It is nice to acknowledge the presence of former Member John Horgan in the Visitors Gallery. The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re allocation of time on the Order of Business, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, motion re formal recognition of the Press Council, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; and No. 3, Inland Fisheries Bill 2009 — Second Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2 and adjourn at 7 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 12 minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed seven minutes and on which Senators may share time, by agreement of the House.
Order of Business.
In recent days more and more facts are emerging about the way the banks have been run. We need a debate in the House on the issue. I, therefore, propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister for Finance come to the House today to update us on banking policy. The ordinary person is absolutely furious about the information which is emerging and the Government which is speaking out of both sides of its mouth cannot have it every way. There is the Government guarantee for the banks and the Government have control, yet when it comes to topping up pension funds and lavish expenses, we do not see control being exerted by the Government. This raises the most serious issues at a time when, like me, other Senators are meeting people who have lost their jobs and medical cards and are facing huge difficulties. This inequality is fuelling serious unrest. For that reason, we should have a debate on banking policy today. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that this House have a discussion on banking, in particular in relation to the new information that has become available in regard to pension top-ups and lavish expenditure.
I support the points made by Senator Fitzgerald. It surely is the case that there are specific issues which are driving ordinary people berserk, including the Fingleton million and the €1 million plus bonus paid to the chief executive officer of Bank of Ireland. I want to put on the record of this House and people should know that the Government has explained this by saying it was contractually bound to pay this money, which I understand. I must, however, put on record that the chief executive officer of every semi-State body in this country had similar contractual rights to a bonus and, as far as I am aware, every one of them voluntarily gave up their right to that bonus this year. As far as I am aware, that is what has happened in all of the semi-State bodies in respect of similar contractual obligations. I believe moral pressure should be applied to have this matter dealt with. The Government is correct. I have no doubt there was in place a contractual obligation. However, that does not mean the Government should not make perfectly clear where it stands on the matter so that ordinary people can share that view.
It is important to recognise that the Financial Services Authority in the UK has commenced an investigation into Goldman Sachs, a bank described by the British Prime Minister as being morally bankrupt. This is a bank which, for instance, has in recent times put together products for ordinary investors, products made up of investments, information on which was that they would fail. Having induced ordinary innocents to invest in those products, Goldman Sachs, as a bank, then took a futurist bet on that failure. In other words, it was winning both ways. The British Government has decided it will have no more to do with that bank. I would like a guarantee from the Irish Government, which is the reason I support Senator Fitzgerald today, that we will not be tainted by any involvement or investment in any products, services or consultancies provided by Goldman Sachs.
We need to consider this. The German Government financial regulation authority has also begun an investigation of the same issue. It appears to me that this is a classical example of the two-handed approach coming from some of the banks who simply played ordinary punters like violins and took money from them time and again. I would like if a Member of Government could come to the House and convince us we will not be involved in anything to do with Goldman Sachs and that Irish industry or development will not be in any way connected with it.
Given there is no public element to the inquiries into the banking system which we are told are taking place, perhaps a progress report in terms of what precisely is happening in those examinations could be made to the Houses so that we can get some sense or insight into what if anything is happening. My colleagues are correct that there is a need for public information so that there can be proper public debate on these issues. We simply do not have that information. I heard last week an independent economist, Dr. Alan Barrett of the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, say, when asked his view in terms of the comparative approach of allowing Anglo Irish Bank to be wound down or for the bailout to continue, that he could not give an answer in that regard because he did not have available to him the basic information that would allow him to give an intelligent response or any response.
When I hear Members the Government parties say that this is the only way forward and is the correct thing to do, I cannot assess that. I and no other member of the public can assess whether what we are being told is simply a spin because this is what the Government is doing and is the course on which it has set itself. We should be able to assess and understand independently what precisely is going on so that we can compare the two different scenarios. It is taxpayers' money and the public interests that are being dealt with here and as such we should be given more information, even basic information, on what is going on. We have no information in this regard. I ask the Leader to arrange at some point in the not too distant future a debate on universal health insurance, arising from the very interesting conference which took place last week. There was a lone voice at the conference, namely, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney. While she represents Government policy, I wonder whether members of Fianna Fáil are as happy as they appeared to have been in past for the Minister to be determining the policy not just of the Government but also of Fianna Fáil on health insurance and universal health insurance generally.
The Labour Party was the first party to call for universal health insurance. Fine Gael, in a very robust fashion, has also done so and I welcome that. Other bodies have also called for it. Can we have a debate in the House on universal health insurance? We should have the Minister in the House to have the sort of honest debate she said she wants to have. We will have an honest debate in this House. If she could come here, we could do that.
This House should have a debate as soon as possible on the current banking situation, on which we need an update. Some of the statements made on the Order of Business are untrue. We will have a banking inquiry which will have substantial public elements to it. Two reports are being prepared, one of which is being compiled by the governor of the Central Bank who went on the record at the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service as saying he favours an inquiry along the lines of that being carried out in the United States. It is largely public and has some private elements which is necessary to get crucial commercial information. That is the type of inquiry we will have and it will have substantial Oireachtas involvement.
On the payments made to people in some financial institutions, there is a universal feeling that such payments are unwarranted and a mechanism should be found to retract some of the money, if possible through the taxation system. The sizes of the pension pots are of such a scale that we can and should tax pension pots of a certain size and apply a punitive rate when they are being unnecessarily and artificially added to. That would get a signal across as quickly as possible.
On universal health insurance, a report is being produced under the chairmanship of Professor Frances Ruane on the future funding of the health service, which I understand will be published in the next few weeks and will form the basis of a very good debate in this House. I agree with Senator Alex White on the necessity for such a debate.
Given the presence of former Senator Dr. John Horgan in the Gallery and the motion before the House on formal recognition of the Press Council, we need a debate soon on media standards in this country, something which I and other Members have raised in the House. We do not have an opportunity for such a debate today but if the Leader of the House accedes to such a request, in particular given some of the media reports today, it would justify further the need for and existence of this House.
I second Senator Fitzgerald's proposed amendment to the Order of Business, namely, that we have a special debate on banking today. It is scandalous that ordinary people who face job losses, are experiencing job losses and are experiencing income crises are observing the pensions, bonuses and behaviour of our senior bankers. It is not sustainable. There is a seething anger which needs to be addressed. An urgent debate is required. There is a developing cynicism, anger, frustration and alienation from the whole process of Government among the public because of the Government's unwillingness to confront such people. I support Senator Boyle's proposition that we tax the bonuses and extra large pensions. It is wrong that this situation pertains and it should be stopped immediately. The public expects that.
We can get no level of support. All of us hope for a good outcome from the current ballot on the pay agreement. How can one expect a proper outcome from any ballot while people observe what has gone on recently? It is a great difficulty.
