The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re establishment of the Committee of Selection, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business, and No. 2, Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Bill 2011 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, with the contributions of spokespersons on Second Stage not to exceed 12 minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes.
Order of Business
Yesterday I specifically requested a debate on the programme for Government, including on its progress and implications. I fully appreciate that the Government has only been in office for a short time, but I wish to raise this matter in the light of the announcement yesterday evening of the 10% arbitrary cut in the numbers of SNA and resource teaching hours, including those previously agreed, across all schools. I do not wish to make a political point, but we should discuss this matter as soon as possible. I am requesting that on Friday, 10 June the House should sit to debate every item in the programme for Government and whatever issues Members of the House wish to raise in this regard. Clarity is required on a number of items in the programme, including the banking, education and health sectors, in particular the fair deal scheme. Yesterday the Leader indicated that he would consider positively the request for such a debate, but it should be held sooner rather than later. I know we have a lot of business to deal with next week, but I propose that we sit on Friday, 10 June to deal specifically with the programme for Government. I ask the Leader to consider this request and if he can accede to it, it will be a good step forward for us.
There is a lot of confusion concerning the proposed household charge and-or water rates. Earlier in the week the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, announced a household charge would be introduced on 1 January 2012, but no amount was given. The following day the Tánaiste said this would not happen because it was not included in the programme for Government. He said water rates would be introduced but only when water meters were in place. I agree with this. The Taoiseach seemed to back up the Tánaiste, but yesterday the Minister reiterated that a household charge would be introduced on 1 January 2012. I am proposing an amendment to the Order of Business that we ask the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to attend the House today to clarify the matter.
I congratulate Senator Susan O'Keeffe who has been appointed as Labour Party Whip and will as a consequence be Deputy Whip on the Government side. I look forward to working with her.
As the Leader of the House, Senator Maurice Cummins, indicated, there will be no difficulty in having the debate on the programme for Government sought by Senator Darragh O'Brien.
However, a more effective debate might focus on specific aspects of the programme such as education. I would be happy for us to have an early debate on that topic, as well as the environment and the charges Senator O'Brien mentioned. Most pressingly, we need to have a debate on the economy. Yesterday, for example, some Senators sought a debate on NAMA, while I sought a debate on white collar crime, particularly in the absence of any prosecutions arising from the banking scandal. The need for a debate on the economy has been thrown into focus today by the report from FLAC, Free Legal Advice Centres, which reveals the alarming figure that the number of debt queries rose by 400% last year. In 2010 FLAC dealt with 11,000 queries, a large number of which were from persons who were very concerned about their levels of debt. That is happening as a direct consequence of the false boom for so many years which was presided over by the previous Government. A debate on the economy could tackle issues around banking, the concerns raised by FLAC and the serious challenge posed by unemployment.
I support the calls made for a debate on children's rights. I am delighted that we will have such a discussion next week when the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, will attend the House. That debate needs to tackle a number of items, including the report of the Ombudsman for Children and criminal justice matters. As the Ombudsman said in her report, children are still being detained in St. Patrick's Institution, which is a source of great public shame and scandal. I am glad to see that the programme for Government contains a commitment to close that institution, for which I am sure there will be cross-party support. However, we need to keep the pressure on the Government to ensure it will be closed as a matter of urgency and that children will no longer be detained in inhumane conditions.
I share the sentiments expressed by Senator Darragh O'Brien. I would like the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to come to the House to discuss the proposals put forward. The proposal for water charges has been a plan afoot for about 18 months yet it is remarkable that it still appears that there is no great clarity about what will happen in that respect. The Minister said that water charges will be introduced and that there will be a flat fee, charge or rate from January next but nobody seems to be clear about how precisely people will be charged for water thereafter.
Senators will be familiar with the old phrase about it being Saturday night and not a child in the house washed. Having listened to the discussion on the "Today with Pat Kenny" programme today, one would be left wondering whether some families, including larger ones, would be able to afford to wash their children. In the context of water metering, which is a good and necessary idea, it is not clear whether provision would be made for families. That kind of metering system could be extremely onerous on families. There needs to be a justice dimension to this as well when it comes to charging for water. The principle that people would be charged for water consumption is valid not least when one considers what occurred during the freeze out last year when people left their taps running and so on. As somebody said, if people had to pay for that they would not be so quick to do it.
In the context of the Aer Lingus dispute, everybody must agree that the idea that we would have such an industrial action is horrible to contemplate but there are justice issues involved. In the current climate people will have to work harder for less and that will have to apply across the board in the public and private sectors. We must be mindful again of the needs of families and safety issues. The idea that people could be rostered for six out of seven days during the summer, particularly in such a sensitive area of work, seems unacceptable.
In terms of people being expected to do more for less, we would want to avoid at this time the abuse of younger workers in particular. In many professions and other areas young people are being taken on for internships and apprenticeships. In some cases they are not being paid and in others they are not even being paid expenses but they are being required to do a great deal of work, equivalent to the work for which other people have been amply paid in the past. It is important at a time when we are all buying into the idea of doing more for less that we do not end up abusing particular groups in the workplace.
