The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re Value-Added Tax Consolidation Bill 2010, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, Value-Added Tax Consolidation Bill 2010 — Report and Final Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1; and No. 3, Chemicals (Amendment) Bill 2010 — Order for Committee Stage and Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2.
Order of Business
All over Ireland this morning people are asking one question: why can the Taoiseach not speak with the same clarity and honesty as the Governor of the Central Bank on "Morning Ireland"? While not underplaying the precarious position in which we found ourselves or our plight, he spoke with certainty and clarity about where we stood, the events of this week and those which the country would face. That certainty and clarity was completely lacking in the contributions of the Taoiseach and his Ministers this week. This is not just an issue about the psyche and the soul of the country and the fear and uncertainty in homes and families everywhere, it is also about the confidence the outside world, investors and the financial markets have in the country. They are comparing the performances and asking why the person we elected to lead the country and who is leading the Government cannot give that kind of performance at a time when the country is so desperately in need of it. It is clear to Ireland and the world that we are facing a third crisis. There was the banking crisis of September 2008, while this summer there was a crisis of the sovereign associated with Greece. The crisis we are facing is one in which they have been fused together by the actions of the Government.
When I walk through the entrance to Leinster House and look up at pictures of the great figures from our past who fought so hard to secure sovereignty, I recall that they grappled with a national question, that is, the question of our physical security and autonomy. We have a new national question, one of economic sovereignty and preserving the sovereignty the great figures from our past fought so hard to obtain and which is now being eroded by the actions of the Government. It is clear that two issues must be addressed if we are to answer this question. First, one reason the country is in such difficulty is that the outside world does not have confidence in our ability to pay our debts. The solution to this is not to add to our existing debt. A way must be found to restructure and deal with it. The second part of the solution will have to involve firm and clear action taken by the Government in dealing with the current budgetary difficulties and, equally, direction from this side of the House on what we should do in the future, which direction has been given by signing up to the commitments in respect of 2014.
I conclude by quoting from the editorial in The Irish Times today:
Let us not seek to assuage our sense of shame in the comforting illusion that powerful nations in Europe are conspiring to become our masters. We are, after all, no great prize for any would-be overlord now.
The prize is the ability of the country to run its affairs in a few years. The Government has shown it is unable to do this. This side of the House needs to take its place.
It is clear at this time of crisis that we must concentrate our energies on tackling the problems and challenges facing us. However, let us remember that during the good times there are failures and that during the bad times there are successes. We should be looking for opportunities. One opportunity I believed we would have when the Government came into power three years ago was associated with the fact that we had a Green Party Minister in charge of dealing with climate change and energy issues. I was surprised to discover that the Cabinet sub-committee on climate change had met eight times in 2008 and twice in 2009 but had not met once this year. Is this because of a lack of interest or because we have solved all of the problems? One problem we have not solved is meeting targets in respect of wind energy.
I want to concentrate on wind energy because I saw figures that surprised me. In Denmark 23,000 people are employed in the wind energy sector. There are 1,500 people employed in the sector here and the opportunity seems to have been lost. Only last week Senator Butler drew our attention to the Spirit of Ireland campaign and the efforts being made in that regard. However, we do not see anything happening, only efforts to produce more reports. We are told that in Britain all of the reports have been produced and that the British authorities are happy to give us any they have produced. We do not need more reports; what we need is action, as we have opportunities.
The figures are surprising. In Denmark and Germany 90% of all wind farms are community wind farms. The investors have not gone to the banks to seek the money required as they have been able to provide it themselves. The wind farms are privately owned and local communities are involved. There are 30,000 dairy farms in Ireland. In Denmark and Germany practically all dairy farms have wind energy units. We could achieve half this number in Ireland. We have an opportunity to do so. We are told Ireland is suited to wind energy production and that we are capable of using it, yet we are not. We should be doing something about this.
Let me ask a question that Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú raised in the past. I refer to the opportunity to put online the 1926 census returns. The success of the online version of the 1911 census returns is such that it is attractive to both tourists and the Irish Diaspora. Let us determine whether we can put the results of the 1926 census online. Senator Ó Murchú has raised this issue with the Leader. What has happened in this regard? This is another opportunity we are missing.
It is time for the leader of the country to tell us what is happening. Some of the recent comments of the Government are bizarre. I listened to a radio show a few nights ago on which a Government spokesperson was debating the difference between discussions and negotiations. When passing through St. Stephen's Green on my way here this morning, I looked down and saw a duck coming towards me. The reason I knew it was a duck was it looked like one, quacked like one and walked like one. Let us be clear: there is to be a bailout and it required someone such as Professor Patrick Honohan to tell us that this morning.
Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?
We need clarity. We are all adults and very well educated and should be told the truth. If this was done, we could move forward.
I join Senator Quinn in calling for a debate on wind energy. Last week I held a seminar in County Meath on the subject. A great number of jobs could be created in the sector. Denmark created 23,000 jobs in it which would translate to approximately 500 jobs in every county in Ireland. We need to consider this. We can become self-sufficient using wind and wave power. I would, therefore, welcome a debate on the issue.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate at the earliest possible opportunity on the overseas development aid budget, to which we are committed. We are on the world stage in respect of it and do tremendously good work. I was very pleased to hear the Minister of State, Deputy Lenihan, say last week that the overseas development aid budget was but a drop in the ocean by comparison with the overall budget. It appears he is willing to look very favourably on retaining it. We could have a very useful cross-party debate on the issue. I, therefore, ask the Leader to arrange it before the budget, preferably next week.
I agree with Senator Donohoe that the role to be played by the Governor of the Central Bank is vital. His appointment has been excellent. We could have been in a position where the Secretary General of the Department of Finance would have been appointed as Governor of the Central Bank, as occurred in the past. That the Governor has been appointed and has the necessary independence is one of the good things going for us at present. That the Governor will be centrally involved in the negotiations to try to secure the best possible deal for the taxpayer is desirable.
We are still talking about what type of facility we will be using. Formal negotiations will not start until the Cabinet makes the decision on whether it will get involved in them. However, we will be using some facility. There will be money coming from outside sources and it will be directed towards elements of the sovereign debt created by the banking crisis. That is the reality and I do not see any denial. That said, there should not be a pretence that, if change occurred tomorrow and there were a different Government, any of these problems would be solved.
That is another reality we must all face. I am confident that individuals such as Professor Honohan can face the difficulties. We will be better as a country and secure agreement from the representatives of the bodies who will be visiting the country in the coming days.
On the call for a debate on climate change and wind energy, the Cabinet has made a decision on the publication of a climate change Bill. The Bill, rather than the heads, will be published before Christmas. I hope we will have the opportunity to debate it in the House at the earliest opportunity. We should be more inclined to admit that development of the wind energy sector has been one of the successes of the Government. Renewable energy resources now account for 15% of the total amount of energy we produce. Output has doubled in the past three and a half years and our proportion is the second highest in Europe. We have put in place the means to achieve the target of generating 40% of our energy from renewable resources by 2020. It is a little churlish to say we are not succeeding in this area. The reality is that we have put in place programmes that will benefit the country economically, environmentally and socially because of my party's participation in government.
If those opposite want to have a debate on the matter, they should at admit that we are succeeding in this area — if only this area. There are times when 40% of the electricity available to the grid is generated from renewable sources only. The position in this regard will improve and I hope the debates that will take place in the House in respect of this matter will illustrate that fact in the strongest possible way.
I wish to ask a preliminary question. Senator Callely is in the Chamber——
That is not a matter for the Order of Business. We are taking questions to the Leader.
My question is for the Leader. I mentioned the presence of Senator Callely because there is an important issue here. An investigation into this matter took place and we passed a report——
On a point of order, this matter is before the courts and it is highly inappropriate for Senator Regan to be allowed to refer to it.
That matter is before the courts and a decision has not been made. The House made a decision in respect of a period of time, which has expired. That time has elapsed and Senator Callely is entitled to be in the House.
Senator Regan is a lawyer and he knows exactly what he is doing.
I have a question for the Leader which is relevant. It is not relevant to the principle before the courts. My question relates to Senator Callely's entitlement to be in the House at this particular time. The reality is that a ruling was made that he was misrepresenting his normal place of residence. Has he ceased to do that?
That is before the court, which has to make a decision. I have just outlined to the Senator that a decision was taken by the House for a fixed period during which Senator Callely could not be present. That term has elapsed and the Senator is entitled to be in the House today.
That is not——
I am not taking any more on that matter while it is in the courts.
I have to respectfully disagree with the Cathaoirleach.
The Senator can do so but I am ruling on it.
No. I wrote to the Cathaoirleach on this matter and I pointed out the legislation on the matter and why it is not confined to a specified period. The suspension continues——
——until such time as the matter is rectified. The Cathaoirleach has answered the question but the Leader can deal with the matter.
Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?
The question is of entitlement to be in the House until the normal place of residence is rectified.
That is not a matter for the Leader.
It is a matter for the committee. The House should be informed with regard to what has happened on this issue.
I have explained what has happened. The matter is still in the court. The House took a decision and the period concerned has expired. Anyone who is suspended from the House is entitled to come back when that period has expired.