Will the Leader organise a special debate on job creation with a specific emphasis on jobs in the green energy sector? I seek a one day debate on the concept of creating co-operative wind farms using the model of traditional co-operatives, which would be supported by the Government in their creation and which would have access to the national grid. We should also support micro-generators through improved grants and securing good tariffs for those exporting energy. There should be an emphasis on wave energy, which has enormous potential.
In the context of jobs, there remains a huge anxiety in my area and we await a favourable outcome to the awful situation in the Quinn Group.
While I will not support the amendment, will the Leader arrange an urgent debate on banking?
Why not support the amendment?
As details are revealed about the recklessness of the regulatory regime over the past number of years, it is normal that people are as angry as they are. Yesterday there were revelations about recklessness within INBS over the past number of years and the regulatory regime during that period allowed such recklessness to take place. It is, therefore, important that we have a debate in order that the facts can be explained and we can seek to calibrate the systemic value of INBS, Anglo Irish Bank and the other institutions and whether they should be merged, wound down etc. The debate could allow us to go back over the recapitalisation proposals and to discuss the moneys outlined by the Minister for Finance that will be required to rehabilitate our financial system.
I also seek an urgent debate on the HSE's interpretation and acknowledgement of the Freedom on Information Act 1997. A year ago this week, I made an application under the Act requesting the interim report prepared by HIQA on symptomatic breast disease services in University College Hospital Galway. I highlighted at the time in the House that this request had been refused by the HSE, notwithstanding that in the letter of refusal, it basically admitted it was not meeting the relevant standards. I appealed the decision and that was declined. I then referred the file to the Information Commissioner, Ms Emily O'Reilly, for whom we can be grateful. She found in my favour and she annulled the HSE's decision not to provide the information.
I referred ad nauseam this time last year to the transfer of services from Sligo General Hospital and to the systemic importance of the information in the interim report to the people of Sligo whose services were being transferred to Galway. Clearly the HSE had something to hide and it will come out with the help of Emily O’Reilly that this is the case. However, the horse is long gone and we have the final report. The issue of secrecy and the HSE preventing access to information of importance to the public is extremely important and it is time we acknowledged the fact that an arm’s length organisation such as the HSE should not have the independence to act that it has. The health boards were abolished and now we are experiencing the difficulty of not having an element of public representation within the HSE. It is allowed to hide information, which thankfully Emily O’Reilly has directed should be made available.
When I am on holidays, I sometimes ask the newsagent if he can give me a newspaper with good news only. That does not often happen. We have had two weeks away from the House and I worry there is a danger that we have forgotten how to talk about good news. We face serious challenges from volcanoes, financial attacks and everything else but there is a great deal of good news out there and I would like the Leader to arrange for one session in which the word "but" is not allowed to be used. In other words, one session in which we can send a message that we can do it.
One day a week. We could do it every Thursday.
One day a week or better.
No interruptions, please.
We should keep a balance.
No interruptions, please.
When I played rugby, on one occasion our trainer talked about the attacking and defending teams. I asked what he meant by the attacking team, whether that was when the ball was on the field. He said, "No," but had to think for a moment. He said the attacking team was the team in possession of the ball, even on its own back line. I suggest that is a message we have to send to the rest of country. We have a lot of challenges, but we also have a lot of good news. To find out good news about this country one should read last week's Newsweek magazine and the quotes from people such as Jean-Claude Trichet who referred to Ireland as being a role model. We have 750,000 people more working now than ten years ago. We have some very good stories, as well as challenges ahead of us. Let us make sure we regard these challenges as something we can overcome, but we will not overcome them if we continually and solely talk about the downswing rather than the upswing. Let us make sure we talk about the upswing.
I doubt that even the Ombudsman would be able to achieve——
Does the Senator have a question for the Leader, not for Members across the floor?
Do you have good news, Terry?
Do not criticise the Government again.
Senator O'Toole made a point about Goldman Sachs. Everyone in the House should examine their portfolios. Perhaps they will decide to resign, sell or get rid of them because the questions raised by the Senator are very important. I hope we will hear more about this in the future in the way we heard about other issues in the past.
The Senator should not name Members of the House in their absence.
A serious issue has arisen in terms of Mr. Fingleton and the Irish Nationwide Building Society. I ask him to give back the €1 million. We want the money — show us the money. People want the money back. The sum of €1.5 million for Mr. Boucher is obscene to say the least.
We should get it back off him.
One could ask whether the people concerned expect to live to be 140.
The Minister allowed it.
They are paying pensions of €355,000 per year at 55 years of age. This is obscene. Many difficulties are apparent. We are subsidising the banks and paying for them. We own them.
The Senator should ask the Leader a question.
I ask the Leader for a debate on the matter. I am also disappointed that Irish Life-Permanent TSB, in which I have a small shareholding, was funding Anglo Irish Bank to the tune of €7.4 million, as exposed in Senator Ross's book, The Bankers, a worthwhile publication.
Will the Leader arrange to have a discussion on the activities of An Bord Pleanála and the granting of planning permission for a mast at Dunamon within 30 m of a couple with three children aged under five years? I question the link between the company involved, Threefold, and Eircom and the workings of An Bord Pleanála. Something stinks in the state of Denmark. There is a need for a debate on An Bord Pleanála. There is collaboration or collusion in the granting of planning permission in this case.
The Senator did not vote for it in the Bill.
I will expose the matter in the House. I will table a motion on the matter which I hope the Cathaoirleach will accept. We will have a long debate on the matter.
We will consider the motion when it is tabled.
Something is very wrong when An Bord Pleanála grants planning permission to destroy the health of three young children in my area.
I thank the Senator.
It is a disgrace and a scandal.
There has been good news about the weather.
The Government did it.
The weather has been phenomenal recently which has helped to lift morale. However, we need to be careful——
Did it set off the volcano?
——that we stay in touch with the realities of people's lives. Many are experiencing difficulty owing to an inability to collect bad debts. A group of small and medium businesses in Galway indicated it was the single biggest issue facing its members. Subcontractors, in particular, are affected. All Members have probably received a letter from Mr. Seán Gallagher from "Dragon's Den"——
I do not wish the Senator to mention names in the House or advertise correspondence.
Subcontractors are badly affected.
The be-all and end-all is that they have little protection, if any, in law. I really want us to have——
Is the Senator seeking a debate on the issue?
——an urgent debate in which we would invite the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to consider the supports and protection that could be provided in law to help people collect money they are due for goods and services they have supplied. I have a letter from a person who received money from the Department of Education and Science for work done on a school building. The goods subcontractor was not paid, yet the contractor was. This is wrong. We must provide some protection in law in order that subcontractors who are hiring many people around the country will not be left high and dry.
