The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re combating sexual abuse, the sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, Competition (Amendment) Bill 2010 — Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No.1; No. 3, motion for earlier signature, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2; and No. 4, statements on the banking reports, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 3 and conclude at 7.30 p.m., on which spokespersons may speak for 12 minutes and all other Senators for eight minutes, and Senators may share time, by agreement of the House, with the Minister to be called upon ten minutes before the conclusion of the debate for closing comments and to take questions from leaders or spokespersons.
Order of Business
I welcome the imminent publication of the Saville report on the events of Bloody Sunday. I am sure the Leader will arrange for us to debate it and discuss its findings. I call on him to arrange such a debate as soon as possible.
I am sure Senators on all sides of the House are pleased that the Seanad is back in session this week.
Last week we had a bizarre situation where the Government published two long awaited banking reports but the Seanad did not sit, while the Dáil was effectively muzzled by the actions of the Government. We know that every possible forum in the country was discussing the reports. Independent experts, domestically and internationally, delivered a damning verdict on the actions of the Government and the Taoiseach, the culture of banking and the system of so-called light touch regulation, over which the Government had presided. I recognise that we will have an opportunity to debate the reports later today. However, we must remember that they do not encompass any examination of NAMA or the recapitalisation of the banks and that the Taoiseach was not interviewed. At the weekend we heard from Dr. Michael Somers of the NTMA. He referred to the next stage of the banking inquiry in which the role of the Department of Finance should be examined. It is very clear at this stage that we need a banking inquiry to be held in public, that would be comprehensive and examine all of these issues. How does the Government respond to the comments of Dr. Somers? When will the terms of reference for the banking inquiry be brought before the House? Will they be broadened to include the Department and the Minister for Finance? We need answers to these questions because it is completely wrong, as some Ministers have stated, to suggest the two reports vindicate Government policy. They certainly do not. They do not examine Government policy since 2008. We must hear when the terms of reference will be brought before the House and how comprehensive they will be.
While there will be a banking inquiry, we must have another inquiry for which this House should call, into what happened in our maternity hospitals.
Why have so many women had the dreadful experience of having scans and being given the wrong information? Only for their persistence, they would have ended up having a D and C, dilation and curettage, procedure which they did not need. This is remarkably traumatic for all the women concerned. We need an independent HIQA based inquiry to ensure this will never happen again. It is disgraceful that after so many years of the Celtic tiger we cannot guarantee women safe scans in our maternity hospitals. I call for this issue to be addressed in the House as soon as possible.
I concur with Senator Fitzgerald on the point she made about the House not sitting last week. The Leader and I have had several disagreements on the matter, but I do not intend to go into the details again. It reflected badly on the Seanad. However, it begs the question of where we stand on Seanad reform. For a variety of reasons, what has happened in the past two weeks has raised more questions about the viability and necessity of having the Seanad. It seems we are playing straight into the hands of our detractors. Where do we stand on the promises we have received three or four times during the past two years that there will be a Bill on Seanad reform? When are we likely to see it?
I refer to a question raised by Dr. Michael Somers, head of the NTMA. I am not going to raise the political issue of who is responsible for what, but I do want to refer to the Ministers and Secretaries Act 1924. Many of us have suspected for years, but it has now been stated civil servants work to present reports that will reflect well on Ministers. This has not only happened in the past ten years; it has happened with all Governments along the way. I seek a discussion on that point. On three or four occasions recently I have raised the issue of the impact and influence of senior civil servants on all aspects of the public sector and the work of government. This is a serious issue. If we are not getting clear viewpoints, guidelines and reports because they are being doctored and edited to reflect well on the political head of the Department, they are worth nothing to us. A major issue for us to discuss in a non-political way is the putting in place of proper procedures to stop that from happening.
One of the issues with which we need to deal is a paper trail and a trail of decision making. Over the weekend Michael Somers said people no longer write things down in the Department of Finance but lift the telephone and tell people what to do. There is no record there. That is an unacceptable method of decision making. There should be a hierarchical trail of decision making in order for us to recognise everybody's input into every decision. Unless we get that, we will walk ourselves into more trouble.
I have said a couple of times that one of the problems with new Ministers is that they walk into a Department about which they know very little and are overwhelmed by senior civil servants who take control of the running of the Department — perhaps for the good, or maybe not. I would like a clear distinction between the role of the civil servants and the role of their political masters and to ensure decision making is open, clear, dependable, examinable, subject to stress-testing and done with the best interest of the citizens at the heart of it. I would like a discussion on the Ministers and Secretaries Act 1924 and the amendments to it.
