The Order of Business is No. 1, Communications (Retention of Data) Bill 2009 — Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, Bretton Woods Agreements (Amendment) Bill 2011 — all 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; and No. 2a, on the Supplementary Order Paper, motion for earlier signature, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2. There shall be a sos at the conclusion of No. 1 until 2.30 p.m.
Order of Business
No. 19 on today's Order Paper, Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Bill 2011, was printed on green paper and circulated in error last night. As it is a Seanad Bill, it will be reprinted on yellow paper and circulated later today.
It is almost surreal and farcical to be here today talking about business as if the Cabinet was not disintegrating before our eyes and there was not a last-ditch electoral power grab taking place in Fianna Fáil. The focus once again is on jobs for Fianna Fáil Members, not on job creation, about which the people want to hear.
It was extraordinary this morning to hear the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, state he had offered his resignation to the Taoiseach several weeks ago and, at the same time, acknowledge the serious work that needed to be done, yet the Taoiseach did not tell his partners in government about the resignations which it appears came as a surprise to the Green Party. It is the Green Party which created the conditions that allowed this to happen, through its extraordinary decision to have the general election called in January, only to change its mind subsequently and be indecisive about when it would be called. It is clear we need an election now, as what is occurring is extraordinary. It is demeaning to ministerial office to see what is happening today. It is demeaning to our democracy and politics. Most of all, it is outrageous——
That is Dáil business.
Yes, but it affects the Oireachtas which includes the Seanad. It is particularly outrageous for those who see money being taken from their wage packets to effect a bailout on foot of the bad decisions of the Government. It is outrageous for those who must pay more for VHI coverage and are losing their jobs. The Government is dysfunctional. Surely it is time the election was called, as we cannot continue like this. People believe what is happening is bizarre and extraordinary. It is simply unacceptable.
There is no question but that the House should discuss this issue, although I accept the Cathaoirleach's point that the Government is answerable to the other House. However, the political situation is causing incredulity and bemusement among ordinary people who cannot understand what is occurring. To have some knowledge, it would be useful to provide time to discuss events which we should consider in simple terms, without engaging in oppositional politics. Five or six members of the Cabinet indicating they will not run for re-election is not a problem.
It is grand.
It occurs regularly and there is nothing new about it. However, in our history, economic or otherwise, there has never been such uncertainty and instability as there is now. The idea of Ministers leaving the Cabinet a couple of weeks before a general election and being replaced by others who will hardly find their way into their new jobs before an election is not just incredulous, it creates further instability. The Taoiseach should note that the Cabinet members concerned are not running for re-election and tell them that they should continue in office and do what they were appointed to do until the election is called. That is what would normally occur and this situation is no different. It makes a mockery of what we intend to do. That a Minister would expect someone else at this late stage in the life of the Government to take over a Department and deliver in the next six weeks is not acceptable. It creates instability and causes further bemusement, adding to the cynical view of politics. The Taoiseach should be asked to reconsider. There is nothing wrong with Members not seeking re-election, but the Cabinet and Government systems should not suffer such a body blow.
The other night a lady asked me whether I believed Fianna Fáil's vote of confidence in the Taoiseach was part of an elaborate manoeuvre for the public, that something different would be done, people would be positioned in a particular way and look like they were resigning when they were not. I told her I did not believe even Fianna Fáil would engage in such an activity and that, in my experience, members of the party did not resign from public office unless they had to or were forced to do so. However, I am beginning to wonder. This is a shambles of unbelievable proportions and it is relevant to Seanad business, given that we will expect Ministers who attend the Chamber to deal with legislation in the coming weeks to show a certain amount of experience and application to the job.
