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Seanad Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 8 Dec 2015

Vol. 244 No. 5

Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, Harbours Bill - Second Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and conclude not later than 2.15 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply not later than 2.10 p.m; No. 2, Finance (Local Property Tax) (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2015 – Order for Second Stage and Second and Subsequent Stages, to be taken at 2.15 p.m. and brought to a conclusion not later than 3.45 p.m. by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Government, with the contributions of group spokespersons on Second Stage not to exceed six minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed four minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply for five minutes not later than 3.40 p.m; No. 3, Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2015 – Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 3.45 p.m and brought to a conclusion not later than 5.15 p.m. by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Government; and No. 4, Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2015 – Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 5.15 p.m.

While it appears that the debates on Nos. 2 and 3 are being guillotined, that is not the intention. All the Finance (Local Property Tax) (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2015 does is ensure there will be no change in the amounts up to 2019; therefore, I expect the debate on it to finish within the time allocated. Likewise, the debate on the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2015 is due to run from 3.45 p.m. to 5.15 p.m., but as there are only three amendments, again, I expect it to finish well within the time allocated.

For many people, Christmas is a time of celebration and goodwill. For people of the Christian faith, it is the most significant event on the religious calendar. However, there are many thousands of individuals who will not benefit from this celebratory mood. I am thinking, for example, of those who have no homes, those who are facing eviction, families who trying to make ends meet on a pittance of income and heroic parents who are trying to shield their children against poverty and the disadvantages that go with it.

The only bulwark that one has in that case are the charitable organisations that prevent destitution and oblivion for the people concerned. I am thinking of organisations like the Simon Community, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Merchant's Quay Ireland and so many other charities. One must be inspired by the young people who take to the streets every night, seeking out people who have fallen off the radar of society, who bring human contact to them and help them with food and advice. It is the only glimmer of hope given to them. It is particularly important for us here to listen to what they are telling us. I am sure they have been in contact with all Senators. They are telling us abjout their experiences, difficulties, concerns and the lack of resources. As legislators, we have a duty also. We appreciate that these organisations exist and that without them we would have a very impoverished society. It is wrong to ignore the problems. We can approach this matter without party politics or partisanship. There are issues in this House and we should do this also. One can go out and see that people are still living rough on the streets at the height of winter. I am sure Senators feel like I do and wonder how can people live like that. They are human beings that probably come from good families but something went wrong in their lives. Perhaps they were disadvantaged or deprived. We do not know what their story is. This House is the best forum that we have. I am not talking about patronising but being proactive and helpful in this regard because we are expecting too much. I marvel at the young people involved. These are educated people who have every opportunity in life, yet they will not forget the most vulnerable and other members of society. Their actions enrich us all. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the Leader give us some time today - I do not care how late in the night it is - in order that we can bring to the floor of this House the experiences that have been brought to us, the concerns and requests. That is what we should be doing and we should not miss the opportunity this morning to do so. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business in order that we will not let this day pass without responding to the reality of what is happening.

Is the Senator referring to the homelessness issue?

Not just homelessness but charitable organisations, the work that they do for deprived people in society and how we might respond to them and their needs.

I thank the Senator.

For the week that is in it we cannot leave the day go without mentioning the devastation and flooding caused by Storm Desmond in towns, villages and rural areas all over the country. In my own area the towns of Killarney, Kenmare and Tralee have suffered very badly from flooding. Last night we heard the sad news that there had been one fatality and I extend my sympathy to the family of the elderly man who was swept away in his car. A package of measures is going before the Cabinet this morning and I am sure we will have the details of the programme of work for recovery and preventive works to be carried out in the future. I pay tribute to the emergency services that worked tirelessly over the weekend. I refer to the ESB, the Garda, council workers, Civil Defence, the Red Cross and the HSE. I could go on. People also volunteered their services. A great tribute must be paid to them all. They worked to restore power and clear floodwaters from areas.