It is not often that a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations comes to the Oireachtas. On 3 April Mr. Dore Gold was here. It is unfortunate that when he was, he misled and deceived Members on the situation in the West Bank. He told members of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs that in 2008 there had been 41 road blocks and 14 this year. When other members of the committee and I were in the West Bank in 2008, we were briefed by the UN humanitarian affairs division and told us there had been 380 road blocks in 2005 and 580 in 2007. There are now over 600. Mr. Gold told us that there were 14. When I challenged him on this, he said he would come back to us, but he has still not done so. When I asked him about the case of two girls, one aged nine years, Souad, and one aged three years, Amal, who had been shot by the Israeli defence forces while holding white flags, he said he would come back to us, but he has not yet done so.
He only met us last week.
I ask the Leader to organise a debate on the situation in the Middle East and outline how a former ambassador of another country could mislead us in the way Mr. Dore Gold has done.
I support the calls for a debate on banking policy today. I also call on the Members on the Government side who called for an urgent debate on the issue to support the amendment to the Order of Business such that we can have the debate today, a day on which everyone is shocked by the revelation of the excessive and reckless losses incurred by the Irish Nationwide Building Society, bearing in mind its relatively small loan book. In the debate we could usefully look at what has happened in Iceland, if we could see it through the clouds of volcanic ash erupting there. In Iceland there was a robust banking inquiry, in which were named the small number of individuals found responsible for collapsing its banks. We could learn from this. Senator Boyle's rather vague description of the banking inquiry to be held here is simply not sufficient to answer the public demand for an open, transparent and public banking inquiry. There is clearly a public demand for such an inquiry and it is what we need. Senator Boyle——
I do not want the Senator to comment on Members across the floor. She is seeking a debate on the issue. If it is allowed by the Leader, what people did or did not say can be discussed.
I ask for a debate on the legislation proposed by Senator Boyle to remedy certain excessive payments made to individuals in banking. Some of the suggestions he made were very sensible. We look forward to seeking legislation from the other side of the House and debating it.
I also ask the Leader for a debate on another matter, in respect of which we can learn from Iceland which looks to women politicians to try to fix its collapsed economy. Women were elected to replace the men who had led the country into chaos. One woman in the other House would make an excellent Minister for Finance in the next Labour Party-led Government and I believe she will be the next Minister for Finance.
Is it not a Labour Party-led Government? Am I mishearing something?
I am talking about Deputy Joan Burton.
There are to be no interruptions. The Senator's time is up.
In that context, I ask once again for a debate on women's participation in politics. We have been promised such a debate many times in the past few months. Members on both sides of the House are seeking a debate on the issue and I ask the Leader to commit to a date as a matter of urgency.
The Senator is getting carried away.
I support calls for a debate involving the Minister for Finance. Naturally, I would not expect him to cancel all his duties today and put down his tools immediately in order that we could debate an issue that could be debated on another date. In particular I note the bank regulator appears to be doing very good job at the moment in outlining exactly what needs to be done to ensure confidence in the market. There appears to be very strong international confidence in the work he is doing. Of course we have had bad news, but it is important we hear it now and deal with it.
We have sympathy, of course, for those people who have built up fine businesses, including the Quinn Group. Notwithstanding that, the Quinn Group is still a fine business and hopefully it will continue to thrive. That said, I suggest that before we make calls, individually, about what the Government can do, bear in mind that it could not have interfered in Irish Nationwide's decision to grant the €1 million to Mr. Fingleton, because at that stage it had neither given the guarantee nor had control of the building society. It is only now that we can make those decisions. I am certain the slow but very meticulous and correct procedure of due process is clearing out many of the difficulties in the banks and ensuring that throughout the country people with assets who have debts are now paying them in full, despite the impression given by the Opposition.
There is a need for a debate on banking because it is going to take the equivalent of the extra interest being paid by 500 householders this year to give Mr. Boucher his pension top-up. Small to medium-sized enterprises across the country are being destabilised because of bank lending policy. Elderly shareholders in the two major banks bought shares to protect their pension incomes in their later years. An enormous number of people have pensions invested with those two banks which are now decimated because of their lending policies. This is what is driving the general public mad as regards the banks and the way the Government is handling the situation.
If the Government just wants to hand out platitudes and try to spin a story to the effect that everything is fine, it will reap the anger of the general public as the bankers walk away with the millions in their enhanced pension funds. The Minister for Finance and his Cabinet colleagues need to wake up to how the general public feels about this and we could start by having a debate in this House because every single person is being hurt by present banking policy.
I, too, would love to hear good news in this House every day, but there is only one thing worse than hearing bad news all the time in the Seanad, namely, false dawns. We have had numerous false dawns in this House. We have been told that we have turned corners, that "green shoots" were discernible and everything was fine. When something happens three months later, however, such assertions are seen to be lies or false dawns at the very least. In the event, public confidence and people's security are hit even more as regards how they feel about the economy. If we are to have discussions in the Seanad based on good news, let them at least be truthful for the benefit of the general public.
Senator Quinn's proposal as regards good news is a good suggestion. It is important to have good spirits both in this House and indeed in the country. I refer to my earlier comments as regards the Romanian Senate which unanimously passed a decree to the effect that there should be 50% good news and 50% bad news in newspapers. Unfortunately, it appears it was not possible to define what was good news and what was bad, so this presented something of a problem.
As regards questions for the Leader, I support the call for a debate by Senator O'Reilly, which was good news, as regards co-op wind farms. That certainly is a good suggestion, and he might also look into the idea of biogas. Other countries such as Germany have strong biogas industries, while in Ireland there is great potential but actually zero——
That is up to the Government.
Yes, indeed it is and we are working on it.
Finally, there is a volcano erupting in Iceland which indeed is an act of God, but——
There is more hot air there, too.
Indeed, there is an enormous amount of hot air. I call for a debate on this because there are quite important implications. If a member of my party had suggested a few weeks ago that all the planes in Europe were going to be grounded because of a volcano in Iceland, Members opposite would have suggested we were all sandal-wearing, bearded, muesli-eating hippies——
The Senator must ask a question of the Leader.
In all seriousness——
We know the Senator is not God.
——this matter has huge implications for our country. This is an island nation and many multinationals here rely on airplanes for exporting produce from this country.
The Senator is against them.
This is a serious matter which requires a full debate in the House.
I am not as certain about Senator Fitzgerald's proposal for a debate on banking as other Members on this side of the House. Quite honestly, I am not sure the bankers take any notice——
——of what happens in this House. Indeed, I am doubtful that they take any notice of what happens in the Dáil either. These guys are pretty arrogant. If we hold a debate in which some Minister will tell us nothing can be done about the payment into Mr. Boucher's pension fund, I am not sure there is any point. It is all right to have a debate, but why not have some action? I do not accept the Government's statement that it can do nothing about this €1.5 million bonus. I suggest that the Government fire Mr. Boucher if he does not give the money back. The Government was very effective in removing Mr. Boucher's predecessor and the chief executive and chairman of AIB, as well as the chairman of Bank of Ireland. Why can it not fire the present chief executive, Mr. Boucher, in the same way?