I, too, welcome the proposed discussion on the needs and the rights of children, particularly in the context of the Fourth Report of the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Mr. Geoffrey Shannon. Having listened to Mr. Shannon last week and having read what he produced in his report, it is clear that he has done a great deal of impressive work but I point to one issue in particular and ask the Leader the Government's intentions on the issue of criminalising the purchase of persons in prostitution. Several years ago during the debate on the human trafficking Bill, I tabled amendments, supported by others, including our former leader, Senator Joe O'Toole, which, if accepted, would have criminalised the purchase of persons in prostitution. At that time there was a certain amount of cynicism from the Government side, a certain blasé attitude towards that. It is good to see that the tide of opinion is shifting in this area. The previous Minister for Justice and Equality, the former Deputy Dermot Ahern, said he was moving towards bringing forward legislation that would criminalise persons engaged in the purchase of persons for reasons of prostitution. It would help make the country a colder house for those who would traffic persons into our country. At a time when we have not yet seen much proposed legislation from the Government, that legislation should be made a priority. Will the Leader take that message back to Government and then tell us its intentions on criminalising the purchasers of persons in prostitution?
We should use this House to shape policy to meet emerging needs in the economy. In view of that I request a debate on the education system and how it supports job creation and innovation. I refer in particular to the skill gaps identified here and the jobs that are available here that nobody can fill. That there are in the region of 800 posts in IT that graduates are not capable of filling is an incredible indictment of our education system, given the shortage of jobs in real terms. I would be grateful if the Leader could arrange for the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, to come into the House to examine this.
I support what other colleagues said today about people being worried about debt. The FLAC report released this morning shows that there has been a 400% increase in debt-related queries since 2007 and the boom collapsed. We need to invite the Minister for Social Protection into the House to outline the measures available right now in the community, be it through the MABS, the Citizens Advice Bureau, Bord Gáis, the ESB or the banks, to support families managing debt. We know about these issues because they are raised with us in the constituency offices but we also need to know that these measures are available because families need a road map of supports, especially in view of new charges, those of water charges and the household charge, coming down the line. This will be a potential mess for families unless such debts can be managed.
Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?
My questions have been delivered.
I support the call by Senator Ó Murchú yesterday for a joint agreed motion on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. Will the Leader facilitate that happening? He and I sat on a sub-committee which heard the most appalling tales from the victims of those bombings who were sadly and badly failed by this State over many decades. We may have an opportunity now to resurrect this issue and to try to help bring some closure for them. I appeal to Senator Cummins to play his part in achieving that.
Will the Leader arrange for the Minister for Finance to attend the House to discuss our outdated and antiquated bankruptcy laws? It is a travesty of justice that people who have been caught in this unprecedented recession will be debarred from entering business for a period of 12 years. There were some recommendations that this would be reduced to five while neighbouring jurisdictions confine it to one year. We should have a good debate on that and bring sufficient pressure to bear so that the necessary changes will be made. We have been very tardy in dealing with this issue over the past three years. In that regard, we might include the issue which arose recently of Members of these Houses who may find themselves debarred as a consequence of bankruptcy pursuit. That is unfair. The people decide who represents them. That is a throwback to former days when people of property controlled the democratic system. We should reflect on that and necessary amendments to the legislation should be made.
I second the proposal of Senator Darragh O'Brien that the Minister, Deputy Hogan, would attend the House. I am a strong proponent of water charges and have been ever since the former Tánaiste, Mr. Dick Spring, introduced them back in 1983. I criticised the Labour Party for the populous decision it took under the then Minister, Deputy Howlin's stewardship of the Department, to abolish them to save the seat of the then Deputy Joan Burton in Dublin West, which was unsuccessful in itself. I ask that we have a debate on that. It is urgently required that clarity be brought to this situation. If our economy is to get on the road to recovery, it will require some certainty to restore confidence. This ongoing debate where we are phasing in pain on people is only prolonging this recession.
Interestingly, I attended an economic conference in Beijing two weeks ago and noted that China is focusing on generating its own domestic consumption to meet the targets that it needs to support its economy, which has a minimum of 7% growth annually. We must focus on doing that as well. We are also missing out on the global improvement in economic growth. We need to position ourselves so that we can avail of that. Of the many issues, this is one to which we should bring clarity quickly.
Will the Leader seek support from the Ministers for Justice and Equality and Foreign Affairs and Trade for the family of a young man from Portumna in County Galway, Mr. Matthew Fitzpatrick, who died in tragic circumstances in Mannheim, Germany, in December 2010? The young man in question died——
We should not name individuals from outside the House.
It is in the public domain.
We still should not name them.
Fine. The police in Mannheim put the young man's death down to suicide, yet his family have serious concerns about the verdict. When his body was repatriated to Dublin, the deputy State pathologist carried out an autopsy and identified a significant number of injuries on his body. The jury at the Coroner's Court in Dublin returned an open verdict on his death.
I ask every Senator to familiarise himself or herself with the family's website, which contains some disturbing information. The family is anxious——
This is not applicable to the Order of Business.
——that the case be reopened by the German police. Will the Leader seek the support of the Minister on the family's behalf?
