Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 10 Nov 2010

Vol. 205 No. 10

Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on the effects of recession on mental health, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and conclude not later than 2 p.m., if not previously concluded, on which spokespersons may speak for ten 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; No. 2, statements on the EU temporary agency work directive, to be taken at 3.30 p.m. and conclude not later than 5 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 to reply five minutes before the conclusion of the debate; and No. 33, Private Members' business, motion No. 17 on the national housing development survey, to be taken at 5 p.m. and conclude not later than 7 p.m. The business of the House will be interrupted between 2 p.m. and 3.30 p.m.

In the run-up to the budget we have heard a lot about how we protect the elderly and the services the country provides for them. That is critical and it acquires a particular significance given the shortage of resources. It is not just about making decisions at election time; it also concerns how the State reacts in providing services for the elderly on an ongoing basis. The lead letter in The Irish Times today is from Professor Desmond O’Neill who works with the elderly and chaired the Government’s working group on the report, Protecting Our Future. He makes a point relevant to the financial crisis. During the period in which he chaired the group he repeatedly asked financial institutions and the Department of Finance to provide a member of staff to be part of the group, but the Government continually refused. He says the country has failed to stay on top of the financial abuse of older people by financial institutions. He is extraordinarily disappointed and the group disbanded not having received a proper response from the financial institutions to a topic of major national and international significance. The financial abuse of elderly people by financial institutions is a major issue.

It is extremely disappointing that the report of the Ombudsman makes the same point about how the elderly have been treated by the State. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that the Minister come to the House to discuss the report, because it raises very important issues about the role of the Ombudsman who says no Ombudsman has ever been treated the way she has been treated by the Department of Health and Children and the Minister. Those who saw the "Prime Time" programme last night will have seen what she had to say about the matter. If one goes through the summary of the report, it is an indictment of Government policy and the way her role has been dealt with. It raises the most serious issues.

That is not to say we are not in a crisis in terms of funding services for the elderly; we are. It is an indictment of Government if it cannot tolerate an independent person examining the situation, reporting it and raising questions. We have reached quite an extraordinary situation in terms of independent reports and the attitude of the Government to them. I want the Minister to come to the House today in order that we can have a discussion on the report and the wider issues it raises about nursing home care for the elderly. More than 1,000 complaints were received, albeit over a 25-year period. The report raises the most serious issues about how we approach residential care for the elderly in this country, the kind of decisions that have been taken and the inequities that were built into those decisions.

This is a very important week in European history. In most of the countries of western Europe there is a remarkable memory spreagtha on 11 November each year. I made this point some years ago in the Seanad and I raise it again. We in this House showed a lot of support for the Shot at Dawn campaign. We have shown a lot of support over the years for what has happened in our history. Many Irish people went to fight in the Great War, the First World War. Some of them went to fight because they believed in what was being protected and what needed to be protected. Others went to put bread on the table for their families. Still others went because they were inspired by the political leadership at the time which asked them to do so. Some great people such as Tom Kettle and others laid down their lives on that occasion. We have been afraid to remember or deal with that. In effect, we have eradicated and erased them from our history and folk memory. We have been remiss at all times and in total denial.

I do not suggest that we buy in to the Poppy Day in Britain but if we do not do that, I suggest we should have a poppy of our own or that we should remember in some other appropriate fashion Irish people who died in the Great War. We should not be afraid to face up to our history and to honour people who died in a good cause. Perhaps a Minister of State with responsibility for protocol in the Department of the Taoiseach could come to the House to explain why we cannot do this and why we do not consider it important to remember those people. It is still a significant issue three or four generations later to the families of those who died at that time, as we found out during the Shot at Dawn campaign.

Yesterday, I raised the Croke Park agreement. I do not completely support the points raised by my colleague, Senator Marc MacSharry, but he should be listened to on the issue. We were given a commitment a couple of weeks ago that the objectives and targets of each Department, Minister and Secretary General would be available and published. I have not seen them yet. Last week I stated that unless we have clear targets of saving €1 billion a year at least and reducing the number of jobs in the public sector by 20,000, then we are going nowhere. That target must be broken down into each Department. If I do not see that in front of me then I do not believe there is political traction or buy-in from senior civil servants. We should demand it. I ask the Leader to seek copies of those targets for Members of the House. I want to see it happening. I will have a lot more to say on the issue.

Overtime in the public sector costs more than €1 billion. Halving that would result straight away in savings of €500 million. A total of 20,000 jobs at an average of €45,000 a year is almost €1 billion. It is a big ask to reduce the public service pay bill by €1 billion but it is doable. It can only be doable if we start now. The Health Service Executive was a good start. I welcomed that initiative two or three weeks ago. I indicated to Members that it would run and play as it has. More needs to be done. We should be seeing action now but it is not happening because everyone is standing back and waiting.

I echo Senator Fitzgerald's call for a debate today on the Ombudsman's report published yesterday. The Ombudsman, Ms Emily O'Reilly, has raised serious issues about the potential exposure of the taxpayer given that compensation is sought in approximately 300 legal actions on the costs of private nursing home care. Those cases are being settled routinely. It is worrying that the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, has simply rejected the findings of the Ombudsman's report. We need to hear from the Minister on the matter. I second Senator Fitzgerald's amendment. I saw the "Prime Time" programme last night. It was an excellent investigation of the issues raised in the report. We need to debate the report in this House as a matter of urgency, especially given the economic circumstances, the great hardship for many families of elderly people in nursing homes and the great worry this report will have caused them.

