The Order of Business is No. 1, Control of Exports Bill 2006 — Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude no later than 12.30 p.m.; and No. 2, Credit Union Savings Protection Bill 2007 — Second Stage, to be taken at 12.30 p.m. and to conclude no later than 2.30 p.m., with the Bill's proposer and spokespersons having 12 minutes and other Senators eight minutes, and the Bill's proposer to be called upon to reply no later than ten minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage.
Order of Business.
In one of his last acts, the former Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy, set a cap on the lawyers' fees at tribunals to come into effect from 31 March 2007. I wish to ascertain whether this is still the Government's position. I note that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, is still in discussion with the Mahon tribunal. Does the Leader agree that, in respect of the authority of the Oireachtas, it would make more sense for a body such as the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission or a select committee of both Houses to negotiate in future with the tribunals rather than a line Minister?
I raise this issue in the context of the difficulty experienced by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform with the Mahon tribunal some weeks ago. It subsequently emerged that the Mahon tribunal had written to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, the previous week, stating clearly that it intended to finish its work by early 2008. However, this information was not put into the public domain. The tribunals are creatures of the Oireachtas and are answerable to it, not to one wing or section of it. It would make more sense for the Oireachtas to organise and control its relationships with such tribunals in order that, ultimately, they would report to the Oireachtas on the progress or lack thereof in respect of their investigations. This would be considerably less partisan than the present relationship that exists between a Minister or group of Ministers and the tribunals. I ask the Government to consider this proposal in respect of both future and existing tribunals.
I note and welcome the current visit to Lebanon of Minister for Defence. Will the Leader make time for a brief debate in this House on the Minister's return home in which he would report on the situation in Lebanon for our troops and on the general highly volatile political situation? When the Oireachtas commits troops to other parts of the world, Members of both Houses do so. Members should review the progress of our troops on the ground. It would be good for the families at home to see that the Houses of the Oireachtas are debating the matter. Will the Leader provide time for the Minister to come to the House to make a report and to have a debate on that basis?
I note in today's edition ofThe Irish Times that the President put her stamp of approval on an excellent project in County Meath called Fáilte Isteach, in which a group of citizens have come together to offer English classes to foreign nationals living in Ireland. This is an excellent project, which could be replicated throughout the State. I commend the President’s support for this work and we need to support such a practical, community-led initiative to help people master the English language.
I did not refer to Paul Appleby's demand for additional staff on yesterday's Order of Business because I chaired an audit review committee six years ago which reported to the Committee of Public Accounts. Mr. Appleby was head of the committee's secretariat. The report was accepted by the committee and it led to the establishment of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement which is headed by Mr. Appleby. In seeking additional staff, he would not waste one shilling of public money. His commitment is unquestionable but I am disappointed the Taoiseach said he would have to stand in line. Protection of investment is needed to attract further investment and I call on the Leader to ask the Taoiseach to reconsider his position that the Director of Corporate Enforcement will have to stand in line, given that his office is crucial to the economy.
The news of the various arrests relating to the procurement of a 14 year old for sexual activities is disturbing. In 20 years as a Seanad Member, I have never met a draftsperson. We receive advice from them and even Ministers do not see much of draftspeople. However, many Bills are drafted on the basis of litigation advice from the Chief State Solicitor's Office. I presume that, as the advisory body to the Attorney General, the CSSO, as opposed to the Director of Public Prosecutions, decides whether the State should defend or prosecute cases. I am concerned that individuals involved in the investigation or who are connected to the arrests might have influenced decision making, litigation and the drafting of legislation over recent years. I raised this in regard the Attorney General's office when a similar scenario occurred 15 years ago. I seek reassurance about this and I do not wish to raise a hare on this.
The Senator does.
I do not wish to be tabloid, so to speak, but this issue needs to be examined.
Today is work-life balance day and we should all attempt to achieve a work-life balance. Members might take the evening off.
We will do our best.
If the House was not taking the Senator's Bill, we could go home.