Let us consider what has occurred within the Government. First, Green Party Ministers stated they were leaving. We must take them at their word that they will be gone by the end of March. The Minister for Foreign Affairs then resigned because he did not have confidence in the Taoiseach. Yesterday four more Ministers retired or deserted, depending on which word one wants to use. Another Minister retired this morning. Apart from the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste, this leaves seven members of the Government. Of these, the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Ó Cuív, has been throwing shapes in the past week or ten days as to his intentions, where he wants to be and what he believes should occur. It is difficult to believe he gave anything like a full-blooded endorsement to the Taoiseach. The Minister for Finance has been accused by members of his own party, not the Opposition, of engaging in the black arts in respect of what he believed about the Taoiseach and whether he should remain in office. By the time we get to the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport we are down to the last two or three Ministers who have given the Taoiseach the impression that they will stick with it. The Government is a complete shambles and falling apart in front of our eyes.
I would like to comment on the Taoiseach.
That is a matter for the Dáil.
Does the Leader agree with me? We are always asked to put what we have to say in the form of questions to the Leader, but he never answers them, as the Cathaoirleach knows.
That is a matter for the Leader. I cannot influence anyone.
For the purposes of procedure, I will put my comments in the form of questions. Does the Leader agree that what the Taoiseach has done amounts to a gross abuse of his important and solemn prerogative under the Constitution to appoint members of the Government? He stands accused of abusing this prerogative for naked political and electoral gain. He can chuckle away all he wants, as he did in the Lower House yesterday. Clearly, that is what he intended to do and what he is doing. It is a disgrace that he should be allowed to do so by Fianna Fáil or anyone else.
The House is not well served by Senators who ask every day for the date of the general election and criticise events in the Lower House. The situation will evolve and there will be a general election in a matter of weeks or a month or two. I have not met anyone outside the Houses who is concerned about the date, but they expect an election to be held. That commitment has been given.
They are Fianna Fáil councillors.
No interruptions, please. We are taking questions to the Leader.
It is not unprecedented for Ministers who have decided not to run in a general election to step down from the Cabinet and be replaced. It will happen again. It is important that those placed in Cabinet positions have the calibre and ability to do the job to make a difference for the country. That is what we need.
I again raise the issue of legal fees. Although a number of my colleagues have signed my motion on tribunals, no one opposite has. One of the greatest scandals in the past decade has been the exorbitant cost to the taxpayer of tribunals which were asked to investigate matters urgently. Thirteen years later, covering four terms of the Houses of the Oireachtas, they are still extracting money from the taxpayer and offering no results.
Under the Senator's Government.
It is a shambles and I have been critical of the Government for not taking action. We should take action. The tribunals were established by the Houses, not the Government. As leaders of their parties, Senators Fitzgerald and Alex White should take the initiative and support my motion or another one to bring the charade to a conclusion in the interests of the taxpayer.
The Government should do something about it.
What about the corruption that led to the establishment of the tribunals?
We have the tribunals because of corruption on the other side of the House.
Then we had the challenge to the Taoiseach.
Defending the indefensible.
Corruption is defended by Fianna Fáil.
Will the Leader arrange a debate as a matter of urgency on the Competition Authority report of December 2006? Most of its substantive recommendations have not been implemented by the Government. We need to remove the self-regulation of barristers and their fees which has led us to this crisis of exorbitant tribunal costs.
The Leader must accept there is total confusion. He is a good man to appear on the plinth, if not to make announcements, to be prominently associated with——
Questions to the Leader, please. We are not worried about who was on the plinth.
Neither am I.
He had councillors with him.
If we are not to have a debate on what is occurring within the Government as requested, will the Leader make a categorical statement on who is resigning?
Who will be appointed?
It has been mentioned that at least two other Ministers are resigning. One news station reported that someone had resigned, but this was denied by the Minister's office. Then there was speculation about another party. Are other Ministers offering to resign from the Government today and, if so, will the Taoiseach accept their offers? The resignations must be formally presented to the President. The Leader should, therefore, make a definitive statement to the House, if he will not arrange a debate on the matter. Perhaps the Taoiseach should take another course and go to the President also, given the number of resignations——
——and the fact that the country is anxiously waiting in general election mode.
