Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on Irish Water, to be taken at 11.45 a.m. and to conclude not later than 1 p.m., with the contributions of Senators not to exceed five minutes in each case, and the Minister to be called on to reply to the debate not later than 12.55 p.m.; No. 2, statements on the Common Agricultural Policy and rural development programme, to be taken at 2 p.m. and to conclude not later than 3.30 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes in each case, which can be shared, the contributions of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes in each case, and the Minister to be called on to reply to the debate not later than 3.25 p.m.; No. 3, Recognition of Irish Sign Language for the Deaf Community Bill 2013 - Second Stage, to be taken at 4 p.m. and to conclude not later than 6 p.m.; and No. 4, motion re appointments to the Standards in Public Office Commission, to be taken at 6 p.m. and to conclude not later than 6.25 p.m., with the contributions of Senators not to exceed three minutes in each case and the Minister to be called on to reply not later than 6.20 p.m.

I welcome that the House will engage in a short debate on the appointment to the Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO. Will the Leader outline the Government's view on the comments made yesterday by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, in respect of funding for and the profits of Rehab Lotteries Limited? If the Minister has any concerns, he should find a more appropriate way of dealing with them than making public statements. Most of us would agree, particularly in light of the scandal relating to the Central Remedial Clinic, that the charities sector has been greatly undermined. It is a cause for concern that the Minister for Justice and Equality is jumping in with both big feet in respect of this matter. In my view, he has undermined both Rehab Lotteries Limited and the Rehab Group with his comments. Does the Leader believe it appropriate for the Minister to make such comments or, more seriously, to question validity of the Rehab Group taking a case against the State - which has been ongoing for some time - in respect of compensation relating to the national lottery? I am of the view that the Minister's comments are wholly inappropriate, that he has overstepped the mark and that he is acting outside his powers.

If the Minister of Justice and Equality has concerns about the Rehab Group in the aftermath of the audit, then he should communicate them to the proper authorities. In my opinion, he should keep schtum, so to speak, on this.

The Committee of Public Accounts has a job to do.

Senator Darragh O'Brien, without interruption.

It may well do and that would be appropriate. However, any organisation or citizen is entitled to take a case against the State. For the Minister for Justice and Equality to question that and the costs involved is a very serious matter. People might find this funny but I am of the view that what the Minister is doing undermines the rights of organisations and citizens to take legal action against the State. As one of my colleagues on these benches has pointed out, there is a need to be aware of the separation of powers. I do not believe the Minister is aware of that in this instance.

Before Christmas I requested that time be made available for a debate on sport and funding for sport. The Minister for Transport, Sport and Tourism addressed the House yesterday in the context of the Road Traffic (No. 2) Bill 2013, but there is a need for him to return to engage in a debate on sport. In the context of the funding of national sporting bodies, I became concerned during the recess when I read that the restructuring of the FAI's debt essentially involved the purchase of that debt by Mr. Dermot Desmond. Does this mean that the FAI, the IRFU and similar bodies will eventually end up being privatised and owned by large entities or particular individuals? I am concerned about this matter and I would like the Minister to comment on it in the context of an overall debate relating to funding for sport. I welcome the fact that the amount of money available in the form of sports capital grants is going to be increased. I understand that such grants will be forthcoming in the aftermath of the local elections. I would welcome it if the Leader could schedule a debate on this important matter in the coming weeks.

I wish to request a specific debate on what the Government refers to as the local property tax. The latter was sold as being just that - a local property tax - but people realise this was a lie. The various local authorities have either completed their budgetary processes or are in the process of doing so. In that context, €40 million will be raised in the Fingal area by means of the collection of what the Government calls the local property tax. However, none of that money will go to Fingal County Council. The Government sold the people a pup and that fact must be debated in detail. If revenue is being raised on the basis of a local property tax, then it should go to the areas in which it is raised. That is not happening, which is an issue of grave concern to me, to many city and county councillors and, most important, to citizens. People were informed that this is a local property tax but that is not the case.

I thank the Leader for indicating, when replying to the debate on yesterday's Order of Business, that he will arrange a debate on Syria for next week. I welcome this development, particularly in the context of the peace talks that are due to begin today in Switzerland. I know Senators will wish all those involved the best of luck in seeking to resolve the appalling conflict in Syria which has led to such terrible abuses and civilian deaths.

Senator Darragh O'Brien raised the issue of Rehab Lotteries Limited. I am surprised by the view expressed by the Senator. While I accept that litigation is ongoing, there is one case that is entirely separate, namely, that involving the national lottery and the Rehab Group. The Minister for Justice and Equality was contributing to the debate on a Private Members' motion tabled by Sinn Féin in the Lower House and relating to the regulation of charities when he made his comments and pointed out the serious findings contained in the audit carried out by his Department. I am of the view that it is appropriate for him to make such comments in the national Parliament.

