Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Hannigan, Boyle, Norris, MacSharry, Coghlan, Mullen, Twomey, Dearey, Healy Eames, Buttimer, Mooney, Ó Brolcháin, Bacik, Callely, Hanafin and Bradford welcomed the successful outcome of the Croke Park talks. I congratulate everyone involved in the agreement on the draft proposals. As Senator Ó Murchú stated, the agreement gives an air of confidence at the start of this, one of the most important days in the careers of Members of the Oireachtas. As the snow falls outside the window, the Government and the nation must rise to a major challenge. All those who participated in the talks have done the country a service. Many decisions must be made in the national interest and employers, workers and others have now agreed draft proposals. I hope common sense will prevail.
As Senators will recall, last week I invited Members who had proposals on financial matters to make contributions of 15 or 20 minutes on Second Stage of the Finance Bill with the Minister present. I acknowledge the contributions of the many Senators who availed of the opportunity. The role of the House in assisting the Minister for Finance must be commended and is much appreciated by the Minister and his officials.
On the National Asset Management Agency and the banking proposals the Minister will set out at 5 p.m., the Government faces unprecedented challenges. Commentators and others take a view that Anglo Irish Bank is not important. The bank is more important to Ireland than Lehman Brothers was to the United States. The prospect we face is similar to that which occurred when Lehman Brothers was allowed to go to the wall. Senators should note, when expressing a view on the importance of Anglo Irish Bank, that it is of the utmost importance that a friendly banking system is operational as soon as possible. The incoming chairman of Anglo Irish Bank, the former Minister for Finance, Mr. Alan Dukes, has taken on this responsibility. I am very confident in the knowledge that this man has always been responsible and answerable to the people. That is the difference in having a man of his stature taking over the running of Anglo Irish Bank.
A way must be found to make credit available to the self-employed and family-run businesses. We must remember that 75% of businesses in Ireland are family-run. That illustrates how important it is that credit is made available. Thousands of employers are waiting for credit to be made available again. That is the Government's duty and the reason this evening's announcement is of such importance.
Senator Hannigan requested that we roll over the statements to be made tomorrow on banking. They will continue after the Easter recess. In the meantime, we will be able to observe progress which I hope will be made.
Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Boyle, O'Reilly, Wilson and Mooney referred to the Quinn Group. I wish the group well, on behalf of the Upper House of Parliament. It is a shinning example of what can be done with a can-do attitude and shows what one brilliant man and his family have achieved. It has created 5,500 jobs in Ireland and another 1,500 abroad. It is one of the captains of industry in Europe, not only the British Isles. I know it will come through this.
I had the pleasure of chairing the committee which inquired into the insurance industry. At the start of our inquiry we were told it was an industry in which it was very difficult to achieve anything for policyholders but we succeeded in having the cost of policies reduced by 50% over a four-year period. Senator O'Toole played a major role in that regard. Senators Coghlan and Leyden were also members of the committee. The Quinn Group made this possible in no small way and played a hugely significant role. Whatever the difficulties it is experiencing currently, it has made a magnificent contribution in reducing to current levels home insurance, commercial or private motor insurance, employers' and public liability insurance and health insurance premiums. We are all solidly behind Sean Quinn and the Quinn Group in its endeavours. I hope everything that can done will be done in the interests of sustaining the great work being done by what is a huge employer in Ireland plc.
I will accede to the request made by Senators Wilson and O'Reilly for a special debate which will take place on Thursday after the Order of Business. We will have statements on the up-to-date position in the Quinn Group. We will roll over the statements which will continue after the Easter recess when the picture will be clearer.
Senator Norris referred to the report of the Law Reform Commission and the exemption from jury service for staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas. We welcome the report and hope it will be implemented.
Senator MacSharry called for a debate on education, in particular third level education. I will have no difficulty arranging for the Minister for Education and Science to come to the House for such a debate.
Senator Keaveney referred to activities in the Bridgend area of County Donegal last weekend. We support her call and I will convey her strong views to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. We will see if we can arrange a debate on the up-to-date position on these activities which have been taking place too frequently in recent months.
Senator Mullen raised the issue of persons with a disability giving evidence in court, in which regard he was supported by Senator Bacik. He also called on the Minister for Foreign Affairs to come to the House to discuss the failure of EU Heads of State to reach poverty reduction targets. I will have no difficulty in arranging such a debate.
Senator Twomey called on the Minister for Health and Children to come to the House to debate non-consultant hospital doctors and accident and emergency services. I will have no difficulty in arranging such a debate. I congratulate the Minister on her appearance on "The Frontline" programme last night. She told the people about all the good work taking place under her stewardship. Senator Twomey also raised the issue of social workers and I will pass on his comments to the Minister.
Senators Mooney and Ó Brolcháin wholeheartedly welcomed the opening yesterday of the western rail corridor. It is great to see progress being made. I would not worry too much about the Dublin media because I remember what they said when we were trying to build Knock Airport. How wrong they were. I remember my father telling me what the media had said about Seán Lemass when he had opened Shannon Airport. They said only rabbits would run along the runways. We all remember the doubting Thomases but when it comes to being confident and visionary, Fianna Fáil can be proud of its achievements during the years in what it has done for the people of the west.
Senator Mooney highlighted what the British Government was doing about mephedrone. I will pass on his views to the Minister. He also referred to the Green Party support at its conference for the Government's plan for metro north. It is a huge investment which will benefit the people of the north side of Dublin and the entire country.