The Leader did not give a detailed answer to my specific question on the Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2011 which seems to breach an EU directive and run contrary to the advice of Ireland's foremost bodies, including An Bord Pleanála, the IDA, Enterprise Ireland and Forfás. It also appears to be in contravention of the national recovery plan. Second Stage is to be taken in the Lower House today, but when will the Bill be brought before the Seanad? It is not in the list of legislative priorities as listed by the Chief Whip and repeated by the Leader in response to a question from Fine Gael. I ask the Leader to make a definitive statement this morning. Has it been transferred from somewhere and leapfrogged in to being given priority status?
I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Transport or the new Minister for Transport to come to the House later today to discuss the crisis in Aer Lingus. A total of 2,700 passengers are awaiting flights. Seventeen routes have been cancelled and 34 flights cancelled. The IMPACT trade union and the management of Aer Lingus should be brought together to resolve this issue. I regard this as national sabotage at this stage, with so many people unemployed and further jobs now being put in jeopardy. This cabin crew dispute is going on and on. The Government and the State have a major shareholding in Aer Lingus so we have a responsibility. Perhaps the new Minister for Transport, in his or her first act, would intervene in this dispute and try to bring both parties together to resolve this issue because it is a national scandal. Anyone who has been grounded at an airport waiting for flights knows how difficult it is. Jobs are being lost as a result and it is having an effect on exports, business meetings and other commitments. It is embarrassing, to say the least, for the State that a carrier such as Aer Lingus could land in this situation with 34 flights cancelled. I ask the Leader to use his position to contact the Government, the Minister of State with responsibility for labour affairs and the new Minister for Transport and to ask the Labour Court to intervene as a matter of urgency.
I have been a Member of this House a long time and have never seen government by pantomime but this is government by pure pantomime. I would expect Fianna Fáil in its worst hours to behave as it is doing, by asking, in effect, readying up Ministers to resign and filling those Ministries with others.
A question to the Leader, please.
Some years ago I would have expected a little more of the Green Party and I suppose it is no coincidence that the three Members of that party are not here this morning. I imagine they are in another cabal somewhere——
They are in a room.
——in another part of Leinster House ready to come out and whitewash the Government once again. We were told this morning on the radio that the Green Party was unhappy with what the Government was doing. The Green Party has been unhappy about many things for a very long time but it seems to be able to take some sort of special magic mushroom happy-happy pills which keeps it——
We are taking questions to the Leader. We are not dealing now with magic mushrooms or anything like them.
I am going to ask the Leader a question. The Green Party seems to stay on board. It was unhappy, so unhappy in November that it was going to force a general election in January. It was so unhappy last week that it was going to force a general election in March and so unhappy is it this morning that, presumably, it is going to come out and state it has examined its conscience and will allow the Government to go ahead and behave in this extraordinary way. I have never come across this situation before where any Minister who decides he or she will not stand in the next general election immediately hands in his or her resignation and there is a mass exodus when new people are put into office. I cannot understand this and the only explanation I can see is that the Government is disintegrating before our eyes, supported by an utterly lame coalition partner. No other coalition partner has ever behaved in this way——
Is the Senator asking for a debate on the matter? We cannot have speeches. The Senator's time has expired.
The Ministers must give a guarantee if they are coming into power that they will not use this very short period simply to appoint cronies to positions of power in semi-State bodies from their locality and from local Fianna Fáil positions.
The Senator has made that point already.
Once again, I am amused at comments by certain colleagues. Yesterday, the deputy leader of Fine Gael spoke on radio about the country being rudderless and heading for the rocks.
He then spoke about the excellent growth in exports and said that the country had a bright future. This morning, the Labour Party spokesperson in the other House commented on the health service. Her comments led me to believe she does not understand how the system works. She spoke about the Department and the HSE getting money for empty beds. She did not speak about service plans, the basis for working out service plans, nor case-mix. I could continue using these technical terms——
None of it is working.