It is a new ball game. Senator O'Toole was correct to compare the banks to the semi-State bodies. We own Bank of Ireland, in effect. The Government is in charge. It can dictate who is on the board and, by extension, who is the chief executive. Senator Leyden is correct. This guy is getting a payment which will give him a pension of over €350,000 per year.
Yes, but I am asking for action. I am not so sure we should have a debate because I do not believe it will be followed by action. This is a Government matter and is not a matter of which it can wash its hands. The Government must issue a directive to the governor and board of Bank of Ireland, who are partially the Government's nominees, stating that if Mr. Boucher does not give back this money, given that he is chief executive of a bankrupt bank, they should fire him or they will be fired themselves.
I listened with interest to the comments on the banking issue. The banking and financial issue is far bigger and broader than the remuneration package of the chief executive officer of Bank of Ireland. I support the view that there should be a debate on banking and finance, and that the debate should be meaningful and take place when the Minister for Finance is able to attend. There are grave and serious problems and the public would prefer us to focus on the broader and bigger issues rather than on a singular matter.
I wholeheartedly support Senator Quinn's views regarding good news. There is much good news in so far as we are on the path to economic renewal and can have confidence in the future. Consider how Ireland is placed in Europe. Ireland is a nation with a young, well educated and flexible workforce. We are English speaking, part of monetary union, well placed geographically and have a low tax rate. The level of foreign direct investment that has been encouraged into Ireland, particularly from multinationals, and the level of job creation, in addition to matters such as the sale of State bonds, have all been hugely successful. There is a great story and we should be selling that good news. I support Senator Quinn in that regard.
I have two questions for the Leader. Will he confirm there will be supports for people who are caught up in the current air traffic difficulties? I refer to supports for people who may have to pay a rent or a premium to a local authority and would be penalised if this is not paid or people who have to sign on to avail of a benefit or those who may have to submit an application form. Will the Leader confirm that all those people will be accommodated and will not lose out?
I support Senator MacSharry's view about the HSE and the health boards. I have raised this issue many times in the House. It is about time we looked at the structure of the HSE and re-introduced local political representation.
I support the call for a debate on banking. I also agree with Senator Ross that we need action. I wish to raise the issue of the faceless bondholders because their names should be published. We need to see who these people are and how we are bailing them out. The other issue I wish to raise is the €15 million top-up for Mr. Boucher's pension which should either not be paid or else should be returned. Under the banking guarantee scheme the Minister for Finance has the option and power to intervene. The Minister should come to the House to answer those points.
On another point, thousands of public sector workers are being encouraged to agree to a new pay deal which means they will forgo an increase in their pay for four years. It is a real kick in the teeth for these people to hear that this banking official who has destroyed our banking system will be given a top-up of his pension. Why are the members of the Opposition being penalised by the public sector local authority workers along with Fianna Fáil members who have been in Government for 20 years and who have caused this heartache for them? It is not fair.
I agree with all the points raised about the banking issue. I agree we should have a debate, particularly when one reads about the behaviour of the senior bankers and about the Fingleton million. There is significant public anger, given the loss of jobs. I support the call for an urgent debate. I am not sure if the debate could be held today so I will not be supporting the amendment to the Order of Business.
I have given my reason. I wish to raise another issue which is to do with the courses run by FÁS. It seems the marking criteria for some of these courses has not been followed and a review of those courses has taken place. I ask for a debate about the kind of courses being run by FÁS, their content and cost and how applicants are being assessed. It was the case that people were used as fillers in order for the course to proceed. I ask for a debate on how these courses fit in with today's thinking on job retraining, job creation and upskilling. I am in a position where I should know about these courses but I do not know enough about them.
Another important point is the liaison between VECs and FÁS. In my view there is a lot of duplication and waste of money. I recommend a debate on this issue.
I support the calls for a debate on banking. The Minister needs to come to the House to address a number of questions such as have been posed by Senator Ross. Why should the taxpayer be expected to invest another cent in a building society such as Irish Nationwide? In addition to senior management, will the board members in the banks and building societies be interrogated as regards their reckless lending practices and their policies for topping up pensions? There is also a need for a thorough investigation into the role of accountants, auditors and solicitors. Many of these so-called professionals acted in a less than professional manner in their dealings with financial institutions and developers. Those who acted improperly should not be allowed to get off scot free. It is not sufficient that their respective professional bodies are left to deal with them. A debate on banking could address a number of questions. The deficit in the financial information available to us also needs to be addressed by the Minister. I, therefore, ask the Leader to accede to the requests of the vast majority of Senators by arranging a debate on banking today. I hope the Members on the other side of the House who support the request will vote on the amendment to the Order of Business accordingly.
I support Senator Ó Brolcháin's remarks on the ash cloud that has enveloped the country and created a crisis for the airline industry across Europe. I ask the Leader to consider inviting the Minister for Transport to the House because the decisions that have been taken in the interests of public safety are having a devastating effect on an already weakened economy as they trickle down. If the opportunity arises, I would like to inquire why the suggestion made on television last night by Mr. O'Ceidigh, CEO of Aer Arann, on has not been adequately addressed. He has pointed out that the aircraft his company uses have turboprop engines and fly at an altitude of between 10,000 ft. and 15,000 ft., significantly below the 20,000 ft. no fly limit imposed by European aviation regulators. He stated in an emergency he could fly people between this country and England. Although the proportion of our goods exported by air is, at approximately 2%, relatively small in the overall scheme of things, they primarily comprise valuable pharmaceutical and medical products. We will be facing a crisis in this regard if the matter is not resolved in the next couple of days. As the volcanic eruption appears to alternately intensify and decrease, we do not know for how much longer it will continue. In the national interest, therefore, it is important to hear from the Minister on the steps being taken to minimise the adverse impact on the economy.
Senator Mooney made a valid point. As an island nation, it is incumbent on the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, to be at the forefront in the discussions with his European counterparts with a view to minimising the impact of the problem which, as we all know, could persist for days. Solutions that would be acceptable in terms of safety should be explored. The Minister should take personal responsibility for doing this.