I call on the Leader to provide not a debate on Seanad reform but a response and clarification on what will be the consequence of the loss by the Government of the votes last week on the Independent Senators' motion on Seanad reform. Senator O'Toole raised the matter yesterday. He is correct to say there must be a consequence for the loss of those votes. In the High Court judgment last week on Senator Doherty's action, legal shape was put on the abstract notion of democracy. The High Court said that it is not enough for the Government to pay lip service to the concept of democracy and to keep promising a by-election and that adequate representation would be provided for the people in Donegal, Waterford and Dublin South. The Government must go ahead and call the by-election. One can draw an analogy or comparison with the vote on Seanad reform. Where the Government loses a vote on a motion on Seanad reform, especially when it has been promising action in that regard since it was elected, and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, made it a key promise of his when he became Minister, we need clarification from the Government on what it is going to do in response to the loss of the vote and the passing of the motion on Seanad reform. Those of us in this House who have supported Seanad reform are anxious to see real action being taken by the Government on the matter.

I join others who called for a debate yesterday on the Magdalene laundries, survivors of those laundries and the need for redress. In the wake of yesterday's Irish Human Rights Commission report, there is a real imperative that we would debate the issue today or very soon given that the survivors have been pressing for many months for redress and recognition by the State of the real injustice that was caused to them.

I support any calls for a debate on the Ombudsman. We have five Ombudsman positions in this country. The Seanad is the place to have a much closer link to those independent voices. I would support any debate in that respect.

Will Senator Ó Brolcháin vote for the amendment?

No interruptions, please.

I will not be pressed on how I am going to vote in future votes.

You have the power in your hands.

Thank you. The main issue on which I would like to call for a debate——

Order, please.

——is eco-tourism. We have raised this matter many times. There is great potential in this country for eco-tourism that is not being realised at present. I have been lobbied on the matter on a number of occasions. I call for a proper and fulsome debate on eco-tourism because we do not have a fully coherent plan for it. I accept Fáilte Ireland has produced certain documents on it but I would like to see the green mapping which was put in place in Galway rolled out throughout the country. There has been much talk about smarter travel and we have been promoting cycling routes throughout the country. From a tourism point of view we need joined-up thinking in terms of eco-tourism. The way to do that is to ensure green maps are put in place for the country outlining rights of way, walking routes, cycling routes and anywhere that recreational facilities could be put in place. I hope the Leader will accede to that request.

I second Senator Fitzgerald's amendment to the Order of Business. It is most concerning that in a democracy it seems that the Government is literally trying to block the independent reports being brought forward by the Ombudsman's office. This is the second time in a matter of a few weeks. We had the lost at sea report. Now we have the Who Cares? document in which the Ombudsman clearly states that the Department of Health and Children and the Health Service Executive have both refused to co-operate with her in the conduct of the investigation leading to the report. That is a sad indictment of Government. It is anti-democratic. It comes on top of efforts by the Government, even in the courts, to block citizens from exercising their democratic right to give a verdict on the Government via by-elections. This is shocking.

I concur with those who called for a debate on public sector reform. It is an essential factor in the road to recovery. Fine Gael has not been afraid to step out and outline its policy on this important matter. It is not a new concept in Ireland. The ESB, which is heavily unionised, is a national body that reduced its workforce from almost 14,500 to 7,000 by negotiation and agreement during the unprecedented growth of the Celtic tiger years. There is no reason other civil and public service organisations cannot do the same, but we are not seeing the necessary willpower on the part of the Government. Will the Leader arrange a debate? Let us map out the road to recovery and start by having a good debate on public sector reform.

Will the Leader investigate when the Colm McCarthy report on the sale of national assets is expected to be before the Government? I hope we will have a debate on the question of our national assets, including Dublin Airport, ports and so on. We must examine everything in terms of what we can sell to raise funds internationally.

We should have a debate on the sale of local authority houses. In a sale of the century, we could get rid of the State's rented houses and let individuals develop those houses via insulation grants and so on. Raising funds in this way would be worthwhile and attractive at this point.

I found Mr. Kevin Myers's article in yesterday's Irish Independent quite offensive to members of Fianna Fáil.

I am not interested in articles.

Senator Leyden has done enough offending himself.

It was incitement to hatred and——

Please, I have just ruled on this.

——I hope someone will take an action against the newspaper.

Senator Leyden had to apologise to Fintan O'Toole.

Senator Leyden or anyone else would be out of order in discussing newspapers.

No interruptions, please.

When we are focused on reducing public costs, small gestures can bring a significant amount of comfort and joy to people. My mother-in-law, Grace Prendergast, is 101 years old today.

A happy birthday to her.

We are proud of the fact. Yesterday, she received a letter from President McAleese congratulating her on her 101st birthday. Last year was a big birthday and she received more than a letter, but she also received a medal this year. I gather that the President has initiated a scheme whereby someone not only receives a large gift at his or her 100th birthday, but also something for subsequent birthdays.

I mention this because it is a reminder of how much joy, delight and comfort we can bring to people via small gestures and I congratulate the President on what she has done. My mother-in-law is proud of her medal, which she will have around her neck for the rest of her life, and she has framed the letter. We can remind ourselves that small things can bring great joy at a time when we are focused on reducing heavy costs. Let us not forget that we can bring light into people's lives.