The Minister made his comments in the context-----

The Minister questioned the Rehab Group's right to take the case. That is the real issue.

-----of the operation of the charitable lotteries scheme established in 1997. It is in the public interest that he made those comments because the figures to which he referred are a matter of grave concern. This is a matter for us, as legislators, to deal with. Ministers often make announcements in fora in which it is inappropriate to do so. On this occasion, however, we are talking about comments made in the national Parliament. Clearly, the Minister must be careful with regard to matters that are sub judice but, to be fair, he did not stray into the area in respect of which litigation is ongoing.

It is strange to see Sinn Féin supporting the Government.

Will the Leader make arrangements for a debate on the issue of climate change and the targets relating thereto as soon as possible? There have been some very worrying developments at EU level in this regard. EU leaders appear to be rowing back on the adoption of binding targets relating to carbon emission reductions. Environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth, among others, have voiced very strong objections to the moves being made in this regard. I welcome the fact that negotiators on behalf of Ireland have indicated that we will be holding to our targets. It is extremely serious, from the point of view of people in Europe and across the globe, for the EU to contemplate any move away from adherence to binding targets. We made great progress in respect of such targets in the past and it is very sad and disappointing to see EU leaders rowing back on the commitment to adopt binding targets.

The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, was obviously very busy yesterday because I find myself referring to him again and welcoming comments he made at the parenting in Ireland conference organised by Marriage Equality. The Minister indicated that, in the context of the child and family relationships Bill to be introduced later in the year, he will be moving to remedy the situation whereby the children of gay families and same-sex couples currently experience legal discrimination. The Minister stated he will take steps to equalise the position of children in such circumstances and to provide, at last, proper regulation in respect of children born by means of surrogacy and other reproductive methods.

Would it be possible to engage in a debate on the charities regulator who is due to be appointed? Major distrust has developed among people who are used to giving money to charities but who are now stepping back because they are not sure if the money is going to the charities themselves. Would it be possible to develop a system whereby we could put in place a charity headquarters? This could be staffed by volunteers and others willing to give of their time. Instead of having many different organisations, each with its own overheads on which it is obliged to spend moneys from the contributions it receives before spending them for charitable purposes, we could have a headquarters model such as that to which I refer. I am of the view that this would engender huge confidence and trust among members of the public. Perhaps it might be possible to do something in this regard in order that people might have confidence that when they make donations, the money will go directly to the charity involved and will not be used up in other ways.

I also suggest that at some point during the coming weeks we should debate the new public service reform plan and the progress report on the previous plan. Senators received copies of both documents in the past week or so and there is great reading in them. The new plan and the progress report provide a reminder of how much work is taking place and how much more needs to be done. However, we do not appear to devote to this matter the attention it deserves.

The British have announced their attention to abolish their existing motor tax system. Our motor tax system has been in place since before Independence and people have always been obliged to display a tax disc in their front windscreens.

Instead of doing their job of protecting citizens, gardaí have become tax collectors and much of their time is spent checking whether motor tax has been paid. This role should not be allocated to the Garda. I am sure we can learn from the British system which is based on an online model. We have been using the same system of placing a motor tax disc on the car windscreen since motor taxation was introduced 50 or 60 years ago. It would be much more efficient to do this online. While I am aware that we are moving in this direction, a better system must be available and we should learn from what is being done abroad.

I welcome the publication by the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, of a review of the apprenticeship model. Traditionally, apprenticeships have been largely associated with the construction sector. Much more can be done in this area. We have heard many times about the successful apprenticeship system in place in Germany where youth unemployment is below 8%. The review published by the Minister proposes expanding apprenticeships into sectors such as information and communications technology, medical devices and catering and hospitality, an area that is crying out for a review. It is also proposed to develop a partnership between industry and the education sector, including to doctorate level. This is an innovative and important step on which the Minister has proposed to engage with stakeholders as soon as possible. I urge him to do so because the proposals are very positive. We need a shift in emphasis from the current exclusive focus on CAO points.

Senator Bacik referred to the issue of energy and while a debate on the matter is required in the House, I wish to discuss it from another point of view. The European Commission will publish its energy policy for the years until 2030 as the current policy only applies until 2020. Yesterday, the Commission published an interesting report showing that European energy prices are twice as high as those in the United States and 20% higher than in China. While I support renewable energy, it has a cost which must be addressed from a competitiveness and business perspective. If we want to attract industry to this island and Europe in general, we must address energy costs. While we have addressed wages, red tape and services from a competitiveness point of view, we have not focused on the cost of energy. I am aware that we must strike a balance by meeting emissions targets but renewable energy may not necessarily be the way to do so. I am sure the Commission's report to be published later today will give rise to considerable debate on both sides of the energy argument. Central to this debate must be competitiveness and our ability to attract jobs to Ireland and encourage indigenous industry.