I welcome the publication last week of the two reports into the banking system. We will have the opportunity to debate them later but there is so much to discuss and so much material in these reports, it will not be possible for us to deal with them in one debate and it will be an issue to which we will have to return in the coming days, weeks and months.
There is much talk in the Houses today about confidence in political leaders and so on. The most important issue of confidence in Ireland today is the confidence people have in their future in the country — the confidence citizens have that this country can genuinely turn itself, or be turned, around — and that there will be a future for their children. Today we see further reports on unemployment figures which show Ireland is now 3% above the EU average.
Notwithstanding Professor Honohan was not asked to look at Government policy, contained within his report is a devastating critique of Government policy in the period under review. I accept he dealt with banking management, the prudential system and the regulatory regime but there is a devastating critique of Government policy. The more one reads these reports, the more serious and shocking they become. They contain a devastating critique of economic policy, budgetary policy and macro-economic policy over the period in question. When historians come to write the history of the past 20 years, these reports will be central documents on which they will rely, in particular Professor Honohan's report.
I was somewhat sceptical, as we in this House have become, in regard to whether the process proposed by the Government was the correct one. Professor Honohan should be congratulated on the clarity and depth of the analysis he gave. However, Senator Fitzgerald is absolutely right that we now need clear terms of reference in order that the Houses of the Oireachtas and, through them, the people can be involved in a really rigorous, open and transparent examination and analysis of what has occurred and why this country and economy have arrived at this shocking state of affairs.
I welcome the last point made by Senator Alex White and agree with him that we need several debates on the banking reports. However, since this process has started, there have been questions, in particular from the Opposition side, about whether we would have an investigation and if we had whether it would be done by independent people, and if so whether such reports would be published, and if published whether they would be redacted, and if they were not redacted whether they would contain any criticism of Government policy.
The reality is that this has been an open process and necessary questions have been asked. A template should be put forward as to where we go from here. I am confident the terms of reference, which have yet to be agreed, for a commission of inquiry will also be all-embracing.
I listened with interest to the comments of Michael Somers, the former head of the National Treasury Management Agency. I was concerned about what he said in regard to a prevailing culture in the Department of Finance which was not linked to any political party whereby the Department felt there was a need to second-guess the Central Bank on a regular basis and to present quarterly reports in the most benign way to whatever Government was in place. That is not the way information should be compiled and it is not way the public should be informed about the economic well-being of the country. When we have the debates in this House, they will inform a process that has begun, that is open and that is starting to inspire the necessary public confidence, which has been badly undermined by how we were served by such attitudes in the past.
Last week the Leader was totally out of bounds in suggesting that I was responsible for the House not sitting. The Leader makes this type of outrageous statement on a daily basis. If he left the job to his most efficient Government Whip, the House would be run a hell of a lot better. The Leader is bringing the House into disrepute with his statements. To suggest he was a having a bloody weekend for Ireland when he was wining and dining and playing golf in Turkey is an insult to the people and to this House. Looking for ten pairs sums up what he thinks of the House and how it should be run. He wants to run it as his own little fiefdom for his own benefit and it will not wash anymore. The public and quite a number of his own party colleagues have seen through his actions. Accusing me as the Fine Gael Whip of being responsible for the Seanad not sitting is outrageous and it is a disgrace coming from the Leader of this House.
Today is an important day in Ireland's history because we will have an opportunity again to read in the Saville report whether the innocent people who were on a civil rights march and who were shot dead in Derry 26 years ago will finally be vindicated. It is not a matter of one side triumphing over the other, as that should be the last thing on our minds, but the truth must come out so that those who died and those who suffered will know that the innocent march that took place was justified and the murder of those people was unjustified. I call for a debate at the earliest opportunity.
I agree with Senator Fitzgerald regarding her concern about the state of the country's finances and the reports we have received and it is a pity that these inquiries will not take in what one might call "the night of the long fangs" when the bankers secretly visited the sources of power here and sank their teeth into the bank accounts of ordinary, decent citizens. I look forward to some discussion on that but it is a great shame.
I agree 100% with Senator Cummins. I was astonished that this House was prorogued last week and that the newspapers at least appeared to suggest this was all to facilitate a golfing excursion. That certainly brings the entire House into discredit and even yesterday the Order of Business was suddenly amended in order that instead of taking the statements on the banking reports tomorrow, we would take them today.