On the comments made by Senators Ó Brolcháin and O'Reilly regarding co-operative wind farms, I attended several workshops on the matter at the Copenhagen summit and was impressed by the success enjoyed by certain Welsh co-operatives. I would welcome, therefore, a debate on the matter and ask that it be expanded to include the issues raised by Senator Leyden regarding An Bord Pleanála. Issues pertaining to An Bord Pleanála also arose at the conference organised for councillors and held in Sligo a couple of weeks ago which was attended by a number of Senators, including Senators Walsh, MacSharry and Coghlan. I was surprised at the low level of morale among councillors who feel undervalued by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. It would be helpful if we had a debate on planning to include the roles and responsibilities of local authority members, particularly in respect of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2009 and the Dublin mayoral election.
I support Senator Quinn's proposal that we pay attention to the good news stories told everyday. He gave the retail industry a lead in this regard through his successful television programmes which demonstrated how people with the expertise he possessed could turn around an ailing business. It is an important and positive initiative.
I ask for a debate on job creation with the relevant Minister. It is important that the new Minister would come to the House and explain to Members how he proposes to deal with job creation for the next two years.
I welcome this morning's report from Bank of Ireland — I do not welcome many of its utterances and actions — has predicted that the economy will grow this year in the order of 1%, which is a positive indication.
They are great.
There it goes again.
I also welcome the new jobs which have been announced this month, which number more than 500. It is the first time for some time that we have seen some good news in this regard. There has also been a reduction of 12,400 in the number unemployed.
They have emigrated.
That is very much to be welcomed. The sum of €122 million is also being spent in 1,400 schools on renovation work this year which will create in the order of 4,400 jobs. That is very positive stuff.
Are they new or existing building jobs?
It is important we announce these matters and ensure this sort of production is carried out in the country. I agree with and support Senator Mooney when he says we have a serious situation on our hands regarding our aviation industry and how our exports are going. The Minister should come to the House to speak to Members about what we could do about that.
I strongly support the call for a debate on banking. I refer to the five participating institutions in NAMA. There have been so many wrongs perpetrated on the taxpayer and we are doing so much for them to get it right that we are constantly in need of updates on these matters. It is timely for the Leader to arrange that.
There should be no question of any increases whatsoever in salaries for anyone, and there should be no increases in pension top-ups. Many are enduring so many cutbacks that it is proper that we should all move in unison, whether in the private or public sector, in the national interest. It is not happening. These institutions literally had their hands in the lion's jaw. As Senator Ross has stated, there are public interest directors in the banks and we are assisting them so much with their recapitalisation that there should be no question of any of this. The State should have a firmer hand on the tiller and should be insisting on and if necessary, dictating policy. This matter is getting out of hand and it must be stopped now. Let us have a debate on it. Let us hear what the story is and get the proper facts, not that I think we know them.
I do not want to go through the wrongs and the loans that were written off in Anglo Irish Bank, what happened in Irish Nationwide Building Society and the pension top-up for the chief executive of Bank of Ireland. One could list a litany in regard to each of the five.
We can have that in the debate.
It is true for you, a Chathaoirligh, and I respect that. I also support the call of Senator Hannigan in regard to the recent LAMA conference. The Leader should bear that in mind. It is important that this House would deal with those issues of great concern to the councillors of Ireland.
Was Senator Coghlan canvassing for the Seanad?
Seriously, many of them are investing so much time and energy in serving their communities, I fear they are being misunderstood at the top, and that is wrong too.
Not by Senator Coghlan.
I am looking for a debate on the aviation difficulties and the restrictions in place at present. I fear they may not last only for a day or two and could last for weeks and possibly months. It warrants a debate in this House. There are pros and cons in regard to it.
On the Order of Business there is a motion which will be taken without debate to approve the Press Council on a statutory basis. My support for that is out of duty to the Whip rather than out of any sense of conviction in the matter. The tabloid influence on the media in this country has been enormous. There is a complete lack of objectivity and, indeed, there is considerable prejudice throughout much of the media. The Press Council is a creature of the newspaper businesses themselves and of the media.
That is not fair.
That is a fact. It is set up by them. That is casting no aspersions on the individuals. The chairman is present in the Chamber. From what I can gather, those who are on the council — I do not know any of them — are persons of very good repute. However, as we know, self-regulation does not work. Will the Minister attend the House to explain why he has been dragging his feet on the privacy Bill? The House wanted that Bill to be enacted at the same time as the defamation Bill but that did not happen. Everyday one sees stories in the newspapers which certainly fall far short of the standards one would like to see in the media.
On the calls made by other Senators for a debate on what happened in Goldman Sachs, a commentator on an American news channel who has taken a keen interest in this matter for several years said recently that it was only symptomatic of what was happening in many US financial companies. In the same way Ireland was affected by the global downturn, one can rest assured such practices were not alien to the financial industry here. I, therefore, call for a debate on ethics and morality in corporate governance. We need individuals in corporations to be held personally liable, in the same way as health and safety legislation overrides the corporate veil, in order that people can face criminal action as a consequence of their failures in governance.
I also call for a debate on general banking policy. The Financial Regulator has come in for much praise recently, but I do not give him any praise. He is paid well to do his job and he should do it.
How did the Senator feel about Neary?
I was alarmed to hear the Financial Regulator say the banks would continue to replenish their balance sheets by increasing their margins on interest rates. This means they will be allowed to increase interest charges for the very people who had money thrown at them irresponsibly by the banks through 100% and 130% mortgages. This is simply not good enough. I ask for an immediate debate on this specific aspect of banking policy.
This is a speech by Senator Walsh.
It has been the longest contribution so far.
Senator Walsh has made his point.
Will the Leader join me in saying today's good news is that we are one day closer to the next general election when Fianna Fáil will be booted out of power?
We are taking questions to the Leader on the Order of Business.
Senator Buttimer was waiting to stand up all over Easter.
The second piece of good news is that we have a Financial Regulator and a chairman of the Central Bank who are willing to act on behalf of the people.
Who appointed them?
That is rich coming from people like Senator Boyle who has lost touch with reality.
It is like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.
It is the Governor of the Central Bank, by the way.
We are taking questions to the Leader on the Order of Business.
If Senator Boyle is so concerned about the people's welfare, will he and the Leader join me in calling for a banking inquiry to be public?
I have already said such an inquiry will be quite public.
They are running scared.
The Fine Gael amendment to the Order of Business is correct because the position of the banks has not changed at all.
Members will decide on the matter. The amendment has been proposed and seconded.
I appreciate that, but the reality is that the banking fraternity has not listened or learned and is still not willing to act on behalf of the people. Does the Leader believe it is right that Mr. Boucher will receive a pension of €350,000 per annum?
It is actually €355,000 per annum.
Is this right at a time when ordinary decent people are being refused medical cards and the number of home help hours is being cut? Is it right when those who have lost their jobs are struggling to repay their mortgages? Does the Leader understand that the people have lost hope and, in many cases, the will to live?
This is because of the Government's recklessness.
This is a Second Stage speech.