Clearly, Senator O'Toole is not knocking on doors these times and the issue of work-life balance does not arise for some of us. However, work-life balance must be considered in the context of family friendly policies. The Government has done little in this regard. Parental leave, for instance, is still unpaid and Ireland is one of the few European countries that does not have paid parental leave. Unsurprisingly, the uptake of such leave is much lower as a result than one would expect. Child care costs remain high with many people paying more for their children's care than their mortgage. In a number of cases I have come across recently, couples pay more than €1,000 a month for child care. There is little or no preschool provision and no commitment has been made in this regard. More parents experience long commutes to work, resulting in them having less time with their children. The concept of work-life balance is fine in theory but it is not being put into practice through family friendly policies in Ireland.
A debate on child care would be useful so that we could review the Government's performance on a range of issues. I am especially concerned that the Competitiveness Council has again pointed out that the failure to provide preschool places for all our children is having a serious effect on the economy. The education of children is an important part of preparing the workforce to deal with future challenges.
As Senator O'Toole said, anybody listening to earlier news bulletins must be concerned about the unfolding story about what appears to be a paedophile ring centred in Dublin. I reiterate that we must ensure all our children and parents who need information on how to deal with emerging technologies, including the Internet and use of websites, should enabled to obtain it in an accessible way. Localising such provision through schools would be very useful. Perhaps the Leader, who is a former Minister with responsibility for education, could give serious consideration to how that could be managed quickly.
I support the call by Senator Brian Hayes for a debate on the Middle East and Lebanon, particularly in light of the recent visit by the Minister for Foreign Affairs. That would be a good idea and I hope the Leader can facilitate such a debate.
Previous speakers have referred to the protection of our children in light of the story that is unfolding. It is important that we carefully examine issues being discussed by the Internet Advisory Board regarding the protection of children. University College Cork ran a successful project for many years which identified paedophile rings. A debate on this issue would be welcome and I hope the Leader can facilitate it.
I thank her for the debate on teacher training earlier this week. While we may not have agreed on the issues, the debate was useful. However, I ask the Leader whether the House could debate the issue special educational needs and inclusion before the end of the session. The issue was high on the agenda a number of years ago and, while it has been advanced, it should be re-examined to analyse the programmes in place and the lack of facilities in certain areas. A debate with the Minister would be useful.
The World Health Organisation report on the state of nation's children has generated many headlines over recent days in the media and much attention in the other House, but a serious comment on the education system in Ireland is hidden in the text. According to the report, 10% of children aged ten years and over exceed the 20-day limit for missed school days, at which point educational welfare officers are called in to investigate the absenteeism rate.
The Minister and the Government have failed again. They introduced legislation and set up a new board but failed to finance it. Educational welfare officers are only available in a few targeted areas and the rest of the country goes without. Several counties are not covered by educational welfare officers. In addition, the Government is withdrawing the home-school-community liaison scheme from schools in Woodford, Loughrea and Athenry in my constituency and in schools throughout the country because it has changed the criteria for eligibility. Schools are being penalised for their excellence. The World Health Organisation has identified the problem of absenteeism but no response has been provided by the Minister and the Government. That means something is seriously wrong.
I support Senator Minihan's call for another debate on education before the end of term so that we can highlight shortcomings and omissions on the Minister's watch, especially in regard to inclusion. Why are educational welfare and home school liaison officers, who have been very beneficial, being withdrawn from the system? I cannot understand that.
We would need an economic policy debate virtually every week if we were to take account of new statistics and European and international benchmarking, one piece of which was just been mentioned by Senator Ulick Burke. Myth number one, which is more in the media than in the political system, is that the only reason we have full employment is that we have been stuffing the public service. The latest statistics show that the number of staff in the Civil Service has increased by only 700 since June 2002. Some people may believe we need more planners or corporate enforcers. Even the 30,000 increase in the number of gardaí, health workers, teachers and local authority staff is only 38% of the increase in last year's employment, or approximately one in 12 of the new jobs created since 2002.