I ask that the Government convey to the US Government and President Obama our disappointment that the United States has not appointed a permanent ambassador to Ireland. One quarter of President Obama's final term in office has elapsed. Given the Tánaiste's statement that Ireland is restoring its position and good name around the world, it is extraordinary that the United States, one of our closest allies and friends, has not appointed a permanent ambassador. I read a report that our chargé d'affaires visited President Obama recently. I do not know if he raised this matter. An ambassador must be appointed before 17 March and I ask the Taoiseach to take up this matter.

On the appointment of an ambassador to the Holy See, it is vital that the appointee be someone of standing and prestige. I recommend that either former President Mary McAleese or former President Mary Robinson be appointed to this role.

Senator Bacik would not fit in too well in the Vatican.

Senator Leyden has not ruled himself out.

I want to improve rather than disimprove our relations with the Vatican.

The matter is not relevant to the Order of Business. Does the Senator have a question to the Leader?

As the Leader of the Seanad, Senator Cummins is in a position to convey to the Taoiseach Ireland's disappointment that the United States has not appointed a permanent ambassador to this country.

To add to Senator Darragh O'Brien's comments regarding the unfortunate and extraordinary statement made last night by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, on the lottery operated by Rehab, I presume the Minister was free to strike given that one of the major players in Rehab's lottery is Frank Flannery, a guru of the Fine Gael Party.

The Senator should refrain from naming people in the House. We will not discuss individuals.

Mr. Flannery is the man who brought Fine Gael back to power. He is an excellent operator. The Minister has made a pre-emptive strike because what is coming down the line as far as Rehab is concerned will be shattering.

Senator Bacik would make an admirable ambassador to the Holy See given that she is a fair and equitable person in everything she does.

I welcome the statement by the Tánaiste that a banking inquiry will be established as quickly as possible. It appears the inquiry will take place in the next number of months. Like many others, I do not believe the country will move on from the banking collapse until we know exactly what took place at that time. I note the rule of bias will be stringently applied in terms of those who will be eligible to be a member of the inquiry. One could say, "Good luck with that", because there is not one person who has not suffered as a result of the collapse of the banking system. Having said that, this is an important step in the right direction. I reiterate my call to the Leader to arrange a general debate on the banking sector. There is much to discuss in that regard, in particular, the failure of the banks to lend to ordinary citizens. I do not believe the construction sector or business in general will move on until we re-establish a robust banking sector subject to appropriate regulation.

I call again for a debate on fuel poverty, which is an extremely important issue at this time of year. I, like many other people, was shocked recently to see my energy bill for the past two months. This is a very difficult time for people who are struggling and cannot afford to turn on the heating in their homes. The House should debate fuel poverty and the steps the Government is taking to improve the quality of housing and ensure homes are energy efficient. We should also discuss what steps can be taken to make fuel affordable for ordinary people, particularly those who are struggling with their incomes.

I am still wrestling with the thought of Senator Bacik as our ambassador to the Holy See. I would enjoy seeing the reaction to that appointment. It would certainly make international headlines and one would have the dropping of mandibles all over the place.

I note the Senator's support for my candidacy.

It is good for all of us to get out of our comfort zones and the Senator's appointment would certainly facilitate that. I note also that the previous ambassador to the Holy See was a Roscommon man, Mr. Noel Fahey, who did an excellent job. It would not be without precedent if Senator Leyden were to be appointed to the position.

I am glad the House will debate Irish Water today. It is of concern to many people that lessons have not been learned and the culture of lavish expense and overspending on consultancy and the feathering of nests, whether at an individual or corporate level, seems to continue. People are amazed that this is continuing given all the country has been through and the many hard lessons we had to learn. One of the issues to which I draw particular attention is my amazement, which is shared by many others, that a company that enjoys an effective monopoly, finds it worthwhile to spend €4 million on branding consultants. One would expect a company with a monopoly would not need any branding. To spend €4 million on corporate identity in the times we are in beggars belief.

There is also great concern about the apparent lack of European Union funds for places that have been victim to storm damage. The particular way in which EU solidarity funds operate means they may not be sufficiently flexible to meet the needs of marginal areas and areas that depend on seasonal tourism. I ask for a debate on this issue as I would like the Government to address the issue. The EU solidarity fund only covers natural disasters which cause damage valued at more than €800 million.