No. As long as the irregularity continues, the term of suspension continues. That is the law.
In the context of the current economic crisis, I wish to refer to the statements made by the Taoiseach and other Ministers in recent days and the appearance of newspaper headlines such as "Taoiseach insists Ireland not applying to Europe for bailout" and "Cowen and Ministers tried to dampen rumours". This morning, the Governor of the Central Bank, Professor Patrick Honohan, admitted that the State is to——
This is a Second Stage speech.
The Senator should put a question to the Leader.
The Cathaoirleach agrees with me.
The Leader should——
——receive aid from the European Union and the IMF. The reason the Taoiseach — in interviews in which he addressed Ms Mary Wilson and Mr. Brian Dobson in a bullying tone — denied that this is a bailout or that there will be a loss of sovereignty is as a result of the shame of it all and because of the Government's political failure in allowing matters to reach this stage, which has led to the country being dragged down.
I welcome this morning's contribution from the Governor of the Central Bank. Let us hope that once the relevant representatives become involved, politics will be removed from the equation. Let us now engage in real discussion and positive thinking. This is a great country and the Irish are a race of fighters. We are not going to go down. People should not engage in the type of destructive criticism which appears to be in vogue at present. Let us remove politics from the mix and get the country back to a point where it is running properly.
I support Senator Hannigan's point in respect of overseas development assistance, ODA. At the United Nations summit in September, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Martin, made a commitment in respect of reaching the target of devoting 0.7% of GDP to ODA by 2015. Certain commentators will state that charity begins at home. Nevertheless, we made a commitment in respect of our contribution to ODA. I hope that this commitment will be honoured and that the various aid agencies involved will examine the position and rationalise their operations. I will be pressing the Minister to adhere to the commitment to reach the 0.7% target by 2015.
I have a question which I wish to address to the House, the Leader, the Cathaoirleach and the Government. Are we going to be a Europe of the people or a Europe of the banks? We have heard a great deal about reassurance. It has been stated that we must reassure the banks, the bondholders and our European neighbours, several of which have taken the opportunity to stab us in the back now that we are in difficulty. It has also been suggested — most laughably of all — that we must reassure the discredited ratings agencies. When will this country, the Parliament, the Government and the European Union reassure the Irish people? The latter are the only ones who have not been given reassurance.
The psychological atmosphere in this country has been poisoned by fear, distrust and uncertainty. Meanwhile we are negotiating — very painfully apparently — for a loan which will be used to repay the bondholders and the banks. The latter are lending us money in order that we can repay them and they are of the opinion that we should be grateful for this. It has been stated that Austria and a number of other countries have raised questions with regard to our 12.5% rate of corporation tax. I stated some time ago that it was dangerous to base an economy on fragile things of this nature. However, this is not the time to discuss that matter.
I have just come from a very interesting meeting relating to rural Ireland at which Senator Leyden was also present. Those who addressed the meeting indicated that they had engaged in consultations throughout the country. The final item on the agenda related to an attitude survey, which indicated that 90% of people believe that good neighbours are the most important thing in life. Where are Ireland's neighbours? It is as if we had been burgled and the neighbours are coming in to provide assistance and make cups of tea. When inside, they say things such as "I loaned you those curtains five years ago. Can I have them back?," "That is my lawn-mower" and "That is the chair my granny gave me." That is what is happening at present and a stop should be put to it.
Reference has been made to confidence. I do not retain any confidence in the system. What is being perpetrated is a confidence trick on the people who are paying for what has happened. Those to whom I refer are entitled to an explanation, to reassurance and to be informed, in clear and direct terms, with regard to what is happening.
The Senator's time is up.
We want a European Community, not a European economy.
That was a very presidential speech.
Anyone can run for President.
In the words of President Roosevelt, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." We should be very positive with regard to what is happening. Certainty is being brought to the situation——
It is being brought to it this morning.
Honesty has also entered the equation.
——as a result of the fact that some important and significant visitors have arrived in our country today. We are going to examine how the crisis can be solved within the eurozone. The British, who have their own problems at present, also availed of IMF funding in the 1960s in order to extricate themselves from the difficulties they were then experiencing.
Ireland is one of the governors of the International Monetary Fund. Our director on the board of that entity is none other than the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan. We joined the IMF in 1957 and have been a contributor to it ever since. We have nothing to be ashamed of in discussing issues with the IMF in a positive manner.
The Senator might as well justify it now.
Senator Leyden should put a question to the Leader.
There will be comely maidens at the crossroads.
