The Order of Business is No. 1, Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2010, changed from Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) (No. 2) Bill 2010 — Second Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and conclude not later than 2 p.m., if not previously concluded, on which spokespersons may speak for 12 minutes and all other Senators for eight minutes and Senators may share time, by agreement of the House, with the Minister to be called upon ten minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage for closing comments; No. 2, Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (No. 2) Bill 2010 — Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 3 p.m. and conclude at 5.30 p.m.; No. 3, statements on the current position on the Croke Park agreement, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 36 and conclude not later than 9 p.m., on which spokespersons may speak for seven minutes and all other Senators for five minutes, with the Minister to be called upon ten minutes before the conclusion of the debate for closing comments; and No. 36, Private Members' motion No. 18 re fish quotas, to be taken at 5.30 p.m. and conclude not later than 7.30 p.m. There shall be a sos for one hour between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Order of Business
Last year, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party voted to end the Christmas bonus that gave those in need a helping hand to prepare for Christmas and buy essential food and clothes for the holiday period. We were told the country could no longer afford the bonus but that if there was the slightest possibility money could be found, the bonuses would be paid. We know now those bonuses will not be paid this year to people on social welfare, but what has emerged by way of a parliamentary question tabled by one of my colleagues is that we have a culture of bonuses being paid across the public sector. What is the response of the Deputy Leader to what has emerged today regarding the more than 100 officials in the Department of Finance who receive bonuses? Do the Green Party Ministers support the culture of bonuses and what action have they taken in that regard? Did they know about these bonuses or has it come as a surprise to them today? The situation is a reflection on the kind of Government we have had in recent years. We get only a drip feed of information on this culture and use of public money.
Yesterday when I raised the issue of the AIB bonuses, I asked what else was happening that we did not know about and what other behind the scenes agreements existed over which the Government was presiding. One day later, we have clear evidence about what has been happening. People want political reform and they are disgusted by what they hear with regard to bonuses at a time when those who are most vulnerable face cutbacks. I said in the House last week that the budget needed to be fair and equitable. What we have heard today demonstrates there is no culture of fairness or equality in the Government.
In passing, I would like to mention how the House was dealt with yesterday.
The debate on the Social Welfare Bill was guillotined in the House, contrary to what had been promised earlier.
To be fair, we complied with what was agreed on the Order of Business yesterday.
We were misled. We were told untruths. That is how——
We are on today's Order of Business now. What happened yesterday is different.
It was typical, however.
We continually hear from the Leader that he never guillotines a debate on a Bill. That is nonsense; he does it all the time.
He did it yesterday on most important legislation involving serious decisions. We were only allowed discuss four out of 15 sections of the Bill. That is a disgraceful way to treat the House, does nothing to enhance the reputation of the House and raises serious questions about how business is conducted here.
We expect and are used to AIB helping itself to money to provide bonuses and that atrocity has been exposed in the past week. However, the idea that public servants, those in the Department of Finance in particular, should be at the same racket is extraordinary, because these public servants are the guardians of the public purse.
Of all the Departments in which this should happen, this is the worst because the Department of Finance is the one that distributes and controls the money. It makes decisions on how money is spent and about social welfare and so on. Now we find that hundreds of thousands of euro are going into the pockets of some of these departmental officials on the q.t. It was done quietly and we knew nothing of this. Thank God Deputy Fergus O'Dowd has exposed it, otherwise we would never have known. There is no transparency in the Department of Finance and it is helping itself to public money. How can the Government defend not paying Christmas bonuses to people on social welfare when the Department is helping itself to this money?
I do not accept the explanation which has been given that we should not be concerned because the bonuses are only going to those at the top. It is extraordinary that this should be the plea made, that it is all right because the bonuses are going to the fat cats in the Department of Finance and elsewhere in the public service, that we should not worry because we are not giving it to the guys at the bottom, only to the guys at the top. What more evidence do we need that there is a silent compact and bonus culture shared between people at the top in the banks and people at the top of the public service? It is not just there. Many times in this House Members have exposed the fact that this culture exists at the top of semi-State companies. It came out in the response to Deputy O'Dowd's question as well that there are people being paid hundreds of thousands of euro in performance bonuses which they do not merit and in some cases where their semi-State is making losses.
Is the Senator looking for a debate on this?
