Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on appointments to State boards, to be taken at 1.15 p.m. and to conclude not later than 2.45 p.m., if not previously concluded, with contributions of all Senators not to exceed six minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply to the debate at 2.40 p.m.; No. 2, statements on direct provision, to be taken at 2.45 p.m. and to conclude not later than 4.15 p.m., if not previously concluded, with contributions of all Senators not to exceed six minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply to the debate at 4.10 p.m.; and No. 3, Central Bank (Amendment) Bill 2014 - all Stages, to be taken at 4.15 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, the Minister to be given five minutes to reply to the debate on Second Stage, and Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken immediately thereafter.

I call for an urgent debate in the early part of next week, and I will explain the reason for this request. The Taoiseach is in Davos today with all the hobnobs of the world discussing the future for the subordinates who happen to be the people. Quite comically, the main focus of the Taoiseach's address, together with some other leaders from Finland, the Netherlands and the Deputy Chancellor of Germany, was what he called a chasm of disconnection. He said that the chasm of disconnection cannot continue. That is rich and comical coming from the man who was so connected to his people that he took medical cards from people who were dying. He was so connected to his people that 350,000 students are not at school today preparing for their examinations, as they should be. He was so connected to his people that when the waiting lists are announced throughout the country today, we will see an increase. He is so connected to his people that there is the indictment in the Central Statistics Office announcement this morning that one child out of every eight is starving and has no heat. This is the man who champions the promotion of ridiculing the chasm of disconnection in a European context when he is totally and completely disconnected from what the people want. He patted himself on the back for bringing great stability faced with the challenges, having followed the Brian Lenihan plan for stabilising the economy, yet he went to an earlier global gathering in Davos and said how the people were reckless and everybody partied. This is the man who champions the ridiculing of the chasm of disconnection when he is the epitome of what disconnection has meant for the people.

While the hobnobs of Europe discuss quantitative easing and printing money to the tune of €50 billion per month to buy government debt, the question and the nature of debate required in this House next week with the Taoiseach in attendance, if he has the manners and courtesy to come here for a third time in four years, is what is in it for the people. What are the people getting from this Government whose leader is swanning around Europe, accepting the accolades for the late Brian Lenihan? If one was listening to questioning at the banking inquiry in recent days, not to prejudge in any way information that is being given at it, one would have heard very senior and experienced people say that if the Irish debt crisis and banking crisis had not been contained, it would have collapsed the euro. We on this side of the House have stated many times that the Irish people saved the euro. That is a fact and it is internationally accepted as a fact but still the people's children starve as we see in the CSO report today. Some 350,000 students are out of school today and many thousands of people are still unemployed. The IBRC was put into liquidation and it is now recovering debts from struggling families throughout the country by selling their homes out from underneath them. I am dealing with one case where I am negotiating for the family. The bank is forcing the people out of their house without giving them the full suite of measures in terms of work-out solutions such as split mortgages, much trumpeted on the airwaves. That is a chasm of disconnection. The Leader should tell the Taoiseach to do this House and the people the courtesy to begin to practice at home what he preaches internationally, start getting rid of the chasm of disconnection in this country and start listening to the people and giving them the benefit of the so-called recovery.

I strongly welcome the publication yesterday of the referendum wording for the marriage equality referendum by the Government. It was an historic day to see the straightforward, clear and concise wording put forward. It received an almost universal welcome, certainly from across the political spectrum, and also in a joint press release from the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and Marriage Equality. Those three NGOs, which have been to the fore in campaigning for marriage equality, have very much welcomed this wording. Hopefully, it will be passed in May. Many of us will work very hard to ensure that it is and we very much hope it will be. If passed, it will lead to full equality for all our people. I look forward to the debate on that in this House and I strongly welcome the wording.

Yesterday we also had an historic day with the introduction of the Gender Recognition Bill in the Seanad, an important step forward for recognition of transgender and intersex persons in Ireland.

Many of us welcome the fact that the Tánaiste decided to initiate the Bill here in the Seanad. The Visitors' Gallery was full of people who had a direct interest in the Bill and we had an excellent debate. We look forward to the debate resuming next week.