What is required is greater positivity and more time. We need another two years to solve the problems we face and we require support from the Opposition in this regard. What is also required is another Tallaght strategy.
It is like Killinaskully over there.
Well, it is pantomime season.
I advise Senators to obtain copies of the speech made by Mr. Denis O'Brien on 12 November last at the National Convention Centre on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of Hibernian College, which was founded by Dr. Sean Rowland. Mr. O'Brien used the occasion to outline Ireland's future. Dr. Noel Kelly of Kentz International, which has a turnover of €1 billion per year, also made a speech on the date in question.
Senators are not entitled to make speeches. We are taking questions to the Leader in respect of the Order of Business. I must put a stop to the making of speeches.
I would welcome a debate on what is going to happen — particularly when the relevant decisions have been made — to this country in the future. I would much prefer to rely on our neighbours in Europe than to rely on the bondholders. As Ireland has adequate funding until July next, let us take a positive stance.
Why did the Government not admit what was happening last weekend?
Senator Leyden's time is up. He must conclude.
I welcome the support from Opposition parties in respect of this matter. I also take this opportunity to welcome Senator Callely back to the House.
I support every aspect of the very convincing points made by Senator Donohoe.
The web of deliberate obfuscation that has been so expertly woven by the Government and its spin masters over recent months was literally torn apart by the Governor of the Central Bank, Professor Patrick Honohan, on the radio this morning. It was refreshing and encouraging to hear such clarity and such honesty in acknowledging that negotiations have effectively begun on the future of the country and how we negotiate through the difficult times ahead.
I ask the Leader to take from me one message only to those negotiations: that the corporation tax rate in this country must be absolutely removed from that negotiation process. I got a call this morning from a good friend of mine who is the global vice-president of a multinational operating here in Ireland. He employs 400 people in this country. As well as managing the daily operations of that company, he has spent the past five years trying to convince that parent company not to take those 400 jobs to other low-cost locations. He called me to plead with the Leader to ensure that the 12.5% rate remains untouched because the locations with which he is competing daily to retain those jobs are the Czech Republic, with a 19% corporation tax rate; Poland, 19%; Lithuania, 15% and Latvia, 15%. If we even move anywhere close to those rates we are effectively closing the door on foreign direct investment in this country for many years to come. That is the one message I ask the Leader to take to whoever is involved in these negotiations over the days and weeks ahead.
I share the concerns that many Senators have raised today, but the most important for question for debate was raised by Senator Quinn. He was very responsible. Many in this country are fearful and he is talking about having a proper debate on the way forward for this country, which is the correct approach to take right now. He pointed out that in Denmark there are 23,000 employed in the wind energy sector and he correctly pointed out the potential of this country to bring in significant amounts of revenue and provide a considerable number of jobs.
I am aware of various ongoing initiatives in the wind energy sector that could provide up to 20,000 new jobs for this country. The Minister, Deputy Ryan, is well aware of significant ongoing efforts. Roughly 15 MW of wind energy either has been constructed or is the subject of a planning application and, as I have stated previously, the key point is that Ireland's peak electricity requirement is 6 MW. That clearly shows there is considerable room for revenue from the export of wind energy. There is magnificent potential.
As Senator Boyle correctly stated, it is important to recognise that the Government has made considerable inroads on wind energy in particular in that we have more than doubled the average amount of renewable energy used every day of the week. There were three occasions on which more than half of the electricity used in this country came from renewable energy. That is a massive achievement. There has also been a considerable programme of helping people cut down on their energy bills, for example, through the warmer homes scheme and the significant improvement through the home energy savings scheme.
The Government has done great work in terms of energy. Let us give credit where it is due, but let us also reach the potential that Senator Quinn is talking about because we can do it and it is the green light at the end of the tunnel.
I join Senator Donohoe in asking the fundamental question of when the Government will tell the people the facts. Does the Leader agree it is wrong that it is the Governor of the Central Bank who is the one to admit to the people that the IMF, the ECB and the European Commission are coming in, not for a fireside chat but to direct operations regarding our economic sovereignty? That is the reality and the people should be told that. The uncertainty must be replaced by hope, a plan of action and a commitment to the people to create jobs. They are looking for the Government to be honest.
In response to Senator Boyle, the difference my party will make when we are on the Government side is we will take responsibility, assume leadership and ensure accountability. We have a plan and coherence which the Government parties are lacking. That is the reality.
What is Senator Buttimer's plan?
A contract, is it?
Questions to the Leader on the Order of Business.
The incompetence of the Fianna Fáil-led Government has got us where we are today. I would like to see the former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, and the Taoiseach come to this House to explain their stewardship of the economy. I will go a step further. Perhaps a tribunal should be set up, only it would cost too much——
Senator Buttimer's friends would not mind.