I am certainly looking for a debate on this. I know the Deputy Leader, because of his past history, will be sympathetic to this. We need to know what the hell is going on in the Department of Finance. It has been a kind of secret Department and its activities have been covered in secrecy for many years. Its mandarins appear before Oireachtas committees but give us no information. Now we know why. It is because they are lining their pockets with taxpayers' money and giving themselves up to €200,000 in performance related bonuses. Those in the Department of Finance deserve no performance related bonuses because it is the worst performing Department in the State. It is the Department that has us in the absolute mess we are in.
Let us see the Minister for Finance, who rightly intervened in the situation with regard to the bonus culture within AIB this week, intervene with regard to the bonus culture within his Department and ensure these bonuses are stopped. If he can stop them in AIB, he can stop them in the Department. If they have already been paid, he can get them back. He can dock their pay next year, if necessary, to ensure the Exchequer gets back what it is entitled to.
The Department of Finance reported today that one of its officials took part in 16 trips abroad with the HSE skills training fund. These trips included Australia and New York, and some of the trips took place over the week around St. Patrick's Day. An audit has found that there was no particular reason for these trips. Let me inform the House of the situation in some of our hospitals this morning where front-line staff have been cut and the Minister refuses to lift the moratorium. As of 8 a.m. today, 35 people are waiting on trolleys in Beaumont Hospital, 17 in the Mater, and 49 in Cork University Hospital.
Does the Senator have a question for the Leader on the Order of Business. Does the Senator want a debate?
There is a legitimate cost to this. In Limerick Regional Hospital, 17 people are awaiting beds, five in South Tipperary General Hospital, nine in Waterford and 26 in Galway. This amounts to quite a number of people awaiting services. These people are sick, have been seen by a doctor and are awaiting beds at a time when millions have been spent on trips abroad to conferences on issues such as change management which are widely available in Ireland. The people awaiting hospital beds are ill. More than 100 people in the Department of the Minister, Deputy Lenihan, have received bonuses, a fact referred to by other Members on the Order of Business. It begs the question as to what is our priority.
Last night, the Leader, who never guillotines the debate on a Bill, did so, thereby denying us any right to debate and discuss very important issues and the opportunity to discuss the most negative Bill that has come to the House in my time here and possibly in the history of the country. That is no way to do business. It is my experience that in the week following the budget, the agenda is stuffed in order that there is no time for debate on serious issues. The Government seems to be trying to stop proper discourse in the House from having a legitimate outlet whereby people can say what they need to say. It is because those on the Government side cannot listen to what we want to say. Members on the Government side, as human beings, must be finding it very difficult to look at the system operating here, where the most disadvantaged in society are suffering because of budgetary decisions that have yet to hit them.
Yesterday, in the debate regarding the "Prime Time Investigates" programme, commentary reflected what was seen on the programme. I remind the House, however, that the care givers and companies that provide services such as these are not all bad. There are some excellent companies in the private and public sector. I would like that to be acknowledged.
At a time when job creation is a mantra, I want to speak about job retention.
Does the Senator have a question?
I wish to ask about job retention on a grand scale. Quinn Group provides 6,000 jobs in Ireland and internationally, including 1,400 jobs in the area of County Cavan that Senator Wilson and I represent. Quinn Insurance, which has been in administration for more than six months, has drawn up an independently verified plan with its banker, Anglo Irish Bank, to keep the business in local ownership and save Quinn Group. This plan can work but Government intervention is needed before it can be progressed. I call for an emergency debate on this matter because if the pending purchase of Quinn Insurance by an international company is completed, Quinn Group will be in trouble and 1,400 jobs in County Cavan will be under threat. There are no bonuses in this area either in terms of employment or money. If these jobs are lost, the area will regress to the 1950s or worse. I urge the Deputy Leader to bring the issue to the relevant Ministers and facilitate a debate in this House. The plan drawn up by Quinn Insurance and its combined shareholders must be implemented immediately.
