The Order of Business is No. 1, Climate Change Response Bill 2010 — Second Stage (resumed), to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and adjourn at 1.30 p.m., if not previously concluded, on which spokespersons may speak for 15 minutes and all other Senators for ten minutes and Senators may share time, by agreement of the House; No. 2, Road Traffic Bill 2011 — Order for Second Stage and Second and Subsequent Stages, to be taken at 2.30 p.m., on Second Stage of which spokespersons may speak for ten minutes and all other Senators for seven minutes and Senators may share time, by agreement of the House, with the Minister to be called upon at the conclusion of Second Stage for closing comments; and No. 33, Private Members' motion No. 18 re Government initiatives to support export-led growth. The business of the House shall be interrupted between 1.30 p.m. and 2.30 p.m.
Order of Business
Now that the farce we have seen in the past week is over, it is time to get back to business. The Minister for Finance is considered by many to be an eloquent speaker. However, instead of sounding silver-tongued in the past 24 hours, to many Fianna Fáil backbenchers, he seems to speak with a fork tongue. Rather than play silly buggers with Fianna Fáil backbenchers the Minister must continue to come to the House and let us know what is going on in our economy. We are now in a very serious crisis but it seems this Government has forgotten where its priorities should lie.
Is it possible to invite the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, to the House? In six weeks' time there will be no inpatient mental health services in County Wexford. The Minister promised alternative day hospitals and community psychiatric teams for the county but none has been delivered in the way she promised last September. In spite of all the concerns raised about the those services mental health services are not being upgraded throughout the country in the way expected, as promised by this Government. I ask that the Minister for Health and Children be invited to the House to explain why she has failed so completely in her commitments and promises to the most vulnerable people in our society.
Regarding mental health, in response to a private Members' debate yesterday on the part of the main Opposition party the Minister made a statement in the Dáil to the effect that VHI could save 10% of its costs. This is the most significant statement in some time concerning savings that could be made for people. The increases in VHI costs, to which we referred last week, need to be addressed. If the Minister knows of ways in which there might be a reduction of 10% it would be greatly useful and practical to have a debate in the House on the subject. I do not refer to the kind of debate in which the House would have a go at the Minister but to one in which the Minister would have an opportunity to outline the ways in which such a reduction could be implemented, to which Senators could respond and develop. It is very important and relevant because from next month people will receive increased bills from VHI.
Regarding the meeting today between the leaders of both parties in government might the House be given a precise outline of the legislation which both parties intend to have passed? This is crucial.
That was given last week.
I see Senator Boyle smiling. I ask this in all seriousness. The efficient way to do business is to conclude matters.
The Seanad knows my views on that matter. Rather than hearing how long the legislative programme will be and what will be added to it let us hear everything on the list today. For example, will the political relationship with the Green Party survive? We have not heard the Fianna Fáil position. Apart from economic and financial Bills are there other matters about which we do not know? We need to know the cut-off point in terms of legislation so we may know where we are going. We can work the timing out for ourselves and rush or slow down matters as we wish.
That information was given last week.
I can assure the Leader——
Senator Coghlan was given that information last week.
I will comment further on that later.
I can assure the Leader that wherever two Senators are there also am I. The fact that I was not present does not mean I did not follow the information provided. If it had been clear last week there would not be a meeting this morning in order to sort out certain points.
I want to know exactly what will be discussed. The other side of the House is very defensive. I do not say this in a critical manner——
Senator Norris should not——
On a point of order, the Leader has referred repeatedly to the actions of a Member——
That is not a point of order.
It is a point of order and perfectly legitimate. I ask the Cathaoirleach to rebuke the Leader.
No, it is not a point of order.
The Cathaoirleach usually does so. This is extremely important. It is a matter of the Standing Orders of this House which the Cathaoirleach should implement.
Senator O'Toole is putting a question to the Leader who will reply to it. He has interjected to say that he outlined the matter last week. I did not see anything wrong in that.