Is that not the problem?
Another myth is de-industrialisation. Manufacturing output increased by 5% last year and industrial employment is rising not falling. A narrowing of regional disparity is taking place.
Obviously, Senator Mansergh does not live in the west.
Senator Mansergh without interruption.
The disposal income in the west is higher than in the south east. Despite the lack of site visits by the Industrial Development Authority to north Tipperary, the disposal income is higher there than in south Tipperary.
There are only site visits; there are no jobs.
Is Senator Mansergh calling for a debate?
Yes. On the question of whether we are happy, 46% of the people are very happy, 92% are satisfied with their standard of living and 94% are happy with their quality of life.
Those issues can be raised in the debate.
Send him to Davos.
On the matter of schools, 78% of people find their local schools satisfactory compared to 62% in the UK.
May I send my sympathies to the voters of south Tipperary? This tirade is but the beginning.
I refer to the matter of Mr. Appleby, which was raised again by my colleague, Senator O'Toole. I very much agree with him and believe the language used by the Taoiseach that Mr. Appleby would have to stand in line and could not be moved up the queue was extraordinarily cavalier and dismissive, particularly as the Taoiseach has had to answer questions about business practice, blank cheques and so on and has had to acknowledge that, as an accountant, he did not behave in the way he should have. We need to be very careful about the standard of behaviour in terms of business life.
I call for a debate on drugs. Mr. Gay Byrne was extremely courageous in what he said. I have said similar things in this House over a number of years and I recall John O'Connell, when he was health spokesman for Fianna Fáil, state that the case for legalising drugs such as heroin, which he supported, needed to be examined. I agree with that. We must legalise, control and regulate. However, this cannot be done by a small country like Ireland on its own. All we can do is initiate the debate. This House would be a good place to do so because there would be various views. There would be people who would strongly disagree with this point of view but at least we would place the issues before the public in an intelligent way. However, this is not being done on various radio programmes.
I heard a very decent woman, who is head of an anti-drugs agency, state on Pat Kenny's radio programme that the driving of someone who smoked one joint would be seriously impaired three months later. That is simply not true. One might find microscopically detectable traces of that substance. However, the debate is not advanced by this type of nonsense. There are two sides to the argument and Seanad Éireann would be the appropriate place in which to make them.
I refer to affordable housing which the Leader said yesterday we might have the opportunity to address. Two other aspects have since been drawn to my attention. A number of the major banking institutions refuse loans if they discover the object of the loan is to acquire an affordable house. This is wrong and the Government should say to financial institutions that if they are making these enormous profits, they have a social responsibility to make loans available to the more vulnerable members of society.
In the Dublin area, affordable houses are allocated by a series of draws. That may well be fair but it is done in a very obscure way. People who have applied for a house never know when, or if, the draws have taken place or whether they have got a house until they hear through the rumour mill that somebody's sister or cousin has got one. The process must be much more open and clear so we know the system is being administered fairly. I am not saying it is being administered unfairly but it is being administered obscurely and inefficiently.
Given the very good debate we had on teacher training on Tuesday, I would like it to be continued, particularly in view of the recommendations put forward in the report. Senator Minihan referred to special needs and a debate on that issue would be welcome.
I was surprised to hear Senator Ulick Burke refer to the withdrawal of home school liaison officers from second level schools. I have no doubt the Minister would like to come to the House to respond to this issue and whether the National Education Welfare Board is playing its part in this regard. Senator Ulick Burke has made too strong a statement without allowing the Minister to respond because it is not the real situation. We would welcome the Minister back to the House to debate this issue and continue the debate on the matters highlighted this morning.
Senator Brian Hayes complimented the President on her support for a community in County Meath which has made a commitment to teach English to foreigners. That is a marvellous step forward which perhaps could be replicated elsewhere. Communities could take responsibility not only for the teaching of English but for many other issues. People have done well from this country so let communities give something back and not always depend on other people to help them out. Let us all take a role in helping in communities in any way we can.