What is the Taxi Regulator doing? Yesterday I hailed three taxis in quick succession. I was trying to make an emergency appointment with my dentist but none of the taxi drivers had any idea where Synge Street was located. In London, every taxi driver has to pass a test of local knowledge. This cuts across any kind of prejudice because I have had good taxi drivers from various ethnic and linguistic backgrounds and I am not bothered by that. I would like to see decent taxi regulations. I would also like the regulator to observe the law of the land. The national car test should be honoured. It is ridiculous in this day and age to force people to get rid of perfectly good and mechanically appropriate vehicles simply because they are nine years old. Taxi drivers are under such pressure that 40 suicides have occurred among them.
As there is general consensus on bonuses and junkets, it is a waste of time for me to say any more about them. Instead I ask the Deputy Leader to inquire into the proposed 116000 telephone number for missing children. This is an EU initiative to which 13 European countries have already signed up but Ireland has not yet done so. The deadline is 25 May 2011, which is international missing children's day. Senator O'Toole and I have raised the issue previously on foot of urgent appeals from a man whose sister has been missing for number of years. The reason for our failure to implement the number appears to be because it has to be operated on a 24-hour basis, requires a high level of understanding by professional trained people and gives rise to cost implications. The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has made a formal application to the Government on the matter. It raises 90% of its funds and only receives 10% from statutory sources. It is being stymied because of a lack of funds. It is disgraceful that a small amount of money cannot be made available to assist the relatives of missing children and perhaps to find these children. I urge the Deputy Leader to ensure we live up to our obligation by the deadline of next May.
I join my colleague, Senator O'Reilly, in calling for an urgent debate on the future of Quinn Insurance and, by extension, the entire Quinn Group. As the Senator noted, Quinn Insurance was put into administration by the Financial Regulator more than six months ago. As I speak, 1,400 people in my native County Cavan and 6,500 people nationally and internationally are concerned about their futures. The Quinn family put forward a proposal that would repay Anglo Irish Bank more than €2 billion of the money it is owed over a period of seven years. I understand from media reports and information Senator O'Reilly and I obtained from concerned Irish businesses that the situation has changed over the past week and Anglo Irish Bank is now considering whether to take a partner into Quinn Insurance. If that happens, Quinn Insurance will be out of Irish ownership within months. The company's employees will lose their jobs and Quinn Group, which depends heavily on its operations working in conjunction with each other, will collapse. That is the reality. I am aware the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Smith, and his Cabinet colleagues have been working intensely on this for several months but we are now at the point of crisis. I call on the Minister for Finance to update this House on Quinn Insurance and the future of the entire Quinn Group and its 6,500 jobs.
Is it true that many of the bonuses now being paid out are part of the social partnership agreements? Were they agreed in the benchmarking negotiations that took place many years ago in order that compensation was paid in the form of bonuses unaccompanied by productivity targets rather than adding to already generous salaries? Social partnership brought many benefits in terms of industrial peace but we are beginning to see the downside. Senator Prendergast referred to the junkets around the globe that civil servants and union officials enjoyed as part of social partnership. Departments and local authorities have incurred unnecessary expenditure on partnership facilitation offices and officials designated to keep the peace at a huge cost to the taxpayer. The biggest farce of all is the payment of bonuses.
Three years ago, I raised the issue of the bonuses being paid to county and city managers and directors of services. When I was a local authority member, I could not find out why these bonuses were being paid or the productivity targets required for them. The truth is now coming out that bonuses were paid across the Civil Service as part of the social partnership agreements. At a time when bonuses are being cut for the most vulnerable and those on the bread line and graduates are being asked to work for nothing in schools and offices around the country, we want truth and transparency.
I note with interest the concerns expressed by my colleagues regarding procedures, fair or otherwise, especially for those who provide or receive services such as bank officials and the elderly.
I asked the Leader previously to review our structures to accommodate topical debate in our weekly schedule. I do not know what progress has been made with the other group leaders in that regard but will the Deputy Leader ensure that when the HSE concludes its investigation into the care of the elderly, we have a one or two day debate on the care of the elderly? If at all possible, will the Deputy Leader give me a positive response to my request for that debate early in the new year?
I draw the Deputy Leader's attention to a report in today's newspaper that a developer being pursued by a bank collapsed in court yesterday. This is not the only time that has happened. We all know the economic recession has broad implications and impacts on individuals in a variety of ways but there are serious consequences on mental and physical health. I take this opportunity to congratulate my colleague, Senator Mary White, on the good work she has done on mental health. There are clear indications of an increase in self-harm and suicide. It is very regrettable and it is impacting on every parish and almost every family.