I wish to refer to another strength of the Seanad - cross-party motions. I commend Senator van Turnout, in particular, on the motion she tabled on Childline. I was happy to second her motion. It received unanimous support in this House and heavily influenced a change in tack in terms of renewed funding for Childline.

Yesterday, Senator Leyden referred to the Charlie Hebdo massacre and other Senators referred to the Boko Haram massacres in Nigeria. I wonder if we could table a cross-party motion condemning the massacres. That might be an appropriate way to mark them in this House.

That is a very good idea.

I am happy to work with other Senators on the motion.

I congratulate Patricia King on her appointment as head of ICTU to replace David Begg in March. I welcome the decision, as she will make an excellent leader of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. As other Members did yesterday, I commend the appointment of Kevin Vickers as the new Canadian Ambassador to Ireland. He received his credentials yesterday from President Michael D. Higgins.

Finally, I look forward to the ECB announcement today on the stimulus package and on quantitative easing. There have been various reports about how much the package will cost. It seems that it will cost €1 trillion, but the bank will spend €50 billion per month on buying bonds and seeking to stimulate the European economy. That is a welcome development and I look forward to a debate here on the economy and the influence the decision will have on the ECB.

I ask the Leader to amend the Order of Business as I would like to introduce No. 14 on the Order Paper - the Universities (Development and Innovation) (Amendment) Bill 2015. I also propose that Second Stage be taken on 28 January.

I wish to express concern about the poverty numbers issued by the Central Statistics Office yesterday. They indicate we have a major task ahead of us in the Parliament and as legislators. The figures show that the median disposable income has fallen from €20,000 to €17,000 since 2008. Figures by the European Anti-Poverty Network tell us that 31% of the population suffer from deprivation and that figure is up from 14% in 2008. The statistic is based on not being able to afford two or more items from a list of 11 basic items. Also, 37% of children suffer from deprivation, and that percentage is up from 18% in 2008. These figures show that we need to focus on the people who have been left behind, as the Taoiseach and Senator Norris have said.

In the evidence given to the Joint Committee on the Banking Inquiry by Governor Honohan, he stated that he felt he was too optimistic and that the bank guarantee and rescue, and the €40 billion net that was required for same, was visited substantially on low-income people. This House needs to address the matter. Perhaps we should have fewer universal benefits and more selective schemes for people who experience poverty. The number of people affected by poverty has been indicated to be rampant, and this is evidenced in the figures published by the Central Statistics Office yesterday.

The issue I wish to raise today has serious implications for agriculture, the integrity of the institutes of technology and, most importantly, the employment prospects of college graduates. I refer to the refusal by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to recognise graduates of the honours degree in rural enterprise at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, at Mountbellew Agricultural College, for employment as farm advisory service planners for the new GLAS scheme due to commence in February.

The Department has said that the problem is due to the lack of a soil science module in the GMIT-Mountbellew Agricultural College programme. A detailed appeal by the principal of Mountbellew Agriculture College outlines that the subject is covered under modules of a different name. However, the Department now only recognises the courses delivered by UCD and WIT. In fact, the WIT BSc in land management and the GMIT-Mountbellew BSc in agricultural and environmental management commenced in the same year and were designed together in 2000-2001 with the same objectives in mind.

Mountbellew Agricultural College, which has been in existence for 100 years, became a partner with GMIT in 1987 in the delivery of agricultural education. GMIT and the Mountbellew college collaborated with Teagasc in the design and content of FETAC and HETAC courses. A strong emphasis is placed on practical and work experience. Many GMIT-Mountbellew graduates are already employed by Teagasc and other environmental agencies and work on REPS and other agricultural and environmental schemes.

The decision taken by the Department has major implications for graduates of GMIT-Mountbellew, because they will be excluded from the employment opportunities presented by the new GLAS scheme. Teagasc has contracted out much planning work to the Farm Relief Services and it wants to employ some GMIT graduates. Interestingly, in recent weeks, while the GMIT-Mountbellew appeal was being considered, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine provided training on the new GLAS scheme for their graduates.

