The Order of Business is No. 1, Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill 2008 — Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, Communications Regulation (Postal Services) Bill 2010 — Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 2.30 p.m. and adjourn at 5 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 34, Private Members' motion No. 17 on the recommendations and findings of the Ombudsman's special report on the lost at sea scheme, to be taken at 5 p.m. and conclude not later than 7 p.m. There will be a sos from 1.30 p.m. to 2.30 p.m.
Order of Business
We will have an opportunity tomorrow to comment further on the financial situation and the deal which has been done. A number of very important points were made yesterday on the Order of Business in that regard.
I send a very clear message that those who carry mortar and bomb making materials around the country have no support either from this House or the people.
Members of the Garda and the Army were out in dreadful conditions in the early hours of the morning trying to deal with the materials the people in question were carrying around the country. As has been clearly shown, they have no support. We want to give the Garda and the Army every possible support to deal with the dissidents who are endangering the lives of others, including gardaí and members of the Defence Forces.
I want to comment on what the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, said yesterday in a childish and self-pitying way. Given the privileged position he occupies, to use the grossly offensive language he used against the most marginalised group in the country, those suffering mental health difficulties, including words such as "asylum"——
This is ridiculous. It was used against him.
This is not to be politically correct.
It was referred to him.
There is a campaign, See Change, to seek to change outdated attitudes. I appeal to all not to use such language, from which we want to move away. It is hard enough for people with mental health difficulties to deal with what faces them without listening to this language from a Minister in a most privileged position.
The Minister did not introduce the term. The Opposition raised it.
He needs to be less childish in the way he deals with the responsibility of a Minister.
Let us have fair procedures.
On a different health topic, this is World AIDS Day. The Irish Times has produced an excellent graphic detailing the scale of the problem with HIV and AIDS in this country. The HIV rate has doubled since 1999, despite the fact it peaked globally in that year. At an appropriate point we need to have a debate on this topic. Huge information and education issues continue to arise in this regard.
While it is a good reflection on what has happened in the time which has passed, I remember some 20 years ago seconding a motion tabled by my colleague, Senator Norris, on the importance of dealing with AIDS. There was a big question at the time as to whether politicians should even be discussing the issue. This was the first House to discuss it. At the time many Members were embarrassed and disconcerted at the fact the motion was being brought forward. It is important to recognise this and the fact that this House led the way on the issue, as it did on many other issues. In general, it is issues which should drive the work done in this House.
On one of the points made by Senator Fitzgerald, whether I agree with her, there is a bigger issue involved. It is one that will continually arise in the next two months in politics, namely, that of Members having a go at each other across the House. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, invited this yesterday. I completely agree with the points made by Senator Fitzgerald about the language used, which was wrong, although I can see from where the Minister was coming. This is happening all of the time; when we should be looking at issues, we will be looking at other Members. It will be about what one Government did to another and six months later another Government will state it can do nothing because of what the previous Government did, while the previous Government will ask where has the change got us. I ask colleagues on all sides to at all times focus on issues and what they have done or others have not done about an issue.
Although I did not have time to listen to the Minister of State's speech on Private Members' business yesterday, I suspect it was well over half an hour long.
It certainly was.
This is no reflection on the Minister of State who made good points but we either put a time limit on the speeches of Ministers or we do not count it as Private Members' time in terms of the two hours allocated.
There is a time limit.
We should do one or the other. Ministers are used to time limits, just like everybody else. It should be, say, a 15 minute slot, or else the time taken by a Minister should be added to the two hours allocated for Private Members' time.
I gently correct the Leader, as there is a slight contradiction in what was proposed. He said Committee and Remaining Stages of the Communications Regulation (Postal Services) Bill 2010 would be taken this afternoon. The House will recall that at the leaders' meeting it was agreed time would be allowed for Report Stage. The Leader has indicated the debate may not conclude at 5 p.m. It has been said that if Committee Stage does not conclude by 5 p.m., it will be resumed. However, if it finishes before 5 p.m., will the Leader confirm that we will come back to take Report Stage at a later date? There are issues of huge importance to the people, including in the Leader's area, in which postal deliveries in rural areas is a major issue.
I question the relevance of any legislation put through by a Government which has called time on itself. We have very important legislation to deal with and amendments have been tabled to many Bills, particularly the Nurses and Midwives Bill, which require careful consideration and should receive our full attention without, as Senator O'Toole said, Members having a go at each other. The serious business of the House is legislation. In that regard, a Government which has pulled the plug should shelve any legislation of importance to the future of any organisation.
Deputy Higgins recently spoke about the need to introduce a rights based approach to mental health policy where services would be structured to meet people's needs rather than dictated to by budgetary circumstances. At just 5.3% of the overall budget, the mental health budget is paltry, although there is some good news in that there has been a rowing back on the decision to cut the budget by 5% in the upcoming budget, particularly as it affects Rehab.