——in order that they would be held to account. These Deputies were in charge of the country. They have let their people down.
A Second Stage speech.
I will give the Leader the Second Stage speech he wants.
Senator Buttimer has not asked a question of the Leader yet.
I have asked him four questions.
It is a Second Stage speech.
What is the question?
I have asked him four questions. Members of the House are embarrassed by the record of Fianna Fáil in Government and if I were them, I would be too.
Senator Buttimer's time is up.
Senator Buttimer jumped over there.
I would be embarrassed too if I were them. The Leader is the very person——
One step out and one step in.
No interruption, please.
I will conclude on this.
Senator Buttimer's time is up.
The Leader is the very person who for two years came in here——
I call Senator Callely.
I am asking the question. I will conclude on this. The Leader is the very person who came in here every day for two years waving a book stating how good Fianna Fáil is. Does he now think Fianna Fáil is good?
We live in interesting times. The public is deeply concerned by what is happening in the country and the role and impact of the EU in our sovereign State. The Single European Act is under review as we approach the 20th anniversary in 2012 of the formal launch of the Single Market in 1992 and the current economic downturn is putting pressure on the Single Market and raising the issue of protectionism. Towards a Single Market Act has been published and it contains 50 new proposals. This warrants public and national debate and I would appreciate it if the Leader can assist by arranging a debate in this House on the Single European Act.
On a separate note but one of significant interest to me and to this House, I read in The Irish Times today: “The Oireachtas should be very cautious in carrying out inquiries that could have an impact on citizens’ reputations, a former attorney general has warned”.
Wait for the court case.
The Senator should ask a question of the Leader if he wants a debate.
When the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Constitution has deliberated, the Leader might arrange a suitable time for that matter to be discussed.
Yesterday the expert group on mortgage arrears published its report. Sadly, it has given little succour to the 20,000 young families who are in mortgage arrears. Some of them are at the end of the 12-month moratorium and their houses will be repossessed. It was a missed opportunity. I was waiting and expecting that it would be a positive report, and God knows we need some positivity. What worries me is that the only recourse that some of these people have now is to hand in the keys of their homes, and surely that is not the correct way of going about it. There are 56,000 people on the housing waiting lists in this country and there is no opportunity for them to be socially housed. We need to do everything possible. I ask the Leader for a debate on this because the report really has fallen short of providing a way to help those who are about to have their houses repossessed. The Government promised in 2009 that it would look after people who were indebted. I ask the Leader to have an urgent debate on the report to see how we can help people and examine ways in which we could extend it. I appreciate that some will have their interest deferred, but those are not the ones who are really suffering. I refer to the 20,000 who are desperately in arrears. That is a significant number of people. We need to keep these people in their homes somehow.
I have been here for many years, as have other Members on both sides of the House. Members would do well to remind themselves of what was stated here during the years. I heard no one forewarning of the property bubble and the huge property crash.
That is not correct.
Read Deputy Richard Bruton's comments in the past five or six years.
Members have had an opportunity to speak. There should be no interruptions. Questions to the Leader, please.
I have spoken to some international economists who also admit they did not foresee the huge global recession we are experiencing. I call for a debate as soon as possible on the discussions taking place. I am one who does not resent the fact that the IMF and the European Union are here discussing with the Department of Finance and the Government how we can extricate ourselves from our difficulties. It does not matter what is being said publicly; what is most important is that the people concerned who have tremendous expertise in this field will receive a full evaluation of precisely where we are. In particular, their views on where we go from here are important. It is essential that the banks be fully capitalised. As we cannot keep returning to the matter, there has to be a final solution. Will the Leader arrange a debate in order that we can deal with it, as well as the issue of public service pay and the Croke Park deal, all of which must be on the table and addressed fully at this stage in order that the country can move forward? The only item which must be ring-fenced is the corporation tax rate of 12.5% which was spoken about by Senator Cannon. It is the reason many multinational companies are here providing employment and leading to growth in the economy. It must be protected above all other things.
I agree very much with what Senator Donohoe stated and admire the way he stated it. I do not say this from a partisan point of view. Yesterday I spoke about the confidence game that has been played during the years. We have had a corruption of language and a culture of spin and they have to be brought to an end. It should not be the case that the Governor of the Central Bank is the one to let the cat out of the bag, so to speak, when politicians will not speak straight about the problem we face and the situation in which we find ourselves. Our way of talking in politics has not worked. We need to engage in straight talking and not patronise the people anymore. If it is a bailout, that is what it is. A bailout covers any situation where money is received from outside, whether one has to pay it back with interest. That is what the people expect from us. We do not have to see this as a moment of national humiliation if we understand the difference between humiliation and humility. We certainly have to have the humility to see how——
Does the Senator want a debate on the issue?