——and lose my audience——
Her comments on national radio today might play to the public but it would certainly indicate to anyone with a bit of knowledge that she has no understanding of how the system works. I agree we are in turbulent times and that we need people in leadership roles at the head of every Department. I urge that no Department is left rudderless and that people are put in control who are knowledgeable and who have expertise. I have said before that we have a person as Head of the Government, a Taoiseach who has tremendous experience. He has been on the circuit for a period of time. He has knowledge and contacts and I believe he is putting the country first. I hope he will continue to do so and ensure we will have people as heads of Departments.
I wish to raise the problem of obesity. There has been an expansion in the number of fitness clubs and an increase in the number of people taking exercise. I refer to television programmes such as "Operation Transformation" and also "Count Me In". I congratulate the programme-makers involved with "Count Me In". This is a very important issue. People need to be advised when eating in restaurants about their calorie count and about allergen awareness. I recently visited the Bay restaurant in Clontarf which has one of the best——
Did it win an award?
Time, please, Senator.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on health and food promotion and food labelling. This is a very important subject which needs a debate.
The Callely intake.
I certainly know what to take.
We are back to GUBU days with the decision of the Taoiseach on forming a new Government a few weeks out from an election. The Financial Times refers to the Taoiseach as being toast. The Irish Times refers to the Government as heading for the knacker’s yard yet every effort is being made to delay the election and to delay the recovery of this economy and the image of this country, both domestically and internationally.
The ultimate GUBU event of this week is the inscrutable distinction made by Deputy Mary Hanafin between confidence in the leader and confidence in the Taoiseach. When does the Taoiseach——
The Senator should not make a political speech. I want questions to the Leader.
My question for the Leader follows. Last year, in the middle of the negotiations on the EU-IMF bailout, the Green Party pulled the plug on the Government and called for an election, insisted on an election, before the end of January. Now, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, is reported to have led a delegation to meet the Taoiseach yesterday, when they urged him to name a date for the election. The Green Party has the means to resolve all our problems, of ensuring a date is fixed for an election. It is within the Green Party's control because it has the numbers. I do not think the Green Party can side-step this issue any longer. Eight Cabinet members in total have resigned, for one reason or another. The important question is when will this election be called. People have to stand up and be counted. This is very damaging to the country, the economy and our international position.
Tomorrow is the anniversary of the First Dáil and the beginning of the War of Independence. The First Dáil met in the Round Room of the Mansion House with 27 Members present and 35 Members in jail. Those were challenging times.
These are also challenging times. We would do well to recall the founding principles of the first Dáil to give every child the opportunity to achieve his or her full potential in a free nation, regardless of the circumstances of his or her birth. We need to find our way back to these principles.
Today also marks the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's inauguration speech in which he advised us: "ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country."
Would the Senator do it now for the country?
When he addressed the Dáil in 1963, he quoted the following from George Bernard Shaw:
Some people see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not?
We should remember the principles of the first Dáil today as we try to find a way to give all of the children of the nation the opportunity to pursue the happiness to which they are entitled. It is a reflection on this and the other House that the events I describe will go unmarked.
Does the Leader agree that the events of the past 24 hours highlight the fact that the Government is no longer relevant? The people do not care about it; all they want is a general election. I concur with Senator Leyden that the most important issue this morning is the cancellation of flights and the image of Ireland being closed for business. The Government has disengaged and is no longer interested in the country. The Minister for Transport is half in, half out. I ask somebody to meet the board and chief executive of Aer Lingus to bring to an end the mess that is causing chaos in the country. Does the Government have any interest in the people, the work of the country or allowing people to come and go? We are projecting a bad image.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs has gone away, but President Sarkozy can get away with criticising Ireland. The Taoiseach is now also Minister for Foreign Affairs, Minister for Transport, Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, Minister for Defence, Minister for Justice and Law Reform and Minister for Health and Children.