Regarding the nursing home debate, one newspaper put it particularly well, in that there is hardly a single person who has not felt the distress and guilt of needing to put a loved one into a nursing home. All of us who have visited a nursing home can agree with this sentiment.

Last night, I watched a television programme on the Ombudsman's report. I was somewhat disappointed by the method through which the programme handled the situation. The Ombudsman was in the studio for questions and answers with the presenter. The Minister for Health and Children also engaged in a questions and answers session. I was waiting for an interaction between the Ombudsman and the Minister, but it never occurred. This suggested a prior agreement, either with the Ombudsman or the Minister, probably the former, that there would be no interaction. The Minister made a strong statement to the effect that the Government had legal advice from the Attorney General that the Ombudsman was exceeding her role and privilege. This was a serious statement and I cannot understand why the presenter did not put it to the Ombudsman, who was sitting there with the camera on her at the time.

My greatest fear in this regard is that those who will suffer are those who must go to a nursing home. The issue will become a political football again. There is no one in the Chamber who does not feel compassion on issues of this kind. The new method of ensuring that everyone can avail of a nursing home through a deferred payments system is a good scheme introduced by the Minister. Perhaps she could attend the House and expand on what we heard on last night's programme, as there is extra confusion among the public as a result of the way the programme was handled.

We have no control over the way in which RTE runs its programmes.

However, I take Senator Ó Murchú's point.

Naturally, we are all concerned about the ability of the State and our banks to borrow on the international markets and the cost of raising that finance. Is there not a conflict, in that the State is, on the one hand, extolling the banks to lend money — we have all added our voices to that — to businesses in order that they can have the requisite working capital to keep functioning while, on the other, the Central Bank is requiring banks to conserve capital to meet the tier 1 and other capital ratios now required? How will we square thiscircle?

Regarding Senator O'Toole's suggestion on the poppy, am I given to understand that a shamrock poppy is being promoted by the former Deputy, Mr. Paddy Harte, and his peace group? It would be an ideal way to meet the points raised by Senator O'Toole, which I fully support.

I join Senator O'Toole in asking for a debate on the implementation plan for the Croke Park agreement. One of its main architects, Mr. Kieran Mulvey, questioned the pedestrian pace of its development this morning. That pace is unacceptable. While Senator O'Toole and I agree on much, we disagree on some matters. I am heartened to hear about the €1 billion we can save on overtime payments and the €1 billion that can be saved through number reductions in the public service. As we saw yesterday in a report on salaries in the education sector, the highest paid person earns €22,000 per month. My only issue on public sector pay is whether that person could live on €15,000 or €16,000 per month. The answer is "Yes". Everyone earning more than a certain amount of money must realise that, regrettably, we are in a national emergency and, as such, determine what he or she realistically needs to continue. It is not a question of achieving efficiencies that trade unions are more than willing to provide through the innovations outlined in the Croke Park agreement. Rather and as with the private sector, they must be immediate in nature and not pedestrian, as Mr. Mulvey outlined today. An early debate on the implementation plans is essential.

I join others and I am delighted that Senators Ó Brolcháin and Ó Murchú want clarity on yesterday's report by the Ombudsman, Ms Emily O'Reilly. The Minister, Deputy Harney, appears to have received advice from the Attorney General. To what did it relate? Was it about the right of older persons to nursing home care or the Ombudsman's approach to her investigation? The matter requires clarity. The Minister should come to the House to clarify it in the national interest. I am delighted there is support for this call on the other side of the House.

I support the comments made by Senator Coffey about the ESB and the job it did in rationalisation. It must be recognised that salaries in the ESB are excessively high, with an average annual salary of almost €70,000. Nonetheless, the company rationalised to a significant extent during the good times. There is a need for other semi-State companies to follow suit. The same applies to the regulatory authorities in which many staff are significantly overpaid for carrying out what are not much more than administrative functions. The chief executives of a number of companies are on salaries to which only people in very challenging positions should aspire.

Competitiveness is one of the biggest challenges facing the economy. As Senator MacSharry said, rightly, there is a national emergency and we are probably not far from having recourse to the International Monetary Fund. In that scenario the delay in having concrete suggestions made by the implementation body on the Croke Park agreement is regrettable and we should be highly critical of its failure. The House should have another debate on the subject very soon. It is time the implementation body was replaced by others who would drive the agreement to achieve essential savings. Otherwise, we are doing a disservice to the public service because when it will be necessary to have recourse to the IMF, the first thing that body will look at is the excessive salaries paid throughout the service which are at least 30% higher than those paid in other competing countries. We owe it to good people in the public service to ensure there is maximum intent and energy behind the drive to implement the Croke Park agreement. I certainly do not see this happening.

The Senator is incorrect. The activities of the implementation body on the Croke Park agreement are dependent upon receiving schedules from Departments. Senator O'Toole is correct.

It is too slow.

Only one schedule was received.

Senator O'Toole's remarks are pertinent. It is the Minister and senior civil servants who set policy. That is why we need to have a debate to receive clarification and a setting out by each Department of its objectives and targets regarding implementation. That must happen. Reform of the public sector, linked with the Fine Gael document, Reinventing Government, would empower and strengthen workers and Irish society. On this side of the House we recognise that real reform would mean giving people autonomy, a role and authority and a slimmer version of government that all of us should embrace. I, therefore, appeal to the Leader to arrange a debate on the issue.