Will the Leader communicate with the Minister for Foreign Affairs about security provisions for visiting political dignitaries? I seek a debate on foot of the situation that emerged at the Institute of European Affairs last week when the Iranian Foreign Minister visited in the company of a group of his own thugs who were acting as security people. They beat up members of the public who were protesting outside the building about the attitudes and behaviour of the Iranian Government. It is not acceptable that the mercenaries of a foreign state should beat up Irish people on their own streets and I would like an explanation about how this was allowed to happen. I understand the Institute of European Affairs was requested by the Department of Foreign Affairs to host this meeting and I doubt if its officials were enthusiastic about it, particularly in light of what I heard. The delegation entered the building, were met by the head of the operation, a very distinguished former Irish diplomat, Ms Jill O'Donoghue, and they asked to see the boss. When they were told this was the boss, they asked to see the "real boss, the man". It is about time the Iranian people were told what Irish society is really like, and that we do not appreciate this type of ignorant barbarism.
I support the views expressed by Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Alex White and Hanafin. In particular I ask for a special debate on maternity hospitals and matters relating thereto, as regards scans and D and Cs. I emphasise "special debate", in line with what Senator Fitzgerald has asked for, as soon as possible.
Equally, I ask for time for the consideration of the Saville report on Bloody Sunday, when we get it.
I very much support the views expressed in relation to the banking crisis. One or two things caught my attention, including Senator O'Toole's reference to the decision making process under the Ministers and Secretaries Act 1924. We recognise that for a host of reasons people have been slow to put pen to paper and sign off on issues, which are now being done in a different manner. I support the need for such matters to be done in a fashion where the decision making process is examinable, as Senator O'Toole put it. When we are discussing the banking crisis the debate should extend more broadly than the two reports. Most importantly, everyone clearly accepts and understands that these reports are dealing with matters that have occurred in the past. We all want to know what is being done for consumers today, for SMEs and what the future holds. Therefore, I ask the Leader that if we are to have a meaningful discussion on this issue, we should be given an appropriate briefing from the financial institutions to allow people such as myself and others to participate in the debate. One banking institution, for example, is asserting that it is approving 100 mortgages a day, which is great news. We are not being told how many are being drawn down, however, and that is the type of information we need.
Before concluding, I ask the Leader to contact the Minister for Health and Children and the HSE on the urgent need to approve the appointment of a paediatric immunologist. A formal application has been made by the consultant for infectious diseases at Our Lady's Children's Hospital, Crumlin, at the request of the HSE. We do not have any paediatric immunologist in Ireland and as the request has been sought by the HSE, I ask the Leader to ensure the formal application is approved.
I share the concerns expressed by Senators Fitzgerald, Alex White and O'Toole and welcome the forthright statement Senator Boyle made on banking matters. I welcome this evening's debate and hope there will be a further debate on these terms of reference when we know what the Government has decided in regard to them.
There is very serious concern about the comments of the eminent public servant, Dr. Michael Somers, now a public interest director at Allied Irish Banks. That is a matter on which we could usefully have a discussion.
All is not well in beauty's home, sadly, at the moment. We are having a difficult tourism season, as everybody knows, and I share the concern of the Mayor of Killarney regarding Iarnród Éireann's unilateral action in reducing greatly the public opening times of the main ticket office there and installing vending machines when 40% of the people do not have the necessary technology to use these things. We accept this is a major tourist destination and that office and station is a major component part of our tourism industry. There are significant numbers of people there at various times and it needs to be accessible, as it has been, on an all-day basis.
The Senator has made his point.
I am sure the Cathaoirleach appreciates what I am saying, and the Minister needs to have a serious discussion with Iarnród Éireann. It is doing sufficient damage as regards closing lines that should not be touched, so I call for a debate on the matter.
I support the requests for a debate on foot of today's publication of the Saville report and the Prime Minister Mr. Cameron's statements thereon, which I believe will be delivered in approximately half an hour's time in the House of Commons in England. Moreover, I ask for such a debate at the earliest possible time. Were it to take place next week, it would be most timely. I ask for this because I believe the Widgery report in particular must be completely countermanded. It added enormous insult to enormous injury at that time. While I was a very young child then, I remember well the day itself and the way in which it led to a sequence of events that took many decades to unfold. It was a pivotal moment in the history of the Troubles and of this island. Mr. Denis Bradley this morning described Derry as being in an almost liturgical state today, as the people went through the ritual of closure, which I certainly hope today will bring. I hope the remarks later on by the Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron will bring this about and that the report will exonerate those who were so badly blighted by Widgery and others subsequently. I call for a debate as soon as possible. Members must acknowledge the importance of the report by holding this debate very soon.