The Government has failed to act on behalf of the people.
We do not want a political speech. We are taking questions to the Leader.
With all due respect, it is not a political speech. You should come out with me and knock on doors in Cork; then you would hear the people.
It is not a political speech but the reality. The people have been let down by the Government and the Members opposite.
I call Senator Dearey. This is the Order of Business and there should be questions to the Leader.
It has been an interesting hour and a quarter, with good ideas coming from all sides, two of which concerned action rather than debate and which I want to pick out, in particular. I support the calls for action on the Boucher payment which I found deeply disappointing and which demonstrated a breathtaking level of arrogance. We all have our responses to the various revelations about the banking sector, partly through the action of the Financial Regulator and the decisions made by the Government. People feign shock but it is because of NAMA that much of this information is coming to light. I found the news about the Boucher payment particularly disappointing and life-sapping. I support Senator Boyle's calls for the taxation of such payments and Senator Ross's call for the Government to ask Mr. Boucher to consider his position. It will take action of this order to bring the people concerned to heel.
I support Senator O'Toole's suggestion for dealing with Goldman Sachs. However, I would go further and suggest the Financial Regulator conduct an investigation into the affairs of Goldman Sachs in this country, similar to the one being carried out by the Financial Services Authority in the United Kingdom. This morning on Louth local radio Deputy O'Dowd described the Financial Regulator as world class and said a sea change had occurred in regulation. The Goldman Sachs case would be a good demonstration of this and to the satisfaction of both sides of the House. The Financial Regulator should extend his investigations to Goldman Sachs, while, as Senator O'Toole suggested, the State cleanses itself of any investment or engagement with the institution.
I am glad the Leader welcomed the Press Ombudsman and former Senator, Mr. John Horgan, to the Visitors Gallery. I wish him and the Press Council well in their work. I remind the Leader that I have asked on numerous occasions for a debate on standards in the media. Senator Walsh raised pertinent issues in this regard. Why is the motion concerning the council's formal recognition being taken today without debate when it would have presented an ideal opportunity to have a debate on media standards? We have had the treatment of the Minister for Finance by a television station which attracted universal criticism, the recent inflammatory headlines in tabloid newspapers on how certain businessmen who had left the country down should be treated and an ongoing controversy about the salaries paid to top earners in RTE at taxpayers' expense. Today there is a report on the number of times Senators voted. I am glad I am not on the firing line and therefore feel at liberty to speak on the issue. What is the standard of journalism when journalists try to measure the productivity of the Seanad by reference to how many times Senators walk to the Chamber to vote? I say this with no disrespect to all those who do so under strong pressure by their party's Whip, many of whom are fine Senators who make fine contributions. Such lazy journalism, however, is about measuring how well Senators walk, not how well they talk. We should have media scrutiny of the quality of the contributions made in the House.
We are not discussing the Press Council now.
I understand that, but it leads to another request I have to make of the Leader.
That is what I want to hear.
The quality of debates in this Chamber will be determined by how often they are organised to address relevant matters. I know the Leader has a duty to the Government parties to organise debates when the Government has something it wants to say. However, he also has a duty to represent our desire to have certain issues surface from time to time. That is why I support Senator Fitzgerald's call for a debate on banking today. I also support Senator O'Toole's call for action against Goldman Sachs, particularly when the general secretary of Germany's Christian Social Union has said that as long as investigations into the company are ongoing, government dealings with it should be put on hold. That is the kind of issue that should be at the core of our discussions today.
I remind the Leader that I asked him before the break for a debate on the Government's cardiovascular implementation plan. He said at the time that the Government would continue to examine that issue but I want a debate. We must consider the importance of investment in stroke care. If we invest in stroke care now we could save tens of millions of euro in years to come and save many lives. We have only 11 acute hospitals with stroke units. These are the type of issues we need surfaced in the Seanad at the earliest opportunity. While I greatly appreciate the Leader's courtesy when we ask for debates, it is not enough for him to say that he has no problem with it. We need a date in the diary.
The Senator has made the point to the Leader.
I ask him sincerely for an urgent debate in the diary on the media, media standards and the way we remunerate journalists. The debate on banking should take place at the earliest opportunity to allow us examine and critique the unethical way in which many bankers have acted and continue to act.
I do not rise in an effort to scare people but there was a major media debate and much hype at one stage regarding iodine tablets to be used in potential nuclear attacks. On the one o'clock news today there was a report that the volcanic ash is now at ground level. It was discovered in Galway. There is anecdotal evidence from the rest of the country that people are experiencing more respiratory problems as a result of the volcanic ash. People who already have respiratory problems are experiencing further difficulties. Could we get an update from the Minister for Health and Children on whether there is any health risk from this ash or even advice on the need for some people to use some form of protection when they are doing a lot of work or walking outside if they have an asthmatic condition or other illness in that respect?
In terms of our workload, and staying within the health remit, there have been many reports recently on obesity, sedentary lifestyles and young children under the age of five having to have their teeth removed owing to tooth decay. Senator Quinn spoke earlier about the whole concept of good news. One of the good news stories in the past two weeks is that many parts of Ireland got good weather, which meant a lot of people went out walking or jogging. They got a good colour without having to leave the country. They did not get caught up in any strike or have to do battle with any mode of transport.
The point is made.
In the context of an economic decline where people cannot afford gym memberships I ask that we would examine what is going on with our younger people. We might encourage the new Minster for Arts, Sport and Tourism to come into the House to determine whether we can support, through her and the local authorities, the development of safe walking ways. Many people are out on the road, and that is not necessarily safe. I have an ongoing battle in regard to cyclists who refuse to wear reflective gear or have lighting on their bicycles. We are trying to motivate people to do something that is more healthy, in the context of the wonderful weather we are experiencing.
The Senator has made the point.
I join Senators who have asked for a debate on banking and banking policy in general. I understand what Senator Hanafin said about the Minister for Finance but there are at least two if not three Ministers attached to the Department of Finance. There are several other Ministers who have a role in regard to banking policy and it should not be impossible to have that discussion today. Indeed, it should not have been impossible that it would have been arranged for today. After a two-week recess we should have had a debate on banking today arranged by the Leader.
I am a bit fed up of the double speak that comes from the Government benches. I refer to people who express support for a debate on banking policy in the House but who will not vote for an amendment to have a debate or will not ensure the Leader has it on the Order Paper for any given day.
On the Taoiseach's comments yesterday, Senator Ross is right. The Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen, came out yesterday and washed his hands of the banking position, specifically relating to Mr. Boucher and Bank of Ireland, and that is not good enough. The taxpayers, through the Government, are significant shareholders in that institution. We have people on the board and we should be able to get a result. This is a time for action, not just discussion.