In light of the concerns about suicide, will the Deputy Leader arrange a debate on it? I take this opportunity to pay tribute to those involved in suicide prevention, such as Samaritans, which is doing a tremendous amount of good work at this time.
I join colleagues in expressing my annoyance at the guillotining of the debate on the legislation last night. We all agree that rushed legislation can potentially be bad legislation and I hope it does not come back and bite the Leader. We should have allowed much more time for that debate.
I was surprised to read about the performance bonuses which will be paid to many people in the public sector. As somebody who comes from the private sector, I would be very surprised to see these bonuses paid as a matter of course. I have no problem with bonuses being paid when they are performance driven and when the individuals have added value in the course of their work. However, a bonus should not be paid to somebody as a matter of course, and many people would agree with me. Will the Deputy Leader look into this? One gentleman will receive a bonus of €200,000. That will be particularly distressing for those who have lost the social welfare Christmas bonus. That one bonus is equivalent to 1,000 social welfare Christmas bonuses. It is most unfair and is not the way we should operate. The Deputy Leader is a good man and I ask him to pass on the concerns of myself and other Members and to see if there is a way we can claw this back.
I too am appalled at the thought of bonuses being paid at this time. I am all for performance-related remuneration but I am afraid that in advance of a complete reorganisation of the public sector and the implementation of established efficiencies, I do not agree with the payment of bonuses. I hope the Deputy Leader will raise the matter with the Minister for Finance.
I wish to bring another important issue to the attention of the House. I received a letter this week which I gather was a direct mail shot by a company called Elite Financial Marketing Limited in which it was trying to source investors. Presumably, there is some kind of a broker house in the UK seeking investors in various stocks and shares. The letter stated in bold red letters "FACT: Dublin's debt is expected to soar from 25% of GDP in 2006 to 110% in 2012, meaning the country will be officially bankrupt." That is absolutely incorrect.
On the day the United Kingdom is contemplating legislation to give support to this nation, the Deputy Leader should make contact with the office of the British ambassador and ask that he raise this issue immediately with this so-called Elite Financial Marketing Ltd whose letterhead states it is regulated by the financial regulator and data protection commissioner in the United Kingdom. It is disgraceful in the extreme that anybody would preside over a direct mail shot of this kind at this time. To state that this country is bankrupt is fundamentally incorrect. For Deputy Burton to say this country is banjaxed, to call it an economic corpse or to use any such language is seriously damaging.
The people can justifiably look to the future with hope. I said many times that I have confidence in the resilience of this nation, irrespective of who is in government, and it is disgraceful in the extreme that this so-called Elite Financial Marketing Limited is allowed access to the people and to put lies in writing. Will the Deputy Leader make contact today with the office of the British ambassador to raise this disgraceful abuse of access to the people?
I felt sick to my stomach when I read this morning that more bonuses were to be paid to officials in the Department of Finance. I was on the train from Galway yesterday when a man from Ferbane in the Cathaoirleach's county said to me that many people are hungry but are too proud to ask for help. We then see that this Government continues to work undercover and behind our backs. As Senator Fitzgerald asked yesterday, how much more of this sham is going on?
Is the Senator looking for a debate?
What did these officials in the Department of Finance do to deserve these bonuses? Will the Deputy Leader ask the Leader to outline what specific tasks they did over and above their duties to deserve these bonuses? I will persist on this matter because it is very important. When others are going hungry, some people are selectively favoured. It is wrong and I am glad to hear Senator MacSharry speak against it. Until there is complete reform, there will be no trust.
Will we debate the IMF-EU deal? If not, why not? This deal defines our identity nationally as well as internationally. I fully support the Fine Gael position to renegotiate the deal within the parameters agreed when in government. We should renegotiate it for better terms for the people who are suffering at the hands of the Government.
The Senator has made her point.
Job creation and the protection of existing jobs will have to be our focus at all times because it is the only way we can lay down a foundation on which we can have further economic recovery. I accept the drip, drip revelations from the banks and other areas will occupy a considerable amount of our time. However, there is a danger that the job creation issue will get sidelined because of that. Nowadays it is big news if 100 new jobs are created.
