Order of Business

As this is the last Order of Business we will have in this session, I take the opportunity to extend every good wish to the Cathaoirleach and all staff and Members for the Christmas period. I hope all Senators will have a healthy and successful new year in their efforts to be re-elected to the House.

And a successful election.

That is very important.

The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re the arrangements for the sitting of the House on Friday, 18 December, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, motion re the report of the Joint Committee of Inquiry into the Banking Crisis, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 1; No. 3, motion re Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 4) Regulations 2015, back from committee, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 2; No. 4, Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and adjourned not later than 2.15 p.m., with the time allocated on Second Stage to group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and the contributions of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; No. 5, Bankruptcy (Amendment) Bill 2015 – all Stages, to be taken at 2.15 p.m. and brought to a conclusion not later than 4.15 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, with the time allocated for the Second Stage contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, the contributions of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply for five minutes not later than 4 p.m.; No. 6, Mental Health (Amendment) Bill 2008 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 5 and brought to a conclusion not later than 5 p.m. by one question which shall be put from the Chair; and No. 7, Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2015 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 6.

As the Leader indicated, this is the final Order of Business of this term and year. The Government side will be glad to hear we will not oppose it this morning although, as with the Leader, I am not at all happy about the guillotining of debates on Bills. However, all sides of the House will welcome the Bankruptcy (Amendment) Bill and would not in any way wish to inhibit its speedy passage and signing into law as a matter of urgency.

On behalf of the Fianna Fáil group, I join the Leader in extending our warmest Christmas greetings to the Cathaoirleach and his family, the Leas-Chathaoirleach, the Clerk and the Clerk Assistant of the Seanad and all the staff of the Seanad Office. I thank them for their outstanding work in the past 12 months and the efficient and courteous manner in which they have gone about their business. The staff have been a great help to Senators in providing advice and responses to queries. I thank the ushers who have kept the House moving in their own quiet and efficient manner. This House would not function were it not for the way in which they go about their business. I wish them and their families a very happy Christmas. I extend the compliments of the season to Senators on all sides of the House and wish them and their families all the joys and blessings of the holy season. We are on the threshold of a new year, but it will be a new year with a difference in that there will be an election. As the complexion of this House will probably change dramatically, one can only speculate on the membership of the House this time next year. I extend best wishes to those Senators who are campaigning for re-election and hope they will be returned. As my late father always used to say, "Go mbeirimid beo ag an am seo arís." May we all be alive this time next year.

I echo the words of colleagues who expressed this week on the Order of Business the hope we will see the early release of Mr. Ibrahim Halawa, the Irish citizen detained in Egypt. All of us share the hope Mr. Halawa will be released and able to return home to Ireland to resume his studies at the earliest opportunity. I endorse what colleagues have said about this and expressed my concerns about the lengthy period for which he has been detained and the ridiculous number of adjournments we have seen in the Egyptian court process.

I welcome the historic climate change agreement reached in Paris at the weekend and the publication of the White Paper on energy seeking a carbon-free energy system for Ireland, produced by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Alex White.

Given that this is the last Order of Business before the break, I join the Leader and others in wishing all colleagues in the House a happy Christmas, peaceful break and happy new year. I wish the Clerk and the Clerk Assistant of the Seanad and all the staff in the Oireachtas, including the ushers and all the others who work so hard to make the place run smoothly, a happy Christmas also. This Christmas, in particular, I thank all the staff in the Bills Office. The Departments have been under such pressure drafting so much legislation this term. I extend good wishes to Ms Phil Donnelly, the usher who has made history by being the first woman appointed as a team leader of the ushers. Others have congratulated Phil earlier this week. I wish a happy Christmas to all and echo the words of Senator Paschal Mooney, "Go mbeirimid beo ag an am seo arís."

I welcome Deputy Tom Barry and his daughter to the Visitors Gallery.