Will the Leader discuss with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, the finances of local government? My fear is that the financial problem will only be tackled on the taxation side, as my colleague stated, and not on the expenditure side. It appears that important issues raised in the McLaughlin report on local government are not being addressed. They should be addressed at the same time, as we must tackle the situation as an expenditure problem as well as a tax raising problem. McLaughlin estimates we are overmanned by ten county managers, 50 directors of services, 220 people in corporate services, 225 people in middle management and 180 people at professional, senior and middle management level. Given that the moratorium has mostly resulted in a reduction in outdoor staff by 13% and management by only 7%, the question of whether we get good value for money from local government poses a serious problem. I hope the Leader will raise the matter with the Minister before we embark on increasing taxation unnecessarily.
I am delighted by the appointment of Senator O'Keeffe as the Labour Party Whip in the House. As far as I am concerned, it gives a welcome new meaning to "burden sharing".
I endorse Senator Bacik's words——
Fine Gael will have burdens soon and it will need to share. They are coming down the track.
We will come back on track soon. I endorse Senator Bacik's call for a debate on the economy to include the banking sphere, NAMA and the National Treasury Management Agency, NTMA. The scope is wide and could also include the role of the credit controller, Mr. John Trethowan, who is a wonderful individual. I had a preliminary chat with the Leader on this subject, although I intend to discuss it with him further. Perhaps the House will find a way to sit down with the people in question from time to time. I back the call for a debate and I am sure the Leader will give it good consideration.
Yesterday, the Leader agreed to a discussion on the joint labour committee independent report and the Minister for Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation's proposals. The timeframe of 10 June for the Minister's engagement with the social partners is tight. He met some of them yesterday. Does the Leader intend to hold the debate and invite the Minister to the House before that date?
I welcome Senator Bacik's confirmation that there will be a discussion on the Ombudsman for Children's sixth annual report. Does the Leader intend to invite the Ombudsman to attend the Chamber for that discussion? Yesterday, she stated something profound, namely, that lawmakers should heed the rights of children.
We owe it to her and to children to listen. The invitation is important.
A plethora of health issues were raised yesterday and the Leader stated that he would collate them and invite the Minister for Health to the House for several discussions. Diabetes services pose a serious concern. As part of the discussions with the Minister, will time be given to debate Diabetes Action's proposals on reconfiguring services for adolescents and children?
I welcome Senator Bacik's remarks to the effect that there will be a debate on the economy. Could we also consider the questions of unemployment and forced emigration? Today's figures show 2,600 more people on the live register, bringing the overall number to 443,000. Will the debate on the economy address youth unemployment and unemployment generally, the question of people who are under-employed and have had their hours cut and the matter of self-employed people falling into traps——
These points can be made during the debate.
Will these matters, including the issue of forced emigration, form part of the debate? If we are to have a debate on the economy, we might rush into a broad, sweeping discussion, but unemployment is a national emergency, given the figures released today. The House needs a clear and specific debate on the issues of unemployment and returning people to work.
Will the Leader invite the Minister for Finance to attend the House so that we might ascertain the measures he is pursuing to get banks to release credit to businesses? The initiatives, incentives and policies pursued by the Government to return people to work and to maintain and create jobs in small businesses will not work unless we get banks to lend. Yesterday, I was contacted by a constituent, the third generation in business, whose direct debit of €3,500 was returned by a bank because it would leave the constituent €37 overdrawn. Business cannot continue under this banking cloud.
I support Senator Barrett's point. Recently, another constituent whose kitchen needed to be replaced was contacted by a local council staff member. The council sent an engineer to tell the person it had no funding. Why is the engineer there if there is no funding to carry out the work?
Last night, I tabled a motion on the Adjournment that concerned the proposed referendum on children's rights. As the Cathaoirleach knows, the joint committee reported in February 2010. Its members included many current Cabinet members, those being, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Fitzgerald, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, and the Minister without portfolio, Deputy Howlin, as well as Government backbenchers Deputies White and Neville. We are now in June 2011 and, last night, the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, stated on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, that the referendum would not be held in conjunction with this year's presidential election because doing so would be contentious. I do not know how it could be contentious, as that election will be a low key affair.
As far as Fianna Fáil is concerned. The Senator's world view is welcome.
The Labour Party has not made its mind up yet.
Senator Leyden to continue without interruption, please.
We will debate the matter next week. This is the Seanad of all the talents. There is so much talent in the House, it is unbelievable, but that talent is under-utilised. I would like it to be used a bit more. If the children's rights referendum is held in 2012 in conjunction with the referendum on the abolition of the House, I will campaign on the retention of the House. The focus will be off the most important referendum ever held. We have neglected the issue. A new Government is in power, yet there will be no referendum.
The distinguished Senator van Turnhout had an input into this matter through her submission to the joint committee. According to the former Minister, Mrs. Mary O'Rourke, it was a good and important submission.
This is a contentious matter. If the referendum is not held this year, will it be held in 2012? Will it ever be held? Are the cold hands of the IMF, the European Union, the ECB and Mr. Ajai Chopra involved in this matter? Are those to whom I refer seeking to delay the referendum on the basis of the cost that will accrue to the State?