It is about more than that.
If the Leader knew more last week than the Taoiseach or the other party leader that would be an important point for this House to be aware of.
We would still have no hope.
What we need to know is whether the Leader told the Taoiseach and the leader of the Green Party what we are all going to be doing for the next two months.
I agree with the previous speakers. Following the farce of the past few days and the result last night of the internal vote within the Fianna Fáil Party it is essential we know the date of the general election and the legislative programme the Government intends to see carried out within its remaining term of office. As Senator O'Toole noted, leaving us in the dark about this and not providing clarity is not only an inefficient way to do business but is undemocratic. To leave people in this uncertain position is to treat them with contempt. We do not know whether the Government will continue for three, four, six or eight weeks — there are now references to April and May. We need to know this. Members are hearing this point across the doorsteps when we canvas, in Dún Laoghaire and throughout the city and the country. We are hearing from the people of their desire for stability and certainty and, above all else, their desire to get this Government out. Therefore, I call on the Leader to give the House an indication of when the election is likely to happen and what is the legislative programme for the remainder of the term. We know there is a meeting taking place between the coalition partners so if he cannot give us that indication today can he at least tell the House when he will be able to provide it? Might he be able to tell us tomorrow, after the result of today's discussion? We saw the Leader last night on television, standing directly behind the Government Chief Whip on the plinth, in a position of great prominence.
I am not too worried who was standing behind whom on television.
I saw that too.
I am simply making the point——
Questions to the Leader, please.
There were many Offaly people there too.
——given the Leader's influence, I would expect him to be in a position to tell the House, at least tomorrow.
Give him a chance and he will reply in due course.
I would be grateful if there were a specific reply because it is undemocratic to leave us in this state of uncertainty. It is also very bad for the economy. International investors are slow to invest in Irish business at this point without knowing when this Government is likely to go to the people or when the next government is likely to take office. We need certainty.
Will the Leader also clarify a matter I raised last week, namely, why the Bill to prohibit female genital mutilation is not contained for publication in the legislative programme? I understand it is imminently ready for publication and should be published this week. As the Leader is aware, that date is some months after the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, had promised publication.
I also ask the Leader for a debate in the House and for the Minister for Health and Children to come to the House to say what she intends to do about the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of A, B and C in December. It is essential that legislation be passed to give effect to that decision. I want to hear from the Minister about this. We need a debate with her as to what she intends to do as thousands of women travel abroad for medical terminations they should be able to obtain in this country.
I agree there is a need for greater certainty but the setting of an election date remains the constitutional prerogative of the Taoiseach. Regarding the business of this House and, by extension, the other House, the Green Party does not believe an election should be held later than during March. We do not see an election happening in April, May or June.
I am grateful for that information.
We believe the business of both Houses should be ordered accordingly and that the last business of this Oireachtas should be the passing in this House of the Finance Bill. Our hope is that a more detailed legislative programme can be agreed in the interim.
The Leader may have meant well last week when he responded to my question on the remainder of the legislative programme but clearly his response was not comprehensive because it did not list, for example, the Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. I note Second Stage of that Bill is to be heard in the other House tomorrow. We will not call that an error.
It is a big plus.
Yes. However, as other speakers noted a meeting is taking place today between the Taoiseach and the leader of the Green Party. The Leader should give the House a proper comprehensive update tomorrow because last week he did not have the right information regarding legislative priorities.
Senator Twomey mentioned the need for the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, to come to the House and update Members as to how we might surmount the cost to the economy of the interest rate set by the EU-IMF's so-called bailout by achieving a reduction in that rate, if possible. It appears that little or no progress was made on this matter at the recent meeting the Minister attended in Brussels. Perhaps the Leader might arrange a very early debate on that matter.
We are all aware of the significant developments that have taken place in information technology. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on information technology with a specific focus on the significant benefits that certain IT mechanisms can give the commuter. We have seen some of these benefits on Luas and DART services, with information provided that is very important. If a commuter has information on the running of Luas and DART services, especially timing and arrival of vehicles, it would be a very important step.