Senator O'Reilly and Wilson raised a very important point in regard to Quinn Insurance and, by extension, the whole Quinn Group. We are not only talking about 1,400 jobs but possibly about 6,000 in all. At least with the Quinn Group, there is an infrastructure in place. Apart from the difficulties which arose, there is a track record and a huge loyalty among employees, the community and, in many ways, among customers. If there is a plan it should be discussed and we should be seen to give our time to ensure it is fully examined. If, because of the extension of investment, the whole system collapses on us, as far as the Quinn group is concerned, what is the point of talking about job creation if we let 6,000 jobs slip through our hands? This would have been a priority for discussion in this House in the past but, unfortunately, because of the other issues, time is being consumed in other ways. I fully support Senator O'Reilly and Senator Wilson. It should be an immediate requirement of this House tomorrow to discuss the issue of the Quinn Group. Even though the House has a full schedule we have to find time to discuss an issue such as this.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that the House debate the EU-IMF bailout today and that the Minister for Finance would come to the House for the debate. This is the Upper House of the Oireachtas and it is incumbent on us to debate this matter and either oppose or pass it by vote of the House.
I also ask for the Minister for Finance to come to the House today. As Senator Fitzgerald said, the Christmas bonus payment for social welfare recipients was stopped and today it is reported in the newspapers that a bonus culture exists within the public sector at the higher and upper level. Can the payment of this bonus be justified at a time when the country is in an economic recession and when the House yesterday passed one of the most severe Bills ever, the Social Welfare Bill? It is extraordinary that the Department of Finance, the Department that got it so wrong with every single figure and which has presided over the demise of our financial institutions and our economic wellbeing, sees its officials being rewarded. Like Senator Healy Eames I ask why they are being rewarded.
The Deputy Leader in his contribution on the Social Welfare Bill suggested a debate on reform of the political class. Like Senator Boyle I believe the Minister did not go far enough in the budget. He did not inflict a severe enough pay cut on all of us. Ministers and the Taoiseach can afford to take a pay cut far more than can the ordinary citizen and so also can Members. The Government did not do enough in this regard and I would like to know why.
I record my abhorrence at the latest revelation about bonus payments. I commend Senator Coffey for his efforts in trying to get to the bottom of why such bonuses will be paid to people who are, after all, in the public service. The notion of a bonus payment being provided in the public service seems to be a dreadful contradiction, a kind of thinking that may have its place in the private sector and even there we have seen the dangers of such bonus culture. However, it is almost impossible to conceive of the two being linked, bonuses and the public service. I wonder if when the Minister for Finance was referring yesterday to the problems that partnership threw up, he was thinking of this particular arrangement as he spoke, although I know the revelations came later than that.
I ask the Deputy Leader to provide some certainty on the introduction of the Construction Contracts Bill. Senator Quinn was hoping it would be before the House by Christmas but it looks now as though that will not be the case as this is a congested period for legislation. This morning on my way to the House I saw a picket on one of the new service stations on the M1 outside Dromiskin in County Louth. A subcontractor had been driven to desperation to the point that he blocked the entrance to the service station with his diggers and heavy machinery in an effort, I presume, to make the point that he had not been paid. I am curious to know if the Minister for Transport would be willing to comment on whether the contractor who built those service stations demonstrated a clear ability to pay before the contract was awarded. This issue must be addressed through the construction contracts Bill. Certainty of payment is critical and especially in contracts awarded by State agencies.
I second Senator Buttimer's amendment to the Order of Business.
We heard this morning and learned from the comments from both sides that the bonus culture is alive and well throughout Ireland and that it is particularly healthy in the public sector. This is very difficult to understand. I call for more transparency and accountability. I am particularly concerned about the NAMA bankers. I have spoken in the House on previous occasions about people employed in banks by NAMA on an agency basis. These are often senior executives who signed off on impaired loans and they are still managing these portfolios. However, now I have learned that NAMA is directly hiring senior executives of banks on extremely generous terms with bonuses and other incentives. There is significant comment in the industry about this practice. These people are managing to obtain two years' pension contributions for each year of service. This could be a further scandal. I ask that it be revealed what performance incentives and what bonus and pension arrangements are available for these people. We are all making a contribution, hopefully, to society and everyone is hard-pressed. What is happening is incredible. It needs to be corrected but there needs to be openness and transparency. This is scandalous and the Minister needs to lift the lid on these NAMA bankers. We need to know what NAMA and the National Treasury Management Agency are doing. They are excluded from the moratorium, they are allowed to do it but it should not be cloaked in secrecy. As another speaker said, if there is a genuine case for something, it is understandable but this is very hard to comprehend and appreciate.