A serious issue has been raised in the House on many occasions and at the Joint Committee on Health and Children regarding section 55 and its application to the facilities of St. Luke's and St. Michael's in Clonmel. A report commissioned by the Government and prepared by Dr. Shanker has never been released. It exonerated the staff in respect of any wrongdoing in the management and treatment of patients, particularly in dealing with fractures. I call on the Minister to immediately release the report.
There was an announcement last year of the closure of 49 acute beds in the psychiatric unit attached to South Tipperary General Hospital, a decision which was made without consultation. As a result, the Minister appointed Dr. Hillary to prepare a report which I understand has been on her desk since the end of October. She has received a request from the consultants for a copy of the report, but, as yet, she has not released it. I submitted a freedom of information request last February, but, to date, I have not received a response. I do not know whether I will have to refer the matter to the Ombudsman. Will the Minister come to the House to explain why these reports have not been released on a decision that adversely affects people suffering from mental health illnesses? On 10 November the Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, undertook in the House to come back to me within a fortnight with the answers to my questions, but he has not yet done so. In the House Ministers pay lip service to Members' requests and say they will do something. I know I am like a dog with a bone on this, but it is a very serious issue which has serious implications for the people I represent. When he says something, does the Minister of State intend to follow through on it? Is there a good reason I cannot receive a response to freedom of information requests? Why can the Shanker and Hillary reports not be given to the consultants and released publicly? We seek clarity and transparency.
In the time this and the other House will be considering the budget and the finance Bill many other items of legislation will be considered and there will be many other debates. Many Bills will be completed, including the Nurses and Midwives Bill, the Local Government (Dublin Mayor and Regional Authority) Bill, the climate change Bill and a Bill on corporate donations. I look forward to all of these issues being dealt with in the time remaining to the 23rd Seanad and the 30th Dáil.
Does that mean we are staying until the spring?
There should be no interruptions.
The Senator might as well camp here.
We have been waiting for almost three years.
Perhaps the Green Party will change its mind again.
Senator Buttimer will not have an opportunity to knock on any doors in January. He might as well get used to it.
Was that an announcement?
Is the Government staying until St. Patrick's Day?
Does the Senator have any respect for the Chair?
I have no respect for the Government.
I will ask the Senator to leave the House if he does not obey the Chair.
No interruptions are allowed. Members are entitled to make their contributions without interference from anyone. The minute other Senators interfere, I will ask them to leave the Chamber and if they do not obey, I will suspend the sitting.
It would be nice to do it just once.
It will be done very quickly.
I challenge the Opposition to let me do it once in the next six weeks.
Questions to the Leader, please.
On the mental health issue, there is a need for an ongoing debate. I find the remarks of Senator Fitzgerald to be utterly condescending.
Does the Senator?
My party worked very hard to ensure the mental health budget was protected this year. We have legislation on involuntary procedures. Solitary confinement and the use of straitjackets are utterly abhorrent to what we stand for.
On a point of order, the mental health budget has been cut disastrously, as the Senator knows.
That is not a point of order.
To hear cheap political points being made——
On a point of order——
On procedure, please.
It is not a cheap political point.
Cheap political points are being made——
On a point of order——
What is the point of order?
It is not a cheap political point.
The Senator's remarks were utterly condescending.
The point of order should be on procedure.
The mental health budget has been cut during the Government's stewardship, as Senator Boyle well knows.
I ask the Senator to resume her seat.
It has been cut dramatically.
Only one microphone at a time.
I am hoping——
The Senator should not tell me the mental health budget has not been cut when it has.
I hope that in the time remaining to the House we will hear——
On a point of order, is it appropriate for the Leader to interfere with members of staff in the House?
That is not a point of order.
I am asking a question. Is it appropriate for the Leader to interfere with members of staff in the House?
We were not interfering with anyone.
The Leader explicitly said to a member of staff, "Only one microphone at a time." That is what he said. Is that appropriate?
It is not a matter for the Leader.
I thank the Chair. The Leader should apologise to the member of staff concerned.
The Leader has no right to object to the work done in the House.
I am suspending the sitting for five minutes.
I was expressing the hope we would be able to bring forward for debate the capacity Bill which I am led to believe is almost complete and the review of the Mental Health Act. Contingent on this is the Private Members' Bill on the Order Paper in the name of my party colleagues on the use of involuntary procedures such as electroconvulsive therapy. On these grounds, I hope we will have time for a more measured debate on mental health issues, about which I accept most Members of the House have valid concerns.
I seek clarification from the Leader. The Deputy Leader has just indicated that the Government intends to prioritise and finalise the Local Government (Mayor and Regional Authority of Dublin) Bill 2010 and also legislation relating to political donations and climate change. The Leader will be aware that in the Lower House, Fine Gael has offered to facilitate the Oireachtas by making all of its Members available for five-day sittings, if necessary, to discuss budgetary proposals and the EU-IMF bailout. In my view, both these issues are priorities for the country at present. I would like the Leader to provide clarity on this matter. From where is the time going to be found to pass all the legislation to which reference has been made by the end of January, when the Green Party, as indicated last week, intends to pull out of Government? We are being given mixed messages by the Government and that is causing confusion.
The confusion is the Senator's problem.