I am asking the Leader——
That is what I want to know.
——to accept and agree with my proposition that we have to have humility to learn from our mistakes. We will also have to consider what it was in our political system that allowed us to be led into this situation. We have had too much cronyism in government. There has been a certain collusion between the Government and the media——
I think the opposite.
——and no one was in a position to scrutinise seriously what was going on in recent years. If we had had a stronger Legislature in which, instead of sucking up to Government or Opposition leadership, politicians saw themselves as having a responsibility to scrutinise and assess what the Government was doing, we might not have let ourselves fall into this hole. If we have the grace to learn from our mistakes, we will do so. However, if we play the blame game or seek to be politically opportunistic, we will most likely make these mistakes again in the future.
What will be done about investment in education? There is a startling statistic——
Time, Senator, please.
I will conclude on this point. There is a startling statistic that not a single student who commenced a university course in pharmacy or medicine in 2008 or 2009 came from an unskilled background. This statistic shows that the issue is not whether we reintroduce university fees but how we invest in primary and second level education——
Point made, Senator.
——in order that children from lower socio-economic backgrounds can gain the points necessary to attend university and from the benefits of life.
The debate this morning should concentrate on whether the banks need funding.
We know they do.
If we require this extra funding under the shared sovereignty agreement with the European Union, the debate should centre on how much we need. We have heard calls for honesty, for which we have been asked this morning. If the State receives funding for the banks, it cannot come directly through the banks but to the State. Will the Opposition stand up and state that in reality it is not a bailout for the State but for the banks? It will not. It will misrepresent the facts as sure as I am standing here.
Who owns the banks?
In looking for a debate on the banks it has become clear that some of the bankers have received non-recourse loans which means that if they are not paid back, one has nothing to come back for. This is an unsustainable position and we must do whatever we need to do to ensure any non-recourse loans taken out by a bank official are found not to be legal because it was an abuse of the system.
Those who suggested we bailed out the banks for any reason other than to help the State should remember that two years ago we spent all night here ensuring we would have a banking system solely for the benefit of the State. We hold no brief for bankers. Let us be clear what would have happened: banks would have closed; ATMs would have stopped paying out cash; standing orders, direct debits and accounts would have been frozen; and the bond markets would have turned their backs on us. We saved the State on that occasion and must continue to do so.
I also welcome the clarity of thought and expression from the Governor of the Central Bank this morning. It was a model of communication which will help all of us to move forward.
I call for a debate on the future of semi-State companies. I do this in the context of the conditions that might attach to any loan or bailout. Not only is the corporation tax rate issue central to our well-being, so also is the future of semi-State companies. It would be a serious mistake to see them in private hands. It would probably result in a lack of investment and, therefore, a lack of realisation of the potential about which we have heard in terms of meeting Ireland's future energy needs. It is a fact that nine of every ten units that would be available to the country if we exploited our offshore wind energy sector potential could be exported. We would need only one of every ten units if we were to exploit all of the potential sites, many of which are along the eastern seaboard. I understand from the Irish Wind Energy Association that in generating 1 MW we would create eight jobs. There is phenomenal potential and I am concerned that we may, in the context of the conditions that might be applied to us, rush into a sale. It is something Fine Gael proposes in its NewERA document, but I genuinely believe it to be an error.
I am often asked about the smart economy. It is what the ESB, Bord na Mona and Bord Gais are engaged in. This is a magnificent opportunity for Irish SMEs to engage in innovation and sell products, as the grid becomes smarter, more responsive and efficient. This is not a product one can see or something that is placed on a ship or an aeroplane. It is energy that is supplied to the grid and exported. As bedrock income for the country, it would guarantee stability and security, which would be preferable to the basis on which economic growth was secured in the past.