I join Senator O'Toole in asking for a debate on our First World War veterans — both men and women but predominantly men died — which, as a nation, we should remember. We should acknowledge the sacrifices they made and the impact on their families and Irish society. We are a bold and vibrant nation, despite our economic troubles. It would be a great move by the House, the Government and Irish society if we acknowledged and remembered our dead. As Senator Coghlan noted, former Deputy Paddy Harte has produced a poppy with a shamrock on it. That might be a step in recognising the individuals in question.

I acknowledge Senator Fitzgerald's remarks on the Ombudsman who in her role is independent of the Government. She is an independent officeholder who has produced a report. There must be something about Governments led by Fianna Fáil because they have a problem with the role played by the Ombudsman. Every Fianna Fáil-led Government has had a difficulty with the Ombudsman. Perhaps we should have a debate on the future role of the Ombudsman.

I accept that Members in this Chamber do not have control over how RTE produces a programme. It is an independent broadcaster, which I accept. On many occasions I have congratulated and complimented it on wonderful programmes we have viewed and commented upon. However, I concur with my colleague, Senator Ó Murchú. In the public interest and the interests of fairness it would have been much better had there been a two-way debate last night rather than a stilted one, with questions being put to the Ombudsman and then the Minister.

I have no control over that matter.

The Minister was contained in that she had to accept — as a Minister does — the advice of the Attorney General who advises the Government. Listening to the programme, it was a little disingenuous of the presenter not to have had a more rigorous debate.

In support of my colleague, Senator MacSharry, and as I stated last week, the higher paid in society, particularly in the public service, should pay more than the lower paid. There is an enormous difference between taking 10% from a person earning €30,000 and taking the same percentage from someone earning €300,000. I mention, in particular, a group of workers who have the protection of the Constitution in regard to their salaries, not all of whom have made a voluntary contribution. At this very difficult time for the economy when everything is on the table everyone has a role to play——

The point has been made. We will not go down that road.

I have not named names, but they should be made to put their cards on the table.

That is out of order in regard to the Judiciary.

The frustration felt by Members about the Croke Park agreement is alarming. I agree with everything Senators Walsh, MacSharry, O'Toole and others said. Although what Mr. Kieran Mulvey said this morning on RTE was a departure for a senior member of the LRC, it was a little too gentle. He said that if nothing was done within six months, the situation would be serious, but that showed a striking lack of urgency. The Croke Park agreement, or, at least, some of it, should have been implemented by now. It is amazing that someone can state that if it does not happen within six months, we will be in a serious situation. We are in a very serious situation as it is and adopting such a sanguine attitude is not reassuring but worrying. I would be very worried if some of the arithmetic for the budget was dependent on the agreement or some of the assumptions embedded in it, but that will be the case. If it is, no one will believe what is contained in the budget or the four-year plan because what we are finding out — I do not necessarily agree with the analysis of where the delay is — is that there are people in powerful positions who are able to delay and frustrate the agreement. That is what is happening and no one is doing very much about it. If that is the case, the people in question will be able to frustrate the budget or the assumptions underlying it. I, therefore, ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Finance if he would consider bringing forward the budget from 7 December by two or three weeks. There have been stories about this happening. The matter is now so urgent that if the markets see the budget and the four-year plan as lacking credibility because of the agreement, as they will, we will have to call in outside forces before Christmas.

I join others in asking that the Irish people who died in the First World War be remembered by the State. They have been forgotten during the years. Many of them were from my home city, Waterford. Many were looking for adventure, like young John Condon, aged 15 years, who was killed on the battlefield, one of the youngest to be killed in the First World War. As stated, many went away to put bread on the table because of the economic circumstances of the time. Others wanted to further the cause of the Home Rule campaign, the national aspiration of the time, which was supported by the vast majority in the country. I ask that the people who were killed in the First World War be remembered in some way by the State, and perhaps the Leader might come back to the House on that matter.

I note that more than 250 prisoners jailed for not paying fines were released at the gates of the prisons where they were to serve their sentences, mainly because of overcrowding in our prisons. I do not believe that people who have to pay fines should go to prison in the first place, but they should have to pay the fines, whether through their salaries, social welfare or whatever. This matter will have to be addressed. We can take it up tomorrow with the Minister when speaking about prisons, but I do not believe that anyone who fails to pay a fine should get off scot free. He or she should be made to pay the fine in some way, whether through a community order or an attachment of earnings order on salary or social welfare payments.

I join Senators O'Toole, Coghlan, Cummins and Buttimer in suggesting that now is the time for us to commemorate the Irish people who died in the First World War. It is a pity that so far no one from the other side has said anything on this issue. Perhaps before the Order of Business is concluded we will have some support.

Emblems such as the poppy are sometimes contentious. For that reason, wisely, all emblems are excluded from this House. The former Deputy Paddy Harte has provided me with copies of the poppies he has had produced with a shamrock in the middle to emphasise the fact that they are commemorating Irish people. There is, indeed, one for everyone in the audience because I have a supply of them in the office if anyone wants to wear them outside the Chamber. I remember, on the day of the Enniskillen bombing when Senator John Robb came from the back row and presented the then Cathaoirleach, Charlie McDonald, with a poppy, which, in a gesture of extraordinary reconciliation, he put in his lapel and wore for the day. I believe this matter should be looked at.