What Senator Coffey says is true.
I ask that the Leader provide time for a debate on small to medium enterprises, SMEs. This sector provides employment for thousands of people, supports local economies and is export-led in nature. Manufacturing is a major element of the SME sector. I reiterate what I said on previous occasions, namely, that we cannot give up on manufacturing. I accept that we are trying to improve our competitiveness and there are signs that this is happening. In that context, I would like the Leader to make time available for a full debate on manufacturing and SMEs and on how the State can provide support to these businesses. SMEs are suffering because they are not getting access to credit, which is their lifeblood. If the SMEs begin to disappear, thousands of jobs will also disappear. There has been little discussion about these enterprises during the current crisis. We must focus on SMEs and provide them with greater support.
I wish to bring to the attention of the House and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the fact that the register of electors for 2011 will be published on 1 February next and will come into force on 15 February. It would not, therefore, be either practical or advisable to deprive young people who register by 1 February of their vote. When the register is published, the election can be fought.
In that event, will the election be held on a Saturday?
This is horrible weather in which to hold an election. I would not put a dog out in it.
A question to the Leader.
We would put those in government out.
It is they who are the dogs.
I suggest that the election be held in the middle of May. I am sure the Cathaoirleach will be indulgent and allow me to refer to a special event, organised by the Lions Clubs International, at which Shane O'Brien from Oran, County Roscommon, was made European young ambassador for 2010.
Come on, Senator. This is just absolutely——
Senator Leyden should put a question to the Leader.
I am referring to a young person who has done something with his life. Senator O'Toole should not monopolise the Order of Business, neither should he deprive the young man to whom I refer of a little recognition.
This award relates to music.
This matter is not relevant to the Order of Business.
This is a young man who has done something good for Ireland.
I have been obliged to suspend the sitting on one occasion. The Senator should ask a question.
The young man in question was made European young ambassador for 2010 and I am of the view that I am entitled to honour him today in this House.
That is fine. However, I am entitled to chair the proceedings.
I do not want to hear any claptrap from those opposite. Senator O'Toole does not want to hear what anyone else has to say.
I am entitled to chair the proceedings of the House.
That is correct. However, I will not be directed by a Senator on the opposite side of the Chamber.
I ask that every Member of the House respect the Chair.
I accept that.
There is a long-standing practice to the effect that the Chair and the House should be respected. Many Members are making a show of themselves by interrupting others who wish to contribute. The Order of Business involves putting questions to theLeader.
It was appropriate for me to make a point about a very special individual.
I allowed the Senator to do so and now the matter is done with.
I thank the Cathaoirleach. I do not like it when Members on the other side of the House ask him to deprive me of the opportunity to make my points.
I note that exception was taken to the use of the word "asylum". An asylum is a place of refuge and we should remind ourselves that we are in such a place. We are very privileged to be Members of this House and we are insulated, especially from the weather which obtains outside at present. We should consider those who do not have our privileges and who are weak and vulnerable. I refer to the elderly, the homeless and the poor. It is imperative we think about the plight of these people.
I am concerned about the views expressed by some members of Fine Gael to the effect that the party intends to liquidate our utilities — beginning with Bord Gáis Éireann — when in government. We have given away the Corrib gas field. I would be interested in hearing Fine Gael's arguments in respect of this matter.
The matter of the Leader interfering with the processes of the House was raised. Did he play any role in respect of the extraordinary decision taken yesterday in the context of Standing Order 30? Will the Leader indicate if Government influence brought to bear? The decision to which I refer was very strange. What happened yesterday was similar to what occurred when I tried to raise a matter under Standing Order 30 some years ago. At that time, I was informed that the matter in question was not one of national importance. While I was raising it, however, the then Taoiseach, the late Mr. Charles Haughey, was on his feet in the Lower House declaring a national emergency.
I wish to comment on the agreement that has been reached between financial institutions of various kinds and the Government. This is a serious matter and I appeal to the Leader to ensure the details of this arrangement are laid before the House and that Members will be given an opportunity vote on them. I am of the view that a constitutional matter is involved and last night I took legal opinion in respect of it. I am informed that the Government cannot alienate its power to decide issues. I have also been informed that:
The Government seems to be saying that it is covered by some EU Regulation and is necessitated by the obligations of our membership. However, even if it is necessitated by the obligations of membership of the EU, it couldn't be necessitated by the obligation to sign up to a bailout so that doesn't protect the government at all.
It would be a very serious matter in respect of which a person would take a constitutional action. I am considering doing so but I must weigh in the balance the fact that this might be misconstrued as an attempt to protect my own ultimate political ambitions.
I make an appeal to Deputy Rabbitte, who stated in the Lower House and in various newspaper articles——
The Senator's time is exhausted.
——that in his view there is an argument to be advanced in respect of this matter under Article 29 of the Constitution. The Deputy may be the appropriate person to take the constitutional action to which I refer——
The Senator should respect the Chair by concluding his comments.
——and I hope he does so.
Decisions relating to Standing Order 30 are made by the Chair, not the Leader. I made the decision in respect of the matter raised yesterday.