The 1932 Fianna Fáil Government under Éamon de Valera came into power at the beginning of the Great Depression in Europe. What marked that Government out as successful was that Éamon de Valera started by saying that because of the financial crisis at the time, nobody should be paid more than £1,000 a year. This was a lot of money at the time. That Government went on to ensure that as much as possible there was fairness and equity. These times are not as bad as the Great Depression but this is the most serious financial crisis that this country has faced since then. It is probably not appropriate that bonuses are paid at this time. I ask the Deputy Leader to make a request to the Minister to see if arrangements could be made under the Croke Park agreement for an examination of the bonus structure.
I support Senator MacSharry's call in connection with Elite Marketing Limited. This company has produced a document which states that Irish investment houses and advisers are being heavily incentivised to keep money in Ireland. This is a very serious statement. The company must back up that statement or else withdraw it because of the impression it gives abroad about this country. What it says matters. Things can take flight and words have meaning and they are damaging the economy. I suggest that Elite Marketing Limited be brought to book for what it is suggesting about the economy.
I support the call by Senator Buttimer for a debate today on the IMF and EU deal. It is extraordinary that we are not debating it in this House, given that it is being debated in the other House and all around the country. The parameters of the deal are well known to everyone but there has been some excellent critiques of the deal and it is very important that this House would have an opportunity to critique it. Those of us who oppose it and have argued for a renegotiation of the terms of the deal need to be able to put on the record of the House our concerns and why we think a better deal can be obtained elsewhere and what is wrong with this deal. I refer to an excellent paper from Afri which critiques the deal and which states that not only does it diminish Irish democracy, which it clearly does, but it also locks Ireland into a deflationary neo-liberal economic policy regime. Alternatives have been put forward by respected economists and I have put those alternatives on the record of the House. However, we need an opportunity to debate the terms of the deal today. Listening to Senator MacSharry, it is extraordinary also to hear the Government still accusing the Opposition of talking down the economy when it has brought down the economy and brought in the IMF and the EU. It has diminished democracy and locked us into this deflationary spiral about which representatives of Afri spoke so eloquently. It is wrong of the Government to continue to accuse the Opposition of talking down the economy in some ridiculous sense.
I ask for a debate early in the next term on the plight of the survivors of the Magdalene laundries. It is a month since the Irish Human Rights Commission issued its report and we have still not received a coherent Government response to the very serious call for redress for the survivors of Magdalene institutions. They have had no official acknowledgement by the State of the terrible wrong done to them as it was done to the victims of so much abuse in residential institutions.
I am also concerned about the bonus culture. We all have a responsibility to ensure that our salaries should be the payment we get; bonuses should not be part of any arrangement in today's thinking. I support the call for a discussion on the bonus culture, which is wrong and should be eliminated from our thinking.
I support Senator Dearey on the Construction Contracts Bill. I have raised the matter many times and many subcontractors have contacted me to ask about the up to date position. I know Senator Quinn is working very hard to try to bring it on board very quickly.
I ask the Deputy Leader to arrange a debate on agriculture. As we all know ICOS and the Irish Dairy Board have played a major role over the decades in promoting jobs, Irish products and Irish farm produce throughout the world. The recently published Food Harvest 2020 report warrants considerable debate in this House and I ask the Deputy Leader for a debate on it in early January. Included in the report is the piloting of new product streams and it outlines where we can put in resources to pilot new products in Europe and beyond. This is a growth area and one of the few areas in which we could see an expansion of products and jobs which are much needed at this time. It also proposes a smart research and development approach with the Government, the co-operatives and companies investing in research and development. This is a growth area for the country and could be the catalyst for the country to take off again. The co-operatives have played a major role and there is a bigger role for them to play in coming decades. I ask the Deputy Leader to impress on the Leader the need for a debate early in the new year particularly on the Food Harvest 2020 report.