I join with others in highlighting work life balance day. I hope it is not simply an opportunity to pay lip service to this worthwhile initiative but I believe it is. After ten years in office, the Government has not advanced the position of many parents who struggle with family and work. As Senator O'Meara said, parental leave is unpaid and there is no paternity leave. The child care situation is as bad as it was five years ago. It is beyond the reach of many families to avail of child care. Parents are unable to access before and after school care. As a result of long commuting times, many parents are forced to give up work. I would like to see more action on the part of Government and employers and for them to take on board this very good initiative.
Much work needs to be done before we can start to talk about forcing women to return to work, which the Minister for Social and Family Affairs has done, particularly as the services and facilities are not in place. I am speaking about the lone parents report which is an initiative to force women back to work when the facilities in their local areas are not in place whether it be child care, flexible working times and commuting times. We need to address many problems before we can begin to force people back into work. We also need to do a lot more to facilitate those at work and give them a real work life balance.
Since I came to the Seanad, two of my driving passions have been new approaches to child care and to ageing and ageism. I am afraid my two lady colleagues on my left missed the point. Maternity leave was 22 weeks' paid leave and 12 weeks' unpaid leave. From today, it will increase from 22 weeks' paid leave to 26 weeks' paid leave——
——and 12 weeks' unpaid——
Who can afford to take that?
Excuse me. Will Senator O'Meara watch what is happening?
Senator White through the Chair.
Senators O'Meara and Terry do not have their eyes on the ball——
People cannot afford to take unpaid maternity leave.
Senator White is usurping ministerial and Cathaoirleach functions.
——on what changes are taking place today in maternity leave. It is dramatic. An extra paid month maternity leave——
No paternity leave.
——and an extra four weeks' unpaid leave. A full paid extra month. Excuse me. I listened to other Senators.
Senator White without interruption.
They are just jealous.
Senator White without interruption.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for his patience.
The Leas-Chathaoirleach must protect the women.
Similar changes are taking place for adoptive parents on which I also made representations.
Does Senator White seek a debate on this issue?
She just had it.
She did not get to ageism yet.
From today, adoptive parents will have 24 weeks' paid leave——
Is this a budget speech?
——and 16 weeks' unpaid leave. One can rely on me to speak on child care and ageing and ageism.
The people of Dublin South-East do not know what they missed.
It will not deliver a work life balance for most parents in this country.
When will we hear chapter 2?
I do not know how to follow that. There was such enthusiasm——
The Senator is feisty.
It is hard to follow the enthusiasm and success shown by Senator White. I congratulate her.
I wish to discuss the case mentioned earlier of the President travelling to County Meath and congratulating the people there for the steps they took themselves without relying on the Government. Too often when a problem arises in an area someone forms a committee and then sends someone to Dublin to seek action from the Government. This is a real example of active citizenship. Active citizenship deserves more attention than we give it. We debate it now and again but we do not do so often enough.
Active citizenship includes people putting their hands in their pockets to support charities. However, we have a heavy VAT rate on every charitable donation. In recent days, a case was made to us by the Irish Charities Tax Reform Group. It pointed out that for years the European Union did not allow charities to be VAT free. However, a change was made two years ago and Denmark took a step which enables people to know all money given goes to the charity and no portion goes on VAT. We cannot make amendments to the Finance Bill, we can only make recommendations. I want to make this point prior to it coming to the House and draw the Minister's attention to the fact that another country grabbed the opportunity to ensure all money donated to charity goes to charity without a portion going to VAT.
During the week, figures showed we are beginning to get somewhere on the number of road deaths. Let us not take the pressure off. The change is that for the first time we have begun to enforce legislation and remind people that if they misbehave and break the law they will suffer. However, we have other legislation which we do not enforce yet. A person caught without insurance should have his or her car taken off him or her immediately. A person who is caught driving while drunk is not allowed to continue to drive. However, a person caught without insurance is allowed to continue to drive home.