In this case, we are talking about smaller but very significant sums. In five counties alone, the public damage has been estimated at approximately €65 million. The damage and destruction to private property could cost over €250 million. These figures do not take into account the losses sustained by small business owners and rural communities as a result of closed roads and businesses. I would like the Government to address this. There is a need for greater flexibility at EU level. We need to be heard on this to make sure the marginal areas that have been affected by storms and flooding have their needs addressed. I would be grateful for an opportunity to debate this issue, which is intrinsically linked with questions like employment and the revival of rural and community life, with the relevant Minister in due course.

There is a need for a debate on the issue of section 38 and section 39 organisations. I appreciate that it is being considered by the Committee of Public Accounts. It is important that information is out there. When I first raised this matter last September at the Joint Committee on Health and Children - I raised it again in October - I suggested that some €3.48 billion was being paid to 2,680 organisations. A number of journalists contacted me to say that figure was incorrect. I asked a question last Thursday about the fact that the pay rules which apply to HSE staff do not apply to section 39 organisations. I do not have the 2013 figures, but I am aware that in 2012 some €812 million was paid to section 39 organisations that are not governed by the same rules. It is time we had a debate on this whole issue.

The Department and the HSE wrote to all the section 39 organisations on 10 December last to advise them that under the service level agreements for 2014, the salaries of management and CEOs must be disclosed in full before funding is paid. It is a little late, but it is welcome. We should have a debate because there could be other cases in which we are paying a substantial sum of money to an organisation in the absence of transparency. A debate would be helpful because it would allow us to tease out those issues. We are talking about a great deal of money. Over 25% of the health budget is being allocated to organisations which are not under the direct control of the Department or the HSE. We are accountable to taxpayers. It is important that these organisations are also accountable to the taxpayers who are funding them.

I propose an amendment to the Order of Business calling for two hours, rather than the amount of time that has been proposed, to be allowed for statements on Irish Water. The Leader has said that the debate will start at 11.45 a.m. and that the Minister will respond at 12.55 p.m., but I have some fears in that regard. I do not believe that all the Senators who want to speak will get an opportunity to do so. It is particularly important that the Sinn Féin Senators should get an opportunity to speak, given that we did the heavy lifting during the Committee and Report Stage debates on the Irish Water Bill.

I am concerned that we will not have an opportunity to press the Minister when he comes back in. The amendment I am proposing would ensure that the debate lasts for two hours, rather than concluding at the time set out by the Minister.

I would like to refer to the comments that were made yesterday by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, with regard to Rehab. My view is completely different from that of the Fianna Fáil Senators. I suggest that the Dáil was entirely the appropriate place for the Minister to respond to what has emerged in this regard. Far too often, we accuse Ministers of making statements to the press rather than to the Oireachtas.

As they were elected to this Parliament, this is where they should be held to account.

It is extraordinary that a Fianna Fáil Senator would ask a Minister to keep schtum on something as important and fundamental as this issue.

I was talking about the court case.

Keeping schtum is what got this country into the mess it is in.

Go away out of that.

That is the reality.

The Senator's colleagues do not like to speak about the past.

Senator Cullinane, without interruption.

It seems to me that Fianna Fáil does not want accountability.

The Senator is misrepresenting what I said.

It does not want transparency.

There is no point in talking to Sinn Féin.

I commend the Minister for Justice and Equality-----

-----on carrying out an internal review and audit of the money that was spent under the charitable lotteries scheme. It seems from the Rehab figures that State taxpayers' money was given to the organisation to subsidise apparent losses in relation to scratch cards. It transpires that for every €4 spent on Rehab scratch cards by consumers, just 1 cent went to the organisation to provide services. This is a fundamentally important issue for Members of the Dáil and the Seanad as legislators. I commend the Minister for carrying out an audit and a review - something that Fianna Fáil failed to do - and for moving in the right direction in this area.

It is no surprise to us that Fianna Fáil does not like openness and transparency.

It is a bit special for the Senator and his colleagues to talk about openness and transparency.

Senator Cullinane, without interruption.

I also want to call for a debate on the need for a regulator for the charities sector. This issue is being discussed in Oireachtas committees and in canteens, workplaces and homes across the State. We need to discuss it in this House. If the Leader has not given a commitment to provide for a debate on this issue - perhaps he has - I hope he will say that such a debate will take place in the near future.