Can the Leader tell the House when my colleague, Senator Feargal Quinn's Construction Contracts Bill will be taken? It is important we address this matter, especially in light of the High Court judgment placing two companies, Pierse Construction and Pierse Building Services, in liquidation. They had 2,000 to 3,000 subcontractors employed, and some of these are also facing difficulties and, possibly, liquidation.

We learned last week about hundreds of millions of unspent money washing around in the Department of Education and Skills. Wexford County Council has decided to use public moneys to complete certain projects that are of importance to the community. In this situation, where there are small subcontractors who, through no fault of their own, face the prospect of receivership or liquidation and putting their workers on the dole, we should ask the Government to release that €300 million immediately and frontload the payments, if necessary, for accounting purposes in order that construction workers can continue to be employed, small firms do not go out of business and school projects are completed. I commend Senator Quinn on addressing this subject in the important way that he did.

We all know Ireland is a small open economy that is deeply dependent on the role of financial investment in its economy to keep it going and very dependent on its international reputation. A number of speakers have referred to the role the IMF could play in the economy in the future. We need to be very clear about one thing. While an outside body could play a role in helping the country tackle interests that are holding us back, the effect this would have on our international reputation would be disastrous. We are deeply dependent on our ability to attract people, capital and talent, and that reputation would suffer a decisive blow if it appeared to the outside world we were not capable of managing our own affairs and leading our country back to security.

All speakers on that point need to be very conscious of this. We are still many steps away from such a scenario evolving. The Government still has cards to play to ensure this does not happen. One of those cards is the implementation of the Croke Park deal. If the political will was there to negotiate the deal, where is the political will to implement it?

That is a crucial question. I hear Senator MacSharry talk about the salaries being paid to people in the third level sector and the universities. I have to remind him that his party is in Government, and he should do something about it.

I do not happen to be the Minister for Finance.

For those of us in public life, this is particularly resonant. These are the same people who were tenured, with vast pensions and multiple jobs, who will be lecturing us on how we need to conduct our affairs. To address this would deliver some moral legitimacy and credibility to what must be done to tackle the issues and lead the entire country back to prosperity.

Some weeks ago a prominent academic in Northern Ireland revealed that there was soft support for the dissident IRA from no less than 18.4% of the Nationalist community. In that ominous context, it is beyond belief that RTE News would put out two minutes last night, at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., of what amounted to an inflammatory montage of what looked like police brutality. Everyone in the trade knows that a montage is cutting shots out of context for maximum dramatic impact. Consider the impact on the public, especially on the young men whom the prominent Northern academic revealed as particularly susceptible to supporting the dissidents because they have no memory of the horrors of the armed struggle. To put that out without context represents a serious dereliction of duty on the part of the head of news and his staff.

The Opposition parties may be in government soon. Are they going to be facing a situation where, on one front, we are facing economic meltdown and, in Northern Ireland, dissident support among young people is rising while RTE News continues to shove out negative propaganda and allow a minority of its staff to put out inflammatory montage? The footage of Rodney King being beaten up was a continuous shot that went on for five to seven minutes. These were shots cut out of context. We have no means of knowing, where a policeman lifted his baton, what might have happened to him before that. It is recognised all over the world that this is not done in a broadcasting service. It is despicable. Yesterday, the Leader welcomed the new director general of RTE, Noel Curran. His first duty should be to ask the chairman of the authority to ask the head of news to account for what happened last night on the news at six o'clock. Lenin had a phrase for that type of useless bombing assassination propaganda among infantile left-wingers. He called it excitative terror, that sort of stupid inflammatory stuff. He had another phrase for those people who engage in it. He called them useful idiots.

We have no control over the content of programmes, although I accept the point the Senator has made to the Leader on that.

I draw to the attention of the Cathaoirleach a unique study which was presented yesterday at the American Public Health Association's annual meeting in Denver by researchers from the Case Western Reserve School of Medicine in Cleveland. According to the lead researcher, Dr. Frank Scott, it showed there is a downside to new media such as texting and networking of which parents and teachers need to be aware. The study was carried out among more than 4,000 students in secondary schools in the United States and found that adolescents who are hyper-texting and hyper-networking are more likely to be sexually promiscuous, have multiple partners, suicide ideation and are susceptible to drugs, alcohol and cigarette smoking. This is startling and is a unique study. I do not know of any previous review that has studied the negative effects of texting and intensive social networking. The parameters of hyper-texting amount to writing 120 texts a day and social networking on-line for three hours per day. This is a very serious warning about teenagers who are hyper-texting and hyper-social networking. It is contrary to what one thinks when one sees them on their phones. One thinks it is fantastic. The perception is that they are engaging with other young people and appear to have loads of friends. The 22% of young people who do not engage in hyper-texting and intensive social networking have much better health outcomes. I am pleased to draw this warning to the attention of the House.

Commissioner Olli Rehn came to Ireland to advise and, more important, to remind us of what is important. In terms of what is important, Commissioner Rehn mentioned the same three areas mentioned last week by the OECD, namely, education, reform and trade in terms of growth. Commissioner Rehn also complimented us on our educated workforce. While we might tire of hearing that, we must be careful not to lose that educated workforce. What will the Government and Minister for Education and Skills do to maintain this educated workforce and the budget commitment in respect of education? Important advice given last week by the OECD is that education funding should not be cut, rather cuts should be made in the defence budget and the issue of why we gave money to the banks should be debated.

