when he was simply Deputy Ruairí Quinn, as he signed a pledge that he would not increase registration fees. He has increased them again.

There is something else her Government did, although she may not know it. It raised the income threshold for families seeking student grants

The Senator should speak through the Chair.

I am trying to inform Senator Bacik what her party did yesterday.

Is the Senator seeking a debate? We are on the Order of Business.

The Senator is unduly impassioned.

(Interruptions).

I reiterate what I said last night. Senator Bacik's party rolled over like the old Labour Party dog it is, and let Fine Gael rub its belly.

(Interruptions).

There is so much noise I cannot hear.

The Labour Party was not even able to push for a 3% increase in the USC for those earning more than €100,000, which would have brought in €200 million. What did it do instead? It cut child benefit by €10----

What about pensions? What about the measures on capital gains and acquisitions?

Is Senator Darragh O'Brien seeking a debate?

That party failed miserably. I am looking for more than a debate. I am proposing an amendment to the Order of Business.

The Senator is out of time.

I propose that the Minister for Social Protection - or social destruction - Deputy Joan Burton come to the House. The reason is that she hid a supplementary budget yesterday.

Is the Senator looking for a debate?

I propose that the Minister come to the House and explain how she, a Labour Party Minister, can stand over the cuts she introduced and also why she found it fit to use budget day to cover up a supplementary budget, an overspend of €670 million. We will deal with the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, in a couple of minutes because he hid further bad news yesterday.

Can the amendment be made more specific?

I propose that the Minister, Deputy Joan Burton, come to thie House to explain the rationale for cutting the respite care grant and child benefit, to name but two.

The Senator is considerably over time.

I would like her to explain, as all of us would-----

The Senator can ask for that when the Minister attends the House. I call Senator Bacik.

I hope Senator Bacik will agree to this amendment because we were promised an open and transparent budgetary process, which we did not get. What did we get? The Minister for Social Protection, who cannot manage her own area, stands over a €10 cut to child benefit and cuts to the respite care grant.

There is an empty vessel across the floor of the House making a lot of noise about this.

We could say the same of the Labour Party.

As Senator Darragh O'Brien knows well, there are 14 measures in the budget that are specifically targeted to tax wealth, a direct consequence of the position of the Labour Party in government.

It made Fine Gael do that, did it?

If the Senator-----

It pushed the party to do that and grasp its wealthy friends.

If the Senator bothered to read the objective commentary made overnight and today about the budget, he will see it is generally acknowledged that this is a budget which targets wealth, as it should.

Where did the Senator read that?

Senator Bacik to continue, without interruption.

There is the property tax. For the first time we will see a tax that is squarely focused on taxing wealth and ensuring that those with the most will pay most. It is a property tax, rather than an income tax. The Senator well knows that when his Government was in office, it focused purely on income-----

Last year we had the most regressive budget ever and it has been followed with another one.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

This is a far more progressive approach.

The Senator should be ashamed of herself.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

We can talk about shame in a minute.

I reiterate that empty vessels make most noise.

The Senator would know all about that.

There is no doubt about that.

Senator Bacik to continue, without interruption.

I welcome that the Minister for Social Protection will attend the House today to deal with the Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill-----

-----which will legalise humanist weddings. It was initiated as a Private Members' Bill in this House.

A burning issue.

It is a burning issue for many people and I am delighted the Bill has cross-party support. I remind Senator Darragh O'Brien that the Minister, Deputy Burton, will attend the House for several days to deal with the Social Welfare Bill and changes to social welfare.

(Interruptions).

Senator Bacik to continue, without interruption.

There will be plenty of time to debate the issues the Senator wishes to raise.

She could have come today.

I renew a call to the Leader for a debate on the Middle East and Gaza, given that today and tomorrow will see the biggest ever international conference ever held in Ireland, with foreign Ministers from all over the world attending the OSCE meeting in the RDS. This is a significant event for Ireland and has brought a great number of people to the country, including the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. It is important to note, in terms of the Middle East, that Ireland took a lead on the recognition of the Palestinian State for observer status at the United Nations. When the vote came up at the UN the majority of EU members agreed with Ireland's original lead on the issue, which sought to ensure that Palestinians would move a very important step in their advance towards statehood. I welcome that. It is an example of what even a small country like Ireland can do as part of an international organisation. It is important that we mark Ireland's position as chair of the OSCE this year.

Overnight, the Carrickfergus office of Stewart Dickson, MLA, was set on fire by some of his political opponents. That is a very sad event. We all recognise the noble role the Alliance Party has paid in the peace process. Will the Leader express our regrets and sympathy to Mr. Dickson and his party on the setting on fire of the office in Carrickfergus?