I support those colleagues of mine who called for a debate as soon as possible on the entire banking and economic crisis, something about which we speak every week. However, we do not seem to have had the substantive debate required. I echo the sentiments of my colleagues who have welcomed the initial intervention by Senator Donohoe who has presented a fair and balanced overview of where we are as a country and society and how we must proceed. To paraphrase US President John F. Kennedy, we must declare that the only thing we should fear is fear itself. We are on the edge of a new beginning. Some people would regard it as being on the edge of the precipice but I think we should see it as a new beginning where new structures and new economic foundations, new political thinking and new political ways of doing business will be put in place. I think this country can benefit but it will require very fresh, radical, new and generous thinking on the part of everyone involved in party politics. This is what the people are now crying out for. The old system has failed, the old order is over and a new beginning is just around the corner. I hope that as a result of what we deem to be either a bailout or assistance, a loan or a fund from structures beyond the norm will provide us with the time, space and ability to put in place the new structures and a new system of managing this country, which is required. As has been said so often by many, including myself, there is an unprecedented depth of fear, anger and hopelessness and we must try to change that in the near future because this country is broken. Every broken country can be fixed and broken countries have been fixed on previous occasions in Europe. I refer to the Europe of the 1940s when countries which had shed each other's blood came together and rebuilt and renewed their respective countries and continent. This country can be renewed, provided there is the political will and the courage to do so. This House has a role to play in debating the alternatives. We need to offer some hope and to do that, we need to talk about it. I ask the Leader to give us the space to speak because people have positive contributions to make. We all want to move beyond doom and gloom and I ask the Leader to give us the opportunity to chart the way forward.
I refer to the Hugh Cooney report which was published yesterday. While I am pleased with some of the comments in the report and its recommendations for dealing with future mortgage issues, this is an opportunity to look at the mortgage situation. I call for a debate on mortgage debt. One of the biggest problems with regard to mortgage debt is the bankruptcy laws which need to be reviewed and brought into line with those of Britain and America. It is ridiculous that someone who goes into bankruptcy stays a bankrupt for about 12 years. This is an old system which does not suit our situation now. A total of 45,000 people cannot pay their mortgages or at least have problems with repayment as a result of losing their jobs. If our banking system is going to be supported by the European Union, we must review the mortgage situation. Otherwise we will encounter grave problems further down the road.
Will it be any worse than now?
There is no question——
The Senator's time has expired.
We need to be honest with each other now and look at the problems.
It is a pity the Senator's Government is not honest.
Please, Senator Buttimer, no interruptions. You had your opportunity to speak.
The banking system is not fit for purpose. There is no question about it.
We have to deal with that situation. Small and medium-sized enterprises cannot start new businesses. I ask the Leader for an all-day debate on this matter as it is an important issue. In view of what we are now doing with the European Community, such a debate would be timely.
I wish to ask the Leader about the long-promised new legislation, the mental capacity and guardianship Bill. I do not expect the Leader will have an answer this morning but I appreciate if he could perhaps come back to the House on Tuesday's Order of Business with a date when this much-needed legislation will come to the House. I have raised this matter on a number of occasions and we have been expecting it for the past 12 months. I appreciate that it needs to tie in with other legislation and, therefore, there is considerable work to be completed.
I have also asked on previous occasions if arrangements could be made for the Minister for Justice and Law Reform to come to the House to deal specifically with the legal protections that can be put in place to assist people with intellectual disability or a mental health challenge who need to go before the courts on any matter. We have nothing in place to support them. Their basic human rights are disregarded.
I raise both of these issues in the context of a case completed last Monday where a judge directed a jury to return a not guilty verdict in the case of a young woman with an intellectual disability because the criminal Act does not provide that sexual offences other than sexual intercourse committed against people with an intellectual disability be regarded as criminal. I ask if the Leader could make those arrangements for the Minister to come to the House.
In the past this House has debated the question of suicide and the high incidence of suicide in society. I regret that in my part of the world, Mullingar and north Westmeath in general, the issue has raised its ugly head once again in recent months. There are not many families in this country that the cold fingers of suicide have not touched in one way or another. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate as soon as possible. There might be some suggestions coming forward that could possibly assist in this very serious situation. It is possibly with more hope than conviction that I make that request because the best efforts of the best people in this country, professional and otherwise, have been employed to deliberate on the causation factors associated with this phenomenon. It would be appropriate for this House to debate the important subject.
Today we had leadership from the Governor of the Central Bank when he clarified the situation and spoke honestly. He was acting in the absence of what I would call a functioning Government. The people want to hear from the Government and want to get clarity. Is it not extraordinary that, once again, the House is not discussing what the whole country is talking about? What arrangements is the Leader making for a Minister to be in the House today in order that Members can give their opinions and be part of the national debate taking place today about the negotiations? It is on the radio, in the press and everywhere else except in the very Houses where there should be discussion and debate today to afford us an opportunity to put our point of view on the record of the House.
Senators Donohoe, Quinn, Hannigan, Regan, Ormonde, Norris, Leyden, Cannon, Ó Brolcháin, Buttimer, Callely, Walsh, Mullen, Hanafin, Bradford and Fitzgerald raised the serious challenges in the banking sector. I remind colleagues that the House yesterday debated the Credit Institutions (Eligible Liabilities Guarantee) (Amendment) (No. 2) Scheme 2010. I noted all who contributed yesterday. I have no difficulty——
That is irrelevant.