One reason for the dramatic improvement in the figures in Sweden was the introduction of automatic speed cameras throughout the country. It dramatically reduced speeding in Sweden. In another country, which I believe is Denmark, one's mobile phone is confiscated if one is seen using it on the roads. I mention these as examples of enforcement of the law. We are in danger of relaxing when we see an improvement in the number of road deaths. We must ensure we enforce the laws we pass. On that basis we may get to the top of the table.
I join with other Senators in requesting the Leader to ask the Minister for Education and Science to come to the House and review the implementation of the special education programme in our schools. I acknowledge a national framework was established by the Government such as was never in existence previously. As somebody who had many dealings with special needs children during the 1970s and found the resources and facilities completely inadequate I salute the achievements made.
Notwithstanding this and the major resources targeted at special needs in terms of teachers and other supports, inevitably the implementation of any programme will have lacunae. Senators referred to certain identifiable needs which exist. I ask for a debate and timely review on the progress of the implementation of the programme under the framework.
Regarding home school liaison, it is well-known an ongoing review of the general area of school attendance is taking place in the Department, and rightly so. This includes encouraging children and students to complete their education as a prerequisite for having an opportunity for a quality of life. This not only involves home school liaison, but also the school completion programme and a number of other elements. As part of this debate, or in a separate debate, we could examine the progress of the review taking place in the Department and perhaps confront the issue about which Senator Ulick Burke is concerned, namely, that the home school liaison programme is in the process of being disbanded. I do not accept that and know it is not the case. What is happening is the fruit of success, and success brings its own problems.
We are told rural pubs close at the rate of one per day. This is the steepest decline ever recorded in the country. We saw what happened to small post offices and shops. Rural Ireland is being decimated. Will the Leader tell the House what plans, if any, the Government has to address this appalling vista? I agree with the recommendation that the Government should introduce rates relief to rural pubs and reductions in vehicle registration tax for those publicans who provide transport for their customers. It is an important social service. We do not want to see the character of our rural villages and small towns disappear. It is an abominable change and needs to be addressed seriously.
I agree with the remarks of Senator O'Toole on the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, which deals with many important and serious matters. Surely the few extra staff required by Paul Appleby can be provided.
Will the Leader arrange for the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to outline for us his proposals on salmon conservation and the salmon angling business? At this stage decisions are being made on the curtailment of angling activity, in particular in a number of catchments where there are no real data on salmon stocks going back four or five years.
I am particularly interested in the Clare catchment rivers such as the Fergus, the Dunbeg and a series of smaller rivers where there has been no scientific evidence of catches nor data on salmon spawning etc. On the basis of little, if any, information these decisions are being made on the curtailment of activity, which will be detrimental to the tourist industry in particular. I would like the Minister to outline to the House how he proposes to deal with the matter because most of the emphasis has been on the curtailment of drift and draft netting in the estuaries and sea, but there is a range of other affected activities. Much damage is being done to salmon rivers because of the failure to take action to deal with some of the minor problems in catchments, which impair the development of the fisheries.
I support Senator Coghlan's comments on small businesses in rural areas. It is not only pubs in rural areas which are affected. A number of small businesses in my constituency have closed down in recent times. Where there is a case of people drawing down their savings or having to borrow money to meet overheads such as rates and insurance, it is necessary to take action. I would like the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, to comment on this. I know small pubs and publicans are affected but small businesses in small towns are generally affected by the presence of supermarkets etc. Many of these small businesses have provided a service for generations and it is time we came to the rescue and acted on this serious developing crisis. Some 14 small businesses closed down in Ennis recently. This is alarming and action must be taken.
I welcome the announcement by the Minister for Finance that he is to extend the period of tax relief for private developers where they provide facilities for the elderly and the disadvantaged. Being involved in two voluntary organisations I see first-hand the tremendous work being carried out in this area. The Minister has now put in place a provision that the services will have to be provided for 20 years. As this great work goes hand in hand with what is essentially voluntary housing, will the Leader ask the Minister to clarify if these facilities could be extended to pilot projects and projects by private developers put in place for the treatment of alcohol and drug addicts? That would be essential.