Included in such a debate should be an issue that has been on the schedule for a considerable period, the roll-out of real-time information for Dublin Bus commuters. Enormous benefit arises from the automatic vehicle identification location units which were meant to have been rolled out some time ago. There is also great benefit for the car commuter arising from traffic messages on displays and information panels. There is also a gamut of other associated matters related to information technology, such as integrated and single ticketing and so forth. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on these developments as quickly as possible.
I have asked the Leader about the following topic on a couple of occasions. May we have a debate on domestic violence and could briefing documentation be circulated on the procedures and supports currently in place that are associated with domestic violence?
Yesterday I sent my best wishes to Senator Ross and it would be very discourteous of me not to send my very best wishes to Senator Bacik, a colleague on the university panel, and to Senator Alex White. I wish them well in the upcoming election.
What about the rest of us?
I would wish the Senator well but I do not believe he has declared for the election.
I have declared.
Then I send my beneficence to all the Senators.
There should be questions to the Leader. We are not into good wishes to anyone standing for election.
Does the Leader agree that we are very honoured that the Irish chief of the human rights agency in Gaza, UNRWA, Mr. John Ging, has taken up a very important post with the United Nations in the US? This man has done us an extraordinary honour in his courageous and dignified work in a very difficult position in Gaza.
Speaking about courage and dignity, I have watched with great interest the leadership contest that has gone on. It would be no harm for us to have a debate on civility in politics as this was an example of the way the process should play out. I am not commenting on the personalities but the process was done with considerable dignity, with a discussion of the leadership while dealing with issues and treating the respective parties with courtesy. I speak as someone who remembers very clearly the Haughey heaves when the atmosphere was extremely different. A number of the people from Fianna Fáil who spoke during this period kept indicating that this is a new kind politics and they were trying to deal with reality. I hope and believe they were, and I would like to believe this would be extended throughout the body politic. It is very important that whatever our differences of view, we should treat each other with respect. Only if politicians treat each other with respect and conduct campaigns in a dignified way will we regain the respect of the public which, unfortunately, we have lost.
Human rights and the United Nations are very strange bedfellows. I hope anyone joining the organisation will chart a genuine human rights formula for the UN. Any organisation like the UN that speaks with duplicity and out of one side of its mouth purporting to promote human rights while from the other side seeking the killing of the unborn definitely brings its credibility into question and disrepute.
Is the Leader prepared to indicate when Senator Feargal Quinn's Bill will be restored to the Order Paper? It is an excellent Bill and it is essential it is passed without further delay. Many people in my constituency have been caught badly by main contractors going into liquidation or receivership and, as a consequence, their business, livelihood and employees have been left high and dry. I commend Senator Quinn on this essential legislation which should be passed without further delay.
I have raised previously the issue of legal fees in tribunals. I am sure other Members will join me in my dismay at reading the amount of money that the Curtin case has cost. There is a report of €1.9 million having been spent, with the case about to be adjudicated upon, but I am told a further €2 million has already been paid on the case. It is shameful that someone can contest a position and ultimately resign, leaving the taxpayer to pick up the bill while the person picks up a pension. That is the kind of abuse of privilege we should not allow.
I urge Members and people working in the public service to be very slow to take cases to the High Court or Supreme Court which are run at the expense of taxpayers and which may not be well founded. Legal people will give advice on cases and often it is in their interest rather than ours. I put that note of caution, particularly for the day that is in it.
Fianna Fáil backbenchers now know what it is like to be misled by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, as he did on the leadership of Fianna Fáil. They should not be surprised.
That is not relevant to the Order of Business.
It is relevant to the question I will ask the Leader.
That is what I want to hear.
On a point of order, my understanding is that we cannot speak like that about Members of the other House who are not here to defend themselves.
Of course, we can. We do it all the time.
The Senator is being very polite.