I would like to call for the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House to debate the need for treatment or rehabilitation centres that specialise in addiction to be regulated. I do not know if other Members watched the recent "Prime Time" special report on a charity, Victory Outreach, that uses pretty appalling practices when dealing with addicts who are attempting recovery with it. For example, it forces the addicts using its services to spend 18 hours a day raising funds for the charity, with daily targets and no pay. The addicts have to give the charity between €80 and €150 from their weekly social welfare payments. The service users have to go cold turkey, which is not advised by experts who work in addiction. The residents are not given any chemical assistance or professional counselling. They are told to use prayer as a way of getting over their addictions. They are also told not to take their prescribed medications. All of this is very concerning.

I feel that an appalling abuse of human rights is being perpetrated by this so-called charity, which started working in Ireland in 1997 and operates five recovery homes here. As it is operating in a market in which supply does not meet demand, unfortunately, it has learned to abuse its special position. To make matters worse, I understand the Irish courts are referring people who come before them and are given probation to this charity. Addiction services that are funded by the HSE are required to meet minimum standards, but unfortunately Victory Outreach is not funded by the HSE, which means there is no provision in law for the regulation of its residential treatment centres and similar centres. They are allowed to operate outside standard practice. The charity's much-maligned practices were highlighted recently in the US, where a contractor was paying illegally low wages to workers from the charity to renovate hotels. I am fearful that its lack of morality and scruples might cause Irish service users to be subjected to worse treatment than that to which they are already subjected and further abuses of their human rights. For that reason, I am calling on the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to this House to debate this issue as a matter of urgency.

I ask the Leader to engage with the Government and the appropriate Minister to ensure Members of this House will be allowed to play a constructive role in the banking inquiry. We all welcome the fact that an inquiry is about to start. I heard last night's media reports which suggest that a narrative is emerging to the effect that this is purely a matter for the Dáil. I accept that the Committee of Public Accounts is a stand-alone committee that comprises Dáil Deputies only. I would have presumed that this special committee would reach out into both Houses of the Oireachtas. Many Members of this House - I am certainly not canvassing for the job - could play a valid, constructive and neutral role in the banking inquiry. It would be disappointing if that were not facilitated.

As far as I know, last night's meeting of the Whips, at which the banking inquiry was discussed, was confined to Dáil Whips. We need to remind the Government that a short few months ago, the Irish people decided that this House should be retained so that it can play a constructive role in the good governance of this nation in the future. I believe Senators should be part of the inquiry team. We were part of the economic debate - good or bad, and positive or negative - over the past decade. I ask the Leader to engage with the Government and ensure the Seanad is represented in that inquiry. I feel absolutely sure that Senators will play a constructive and positive role in this significant inquiry. I am a little disappointed that the narrative emerging from the media and from political sources in the other House seems to indicate that we will have no part in the process. That should be changed.

I suggest that the discussion on the revelations regarding this country's charity sector will have a cleansing effect on charities in the long term. The public has directed its antennae towards charities to a much greater extent. When people donate money, they will ask questions. That will lead to a positive situation for charities that do things properly, have proper corporate governance and ensure most of the moneys donated to them are directed to front-line service users.

I commend the charities in this country that have signed up to the voluntary code of conduct initiated as part of the Charities Act deliberations. If changes need to be made to the Charities Act to ensure proper governance and compliance, that legislation should emanate from this House.

I also welcome the decision by the Minister for Justice and Equality to look for expressions of interest to set up a board to operate the charities regulator. It is a proper and positive step forward. That regulator should be funded entirely by the charities sector because that is what the public would want and because it will ensure in the long term that the money spent by the taxpayer and the contributions made by ordinary citizens to charities are properly channelled and accounted for. I have said before that every euro given to charities, be it through the taxpayer or through people putting a euro into a bucket, is coming from the same people. It is coming from Citizen Ireland and the same accountability should apply to donations as to taxpayers' money.

I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to ask the Minister for Health to attend the House today to address the issues that arose with respect to the letter by the Irish emergency medicine trainees that courageously highlighted some glaring deficiencies and some misperceptions that are being advanced, one hopes inaccurately, by the authorities with respect to the number of patients on trolleys, the effect it has on the quality of their care and the downstream effect it has on those waiting for other aspects of care. It must be stated that while these colleagues have been repeatedly referred to in the media as senior colleagues, they are trainees. They are junior doctors. They are non-consultant hospital doctors who have no security in their jobs, can be fired and can last as long as the next contract and disappear. For that reason, particular tribute must be paid to their courage and bravery in blowing the whistle on this. They are not the most invulnerable section of the Irish health system and as somebody who has been very critical of people who have been afraid to point out deficiencies and blow whistles, I express my admiration for them. I believe the problem is larger than the one to which they specifically referred. Mere adherence to HIQA practices within emergency rooms will not fix the problem.