My good friends across the Chamber have absolutely no credibility.

Stick to something safe. Do not go down that road.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Senator Darragh O'Brien mentioned social destruction. There were two elections, in 2002 and 2007, after which Fianna Fáil was responsible for unsustainable spending and giveaways.

What about the Fine Gael manifesto in 2007?

Senator Mullins to continue, without interruption.

There is hardship now because some of that spending has had to be clawed back. In fairness, neither does Sinn Féin have any credibility because it never had to make an economic decision in this country. In the North it did, where it succeeded in raising property tax of approximately £1,500 per house-----

A Senator

That is not the party's fault.

-----and has taken some very severe budgetary decisions. This budget is designed to ensure that those who can afford to pay more will pay more. There are many positive features, some of which were welcomed yesterday by small and medium-sized enterprises.

I spoke about the motor industry recently, in respect of the dual registration system which is to be introduced and which, one hopes, will help the industry. Cars registered in the first half of 2013 will be registered as 131; those registered later in the year will be registered as 132.

The €35 million seed capital for retrofitting homes will give stimulus to the building industry. The relief from capital gains on the sales of farmland for restructuring purposes will be welcomed by everybody in the agricultural business.

I was disappointed in one area of the budget. Although an increase in excise duties was introduced, the issue of below-cost selling of alcohol was not addressed. I was told yesterday it was not possible to tackle that in the budget but it must be tacked at other points because of the devastation the abuse and usage of alcohol is having on many people. In addition, the multinationals are manipulating the VAT system in order to boost sales of alcohol and get people into their shops. This issue must be addressed. Will the Leader invite the relevant Minister to the House in order that we can tease out the formalities required to address this issue? Significant revenue could be raised that might enable us to be less harsh in regard to some of the measures that had to be taken yesterday.

I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, namely, that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Fitzgerald, come before the House in order that we might have the opportunity to impress upon her the need to revisit a number of measures contained in yesterday's budget. As Minister O'Brien indicated-----

The Senator has promoted Senator Darragh O'Brien to Minister.

-----the Minister for Social Protection has not been in a position to listen to her party's backbenchers. We had an opportunity to discuss some matters relating to the budget last evening. As one of my colleagues stated in the Dáil yesterday, the budget is anti-women and anti-children. It is particularly anti-children in the context of the €10 cut in child benefit for the first two children. That cut is simply inhuman, as is the taxing of maternity benefit and the reduction in the back to school allowance. Fine Gael and Labour Party Senators could not have had an input into the budget because I have worked with them all and I am aware that the measures to which I refer have not been thought out. I remind Members that Fianna Fáil's pre-budget submission contained the same €3.5 billion-----

Is the Senator referring to the fancy pre-budget submission that was not costed? The only ones who costed it were those in Fianna Fáil.

The Senator should relax.

Our budget submission was costed and it recommends how €3.5 billion-----

No, it was not costed.

(Interruptions).

It was certainly not costed by those who made the calculations for the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, in respect of the €370 million overrun relating to the health service. It was also not costed by the person who made the calculations for the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, in respect of her Department's €600 million overrun.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Our pre-budget submission contained recommendations on how to achieve the €3.5 billion in savings contained in the budget and produce a higher tax yield. Under those recommendations, child benefit, maternity benefit and the back to school allowance would have been protected. Colleagues will refer to the propaganda engaged in by the Labour Party prior to the general election. I have previously described the Labour Party's behaviour at that time as the biggest single act of political delinquency in the history of the State.

It was a Fianna Fáil Government which introduced the bank guarantee and led us into the troika programme.

I ask that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs come before the House in order that we might ask her to consider the implications of the budget for the mothers and children of Ireland. The cuts to which I refer can and should be reversed.

They will be reversed.

In our costed pre-budget submission, we showed how a 3% increase in the universal social charge would yield €200 million. If our recommendation in this regard were accepted, the Government would not be obliged to destroy families throughout the country.

We all know that the budget had to include some austerity measures in order that we might get back on some kind of track. Privately, Fianna Fáil colleagues inform me that social welfare needed to be cut. However, they have not indicated the elements of social welfare which they believe should be cut. Privately, they also state that the level of social welfare spending is outrageous. We protected baseline rates of social welfare. In order to make savings in respect of social welfare, it was, therefore, necessary to tamper with other aspects. Will Fianna Fáil provide us with an alternative? As Senator Gilroy stated, Fianna Fáil's pre-budget submission was not costed by the Department of Finance. It may have been costed by Senator Leyden and a few others who appear to know everything but it was certainly not costed by the Department of Finance.

