Order of Business

Today's business is Nos. 1 and 2. No. 1, the allocation of time for the Order of Business, will be taken without debate. We propose three minutes for party leaders and two minutes for other Members to conclude within 55 minutes, with the Leader having ten minutes to respond. Members will generally accept those proposals. No. 2, statements on the fourth report of the special rapporteur on child protection, will be taken from 4 p.m., with the contribution of each spokesperson not to exceed ten minutes and the contribution of every other Senator not to exceed six minutes, and the Minister to be called upon to conclude statements not later than 5.55 p.m.

Following a request from new Members, an induction training course on procedures in the House and how to table amendments to Bills will take place on Tuesday, 14 June, in the audio-visual room.

I welcome the formation of the second Independent group in the House.

I condemn outright the brutal murder in Donabate over the weekend. This is another gangland crime and I wish the Garda every success in its investigations. The attack was made with absolute disregard for human life or for people who happened to be holidaying in Donabate at the weekend. These crimes are a scourge in the city of Dublin and the country in general. I call on the Government to use every power it has at its disposal, such as the gangland crime legislation passed by the previous Government that gives additional powers to the Garda and to the Commissioner. These powers should be used rigorously to seek out those who carried out this brutal attack.

After we raised the issue last week, the Leader agreed to have a debate on the programme for Government. Could the Leader identify a date very shortly for that? I asked for it for several reasons but over the weekend the possible reintroduction of third level fees was mentioned. We must be clear on where the programme for Government lies. We have already discussed the household charge and Fianna Fáil will use Private Members' time to allow for proper debate on the issue. There was a 10% cut to agreed SNA and resource hours in our primary schools and there are other issues, such as the fair deal nursing home scheme and the JLC rates. It would help the business of this House if we were to set aside a full day to discuss many of the elements in the programme for Government. Education was mentioned last week and a debate on the programme for Government can encompass everything from health to education to the banking sector. The sooner we fix a date for this debate, the sooner I will stop raising it on the Order of Business.

I join other Senators in congratulating those Members who are in the new Independent group of Taoiseach's nominees. Senator van Turnhout is the leader, if an independent group can have a leader. We are all glad to see a new group being formed, it will add to the quality of debate in this House. I can inform Senator Leyden that it is possible for a card carrying member of a political party to be a member of an independent group. I should know because I was previously a member of the Independent group despite having been a card carrying member of the Labour Party.

A valued member.

It is perfectly possible and we all welcome it. I also welcome the induction training in procedures for new Senators. It is important and we can all learn from it. I hope to attend because it is useful for all of us to get a reminder of procedures in the House.

I join Senator O'Brien in condemning the killing in Donabate at the weekend. Like many others, I was on Donabate beach on Saturday with my children and it is appalling to think such a brutal murder would happen in such a beautiful holiday spot. Both sides of the House join in condemning that.

We have some good news from the weekend. The airline pilots' strike has been averted. That is a matter of great relief to anyone contemplating travel and it is a great relief to the tourism industry here.

I ask for a debate on the recommendation of the UN committee against torture, which recommended that a statutory investigation should be held into allegations of torture and degrading treatment in the Magdalene institutions. This has been a cause for a long time and there is an excellent article by Patsy McGarry in The Irish Times today. All of us, including Senators on the Government side, should support the call for some form of apology and compensation to be offered to the survivors of these horrific abuses by the State at this stage in the campaign.

I formally announce the establishment of the Independent group. The group comprises me as leader, and Senators Eamon Coghlan, Fiach Mac Conghail, Martin McAleese, Marie-Louise O'Donnell, Mary Ann O'Brien and Dr. Katherine Zappone.

I echo Senator Bacik's call in respect of the recommendations of the United Nations committee against torture with regard to the Magdalene laundries. The Minister for Justice and Equality will shortly bring proposals to Cabinet. I ask that the Seanad be given an opportunity, following discussions at Cabinet level, to discuss the recommendations he proposes. We will have considerable views on this important issue.

I welcome the call for a discussion on the programme for Government. Perhaps this discussion can be held on a thematic basis to ensure that we get richness and focus in the debate.

As I have already complimented the Independent group, I do not feel it necessary to do so again. They know my good wishes.

I ask the Leader for a debate on the economy. I refer in particular to relations with our European neighbours. I welcome the fact that, in recent days, ambassadors were recalled to be briefed and sent out again to inform our European neighbours. This must be a two-way process. I am glad our ambassadors are involved in this. The German people and their representatives are, by and large, well disposed towards the Irish people and the Irish Government. That is good but some of them may be under some misapprehension. I hear talk about German banks bailing out the Irish people. In fact, it is the other way around. The Irish people, at enormous cost, pain and damage to institutions, including a reduction in special needs assistants and damage to health institutions, are bailing out our own and the European banking system. This includes substantial sections of the German banking system. They need to know that the Irish taxpayer is bailing out the German banks because they unwisely took a punt on our property bubble. That message must be sent.