If the Minister comes to the House, I would also like to draw his attention to something that troubles me greatly. There has been genuine difference of opinion and discussion among sincere people who can take different positions with respect to what has been happening with medical cards over the past year. Some would suggest it is all a question of tightening up probity while others would suggest something far more deliberate is happening with the tightening up of what were previously described as discretionary medical cards whose very existence is apparently being questioned by the authorities. In this regard, I was very troubled to receive correspondence from Dr. Ruairi Hanley, a respected GP and medical journalist, who wrote in a national newspaper that-----

The Senator cannot name an individual on the record of the House who is not here to defend himself or herself.

I am not attacking him. He has asked me to raise this matter.

It does not matter.

He has asked me to raise this.

The Senator knows the rules here. It does not matter.

He has asked me to bring up the issue. I will not be criticising anybody by name. I am supporting Dr. Hanley who pointed out that when he wrote an article in which he bluntly stated that he believed the HSE was terrifying people with the threat of the denial of their medical cards, he received a letter from a member of the communications staff of the HSE accusing him of defaming the HSE and threatening to seek appropriate redress in the absence of a retraction of the article. It is entirely inappropriate that an organ of the State that should be answerable as part of a democracy, not only to these Houses and citizenry but through its journalistic reporters, should be able to threaten a journalist for having a difference of opinion from it. The question must be asked as to why the HSE has a director of communications at the same time as 30, 40 and 50 people are lying on hospital trolleys. Please tell me that this is an inappropriate allocation of resources. I would like to formally propose an amendment to the Order of Business today to ask the Minister for Health to come to the House specifically to discuss the issue of emergency rooms and waiting times.

I agree with Senator Bradford. Of course, Senators should be considered for the banking inquiry if qualified. I agree that the narrative has been exclusively for Deputies, as the Senator suggested. I think that is incorrect and the Senator is right in that the Whips of this House were not consulted. At least, this one was not consulted. Talking about this subject generally, I am sure every Member of both Houses has at some stage been critical of past practices in our banks, so I am not too sure anyone in either House would qualify. I do not know how that is going to proceed. The people who will be appointed will have to come to it from an independent and genuinely disinterested standpoint. I do not see how we are going to get such a person in either House of this Parliament but I thoroughly agree that both Houses constitutionally are equal in that respect and Members from both should be considered. I do not see that any of them would be suitable. It will have to be some other committee.

I rise to second Senator Crown's proposed amendment.

I agree strongly with Senator Bradford. The most important inquiry that will take place in this country in this decade will be the banking inquiry. It is appropriate that both Houses of the Oireachtas would be considered to supply Members who would sit on that particular inquiry. As the Senator rightly said, the people of this country endorsed Seanad Éireann in a recent referendum. It is inappropriate that Members of this House would be left out of this inquiry. As Senator Paul Coghlan said, it will be difficult to get fine people who have not had very strong views on banking practices over the past decade in this country. That should not debar people who have spoken out strongly in the national interest and on behalf of the people. Everybody will sit on that inquiry in an independent manner and question, in an appropriate and inquisitive manner, the people who wrecked our country.

I also strongly support the call by Senator Clune for an urgent discussion of the report on apprenticeships published by the Minister for Education and Skills today. For far too many years we have had too narrow a focus on apprenticeships in this country. They were geared mainly towards the construction industry and a small element of manufacturing. It is appropriate that apprenticeships be widened out to include the catering, hospitality, retail and financial sectors, and indeed all sectors of the economy. The apprenticeships system can be a vehicle to tackle youth unemployment in a meaningful way. We have an appalling rate of youth unemployment at 28% or 29%, which is nearly 20% greater than that of Germany. This debate is timely and appropriate and it is to be hoped it will become part of Action Plan for Jobs and everything associated with that in the coming years.

I will be very brief and to the point. My comments follow on from those of Senators Clune and Mullins. Yesterday, I raised a matter on the Adjournment with the Minister for Social Protection regarding the implementation of the youth guarantee, specifically the plan, when it will be published and when it will take effect. I was advised that the Minister for Education and Skills and the Minister for Social Protection expect to publish the plan next week. The OECD report on the development of the youth guarantee for Ireland will be published at the same time. I know this issue has been raised numerous times in this House by many Senators, including me and Senator van Turnhout. I know the Minster for Social Protection agreed to come back to the House to discuss the implementation plan in detail. Given these reports are scheduled to be published next week, can a debate be scheduled as soon as possible after publication in order that we can look at the detail of the plans and thrash them out? It is an issue that is important to us all.

I second Senator Cullinane's amendment to the Order of Business.