I also welcome last week's vote on the Croke Park agreement by SIPTU and IMPACT, which were the big two unions which in all likelihood would swing the deal's acceptance or rejection. Many smaller unions decided to reject the agreement but the scale of its acceptance by the members of IMPACT and SIPTU is to be welcomed. It continues to demonstrate a clarity of purpose as we try to address the public finance deficits and to bring about the public services reforms the OECD recognises are needed. I call for further debate on the post-Croke Park deal scenario as soon as possible.
I strongly support the point made by Senator Fitzgerald on the need for debate and discussion on the issue of maternity scanning. This is a matter of great importance given the debates in this House regarding the role of the HSE. The HSE was set up to do many things, two of the most important being to ensure that good practice was spread across the entire country and to ensure that a solid understanding was in place regarding what happened throughout the country. As this saga unfolded during the week, it emerged that the first such incident took place in a hospital in Galway in 2006. Although a new procedure was meant to be put in place to ensure it did not happen again, it did not spread beyond that region. Moreover, the HSE gave assurances at the start of the week that only one or two people were involved in this matter. However, by the end of the week the number had risen to nearly a dozen. As someone who had the privilege to be present for the scans of my own children before their arrival, I cannot imagine the trauma this has caused to the parents — and to mothers in particular — who have heard this news. It is vital that a public statement be made on this.
On the reports on banking that Members will discuss soon, I refer to one subtle but highly important development that Members from both sides of the House should welcome. The independence of our main financial institutions, that is, the Financial Regulator and the Central Bank is becoming increasingly apparent each day. In addition, the rigour is becoming increasingly apparent and this is to the benefit of all.
It is worth noting the facts in respect of the House not sitting last week. When the calendar was produced for the sitting days of the Dáil and the Seanad, it indicated clearly that this House would not sit last week. I understand the Leader was requested by a number of Opposition Members to have a sitting last week and to facilitate those requests he came to me to ascertain how many pairs would be required. When I realised the number of pairs required on the Government side, due to people making medical and other personal appointments given that we were not sitting on the day, I indicated that number to him and he asked me to obtain pairs from the Opposition. When I approached the Fine Gael Whip, he was more than obliging and offered me quite a few pairs. However, that was not enough to facilitate the requests I had.
I have an excellent working relationship with all of the Whips, and in particular Senator Maurice Cummins. I regret that Senator Cummins was blamed for this House not sitting last week.
That is not a fact. I also understand that the Leader may have been misquoted in that regard when he outlined the facts relating to Senator Cummins and the need for pairs by the Government side of the House. I hope the misreporting of the Leader's comments will not affect the smooth running of this House and the excellent relationship I have with Senator Maurice Cummins, who was not to blame for this House not sitting last week. I also thank the other Opposition Whips, Senator O'Toole and Senator Hannigan.
Let us put this incident behind us. We have seen clearly in recent weeks how the media like to use any type of slip-up in this House to denigrate each and every one of us. It is in all our interests that this House runs as smoothly as possible. I accept we will have hiccups but let us make them as few as possible. I look forward to working with every Member in the future for the next two years, one month and three days.
The discussion on the sitting and arrangements for last week are not relevant to today's Order of Business.
It is relevant.
The ordering of business for the House is a matter between the Leader and Whips.
I have heard what you have said, a Chathaoirligh, and I do not want to get involved in the battle of the Whips but I do wish to ask the Leader for a debate on the ordering of Seanad business because, as Senator Alex White said, the issue of confidence is topical today. It is fair to say that we have all lost confidence in the orderly running of Seanad business with the unexpected rising of the Seanad last week. As an ordinary Member of the Seanad, I did not know we were rising last week until the Thursday morning before the week we were off. It was most unfortunate that the week coincided with the golfing trip. That is the second time since I——
That is not true.
With respect to the Leader, that is how it was reported.
That is not true.
Unfortunately, this is the second time that the Seanad's unexpected failure to sit in a particular period has coincided with a golfing trip. It is unfortunate when it happens once but to lose two sessions of the Seanad due to golf is more than unfortunate——
That is completely untrue.
——it is careless.
We are not discussing golf now. It is time for questions to the Leader.
That is completely untrue.
With respect to the Leader, we must be conscious——
With respect, it is incorrect.