Is the Cathaoirleach quite sure that is the case?
Will the Leader outline the current status of and progress on the issue of Seanad reform? Will any such reform take on board submissions to the relevant Oireachtas joint committees, especially where, in the context of fair procedures, issues of grave and significant importance have been raised? This issue is particularly relevant in circumstances where a person's character can be mocked in an unjustifiable manner.
I had understood that the Cathaoirleach had ruled on this issue yesterday and that it had been decided that the matter was not one which was susceptible to debate in the House. I am, therefore, astonished that Senator Callely feels free to raise it again, especially as the Cathaoirleach indicated yesterday that the matter was not an appropriate one to discuss in the House. Perhaps my memory is wrong but that is how I understood matters to stand.
I ruled on the matter yesterday.
In that event, will the Cathaoirleach indicate if it is appropriate that this matter should be raised again in this manner and in this House by the Senator in question?
I ruled on the matter yesterday when it was brought to my attention by the Senator prior to the Order of Business.
For the record and in light of the issue raised by Senator Norris, is the Cathaoirleach to confirm whether my question is in order?
That is in respect of the Joint Committee on the Constitution before which the matter was raised.
I am inquiring with regard to the question I just posed. Will the Cathaoirleach indicate whether my question is in order?
I ruled this matter out of order yesterday.
No, I am inquiring whether the question I just posed in respect of Seanad reform is in order in light of the point raised by Senator Norris.
The Senator has put a question to the Leader and it is a matter for the latter to reply, if he so wishes.
That is correct. However, another Member has inquired with regard to whether the question I posed is in order. For the record and for my own benefit——
It is in order to put a question to the Leader.
——I believe I am entitled to know whether, particularly in light of the point made by Senator Norris, my question is in order.
I do not know what entitlements the Senator would have.
Will the Cathaoirleach rule on the point raised by Senator Norris?
I issued a ruling yesterday on the matter raised by Senator Norris under Standing Order 30.
No, Senator Norris was asking about my raising this matter again.
Senator Callely is entitled to put a question to the Leader. He did so but I do not know what will be the Leader's reply.
For the record and in light of what Senator Norris said, I thank the Cathaoirleach for his ruling which indicates that I am in order. I accept the acknowledgement offered by Senator Norris in the form of a nod of his head that he accepts that I am in order. Did someone else make a comment?
No. The Senator should put a question to the Leader, particularly as his time is exhausted.
Will the Leader indicate how many temporary radio licences have been sought and the number that were granted by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI? I take the opportunity to congratulate the BAI on Christmas FM, which is back on air, Ireland's first radio station dedicated to the religious and secular festival of Christmas. Christmas FM is a charitable venture run voluntarily by professionals——
Time. Senator Callely has made his point.
——and all proceeds are in aid of Barnardos.
I assure the Cathaoirleach I do not wish to raise the tempo at all. It was incredible to hear Senator Boyle this morning state that both Houses will deal with the Dublin mayoral Bill. I have a question for the Leader arising out of it.
A question to the Leader.
The Leader may comment on the assertion that the legislation, the proposed Dublin mayoral Bill, will be dealt with by both Houses before dissolution.
Waste of time.
There was some comment about the utilities. Fine Gael, as I understand it, has no intention of disposing of the gas network or the electricity supply network, and that will not arise. That is merely by way of clarification.
In advance of the debate tomorrow, I have a further question to the Leader. Will a document be made available to Members on the proposed memorandum of understanding? I understood it might not be finalised. Is there some hint that there is a large section in it dealing with competition? There is some confusion about the totality of what it might contain.
In a general sense we have learned here this morning how important language is, and I am not going to risk anything. Verbal discipline is most important for all politicians. Politicians, of course, are notoriously not good at it but we need to be given the situation we are in and what Government, not only this one but its successor, must continue to deal with. I urge on all a degree of verbal discipline and restraint. It might do us good in the season we are in.
On a point of order, it is important that the matter be clarified. Apparently, a ruling has been given which may be misguided and could create a precedent that would be dangerous for this House. On the point I raised — I do not intend to insult or denigrate Senator Callely in any way — there is a technical matter. First, the issue into which he wandered, having appropriately raised the question of Seanad reform, was matters relating to his own court case, which is not finalised and on which, as was pointed out yesterday, there is conflict of interest which needs to be declared, and he was not raising a general interest. It would be important that the Cathaoirleach clarify that matter so that an unfortunate precedent is not created for this House. I make this point as a serious point of order and without malice.
To clarify, as I understood it, Senator Callely raised a matter on Seanad reform with which I did not have a problem good, bad or indifferent. He is entitled to do that.
On fair procedures yesterday, the Joint Committee on the Constitution has not issued any report on Article 15 of the Constitution. In fact, the deadline for submissions on review of the parliamentary power of inquiry under Article 15 of the Constitution is not until 3 December. If and when the committee places a report before the Seanad on this issue, it would be appropriate then to seek a debate on this issue.