It is the cold hand of Fianna Fáil.
No. I am seeking clarification on this matter.
It is the hand of Fianna Fáil.
Senator Terry Leyden to continue, without interruption. Does the Senator have a question to put to the Leader?
Is control being exercised in Merrion Street, Brussels or Frankfurt?
Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?
I challenge the Government to hold the referendum in September. It should not wait any longer to hold it. It will be the most important in the history of the State.
That matter is not relevant to the Order of Business.
It is very relevant.
It is not relevant to today's Order of Business. Does the Senator wish to put a question to the Leader?
I will table an amendment if the Cathaoirleach so wishes. Does he want me to table such an amendment?
As the Senator well knows, the Order of Business relates to the business of the House for today.
Does the Cathaoirleach wish me to table an amendment?
That is a matter for the Senator.
It is. I ask the Leader to incorporate in the debate on children's rights a discussion on the deliberations of the joint committee which issued its final report in February 2010. I am also seeking clarification on who is running the show. Is it those involved in Brussels or Merrion Street?
I request the Leader to ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Leo Varadkar, to come before the House to outline his plans for the Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, which as Members are aware, is burdened with debt. There is significant concern, particularly in the area of the country from which I come, about the authority's future plans for Shannon Airport. The DAA controls Dublin, Shannon and Cork airports and also has a remit in respect of Aer Rianta International, regarding which the McCarthy report contains certain proposals. In the light of the important, strategic role played by Cork and Shannon airports in international tourism, it is important that the Minister come before the House to outline his plans for the DAA, what he is doing about the excessive salaries of that organisation's chief executive, directors and senior management and his intentions in respect of breaking up the DAA and dealing with the significant burden of debt it has taken on as a result of the building of Terminal 2 and its involvement in other major capital investment projects. I would like the Minister to outline the long-term plans——
Those are points the Senator can make during the debate on the matter.
This matter is very relevant. I am asking the Leader to discover for the House, through the Minister, the plans in place in respect of Shannon Airport. For example, will it continue to have links with Dublin Airport?
Does the Senator have a question he wishes to put to the Leader?
Absolutely. Will the Leader establish why the e-mail addresses of members of senior management at Shannon Airport end with the form "@daa.ie"? The organisation will prosper if it has some autonomy. I request, therefore, that the Leader discuss this matter with the Minister as a matter of urgency in order that he might come before the House to engage in a debate on it.
There have been several instances in which the Seanad has dealt with motions agreed on all sides. This generally happens in cases in which there is agreement and support on the issue in question. Every Member agrees that we must bring closure to the issue of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. We are all aware the suffering is continuing. I welcome yesterday's statement by the Leader to the effect that the Taoiseach is involved in discussions with his counterpart in Britain. However, it will only be of assistance to him if the House can agree a motion on the matter to which I refer. If the various Leaders and the Whips can come together, it should be possible to agree a wording.
Will the Leader check the current status of Moore Street as a national monument? During the final weeks of its lifetime the previous Seanad engaged in a very informative and historic debate on this issue. Sitting in the Visitors' Gallery on that occasion were relatives of all the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation. Subsequent to that debate, a meeting was held with the Taoiseach and relevant Ministers and officials. I was also in attendance at that meeting. With five years to go before the centenary of the 1916 Rising, it is vital that we not allow this issue to be sidelined. If the relevant buildings in Moore Street were developed, they would become a major attraction. They would be a particular attraction for those Irish people who wish to know more about their history. When the House engaged in a debate on tourism yesterday, it was stated among the main preferences of tourists visiting this country were culture and history. I have no doubt that tourists coming to Ireland would flock to Moore Street if the right preservation and development were to take place. Perhaps the Leader might check the position on this matter and provide the House with a reply, if not today, then next week.
I would like the Minister for Health to come before the House to address a number of issues relevant to his portfolio. One such issue about which I am extremely concerned is the proposed centralisation of the medical card system. The system under which those over 70 years were dealt with by local community welfare officers in their counties was centralised to Dublin. It is proposed that from next month the entire system for medical cards will be centralised to the capital. The decisions in this regard were made in the past by the HSE and I am of the view that they will give rise to no material gain to those who use the service, namely, those who have or are seeking medical cards. Instead of applying to their local community welfare officer, people will now be obliged to deal by telephone with faceless bureaucrats in Dublin who will not understand the family circumstances of those with whom they will be dealing from a social and economic point of view. Owing to the fact that local community welfare officers are aware of families' circumstances, they are in a position to exercise a certain amount of discretion in particular cases. Under the new system, this will no longer be the case. One of my major concerns relates to the fact that a great deal of discretion was exercised in the case of those suffering from cancer. I estimate that medical cards were given to cancer patients 100% of the time. This was despite the fact that they may have exceeded the thresholds laid down in the guidelines relating to medical cards. It is a pity Senator John Crown is not present because consultants and GPs——
We do not refer to Senators absent from the House.