I ask the Leader to urge the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to get involved in this matter as a matter of urgency. The course should be recognised and, if necessary, some minor adjustments made to the syllabus in future years. The fact is that students want to attend colleges and work in their own regions, so it is critical that the qualifications at GMIT-Mountbellow make graduates eligible for employment as farm advisory service planners. This is a particularly serious issue for the west of Ireland and for all graduates who, having graduated, understood they would qualify to be farm planners for this new scheme. I ask that the Minister get involved and resolve this matter over the coming weeks.

I second Senator Barrett's amendment.

I thank the Senator.

I agree with Senator Bacik's proposal to table a joint motion on the issues that arose in regard to Islamic State and the activities of terrorists. When one goes abroad to attend Council of Europe meetings one learns that motions passed by Parliaments are very significant. Sometimes we take such things for granted and deem them not so significant, but I know these motions are significant and attract international attention. Therefore, it is important that this House table a motion. I ask Senator Bacik to arrange such collaboration through her office and I can confirm that my colleagues are delighted to be associated with the motion.

I commend Senator MacSharry on his clear and concise speech, which I hope gets widespread media coverage. He spoke an awful lot of truth, particularly about the euro.

I appeal to the ASTI, the TUI and the Minister to come together. It is outrageous that on a day in 2015 as many as 350,000 students are not at school and that 27,000 teachers feel so strongly about the issue that they chose to give up two days of work. Let us remember that teachers are under pressure to pay their mortgages, yet they have chosen to take industrial action. I am married to a very experienced teacher who took early retirement. When I discussed this matter with her she said that a teacher is a pupil's advocate and that their job is to teach a pupil to the best of their ability but not to be judge and jury in an exam situation. We must also remember that in rural areas teachers live in the same communities in which their students and the students' parents reside. Therefore, it is extremely difficult for them to conduct an assessment that will affect the future of a student. It must be an outside assessment, but 40% is far too much. There are 730 schools closed today, which shows the intransigence of the Government, and now it is not prepared to negotiate. It has been called on to resolve the dispute forthwith.

I wish to welcome two students from Athlone here today. As their teachers are on strike, they decided to travel with their father to see Leinster House in action. It is a good use of their time and I hope they will learn a lot about this House.

I echo the concerns expressed by my colleague, Senator Sean Barrett, on the EU Statistics on Income and Living Conditions report on poverty in Ireland. I refer in particular to the finding that one in eight children now live in poverty.

We are pulling ourselves out of recession and there is hope on the horizon. Yesterday, it took me more than one hour to get home but there are some prices to be paid for the improvement in the economy. However, one quarter of our population are not able to afford to heat their homes and the deprivation rates are higher than they have been since 2008. I would like a debate with the Minister for Social Protection on poverty and our priorities for addressing it.

I refer to quantitative easing. Before we get all excited, we must remember that no firm deal has been done yet, in particular around how the risk is to be spread. There is a difference of opinion between Germany, for the sake of argument, and Ireland and Italy as to how this will play out in terms of risk-sharing. We are back to some of the debate happening in the banking inquiry as to where we are going in Europe in terms of burdens and risks and who will take them.

In that context, I have concerns not only about the whole issue of quantitative easing, because I am sure some deal will be struck at the end of the day, whether it is €50 billion on monthly basis, a round figure of €1 trillion or whatever it happens to be, but the bottom line is that Europe, in spite of devaluation, of low oil rates and of a euro that is effectively at parity with the dollar, has not been able to pull itself out of recession. I ask the Leader for a debate on this issue. One of the biggest pieces of evidence of that is in terms of the Europe 2020 Project, in particular around the poverty figures in Europe. More people are experiencing poverty in the European Union now than when the Europe 2020 strategy began. I would like a debate on the whole issue of Europe, in particular looking at the Latvian Presidency and its priorities and on the wider issues, not just of quantitative easing but of the wider European programme and the whole issue of solidarity among European countries.

I join Senator Bacik in commending the Government on its very clear and concise wording for the amendment, which leaves no doubt. However, I do not think the amendment was necessary because it seems to me that the Constitution is perfectly open to same-sex marriage and, as I have said, this was demonstrated many times in this House and as long ago as 1967 by the then Attorney General, Declan Costello, who pointed to the fact that the vagueness of the wording left it open to marriage of persons of the same gender. There has been some case law but the Constitution is a developing organism and continues to live and reflect the conditions. It does not reflect the conditions simply of 1937.