Also, in the course of Senator Callely's contribution yesterday, he made a reference to investigations or inquiries being taken in private. As Senator Callely will be well aware, the High Court has reserved judgment on an issue of investigation by the Committee on Members' Interests of Seanad Éireann on Senator Callely's good self and the raising of this matter has a potential overlap with the current case before the courts, and I consequently ruled it out of order yesterday. That is the position.
I am leaving it and moving on to Senator Keaveney.
I am not taking any more on it from any Member. Members have contributed on the Order of Business and I am taking Senator Keaveney's contribution next.
——I am being denied an opportunity to raise a point.
I am not taking it now. There is the Order of Business tomorrow, if Senator Callely so wishes.
I am just——
No, I am moving on.
For the record, I am being denied the opportunity of raising a point——
I am not taking Senator Callely. I call Senator Keaveney.
——in light of what has been said.
I ask Senator Callely to resume his seat.
Sorry, I am seeking clarification. Am I being denied the opportunity to raise a point?
No. I am not denying anyone.
Therefore, I am being allowed to raise it.
I ruled. Did Senator Callely listen to what I said?
On a point of order, we are wasting a great deal of time on the Order of Business on one individual's issue, which is not appropriate for the Order of Business——
I ask Senator Bacik to resume her seat. I call Senator Keaveney.
——and which is before the courts.
I am concerned at the lack of progress in dealing with real issues in this House. As was alluded to earlier, we spent much of the time on the Order of Business yesterday and it left less than an hour for the serious issue of an all-island sex offenders register. We ran out of time when only the main spokespersons had got a chance to speak——
Barely got to speak.
——or barely got to speak, and I do not think it will be any different today. It is an issue I have been raising constantly to try to get it on the agenda and while it was put on, we got to speak for approximately two minutes, in which time no one can speak in depth.
I have three issues today. How do we get the business here as concise as possible in order that we get to deal with real issues? How do we get the media interested in what we do, other than a little bit on "Oireachtas Report"? It seems that unless one is allowed to raise the matter on the Adjournment and one can get it aired on local radio stations, or one gets to speak on the Order of Business——
A question to the Leader, please.
I am asking the Leader how do we make ourselves more relevant.
The Leader will reply to that matter.
Of the two other issues, one is that there is snow on the ground outside and on the roof of Leinster House, and on our television screens at home in Donegal. I ask the Leader for a debate and to bring the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources in here.
I ruled on that matter yesterday.
It was ruled that I could raise it as an Adjournment matter, but I had an Adjournment matter down three times.
I had three Adjournment matters down on this issue and they were not accepted because I had used the words "the North" in them. If I put the words "the North" back into it, let us have a discussion about how the digital switch-over from analogue on the island of Ireland will work.
The Leader will reply to that matter.
I must play the game in terms of how I get issues raised here.
The other issue I would like to debate is not FIFA but corruption in sport. It is about allegations in Ireland——
I ruled on that matter.
There are allegations of corruption in sport in Ireland. I would like a debate here on whether we need an international agency——
Senator Keaveney's time is up.
——to examine corruption, match fixing and other associated issues.
Senator Keaveney's time is up. I ask Members to respect the Chair when their time is up.
I support Senator Keaveney in calling for a debate on the way we order business in this House. It is most inappropriate that one Member should dominate the Order of Business raising an issue——
Questions to the Leader——
——which is currently before the courts.
——not across the floor.
I ask the Leader for a further debate on prison conditions. We had an excellent debate on this House on foot of requests from myself and Senator Cummins on prison overcrowding. Unfortunately, there is another damning report, this time from the prison chaplains, about conditions in our prisons. It emphasises to us the need to keep this under constant review and to keep putting a spotlight on it because the conditions in the prisons remain appalling and inhumane.
I want to alert Members to the fact that I will be facilitating a seminar tomorrow with the Irish Penal Reform Trust in Room A of LH2000 at 12 o'clock. We are looking at penal reform in the context of the budget and how we can both save money and develop a more progressive penal policy with less reliance on prison.
I also ask the Leader for a debate on the Student Support Bill 2008 or for clarification as to when the Bill is likely to come before the Houses. This is a Bill on which there is consensus towards which the Union of Students in Ireland, USI, has been working, and many have been looking for it to be passed. Senator Prendergast has rightly pointed out that the Government is well past its sell-by date but there are a small amount of legislation, such as the climate change Bill and the Student Support Bill 2008, on which there is consensus and there would be support, and which need to be brought before this House as a matter of urgency. I ask the Leader for a timeframe on that.
I am sure all Members of the House would like to join me in expressing great sadness at the report that an elderly individual died as a result of hyperthermia in north Cork, having slipped in a field on going out to check on his cattle. It highlights the serious problems people face all around the country as a result of the bad weather conditions.