As leader of the Independent group, I join colleagues in wishing the Cathaoirleach and all members of staff, including the Clerk of the Seanad, Ms Deirdre Lane, and the other clerks and the ushers, a happy Christmas. During the years we notice rolling change and many of the old familiar faces are gone. We wish well those who have gone, including those who have very recently retired. They have performed a very remarkable service and have made life in this House so much easier. We wish them a good holiday and a happy Christmas.

I cannot help noticing the very large number of debates which are being guillotined. This is a practice that the Government initially set its face against. It is a pity it is happening. I do not blame the Leader at all. In the calm light of the new year, we should approach the Government requesting an end to the practice of having a Gadarene rush of legislation in the days leading up to Christmas. There is no need for it. If Government business were properly planned and if we had the correct number of professionally qualified draftspeople, there would be absolutely no need for it. Guillotining is bad practice and leads to defects in legislation. It is very much to be regretted.

As I speak, there are approximately ten Members of Seanad Éireann, or one sixth of the membership, in the House. I will have to leave after I speak, for which I apologise, but I usually stay here for the whole Order of Business. Increasingly, I have noticed colleagues floating in just as the Order of Business is about to end, asking a question and then floating out again. That treats not only Seanad Éireann but also colleagues with disrespect. This is a vital part of the day's business and should be treated with respect. I hope we will address this in the new year. Whether we will have time to do so before this Parliament disappears, I just do not know. However, it is a practice that we need to address because it leads to a ravelling of the essential strength and core of Seanad Éireann.

The Senator should note that, of the ten Members present, six are from Fine Gael.

Yes. The Government side has a majority.

We are all Senators.

We are and some of us are even elected by real electorates of 65,000 and 100,000.

I wish the Senator a happy Christmas. It is appropriate on the last sitting day of the year to wish all 60 Senators who are hardworking a very happy Christmas. It is our duty to acknowledge our great Clerk, Ms Deirdre Lane, and Mr. Martin Groves, in addition to their assistants, Mr. Ronan Curran, Ms Niamh O'Grady and Ms Aisling Hart. I also acknowledge Ms Keishia Taylor who left us recently. The staff run a very efficient office and are always present, courteous and helpful. Of all the people I have ever worked with in many different guises during the years, the staff in the Seanad Office are among the best I have ever come across. These remarks also apply to the Leader's office. Ms Orla Murray and Mr. Frank Mulqueen keep that office going, much of the time under severe pressure. Obviously, Ministers are demanding that legislation be passed. The Leader must try to co-ordinate business to ensure sufficient time is devoted to legislating. I agree with Senator David Norris that the Leader has done a phenomenal job and deserves an easy couple of days before Christmas. We wish him well in that regard.

I look forward to being back in January. A few weeks ago, I actually did not believe we would be back, but it now appears we will be back for at least two or three weeks in January. The next six months will be challenging and difficult, but I believe all 60 Senators who have worked here for the past five years have done an amazing job. The Seanad would be well served if all 60 were returned. Of course, there are some Senators retiring, including Senators Feargal Quinn and John Crown. I wish them well also.

Twenty to 25 Senators speak every morning on the Order of Business. As the Order of Business is for a set period of 55 minutes, not everybody gets to contribute in any case.

I welcome our colleague, Deputy Tom Barry, to the House and wish him well in the general election. I hope he does not get too attached to this House today on seeing how it works.

I wish the Cathaoirleach well and thank him for his wonderful chairing of the Seanad in the past four or five years.

He has been exemplary in his work, as everyone must agree, as has the Leas-Chathaoirleach, Senator Denis O'Donovan. I thank the Clerk, the Clerk Assistant and all the staff who are part and parcel of this work in the Seanad and wish them a very happy Christmas and a successful new year. I find it a very effective and efficient organisation. Much of that is owed to the Cathaoirleach, the Government Leader and Whip and the Opposition leader and Whip, Senator Diarmuid Wilson. Much good work has been done in the past four or five years, particularly in the past 12 months when many Bills were amended in this House which would not otherwise have been amended. I compliment Senator John Crown on bringing the ban on smoking in cars through the House.