I shall also mention the recklessness of the youths in Salthill. I do not know what they were trying to do or what their mental state was, but they dived into the sea and recorded their antics. I presume they thought it would look good on Facebook or social media. What if they had got into difficulties? People would have had to rescue them. Had these youths any thought for rescuers who would put their lives in danger to rescue them or the families of their rescuers? The parents of the youths will be able to identify them. I hope their parents will lay it on the line as to how reckless their behaviour was. On the flip side, we must pay tribute to the youths who were washed off the rocks at Hook Head and the young lad who held a girl's head over water until she was rescued. That shows the variation in the different types of carry-on by youths.

People may not realise the Department of Social Protection plays a major role in responding to severe weather events and the aftermath. The Department can provide help, under the supplementary welfare scheme, for food, clothing and personal items. It will also assist in the replacement of white goods, basic furniture items and other essential household items. In addition, more extensive works can be carried out, including plastering, drylining, the relaying of floors, electrical rewiring and painting. The Department also has a humanitarian assistance scheme for larger jobs. Senators can let people who contact them know that such help is available. People may not be aware that the Department of Social Protection plays a role in responding to weather events.

On a lighter note, it is welcome that last week the Tánaiste launched a community employment pilot scheme for participants who are over 62 years of age. I spoke about this matter when we debated the Social Welfare Bill here and I know other Senators have spoken about the matter as well. People over 62 years have a lot of experience and life skills to offer. Many of them want to continue working and are happy to participate in community employment schemes. The pilot scheme is welcome and I hope it will be extended to the rest of the country.

The Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Damien English, has responsibility for research, innovation and skills. Today, he published Innovation 2020, Ireland's five-year strategy for research and development in science and technology which is welcome. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the issue early in the new year in order that we can learn what the proposal by the Minister of State contains.

Like people all over the country, I watched the RTE programme last night about corruption and was horrified. Corruption is a cancer in this country and needs to be utterly and absolutely condemned. Corruption has real effects on people's lives. We see it in the planning decisions, the flooding, inappropriate developments and so on that have ruined people's lives. The most indicative moment of the programme was the two gestures. The sly compliant wink of the man from Donegal and the scrabbling movements of Councillor McElvaney when he was trousering and jacketing what he described as loads of money. It was disgusting. However, if one is going to take the high moral position, if one is going to lay down the law about morals and if one is going to investigate people then one also needs certain standards. I must be the only person in the country to feel that these standards were grossly vitiated by the makers of the "RTE Investigates" programme. They instigated and initiated criminal activity. They acted as agent provocateur. They set up a fake company. They entrapped people into situations where they invited them to engage in criminal activity. It is indicative that out of all of them they got three, which is 0.3% of councillors, yet everybody was tarred in politics. I personally greatly resent this. The programme makers illegally recorded and broadcast telephone conversations. Of course, the material was corrupt and has to be condemned, but the law must be upheld also. I understand they appealed the High Court's decision in the case of the nursing homes. In the case of the nursing homes, criminal activity had been ongoing, was ongoing and continued to go on. In this case, the criminal activity was precipitated deliberately by RTE's investigative team. I find this disgusting. I was astonished that not one - not one - of the moral pundits and academics sought to question, in any sense, the methods used in this situation.

I speak with an interest in this, which I will declare. A couple of weeks ago, a letter was hand delivered to me here. It was like something from the Gestapo. In it, there were allegations that I had transgressed ethics by failing to disclose that I was a director of a film company. I found that very shocking and was left shaking from it. I raked my memory. I contacted an accountant who went to the Companies Office. I never heard of that company, never signed anything, never received any report and never received notice of meetings. I was blissfully unaware of the situation and made that clear to the people concerned within 24 hours. Does one think I received as much as an acknowledgement or an apology? One must be joking. Their attitude was the same as that of the tabloids - squirt out the accusations all over the place and let us hear people deny them. RTE is a national broadcaster; it is a public service broadcaster. It was disgraceful that these tactics were allowed. I condemn utterly corruption, but I also condemn the squalid methods employed by RTE in the making of that programme.

The terrible storms at the weekend affected a large number of people throughout the country. In County Leitrim, my county, there were a number of incidents of flooding and there was a landslide in one part of the county while in Sligo, people had to be evacuated from nursing homes. I welcome the suite of measures that has been put in place. I know that the money will be spent on helping those who were affected.