It is well costed.

(Interruptions).

Nor have Fianna Fáil's colleagues-----

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Senator Kelly is under pressure.

He is feeling the pressure.

The budget will cost him a seat in Dáil Éireann on the next occasion.

Senator Kelly should come over to this side of the House.

There will be a cost for him and many more in the House.

Senator Leyden has indicated-----

Senator Leyden should relax.

The Senator mentioned my name.

I do not want the Senator to have high blood pressure.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

The Chair should offer me some protection.

The Senator has indicated that he wishes to speak and he will have the opportunity to do so.

I will take that opportunity. I am just waiting for it to arise.

Nor have Fianna Fáil's colleagues in Sinn Féin-----

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

I will pose it in a moment.

The Senator's time is almost exhausted.

If I am allowed to speak, I will be able to pose any amount of questions.

The Senator is almost out of time.

I was walking down the corridor following last evening's Adjournment debate and I met three Sinn Féin Members. I heard them state "The devil must be in the detail".

That is hearsay. Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

It is not hearsay. I heard what they said.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

The devil must be in the detail because outside of the reduction to the respite care grant, those opposite are struggling to find a really substantive measure in the budget about which they can criticise the Government.

The Senator should stop. Why does he not go hiding at weekends?

Does Senator Kelly have a question for the Leader?

I am coming to it. I welcome the fact that three matters in respect of which I have campaigned continually were all addressed in the budget.

The Senator got what he was seeking.

The first of these is the rebate for the haulage sector in respect of diesel costs, the second is the jobs initiative scheme. I have continually stated that social welfare payments should be used to get people back to work-----

(Interruptions).

The Senator is way over time.

The third is that-----

I call Senator Cullinane.

For every one of the past three weeks, Senator Darragh O'Brien has been raising the issue of home help hours. In the budget----

The Senator's time is up. He must conclude.

I have no question for the Leader today.

We have just witnessed the sting of the dying wasp.

Neither I nor anyone else in Sinn Féin need inform Labour Party Members with regard to what is bad about the budget. They will be very clearly informed in this regard by their constituents and those who will be affected by this, the second tough, gruelling austerity budget to be introduced by Fine Gael and the Labour Party. No one in Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil or any other party will be obliged to make matters clear to Senator Kelly and his colleagues. That will be done by their families, friends and people from their communities who will point out the savage cuts over which those on the Government side are prepared to stand.

When they were in opposition prior to last year's general election, those in government campaigned against such cuts. They said at that stage that they would not cut child benefit or increase college fees. Now, however, they have gone after those in receipt of the respite care grant and have introduced cuts in the areas of health and education.

We have not done anything in respect of education.

The Government has introduced a property tax which does not take account of people's ability to pay. The spokesperson of the liberal wing of the Labour Party, Senator Bacik, almost wears as a badge of honour the fact that the Government has not increased income tax.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Senator Bacik has referred to the new property tax as progressive.

On a point of order-----

This is a most regressive form of taxation.

(Interruptions).

Senator Bacik should resume her seat. That is not a point of order.

Senator Bacik should address her remarks through the Chair. She should also sit down.

Senator Bacik is a liberal and she cares nothing for social issues or for families which are going to be hammered by this property tax. It is an unfair tax which is not linked with people's ability to pay.

The Senator should respect the Chair.

It is telling that we have-----

We are not discussing the budget on the Order of Business. If the Senator has a question for the Leader, he should ask it.

Does the Leader agree that the property tax is unfair?

Does he agree that one cannot describe a tax which is not linked with a person's income as fair or progressive?

Is the Senator referring to a tax similar to the one his party introduced in the North?

Senator Cullinane is way over time.

In the North people get free education, including free schoolbooks and transport, free health care and-----

The Senator is over time.

(Interruptions).

Those in government will pay a hefty price for this, their second gruelling austerity budget.

Senator Cullinane will terrify the children who are sitting in the Visitors Gallery. They all look frightened.

We all knew this budget would be tough. Every year it gets harder. I will be honest that I am really angry with Fianna Fáil for its recklessnes.

We are not discussing the budget.

The country and its people are where Fianna Fáil put them. I thank Fianna Fáil. That party should take its responsibility on board and man up. We have been placed in a ridiculous position.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

When will the House engage in a debate on the property tax in order that we might figure out ways to make it affordable, to allow people to defer payment, etc.?

Is the Senator going to-----

If the Senator wishes to be called on the Order of Business, he should stop interrupting.