We are having questions to the Leader. We will not get into a discussion on golf or other matters.
I called previously for a debate on the orderly running of Seanad business. It makes it much easier and more efficient for all of us if we can know in advance when the Seanad is likely to be sitting. I have no objection to sitting for longer days and sessions. If we have legislation to deal with it is all the better that we should get through it in an orderly and efficient fashion, but what I object to is the chaotic ordering of Seanad business and the unexpected rising of the House on dates when important things were happening and we should have been sitting.
On that note, I echo the welcome extended by other colleagues to the publication last week of the banking reports, which we are debating today. In particular, I welcome their finding that the banking crisis was home made.
I also seek a debate on the recent, excellent report authored by Senator Fidelma Healy Eames on early school leaving. At a time when we are squandering billions of euro propping up zombie banks, we should consider spending more resources on ensuring an end to early school leaving and a solution to the intractable difficulty of adult literacy — school leavers leaving school early with literacy issues. The Labour Party is running a right-to-read campaign.
We are indebted to the comments by Dr. Michael Somers last Saturday on the "Marian Finucane" programme. We have received two excellent reports on the financial crisis. However, had Dr. Somers not had the courage to speak out and dare criticise the Department of Finance, this issue would be under the political radar. I have personal experience of dealing with officials in the Department which pervades every aspect of society and stops developments in many social issues. I refer, for example, to the late delivery of the early child care scheme and the lack of funding for free breast care screening for women over 65 years. There are many social issues, in respect of which money has not been allocated because of the Department which is a male-dominated organisation and looks at issues with a male's mind. It fails to realise that it is necessary to address certain social issues. For example, one in every six secondary school children leaves secondary school without a leaving certificate.
The bottom line of Dr. Somers's statement is that officials in the Department of Finance saw on a monthly basis the increasing yield from property development taxes and failed to do anything about it. I am a fan of Dr. Somers who has been outstanding as chief executive of the National Treasury Management Agency. We have had different Ministers for Finance, including Mr. Charlie McCreevy. Dr. Somers said on Saturday that he had criticised the Department when Mr. McCreevy was Minister and had been devoured for doing so at an Oireachtas committee. I am trying to obtain the minutes of that meeting and will advise the House on them later. It is critical that the terms of reference for the new commission to inquire into the financial crisis extend to the officials of the Department. It will be a farce if they are not included.
I welcome the reports on the banking crisis. Why would we overly blame the Department of Finance for the lack of judgment shown by the Taoiseach when he was Minister for Finance? I welcome the fact that a debate will take place this evening when we will hear more about the issue. Let us not practice evasion to a fault.
I express my outrage at the baby scan debacle. I applaud the number of mothers who trusted their own judgment to realise they needed a second opinion. Ultimately, the HSE must be held accountable. We learned of one case in Galway in which a woman went to her general practitioner after a scan and discovered she was still pregnant.
What is the position on the roll-out of primary health care services, about which we have been hearing since the early 2000s and which was to result in the provision of good diagnostic equipment in local primary care outlets? I realise there is a health item on the agenda for tomorrow, but the Leader must obtain answers from the Minister for Health and Children on this issue.
I have told the Leader before that it is time we had a debate in the House on the type of education system we need to provide for equality of opportunity for all young people. In the past ten days I have heard that the Minister for Education and Skills is culling librarians in the most disadvantaged areas attached to the junior certificate school programme. As Senator Bacik asked, does the Minister have any clue who she is placing at a disadvantage? Those affected cannot read or write. Some 30% of the children in question are leaving primary school without literacy skills. They comprise the one in six who are leaving second level without completing the leaving certificate. I support Senator Bacik's request for a debate on early school leaving, for the report on which I was rapporteur. We need to provide for equality of opportunity for all children.
I add my voice to those asking for an urgent response from this House in the form of a debate on the Saville inquiry. Within the next few minutes the report will be publicly released. It is vitally important, and that is not just because I come from the region and people in the area have been directly and indirectly affected by this for almost four decades. I was three when these events happened. Many families want the results of the inquiry to vindicate the lives of the 14 people who were gunned down that day. It is vital we give the report the respect of immediately reacting to it in the Seanad.