Who is left in the Government?
Other than the Taoiseach, is anyone left? The Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport has confidence in the leader of the Government but not in the Taoiseach. Holy God, where is the logic in this?
Is the Senator looking for a debate or making a political speech?
I want the Members opposite to face the people. The people do not care what happens within the bubble of Leinster House and want their say. Does the Leader agree that the events of the past 24 hours reflect an attempt by the Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil to cover the cracks and present a different image? The reality is that the universal service charge, tax increases and cuts in pensions are hurting the people.
The Senator is making a political speech.
Does the Leader agree?
It is never too late to do the right thing.
That is a sickening comment.
The Government has been doing the wrong thing for 13 years.
Senators will not have an opportunity to contribute if they continue to interrupt.
There is now an opportunity for the relevant committee to outline the way the next Seanad should be run. We should, therefore, take this last opportunity to ensure the Seanad will be relevant for the future. I am conscious that many positive suggestions have been made but not pursued. I was struck, in particular, by Senator Quinn's suggestion in regard to the Malaysia My Second Home Programme. This is an excellent idea. I ask for a debate on how we can incentivise people to reinvigorate the housing market in Ireland in which there is an overhang of 100,000 houses. People from abroad could avail of certain tax considerations to purchase a property and invest in Ireland and, possibly, seek Irish citizenship. America provides such a facility. It would be a win-win and the suggestion is worthy of debate.
The "Lanigan's Ball" approach to government would be great fun——
The Senator should put a question to the Leader; we can have the theatrics on another occasion.
The Green Party may not want to dance anymore.
It would be theatre in normal times, but is it appropriate during a period of mass unemployment, emigration and hardship? While it might be a great stroke on a superficial level, have the people moved beyond this? Is it not stretching credulity and tolerance too far?
I was taken by Senator Daly's reference to John Fitzgerald Kennedy's inauguration speech. It is appropriate that we mark the anniversary, but I was waiting for him to tell us that the Taoiseach was also thinking about the matter. Other words from the speech spring to mind in the context of ministerial resignations and the forthcoming injection of new blood.
The Senator should put a question to the Leader.
Kennedy's words, "let the word go out ... to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation," remind me that the dead wood of the Cabinet is to be torched and that the torch will be passed to a new generation of Ministers for only a few weeks.
I have been critical of the Green Party, but it is being unfairly blamed for its decision to go into government in order to further its agenda. I disagree with certain aspects of it which are seriously wrong-headed, but it is mad to blame a small party for going into government. However, the Green Party lost sight of the value of trying to get into government when it subjected the country to unnecessary chaotic speculation in its desire to gazump the larger party by calling for the holding of an early general election. It appears it could gazump its partners once again by stating it will negotiate on staying another year in government in the light of the appointment of an almost entirely new Cabinet.
Some 150 academics have written an open letter criticising proposals made in the Croke Park agreement which they claim pose a serious threat to academic freedom. They state: "The right to permanency and tenure to retirement age is the bedrock on which academic freedom rests." We should not undermine academic freedom, given that some of the more important criticisms of what has occurred in this country in recent years have been made by people in academia rather than in the Oireachtas. It is important we protect their work.
The Senator's time has concluded.
In defending the right to tenure as a prerequisite to protect academic freedom, we must not lose sight of the fact that many academics employed on a temporary basis do not enjoy the same rights in our colleges. They have been done an injustice during the years. We must find a way to protect the rights of existing academic staff in a way which will not be at the expense of those who have contracts which are more vulnerable to expiry.
As Government Front Bench spokesperson on health and children, I pay tribute to the outgoing Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney. I wish her and the other Ministers who are resigning well. I commend and praise her for the commitment she has shown to this Chamber in terms of her availability. Her calibre will be difficult to replace. She has been the most reforming health Minister ever. Her major successes include the cancer strategy, the fair deal scheme, the establishment of HIQA and the negotiation of the consultants' contract, all of which have improved the lives of citizens.