When 80% of the Irish people want same-sex marriages to be approved, one has the overwhelming bulk of popular opinion supporting this. I am glad there will be a debate and I hope it will be an informed and reasonable one. I heard our colleague, Senator Rónán Mullen, on the wireless yesterday. He raised the issue of children and this do not hit me with a baby in my arms kind of thing. However, 25% of children are born outside marriage. Grandmothers and mothers, two women, raise children and nobody loses their wig over that one, so I am not sure what he is talking about. He said he was all in favour of equality but I did not notice that when he spoke on the civil partnership legislation and when he, with some of his other colleagues who disgraced themselves, tabled some of the most obscene amendments I have ever seen in this House. I remember hearing him on RTE saying that gay people wanted children as fashion accessories. That may be his idea of a balanced argument but it is certainly not mine.

I look forward to a debate and I hope people will register to vote and that young people will come out to vote because I do not buy this 80%:20% figure as a final result of the referendum. I think it could be lost by people being apathetic, by people on the other side raising all kinds of scares and by the intervention of the church. I appeal to people to get active in this debate, to register to vote, to talk to their families and to make contacts in the country where there is a resistance to this kind of idea. I think it would be very good in the 21st century that Ireland at last joins the growing number of countries which accept this practice.

I agree with my colleague, Senator Michael Mullins, in regard to the graduates from GMIT. It is vitally important that those graduates are recognised because we will need them in the spring. There will be jobs there for those people, so this is vitally important. This issue was raised earlier this morning with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, who is looking at it. We will all continue to work with him to ensure this problem is resolved.

I welcome the good news early in the new year that the US beef market has been opened up to us, having been closed since 1996. This is very good news, in particular as 2014 was a very difficult year for the beef sector in Ireland. Since the market has opened up, we can see an improved price for store cattle and for beef.

I also welcome the progress made on the rural development programme. We hope GLAS, about which I spoke earlier, will open up in the springtime. That is when we will need those students to help farmers prepare their plans for GLAS. I hope 2015 will be a very positive year for the farming sector.

I was not able to attend myself but yesterday the Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection heard senior people in the ESRI speak about the cost of child care prohibiting parents, in particular single parents, from getting back to work. I am hosting a public forum on child care challenges on 13 February in Sandyford community centre. The whole issue of child care is still under the radar and many other issues related to child care are not being vented.

We heard all the praise the Government got from Madame Lagarde on how brave we are, etc. but we really must highlight the Government's failure to protect so many people who are in poverty. Yesterday the CSO launched its Survey on Income and Living Conditions 2013. Some 1 million people are living in poverty. That is a key issue for this House to address and we have an opportunity to do so.

On Saturday last, I attended a conference held by Single Parents Acting for the Rights of Kids, SPARK, and I was quite taken aback to know that there are 40,000 single-parent families. The figures the CSO announced yesterday are no surprise to SPARK because yesterday the Department of Social Protection was preparing to send out 58,000 letters to one-parent families informing them of changes which will happen in July and will result in a further loss of €86 per week for one-parent families. I do not know how the Minister, Deputy Burton, can call herself a Minister for Social Protection because she is taking a brutal sledgehammer approach to dealing with lone parents. I would like to know what it is about. SPARK is focusing on the whole issue of kids because the single-parent issue on its own is not getting the traction required. That organisation believes the cuts and changes introduced in budget 2012 led directly to increased poverty among one-parent families, which came through very blatantly in the CSO report yesterday.

I call for an urgent debate on the CSO Survey on Income and Living Conditions 2013 and I support this group, SPARK, which is an outstanding, articulate and brilliant group. I am putting my heart and soul into helping it.

I pay tribute to and congratulate Ms Patricia King, the general secretary-elect of ICTU. She will be the first woman to take over this role and she was the first woman to serve as a national officer of SIPTU when she was appointed vice president. She is a very formidable woman who was a lead negotiator in the Croke Park and Haddington Road agreements and is also a member of the body tasked with the implementation of the Haddington Road agreement.

She also played a role in the Irish Ferries dispute in 2005-2006, and in subsequent negotiations saw the overhaul of employment rights legislation and the establishment of the National Employment Rights Authority. I wish Patricia the very best in her new role. I know that she will be a formidable woman and that she will be very involved in collective bargaining in any new future agreements. She will always represent the rights of workers in this country.