As a former Minister of State with responsibility for trade and marketing, will the Leader arrange for a debate early in January to call on the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to review the trade embargo on Russia. This is a personal call on my own behalf. I am not speaking on behalf of any party but as someone who was a trade Minister. We are aware of and condemn the annexing of Crimea and part of Ukraine by Russia. However, Italy has decided to ignore the EU embargo and trade with Russia again. This is an open economy and we export most of our beef and dairy produce. We are a very efficient producer. It is a major blow to the farming industry that, under European Union law, we can no longer trade with Russia, one of our great friends and trading partners. Given that the Italians have moved in that direction, we should look at this. There is also a precedent. In 1982, when Argentina invaded its occupied islands of the Malvinas, or the Falklands, as others know them, which were occupied by the British Government, we decided not to go along with a European Union embargo. Charles J. Haughey who was then Taoiseach decided that he would continue to trade with Argentina. That is my recollection of what happened at that time. We should take an independent stand on international affairs. We were neutral in the Second World War and should remain neutral on international issues involving countries such as Russia, the United States and the European Union. I ask the Leader to consider making contact with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and asking him to come in, hear the views of Seanad Éireann in this regard and discuss the position on Ukraine, Crimea, Russia and the European Union.

I join colleagues in wishing the Cathaoirleach, the Leas-Chathaoirleach and all the Members of the House a very happy, peaceful and healthy Christmas. I also join in the words of thanks to the hard-working staff of the House. We have had a highly productive year. Much very significant legislation went through the House and we had many late sittings. The staff of the House gave exemplary service under the leadership of the Clerk of the Seanad, Ms Deirdre Lane, and all the backup team. I will not risk leaving somebody out by mentioning all the names but compliment the ushers and all the staff throughout the House who make life easy for us all and ensure that when we have visitors to the House, they are well looked after.

I welcome Deputy Tom Barry to the Visitors Gallery today, with all the students from around the country, including the Deputy's daughter, Fiona. I know that there are students from Garbally College in Ballinasloe due in shortly.

It has been a difficult few weeks for many people whose businesses, homes and farms have been flooded. Our thoughts are with them. I pay tribute to all those who helped out during the crisis, including local authority staff, the Red Cross, the Army and all the communities that came together. It is welcome that the Government has made available quite an amount of aid to assist business and home owners. The one message we want to get out today is that towns such as Ballinasloe, Athlone and Bandon are all open for business. I call on people to give as much business and support as they can in the remaining week before Christmas to the towns worst impacted by the flooding.

I urge everybody to be very careful on the roads over Christmas and to ensure no family is visited with a road tragedy as a result of over-use of alcohol. I wish everyone a happy Christmas agus, mar a dúirt Seanadóir eile, go mbeirimid beo ag an am seo arís.

I join in the good wishes to the Cathaoirleach, the Leader, all the staff in the Bills Office and the Seanad Office, the ushers and the people who serve us so splendidly throughout the year. I thank all the Senators, from the father of the House to its newest Member, Senator Máiría Cahill. We must wish the Members of the Seanad many happy returns, the appropriate greeting. A Christmas Carol was published this week back in 1843. There are some nice quotations from it: "it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child himself" and "there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour". I wish that to all the Senators.

I congratulate Ms Arlene Foster who has made an important step today towards becoming the first woman Prime Minister on the island of Ireland. This would result in a gender balance in that, in both jurisdictions, the top jobs would be held by one man and one woman. We wish Ms Foster, a native of near Lisnaskea and a graduate of Queen's University, well as she advances her political career.

I welcome Janet Yellen's raising of interest rates in the United States. It is a welcome sign of a return to normality in economic policy in the western world. It is a step towards recovery from the abnormality with which this House has had to cope since 2007 or 2008 and gives optimism for the future. I thank everybody in the House and all those associated with it for the valuable work that has contributed to the betterment of the country again this year.

I join in the Christmas greetings and good wishes to the Cathaoirleach, the Clerk and all the staff who have been so helpful to us throughout the year.