——have consistently informed those with cancer that they are entitled to a medical card. That is false information because all applicants are subject to a means test. I would like the Minister for Health to indicate how he is going to deal with the fact that discretion will be removed from the process in granting medical cards. Those granting the cards will be bound by guidelines that are outdated. The thresholds relating to the guidelines have not been increased in approximately seven years. There is a need for the House to engage in a debate on this matter before the transition to which I refer takes place in July.
I wish to raise a number of important issues. Senator Darragh O'Brien's proposed amendment to the Order of Business is extremely important because it would allow the Seanad to discuss, with a Minister, a matter of some significance. I appeal to Labour Party Members and the Independents nominated by the Taoiseach to support the amendment and not just to simply to vote with the Government as a matter of routine. It is vital that we discuss this issue in order that the people might obtain clarity in respect of it.
I would welcome it if the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade came before the House to discuss the Wikileaks allegations. Some serious allegations were made by US Embassy staff to the effect that, for political purposes, the Tánaiste said one thing in private and another in public. Are the Tánaiste's statements on water charges simply public statements made for political purposes? Is the position the same on his statements and those of his party on the JLCs? These are the questions members of the public are asking. Until the Tánaiste provides answers in the House, we will not have clarity on the relevant issues.
Another crucial matter is the ownership of nursing homes. A nursing home company in the United Kingdom which manages 31,000 beds has gone out of business and been placed in liquidation. As a result, authorities in the United Kingdom will be obliged to care for the people affected at a significant cost. It is vital that legislation aimed at limiting the number of beds which particular companies in this country can own and manage be brought forward. The consequences of a nursing home company going into liquidation and thereby leaving the State with responsibility for the care of its customers are too serious to contemplate.
Will the Leader organise a debate on the Prison Service, a subject about which Senator Bacik has spoken eloquently in the past? It is some time since we had a debate on the service and several changes have occurred in the past several months. I would like the position regarding the development at Thornton Hall to be confirmed. Recent figures showed a rise in the number of people in prison for not paying debts. It is like going back to Dickensian days when other solutions can be found.
I am also concerned about the level of early releases. The European Court of Human Rights has issued instructions as to what we have to do with our jails. I accept a debate on the Prison Service would be very wide but it would be useful to have the views of the new Seanad. It is essential it gives this topic the attention it deserves.
Food exports have been successful in recent times. However, we must bear in mind the Spanish cucumber E. coli case. Today the German authorities had to apologise and admit they made a mistake. Spanish cucumbers were not the source of the outbreak as they had originally claimed. This was after hundreds of millions of euro worth of exports for Spanish farmers were wiped out by the original claim, devastating their businesses. While the apology will come with some form of recompense for Spanish businesses and farmers, it is a reminder of how this could happen to Irish food exports. Only 18 months ago, the pigmeat business was devastated due to a dioxin problem identified by our controls with huge harm done to our exports. What is worse, however, is when an authority in another country makes a comment that can devastate a business as has happened in the Spanish case. We must take steps to ensure we can avoid such a situation arising with our food exports.
When will the forensic evidence and DNA sampling Bill be brought forward on the legislative programme? This important legislation, which arises from the Prüm treaty, was on the previous legislative programme. While a UK case ended up in the European Court of Human Rights, delaying the introduction of the legislation, the case has been concluded. It is crucial the Garda has every tool available to it to ensure it can conduct the particular criminal searches provided for by this legislation and the Prüm directive. The former Minister for Justice and Law Reform originally brought the legislation forward on the basis that it met the limits the European Court of Justice had determined were acceptable. Will this vital legislation be brought forward as soon as possible?
I support Senator Quinn's comments on the food export industry. With the outbreak of E.coli in Europe and the many deaths caused by haemolytic-uraemic syndrome, a complication arising from it, will the Leader organise a debate on food, particularly country-of-origin labelling? While such labelling is a requirement for beef, fruit and vegetables, it is not so for pigmeat, poultry and sheepmeat. We should not have to wait for another food crisis to happen before we introduce these rules. Will the Leader invite both the Minister for Health and the Minister for Agriculture, Marine and Food to the House for an open debate on country-of-origin food labelling for pigmeat, poultry and sheepmeat, and the issue of substantial transformation which is not distinguished by the tariff nomenclature given that both their Departments have already drafted regulations on the introduction of such labelling?
Will the Leader organise for the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government with responsibility for housing and planning, Deputy Willie Penrose, to attend the House to debate the possibility of the State or local authorities acquiring ghost estates for those on housing lists? This is a pressing issue. Many of these estates are deteriorating by the week which is also affecting their value.
Will the Cathaoirleach clarify the procedure concerning the repetition of requests from Members for certain debates? Yesterday, for example, I called for a debate on the proposed household charges while my colleague, Senator Marie Moloney, called for one on the joint labour committee rates. These issues were raised again today by other Senators. If there could be a response after a request is made, it would prevent the repetitive raising of issues and allow the House to get on to the actual debates on the issues. Will the Cathaoirleach clarify for me as a new Senator how we can get over this repetitive process?
The Chair has no control over what debates are called for and so forth.