No fair-minded person could say they were not achievements brought about by the Minister, Deputy Harney. In her presentations to this Chamber, she brought much humanity to her role as Minister. She made presentations that had a significant humane aspect to them.
I was very sad to hear a certain medical professor on Pat Kenny's radio show this morning. It is only my opinion but that particular man has a huge personal vendetta against the Minister.
It is the likes of that medical professor——
That person could be identified and I do not want to identify people who say things on radio.
——and a small group of his medical colleagues who stand in the way of reform. However, I was heartened when I heard former Minister Gemma Hussey say the most wonderful and nice things about a woman who has given 34 years of her life to State service. I wish her well and hope she enjoys her retirement.
Will the Leader explain why the Taoiseach is good enough for this country but not good enough to lead his own party? That is a hammer blow.
That is essentially what was said.
You voted against Deputy Enda Kenny.
There is huge public outrage. This morning people woke to hear that the Minister for Health and Children is getting a €310,000 pay-off when the health service is arguably in a worse state than when she took over.
What about the tax element?
The extent of anyone's pension is not relevant.
More people were on trolleys on a number of days this year than ever before. When Ministers exit, they should evaluate their records.
Pensions are in place and people will only——
People will only get what they are entitled to in pensions.
Even more sickening is that the former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Martin, will get €95,000 in severance pay.
He should give it up when 1,000 people——
Your fellows got it in their day too.
——per week are leaving Ireland to look for work abroad and when the Government is trying to bring in a climate change Bill which will further decimate the economy. The Leader may not answer my question but I ask him nonetheless how he expects the Government to continue with such behaviour and the public to continue to swallow it?
I support Senator Feeney's words about the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney. She showed this House great respect during the years and was willing to come in and take questions. What she has done during the years has been quite brave inasmuch as she accepted a poisoned chalice of a portfolio in which no one has succeeded. I do not know of any Minister with responsibility for the health portfolio since perhaps Noel Browne who has left office without being criticised. When she accepted that poisoned chalice, she knew she was not accepting an easy job. I am delighted Senator Feeney said this.
Senator Hanafin raised the question of tourism. I know we will not find time to debate it at this late stage but there is a need to hold our heads up high. Last week the Condé Nast travel magazine published the best hotels in Europe. These were five star hotels and four of the top ten were Irish. That is a sensational achievement but very little has been heard about it. The first was Ashford Castle and the other three were Mount Juliet, Dromoland Castle and Adare Manor. This is not the judgment of journalists but of people who have stayed in these hotels and voted for them. Four of the top hotels in Europe are in Ireland and we should be proud of that and publicise it.
Like Senators Leyden and Buttimer, I am concerned about the difficulties in Aer Lingus but let us not take the step which got us into trouble in the past. Whenever there was a difficulty, someone called on the Government to sort it out. That really means take over and say to the strong arm of management that it must give in to the unions. There are a number of unions in Aer Lingus and all have agreed to the terms. One union agreed approximately 15 months ago but has refused to do what it agreed to do for 15 months. The worst thing would be for the Government to say it is going to sort this out. That is what happened in the past and when it happened, it set an example to those who accepted the terms that the Government would come in and force management to give way to a union which did not accept the terms. Let us ensure this State does not start to interfere in the commercial practices of an organisation despite the fact we would like to see Aer Lingus operate well and bring tourists to this country.
I asked for Labour Court intervention as opposed to Government intervention.
It seems the survival of Fianna Fáil is more important than the good of the country. I had a very disturbing telephone call this morning from a constituent of mine who is down €350 per month. She is a widow with two children and she is trying to put them through college. She is a young working widow and it is absolutely galling for her to see retiring Ministers who are still in office get a pension of €95,000 and a lump sum payment of €310,000. For the good of our country, the Government should call a general election and let the Green Party do the honourable thing even at this 11th hour.