Another important issue with which we must deal is the expert group's report, a debate on which is scheduled to take place later. I appeal to Members to give real consideration to this matter and contribute to the debate to which I refer.

I appeal to the Leader to give as much time as possible. If the debate needs to run into next week, please allow that to happen. We have to figure out whether we want to allow abortion on the grounds of suicide, whether we believe terminations are possible in this country-----

The Senator should sit down.

We must face up to this issue. When does the health of the mother matter? When does the life of the mother matter?

The Senator can raise these questions during the debate.

All of this matters. I ask the Leader to extend the debate as much as possible because we want a thorough debate. While we are dealing with the issue now, we should not rush.

I second amendment No. 1. In regard to the budget, it would be useful if the Minister----

We are not discussing the budget. We are finished with it.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

I have a suggestion for the Leader. He might invite the Minister for Finance to the House next week to discuss the details of the budget. I was in the Lower House in 1982 when Garrett the Good brought in the tax on children's shoes.

Who brought in the 1977 budget?

I walked through the voting lobbies with the great Jim Kemmy. I hope he is an inspiration to the Labour Party, particularly-----

Is the Senator proposing an amendment to the Order of Business?

I have seconded Senator Darragh O'Brien's amendment. I cannot believe the Government has cut child benefit by €10 after the passage of the children's referendum on 11 November.

That can be part of the debate the Senator is looking for.

I am in shock at what is happening.

On a point of order, does the Senator not realise he has taken thousands of euro from children, not €10?

I am speechless.

The Senator should resume his seat. He is not speechless.

I want to underline for Senator Bacik what the Labour Party said. She canvassed in Dún Laoghaire on the back of it.

If the Senator says he is speechless, he should remain so.

Will the Leader ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House next week to discuss the closure of Ballintubber, Ballyforan and Knockcroghery Garda stations and the amalgamation and rationalisation of the stations in Castlerea and Boyle? What has he got against Boyle and Ballintubber, the home village of Senator Kelly?

The Senator is way over time.

The people of north Roscommon had great expectations of the Senator. They have been dashed, destroyed and ruined and Fine Gael and the Labour Party will pay the price at the next election. They will be wiped out.

If the matter was not so serious, I would ask the Leader to organise for someone from the magic wand factory to come to the House to discuss how to create magic wands, which Fianna Fáil seems to believe we can use to create an immaculate budget that does not affect anybody, despite the mess they clearly left. As others eloquently put it, we are trying to sort out the mess we inherited. It is difficult and many Government Members are not happy about some of the measures in the budget but we understand that we need to keep going and that we need balance in the budget mix.

Many positive, decent and well thought out budgetary adjustments are not being discussed and they will make a difference, particularly in the context of job creation. One issue that is too easily overlooked is the creation of an energy efficiency fund, which we could discuss during the next term. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to come to the House to discuss the establishment of such a fund? It would be a new departure but energy efficiency is an important element of job creation in the energy sector.

I refer to the case of Marie Fleming and acknowledge her enormous dignity, fortitude and courage and that of her family, as they face the most extraordinary personal difficulty, which they have taken into the public arena not only on behalf of herself and her fight for the right to die peacefully in the arms of her family but on behalf of other people who face a similar battle and for whom this could make a difference in the future.

I second Senator MacSharry's amendment. Government Members may think we in Fianna Fáil are stirring everything up for what it is worth but the people are speaking. The Irish Independent says it all.

Is the Irish Independent the people now?

Since when does the Senator believe the press?

Senator Mooney to continue, without interruption, although he should not discuss the budget on the Order of Business.

When they return to their constituencies, they will find out exactly what is the mood of the people. The bell is tolling for the Government parties and there are winds of change. There is no question that they will be swept away.

The bell is tolling. Does the Senator have a question for Leader?

The Senator knows all about change. The people took care of him and his party.

Senator Mooney to continue, without interruption.

With regard to deference to and respect for the Chair, who like many colleagues, has respect and appreciation for the decorum of the House, some elements of Members' contributions do not cast a positive reflection on the House and I do not mean the content. For example, when the Chair stands, it has always been a tradition and a convention that the Member resumes his or her seat. If we allow ourselves to be slipshod about basic conventions such as that, the public will not care much about us. I am not in a lecturing mode but we need sometimes to stop and be aware. That is a Rubicon no Member should cross. When the Chair stands, the Member should sit down. He or she can resume afterwards.