Senator Feargal Quinn is a modest man who would not claim credit as one of the people directly responsible for introducing traceability into the food market during his time with Superquinn. We are eternally grateful for his actions in this regard. There is, however, a powerful food lobby which resists increased transparency in food labelling. The issue requires a more proactive approach from European governments. Under current labelling rules there is much covert activity with, for example, the term "Made in the EU" sometimes used for food on Irish shelves that it is claimed to be sourced in Ireland when it is not.
In light of Senator Martin Conway's comments, coming from the west myself I fully empathise with him on the continuing viability of Shannon Airport. I congratulate Liam Scollan, chairman, and the board of Ireland West Airport Knock on its 25th anniversary. We all recall the controversy surrounding the building of the airport. Now it is so successful and viable it will not require any further public service obligation moneys. Long may its profitability and success continue, as the airport is important to tourism in the west.
Yesterday, I asked that Government time be provided for a discussion on the diaspora, particularly considering this week's meeting between the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and the 76 Irish ambassadors to see how they can promote Ireland. This is not a new initiative as it had been introduced by the former Administration several years ago. Last night, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, invited the House, and by implication the general public, to submit proposals for Farmleigh II. The initial Farmleigh conference was an initiative by the economist, David McWilliams, which was then picked up by the then Minister for Foreign Affairs and now leader of Fianna Fáil, Deputy Micheál Martin.
It was a tremendous success in bringing together the various disparate parts of the diaspora from across the world, particularly, and most importantly, those emigrants who have been a success in corporate environments. As a result of these initiatives, the Global Irish Network was established which is also promoting Ireland. In light of the appalling and tragic unemployment figures announced recently, it is important we harness the diaspora and the success achieved by Irish people, including second generation Irish people, in their adopted countries who are ready, willing and able to help this country out of the economic morass in which it finds itself. This is an important element of the jobs strategy and economic debate taking place. In that regard, I ask that the Leader provide time before the next Global Irish Economic Forum at Farmleigh in September-October, to allow Members of this House, in particular new Members, to put forward their views and ideas in regard to how we can effectively harness the Irish diaspora and also to send out to them the message that this Parliament has not forgotten or neglected them but appreciates the efforts they are making.
Having come from a Parliament where a person is given only one minute speaking time, I am conscious that many Members in this House would have already this morning used up their entire allocation of speaking time for the year.
I support Senator Landy's comments in regard to repetition. Perhaps in calling for Ministers to come to this House to explain themselves, we should by way of reform commence with ensuring we do not have repetition in this regard. While it is important people are allowed to make their points, we should perhaps review procedures at an early date to ensure we use our time effectively. I ask that the procedures be reviewed at an early date.
I support Senator Darragh O'Brien's call for a debate today on the issue of water charges, which has become a national controversy on the airwaves and in the print media. People are scared because they cannot afford to pay another utility bill or domestic rates on their properties from January next. This matter is not dealt with in the programme for Government. Prior to the election, the Labour Party indicated that if in Government it would not propose water charges while Fine Gael took a different stance and said it would consider the proposal. There was at that time no talk of a utility charge. There is a need for an urgent debate on this issue before the forthcoming bank holiday weekend.
Is Senator Ó Domhnaill supporting the amendment?
Yes. It is vital that debate takes place to provide clarity on this issue. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government has been saying one thing, the Taoiseach has been saying another and the Leader of the Labour Party and Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, has been saying something different. There is total uncertainty on this matter. If there is uncertainty in Government, there is uncertainty among the public. We need early clarification of this matter.
I ask the Leader to provide time for an urgent debate on the fishing sector, in particular the inshore fishing sector and in this regard to invite the Minister with responsibility for fisheries to the House. During the rough weather last Sunday night-Monday morning, tens of thousands of euro of damage was caused to lobster pots along our coast from west Cork to north-west Donegal. Some fishermen lost up to €100,000 worth of lobster pots which cannot be replaced because fishermen do not have the financial resources to do so. I call for an urgent debate on fishing. I also call on the Government to seriously consider compensating fishermen for their losses as many of them cannot afford to take to the waters again without some type of Government intervention.
I call on the Leader to invite the Attorney General to the House. Under Standing Order 56, he may attend this House and be heard.
She. Under section 35 of the NAMA legislation a code of practice was to be established within three months. This has been done. The code of practice states that all assets under the control of NAMA should be sold under the code of conduct for the governance of State bodies, which means that every asset, be it a loan or property, should be sold by auction or tender. This is not happening. The reason all assets were to be sold by auction or tender was to ensure public confidence that NAMA is doing its job and that the money given to it is being maximised. I have been informed by people involved in the industry that there is widespread corruption in this regard. People whose assets are in NAMA are now buying back their assets at below market value, which is hard to believe. The taxpayer is now losing not tens of millions of euro but hundreds of millions of euro because NAMA is not selling assets in the manner set down by the Oireachtas. These assets should be sold in a transparent manner.
I wrote to the Office of the Attorney General prior to the election and again after the election. I invited the Attorney General to come to this House to explain the reason it appears NAMA is breaking the laws of the Oireachtas. However, she has neither acknowledged nor replied to my letter. For this reason, I call on the Leader, under the powers of this House, to invite the Attorney General to come to this House to address us on this most important issue. We do not want to have to set up a tribunal of inquiry in two years time to investigate why the State bodies did not do their job as directed by the Oireachtas, resulting in a loss of taxpayers' money. I ask the Leader to use Standing Order 56 to do this.