Please, no interruptions. The Leader is replying.
On a point of information, on a point of order, the Leader set the time for the debate yesterday. We had a delayed debate yesterday on the issue. The Leader changed the time and he should clarify to the House what happened yesterday.
I ask the Senator to resume his seat.
The Leader is misleading the House. He is being unfair to the Members of the House who could not contribute to the debate yesterday. He is being unfair. He should withdraw the remark he has made. He is misleading the House.
I am asking the Senator to resume his seat. The Leader to reply to the Order of Business.
Regarding that matter——
I ask the Leader to withdraw the remark he made. He is always doing it.
For the information of Senator Buttimer, he should liaise with his Whip on the matter.
The matter was changed by the Leader.
A request was made to me and I have never been found wanting in regard to arranging debates on matters of relevance. Following our deliberations on the Croke Park agreement, I hope we will have an all-day debate on the agreement with the relevant Minister on Tuesday, 30 November. This issue has been discussed at the weekly leaders' meetings. If time is required to debate banking issues on a daily basis during this difficult period, it will be made available. I thank the leaders and the Whips for their support in this regard.
I fully agree with all who expressed concern about our 12.5% corporation tax rate, which is the bedrock of foreign direct investment. Senator Callely called for a debate on the anniversary of the Single Market and the 50 new proposals that have been made. I will have no difficulty in making time for a debate on this useful suggestion.
Senators Quinn, Hannigan, Boyle and Ó Brolcháin highlighted the potential for renewable energy, including wind power and the other areas which Senator Butler regularly brings to the attention of the House. I intend to propose that we take statements on Ireland's renewable energy potential throughout Tuesday afternoon. This House should assist and encourage efforts to export up to 90% of all the energy generated in Ireland, whether from wave or wind power. We could save €60 billion in the next ten years by replacing oil imports with renewable energy. In regard to the dairy and wind farms to which Senator Quinn referred, a company based in Athenry, County Galway, manufactures wind turbines. It set itself a target of developing 60 wind farms this year but it had manufactured and installed 80 by the end of September. At a price of €40,000 or €50,000 each, the turbines it produces are relatively inexpensive. Communities in rural areas can benefit significantly from the new technologies now being made available.
Senators Quinn and Ó Murchú spoke about the 1926 census. I understand that census details are not published until 100 years after they are recorded. If that has to be changed, we will discuss it in the House. I have previously attempted to facilitate Senator Ó Murchú on this issue.
The 1911 census was published.
The 2011 one has just been published.
No, the 1911 census was published within 100 years.
I understand all that but it is as near as possible to 100 years. When the general public give information at census time, there is a clear understanding that a certain period of time will expire before the census is published. I stand corrected but I think the figure is close to 100 years.
Senators Hannigan and Ormonde called for a debate on overseas aid. We have been a shining example to the world as a small nation in what we have done with a heart and a half. I will have no difficulty in providing time for such a debate before Christmas.
Not before the budget.
The Cathaoirleach has made a ruling on Senator Regan's intervention. Senators McFadden and Butler spoke about the expert group's report on the 20,000 mortgages that are in arrears. I will have no difficulty in having the report debated at the earliest opportunity. Legislation on bankruptcies is before the Dáil but I hope we will be able to debate and pass it before Christmas. The 12 year bankruptcy period will be reduced to six years, which is a move in the right direction for those who are unfortunate enough to be in this situation.
Senator Mullen called for a debate on investment in education. I will have no difficulty in providing time for such a debate at the earliest opportunity.
Senator Glynn called for a debate on suicide. Senator Corrigan also raised the issue. I will have no difficulty in arranging such a debate. There have been four incidents in the past two to three weeks in the area Senator Glynn and I represent. We should do what we can to support the families affected by suicide.
Senator Dearey called for a debate on semi-State bodies. I will have no difficulty in arranging a debate on that issue. Senator Corrigan asked about the timeframe for pending legislation. I will revert to the Senator on that matter. The Senator also spoke about legal protection and support for those with mental health issues or intellectual disabilities. I have no difficulty in supporting her on that issue.
On a point of order, can the Leader indicate whether it is proposed to sit next week, given that a by-election is being held?
That is a matter for the Government Whip to decide with the Whips in the Dáil. We will assist them, as well as the Members of this House who may wish to participate in the Donegal South-West by-election. I will discuss the matter with the leaders and the Whips after the Order of Business, if that facilitates the House.