I welcome the signing of the contract today for another phase of the N16, a road I have mentioned on many occasions since becoming a Member of the House in 2011. Approximately €5 million has been spent on that stretch of road since 2011. The N16 from Sligo to Enniskillen is winding and dangerous. This phase will remove the bends from another three miles of the road and leave it much safer. I thank the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, who met me, local councillors and council and engineering staff from Leitrim County Council three or four months ago, following which the funding was allocated. This is very good news for that part of the country. The signing of the contract takes place in the Rainbow ballroom, another place I have mentioned on several occasions, at 2.30 p.m. today.

I pay tribute to Fr. Gerry Reynolds who died in Belfast this day last week. He was an architect of the peace process, promoting cross community links in Belfast, in particular with the Fitzroy Presbyterian community of the Reverend Ken Newell. He crossed the peace line to worship with Presbyterians, Methodists and members of the Church of Ireland to make Clonard the cradle of the peace process. The work of people in Clonard, Corrymeela and Glencree is most valuable as we push into the past the history of enmity between religions in Ireland. People like Fr. Reynolds shine like a beacon in that process. I thank the rector of the monastery for making Clonard a centre of the peace process and all those who work tirelessly to promote better community relations in Northern Ireland.

I echo Senator Sean D. Barrett's comments about Fr. Gerry Reynolds. He was a champion of dialogue in relation to obtaining peace. I knew him and I am deeply saddened at his death.

I also echo the comments of Senators Marie Moloney and Michael Comiskey on the recent storms and pay tribute to members of the emergency services who worked hard in the past week to keep people safe. I convey my condolences to the family of Ivan Vaughan, the 70 year old man from County Tyrone who died as a result of being swept away in floodwaters in County Monaghan at the weekend. Storm Desmond has wreaked havoc across the country and many people have been affected. Coming so close to Christmas, it is a cruel blow for Mr. Vaughan's relatives. I send good wishes to the 14 year old rescued from the sea at Hook Head who remains in a critical condition. It is welcome that the Government will consider today an aid package for those affected by the storm and that the Department of Social Protection is overseeing hardship payments to those in need. Weather conditions are outside the Government's control. Will the Leader ask for an update from the relevant Departments as to what contingency plans will be put in place for the forthcoming expected bad weather, particularly in those counties expected to be hit the hardest because without a contingency plan agencies will continue to fire-fight?

I agree with practically everything my colleague, Senator David Norris, said. Any form of entrapment is terrible and the result does not always justify the means. However, we are confronted with a problem, that is, what happened last night affects the entire body politic in the country. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Taoiseach to call on the agencies of the State which have responsibility for investigation and prosecution of any form of corruption to examine what was delivered last night on RTE and to decide what, if anything, should be done? People have a right to their good name. If people were misled or entrapped and have a perfectly reasonable explanation for what they finished up doing on television last night, they have a right to protect themselves. If what they were involved in is a criminal offence, they need to prosecuted. It is one or the other, as far as I am concerned. People who saw that programme last night are absolutely outraged. That outrage turns on all of us, not just on the people involved. Every hard-working politician is tarred with the same brush and that is no way to run a country. Will the Leader speak to the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Taoiseach today on those two issues?

Following on from what some of my colleagues have said about the flooding, will the Leader organise a debate with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, and the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Simon Harris, if not this week, early next week, to discuss the problems that have arisen from the unprecedented flooding at the weekend? Our thoughts are with the families and the businesses which have been severely discommoded as a result of being flooded and also with members of the farming community throughout the country who have lost animals and fodder. I hope the package being announced by Government today will address many of these issues. I am aware humanitarian aid is available to meet immediate needs. The victims of the 2009 flood who have no insurance must be given priority in the Government's aid programme. There is no doubt that investment in flood defences and other remedial works has to be a priority. While the town of Ballinasloe was severely impacted, the investment made there post-2009 has made an impact. More rain fell in the past weekend than in the flood event of 2009 and while a number of businesses and a few homes have been impacted, if there is no further rainfall, much of the town will not be impacted. The CFRAMS study is available and I hope it will be the blueprint for future investment. Funding is absolutely crucial. There is a need for an open discussion on many issues, including the causes of flooding. Much has been said in Ballinasloe about the lack of cleaning of the River Shannon and the silting caused by Bord na Móna. All of these issues will have to be addressed if a serious impact is to be made on preventing flooding.