I support calls for the setting up of the charities regulator as a matter of urgency considering what we have read today about the level of profit received by Rehab for the sale of €4 million worth of lottery tickets. I was a voluntary, part-time fund-raiser for the Irish Wheelchair Association between 1980 and 1987. Every penny I raised for the association went directly to it. In 1987 I was also aware of charities selling lottery tickets and the word at the time was that 1% of every pound went to the charity while 99% went on administration costs. The figures in the newspapers today show that the situation is worse now because 5.25% of every euro is given to the charity and 94.75% of sales go to administration costs. This is outrageous and it needs to be tackled. Until such time as the charities regulator is established, we will not be able to deal with it. That is how urgent the matter is.

I read with some surprise in the Irish Independent today that in the case of people whose mortgages are in arrears and who die, their mortgage protection policy does not cover the amount outstanding on the mortgage. One should not hear this news at a time of a bereavement. This came to light in the circumstances of the sad case related to Priory Hall when Stephanie Meehan's partner passed away. She still owed €17,000, despite the fact that the mortgage protection policy was paid out. I ask for a debate with the Minister for Finance on a range of issues about mortgages. It is important that guidance on this particular issue would be given in advance to people in mortgage arrears. It should be agreed between the bank and the insurance company providing the protection policy as to the amount in arrears in order that an adjustment could be made to the policy during the lifetime of home owners. More than 100,000 people are more than 100 days in arrears on their mortgage. This is a very live issue. I request a debate on mortgage concerns, in particular, mortgage arrears. I am not certain that things are going as swimmingly as is portrayed in some reports. There are also concerns about tracker mortgages.

Tá sé suimiúil le tabhairt faoi deara gurb é seo an comóradh chéad bliain den Chéad Cogadh Domhanda, ach tharla rud eile suntasach i Mí Dheireadh Fómhair 1914, is é sin gur bhunaigh Séamus Ó Conghaile Léig Neodracht na hÉireann. This year marks the centenary of the beginning of the First World War. In October of that year, James Connolly founded the Irish Neutrality League. Sinn Féin supports Irish neutrality and we are committed to promoting positive Irish neutrality and an independent foreign policy. We have heard much about Ministers keeping schtum, so to speak, but many Ministers have stayed schtum about the issue of rendition flights through Shannon Airport. A body of evidence exists to point to the misuse of Shannon Airport by military aircraft from certain other countries. In 2006, the current Tánaiste said that not knowing is not enough. He was part of a Council of Europe report which called for the stopping and searching of planes in Shannon Airport. He is fairly schtum on that issue at the moment.

In his reply yesterday the Leader did not really answer my question about a debate on neutrality. Where do we and this Government stand? It would appear to me the Government has refused to use its legal powers to stop and search planes in Shannon Airport. I ask why that is the case when the Labour Party in opposition was very strong on this issue. How many planes have been stopped and searched? We commend the Garda Síochána when it carries out stop and search patrols to counter drink driving at Christmas and when people are breathalysed and prosecuted. It has similar powers to stop and search these planes. Why are we relying on the word of the US authorities on this issue? It is obvious from parliamentary debates in the UK that misinformation was given in the case of Diego Garcia. Amnesty International and the Council of Europe have expressed concerns. I refer to the revelations about phone tapping by the US Administration. Is this not a sovereign State that can police its own airspace and airports? I call for a full debate on neutrality in honour of James Connolly who established the Irish Neutrality League in 1914. We are jumping up and down talking and having debates about human rights in Syria and in the Central African Republic. Why are we turning a blind eye to the issues on our own turf? Deputy Eamon Gilmore was correct in 2006 when he said that not knowing is not enough, and it rings true today.

Since we are talking about the debacle in the Central Remedial Clinic and the charities sector, I wish to alert Senators that the Taoiseach's nominee, Senator Mary Ann O'Brien, wrote a pamphlet on the implementation of the Charities Act 2009 - the how, why and when. It is an excellent paper which was debated in this House. Sometimes I think we have imagined memories and real memories which are all mixed up into one. That document is still sitting on a shelf even though the House debated it. Senator O'Brien wrote about what exactly should happen in the charities sector. It is a very good piece of work which could be implemented quite well.

I wrote a paper on the youth guarantee scheme, the last 15 pages of which dealt with apprenticeships. I sent the document to all the members of the Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection. I am not sure if anyone read it but it contains a lot of information. I do not think the Minister's proposals on apprenticeships go far enough because we need a massive creative approach to these apprenticeships as well as pilot programmes to show how these apprenticeships can come about. There is often repetition and duality of purpose while suggestions exist but are lying on shelves. I am in a cranky mood this morning.

Senator Darragh O'Brien raised the Minister's reply about the issue of Rehab lotteries. The Deputy Leader responded comprehensively on that matter. I would not presume to speak for the Minister for Justice and Equality on the matter.