Commissioner Rehn also spoke about labour reform. In this context, every speaker in the House today has expressed concern in regard to the lack of implementation of the Croke Park agreement. Why has the Government not driven through the reform? The perception among the public in regard to the Croke Park agreement is that it is merely cover for no further cuts for public servants. No one believes that the Government is serious about reform.

On trade, Galway Airport, which according to a report compiled this year by Talbot is a link to 22,000 jobs locally, is at serious risk. It is stated in the report that these jobs are essential. Galway Airport is the link in terms of connectivity to international markets for exports.

Like me, and I am sure most others here, Commissioner Rehn wants to see growth in the economy. Let the Government not be so stupid as to cut €2.3 million from the budget of Galway Airport which can maintain 22,000 jobs in the region and continue to provide an important link for exports, which will assist in increasing our national wealth.

Apropos the remarks in regard to the ending of the First World War at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, the anniversary of which occurs tomorrow, it is appropriate that this matter has been raised by Senator Cummins as he comes from the city always known as the Redmondite city. In that context I recall, as referred to by Senator Norris, being in the House when former Senator John Robb presented the poppy to the then Cathaoirleach. It was a particularly dramatic moment. However, I remind the House — I believe that in this regard I speak for all of my colleagues on this side of the House — that during the past 15 years and this new period of openness and respect for diverse traditions within this country it was the current Government and successive Fianna Fáil-led Governments that initiated reaching out to the Unionists under the Good Friday Agreement. For the first time ever, the President, along with the Queen of England and King of the Belgians, represented Ireland at Messines Ridge, the round tower of which was also financed by a Fianna Fáil-led Government. Any suggestion that Fianna Fáil did not embrace the reality of the traditions emanating from the First World War is false. I am sure Senator Norris will appreciate and acknowledge my point in that regard.

I was hoping Senator Mooney would do so.

I would welcome this House recognising in some way the sacrifices of the more than 55,000 Irish men who died for the freedom of small nations. Irrespective of the historical revisionism in regard to their contribution, the reality is that those involved at that time believed what they were doing was in the best interests of Ireland. That should not be forgotten.

In the context of all the discussion in regard to the Good Friday Agreement, if there are elites within various aspects of Irish society I have no doubt there are elites within the Croke Park agreement who are defending their own particular position. I agree that the Government should take note of this. I remind the House that the most vulnerable in our society should always be protected. I learned recently that the savings to be achieved from a cut in the old age pension would be of the order of €120 million.

Senator Mooney's time has expired.

I suggest that we should try to find €10 million in savings in every Department and should give pensioners a €3 increase.

The national study of elder abuse published yesterday is disturbing. I ask that the Leader provide time for a full day debate on this issue. It is a matter of great concern that 10,000 people in this country over the age of 65 are deemed to have suffered abuse, much of it in their own homes. This is intolerable and unacceptable. Despite our economic woes, the is a matter we can and should tackle. The contrast between these people and those young people who were abused down the years, which abuse was horrendous, is that the latter lived to tell the tale while much of this elder abuse and memory of it goes to the grave. This House should debate this issue.

The remarks of the Ombudsman, Emily O'Reilly, in this context are extraordinarily serious. That the Ombudsman was allegedly frustrated by the HSE and Department of Health and Children in the discharge of her work is a serious matter. It is also extraordinarily serious that the Department of Health and Children has stated the Ombudsman acted in bad faith. A statement on that matter is required in this House from the Minister for Health and Children. We must debate this matter as part of the debate on elder abuse.

It is not inappropriate that I, coming from a Border county, would join with those who say we should honour those who died in the First World War. History is written by the victors. The people who emerge as Government write history. These people were written out of history for years, which is wrong. I admire Senator Mooney's contribution which called on us to acknowledge them now. We should go out of our way to rewrite this wrong on behalf of the families who have lived with the perception that their ancestors did wrong.


Hear, hear.

I agree with Senator Harris's comments in regard to RTE News coverage of the incidents which took place during the students' protest last Wednesday. I witnessed the horrific abuse of members of the Garda Síochána on Merrion Street by these young thugs, which is all they can be described as. Incidentally, not alone were alleged dissidents of the Real IRA involved but flags and emblems of another political party were waved at the Garda Síochána while this abuse was taking place.

I ask that the Leader invite to the House the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government or the Minister for Justice and Law Reform — I am not sure which has responsibility in this area — to discuss the opening of gold shops in all of our main towns. This House needs to discuss what measures the owners of these shops are taking to ensure the people from whom they are purchasing the gold own it. I understand from the Garda Síochána that there has been a huge increase in the number of home break-ins in the towns in which these shops are located. I ask that the Leader invite the relevant Minister to this House so we can discuss what legislation would be required to compel the owners of these shops to satisfy themselves that the people selling the gold to them actually own it.

There are five Members indicating and only three minutes remaining. I ask Members to be brief.