I also join Senator MacSharry, who has just left the Chamber, in his request for a debate about the Health Service Executive and the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA. I have a particular issue in my part of the world, which issue affects the entire country, where the much awaited nursing home care standards are being implemented. Everybody agrees they should be implemented but they are being applied to supported care homes, which are not nursing homes, and are threatening their very existence. There are more than 200 people in supported care homes in Kilkenny. One was closed in Carlow last year because of these HIQA standards that require them to put in 24-hour nursing care even though they are not nursing homes and the people who are residents do not need 24-hour nursing care. These are voluntary organisations which are run as local charities, in effect. They raise their own money and get very little funding from the HSE. We cannot get answers from HIQA or from the HSE as to how those standards should be implemented. The people who run the supported care homes agree that they should have standards but not 24-hour nursing care standards because the residents do not require that.
I agree with Senator Ó Brolcháin and others who raised the issue of what has happened following the volcanic eruption in Iceland and the vulnerability of Ireland in terms of our island status. It is ironic that it is only about two weeks since Iarnród Éireann announced the closure of the Rosslare to Waterford line, a service it deliberately ran down over a number of years to allow it to close it because the figures showed declining usage. We now have people from all over the country who want to get to Rosslare. We have got 2% of the overall volume of our exports but 30% of the value of our exports cannot get off the ground in airports throughout the country. It is ironic at a time when the Green Party is in Government that we are closing railway lines throughout the country. The Government, the Green Party, the Minister and Iarnród Éireann should seriously consider their position on that issue.
I listened with great interest to the long debate earlier which highlighted a number of issues and I want to touch on a few of those as they came up.
First, the notion of good news and bad news is very relative. Obviously, the newspapers' account of increases in the salaries for bank staff or senior executives is very good news for Mr. Boucher. He gets his good news and other people get bad news from the papers.
In regard to the ash from the volcano, I am glad in many ways this has happened because it forces the media and the rest of us to face the fact that not everything in this life can be regulated, made perfect or controlled. Something that has always baffled me about the media is the notion that if somebody commits suicide by running a car into the sea, Wexford, Wicklow or Waterford County Council can be held to blame because they had an insufficient number of bollards or chains in place, as if somebody would not do it some other way. There is nobody to blame for what is happening now. People are scraping the bottom of the barrel looking for people to blame.
I do not know when this eruption will end. It might not end for months. We will soon be faced with the same questions we are faced with in all walks of life when we go out to drive a car, namely, what level of death are we prepared to face to live our ordinary lives. We do it every morning if we drive a car because there is a certain death rate on the roads. At what stage do we say that we will have to take risks and fly in planes? We are an island nation. We have got to trade. We are a species. We have got to survive. Our whole life is a constant risk. We will have to look at this practically in regard to staying alive as a community. We will have to accept a margin of risk on this, and we should face up to that fact.
Second, regarding the Press Council, it was mentioned that the chairman was a creature of the media. Anyone who knows John Horgan knows that he is a creature of nothing except the habit of speaking his own mind and always doing his own thing.
He will certainly not be bothered by anything that happened in that regard.
In regard to the banks, the banks are in all but name now part of the public service. The thing to do is benchmark them. Their top men should be paid the same as the top men in the public service are paid and the rest of them should be paid pro rata. They should be treated fundamentally as nationalised industries.
I congratulate the Labour Party on not proposing to abolish the Seanad but rather to reform it. The Labour Party should have had a very happy weekend because it seems to all of us who have been on the left in the past——
——that the Marx and Engels notion that the capitalist system would wither away gently and that the state would finally find itself directing the economy is coming to pass in this country. We are now one of the purest communist states on earth.
The messages, language and actions of leadership in this country and the messages the public is receiving are very important. Regarding the banking sector, when we see Mr. Boucher accepting the massive increase in his pension entitlements, which is an entitlement according to this contract, it sends the wrong message to the public and to those under serious pressure paying their monthly mortgage and trying to keep their homes protected. We need to hear from the Government why it is allowing this because there are mechanisms to stop it. We should exercise whatever powers are available to us as a political class to ensure the excessive increases are not happening across the banking sector which has been bailed out by the taxpayer. More specifically, Members called for a debate on banking. We need to have a debate on home mortgages and home protection. Numerous Senators spoke about this. With the latest increases in mortgage repayments, a new raft of people are coming under pressure. Every time mortgage interest increases, more people come under serious pressure to make repayments.
Just over two years ago in this House, the Leader predicted the housing market would increase by 25% to 30% within 18 months. The Leader should tell House this prediction was wrong. We are lucky that many people did not take up the advice of the Leader, which was to buy houses.
That was very dangerous advice. It is a lesson to us, as political leaders and a political class, that we need to be responsible and very careful in the messages we give and the language we use. It is time we had a debate on this because many wrong messages are being given and many wrong actions are being taken. It is not giving our people hope and we need to debate it.
Before I respond to the Order of Business, I would like to say a few words about the sad passing of our dear friend and colleague, Senator Willie Farrell. I had a great personal and working relationship with him, and he was a wonderful man, a highly intelligent Member of Seanad Éireann and a truly excellent public representative. Many colleagues will have an opportunity to express their tributes to Willie at a later stage. He was——
We will formally deal with this matter later.
All Members will have an opportunity but we should not let pass the first day back without saying something about it.
On a point of order, I do not wish to cause a row but this is unfair. If we knew there were to be tributes to the former Senator, we would be able to speak on this and a procedure exists for it. I know he was a special friend of the Leader but we all worked with him as well and it looks awkward if one person speaks and no one else speaks.
We always say something about a deceased former Member on the first day back. In that event, I will adjourn my comments with the agreement of the House until the start of business tomorrow morning.
Are we taking formal tributes tomorrow morning?
No, we are just taking tributes from party leaders on the sad passing of Willie.
That is formal.
At a later time, when the family is present in the House, we take formal tributes.
We will take formal tributes in the morning.
Yes, indeed. No. 1 on the Order Paper concerns the media and a debate on the media to express the strong views and concerns of Members was requested at the party leaders meeting today. We have already acknowledged the presence of former Senator John Horgan, who was a Member of this House for eight years, in the Visitors Gallery and who is now playing a pivotal role in this area. The proposal of Senators Quinn, Mullen and several others reflects the major lack of balance in the media. It is incumbent on everyone that people are told the positive aspects as well as the negative. Looking at some television programmes at night-time, one would swear it was nearly the end of the world because all we see has nothing but negative connotations. Major advances and achievements are taking place, such as the 500 jobs created this month to which Senator Butler referred. Balance in the media is needed and it is the responsibility of editors and sub-editors not to direct reporters and journalists only towards negative or bad news with the message that otherwise they will not carry the stories. We have some excellent journalists. Worldwide opinion is that the journalists and reporters in Ireland are as good as in any country in the world. Editors and sub-editors want to send out only bad news.