Some time ago I asked the Leader if the Minister for Justice and Law Reform could provide us with an assessment of the so-called dissident threat on this island. Last night's interception of a viable mortar on the northbound carriageway of the M1 outside Dundalk brings to attention again the activity of these people as they essentially attempt to challenge and undermine the basic precepts of the Good Friday Agreement. This is nothing less than an attack on the Good Friday Agreement, which underlines the legitimacy of seeking a united Ireland but also recognises the legitimate majority wish of the people of Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK. This attack is about assailing, assaulting and breaking down that fine balance and the statutorily recognised wish on both sides of the Border. This is an extremely serious situation and I ask that the Minister come to the House to give us his assessment. Recently, a Member of the Opposition described the banks as having done more damage to the economy than the IRA. This may be true on a national basis but along the Border the economy has been damaged consistently over the course of the Troubles and there is a real danger that this damage may be inflicted again on the local economy. It cannot be overestimated how serious a threat this is and how bad it is for me to hear the name of my town, Dundalk, in the same sentence as "viable mortars". It undermines the confidence of the place. No right-thinking person in Dundalk supports this or could possibly conclude that this has ever been of any benefit to the area. It involves a tiny minority of people who enjoy no support except within their own ideological bubble. This House has to uphold the Good Friday Agreement which has been in place since May 1998. There is a danger that as time passes its validity and strength could be corroded. These people are recruiting. There is a younger generation which needs to hear from this House an assertion that the Good Friday Agreement is the future for relations between the North and South.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Justice and Law Reform to come to the House as a matter of urgency to deal with the matter mentioned by Senator Dearey and others this morning? It is important that we have a debate on the activities of dissident terrorists who are a threat to every single person in the country. I express my gratitude to the members of the Army and the Garda who last night defended the State.
These are not Irish people worthy of support. I appeal through the Leader that this House stand up for the sovereign will of the people, which is to be an Irish nation proud of who we are. These people are terrorists and they should not be supported in any shape or form.
I also call for a debate on the Leader's programme for January. This morning, Senator Boyle sent out mixed messages. Will the Government be dissolved in January and will an election be called or will we continue until March or April? It is very important that we know this because the Green Party is half in and half out of government.
Senator Fitzgerald was right in what she stated this morning. The Minister, Deputy Gormley, used the word "asylum" in the other House last night and not in the context of refuge. His language was wrong. It conveyed the wrong message and sent the wrong signals to the people. He is sitting at Cabinet and is one of a chosen few in a privileged position. If he wants to be in Government he should be in Government but if he wants to have self pity and be concerned about self-preservation then he should go out and face the people like he said he would.
I also listened to Senator Boyle's contribution this morning with interest. I am an optimist but there is a fine line between optimism and fantasy and delusion. If Senator Boyle thinks he will get all of that legislation through and still go to the country in January he has another thought coming. I suggest he examines the legislation on which we can all agree. As my colleague, Senator Bacik, stated we can agree on the Student Support Bill and the climate change Bill. At this stage, we must prioritise legislation. The House does not have too much longer left in its life and we need to move on and get through what we can.
On a separate note, I was disappointed listening to the contributions of some of my colleagues on both sides of the House. I do not know whether it is the smell of sulphur in their nostrils but the behaviour of some Members was childish and unbecoming of them. I ask them to consider their contributions in the time we have left in the House. I ask the leaders of all parties to have a quiet word in their ear so we can retain the standards of the House.
I join Members in complimenting the Garda and the Army for their efforts last night in intercepting a mortar bomb going towards the North.
On numerous occasions, I have warned in this House about the threat of dissident republicans and last night was another example. We must root out these people. They have no mandate in this country and they are a threat to democracy and to the institutions of this State.
In 2006, the then Minister, Michael McDowell, unveiled a new fingerprinting system to link up with British and other European police forces to detect immigrants illegally claiming social welfare. It was due to be operated by civil servants as part of an integrated system linked to ports and airports which would detect people using different identities to travel, particularly between Britain and here, to claim benefits. Civilian staff were hired by the Garda and expected to use the system. However, the 50 staff in question at the Garda National Immigration Bureau refused to operate the system, stating it was a job for gardaí. They sought more money and a greater allowance for the work. With more than €20 million spent on the system, it remains inoperable since 2006. The Croke Park agreement was established to end this type of practice and increase flexibility and productivity in the public service. Where is the progress when we see practices such as these continue in the public service? We need to get real about reform if we wish to drag ourselves out of the mire in which we are at present. I call on the Minister for Justice and Law Reform to come to the House and explain why he has allowed this situation to continue for so long. His predecessor, Mr. McDowell, stated the system would help strengthen the effectiveness of the immigration system and more rapidly detect and deal with identity abuse. Four years later, we have had no progress. It is not acceptable to have this happening when we need every penny we can get into the system and when we need to curb abuse occurring in the social welfare system.
The deliberations of this House generally do not get great exposure in the media and I have always felt one of the main reasons for this is that we tend to do our business and deal with issues in a very serious manner. Very often, this does not attract attention except when we go into controversial areas. I have always felt this was a pity because there is much debate in this House which if it received exposure would help the public debate in the media at the same time. Senator Hannigan is right in what he stated this morning. There is a danger in the last months of the House that we might sully the very image which we had in the past. We should be particularly careful in this regard.