I dtosach báire, ba mhaith liom go n-iarrfaí ar an bPríomh Aoire nó ar an Taoiseach féin teacht go dtí an Teach agus soiléiriú a thabhairt dúinn maidir le comhchoiste Oireachtais ar chúrsaí Gaeilge agus Gaeltachta. An mbeidh a leithéid ann agus an mbeidh daoine á gceapadh air, nó an bhfuil sé caite i dtraipéisí?
Chomh maith leis sin, ba mhaith liom tacú leis an moladh a rinne an Seanadóir Ó Domhnaill. Tá ceist na hiascaireachta thar a bheith tábhachtach faoi láthair. Le cur leis an díospóireacht sin, ba mhaith liom go bpléifí ceisteanna a bhaineann le coirpigh a dhéanamh de hiascairí a bhíonn ag plé le cúrsaí riaracháin ar na báid. Department officials are criminalising fishermen for administrative misdemeanours. Ba bhreá liom go bpléfimis é sin. Ceist íontach tábhachtach í sin i gcomhthéacs chúrsaí iascaireachta. Chomh maith leis sin, ba cheart go bpléifí an bealach a gcuirtear na treoirlínte ón Aontas Eorpach i bhfeidhm sa tír seo maidir le cúrsaí iascaireachta. Tá an chosúlacht ann go bhfuil siad i bhfad níos déine ná ins na ballstáit eile ina bhfuil iascaireacht go forleathan. Sílim gur ceist íontach tábhachtach í sin. Má tá rath le beith ar thionscail na hiascaireachta, caithfimid dul i ngleic leis an bhfadhb seo agus caithfimid cuidiú leis na hiascairí.
Sa bhreis air sin, tá sé fíor-thábhachtach go mbeadh plé againn sa Teach maidir le cúrsaí acmhainní nádúrtha, mar an ghaoth, an ola agus mar sin de. Bheinn ag iarraidh ar an gCeannaire díospóireacht a thionóil ar an ábhar sin chomh maith.
Senator Darragh O'Brien called for a debate on the programme for Government. I will endeavour to provide time for such a debate in the coming weeks although I cannot commit to any particular date in that regard. However, I assure the Senator that we will have a debate on that subject in the coming weeks. I do not propose to accept Senator O'Brien's amendment. Members will be aware that the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government has been developing proposals for a programme of water metering to be rolled out next year following commitments of the previous Government under the EU-IMF programme for financial support. I emphasise that this was a decision taken by the previous Government. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government has repeated on numerous occasions that it is the Government's intention to roll out a water metering programme. Charges will be only for use of water above a particular annual allowance. This remains the Government's position.
The EU-IMF programme for financial support for the Irish State also contains commitments in relation to revenue from property. It is the Government's intention to advance proposals on a site valuation tax. However, this will take time. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government has stated that he is preparing proposals to meet the commitments laid out in the EU/IMF programme and will bring them to Government shortly. I do not propose to accept Senator O'Brien's amendment.
Senator Bacik raised the report on children's rights. I hope to have a debate on that report. The debate could be expanded to include the report from the Ombudsman for Children. That debate will take place next week.
Senator Mullen spoke about human trafficking and prostitution. We will get the up-to-date position on legislation in that regard.
Senator Healy Eames referred to the skills deficit and the jobs initiative. That matter can be incorporated in debates that are planned for the coming weeks.
With regard to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, an all-party motion on this matter was tabled in the other House in 2008. The Taoiseach has had negotiations with the British Prime Minister on this subject. I do not know whether it would serve any purpose to debate this matter at this time. While I do not rule the proposal out and will consider it, I wonder what it would achieve at this time.
Senator Ó Murchú raised the same subject and also the question of establishing Moore Street in Dublin as a national monument. We will seek further information on that.
The matter raised by Senator Mullins would be more appropriately debated on the Adjournment, when the Minister could reply. Senator Barrett referred to the McLaughlin report and funding for local government. We will seek information on that. We may ask the Minister to come to the House and speak on his proposals for local government, which could incorporate water charges and staffing in local authorities. As soon as the Minister can come to the House we may have a debate on that matter. This would afford Senators the opportunity to speak on the items mentioned by Senator Barrett and by Senator O'Brien.
Senator Coghlan and other Members sought a debate on the economy and the banks. Senator Cullinane raised a number of items, including joint labour committees, JLCs, and also the question of repetition by Senators. I am afraid I cannot determine what Members say when they rise to speak. If one Member says something I cannot forbid another Member from requesting a debate on the same subject.
The Leader could coax them.
I hope to have a debate on the JLCs. The problem is getting Ministers to come to the House. Any Member may ask for a debate but it is then my duty to ask a Minister to make himself available on a particular day. It is not an easy task, given the schedules of Ministers. I will endeavour to have as many Ministers as possible come the House. I suggested yesterday that we could have debates without a Minister being present and forward the contents of the debate to the relevant Minister. I prefer to have the Minister present, but we may have to have debates without Ministers being present.