It did not stop the Senator naming people yesterday.
The Senator's language was a little stronger.
Senator Regan to continue, without interruption.
They should hardly be surprised because the Minister misled his own Cabinet colleagues on the EU-IMF bailout and had them making a fool of themselves on national television, denying there was any talk of a bailout. I am thinking of the Ministers, Deputies Dermot Ahern and Noel Dempsey, in particular.
There should be a question to the Leader.
The Minister has misled the whole country on the economy since taking office over two years ago. He has misled us on turning the corner, bank bonuses, subordinated debt holders and on the EU-IMF bailout.
That is irrelevant. The Senator is making a political speech.
The Minister should make a statement on the following matter. There were reports last week that the ECB had urged the Government to take emergency measures and bring forward the budget for 2011. A member of the bank stated:
Markets waited and waited and since they saw no policy reactions they started to lose confidence in the course of the summer. There was a downgrade in August but there was no policy reaction, no announcement that a tough budget was in preparation and no announcement of the measures. The loss of confidence also affected the banking system and this created a spiral which led to the crisis and in the end, a request for financial assistance.
Portugal has been able to avoid the EU-IMF bailout but Ireland did not because the Minister did not act as he was urged to by the ECB.
The point is made.
The Minister should make a statement in this House on the matter to explain himself.
I ask the Leader for an update on the request I made last week and again this week, a request that was also made by my colleague, Senator O'Reilly, for the Minister for Finance to come to the House to answer questions on the Quinn Insurance group with headquarters in Cavan. The group also has employees in Navan, Blanchardstown and Enniskillen. As I outlined yesterday, I attended a meeting last Friday evening organised by Cavan Chamber of Commerce. It was a very interesting and well attended meeting and there it became quite clear that for nine months Anglo Irish Bank and representatives of the Quinn family have been engaged in consultations.
A proposal submitted to the administrators on 10 December has not been considered. It would result in Quinn Insurance remaining in Irish ownership, its 1,200 employees remaining in employment and the wider Quinn Group remaining profitable and sustaining 5,500 jobs, many thousands of which are in County Cavan, where I live, and neighbouring counties. It would also result in the State regaining the €2.8 billion it is owed by the Quinn family. Having been worked on for nine months with representatives of the Quinn family and Anglo Irish Bank, why is this proposal not being considered? Who is preventing it from being considered? I urgently request that the Leader call the Minister for Finance to the House in order that we can obtain answers to these questions.
Like me, Senator Ó Brolcháin will be aware of the closure in recent weeks of two iconic businesses, Zhivago music and the Cellar Bar, which have traded in the heart of Galway city for more than 40 years. These companies benefited from some of the greatest footfall available to businesses in this country. They were not fledgling businesses with inexperienced owners at the helm. On the contrary, they were operated by astute, experienced and hard working people. However, they were wholly dependent on discretionary spending. As was evident a couple of weeks ago in the case of Celtic Bookmakers, discretionary spending has virtually ceased because people are paralysed by fear and hopelessness. For the past ten days, while businesses have continued to go to the wall, we have endured the unedifying sideshow of a battle to determine who gets to stand on the bridge of the Titanic as it slowly sinks without trace. The owners of such businesses and their employees must feel betrayed by the Government.
Is the Senator seeking a debate on the matter?
I am about to ask several questions which I hope the Leader will take seriously. Does he see what is happening in the business world? Does he agree that a change of Government is required if any type of business recovery is to commence? I am heartened by the commitment given by Senator Boyle that the election will take place in March. It is a commitment to which I will hold him.
Several weeks ago, in a radio interview, Mr. Peter Bacon predicted that the growth rate this year would be 0% and that the country would experience significant job losses. That prediction appears ambitious. For the sake of citizens and businesses, let us have an election soon.
I concur with Senator Cannon on one point, namely, that Zhivago music and the Cellar Bar in Galway city are iconic businesses. Galway is not an exception as small business across Ireland are under major pressure. It is very sad to see iconic businesses close down, especially those which have been in operation for many years.