Senators Paschal Mooney and David Norris referred to the use of the guillotine. I do not like the use of that word. It is not what the Leader intended at all. In fairness to Senator Paschal Mooney, he was not attempting to be hard hitting, nor was Senator David Norris. They know that given the agreement between us on the issues - the Senator mentioned the Bankruptcy (Amendment) Bill as one instance - the timeline laid out by the Leader is not a use of the guillotine at all. There will be plenty of time allocated to talk those things out. This House has a very good tradition of not having what might be referred to as a genuine use of the guillotine. I think that was only brought into operation here once in the past term. We get on with our business constructively and happily and a good job has been done by this House. Long may it be so. Best wishes to everybody.

I wish everybody a happy Christmas, especially all the staff who had to put up with me so much in the past year. I thank them and all colleagues for their work and wish them well. In the new year perhaps the Seanad might take a leadership role on the basis that those in the other House will be very much focused on the forthcoming general election. The Dáil will be dissolved, while the Seanad will continue for a period.

At this time of year, it is important that we think about the undocumented Irish in America. I say this as a member of the Ireland America Association in the Houses.

The Republicans have torpedoed President Obama's initiative to grant citizenship to the parents of children born in the United States. It will not happen. A visa waiver scheme is applied, in many cases to Mexicans and we have not benefited in the same way. Under such a scheme, undocumented Irish in America could leave and re-enter the United States without being banned for five or ten years. We all have family members in our constituencies who have not been home for five to 20 years, even for family funerals and at Christmas we think about this. As a nation, we must do much more to up the ante. The eye will come off the ball in the Dáil after Christmas. Will the Leader petition the US Government on behalf of the Seanad to provide waivers to facilitate undocumented Irish to come home without fear of being unable to re-enter the United States while a more permanent arrangement is made for them? This is a very sad time for families here and in the United States who are unable to see their loved ones. It is a failure of the nation that all Governments, including the current one, have not secured the same benefits and use of the waiver scheme from which the Mexicans have managed to benefit greatly. There is nothing to prevent the House from passing a motion on the issue and the Leader, and perhaps the Cathaoirleach, from taking the initiative and raising it up the US agenda on behalf of the people.

I join other Senators in wishing everybody a very happy Christmas. Nollaig shona agus athbhliain faoi mhaise orthu go léir, including the staff in the office and all the ushers who help us throughout the year, the Leader who has led by exemplary example and made many changes to the Seanad and the Leas-Chathaoirleach. I welcome Deputy Tom Barry and his daughter, Fiona, to the Seanad. I know all the help daughters give to dads and children give to mums. Schoolchildren were here earlier. Senator John Crown is outside launching the regulations to implement the ban on smoking in cars with children. The Bill which was initiated in the Seanad will do much for the health of the nation.

We have another day to go. Today, three Deputies are to appear in the Special Criminal Court offering themselves as bail sureties for a man arrested on IRA charges and in possession of explosives. While I will not mention their names, we all know who they are. Two of them spent an hour in prison wasting Garda time last week. An Garda Síochána is trying to do a job and the elected Members of the Dáil should help, not hinder, it.

The head of the Garda special detective unit will be in court objecting in the strongest possible terms to bail. Is there anything in Standing Orders in this or the other House that ensures people elected to uphold the law shall uphold the law, themselves and by example, and provides for penalties in that regard? I ask for a review of Standing Orders to include something about it.

I join all other Senators in wishing everybody a happy Christmas and a very successful 2016. While we will sit tomorrow, we will not have another Order of Business.

It is interesting to see the change in the direction of traffic to Northern Ireland. Some eight years ago, streams of cars were going to Newry from the South to buy as a result of the exchange rate. Now, it is the opposite. Dundalk is thriving due to the stream of cars coming South. It will not last forever but let us ensure it is useful and successful and that we avail of the opportunity to gain the extra business we have on this basis. It will be a good Christmas in the towns south of the Border. We should do anything we can to encourage this business, given that it will not last. Soon, I hope, the exchange rate will change and we will have it back on that basis.