I ask the Deputy Leader to find time in the coming session for a debate on the annual competitiveness report. This is very pertinent having listened to Senators Ó Murchú, O'Reilly and Wilson talking about the retention of jobs. The jobs will not be retained unless we are competitive and the report published this week is worthy of a debate here. If we are to succeed in increasing jobs, they will not be jobs that will be created but jobs that will develop because we are competitive. We will need to depend on being able to compete with others. In recent months I have gone around the country and met owners of small and medium-sized enterprises who are determined to survive despite having a very tough job. Particularly with the bad weather of recent weeks a number of hotels, restaurants and shops will have considerable difficulty in surviving. However, the way for them to survive is through being competitive. We will not be able to solve our problems by creating jobs; we will solve them by being competitive and the jobs themselves will come from there. Let us have a debate on the report on the National Competitiveness Council, which contains proposals on which we can take action immediately.
Senator Fitzgerald raised the issue of bonuses being paid to officials in the Department of Finance, on which she was joined by Senators Ross, Coffey, Hannigan, MacSharry, Healy Eames, Buttimer, Dearey, Coghlan, Hanafin and Ormonde. I believe there are two points that reflect the seriousness every Member of the House feels on the matter. First is the failure that allowed such a system to continue which, I believe, arose on foot of a 1994 agreement indicating that several successive Governments failed to tackle this culture. Second, there is also a failure on behalf of the people accepting such bonuses. In the present climate we should have a bonus-free environment. None of us can understand the circumstances in which bonuses can be paid or accepted in the current situation. Many Members made the comparison with the social welfare Christmas bonus having been stopped last year and not being paid again this year. Of course the principle is true but one does not replace the other. If we stopped all Civil Service bonuses it would only be a drop in the ocean towards replacing the Christmas bonus for social welfare payments. However, it is not possible to argue against that in terms of social justice and we need more information on the existence and payment of these bonuses. There needs to be a commitment on the part of all concerned — the State as the payer and those in receipt of them — that this is not a practice that should be taking place now.
Senators Fitzgerald, Prendergast and Hannigan brought up the question of the handling of the Social Welfare Bill yesterday. It is the practice that this House tries to debate in as much intensity as we can all legislation. The time pressures on current legislation are such that a decision needed to be made yesterday and it was made in the context that on Committee Stage ten sections were simply opposed and there was only one amendment proposing the publication of a report. The House is very circumscribed as to what amendments can be made to legislation such as the Social Welfare Bill. No less time was spent on this year's Social Welfare Bill than was spent in any previous year. Members of the House will have a further opportunity to talk about their ongoing concerns on social welfare decisions during the debates on the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill and the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (No. 2) Bill. I ask Members to use that opportunity if they wish to put further concerns in this area on the record of the House.
Senator Prendergast raised the issue of the HSE skills training fund, which is a matter of ongoing investigation. Many Members are concerned about the use of that fund and the involvement of State agencies and social partnership organisations which seem to have misused this money, and we await the judgment on that investigation. She also asked for a debate on home carers to which the Leader has already acceded. I believe another Member also made such a request.
Senator Norris raised the question of the Taxi Regulator and the knowledge of taxi drivers in the area in which they are providing a service. This point will be brought home. I believe there is probably too much reliance on satellite navigation systems in cars and the actual knowledge of how to get from place to place seems to be lost on many new drivers in particular. That point will also be made known.
Senators O'Reilly and Wilson supported by Senator Ó Murchú raised the issue of job retention in Quinn Insurance. On this issue, we should be led by the experience of other changes that have taken place in insurance companies such as PMPA which was taken over by AXA Insurance or BUPA insurance which was taken over by Quinn Insurance. The idea that there should be a transfer of employment, as far as is practicable, in the locations where these businesses are based is an important economic point. The Financial Regulator is acting on the basis of the financial viability of particular organisations. In the past this is something that the Office of the Financial Regulator has not done particularly well. That particular balance needs to be got right.
Senator Callely spoke about the need for procedures for the taking of items of topical debate, which the Order of Business tends to be most days. He asked for a debate on the incidence of suicide, to which I believe we can accede.
Other requests for special debates included one from Senator Bacik for a debate on the Magdalene laundries, from Senator Burke for a debate on the agribusiness sector in terms of the Food Harvest 2020 report, and from Senator Quinn on the National Competitiveness Council report. We should try to fit the debates requested on all these areas into our schedule in the coming weeks.