I will be brief. Interest on Government bonds is now in excess of 8%. If Ireland is to survive, it must be able to borrow money at the rate of 5% or less. For the past six months, Irish banks have failed to borrow any money from international investors. All our borrowings are now coming from the European Central Bank. Ireland will have to borrow €40 billion over the next three years. This House needs to debate from where this money will come. It is feared now that international investors are not unwilling to lend money to Ireland but are concerned about the amount we have already borrowed. If that is the case, we will have to rely more often on the European Central Bank for funding in the next three years. That €40 billion is to pay social welfare payments, old age pensions, public sector pensions and public sector pay. We must have an urgent debate on where Ireland will borrow money from in the next three years if, as appears obvious, we are being abandoned by international investors as far as borrowings are concerned.

Again, unfortunately, we have the impression from the Opposition that circumstances are much worse than they are. To say that Ireland failed to borrow from international lenders is wrong. We did not attempt to seek international funding. We went to the Europeans first. That is a misrepresentation.

A further misrepresentation, which I hope ends in the media, is the benchmarking of Irish bonds against Germany. One might as well benchmark us against Switzerland or the Japanese yen. The people we should be benchmarked against are the Portuguese, the Spanish, the Greeks and the Italians, which are also peripheral countries.

I support those who would remember the ending of the First World War. It is an important date. While the Irish fought in Europe against German imperialism, they also fought at home against British imperialism and, thankfully, freedom won out in the end. It is a great credit to President Woodrow Wilson who fought for the rights of small nations. He was one of the main reasons we eventually received our own independence and, of course, achieved the successful conclusion of that war.

I want to notify Members that the Sprit of Ireland group will be in the Oireachtas today. It is an important group because it has done its homework throughout the country. It examined the geological formation of the country and from where power can be generated. It has now compiled all its information and its members are coming back to give Members an update on the current position. They have at least one project costing approximately €3.5 billion with which they could proceed. I would appreciate it if Members could take some time between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. to listen to what the members of this group have to say. It is an important group and when one considers that this country's gas and oil imports amount to €6 billion every year, it would be a good start for us to ensure we would be self-sufficient in energy. This is the group that can make us self-sufficient in energy combined, obviously, with the ESB, Airtricity and other groups. For the first time it will be able to ensure——

The point is made, Senator. Time is running out.

——that, through a combination of wind and hydropower, we will be able to achieve 80% of our energy needs from wind production. That is very important and I would appreciate it if Members could come along today.

On the rationalisation of quangos, could the Leader establish with the relevant Ministers the number of quangos still in existence and the number of enterprise boards, the cost of supporting those and the number of jobs they have created? I would welcome a progress report on those two items.

Last week the Minister for Justice and Law Reform told us that a very small percentage of inmates in prisons were there for non-payment of fines, but it appears now that prisoners being jailed by the courts for non-payment of fines have had their fines waived on arrival at the prison gates and have been released immediately as part of new procedures. It is said that at least 200 inmates had been released immediately under that system but the true figure could be much higher. That sheds light on the reason so few are in prison but it also sheds a light on a serious problem in the way our prison system is functioning. It also sheds light on the conduct of debates in this House, and I hope the Minister will address that issue when he is back in this Chamber for the continuation of that debate.

I also wonder whether going forward, if Members will pardon the expression, we would do better if speeches to be made by Ministers were circulated in advance to allow Seanadóirí consider what they will hear in the House, do the necessary research and be able to respond in a more informed way. Far too often the Minister makes a speech in this House, Members make their contributions and there is some kind of general response to what has been said rather than the more considered interrogation and exchange this House would warrant and expect.

Is mian liom an gréasán sóisialta a luadh go gairid. De réir staidéir déanta i Meiriceá, tá nasc idir an méid úsáide a bhaineann déagóirí as na fóin póca agus as na gréasáin sóisialta ar nós Facebook agus a leithéid agus fadhbanna sláinte, mí-úsáid alcóil agus a leithéid. Is fiú go mór don Teach gréasáin shóisialta a phlé agus an tionchar atá acu ar aos óg na tíre ach go háirithe. Is cinnte gur maith ann iad Facebook, Twitter agus na rudaí sin ar fad ach má tá fadbh ann, má tá daoine áirithe ag baint mí-úsáide astu agus má tá sé sin ag dul i ndonacht orthu agus ag cothúb fadhbanna sláinte agus eile dóibh, b'fhiú dúinn é sin a phlé sa Teach.

Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Bacik, Boyle, Coffey, Ó Murchú, Prendergast, Buttimer and Feeney expressed their views on the new report from the Ombudsman on services for the elderly. It is an independent report, as has been said, and the colleagues outlined to the House the difficulty the Minister may have had regarding the legal opinion from the Attorney General. I have no difficulty in the House debating this, and I will endeavour to have such a debate in the next few weeks because reports of this kind form an area in which we can have a significant input. We owe it to the generation that created the Ireland of today. Looking after our elderly is something all Members on all sides of the House owe to that generation. We will certainly have that debate in the next few weeks.

Senators O'Toole, Coghlan, Buttimer, Cummins, Norris, Mooney, O'Reilly, Hanafin and Mullen paid tribute to the men and women of the First World War and the way it is celebrated on Remembrance Day. They spoke also about all the families who had to make the sacrifices at that time. I have no difficulty in supporting the calls made by Members on all sides of the House to honour those who died between 1914 and 1918 and also to remember those who played such a major role for our own country at that time, especially the men and women of 1916. I have no difficulty in getting together to see what we can do to make our contribution to acknowledge the heroic efforts made at that time by those who fought in the war.