A very interesting debate is due to take place in the other House tomorrow. It concerns the parliamentary representation and conscience Bill. It would be worthwhile paying attention to what happens in that debate tomorrow. If passed, the Bill will introduce a new section into the Constitution stating:

The Members of each House of the Oireachtas [that includes us, of course] shall be representatives of the whole people, not bound by orders or instructions, and responsible only to their conscience.

I mention this because one of the disadvantages we have had in both Houses over the years is when people stand up and say they agree entirely with the Opposition but they are going to vote in a different way. I believe that is incorrect. Four countries that I know of - New Zealand, Australia, Germany and the Netherlands - have such a conscience clause in their legislation. There have been examples in this House of people saying they were going to vote against their conscience because they had been told to do so. It is a topic that is worthy of discussion and it will be interesting to see what happens to that legislation tomorrow. Regardless of whether it is passed, it is a topic that deserves attention. We have had too many instances in this House and the other House where people have said they disagree, that they are going to vote against their conscience and that although they were elected by a group of people, they are going to vote against their wishes. That is not good parliamentary representation and we should consider how to get that changed in the years ahead. It is not an urgent matter at this stage, but we should keep our eye on what happens tomorrow in the other House. We should then decide whether to have that debate in this House at some point in the near future.

I wish to raise the issue of children living in poverty, which was also raised, rightly, on the Opposition benches. We had a good debate yesterday on child care and what it provides, particularly for children from disadvantaged areas. The Minister for Education and Skills attended the House yesterday and child care and preschool education come within her brief. An intergovernmental group has been established to bring together all those dealing with child care, health care and education. In this regard, the Minister for Health and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs should co-ordinate their efforts concerning the report of that intergovernmental group.

In schools, there is one inspection by the Department of Education and Skills, while it is proposed that there should be two inspections for preschools. Heretofore, only child care and welfare facilities were inspected. Now, however, the Minister for Education and Skills is rightly setting up a new inspectorate to inspect the educational side, but the two should be joined together. I am seeking a full debate on these matters.

We had a good, fruitful debate with the new Minister yesterday, but I want a further debate to ensure that inspections are co-ordinated and synchronised. We should also debate national payscales and continuing professional development for preschool teachers. The best way of taking a child out of poverty is to ensure that they are able to get, and that every one of them gets, a preschool education.

It has been said that the single parent benefit was linked to the provision of preschool facilities, especially for deprived children. A previous speaker referred to a chasm of disconnection, but we cannot afford to have a chasm of amnesia either. We do not want to cut anybody's benefits. Some €7.5 billion was paid off our debt of €180 billion this year.

That was for servicing the debt, not paying it at all.

There will be extra money to ensure that something is done for preschools and all children who need it, and that something is done about poverty.

We started free child care.

No interruptions.

As I said, we paid €7.5 billion back on the debt in 2014.

That was an interest payment.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

We can afford it this year because we have €2 billion.

The chasm of disconnection is contagious in Fine Gael. It is not just the leader.

Senator Keane, without interruption.

We can go back to addressing priorities.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

I have. First, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and the Minister for Health should co-ordinate with the Minister for Education and Skills on inspections, training, continuing professional development, and the intergovernmental group that is tasked with examining child care and preschool education.

There is a disconnection within the Government.

Yesterday's CSO survey on income and living conditions has been the topic of much discussion, including in this House. It revealed that more than 1 million people suffered enforced deprivation in 2013, which was more than double the figure prior to the economic crash. Suddenly, for the media and many politicians, poverty and deprivation sprang back up on the radar.

However, I raised this issue with the Minister of State, Deputy Simon Harris, during the debate on the Finance Bill last year. I reminded him that behind all the statistics and announcements of growth and job creation, lay a grim reality that does not feature very much in parliamentary discourse, unless a report like that released yesterday arises. We often see, however, that such reports are swiftly forgotten once the headlines die down.