I join Senator Feeney in complimenting one good thing the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, did, namely, establish centres of excellence. However, I agree with Senator Healy Eames that more people have been on trolleys in the past year than ever before. That is a terrible indictment of the Minister's tenure.
I reiterate the call for an urgent debate on Aer Lingus. Senator Quinn said he does not want us to interfere directly but a number of constituents of mine — some passengers and one or two staff — who reside in the east Meath and Drogheda area have contacted me because they are seriously concerned. Senator Leyden said the Labour Court needs to get involved as a matter of urgency. There is obviously a serious breakdown in communications between management and unions and we need to find a resolution to this issue. The unions have accused Aer Lingus of taking a confrontational approach while Aer Lingus has accused the unions of taking an unreasonable one. The reality is that everyone wants to find a resolution to this as swiftly as possible. I call on the Leader to arrange a debate or that the House pass a motion on this issue. It is critical at this time that flights operate to schedule. We do not want people to lose their jobs. It is critical we have a debate as soon as possible.
There has been great deal of talk this morning about the resignations and the Cabinet reshuffle. I join Senator McFadden in hoping the Green Party does the honourable thing——
——and finally pulls the plug and calls time on the Government, which is long overdue. I hope we will see that today.
In terms of one of the Ministers who has called time, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, perhaps in her final act as Minister, today published the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Bill, about which I am delighted. It is a Seanad Bill which has wrongly been published on green paper. At my initiative, she decided to publish it some time last year when I initiated a debate in Private Members' time on the need for legislation to prohibit female genital mutilation. I am very glad we are seeing this Bill. Will the Leader arrange a debate on this Bill if there is time and we have some weeks remaining? I would very much like to see the Bill introduced and debated in this House. It would be a very worthwhile use of our time. If not, I hope it will be a priority for the next Government. Again, I welcome its publication today.
Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Alex White, Coghlan, Regan, Buttimer, Hanafin, O'Reilly, Feeney, Healy Eames, McFadden and Bacik all expressed their views on the retirement of our Ministers. I wish well all the Ministers who made a magnificent contribution. Anyone who serves in Cabinet for 13 or 14 years has made an enormous contribution and particularly when we had such buoyancy in the economy for most of that time.
I remember when the Minister, Deputy Harney, came to the attention of the former Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, at an Ard-Fheis and he appointed her to the Seanad in 1977. In 1981 and the two elections in 1982 the late Senator, Kieran Phelan, was her director of elections and we all participated and worked very hard to get her elected in those three general elections. She went on to make an incredible contribution over 34 years as has been said by colleagues here. When she became a Minister of State she gave us the clean air that we have over our cities and towns, which was an incredible achievement in very difficult times. I worked very closely with her when she was an excellent Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and I was Chairman of the Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business. I travelled with her to America, Canada and other countries where she was held in the greatest respect. I remember one evening at the Smurfit awards in New York she received outstanding praise from the world leaders and captains of industry who were in attendance. As an Oireachtas Member I was proud to be present at the No. 2 table——
As a Senator we always thought the Leader was No. 1.
—— and to hear at first hand the respect people had for a wonderful Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.
The Leader might mention that she came from Ahascragh in County Galway.
She is very proud to come from Ahascragh in County Galway. It is nice to see someone coming from that little village and starting in the Seanad. Who knows, Senator Mullen might follow Senator Ross into the other Chamber. Is an announcement imminent?
The Leader has my phone number, if he wants to pluck me from the relative obscurity of the Seanad.
I ask the Leader to reply on the Order of Business. We are not promoting anyone for Dáil Éireann.