I call for a debate on administrative reform which, unlike political reform, is an issue the House does not frequently discuss. I note that a previous speaker called for a debate on information technology, an area in which Ireland has some of the best professionals in the world. I come from an IT background and I am aware that many Irish companies produce world class software for foreign governments. The systems in place here, however, are not up to the same standards, as much of the software produced in this country is for other governments. Form filling and endlessly providing the same information for various bodies create a significant overhead for businesses. A streamlined approach is required. It is preposterous to hear that taxing child benefit is not possible because systems are not compatible or computers cannot talk to each other.
We must upgrade our administrative systems. In doing so we would provide jobs and make life easier for small and large businesses and the system of government.
I agree with the sentiments expressed by Senator O'Toole on the need to be clear about what will be our programme until the end of this Seanad. We need to be as efficient as possible and achieve the maximum amount by the time the Seanad finishes.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the Leader, in the light of Senator O'Toole's remarks and specifically the statement made by the Minister for Health and Children in the other House yesterday that her advisers had produced a report showing VHI could secure savings in the payments it made to hospitals, to invite the Minister to come before the House to discuss a motion calling on VHI to postpone its proposed increases in premiums. It is appalling and wrong that ordinary people will face increases of 45% in their VHI premiums in six weeks. Until yesterday, the Minister had been strangely quiet on the issue of the proposed increases. The House should debate the matter and ensure action is taken. For this reason, I call on the Leader to bring the Minister before the House to discuss the report produced by her advisers and seek a postponement of the proposed increases in VHI premiums. He should accept the amendment and avoid a division on the issue.
Last night we saw how close the Leader was to the Taoiseach. I call on him to ensure we are given a date for the general election. This morning Senator Boyle indicated he wanted the election to be held at the end of March. On the other hand, his Green Party colleague, Deputy Gogarty, tweeted that he wanted it to be held on 11 March. Let us leave politics to one side. The people are punch drunk as a result of cuts, low morale and a lack of leadership and communication by the Government. They want a change in direction. Does the Leader agree such a change will only be achieved through a general election and the formation of a new Government to lead the country and its citizens towards recovery? It is time we had a plan for recovery.
Every so often we hear a positive tone in our debate. No one suggests the country is not experiencing the difficulties that have been alluded to and for many these problems are devastating. One only needs to consider the large number who are unemployed. I presume many Members receive queries from people who want to participate in training schemes, community work and so forth. Recently there has been a new focus on these matters as a result of Departments assuming responsibility for aspects of the work previously done by FÁS. There is also a degree of uncertainty about what precisely is available in this regard. Some very good schemes are available, including programmes directed at different age groups and people with different specialities, experience and requirements. It would be helpful, therefore, if the Leader were to invite the Minister for Social Protection to come before the House to discuss these schemes. Many of the potential sponsors of individuals participating in schemes are not aware of the guidelines for the schemes in question. During the years communities have come to depend on community employment schemes and many wish to participate in the excellent social schemes and programmes available. Most schemes have waiting lists and participants are required to leave after a number of years. Such limitations do not apply to the community social programmes which offer full-time positions. Many do not appear to be aware of these schemes. It would be helpful, therefore, if Senators had an opportunity to discuss them with the Minister for several hours. I hope the Leader will consider inviting him to the House for this purpose.
I support Senator Walsh's call on the Leader to do everything possible to ensure the Construction Contracts Bill is squeezed into our work programme. While the Bill is not large, it has major implications. I am not aware of anyone who does not want it passed. I am concerned it may fall by the wayside.
It was interesting to meet a man a couple of years ago who was in the wind energy business. He had stopped investing in Ireland and was now investing in Texas. He went to Texas looking for permission for his wind farm. He asked how long it would take to get permission for a number of windmills. He was told that he could come back on Wednesday and he would have permission. It took one week. This week I read figures that relate to Senator Ó Brolcháin's comments on administrative difficulties. Some 300 applications for wind farms have been made since 2007. Not one has been granted permission and no indication has been given on when the decision will be made. This is a €17 billion investment that is being tied up with red tape. I cannot believe it. It seems outrageous when other countries can do it. That man decided he will invest in the US rather than in Ireland for that reason.