We should also consider the experience of the island of Ireland and what we have learned from conflict. As I have said previously, I wrote a report for the Council of Europe on how one teaches history in areas of recent conflict. The report was adopted by 47 countries. I was due to be in Norway as a guest speaker on this at an international conference tomorrow but I could not be paired to go. It is important that what we learn from our conflict is used to help in other conflict situations. I was in Stormont yesterday, where MLAs Mr. Gerry McHugh and Dr. Kieran Deeny had Mairead Corrigan present to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian situation in Gaza. One of the links we could use to bring the Irish experience to bear is the fact that one of the current Israeli Ministers, Mr. Yitzhak Herzog, has a direct and indirect relationship with both Belfast and Dublin. Perhaps the MLAs, Deputies and Senators should organise a deputation to meet with him and inform him or work with him with regard to the lessons we have learned from our conflict in an effort to assist the Israelis in dealing with the very pervasive and damaging conflict, for not only the people in Gaza but also for the minorities in Israel.
Members will be aware that last Sunday in Chicago was called "Natasha's day". This relates to an Irish student who was badly injured when she was attacked in Chicago. Thanks are due to the people of Chicago who raised $250,000 to assist Natasha McShane. It is good to hear that she is now walking with assistance, is starting to use her arms and has begun to talk again. We wish her all the best for her recovery. It is appropriate that we record our gratitude to the good people in Chicago who took an interest in her case and showed their generosity and solidarity with her. We should send our good wishes to her and her family.
I too wish to express my concern about the ordering of business in the House. It is rather opaque. I can give one small example of what happens. I was hoping to have a Private Members' motion debated on a particular date. It was to discuss the need for more hospice-friendly hospital care. This is a very important agenda that must be discussed in terms of making our hospitals more effective, particularly in the provision of end-of-life care and the extension of services and assistance to people caring for those in end-of-life situations. I wish to bring people to the House to hear that debate but it is difficult to plan and organise for such events if one discovers shortly beforehand that it will have to take place on a different date. I accept that sometimes a change in schedule is unavoidable but I would certainly welcome greater transparency and more long-term planning so the House can operate more effectively with regard to its debates.
Finally, I regret that the HSE is planning to close another residential bungalow for ten people with intellectual disabilities. As a result, these people will have to move into unsuitable homes on the campus. I refer to Áras Attracta in Swinford, County Mayo. There has already been a closure of one bungalow affecting ten people and it now appears that another will close. People with intellectual difficulties are the last people who should suffer as a result of cutbacks. I ask the Leader to make that point to the Minister for Health and Children at the earliest opportunity.
I refer the House to the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001. This Act was passed to deal with, among other matters, white collar crime. Section 6 states: "A person who dishonestly, with the intention of making a gain for himself or herself or another, or of causing loss to another, by any deception induces another to do or refrain from doing an act is guilty of an offence". This provision has been used in a series of cases, ranging from the claiming of grants from Údarás na Gaeltachta to inducing a bookie to accept a late bet. In its 2008 report the CSO stated that in that year, under the heading of fraud, deception and false pretences offences, 2,627 cases had been recorded, with 227 convictions. Earlier this year it was reported that 1,000 persons were being pursued through the courts in cases involving social welfare fraud. Do the laws we pass in this House only apply to other people, or do they apply to everyone equally? If they apply to everyone equally, I ask that the matter being examined by the committee investigating the expenses of Senator Callely and other Senators be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions. This is not simply an issue which involves a breach of the rules of the House or Members' interests; it is a criminal matter.
The matter is with the committee which will make a decision.
I am referring to the matter which is with the committee, but it is incumbent——
I do not want anyone to pre-empt the decision of the committee.
——on it to refer it to the Director of Public Prosecution who is the appropriate authority to deal with it.
That is not relevant. The committee is meeting and I do not want anyone to pre-empt its decision.
I am giving advice to it.
When I heard sometime ago that unemployment benefit was to be called jobseeker's allowance, I thought it made a great deal of sense that taxpayers' money should be paid to those seeking jobs. However, I was astounded to discover the number who had come to Ireland and who had returned home but were still claiming jobseeker's allowance and child benefit in Ireland. The figures given were substantial — €15 million a year in one case and €20 million a year for child benefit payments. I had not heard of the term previously, but people talk about welfare tourism. I am not sure what is included in European regulations, but that Irish taxpayers' money is being used to pay such sums at a time where we are cutting back on other essential services deserves to be investigated. If these figures are correct — I am not sure that they are — it suggests there is a step that could be taken and I would like to see it being taken as soon as possible because it does not make sense to continue such an operation that is clearly not in the interests of Irish citizens.