As part of my ongoing campaign coming up to Christmas, which is supported by everyone in the House, to support Irish made goods, Members will be aware the National Dairy Council, NDC, has run advertisements in the national newspapers pointing out that unless the NDC mark is on a litre of milk, it is not produced in Ireland. This was news to me. I naturally assumed all milk sold by retailers was produced in Ireland. Unless it has the NDC mark, it is not produced in Ireland.

A total of 12,000 jobs rely on the production and sale of milk. I am sure the Leader will join me in encouraging people when they go to their local stores - I hope they use their local stores to support local jobs - to stop and take stock of what they are buying. If it says it is Irish on the tin, they should look more closely. As Senator Quinn said some weeks ago, several products people assume are made in Ireland are not. However, as milk prices look like they will reduce again next year, we would be doing our patriotic duty if we ensured the milk we buy is produced in Ireland. I hope between now and Christmas there will be an opportunity for us to continue to promote Irish made goods.

The Cathaoirleach asked whether Senator Leyden was speechless. Government Members are speechless listening to the drivel and nonsense coming out of Fianna Fáil Members.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

I have. Fianna Fáil is the republican party but it should probably be renamed the tabloid party.

The Senator was a member once.

I was but I saw the light in 2001 and left.

That was not the reason the Senator left.

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

The populism of Fianna Fáil, which was well articulated by Senator Darragh O'Brien, makes me think all its members have turned into 'Ming' with a Dublin accent. Senator Leyden and others betrayed their real feelings about the budget when they said the Labour Party, in particular, will be wiped out at the next election. So be it if we are, because the Labour Party does not put party politics ahead of the good of the country, unlike other parties, which are clearly indicating they do.

Throughout my political career, no member of the Labour Party has put his or her career first.

The Senator would not be the first to slip off the high moral ground.

We want to get the country and the economy back on track. The Diarmuid Mac Murchadas of Fianna Fáil invited the IMF to the country. We will not shirk from the difficult decisions that must be made. If it damages the Labour Party and individual careers, so be it. That is the price we will pay. I do not have a question for the Leader but I thought it necessary to make that point.

I agree that one or two items in the budget may need to be re-examined, such as-----

I agree with the Senator about child benefit at the lower level, certainly.

(Interruptions).

Senator Gilroy to continue, without interruption.

We should take a look at the respite care grant. Those measures seem to be particularly harsh and if anything can be done, the Labour Party will do it.

The House debated the budget for two hours last night but that was not nearly enough time. I hope there will be an opportunity to have a more comprehensive debate next week on the fallout from the budget when we can deal with some of the negative details. I acknowledge there are positive aspects to the budget but many of its elements can be summarised as regressive. I do not intend to make a political point. We can all throw political points across the floor but the people who will suffer as a result of the budget are the individuals on lower incomes, in particular, lower-income families and mothers. The House will debate the X case and abortion this evening. Unfortunately, the unborn child is affected in this budget because the average maternity benefit will be cut by €800 as a result of a taxation measure introduced in the budget. The unborn child will be paying €800. That is a disgrace. Child benefit will be protected but an unborn child is targeted-----

Does the Senator have a question?

Once the child comes into the world he or she will also be targeted. I do not know how any political party can attack both the unborn and the newly born. It is not right.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Yes, I have. We need to have a debate on some of the issues. I agree with Senator Gilroy that elements of the budget need to be revisited. I hope the Fine Gael and Labour Party backbenchers will stand up for their convictions and challenge their own Ministers to row back on issues such as PRSI, maternity benefit, the respite care grant, child benefit-----

(Interruptions).

The Senator is over time.

Those are the facts. I call on the Leader to facilitate a debate next week with the Minister for Finance. Tuesday would be my preferred date. We need to discuss the fallout from the budget in some detail.

In all of the clamour about the negative aspects of the budgets we have forgotten some of the positive aspects. I welcome that the rate of rent supplement has not been altered. One in every five families is now living in private rented accommodation and the State funds 100,000 families through the rent supplement payment. This measure is very important and is most welcomed by many vulnerable people.

With regard to the property tax, we would not be in this position if the Opposition had grasped the nettle many moons ago when it came to financing local parties and spreading the burden.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

History matters, to be blunt.

Fine Gael and the Labour Party were opposed to it at the time.

I remind the Senator that history matters. His party abolished rates in 1977 but to be honest, we helped his party in 1973 when the Fine Gael-Labour Party coalition removed a substantial level of rates in urban areas. None of us is without blame.

I was four years of age.