After more than 20 years of global negotiations on climate change, 195 countries agreed an historic deal last Saturday at the Conference of Parties, COP 21, to keep the global temperature rise to below 2° Celsius in order to significantly reduce the risk and impact of climate change. To achieve this, we will have almost eliminated most use of fossil fuels by 2050. Fossil fuels must be kept in the earth and this must become the mantra of every Irish person. Some years ago, Deputy Micheál Martin and Fianna Fáil became the first in the world to ban smoking in workplaces.

He did and he was a great Minister for Health.

Over time, a cultural change took place and people bought into the decision that people could not smoke in workplaces. We took leadership in the world and the same is required again. Here in Ireland we are so full of ourselves that we think we are some big nation. In other people's eyes this is just a little island with 4.5 million people. However, we must take responsibility for initiatives and actions on climate change for the benefit of everybody in the world. While the White Paper the Government produced yesterday is grand on the vision, the action is not spelled out. We need a six-point action plan on keeping fossil fuels in the ground by 2050. Last night I was at a meeting in Trinity College Dublin. Every person present had bought into the concept and wanted Irish citizens to take the lead. People in the public audience were very critical of politicians and the Government's ambiguity about climate change. We will discuss it another time.

On the day on which the Bill to ban smoking in cars where children are present, which was originated in the House, is being implemented by ministerial decree, I thank the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy James Reilly, who adopted the Bill and shepherded it through the Oireachtas. I also thank the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar. I particularly thank Senators Mark Daly and Jillian van Turnhout for sponsoring the Bill with me and seeing it through when it looked as if it was getting stuck in the wheels. I pay particular thanks to all the people in my office, especially Mr. Shane Conneely, who carried out all the background research on this and all the other Bills I attempted to introduce. Mr. Conneely wrote six Bills, which may be a personal record for an assistant to a backbench independent Senator, and I thank him and Ms Aoife O'Toole. I thank the Members of the House who supported the Bill. This is a good day for the health of children and in the war against tobacco. Gabhaim buíochas leo go léir.

I join other Senators in wishing all the staff and Members of the House a very happy and holy Christmas and a successful new year. I hope those who are contesting the elections will be back in the House afterwards. Will the Leader convey to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the desirability of including the salary scales in all advertisements for public appointments in the Civil Service, local authorities or other public bodies?

We have heard a lot in recent times about exorbitant salaries being paid to people in different organisations, particularly the IFA, in a surreptitious way and without the members of the organisation who should have decision-making capacity over these salaries being aware of them. This happens in very many organisations and, sadly, it has happened in the public service within the past decade. It is essential that there be transparency and salaries should be clearly stated in newspaper advertisements. These positions should also be opened up to people in the private sector. Both the public and the private sector would benefit from greater mobility in the jobs market and by people moving from one to the other. There is a skill set and an integrity in the public service which would be good for the private sector and there is a dynamic work ethic in the private sector which would benefit the public service.

As it is coming up to Christmas, I draw attention to the plight of farmers who have had a particularly difficult time. Other colleagues have referred the continuing flooding and, even though it has stopped raining, the damage that has been done around the countryside is very difficult for some farmers to bear. This comes on the heels of some of the revelations over the Irish Farmers Association and the difficulties for members. As we come into Christmas and spread some Christmas cheer, I want to spare a thought for farmers. A lot of troubles have accumulated, both on the representation and the reality side. Many farmers have paid their levies to the association over the year through meat factories. Farmers have told me during the years that, if they were looking not to pay their levy to the IFA as they were having cattle killed, they could barely get out of the system. Now, having paid the levies through the years, they find there is great uncertainty about the amount of money that has been paid out to various members. With prices not being great, flood damage and some meat companies still making very fine profits from their activities, it has been a difficult time. I trust that, as we move into the new year and into the future, this particular group of farmers will be remembered. Perhaps we might come back to this matter in the new year.

I welcome Deputy Tom Barry and his daughter to the House. I also welcome my friend and former colleague on Waterford City Council, Ms Hilary Quinlan, to the Visitors Gallery. Many Members sent good wishes to everybody in the House.