Like others, I pay tribute to those involved in the huge local effort to lessen the impact on people at the weekend. Great work was done by the staff and members of the county council, the fire brigade, the Army, the Office of Public Works, local community volunteers and local contractors who were called on at short notice to help with pumping activities.

A full debate is required and I urge the Minister of State, Deputy Simon Harris; the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, and the Government to expedite a plan to put money behind the catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, study and deal with the worst impacted parts of the country first.

I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by my party leader, Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú. It is a matter of urgency that we debate the issues he so eloquently outlined, particularly but not only coming up to Christmas.

I join colleagues in welcoming the Government's humanitarian assistance scheme announced this morning. Senator Marie Moloney has outlined the areas to be covered by the scheme. The last time the Government announced such a programme, however, it was a total farce. It was not easily accessible by those who needed the aid most. It was almost impossible for them to adhere to the conditions set out. I appeal to the Leader to impress upon the Government the urgency of this scheme and the need to make it user friendly on this occasion. The unfortunate people concerned need the money now, not when and if they are lucky enough to get through the hoops created by the Department. If they manage to get through these hoops, it will be six or eight months down the road that they receive financial aid. That is not good enough.

Like others, I pay tribute to the emergency services and the volunteers involved, as outlined by my colleague, Senator Michael Mullins. It is high time and high tide we had an urgent debate on flooding and whatever proposals the Government has to advance the flood relief plans in place.

The no-show, on the part of the vulture funds, before the finance committee was clearly a snub to the Oireachtas. We have to ask what they have got to hide. Five vulture funds were invited to appear before the finance committee to engage with members on a range of issues raised by us concerning their operation in Ireland. The invitations were extended to Pepper Asset Servicing, Lone Star Funds, Cerberus, CarVal and Mars Capital. Each has refused to appear before the committee and effectively told us to mind our own business. Naturally, committee members wish to raise questions with these companies about how they treat customers whose distressed loans they have bought. There are thousands of Irish homes and businesses whose future lies in their hands. These large companies, which are effectively carpetbaggers, are here to make a quick buck and are often devoid of any apparent social or moral compass to direct their operations. One such company sought to commit a distressed borrower to jail for refusing to leave their property. Another ignored the protection of a personal insolvency arrangement provided for a distressed borrower and sought to move against his property. What are these companies afraid of and why will they not come before the Oireachtas and outline how they operate and the protection they afford to customers? Their failure to appear leads me to believe that they have something to hide or to be ashamed of. I suspect that we may need to consider a more in-depth review of the operations of vulture funds in Ireland. At the very least, we should seek to oblige these people to co-operate with rather than stonewall the national Parliament of a sovereign state. I will be taking up the matter with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, and my colleagues on the finance committee.

On the matter raised by Senator David Norris, I can identify with much of what he says because I too received a letter from "RTE Investigates" stating that I, like Senator David Norris, had breached the Standards in Public Office and Ethics Acts, the whole lot, by being the director of a firm. They said I had not declared it. Of course, they were totally wrong. I am neither a shareholder nor a director of the company they named. I might not have been quite as shaken as the good Senator opposite, but I did ring the man from whom I had received the letter. He wanted something in writing, but when he heard what I had to say, I think he accepted it.

I was shaken for the whole day. I was furious about it.

I might have been temporarily furious, but I do not think I was shaken. Perhaps I was shaken, not stirred.

In a long career in public life I have never been accused of this kind of thing and have never behaved in that way. How dare RTE suggest it and not even apologise?

We know that the Senator has not. I did not recieve an apology, but perhaps I did not look for one. Errors were obviously made and RTE should have the decency to apologise for them to all those to whom it wrote in the wrong.