When is the debate?
The party leaders had a meeting today and not one of the party leaders requested an urgent debate on banking. I suggest Senator Mullen discusses it with his group leader, Senator O'Toole, because I was always forthcoming——
The agenda was out; that is nonsense.
This is blatant political opportunism.
It is not political opportunism.
On a point of order, there is no requirement on the party leaders to raise any issue with the Leader in respect of what Members propose to raise on the Order of Business.
That is not a point of order.
I fully agree with the remarks of Senator Alex White but I am explaining to the House and outlining this blatant political opportunism. I will inform the House tomorrow morning that, every week if possible but certainly every two weeks, we will review and update proceedings and allow Members, with the Minister present, to express their opinions in respect of the serious issues evolving from day to day, many of which are unprecedented. None of us who has been here for a long time has seen what is happening in the banking world at present. I have no difficulty in allowing the longest possible time for all Senators, including Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Alex White, Boyle, O'Reilly, MacSharry, Leyden, Healy Eames, Bacik, Hanafin, Twomey, Ó Brolcháin, Ross, Coffey, Callely, McFadden, Ormonde, Coghlan, Buttimer, Dearey and John Paul Phelan, who called for an urgent debate on banking. I have no difficulty in allowing time for this to take place. It is my intention to have updates on banking issues from a Minister or Minister of State every two weeks until the summer recess.
Senator Alex White called for the Minister for Health and Children to come to the House to discuss health insurance and the reports by Ms Frances Ruane. I have no difficulty in acceding to this request. Senators O'Reilly and Ó Brolcháin referred to job creation and the opportunity for jobs to be created in the green energy sector. I refer to the energy reports, biogas, wind energy and the possibility of exporting energy in the long term.
The matter raised by Senators MacSharry and John Paul Phelan is serious. It is appalling when information that is the right of a Member of this House is denied by the HSE. I will pass on this information to the Minister for Health and Children immediately after the Order of Business and I will inform her of the experience Senator MacSharry had to go through to acquire the information. I compliment Ms Emily O'Reilly on what she has done to bring this matter to the fore. If it is a right of Members of the Oireachtas to be supplied with information, it is a poor day for democracy if the HSE refuses to do so. The person in the HSE whomade that decision should be answerable to the Minister for Health and Children on this matter.
Senator Quinn referred to the Press Council. I will arrange a debate on the Press Council and I will come back to the House with a definite date for it later this week. Senator Daly called for an urgent debate on the West Bank and I have no difficulty in allocating time on this point.
The Senator outlined to the House what are in his opinion inaccuracies in regard to evidence given to the committee, which is certainly a serious allegation and a matter which we must look into.
Senator Bacik called for a debate on women in politics. The Senator will recall this debate had to be deferred as the previous date of Holy Thursday was not suitable to the ladies of the House.
The women of the House.
I will take a look at the diary to see if I can allow for this debate to take place at an early time.
Senators Ó Brolcháin, Mooney, Hannigan, Walsh, Keaveney and Phelan called for an update in regard to the difficulties being experienced by the aviation industry. Senator Mooney correctly pointed out to the House that this is an important issue in the national interest. The chief executive officer of Aer Arann appeared on television last night and the benefit of his experience and expertise in this regard, as given to the nation, should be looked at. It is my intention to have the Minister come to the House during the next couple of days to update it on the challenges facing Government and the entire country, in particular in regard to exports. I pay tribute to those responsible airlines which have been taking care of Irish people caught up in this unbelievable situation. I heard that one airline has been since last Thursday taking care of 190 Irish passengers stranded in Madrid. What has happened is an act of God. I was delighted to hear that good news story today.
Senator Ormonde called for an urgent debate on FÁS and the huge amount of resources the Government is putting into it to retrain and upskill our young people and those who are unemployed so they will be ready for the upturn in the economy in a few years time. This is a matter on which this House should have a lengthy debate and I intend to invite the Minister to the House in this regard in the near future.
Senators Hannigan and Coghlan asked about the Local Government (Planning and Development) Bill which, I understand, will come before the House this session and also includes sections in relation to the election of the Lord Mayor of Dublin and the Government's proposal to hold the election at the end of this year or early next year. I am sure we all share Senator Buttimer's concerns as expressed today and on other occasions in relation to people who are unemployed. One's heart must go out to the 427,000 people concerned. It is the duty of Members of both Houses of the Oireachtas to do everything possible to ensure these people are given an opportunity to upskill and retrain.
Senator Walsh asked about the privacy Bill. I will make inquiries and report back to the House later in the week in regard to when it will come before the House. I agree with Senator Walsh's comments in regard to corporate governance and ethics in government. We can take up this issue with the Minister for Finance when he returns to the House. Senator Dearey called on the regulator to include Goldman Sachs in its inquiry. I will pass on the Senator's strong views to the Minister for Finance. Senator Mullen again called for a debate in regard to the provision of stroke care units in our hospitals. It is alarming that only 11 hospitals have a stroke care unit. I have no difficulty in including this for debate with the Minister for Health and Children when she comes to the House. Senator Keaveney again called for a debate on obesity and what we can do to assist young children, including supporting those who are out walking and cycling in the current good weather. I fully agree with the Senator's sentiments in this regard.
Senator Fitzgerald has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate on banking policy be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Bradford, Paul.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Cannon, Ciaran.
- Coffey, Paudie.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Cummins, Maurice.
- Doherty, Pearse.
- Donohoe, Paschal.
- Fitzgerald, Frances.
- Hannigan, Dominic.
- Harris, Eoghan.
- Healy Eames, Fidelma.
- McCarthy, Michael.
- McFadden, Nicky.
- Mullen, Rónán.
- O’Reilly, Joe.
- O’Toole, Joe.
- Phelan, John Paul.
- Prendergast, Phil.
- Quinn, Feargal.
- Ross, Shane.
- Ryan, Brendan.
- Twomey, Liam.
- White, Alex.
- Boyle, Dan.
- Brady, Martin.
- Butler, Larry.
- Callely, Ivor.
- Carroll, James.
- Carty, John.
- Cassidy, Donie.
- Corrigan, Maria.
- Daly, Mark.
- Dearey, Mark.
- Feeney, Geraldine.
- Glynn, Camillus.
- Hanafin, John.
- Keaveney, Cecilia.
- Leyden, Terry.
- MacSharry, Marc.
- McDonald, Lisa.
- Mooney, Paschal.
- Ó Brolcháin, Niall.
- Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
- O'Brien, Francis.
- O'Malley, Fiona.
- Ormonde, Ann.
- Phelan, Kieran.
- Walsh, Jim.
- White, Mary M.
- Wilson, Diarmuid.