On the request for a debate on sport and sport funding, I have asked the Minister to come to the House and I am hopeful we will have a debate on that issue in the next couple of weeks. Senator Bacik raised the EU review of climate change targets. Our policy on targets has not changed. We can discuss the matter when the EU report is available.

Senator Quinn and many other Members asked for a debate on the charities sector and the need for an urgent appointment of a charities regulator. We had a Private Members' business debate which was proposed by the Labour Party. As Senator O'Donnell said, Senator Mary Ann O'Brien tabled a Private Members' motion on the charities sector and she produced a paper on the issue. I will ask the Minister to come to the House to debate that issue with us again in view of recent events. We try to avoid duplication in debate subjects but I agree there should be a debate on the issue now.

Senator Quinn also asked for a debate on the public service reform plan. I note his points on the motor tax discs and the change in the UK.

Senators Clune, Mullins and O'Donnell referred to the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn's proposals on an apprenticeship model. These proposals are welcome. Perhaps the Minister might be willing to discuss them in the House.

Senator Clune discussed the importance of energy competitiveness. She outlined how the European Commission was carrying out a report on this matter this week. The House could debate it when we view the report.

Senator Leyden referred to the delay in appointing a US ambassador to Ireland. I am sure that the Government has discussed this matter with the US Government.

Senator Hayden called for a debate on the banking sector. I have asked the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, to attend the House. I do not believe that he will do so in February, but I have asked him for that debate a number of times and will continue doing so. I also noted the Senator's points on fuel poverty and the need for energy efficient homes. In this regard, the Government has made significant grants available in recent years.

Senator Mullen referred to storm damage. We will debate that issue tomorrow, when he will be able to make the points that he raised. He also mentioned issues that were addressed comprehensively by the Deputy Leader last Thursday. He needs to be present when those debates are taken.

Senator Colm Burke discussed funding for section 39 organisations. I agree that this is an important issue, as the money given to sections 38 and 39 organisation accounts for a significant portion of the HSE's budget. Transparency is necessary.

Senator Cullinane proposed an amendment to the Order of Business regarding Irish Water. We held an 18-hour debate on Irish Water. The matter has been addressed comprehensively by the Committee of Public Accounts and the Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht. I was asked to provide an update on those committees. The Minister has agreed to attend the House. Unfortunately, however, I cannot allocate further time, as the Minister will not be available.

Senator Higgins referred to the practices of a charity that deals with addiction issues and the need for greater regulation in that regard. Perhaps this matter could be raised on the Adjournment so that she might receive a comprehensive reply from the Minister.

Senators Bradford, Paul Coghlan and Mullins referred to the banking inquiry and the establishment of a special committee. I agree with their comments and will engage with the Government to try to ensure that Members of this House will be included. Quite a number of Senators would have the ability to sit and act properly on the inquiry.

Senator Conway mentioned the charity sector, which I addressed.

Senator Crown called for an amendment to the Order of Business. I cannot accept it, as today's agenda has been set. His amendment related to the Irish Emergency Medicine Trainees Association, IEMTA, and its statement on the emergency services. I note the Senator's points on discretionary medical cards, which have also been made by a number of Senators in recent months.

Senator Reilly raised the issue of the youth guarantee, which will be published next week. I had hoped that the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, would attend the House prior to its publication, but she instead stated that she would attend immediately following its publication. I hope to have her attend in the first week in February.

Senator Healy Eames referred to mortgage arrears and other issues of concern in that regard. I will reply to her when she returns to the Chamber. We have held a number of debates on mortgage arrears and will hold some more.

Senator Ó Clochartaigh discussed the use of Shannon Airport by military personnel and called for a debate on neutrality. I will ask the relevant Minister, but that is approximately the 12th issue on which we are asking the same Minister to attend. We will take them in order.

Senator O'Donnell raised the issue of the charity sector and the document that was published by Senator Mary Ann O'Brien and debated in the House. I note Senator O'Donnell's point on the youth guarantee. We will debate it with the Minister in the first week of February.

I do not propose to accept either amendment to the Order of Business.

Senator Cullinane has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That the time allocated for the debate on No. 1 be extended to two hours." Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 13; Níl, 26.

  • Crown, John.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Keeffe, Susan.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Whelan, John.
Tellers: Tá, Senators David Cullinane and Trevor Ó Clochartaigh; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.
Amendment declared lost.

Senator Crown has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister for Health regarding the situation in emergency rooms be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 14; Níl, 26.

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Crown, John.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Keeffe, Susan.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Whelan, John.
Tellers: Tá, Senators John Crown and Ned O'Sullivan; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.
Amendment declared lost.
Order of Business agreed to.