Senator Coghlan raised an exceptionally important issue, supported by Senator Daly, in regard to the challenges now facing rural Ireland. Most of the debates we had here over the years focused on one-off housing. If people are not facilitated to return to live in rural areas and become part of the community, we will face many difficulties in future. We all bemoaned the mass exodus, leaving empty homesteads, from rural Ireland in the past, but we got a new wave of confidence when people wanted to return to rural areas. These people can continue to live there only if the infrastructure and services are in place.
In the past week I was asked to do a television interview on the closure of post offices and I had to be up-front and say I was not happy with the development, as I do not believe it will help rural Ireland. There is the serious matter of the decline of many rural pubs which, in many ways, were the assembly point for people living in rural Ireland. I am not arguing we should in any way dilute the rules on drink-driving, but this is happening by stealth and a debate here on the general context of rural Ireland would be worthwhile.
In County Clare a new community began to emerge, with a hairdresser, a mechanic and so on moving into an area but these services will not continue if the proper infrastructures are not put in place. I am a cofounder of the Irish Rural Dwellers Association and since becoming involved with that body I have seen other instances of development, with little or no publicity.
At this stage the Seanad could play a useful role in discussing, in a focused and itemised way, the new challenges that face rural Ireland.
Senator Brian Hayes, leader of the Opposition, raised several tribunal matters and the cap on lawyers' fees in particular, due to be introduced at the end of March. He asked if this was still the position. The Senator correctly stated that tribunals are creatures of the Oireachtas and that they should be directed from these Houses. The Senator also asked for a debate on the current situation in Lebanon when the Minister for Defence, Deputy O'Dea, returns from his trip there. That would be very useful and we would all benefit from his comments on the Army's position there and the current situation in that country.
Senator Hayes also mentioned the Fáilte Isteach project in Meath and the President's admiration for such a step. I also read the article and thought it was wonderful that the group would give of themselves in the language. This, combined with the many new language support teachers appointed by the Minister to primary schools, is very welcome.
Senator O'Toole mentioned Paul Appleby and indicated he was careful and would not be profligate in his spending or use of staff. He argued we should again support his office. The Senator also mentioned the case of the 14 year old in the news, the information unfolding on the matter and the vista it would open up if the hints about which we have read are true. This is a very serious matter which I am sure will be considered by the drafters of legislation, and more information will come to the fold.
The Senator also mentioned that it is work-life balance day. Let us all have a party and go home. We cannot do that but I take the Senator's point. I do not know how one would achieve a better work-life balance. I have always struggled to achieve that. I do not know how I managed it but I did and I am still struggling with it.
Senator O'Meara raised the lack of child care, the unfolding matter of the paedophile ring and what it brings in its wake. Senator Minihan would support the relevant Minister coming to the House to debate the areas of inclusion and special needs in education. It would be welcome if the Minister could attend for that purpose. I thank all the Members who spoke in such fine fashion on the education debate. It was a welcome debate and I thank the Minister for attending. The contributions from so many Members were also welcome. It was one of the best debates on education I have heard.
Senator Ulick Burke mentioned the State of the Nation's Children report. It states that more than 10% of primary pupils are absent from school from more than 20 days, which is not the norm but the upper limit of what should be the case. The Senator spoke about school welfare officers, about which I have inquired. The home school liaison officer scheme has not been abandoned, but as Senator Fitzgerald mentioned, that scheme together with the school retention programme and other programmes are being reviewed to determine what is best practice. Long ago, a garda played that role. If one was out of school for a day, one would dodge into a shop if the garda was approaching because he or she was supposed to ensure that one went to school. The Senator also referred to a lack of funding for the National Educational Welfare Board. These matters must be examined to determine whether they can be done better, better linked with one another and have a better effect for pupils.