The facts of the matter remain that Fianna Fáil spent longer in government than us and they have had more opportunities to deal with this matter. I ask the Leader that in the new year when we have all had a chance to read and to reflect on the Thornhill report that he would arrange a debate on the future funding of local authorities. Members will be aware that the current provisions allow for individual local government areas to increase or decrease the charge by 50% over time in either direction. I ask for a genuine debate about the future of the funding of local authorities. Some of the Scandinavian countries are interesting because individuals vote for the areas of local authority expenditure. This is a debate we should have once we have passed along from the rhetoric of the budget.

At a time when vulnerable communities are worried about crime, the Minister, Deputy Shatter, used the cover of the budget to announce the closure of 100 Garda stations, including three in County Cavan, Bawnboy, Stradone and Redhills. This is a very cynical exercise by the Minister, a man who continues to treat the Garda Síochána and the people with contempt.

Withdraw that remark.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

That is a remark uncharacteristic of Senator Wilson. It is ungenerous.

At a time when crime is on the increase, the Minister continues to close Garda stations, take Garda cars away from gardaí and lock them up in the Phoenix Park. Gardaí are supposed to police their areas by using CCTV while sitting in Garda stations in the main towns. It is a hugely cynical exercise by the Minister which I strongly condemn. I have a question for the Leader. Will he invite the Minister for Justice and Equality who is also the Minister with responsibility for more closures to come to the House in order that we can ask him what is he doing about policing? I will not even mention what he is doing to the Department of Defence.

Like other speakers, I wish to mention the PRSI changes. I understand the concerns of Senators on the other side of the House with regard to cuts to PRSI. However, the extra €5 charge will serve to bolster their entitlements in certain circumstances. As the Minister said this morning, it is the best value for €5 that a person could obtain. There has been no reduction in social welfare payments and this must have been very difficult to achieve. The PRSI paid by every taxpayer will bolster entitlements and this is a significant point.

As I came into Leinster House this morning, I could hear all the shouting emanating from this Chamber. A group of schoolchildren were in the hall. We are doing ourselves a great deal of harm in this House when we shout and raise objections. I heard Senator Mooney say that when the Cathaoirleach is on his feet, it is expected that the speaker should resume his or her seat. Certain behaviour will damage the future of this House. We have to be careful how we handle that because it is on our own shoulders if we find ourselves doing harm to the future of this House.

I refer to Senator Barrett's contribution about the Alliance Party and the terror that was foisted on its members yesterday in Northern Ireland. We do not recognise the wonderful peace we have enjoyed in recent times. This has been enabled, to a large extent, by organisations like the Alliance Party. We must remember that peace was not achieved easily nor did it come easily to those people who had to take steps which were not always welcome. Senator Mooney also referred to the Buy Irish campaign. I would love to think people would buy Irish products. He mentioned the NDC mark on milk. We should remember that there are six counties in Northern Ireland that are part of this island. When we talk about buying Irish, we should include the whole island and not just part of it. I remember when Irish products were identified in my supermarket. I was asked what to call a product from Antrim or Armagh. It did not dawn on me to regard such products as anything but Irish. We should do our best to purchase Irish goods this Christmas and to include the whole island.

Last night a major security operation on the Merrion Square side of Leinster House was not because anyone was protesting against the budget but rather it was because a very distinguished guest, Hillary Clinton, was in town. The Clintons are always welcome to this country. Their work on its behalf will go down in history because it has been eminently positive. She is speaking in DCU this afternoon and I wish her well. Every time the Clintons come to Dublin, they bring significant publicity for Ireland throughout America.

Anywhere the Clintons go they are followed by the American and international media because they are probably the best example of what politics can achieve. I am disappointed that Bill Clinton will probably not become the US ambassador to Ireland, simply because he wants to remain doing the valuable work he is doing with his foundation which, I believe, will win a Nobel Peace Prize in time to come. I wish the Secretary of State all the best with her trip to Ireland and hope it is as successful as she hopes it will be.

Obviously, the Order of Business-----

My apologies, I forgot to call Deputy Colm Burke and other Senators.

I thank the Cathaoirleach and apologise to the Leader. In regard to the budget there are one or two issues we need to look at in respect of the health budget. Some €150 million extra is being put into the health budget which is a huge amount considering that less money is available. In the health care area there is a need to look at efficiencies. For example, 65 million items of medication have been dispensed in a 12 month period and we are consuming 35% more antibiotics than any other EU country. This is about value for money. We can provide the same standard of health care service but there must be efficiencies in that area.