On that basis, I congratulate the Cathaoirleach and the Oireachtas Committees on Procedure and Privileges following the recent publication of an Oireachtas document detailing savings. Following decisions of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission and the Committees on Procedure and Privileges of both Houses a number of instances of red tape removal and savings are listed. The savings amount to over €1 million. The daily editions of the Official Report of debates in both Houses and the committees will be produced in electronic format only. Well done. Dáil questions and replies will be published in electronic format only. Printers in Leinster House will be configured to print automatically on both sides of the paper unless requested otherwise. Staff and printing costs are to be saved by moving to a system of paperless committees during 2011. Congratulations are due to the Committees on Procedure and Privileges of both Houses for the opportunity to save money and save what seems to be a major amount of waste. I still have a hang-up. We receive the Order Paper in an envelope in our pigeonholes every day. I do not know why we need an envelope.
I do not think it needs to be delivered. If we are coming to the House, we can receive it on that basis.
It could be e-mailed.
There are many more savings to be made. The Cathaoirleach has taken the correct steps and we are going in the right direction but let us ensure we go further. We should go a lot further and not just in this House. Let us see if we can get wind energy up and running because €17 billion is a fair sum of money.
I support Senator Quinn in his call for the Construction Contracts Bill to be brought before the House before the Seanad breaks. I acknowledge the work done by Senator Quinn in progressing the Bill which is vital to the construction hardware sector in the country. I hope the Bill will be brought before the House.
I refer to the proposed cross-Border radiotherapy unit for Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry. On Thursday evening and Friday morning we learned that the Northern Ireland Executive and the Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety in the North indicated they could not proceed with the project because sufficient funds were not available to run this centre when constructed in 2015. The Irish Government has invested huge amounts of time, energy, effort and resources in terms of money to set up the capital end of the project and the running costs when constructed in 2015. The centre has received the approval and the financial commitment of the Irish Government. However, the business plan or model has not been approved by Stormont Executive. I am saddened by the lack of commitment from the Stormont Executive to this vital radiotherapy unit that will service the north west with a population of 300,000 people.
A political party claims to represent people on both sides of the Border. That party blames the British Government for this. When things are going well in the North, Sinn Féin claims credit. When things are not going so well, Sinn Féin distances itself from the decision and blames the British Government. That party cannot continue to talk out of both sides of its mouth. It is holding a public meeting in Derry on Monday night but any community group in the country can do so. If Sinn Féin is in a power-sharing Executive in the North, how can it distance itself from the decision of the Executive and the lack of commitment shown by the Executive? It is time Sinn Féin talked straight with the Irish electorate on both sides of the Border and stopped talking out of both sides of its mouth. I would like to see the Minister for Health and Children in this Chamber before the session is finished. This is a matter of major significance to the people in the north west. The Minister for Health and Children should come into the Chamber next week if possible. I have been in communication with her and the Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety in the North. The decision taken not to continue with this project is a sin and cannot be allowed to happen.
I formally second the amendment proposed by Senator Buttimer. I support the proposition made by Senator Wilson that the Minister for Finance attends the House because this matter concerns his brief and taxpayers' money. The Minister has direct responsibility and has the power to alter matters. He should address the fears, some of which may be groundless. Groundless or not, there are real fears and doubts surrounding the Quinn Group jobs in Cavan. Ambiguity surrounds the Anglo Irish Bank-Quinn Group proposal but the major priority is jobs. We want the question addressed and the Minister for Finance should come to the House.