Senator Mansergh pointed out that, despite what is often stated, we are not stuffing the Civil Service. According to the report published, there is an evident lessening of regional disparity. It is good that 78% of voters like their local schools. In the United Kingdom, the figure is approximately 60%.
It is 62%.
It is the same thing. It shows the primacy of the school in local communities.
Senator Norris asked for a debate on drugs and their legalisation. It has come to his notice that some banks refuse loans for affordable housing and that the draw for housing is administered in an obscure fashion. He does not object to the method of the draw but people should know when and where it takes place.
Senator Ormonde asked for a debate on education in terms of inclusion and special needs. She praised the community spirit in County Meath and stated that people should give back to their community as they get from it.
Senator Terry referred to work-life balance day and the lack of before and after-school care. I did not know that any lone parent had been forced to take a job.
It is being proposed.
Many of the lone parents who approach me wish to work. Their concern lies in balancing the number of hours they can work and their statutory payments. It can be difficult to make this work. If a parent takes a job at which he or she is good, the employer may wish him or her to work full time rather than the maximum number of hours allowable. I have met many lone parents who are keen to work, but they did not believe they were being forced. I have not heard of anyone being forced.
That is the proposal.
It is nearing.
It is not. It will not be passed by our Government.
When the child is aged——
It will not happen during our Government's term.
Not before June.
Not before a Fine Gael Government.
It is clear in the report.
I listened and I swallowed hard when this was mentioned. We can give our opinions in the House, but we can also give of our experience. I have not met any woman who believed she had been forced to work.
Hear, hear. Choice.
I did not say that.
On a point of information, the Minister has published proposals to the effect that lone parents——
The Senator cannot interrupt at this point.
——will lose their benefits and must go to work when their children reach eight years of age.
Let us debate the matter.
We have done so.
I will have to revert to being meek, quiet and nice to everyone because then no one will shout at me. Would that not be a good idea?
The Leader should bring to the House her old friend, the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Brennan.
I do not want my words to be misrepresented.
All this electioneering has made me abrasive, but I will continue with it. I like Senator White's gumption, which she has in spades. Well done.
I thank the Leader.
She is able to put forward her point of view and Fianna Fáil could do with her in the electoral fray for the Dáil rather than the Seanad.
Add her to the Dublin South-East ticket.
She referred to the significant improvement in maternity payments, such as the extra month, and so on. We debated the improvements in the House. While there is sometimes another point of view on the Senator's spirit, I like it. She contributed to today's debate in a fine way.
Senator Quinn referred to steps taken by a community in County Meath and referred to it as active citizenship, which echoed Senator Ormonde's comments, namely, to give back what was given. He also referred to the charity tax reform group and road deaths. Driving a car without insurance is a big no-no. In Sweden, the car in question would be impounded immediately, which should be the case everywhere.
Senator Fitzgerald, our spokesperson on education, referred to special education needs under the framework school completion programme, which is to be examined.
Senator Coghlan raised an important matter concerning local pubs in that one closes per day in rural Ireland.
We must do something to ensure the future of rural Ireland.
He requested rates relief for rural pubs. I am fortunate in that there is a pub 50 yd. from where I live. I can walk to it if I want to, but I do not have the time. Work-life balance does not obtain.
The Leader is fortunate. She should consider the rest of us.
The Senator also asked for help to be provided to pubs in respect of the transport programme.
Senator Daly asked for a discussion with the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources on salmon conservation and drift netting. He raised the matter of small businesses in rural areas closing because of a lack of infrastructure. It would make for a good debate.
Senator Brennan welcomed the extension by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, of the period of tax relief for those who build facilities for the elderly. He asked whether it could be extended in respect of those who provide facilities for the treatment of drugs and so on.
Senator Ó Murchú referred to services, infrastructure and pubs in rural Ireland. Do many Senators use their local post offices?
As do I. County Tipperary again.
There have been no closures in County Tipperary.