Senators O'Toole, Coffey, MacSharry, Walsh, Buttimer, Feeney, Ross, Donohoe, Healy Eames, Twomey and Hanafin expressed their concerns about the Croke Park agreement. The agreement has been a marvellous achievement by everyone who made it possible, but Kieran Mulvey let the nation know today that a huge amount of work must take place in the coming months. Anyone who knows him will be aware that he is a conciliatory person who has made a significant contribution to Ireland in terms of various agreements. I have full confidence in Kieran Mulvey.

It needs to happen now.

He said we face a major challenge ahead and we support him in that.

There is a major challenge now, Leader.

Anything that is required of us in terms of having further debates in the House on the Croke Park agreement will be done.

We need some action.

I said on the Order of Business yesterday that as soon as the information regarding the four budgets is available to us, we will discuss and deal with that as well. I discussed it with one of the leaders, Senator O'Toole, yesterday morning who asked me about it before the Order of Business and I gave a commitment that I will put an update on the Croke Park agreement on the agenda of the business of this House by the last week in November. That still stands. If we need to deliberate on what we as Members of the Oireachtas can do to assist this important agreement, I will have no difficulty allocating time on a weekly basis if necessary.

Senator Bacik mentioned Seanad reform. I stated yesterday morning that all groups and political parties have made proposals and they are with the Minister. The Minister said on a visit to the House that a White Paper would be published. I am doing anything I can to speed up the process. I am fully in support of Seanad reform in the form of proposals we have all made in good faith to the Minister.

What is the consequence of losing the vote?

No interruptions, Senator. The Leader is replying to the Order of Business.

A flogging in the Fianna Fáil parliamentary rooms.

Senator Norris spoke about the survivors of the Magdalene laundries, which I covered yesterday. Senator Ó Brolcháin called for a debate on eco-tourism. I have no difficulty with this. Senator Leyden asked me to find out the up-to-date position on the report by Colm McCarthy on the sale of national assets. I will give this information directly to the Senator when I find out the timeframe. The Senator also expressed his views on an article in The Irish Times yesterday.

Senator Quinn mentioned the joyous occasion of the 101st birthday of his dear mother-in-law. I am amazed when I think of the changes in our country that lady must have seen — all for the better. I join Senator Quinn and his family in celebrating her terrific achievement of reaching the great age of 101. The Senator quite correctly brought to the attention of the House the lovely gesture by President McAleese of providing a medal of achievement for his mother-in-law. I share with him and his family, with everyone in the House, my joy on the lovely day they had yesterday and his mother-in-law's reaching the age of 101, which is an incredible achievement that few have reached. I appreciate the words of joy the Senator expressed in the House this morning.

Senators Cummins and Mullen expressed concerns and gave their views on everything to do with prison sentencing and standards in our prisons. This is for discussion in the House tomorrow, with the Minister present, from 2 p.m. Senator Norris inquired about Senator Quinn's Construction Contracts Bill, which is No. 34 on our clár. I hope we will be able to deliberate further on this in the last week of November. We are fully in support of the Bill, particularly in view of what has happened in the last two to three weeks. The situation must be addressed as a serious matter of urgency.

Senators Harris and Wilson mentioned poor editing on the RTE news last night and called on the head of news at RTE to account for what happened. I will pass on the Senator's strong views to the Minister after the Order of Business. Senator Mary White spoke of the downside of new media such as texting and social networking in terms of quality of life for young people and the amount of time being spent on mobile phones and other new technology. I certainly share her views in this regard, and we must note the research she has outlined to the House.

Senator Healy Eames spoke of the importance of education. All parties share the Senator's views in this regard. Was it not Fianna Fáil that introduced free school transport, which transformed education over the last four or five decades? It did not matter whether one's parents were rich or poor——

Fianna Fáil is transforming it again.

Every man's and woman's child got an opportunity to be educated. Senators on all sides of the House share a view of the importance of education. It has been the one great achievement of this country——

It is a pity we are exporting them now.

No interruptions, please.

——in the last 50 years.

Exporting our best brains.

Yes, our boys and girls who did go abroad are major achievers.

They are not going by choice now, though.

The greatest education of all is travel, as the Senator knows.


Fianna Fáil is driving them out.

Senator Healy Eames mentioned Galway Airport, which we fully support. In anyone's language, it is giving a great service. Senator Wilson brought to the attention of the House the serious challenge of shops that are opening all over the country to buy gold. I have no difficulty asking the Minister to come to the House for a debate on this.

Senator Butler reminded us that the Spirit of Ireland group is to come to the Oireachtas today at 4 p.m. and mentioned the major opportunities that will exist for us, as an island nation, in exporting energy. I fully support the Senator's call for everyone who is available to attend. It will be of interest to all of us to see the achievements that are possible through the new technologies, as Senator Butler has outlined to the House. Senator Brady asked me to provide the number of quangos and the number employed by them, particularly enterprise boards. I will make this request of the Minister.

On a point of order, the Leader was going to mention the animal welfare legislation. He undertook yesterday to give me some feedback on the progress of that legislation.

I am sorry about that, a Chathaoirligh. I did follow up on that and I was informed that the preparation of the animal health and welfare Bill, which gives effect to the commitments in the programme for Government and the renewed programme for Government on issues relating to animal health and welfare, is ongoing at the Department.

An appropriate note of urgency.

It is proposed to submit the heads of the Bill to Government at an early date.

An mbeidh aon dáta ann?

Members, please.