Recent European Commission data show that Ireland has much higher levels of deprivation and poverty than most other comparable EU countries. At present, material deprivation in Ireland is around 58% higher than the EU-15 average. A quarter of Ireland's population live in material deprivation. When I raised this issue with the Minister of State at that time, I recalled Michael Taft's blog. He said the fact that 1 million people are living in deprivation and nearly one in three children suffers deprivation is an economic, social and moral indictment of the priorities of a Government that privileges tax cuts over poverty reduction.

Last year, an ESRI report showed that those on the lowest incomes have lost the greatest amount of household income as a result of budget 2015. We are seeing a terrible picture emerging. The ESRI report said that budget 2015 will have its greatest impact on the 10% of households with the lowest incomes. It is impossible for us to enhance growth if we are burdened with these deprivation levels. We need to prevent the further development of a two-tier economy. In light of yesterday's CSO survey, will the Leader arrange a debate on poverty, income distribution and material deprivation? It is important to have such a debate as soon as possible.

In three days' time, we will recall the second anniversary of the callous killing of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe in the community of Lordship in north Louth. It is only right, proper and appropriate for us to do so. It is difficult to believe that two years have passed since that happened. Tempus fugit, time flies. It is difficult to accept that the callous killers are still at large.

The Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, and the Garda are totally committed and focused on ensuring the killers and perpetrators are tracked down as soon possible. We are all aware that the killing of a detective garda in the course of his or her duties is a callous and serious crime.

The investigation is ongoing on a daily basis. The Garda is totally focused. Once again, I appeal to anyone who has information that could bring this investigation to fruition to speak up. Co-operation between the Garda and the PSNI is to be applauded but we need the help and support of individuals in south Armagh and in north Louth. They can use the confidential lines to ensure the perpetrators are brought to justice as soon as possible.

I join with Senator Brennan in calling on the public of south Armagh, north Monaghan and north Louth who have information about the killers of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe or the brutal murder of young Paul Quinn not to be intimidated by the criminal gangs operating in the area and to come forward and help the Garda and the PSNI with their investigation. Those monsters cannot be tolerated in any modern civic society. They have no place in it. The same is true of those who callously murdered Garda Jerry McCabe in Adare in my constituency and who tried their best to murder Garda Ben O'Sullivan when both men were carrying out their duties as members of the police force. Those people have no respect for law and order. They are a law unto themselves. They operate with impunity through intimidation and psychological harassment. That cannot be tolerated as it has no place in society. I commend Senator Brennan on bringing this issue to the fore. I support his appeals to the people of those areas not to be afraid and to come forward with information that will nail the people who carry out such acts.

Yesterday, I called for the Minister with responsibility for the Office of Public Works to come to the House to outline what exactly is involved in retaining protected structures. I have spoken to many in the north Clare area in the past 24 hours since the news broke about the National Roads Authority's decision to make €6 million available to demolish homes and businesses in order to eliminate what is probably the biggest bottleneck in the country at the moment, namely, Blake's Corner on the N67. However, there is an alternative to all of that, namely, to build a bypass of the town of Ennistymon. For some time an area has been reserved in the County Clare development plan to facilitate a bypass of Ennistymon, which would facilitate the 1 million plus visitors every year to the Cliffs of Moher and the many hundreds of thousands visiting our coastal communities of Fanore, Doolin and as far as Miltown Malbay. For the sake of an extra few million, a bypass of the town of Ennistymon must be put back on the agenda. I call on the Leader to request that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government or the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport come to the House to outline how he intends to deal with the biggest bottleneck on the N67 and to give an indication of why the NRA would not consider a bypass of the town of Ennistymon. A bypass is definitely back on the agenda and I would be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about it. We have dealt with the major primary road infrastructural projects. The bypasses of Ennis, Tuam and Gort are all well under way at this stage. We must identify towns that have been choked as a result of traffic, particularly rural towns that do not have the benefit of large populations. A million people visit the Cliffs of Moher every year but, unfortunately, the town of Ennistymon is not benefitting to the degree it should from that, simply because of the bottleneck on the N67. A bypass of the town would be most appropriate at this time.

It is time to knock down the bridge.