The Senator is very hard to shake.

I have listened with interest to the views of Members concerning the revelations last night in the "RTE Investigates" programme. It is literally the talk of the country today and people are surprised, shocked and angry. Where investigations are necessary, I am sure they will be conducted and presumably, should prosecutions be necessary, they will follow in due course.

We need to recognise that the spotlight being shone on local authorities and their members across the country should, perhaps, be redirected closer to home. The political example must be set from Leinster House, not from council chambers. Many years ago, the former Tánaiste, Mr. Dick Spring spoke about a cancer in the political system. He was speaking about a particular individual at the time and expressed his views about that gentleman. However, there remains a cancer in the political system - the cancer of cronyism. We saw it in this House about 18 months ago when an attempt was made to use the House for political purposes. We see it in the unreformed quango system, the quangos which were supposed to be gotten rid of but which still exist, the appointments to those quangos, or judicial appointments in respect of which people in the Law Library know months in advance who is going to be appointed to what position. We see it in the distribution of grants and funds in various schemes across the country. Let us not pretend. Cronyism is part of the political system and political culture and always has been. We must decide whether we want to continue with that type of broken, dysfunctional politics, or whether we need a new start. While the problems at local authority level must be examined, we must start much closer to home and the buck stops with us and the Government. There has been mention of the need for an anti-corruption Bill. I am sure that is somewhere in the ether waiting to be passed and the sooner the better. Everything about the political system, the appointments system, patronage and favouritism is as bad now as it ever was. That is the real cancer and cronyism. When the small-time county councillors have disappeared off the public airwaves, the substantial matter of cronyism and its cancerous effect on politics will still have to be tackled. That is where we must start, at the top. We need to put new legislation in place. An anti-corruption Bill would be a step in the right direction, but the culture needs to change. The culture of the public needs to change also. Substantial findings have been made about certain politicians, yet the public decides to re-elect them. It sometimes make me wonder. We need a very new culture in Irish politics.

I refer to the "RTE Investigates" programme last night. Some of the evidence presented to us was horrifying.

It was damning and representative of the very worst moral and ethical standards in public life in Ireland or elsewhere. The programme has done some service in shining a light on this darkest recess of the political system. However, in the midst of the justifiable fury it has caused, it must not be forgotten that the vast majority of councillors are honourable and just people who do not deserve to be held to account for the deplorable actions of a small number of individuals. Councillors - I have received telephone calls from three or four of them from various parts of the country - who have dedicated much of their lives to serving the public with the utmost integrity and endeavour, many of whom are working for their communities on a full-time basis with modest rewards, are waking up this morning knowing that they will face unwarranted criticism and suspicion from their communities because of the shameful actions of those witnessed by Members on national television last night. I received telephone calls from a couple of them after the programme had been broadcast last night. However, Members cannot allow the unlawful and immoral actions of a few to sully the reputation and honour of the many councillors who hold office throughout the country. It is incumbent on them to issue a message of support to councillors and a message to the public that they should not devalue and sour the work of their representatives by tarnishing them with the same brush as those who were exposed last night. In the interests of the huge majority of upstanding, hard-working councillors, those who last night brought such shame to their vocation should face the full rigour of the law. Some of them think they have conveniently sidestepped the juggernaut of public opinion and culpability by resigning from their parties, but they should know that that is not enough.

The Senator's point has been made.

It is not enough to resign from their parties and continue to poison the system by retaining their council seats. They should resign in a display of repentance and allow more worthy individuals to join the ranks of honourable and admirable councillors throughout the country.

In the run-up to Christmas, when people are financially stretched and stressed, I reiterate that they should not go to loan sharks. I do not refer only to illegal loan sharks but also to those who advertise everyday. I love the small print at the bottom of their advertisements to the effect that they are regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland. They absolutely pulverise the people who approach them for small, short-term loans to get over Christmas with the punitive interest rates they are obliged to pay back. In addition, I ask the Leader to bring in the Minister for Finance, if possible, to have a discussion on this issue because being regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland should not give such companies a free hand to do as they please. Moreover, as credit card interest rates are regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland, that institution has a question to answer in this regard. However, I reiterate the advice that people should go to their credit unions where they will be looked after and to please stay away from loan sharks, both regulated and unregulated. I also call on the Leader to arrange a debate on some of the bodies regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland, including credit card companies, and the punitive interest rates they charge.