I do not believe the Minister, Deputy John Gormley, intended to be offensive; perhaps retrospectively one could state this. I think what he was demonstrating was the huge pressures on anybody in public life at present. It is not the most comfortable place to be and this applies to every politician in every party in the country. It would do us much good if we were to continue in the way we did in the early years in the House, particularly for the remaining months. On a few occasions, recommendations have been made on the Order of Business that we set aside time to put forward whatever policies we wish to put forward and be prepared to listen to each other. At the end of the day, the general public will not be pleased with us if we waste the time we have, particularly during this crisis. I do not think anybody here intends to be offensive to each other but at the same time if it continues in the manner we have had in recent mornings most of us will become somewhat disillusioned. It is not edifying or constructive and it is not for what we entered public life.
I would like clarification on a point. I wanted to raise an issue on domestic violence and women, and on the fact that today is international AIDS day. A correlation of this is the minimum price of alcohol and the amount of destruction and the number of public offences caused by very cheap alcohol. I also want to discuss the desecration of women and the number of women abused when they are pregnant for the first time. However, I am afraid that if I ask for such a debate I will not receive an answer because I do not know how the schedule will be ordered.
The other issue I wish to raise concerns a situation I encountered while I was out canvassing recently. I called on a family and found them in darkness in their house because they could afford to pay their ESB bill. They had not fed their children for two days. We are in a cocoon in the House and yet we find people here are self-serving and just talk about themselves. I find this insulting to people and the conditions in which they live in the broader community. The family I visited are people who are paying their mortgage and consequently going without food and electricity. I urge the Leader to make this House relevant so that we connect with the people in society who suffer most.
I am saddened by the story Senator McFadden has just shared with the House, but that is the reality we face today. We need to look at the real issues affecting people's lives. In that regard, the 5.8% interest rate negotiated by the Government for the people will make matters worse. It has protected the elite and status quo in Europe. An interest rate of 5.8% is untenable. This will necessitate €8.5 billion interest repayable by Irish people in 2014. Fine Gael is right to look to renegotiate that deal. I recommend we tear it up because we cannot afford it. Why does the Government want to commit more families to darkness and starvation? The Government's actions now say it is not acting for the Irish people. The deal acts against the people.
I have three questions for the Leader. Why did the Government not use its negotiating power to force the ECB to account for its role in allowing French and German banks recklessly lend to Irish banks? That was the source of the trouble. I think the Government negotiators were desperately poor negotiators. The question should also have been asked with regard to the ECB's role in saying the blanket guarantee should be given on that fateful night. The Government had it in its hands to hammer home a great deal for Ireland, but it blew it. Why was a new beet industry not a precondition of the negotiations? The European Union has stated that our beet industry was wrongfully closed. The Government has done a damn bad job for Ireland and I am disgusted. We must change this. It is very undemocratic that the Government would not open the issue to debate and a vote in both Houses.
The Senator's time has concluded and she has made her points. I call the Leader to reply.
We should debate and fix it in the House.
Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Prendergast, Boyle, Dearey, Buttimer, Hannigan and Cummins congratulated the Garda and the members of the Defence Forces on their vigilance and on the interception of the explosive device being carried in a car. There is no place for such activity in our country. As Senator Dearey said, it is of the utmost importance that we uphold all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement. After 12 years, it has changed the island of Ireland. I join in the congratulations to the Garda and the Defence Forces. We are fortunate to have such vigilant forces to defend us against the small group that is trying to hold the country to ransom and return us to the dark old days.
I support the comments made by Senators Fitzgerald and O'Toole on World AIDS Day. Ireland has done and will continue to do its fair share. Senator O'Toole also raised the issue of the Communications Regulation (Postal Services) Bill. We are all aware there is a significant number of amendments to the Bill. Committee Stage will continue until 5 p.m. and will resume on another day if not concluded. I have no difficulty in that regard.
Senator Prendergast asked about the Nurses and Midwives Bill and whether it would be completed before the elections. She also asked about the report produced by Dr. Hillary and expressed her concerns with regard to freedom of information. I will pass on her strong views to the Minister, particularly her views with regard to freedom of information.
I also asked about the Student Support Bill.
Senator Boyle and others asked about the mental health Bill due to come before the House. I have no difficulty with that. We will have a meeting on forthcoming legislation tomorrow and following that I hope to have up to date information on what legislation will come before the House before Christmas, taking into consideration the various events over the past ten days. I will update the House next Tuesday on the Order of Business with regard to what business will be on the agenda up to Christmas. I hope to get the agreement of the Leaders to sit at noon next Tuesday because it is budget day and to take our sos at budget time in order that all colleagues can attend the Dáil for the budget.
Senator Coffey asked about the Dublin mayoral Bill and asked what the position was with regard to the Government's support for small community enterprises and SMEs in general. We should make strong points on this issue in our all-day debate tomorrow, particularly with regard to matters that pertain to the EU agreement. We must ask what funding will be allocated towards support for job creation and for growth. If we do not have growth, we are in a steady race to the bottom. All of us with experience of small family sized businesses that have been providing employment for a long time know that support for the 800,000 employed by SMEs and for small and community enterprise projects must be the priority of whatever Government is in office. I know Senator Coffey is genuine and sincere in the points he made. If we do not receive clarification on this issue in our debate tomorrow, I will seek to have time allocated again or will appeal to the Leaders to use Private Members' time to tease out how we can create growth immediately. Rhetoric is no good. Nothing matters except the creation of growth in the economy.