On the same day, the Minister for Finance could make a statement in this House on the issue raised by Senator Regan. Although it was covered by the media, its gravity was missed because of the internal party issues in Fianna Fáil. Senior ECB personnel impressed upon the Minister for Finance and the Taoiseach in the middle of last year that bringing forward the budget and a public commitment to a stringent budget could head off problems for Ireland. This is beyond negligence when one thinks of the interest rates that ensued and the implications for the people when they look at the universal social charge in their pay packets. This is a case of sleeping on the job. This happened on the watch of the Minister of Finance and we need him to make a statement in this House on why he did not address the issues raised by the ECB in the middle of last year. He should also address the jobs issue at the Quinn Group.
Senators Twomey, Bacik, Boyle, Coghlan, Buttimer, O'Reilly and Regan outlined various concerns regarding the Department of Finance. The undertakings the Government had to deal with and the challenges it faced in the past two and a half years are unprecedented. Looking back on what was achieved, where we are today, and where we were under previous Administrations during downturns in the 1970s and 1980s, 5.7% is pretty high but is nothing like 17.7% when other parties were in office during downturns.
We never saw the IMF in the country.
I have every confidence. The Senators opposite are professionals. They might not be as expert in business as Senator Quinn, who is a most positive man. It is heartening for me to hear Senator Quinn talking about terrific proposals to enhance and create jobs. This House should dedicate itself in everything between now and the general election——
Where is the legislation? The Leader is blocking the legislation.
Senator Twomey cannot interrupt here like he did in the Dáil. This is the Upper House of the Oireachtas.
There should be no interruptions. The Leader is replying to the Order of Business.
The Leader is blocking the construction contracts legislation. He is contributing to the problem.
Senator Twomey and I have one thing in common. The electorate rejected both of us at the last general election.
I am humble enough to accept the decision of the electorate.
We are dealing with the questions raised on the Order of Business.
We should be dealing with the construction contracts legislation rather than making that sort of comment across the floor.
As the Deputy Leader, Senator Boyle, said, it is the prerogative of the Taoiseach to decide the date of the general election.
I should have mentioned to the House last week that there might be one, two or three more Bills for our consideration before the finance Bill is finalised in the House. It is welcome that the Bill Senator Coghlan mentioned was published and is now being taken in the Dáil.
I welcome the wonderful announcement made by Intel last week of the investment of a further €500 million in Ireland, leading to the creation of 850 jobs in construction and 200 long-term high-end jobs at its plant in Leixlip. What Intel has achieved and what we are achieving in Ireland is a dream come true. It could be considered we are talking about a race to the bottom in talking about the negatives, but this is a shining example of one of the most successful multinational companies in the world restating its commitment to Ireland, possibly for the next ten, 15 or 20 years. It behoves us in this House to welcome this magnificent announcement and acknowledge how uplifting it will be for all those young people who will get jobs in Leixlip.
Senators Twomey, O'Toole and Buttimer called on the Minister for Health and Children to come to the House to discuss the proposed increases in VHI premiums. I agree with them that the proposed increase of 45% in certain premiums is unacceptable, particularly given the state of the economy. I ask Senators who have a good deal of experience in this field such as Senator Twomey to talk to me after the Order of Business to see how we can assist the Minister in the matter. Senator Twomey and other colleagues have considerable expertise and experience which could be of great assistance to the Minister. Having asked her to come to the House to deal with the issue, I fully support everything that has been said by colleagues about the proposed increases by VHI.
Senators Callely and Ó Brolcháin raised the matter of information technology and placed the focus on upgrading systems. Senator Callely spoke about the benefits of using such systems for Luas and DART services and referred to the provision of real-time information for Dublin Bus services. The traffic radio service available each morning as motorists travel into town is also of great assistance. I congratulate all those who assist to monitor traffic flows in the city centre. I will pass on the views of the Senators to the Minister.
As I outlined yesterday, the number of debates and the taking of statements prior to the general election will be much reduced. As Members will note, there are six Bills for our consideration this week, with two to be taken each sitting day.