As Fine Gael spokesperson on local government, I wish to make a statement on the programme broadcast last night. I call on all agencies of the State with power in this regard to use it. When one considers the investigative programme, as one must call it, that was broadcast last night in conjunction with that broadcast on prostitution, trafficking and so on, RTE must be commended. There is a debate to be held on entrapment, enlightenment and investigative journalism, but the concept of serving the public interest must also be brought into it.

I will start by noting that last night it was shown that there were 949 elected councillors, 60 Senators and 166 Deputies, but there were very few such people involved. I acknowledge that until something is proved, one cannot state anybody is guilty and that anyone who makes a statement must presume innocence until people are found guilty. However, some rotten apples in a barrel should not be allowed to corrupt what I will not call the entire political system because since it took office, the Government has taken the bull by the horns, if one considers what has been brought forward since. For example, funding for politicians must now be declared openly, whereas heretofore, it was possible to raise funding. I refer to the Criminal Justice (Corruption) Bill 2012 and Members should note the date. As the last speaker noted, councillors who are found guilty should resign, but that will be provided for under the 2012 Bill. The Government also brought forward the Regulation of Lobbying Act. In fact, therefore, RTE would be obliged to register as a lobbyist before coming before people. Legislation in respect of the planning regulator is before the environment committee. This measure has been sought for 25 years and has been brought forward by the Government.

I reiterate that abusing position for public gain brings the entire public system into disrepute. If any politician, official or anybody else abuses a position of power, the aforementioned legislation, namely, the Criminal Justice (Corruption) Bill 2012 will bring Ireland in line with the conventions of the United Nations and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, on corruption and bribery and make it possible for convictions to be secured against individuals. Members also saw at the banking inquiry for how long different things had gone on and who had been found guilty or responsible and who was paying. The question is: who pays the piper? As the public gets extremely annoyed when they see people getting away with stuff-----

The Senator is well over her limit.

-----the anti-corruption Bill 2012 will make it easier for the Government to work. I seek its enactment sooner rather than later.

On the flooding issue, it is important to prioritise the provision of flood defences, but it is also important that they be planned correctly. Interestingly, one report from the United Kingdom shows that in one area £37 million was spent on flood defences, yet, four or five years later, the entire area was flooded again. Consequently, it is not only about building flood defences but also about making sure they cater adequately for the threats in terms of sudden changes in weather. This must be prioritised because in the Cork region alone approximately €60 million to €70 million must be spent on flood defences for the city and surrounding areas that have been flooded, including both residential areas and business premises. It is important to ensure local authorities do not go after business premises that have been flooded for rates for the next 12 months because they are paying a substantial sum of money to keep local authorities going. I visited one premises recently for which more than €120,000 per year or €2,400 per week was being paid in rates to the local authority. That is a huge amount of money. It is now extremely important that any business or premises that has suffered flood damage be given a reprieve from the local authority in the payment of rates for the coming year. Businesses should be given that allowance because a great number of premises no longer are insured as they were flooded previously and, therefore, do not have insurance this time around. That is an important step and every possible support must be provided for those commercial premises and people with small businesses that are operating with a tight margin.

This is eliminating any margin they have. This issue needs to be a priority for the next 12 months.

The acting Leader of the Opposition, Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú, lauded the work of charitable organisations such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the Simon Community and the efforts and work of young people involved in these organisations, particularly at this time of the year. As he said, they are certainly a ray of hope for us all. The Senator proposed an amendment to the Order of Business that we meet to discuss the work of charitable organisations and what we could offer. I will have no problem in organising such a debate which we can have today when No. 4 has been dealt with. We can make the issue mentioned by the Senator No. 5 on the Order of Business. I have no wish to prevent Members from speaking about the work of charitable organisations, but it will be done after No. 4 has been dealt with. I will, therefore, accede to the Senator's request in that regard.