I compliment the Government Whip on his vindication of Senator Cummins. I compliment both Senators on their excellent working relationship. When will the Leader learn that this is the House of the people and that we need to operate on their behalf? The point made by Senator Cummins is valid. This House is not the preserve of any one Member; it is the House of the people.
I join others in asking the Leader for a debate on the Saville report. As somebody who has always been intrigued by the events of Bloody Sunday, I look forward to Lord Saville's vindication of the innocent individuals who died or were injured. The events of Bloody Sunday have left a stain on the country and I hope today the people of Derry will be liberated and have an opportunity to blossom once again. Perhaps the Saville report will mark the launching of a new Ireland of hope, peace and reconciliation. I sincerely hope the Leader will arrange a debate on the report at the earliest opportunity. I also hope the Widgery report will be banished forever and that the men and women of Derry who, as politicians and ordinary citizens, were involved in civil rights issues will be vindicated. I hope there will rejoicing at the fact that Ireland will at last be told today that the people who marched on Bloody Sunday were not murderers, but ordinary citizens looking for what was best for their country.
Overstating anything borders on falsehood. I wish to go against the grain of two consensuses that have developed in the House in recent weeks. First, the three authors of the two banking reports did not state the recession was purely domestically made. In subsequent press conferences and in all of the media, they went out of their way to point out that there were global influences. It is like saying there was no connection between the fascism that broke out in Spain, France, Romania, Portugal and Ireland in the 1930s. Every country in recession saw a sub-prime situation, banking recklessness and all of the contours of the Irish situation. While the Irish crisis is a domestic one, it is not isolated from the rest of the world.
Second, I wish to raise the matter of Israel. The Czech ambassador was present in the House a few minutes ago. I would recommend Members to study carefully the temperate and calm statement of the Czech President, who managed to give Israel and the Palestinians their dues. It contrasts strongly with the intemperate hysteria being created by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Martin.
Senator Alex White, who can be reflective in his comments in the Seanad, is being disingenuous in trying to suggest that responsibility for the debacle that is our economic mismanagement of recent years rests with civil servants. The reports bear testimony to the fact that responsibility rested with the then Minister for Finance, An Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen. There is no escaping this reality. I draw the House's attention to the first line of the executive summary of one of the key reports, which reads: "Ireland's banking crisis bears the clear imprint of global influences, yet it was in crucial ways ‘homemade'". No one disputes the first point, but the second is important and is borne out in both reports.
Will the Leader request the Minister for Health and Children to make a statement, as distinct from a debate, to the House on the horrendous recent situation of mothers' mistaken scans? Her statement must outline to the House the corrective measures that will be taken to ensure double checks whenever there is any doubt. There must be objective testing to ensure the mistake does not recur. As has already been done, we can only applaud and congratulate those women on their bravery. This situation comes on foot of the horrendous hysterectomy scandal in the north-east region. That there was such a case in Drogheda is particularly sad and poignant. I appeal to the Leader to assure the House that the Minister will make a specific statement to those women and to the women of Ireland on this issue outlining what will be done.
As an Ulster person and a representative of a Border constituency, I join with the appeal to the Leader for a debate on the Saville report. The report will form part of a healing process for the people of Derry and the boil can be lanced at last.
Before responding to the Order of Business, I congratulate the five young men who represented Ireland so well at the European championships and won gold, bronze and silver. I wholeheartedly wish them well in future. They are an example to us all.
Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Alex White, Boyle, Hanafin, Norris, Callely, Coghlan, Dearey, Wilson, Bacik, Mary White, Healy Eames, Keaveney, Mullen, Buttimer, Harris and O'Reilly called for a special debate on the Saville report. The horrific events of 38 years ago, the 14 lives lost among those making a peaceful protest, has left an indelible mark on our memories and those of the families who lost their loved ones. I look forward to it coming to the House and allowing the longest time possible for debate.
On the call in regard to banking issues, we will have that debate later this evening for three hours. It is my intention that we will debate it as long and as often as required and requested.
Regarding the trail of decision making referred to earlier in the House, it is of the utmost importance that all decisions are available to be seen in written form and on film and to discuss the Ministers and Secretaries Act 1924 in terms of the way it fits in with the requirements of this 21st century. We will see how the debate on the banking report progresses this evening and then determine what further time is required, particularly in regard to the comments made by Michael Somers and others since the reports were published.
Senators Fitzgerald, Callely, Donohoe, Healy Eames and O'Reilly called for a special debate on our maternity hospitals. I have no difficulty in allowing time for that debate to take place. There is an urgency about this issue, and it is certainly timely. One's heart would go out to some of the mothers in the stories told, and the lovely young boys and girls we saw on our television screens, in regard to the trauma they had to go through.