Senator Callely called for a debate on domestic violence. I will have no difficulty in allocating time for such a debate, if it is possible to do so.
Senators Norris and Walsh extended congratulations to that wonderful Irishman, Mr. John Ging, on his appointment to a position at the United Nations. I heard him being interviewed on radio this morning and fully support the Senators in extending congratulations and wishing him well.
Senator Norris congratulated the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party for the dignified way it conducted its affairs yesterday. I can only say it was very uplifting. The way forward is to conduct our business in a dignified way. In the end we will all come out stronger, as happened when Fine Gael had its difficulties. I have no doubt the same will happen with Fianna Fáil.
That is wishful thinking.
Senators Walsh, Quinn and Ó Domhnaill expressed full support for Senator Quinn's Construction Contracts Bill. I hope to indicate to the House tomorrow when the remaining Stages of the Bill will be taken.
Senator Walsh raised the matter of the legal fees in the Curtin case which are in excess of €3 million. It is difficult to understand the logic behind it. As the Senator said, something should be done about the matter as a matter of urgency.
Senator Wilson has once again requested the Minister for Finance to come to the House to discuss the Quinn Group, a matter also raised by Senator Reilly. As I said to Senator Wilson yesterday, it must be addressed seriously. The proposals made should be examined. The commitment of the Quinn Group to the midlands, particularly the north midlands, has been outstanding to say the least. Its level of investment in the area is unbelievable. Its commitment to pay the €2.8 billion owed to the State must be considered a serious offer from such a reputable group. I fully support it in that regard. I will consider if time can be allocated next week for statements to be made with the Minister present.
Senator Cannon outlined the difficulties facing the Zhivago music store and its sister company in Galway. I know the personnel involved and that they have made a tremendous contribution to the industry during the years. RTE Radio, Radio 1 in particular, could examine why, as Louis Walsh said, it is one of the few stations in the world that does not support Irish artists. I wish the Carroll family well in its endeavours and hope it can continue in business, as it has been the backbone of the industry in the western region.
Senator Ó Murchú called on the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Ó Cuív, to come to the House to discuss the matter of jobs, training, upskilling and community social programmes. We must ascertain the up-to-date position from the Minister for any person who is unemployed and wants to upskill or be retrained. I will have no difficulty in arranging such a debate.
Senator Quinn outlined that an investment sum of €17 billion in wind farm applications was available to Ireland. It was alarming to hear the Senator say they were not being processed. I will make inquiries in the Minister's office later today to see how I can progress the matter. The current position is completely unacceptable.
Senator Ó Domhnaill again called on the Northern Assembly to participate with the Irish Government in a specified project. He outlined that the Irish Government had given a commitment to provide capital funding for the development of a unit at Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry, the expected cost of which was £25.5 million. The proposed unit was due to be completed by 2015. The Minister for Health and Children has agreed, in principle, to provide a capital contribution towards the cost of the development and to make funding available for the provision of services for patients in County Donegal. She has advised the Senator that it is estimated that approximately one third of the patients in the new centre will come from County Donegal. In the draft business case for the project it is estimated that approximately 400 people from the county will require radiotherapy in 2015. This is a wonderful proposal and the commitment of the Irish Government has been second to none. I will certainly make inquiries to see how we can help the people of County Donegal following the Senator's intervention on the Order of Business this morning.
I asked the Leader a question, to which he has not replied. It was related to VHI and the Minister for Health and Children.
I have no say in what questions the Leader replies to.
On the ordering of business in the House——
No. I have no control over what the Leader says in reply to questions.
May I ask the Chair a question?
No. An amendment has been proposed to the Order of Business.
Can I ask you a question?
What is it?
On the scheduling of business today, does the Leader has an objection to asking the Minister for Health and Children to come to the House to discuss the proposed VHI increases?
No. An amendment has been proposed to the Order of Business by the Senator, "That there be a debate today with the Minister for Health and Children on the increases in premiums proposed by VHI." Is the amendment being pressed?
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