I had a question in to the Joint Committee on Health, the answer to which I received this morning. The number of people not turning up for outpatient appointments in Cork University Hospital alone, between January and August, was 17,000. Whether there is a problem in arranging appointments it is about value for money. If a service is being provided it is important that it is used efficiently. Given the health care budget, we can deliver the same and even an improved quality of service while creating efficiencies in the process. That is one of the things the Minister is doing and the Department and the HSE are working hard to achieve efficiencies. We all have a part to play in ensuring value for money and if we seek services we must avail of them when made available to us.

There are many aspects of the budget that remind me of the debacle of the budget introduced by the then Minister for Finance, Mr. John Bruton, when he imposed a tax on children's shoes. The cuts to older people in this budget are of the same order. Each one of us is getting older day by day and there is an increasing number of older people in society. As people get older they will have more health needs. The budget changes will leave older people struggling to pay for health care and heat in their homes. Those are the two issues on which I wish to focus. The trebling of the prescription charge from 50c to €1.50 per item on a prescription will hit the poor, the sick and the old the hardest. That increase combined with a €12 increase in the income threshold for the drugs payment scheme to €144 per month means that many more older people will struggle to pay their medicine bills.

We are not having a debate on the Order of Business.

It is a Second Stage speech.

The sharp reduction in the income thresholds for the over 70s will cause hardship and further undermine the ability of older people who will lose their medical cards as a result of the immediate health care costs. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to come to the House. It is a tragedy for older people that the Government did not appoint a dedicated Minister for older people.

We are putting an extra €150 million into the health budget.

That is the reason there is nobody to stand up for them. I am aware the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, is a very good Minister but she has four or five portfolios. When Fianna Fáil is back in government, which will be soon-----

In 30 years time.

-----we will appoint a Minister for older people.

Nobody here will be alive when Fianna Fáil is back in government. They will be long dead.

I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Deenihan, to come to the House next week for a debate on the proposal to designate special areas of conservation and the impact on the Porcupine Basin where it is proposed to drill ten wells in the next year to a year and a half.

Obviously, the budget has dominated the Order of Business. I listened to the entire debate on the budget and sat in for the last 45 minutes. There were two more speakers offering at that stage who did not get in. In saying that, we have had pre-budget debates which we have not had in previous years. No less time than ever has been allowed this year on statements on the budget but I am sure we will have ample opportunity to discuss the various aspects of the budget in the next few weeks.

The Leader of the Opposition specifically mentioned the respite care grant being reduced to €13.75. Unfortunately it had to be reduced to the 2006 level in the boom years. However, carer's benefit has not been affected. Carers can have their social welfare payment in addition to half the carer's allowance. There are many areas that have not been affected. Every Government would like to say there would be no cuts. We are not living in the boom years when Fianna Fáil was in office when all the money was squandered.

The Leader to continue, without interruption, please.

That is why we are forced to have difficult budgets. I am looking at Fianna Fáil's pre-budget announcement. It is as vague as Fianna Fáil was when in government in relation to policies.

It is a good document and has been costed.

Santa's document.

Let me give two specific examples. Fianna Fáil proposes to save €350 million through non-pay savings under the Croke Park agreement and €200 million through control and activation measures in social protection. There are no details on where the €500 million will come from.

Obviously, the Senator did not read the full document.

I presume it is the rising tide lifting all boats and Fianna Fáil sunk them all afterwards. We will leave the budget aside.

I will give the Leader a copy of the document.

We will have ample opportunity to discuss the many issues Members have raised on the budget. They have asked that the Minister for Social Protection come to the House. The social welfare Bill will probably come before the House next week when there will be ample time to discuss it.

Senator Bacik raised the issue of Palestine having observer status at the United Nations and the fact that Ireland fully supported that move. That is to be commended and Members will welcome it.

Senators Sean D. Barrett and Feargal Quinn outlined the dreadful situation where the office of Mr. Stewart Dickson of the Alliance Party was set on fire last evening. We all sympathise with Mr. Dickson on that dreadful event and pay tribute to the Alliance Party which has been the voice of reason in the North for many years. As we all empathise with him, I will relay the sentiments of the House to Mr. Dickson.

Senator Michael Mullins drew attention to the below-cost selling of alcohol and expressed disappointment that the issue had not been addressed in the budget. I am sure that matter will be addressed, if it can be addressed, in the near future.

We will have debates on it in the new year.

Senator MacSharry called on the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to come to the House. As I outlined on Tuesday, she will be in the House in early January for more than two and a half hours to debate children's issues. The Finance Bill will not have been passed by then. The Minister will be present. The Senator is hoarse and quiet. I listened to him last night and it was one his best performances.

I thank the Leader.

He would have got another gold medal for his dramatic performance last night. It is no wonder he is so hoarse this morning.