Senator Paschal Mooney asked about the Bankruptcy (Amendment) Bill. As we have general agreement from everybody on the contents of that Bill, I do not think the timing will make much of a difference. We will complete the Bill within the timeframe allowed.

Senator Ivana Bacik asked about the White Paper on energy, while Senator Mary White raised the issue of climate change. I am sure we will have a debate on the matter early in the new year.

Senator Ivana Bacik also raised the case of Ibrahim Halawa, as a number of Members did yesterday. I have a note from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on the case which I will read to the House. The Taoiseach has on two occasions addressed the case with the Egyptian President, while the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, has met and spoken to the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Mr. Shoukry, on numerous occasions. He also met the Egyptian ambassador yesterday and efforts are being made at EU level, with contact having been made by the European Union with Egyptian officials. Ibrahim receives regular visits from Irish diplomats. He has been visited 48 times since his detention and the Irish ambassador and his colleagues attend court and monitor matters closely. This is in the context of the very challenging security situation in Egypt. It is important to note that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is experienced in dealing with complex consular cases and deals with them in a manner which it believes will serve the best interests of citizens, the welfare of whom is at all times at the centre of its approach. It has consulted widely on the case with other countries that have had citizens in similar situations and these consultations inform the view that constant measured and firm diplomacy with the Egyptian authorities, including through the European Union and other partners, offers the best chance of securing Ibrahim's release because it is ultimately a matter for the Egyptian authorities to deal with. The Minister has indicated that both he and his officials are available to brief Members on the approach being taken to the case, bearing in mind that ultimately it is very sensitive. We hope Ibrahim will be free in early course to come home and resume his studies. That is the wish of every Member of the House.

Senator David Norris asked about the Order of Business and Commencement debates. We will look at that issue. He is right that there were eight or nine Members present earlier, but, thankfully, there are a lot more now.

Senator Terry Leyden asked about the scrutiny of legislation in the House. He is right. We have had a number of Bills accepted in this House. Senator John Crown referred to one of them which was enacted today on the subject of banning smoking in cars in which children are present. This House has made a significant contribution to legislation and long may that continue.

Senator Terry Leyden also asked if a review of the trade embargo with Russia would be considered. I will certainly raise the matter with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, but I do not think we can remain neutral when we have one country trying to annex another. I hope we will have a debate on the matter, as requested.

We were annexed for 800 years.

Senator Michael Mullins spoke about flooding in towns and said shops were open for business and should be supported. Senator Feargal Quinn referred to businesses in small towns on this side of the Border. They need to be given every support they can be given.

Senator Sean D. Barrett wished Arlene Foster well. It appears that she will be the first woman First Minister in Northern Ireland. The Senator also welcomed the raising of interest rates in the United States, saying it would be good for the economies of the world, eventually.

Senator Paul Coghlan spoke about the guillotining of debates on Bills. A guillotine would probably have been introduced in considering a number of Bills yesterday, but they were all finished in ample time and the debate on none of them was guillotined.

I hope that will also be the case today. Guillotining is not a good practice and the House does not follow it. I try to avoid it, wherever possible.

Senator Marc MacSharry referred to the plight of the undocumented Irish and called for greater access for Irish citizens to the visa waiver scheme. If the Cathaoirleach, the House or I can do anything to improve their lot, we will not be found wanting.

Senator Cáit Keane referred to a court case. I do not wish to comment on it, as the question of sureties is one for the judge. Any Senator can request a review of Standing Orders and make recommendations at any point.

I compliment Senator John Crown on the passage of the Bill referred to on the banning of smoking in cars.

Senator Jim Walsh, in discussing the issue of public service reform, made the point that salary scales in public bodies should be published. I agree. I see no reason they should not be published.

Senator Susan O'Keeffe, rightly, referred to the plight of farmers, an issue many Senators have raised in recent days. We will discuss it early in the new year.

I welcome the teachers and pupils from Garbally College, Ballinasloe, County Galway.

Order of Business agreed to.