Before the Christmas break I raised on the Adjournment the issue of procurement anomalies in the West-North West Hospitals Group, now known as Saolta. Various issues arose in regard to the group and the awarding of particular contracts. Connections subsequently emerged between the recipients of those contracts and management at the highest level of Saolta. The Leader will remember that an issue arose in regard to a report on the provision of maternity services and later it emerged that the Northgate Public Services organisation was awarded a lucrative contract. Again, there appeared to be a connection with the senior management of the group.

That is clearly identifiable.

The matter is already on the record in this House in the context of the matter I raised at the time. I do not ask the Leader to address the issue formally but ask that he kindly inquire of the Minister. The Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, assured me that an investigation that is under way by the HSE into the events would be completed by the end of December. That date was relevant because I said the outgoing CEO of Saolta should not proceed to his new role in the north-east region or at least that the appointment should be suspended until it is clearly established-----

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

I would be grateful if the Leader would find out what has happened to the HSE report which we were told would be completed by the end of December. What are the results and findings of the report and what are the implications for the personnel involved? This is a serious matter because it relates to the spending of public money.

Very briefly and finally, I support every word of what Senator Feargal Quinn said about the Parliamentary Representation and Conscience Bill in the other House. We are facing into a period of Irish politics when, with all the debate that is going on about the new politics we need, the need for politicians to be accountable to their electorate and not to make promises-----

Senator Mullen is way over time.

-----before an election and then break them. With the forthcoming referendums, there is a real chance in the coming weeks and months for the Government to say it will put the legislation to the House so that when it comes to a referendum each Member will be free to give whatever direction he or she sees fit to the electorate without fear of reprisal from the party leadership.

Senator MacSharry spoke about connection to the people and the Taoiseach’s lack of such connection. I suggest to him that the Taoiseach and the Government have cleared up the mess his Government left them-----

What about the people?

-----and are creating jobs, which is of paramount importance. When one sees 80,000 jobs-----

I charged him with disconnection from the people.

-----created since the Government came into being-----

Jobs for the boys.

A total of 250,000 jobs were lost in the private sector in the three years.

Senator Mullen was right.

I know Senator MacSharry does not like to hear the facts, but it is the case that 250,000 jobs were lost in the past three years of the Government of which Fianna Fáil was a part. I suggest there was a very big disconnect between the Government and the people, and the people showed that that was the case.

The people have adjudicated in the election. We must now hold the Government to account.

The Leader should be allowed to respond without interruption.

Senator MacSharry has a neck to talk about a disconnect.

I do not need a neck; I have a mandate, just like Senator Cummins.

The Leader should be allowed to speak without interruption.

Senators Bacik and Norris welcomed the Thirty-Fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill.

As Senator Norris indicated, the Government approved the wording yesterday. That wording runs to the effect that "Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex". The referendum is about equality, extending the equal right to marry to all couples and removing the barriers which deny some couples the opportunity to marry and have relationships that are constitutionally protected. The proposal to be put before the people will not in any way affect the current constitutional position regarding marriage. I agree with Senator Norris in respect of opinion polls showing an 80-20 split among people on this issue. I do not believe the final outcome will be anything like that. A very strong campaign is going to have to be fought - I am sure this will be the case - on both sides. I am of the view that the proposal is a very worthy one and we will have ample opportunity to discuss the Bill when it comes before the House.

Senators Bacik and Moloney welcomed the appointment of Patricia King as the new president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU. I am sure we all wish Ms King well.

I accept the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Barrett, namely, that No. 14 be taken before No. 1. We look forward to discussing the Senator's Bill next week.

Senators White, Reilly and-----

-----others commented on poverty and on the report published yesterday. The best way to tackle poverty is to get people back to work.

Yes and to facilitate that, the cost of child care must be reduced.

A comprehensive debate on this matter took place at yesterday's meeting of the Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection. I am informed that no Fianna Fáil or Sinn Féin representatives were present at that meeting.

Is that a fact? There are so many Government Members in the Dáil they are falling all over each other. Fianna Fáil only has 18 Deputies.

The Senator is calling for a debate in this House-----

He certainly is.

This is the forum-----

The Leader, without interruption.

-----in which it should be discussed.

(Interruptions).

The Leader, without interruption.

Fianna Fáil cannot have it every way.

On a point of order-----

Senator MacSharry on a point of order.

The Senator is not going to raise a point of order.