Senator MacSharry raised the disturbing question of mailshots of the portrayal of Ireland from the city of London in terms that can only be described as economic sabotage, and his raising of it was backed by Senator Hanafin. The need to bring the concerns of the Members of this House to the British Embassy as to how these nefarious business practices can be stopped and put in a proper context is a point that was well made and one that will need to be followed through.
Senators Healy Eames, Buttimer and Bacik asked for a debate on the EU-IMF deal which will be debated in the other House today. The reality is that many aspects of that deal already required votes in this House. We would have dealt with legislation in recent days which included aspects of that deal and which were voted on. The vote in the Dáil is not a legally required vote but——
That is a matter of dispute.
——it is a matter that will have importance attaching to it. The reality is that when people are talking about negotiations, and I have no difficulty in having further debate on this in the House, I pose the question, renegotiations by whom? An impression is being given that somehow the people who have negotiated on behalf of the State, namely, the Governor of the Central Bank, the Financial Regulator, the chief executive of the National Treasury Management Agency and the Secretary General of the Department of Finance, will somehow be replaced by another group of people, perhaps political people who would debate differently and decide differently on behalf of the State.
A new government.
No interruptions, please.
Senator Bacik is not there yet.
The implication of asking for a renegotiation is, I believe, an implication of the vote of confidence in those very people. Those are the same people who would be negotiating on behalf of the State in any subsequent renegotiation.
We do not know that.
People should be more honest about it. The idea is that this has been a politically controlled situation; it has not. This has been a technocratic, technical negotiation.
Is that all it was? Is the Deputy Leader seriously saying that?
The Senator is not allowed to interrupt. The Leader is replying to the Order of Business.
The reality is that this country has to access money and if it does not do so by this means, the only other means is on international money markets at twice the rate secured, if not more. Any economic planning that is based on accessing money at twice the cost we are getting under this deal must be honestly admitted by those who are calling for a renegotiation.
That is very wise.
It was a bad deal.
Senators Dearey and Ormonde called for debate on the Construction Contracts Bill which was introduced in this House by Senator Quinn. The Senator has advised the House that this is a Bill of increasing complexity and he is dealing with the Office of the Attorney General to try to resolve those difficulties and bring it back to the House at the earliest opportunity. There is one difficulty in terms of certain legislation, Private Members' legislation in particular. There seems to be an attempt to slow down the progress of such legislation too often by a requirement that a Bill must be examined in all its aspects before it is introduced in this House and the other House. It is not understood often enough by an agency such as the Office of the Attorney General that this is the place where those complexities should be teased out. The Bill does not need to be perfect before it is introduced. This is the Chamber in which there is an attempt to make it stronger and improve it. I hope that message can be got across, that any further unnecessary delay can be stopped and that the Bill will come to the House at the earliest possible time.
Senator Buttimer has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business that a debate on the EU-IMF programmes of financial support to Ireland be held today. Is the amendment being pressed?
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Bradford, Paul.
- Burke, Paddy.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Coffey, Paudie.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Cummins, Maurice.
- Fitzgerald, Frances.
- Hannigan, Dominic.
- Healy Eames, Fidelma.
- McCarthy, Michael.
- McFadden, Nicky.
- Mullen, Rónán.
- Norris, David.
- O’Reilly, Joe.
- O’Toole, Joe.
- Phelan, John Paul.
- Prendergast, Phil.
- Quinn, Feargal.
- Ryan, Brendan.
- Twomey, Liam.
- White, Alex.
- Boyle, Dan.
- Brady, Martin.
- Butler, Larry.
- Callely, Ivor.
- Carroll, James.
- Carty, John.
- Corrigan, Maria.
- Daly, Mark.
- Dearey, Mark.
- Ellis, John.
- Feeney, Geraldine.
- Glynn, Camillus.
- Hanafin, John.
- Keaveney, Cecilia.
- Leyden, Terry.
- MacSharry, Marc.
- McDonald, Lisa.
- Mooney, Paschal.
- Ó Brolcháin, Niall.
- Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
- O’Brien, Francis.
- O’Donovan, Denis.
- O’Malley, Fiona.
- O’Sullivan, Ned.
- Ormonde, Ann.
- White, Mary M.
- Wilson, Diarmuid.