On Senator O'Toole's question about Seanad reform, I will make an inquiry again of the Minister's office and come back to the House later in the week to see how that legislation is progressing.
Senators Cummins, Norris and Buttimer raised the matter of sittings last week. As we are all aware, the Seanad sessions diary was published in the first week in March. All the party leaders, including Senator Bacik, called for a diary of the sitting days and it was in that endeavour that I published it on that date. I said on publishing it that it should be noted that Seanad dates are indicative and may be subject to change. We did not change one day on it. Last week the Dáil was not due to sit. We were not due to sit. There was a change of mind and the Dáil sat. The leaders asked me if we could sit. I asked my Whip the position in regard to pairs and he came back to me and told me the difficulty we were in on the Government side because our colleagues had gone for medical check-ups and had various other arrangements made, which was understandable.
The confusion regarding the number of pairs needed arose when I returned home on Tuesday morning and I responded to a comment Senator Cummins had made. I have always had nothing but the height of respect for all colleagues in the House — the leaders and the Whips. The Whips' job in particular is a very difficult one. I would like to compliment Senator Cummins, our own Whips, Senator Wilson and Senator Glynn, and all the Whips on the excellent work they are carrying out in the House. I have learned from the experience.
Regarding the diary, if there is anything about which I have a regret it is that I did not put it before the House for the approval of the House. Be that as it may, if it is necessary to sit extra days, weeks or whatever to do the business that has been ordered by Government and requested by Senators in terms of statements or whatever else, I would like to think I am an accommodating Leader of the House who works very well with the leaders. I am grateful for the assistance from the Cathaoirleach, the Leas-Chathaoirleach, the clerks and everyone associated with this House. I am honoured and privileged to be Leader of the House. I have always viewed my role as such. My activities at the weekend, whether when I played hurling or now golf, do not interfere in any shape or form with the House. It was only a four day visit which took place on a weekend. I was back on Tuesday morning and if the House was sitting I was ready and available to sit.
I would like to think that all of us have a sporting outlet whether it is walking, talking or whatever because it is something that will extend the quality of our lives, keep us fit, alert and outdoors. God knows we are entitled to a little recreation every weekend after the work of the House and helping our constituents as we all do our very best, irrespective of the party of which we are a member. We are representatives of our people for a short time and we do our best for the time we are here. I thank everyone for what they have done to help and assist me in the years I have been a Member of this House.
Senator Norris asked that his very strong views be passed on to the Minister for Foreign Affairs regarding visiting foreign dignitaries. I will certainly do that.
Senator Callely raised the issue of the approval of a consultant and the need to contact the Minister for Health and Children. The Minister for Health and Children will be in the House tomorrow. The Senator's request is timely and we will possibly get the answer from the Minister here tomorrow.
Senator Coghlan expressed serious concerns regarding the opening times of the Iarnród Éireann ticket office in Killarney, especially during this high season in the country's No. 1 tourist attraction. I will pass on his views to the Minister.
Senator Dearey welcomed the vote by IMPACT and SIPTU on bringing about changes that are badly needed in our country at the present time. I join with Senator Dearey in wholeheartedly welcoming the outcome of the vote by IMPACT and SIPTU, which shows the responsible leaders and the responsible membership in those organisations. Never was that more wanted, and any of us who have met our colleagues from parliaments in other destinations are aware that they are all talking about the way Ireland is managing to meet the challenges and bring in corrective measures, hand in hand with the trade union movement and with the workers of our country.
Senator Bacik called for a debate on Senator Healy Eames's report. I will consider that later today.
Senator Mullen spoke about Natasha McShane and the great progress she is making. He complimented the people of Chicago for their fund-raising activities which raised $250,000 for this beautiful girl from Camlough, which is not far from where those of us along the Border counties live. What happened to her was a tragedy but it is lovely to see that progress is being made.
Senator Mullen called for a debate on hospice care. I fully support the call. We have already had debates here on the good work hospices are doing in every parish and townland. I have no difficulty in the House having a further debate on that issue.
Senator Regan outlined points to the House. The Cathaoirleach correctly made his views known in regard to the committee sittings in that regard.
Senator Quinn raised the issue of the €35 million being claimed by welfare tourists. That should be investigated as a matter of urgency. The huge amount of money — €35 million — in regard to this activity is totally unacceptable.