If we achieve growth, changes can be made and hardship such as that outlined by Senator McFadden can be relieved. Nobody wants to be part of a Government or Oireachtas or local authority that allows people remain in that terrible plight. Officers in the HSE could certainly help the family she mentioned and I will talk to Senator McFadden after the Order of Business to see whether I can help her relieve the plight of that family in her constituency. It is appalling situations such as this should happen in our country at this time. My heart goes out to that family.
Senator Leyden reminded the House that the new register of electors will be in place from 15 February. It is of the utmost importance that young people will have a vote in the next general election and we should ensure that the election is after 15 February in order that they will have the opportunity of exercising their vote. I join the Senator in congratulating Shane O'Brien on being made young ambassador of the year. That is a wonderful achievement.
Senator Norris raised the matter of the Fine Gael policy to sell State assets. That is a matter for the incoming Front Bench or Government, whichever it will be.
It will be both at the same time.
It is a matter for Fine Gael and perhaps Senator Norris should discuss it with the Fine Gael leader who can update him better than I can.
Senator Callely raised the issue of Seanad reform.
Will the Leader address other serious points I raised? I raised some serious points about the proceedings in the House and the question of the economy. I would be grateful if the Leader dealt with those rather than dealing with an aside.
The Leader has not finished yet. The Senator should wait until the Leader is finished.
We have a successful format here where colleagues can discuss issues with their leaders. Whips can also discuss with leaders the difficulties and proposals of Members. Then we can discuss those issues at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.
I would scarcely discuss the Leader's behaviour with Senator O'Toole. He is not a leader and I am a Whip.
Senator Norris should not interrupt.
The invitation is patent nonsense.
The Leader is replying to the Order of Business.
Senator Norris held a responsible position when he was a leader. I have no doubt he will be the future leader of his group when Senator O'Toole resigns.
As we do not have a leader, I am unlikely to fill that position. The Leader is obviously unaware of the philosophical concept of Occam's razor.
Pleae allow the Leader to continue.
All groups submitted their proposals on Seanad reform to the Minister and it now on his desk. I presume that if an individual wants to make a proposal regarding Seanad reform before the White Paper is published, the Minister will consider it.
Senator Callely asked me to find out the number of temporary licences granted to local radio stations. He also spoke about Christmas FM and the holy season of Christmas. I will revert to the Senator directly on the matter.
Senator Coghlan spoke about the debate planned for tomorrow. I will ensure whatever documents are available will be placed at the entrance to the Chamber for the debate.
Miriam O'Callaghan appeared to have them last night.
Once the Order of Business concludes I will speak with the leaders about the timeframe for the debate. I have left the entire day aside for it and if more time is required, we will resume the debate next week.
I also asked about the Local Government (Dublin Mayor and Regional Authority) Bill 2010.
Senator Keaveney called for a debate on analogue and digital television signals. I will have no difficulty in alllocating time for that matter. She also called for a debate on corruption in sport. I will see what I can do to facilitate such a debate.
Senator Bacik sought a debate on prisons, an issue which we debated last week, and outlined her strong views on the matter. Yesterday I made a commitment to Senator Mullen regarding the prison chaplains who had expressed forthright views on the prison system and I fully support their plight. I will do all I can to see what the Upper House can do on this urgent matter. Senator Bacik also asked the timeframe for the Student Support Bill 2008. I think it is only a matter of weeks.
This Government has only weeks left.
Senator Cummins spoke about the Garda National Immigration Bureau and the length of time it takes to deal with social welfare fraud. I will pass his views on to the Minister for Justice and Law Reform for a response.
Senators Hannigan and Ó Murchú spoke about maintaining standards and the quality of debate in the Upper House. I am sure we all would agree with their comments. In fairness to my colleagues, most of them are exemplary in respect of their contributions to debates. From time to time, one or two Members become overly anxious about what they think is a promotion to the Lower House. Having been a Member of both Houses, I assure Senators it is an honour and privilege to serve in either. The level of debate in this House is a shining example for any parliament anywhere in the world. We deliberate and carry out the affairs of this House in the interests of the people.
Senators McFadden and Healy Eames spoke about domestic violence and the minimum price of alcohol. They are pushing an open door with me in regard to abuse and the minimum price of alcohol and I have no difficulty in facilitating a debate at the earliest opportunity.
Senator Cassidy appeared confused when I mentioned the principle of Occam's razor. For his information, the principle prohibits the hypothetical discussion of the non-existent.
On No. 2, the Communications Regulation (Postal Services) Bill 2010, will the Leader indicate whether he proposes that we will only take Committee Stage?
We will take Committee Stage until 5 p.m.
Not Report Stage.