That would be meaningless.
There is a new Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and a new Department.
The Leader to continue, without interruption, please.
It is within our remit to do so. Senator Cullinane spoke about health matters and unemployment. We can incorporate unemployment and other matters in the debate on JLCs. It is for Members to focus on the area they wish to dwell on.
Senator Sheahan made an important point about banks and their lending to small businesses. This is a major problem. We may incorporate that matter in the debate on the economy and banks that was called for by other Members.
Senator Leyden referred to the referendum on children and asked why it is not being held in conjunction with the presidential election. Deputy Micheál Martin asked in the Dáil that the referendum not be taken on the same day as the presidential election. Senator Leyden's party colleagues might get their act together in that regard.
That does not mean the referendum cannot be held this year.
The Leader to continue, without interruption, please.
Senator Conway raised the matter of Shannon Airport. This could be raised on the Adjournment. I recommend that he do that.
Senators are entitled to have views and to express them. That is my view.
Senator Kelly raised the issue of medical cards. This is a serious matter. Community welfare officers have discretion in this matter and it can be taken up with the Minister for Health and Children.
Senator Byrne referred to WikiLeaks. Some interesting leaks have been published in newspapers. Exchanges of information between governments and reporting by diplomatic missions is an important aspect of the formulation of foreign policy and the conduct of international relations. This type of activity by diplomatic services takes place in every country. It is done for a variety of reasons, including political and commercial. It is important that such exchanges take place. However, it is not the intention of the Tánaiste to comment on the publication of the United States diplomatic cables.
There will not be many going to the American Embassy for functions. They can have their glass of wine by themselves.
Can we hear the Leader without interruption, please?
Senator Quinn spoke about the prison service and the report on prisons. I am endeavouring to have the Minister in the House next week, if possible, to discuss that report.
Senators Quinn, Reilly and Mooney raised the issue of food and food labelling. The previous Seanad debated the Food Harvest 2020 report. Perhaps we should have another debate on that subject in the coming weeks.
Senator Landy raised the matter of ghost estates, which are prevalent in many areas throughout the country. We can incorporate that in the debate on local government, when the Minister comes to the House. Senator Mooney called for a debate on ways to harness the power of the diaspora. A second Farmleigh meeting will be held later this year. We can arrange a debate on this subject. It is a question of bringing a Minister to the House to deal with these matters.
Senators Ó Domhnaill and Ó Clochartaigh referred to the fishing industry. I will arrange for a debate on this matter in the coming weeks. I hope to arrange a debate on the Irish language next week. Yesterday, a number of people asked to have this debate. I am working on that and I hope to have the debate next week.
Senator Darragh O'Brien has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business.
A Chathaoirligh, may I raise a point of order? The purpose of the amendment was to address the lack of clarity on the Government side as to whether a water charge or a household charge is proposed. Am I to take it from the Leader's answer that a household charge will proceed on 1 January of next year? Has the Leader given that clarification, although this was not tied into the EU-IMF deal? If that charge will be in force from 1 January next year, as the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government has said, there is no need to proceed with the amendment.
That is not what I stated. People can seek their own clarification on this matter. I thought what I had said was very clear. With regard to what Senator Darragh O'Brien said about the charge being introduced on 1 January, I never mentioned such a thing in my clarification.
In that case, I will press the amendment.
On a point of order, I point to Standing Order 56 which refers to the Attorney General.
I have no control over what the Leader says in reply. The point of order must relate specifically to procedure. I have an amendment in the name of Senator Darragh O'Brien, "That statements on the Government proposals for the introduction of water and household charges be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
- Byrne, Thomas.
- Cullinane, David.
- Daly, Mark.
- Leyden, Terry.
- MacSharry, Marc.
- Mooney, Paschal.
- Mullen, Rónán.
- Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
- Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
- Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
- O’Brien, Darragh.
- O’Donovan, Denis.
- O’Sullivan, Ned.
- Power, Averil.
- Quinn, Feargal.
- Reilly, Kathryn.
- Walsh, Jim.
- White, Mary M.
- Wilson, Diarmuid.
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Barrett, Sean D.
- Bradford, Paul.
- Brennan, Terry.
- Burke, Colm.
- Clune, Deirdre.
- Coghlan, Eamonn.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Comiskey, Michael.
- Conway, Martin.
- Cummins, Maurice.
- D’Arcy, Michael.
- Gilroy, John.
- Harte, Jimmy.
- Hayden, Aideen.
- Healy Eames, Fidelma.
- Henry, Imelda.
- Higgins, Lorraine.
- Keane, Cáit.
- Kelly, John.
- Landy, Denis.
- Moloney, Marie.
- Moran, Mary.
- Mulcahy, Tony.
- Mullins, Michael.
- Noone, Catherine.
- O’Donnell, Marie-Louise.
- O’Keeffe, Susan.
- O’Neill, Pat.
- Sheahan, Tom.
- van Turnhout, Jillian.
- Whelan, John.
On a point of order, it should be noted that the Labour Party and Independent Senators voted against asking the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, to come to the Seanad to discuss the water charge issue.
That is not a point of order.