Is the Leader suggesting a time limit?

I propose that statements be taken immediately after No. 4, Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2015. Anybody who wishes to discuss the matter should be here. We will allocate one hour for the debate.

Senators Marie Moloney, Máiría Cahill, Michael Comiskey, Michael Mullins, Diarmuid Wilson and Colm Burke, among other Senators, spoke about the flooding and storm damage we have seen in the past few days. Everybody has lauded the work of the emergency services in their efforts to help people. Senator Marie Moloney outlined the fact that services were available from the Department of Social Protection, a matter about which Senator Michael Comiskey also spoke. Senator Máiría Cahill extended her sympathy to the family of Ivan Vaughan, a gentleman in his 70s who was swept away in the floods, and wished the 14 year old who went into the waters off Hook Head a speedy recovery. I understand she was part of a scouting group that was visiting Hook Head. I am sure we all wish her well. Senator Michael Mullins said the flood defences which had been put in place in the past few years were holding up. That is the message coming from most areas where flood defences have been installed. Senator Diarmuid Wilson expressed the wish that people who needed aid would receive it. Finance has been put in place under the capital plan. Therefore, there is a plan in place for the alleviation of flooding in the areas we see on our television screens so often. Senator Colm Burke also spoke about flood defences and the need for proper design and planning. He mentioned the United Kingdom in this context. The defences that have been put in place in Ireland are holding up well. The Senator argued that a rates waiver should be considered by local authorities. That is a very good idea.

Senators David Norris, Gerard P. Craughwell, Terry Brennan, Cáit Keane and Paul Bradford mentioned the "RTE Investigates" programme aired last night. They rightly pointed out that corruption was a cancer in public life. The revelations in the programme are shocking and go against the definition and spirit of public service as we know it. It is unacceptable for any public representative to use his or her position for financial gain. Senator Cáit Keane mentioned that the Government had strengthened the Freedom of Information Act, established the whistleblower framework and legislated for the creation of a register of lobbyists to increase transparency. Local authority members are designated as public officials in the new register of lobbyists and their interactions when lobbied must now be reported by lobbyists, thus shining a light on the practice for the first time. The Government has put measures in place to counteract such lobbying. I hope these measures will bear fruit and that we will not see what we saw on our television screens last night. Senator David Norris questioned the methods employed by RTE in the programme and I note his points in that regard. I agree with Senator Paul Coghlan that, in the case of those who received letters from RTE that were found to be wrong, it should as a matter of courtesy issue letters of apology to those whom it upset. I understand how Senator David Norris felt in being wrongly accused. Anybody who is wrongly accused would be shaken. Letters of apology should be issued by the national broadcaster where it made false allegations against people.

Senators Sean D. Barrett and Máiría Cahill spoke about the death of Fr. Gerry Reynolds and praised his work during the peace process. I join in their praise.

Senator Paul Coghlan referred to vulture funds and their non-attendance at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform. He raised the matter on the Order of Business last week. I agree that these companies should be held accountable and, if possible, compelled to appear before the committee.

Senator Tom Sheahan spoke about loan sharks, legal and illegal moneylenders and the exorbitant interest rates charged. He is right that there are so-called legal moneylenders who are charging exorbitant rates. He advised people to go to their credit union. We have all witnessed people go to these loan sharks to look for a small amount of money and, in some cases, they have had to pay double, if not treble, the amount they actually borrowed. They are in continuous debt as a result. The credit union is the place to go for help.

Most of the other matters raised concerned flooding and the "RTE Investigates" programme. I think I have dealt with them.

Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate to establish how best the Government can respond to the needs of charitable organisations which are working with the homeless and other deprived sectors of the community be taken today." The Leader has proposed an amendment to the amendment: "After "today" to insert "for one hour at the conclusion of No. 4."

I thank the Leader for his positive response.

Is the amendment to the amendment agreed to? Agreed. Is the amendment, as amended, agreed to? Agreed.

Order of Business, as amended, agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 12.30 p.m. and resumed at 12.45 p.m.