Senator Kelly correctly highlighted the fuel rebate for the haulage sector, which is welcome. I know of no one who has not welcomed this measure in the budget. It is important to the entire transport sector.

I refer to Senator Cullinane's comments. There were cuts in many areas in the budget, which we would not like to make in normal times but these are not normal times and the Government was elected to sort out the fiscal problems of the country. We will do that and go confidently to the people and ask them for a mandate for the future. The Government will be in office for five years. We have done a great deal of the heavy lifting and, in the next few years, will achieve growth in the economy and secure a deal on our debt. This country will prosper, despite the reservations of others, including Opposition Members, who do not want the country to prosper and the Government to succeed.

We all want the country to prosper.

We will stand by the country and do what is right for it at all times.

Senator Healy Eames requested a debate on the property tax. I am sure we will have a further debate on it in early course. With regard to the expert group on abortion report, if Members read the Order of Business, they will be aware that time will be provided for a debate later. The debate will be resumed if speakers are offering. The Minister will not reply today if we have sufficient speakers but, if not, he will reply and the debate-----

What about going up to see Hillary Clinton?

The Leader to continue, without interruption.

If Members wish to go and see Hillary Clinton rather than attend to their duties in the House, they are welcome to do so.

She is an inspirational leader.

What about American-Irish relations?

Members should listen to the Order of Business and they would know the position on the debate.

What can I say in response to Senator Leyden? Fianna Fáil took the shirts off people's backs and bankrupted the country. There is not much more to add.

Senator O'Keeffe asked for a debate on the establishment of an energy efficiency fund. Perhaps we will do so in the new year.

Senator Mooney urged people to support Irish produce, particularly milk. I also note the point made by Senator Quinn on that matter.

I acknowledge Senator Mooney's comments on the issue of respecting the Chair. It is important that Members read Standing Orders and understand their duties. When the Chair stands, Members should sit. I never witnessed this previously. It has only crept in in recent times. No matter how exercised or excited a Member was in the past, he or she sat down and respected the Chair. I hope that will be the practice in the House in the future.

Senator Hayden welcomed the fact that rent supplement was not affected and raised the issue of the funding of local authorities. On Tuesday, I outlined the date on which the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government would be in the House in January to discuss this issue.

Senator Wilson raised the issue of the policing plan. The Minister for Justice and Equality has been in the House more regularly than any other Minister. He was here last night and will be present again next week. With regard to Garda transport, hundreds of new cars have been ordered, as I outlined a few weeks ago, to replace those that are not up to scratch.

There will be nobody to drive them.

I am sure I can arrange a debate with the Minister on the closure of barracks and so on.

Senator Conway referred to the visit of Hillary Clinton, which everyone welcomes. The Clintons have been good friends to Ireland and will continue to be.

Senator Colm Burke raised an issue he mentioned a few months ago about the number of people failing to turn up for outpatient appointments. The position in this regard should be improved to provide for more efficiency in the system. There are 17,000 appointments in one hospital, 18,000 in Waterford Regional Hospital and so on. If the people concerned are preventing others on the waiting lists from securing an appointment, it should be highlighted because it is an important issue.

Senator White commented on the budget provision relating to prescription charges. The monthly cap will be €19.50 for an individual or family. She also mentioned the Minister of State with responsibility for older people. Perhaps the Senator might succeed her.

I thank the Leader; I would be delighted.

That will not happen under Fine Gael but it might happen under Fianna Fáil.

Senator Sheahan made an important point about special areas of conversation and the impact of drilling for oil in the Porcupine Basin and other areas. I am sure the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht will be willing to come to the House for a debate on this issue and I will try to arrange such a debate early in the new year.

Naturally, I do not propose to accept the two amendments proposed to the Order of Business.

Senator Darragh O'Brien has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Minister for Social Protection on the reductions in the respite care allowance and child benefit contained in the budget be taken today". Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 13; Níl, 29.

  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Keeffe, Susan.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Whelan, John.
  • Zappone, Katherine.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paschal Mooney and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Terry Brennan and Aideen Hayden.
Amendment declared lost.

Senator Marc MacSharry has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs on the impact the cuts proposed in the budget will have on women and children be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 14; Níl, 29.

  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Keeffe, Susan.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Whelan, John.
  • Zappone, Katherine.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Terry Brennan and Aideen Hayden.
Amendment declared lost.
Question put: "That the Order of Business be agreed to."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 31; Níl, 11.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Keeffe, Susan.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Whelan, John.
  • Zappone, Katherine.

Níl

  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Terry Brennan and Aideen Hayden; Níl, Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson.
Question declared carried.