-----it is only fair that the Leader should acknowledge that we have passed motions to show-----

The Senator should resume his seat. That is not a point of order.

-----that Senators on this side are committed, in the first instance, to the business of this House.

The Senator should resume his seat.

That is how they will be involved. As the Leader well knows, the only exception is the banking inquiry.

If the Senator were a Deputy he would know a lot about it.

Senator MacSharry should resume his seat.

It is not a matter for the Leader's party to decide what can or cannot be debated in this House. The Seanad is representative of the people and, regardless of whether Fine Gael likes it, Senators are entitled to engage in debates on behalf of the people.

Senator MacSharry should resume his seat and show respect for both the House and the Chair.

Senators Mullins and Comiskey referred to farm advisory service planners and the difficulty which has arisen regarding Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, GMIT, and qualification requirements. I was delighted to hear from Senator Comiskey that a meeting took place with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine earlier today and that the latter is going to try to resolve this issue.

Senator Leyden referred to the teachers' strike. It has been agreed by all sides that the Minister has come a long way in the negotiations. This House has called for those negotiations to continue. The Minister is open to further negotiation. However, both unions are going to have to come some way as well in the context of the negotiations. It is in no one's interests to have children out of school and teachers on strike. I hope there will be fruitful negotiations in early course in order to try to resolve this problem.

Senator Hayden called for a debate on the priorities for addressing poverty. I note her comments in respect of quantitative easing. I am sure the House will debate that matter in early course.

Senator Comiskey referred to the reopening of the US markets to Irish beef exports. This development is already giving rise to positive results for farmers.

Senators Quinn and Mullins referred to a Private Members' Bill, the Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas) Bill 2014, which relates to parliamentary representation and conscience. I am sure that if this legislation is passed by the Dáil, the Seanad will have ample opportunity to discuss it. Alternatively, similar legislation might be introduced here at some point and that would allow us to debate the matters to which the Bill in question relates.

We would like to hear the Leader's views on those matters.

I assure the Senator will hear my views when any such debate takes place here.

Senator Keane requested a further debate on child care. The House engaged in a very good debate on that early years education yesterday. I note the points she made to the effect that inspections should be co-ordinated and synchronised. I will try to get the Minister for Education and Skills to come before the House to discuss the matter to which the Senator refers.

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs should come before the House to discuss it.

The Senator also mentioned the interest on the State's debt, which is significant. Some €7.5 billion in interest was repaid on our debt in the past year. The Government is placing emphasis on the need for balanced budgets in order that we might achieve a surplus and thereby increase our level of investment in child care and many other worthy areas.

Senators Brennan and Heffernan referred to the Garda investigation into the murder of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe. Both indicated that the case remains open and urged members of the public to provide information to the Garda. There is no doubt that many people have information relating to this matter and are not giving it to the Garda. Senator Heffernan also referred to the murder of Paul Quinn, in which several individuals were involved.

As the Senator indicated, those people have no respect for either law and order or the lives of others. It is of paramount importance that people should stand up to intimidation that is obviously occurring in the part of the country to which Senators Brennan and Heffernan refer and throughout the Border counties in general. As a mark of respect to Garda Adrian Donohoe and Paul Quinn, it would be appropriate if citizens provided any information they may possess to the Garda in order that the monsters who perpetrated their murders might be brought to justice.

Senator Conway referred to the retention of protected structures. Yesterday, the Senator suggested that such structures should be knocked down.

That is still the case.

He is also seeking the provision of a bypass at Ennistymon.

And a bypass of Fine Gael.

It is clear the Senator is doing his work because he referred to three or four bypasses in the area in which he lives that are currently under construction.

He is a man of principle.

I am sure consideration will be given to the possibility of a bypass for Ennistymon. This matter can also be addressed by the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications.

That is a good point.

Senator Mullen referred to procurement anomalies in the west-north west hospitals group. The Minister for Health suggested that an investigation into this matter was under way. I am not sure whether that investigation has been completed. However, I will ask the Minister when it will be brought to a conclusion, whether any findings will be published and what action will be taken.

Senator Barrett has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That No. 14 be taken before No. 1." The Leader has indicated that he will accept the amendment. Is the amendment agreed to? Agreed.

Order of Business, as amended, agreed to.