She was leader of a political party, which was a first, and she was the first woman Tánaiste, another achievement I want to recognise. She did an outstanding job as Minister for Health and Children in the very difficult portfolio. As has been said by Senators Feeney, Quinn, McFadden and others, she showed total commitment to Seanad Éireann. When she came in here she answered all the questions put to her. She was of great assistance in establishing the question and answer format at the end of statements or any other time; she was fully supportive of this House.
I also wish every success and happiness to the Ministers, Deputies Batt O'Keeffe, Killeen, Dermot Ahern — who was also totally committed to this House — and Dempsey, who was here yesterday. His last function as a Minister was in this House yesterday putting through the legislation giving the Garda the authority for compulsory breath testing at road accidents.
Has the Minister, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, left?
I have been a colleague and live in his constituency of Meath West. He has made an incredible contribution having been in Cabinet since 1992, with the exception of the two and a half years we were out of office.
I have no doubt that the Taoiseach will deal with the vacancies in Cabinet today. They are not just for one or two weeks; my guess is that they will be for three months.
The Deputy Leader clearly does not agree with the Leader.
It must be remembered that a Cabinet Minister holds office until the day the new government takes over. I remind colleagues that the Green Party and Fianna Fáil are totally committed that the general election will be called — it is the prerogative of the Taoiseach — as soon as the finance Bill has passed through this House. The finance Bill will be published today and——
Will the Climate Change Response Bill be finished by then?
—— from then we will be able to proceed with that final piece of legislation which must pass through both Houses because it is part of the budget. All responsible Oireachtas Members — they are on all sides of this House — want to see that take place and then the people will have an opportunity to elect a new government.
Bring it on.
Since I became a Member we have very seldom been in opposition and I have often said we were very good Members to be in government. However, I must compliment the Opposition Members. They are incredible as people who have been in opposition, but then they have been there for quite some time and I suppose they got used to it. That was a difficulty we had when we took over ourselves.
I ask the Leader to concentrate on replying on the Order of Business.
Senator Walsh asked for a debate on the high cost of the tribunals, some 14 years on. I will try to see if I can facilitate the request that has been on the Order Paper for some time. Senator Coghlan asked about the Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill that has been published, which will be passed by this House before we go to the country.
Senators Leyden, Buttimer, Quinn and Carroll spoke about the difficulties being experienced by Aer Lingus, its workers and passengers. I agree with everything that was said this morning and Senator Quinn has great experience in this area as has Senator Leyden. It would be common sense for everyone to sit down and negotiate whatever needs to be finalised and let the company trade in these very difficult times. The company should oblige the people who want to support Aer Lingus by giving the service for which it has been renowned for many decades.
Senator Callely spoke about the major export growth and I welcome the 150 jobs coming to Cork from the leading software company, Quest Software, which has 100,000 customers worldwide. It is more good job creation news. The Senator also spoke about obesity and suggested that a calorie count of food being sold should be displayed in restaurants, which is a very good idea, and I would have no difficulty in passing on those strong recommendations to the Minister.
Senator Daly reminded us that today is the anniversary of the First Dáil and acknowledged those who were in attendance as well as those elected Members who were in jail at the time. I fully agree with the sentiments that we should cherish all the children of the nation. How time has flown if this is the 50th anniversary of the John F. Kennedy inauguration. It was an uplifting experience for everyone in Ireland when President Kennedy took office and he certainly opened up the new Ireland and gave us that massive confidence as an Irish people, something we will never forget.
It is 85 years since Fianna Fáil was founded in 1926.
No interruptions, please; the Leader is replying to the Order of Business.
That is quite some time ago.
We are getting some history lesson.
Senator Hanafin spoke about what the new Seanad could do. He also spoke about Senator Quinn's suggestion on the Malaysia My Second Home Programme. As the finance Bill will be published today, it will represent an excellent opportunity for anyone who wants to make proposals in that regard. Senator Quinn also congratulated the four Irish hotels that are in the top ten hotels in the world, which is an outstanding achievement. I congratulate everyone who has made this possible and worked on this for so many years.