A mechanism must be found so that Mr. Trichet, Mr. Lipsky and Mr. Ajay Chopra can be invited to attend in Dublin and a select group of Members, including some new ones such as Senator Sean Barrett and Deputy Peter Mathews in the other House, could question them on behalf of the Irish people. It seems we are being partially ruled by international financial institutions. The Irish people are entitled to know how, why, to what extent and how we can get out of this mess.

I am deeply ashamed at the report of the United Nations committee against torture. It does not make me feel good as an Irishman to read the recommendations. Many of us spoke about the Magdalene institutions and I am glad that this determination has come. I pay tribute to those courageous people who have spoken out before, including people who were in the institutions. I refer in particular to Professor James Smith of Boston College, who motivated and spoke to groups from both Houses in the audiovisual room in Leinster House. The recommendations are simple: apologise, investigate and compensate. I am delighted to hear a spokesman on the Government side, my good friend and colleague Senator Ivana Bacik, call for these things. It is interesting that there are other recommendations, including ensuring budget cuts to human rights institutions do not cripple their activities. Where did we hear that before? We heard it here, in a major debate in Seanad Éireann, which was never covered. That is sad and I invite people to look back at the debate in anticipation of the report. Another recommendation is to provide further information on specific measures taken to investigate allegations of State involvement in rendition programmes. That was raised in this House.

Does the Senator support the call for a debate?

I support the call for a debate in light of these points. The committee was established of this House and I invite people to go back and read the proceedings of that committee. It was extinguished by political forces.

Refugee status has been raised in this House. When a group is gravely concerned about the Government's lack of follow-up to the Ryan and other reports, it is a reproach to the State, and we must play our part in ensuring, through debates in the Chamber, that the new Government follows through on commitments made when its Members were on this side of the House. I believed them and there is now an opportunity to show their good offices; I hope they will do so.

I ask for two debates in the House. One relates to information in the newspapers today indicating that we are likely to have the lowest number of students in a long time taking honours maths this year. What concerns me most is that Project Maths, which is being rolled out in pilot schools now, will have a very low take-up. The Minister for Education and Skills must ask why, as Project Maths is meant to be the solution to making maths more accessible for our students at honours and ordinary level. Given the need for maths as a critical component for our smart economy and innovation we must know a little more about what is going on.

I mentioned the second matter last week. We spoke about bringing the chief executive of NAMA before the House and the Leader mentioned that he was looking at changes in the Committee on Procedure and Privileges in that regard. It is important to ask the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, to address these questions. Senator Daly spoke last week about properties being bought by people who were bailed out in the first instance and the public is concerned about this. In every one of our towns and cities, NAMA is having a real effect.

It was brought to my attention last night that Treasury Holdings, which owns the Convention Centre Dublin, has €500 million in debt but we still paid €200,000 for use of the centre during the Queen's visit. Why did that happen? Does it not appear that we are paying on the double? I would like an explanation.

The Minister, Deputy Varadkar, signed off on it.

Under the terms of the public private partnership for the convention centre, we will pay €3.7 million for the next two years and a further €2 million per year for 20 years after that. Is it not the case that the State is taking up the slack from both ends?

The Senator can make those points in the debate.

We are only in a transitional period from the last Government and perhaps many bad habits remain which must be cut off at the root. I will be keen to hear what the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, has to say on the matter.

I ask the Leader to bring the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, before the House to discuss why the Irish Coast Guard Service has €5 million of equipment sitting in a warehouse in Blanchardstown despite being purchased two years ago. It has still not been installed in the marine rescue co-ordination centres on Malin Head and Valentia but the equipment in those stations is obsolete; the manufacturers issued a "death certificate" to the coast guard service in 2007 for the equipment, indicating that the existing equipment is liable to catastrophic failure at any moment. It is hard to believe that a coast guard service dedicated to the cause of preserving lives is knowingly putting them at risk by having obsolete equipment in situ when brand new equipment has been sitting in a warehouse in Blanchardstown for two years. The manufacturer's warranty has now run out on the new equipment and the taxpayer is paying thousands of euro every month to the manufacturers to keep a warranty. Will the Leader bring the Minister before the House to discuss the matter?

Last week I raised an issue connected to NAMA, and we discussed Standing Order 56, which provides the facility to bring the Attorney General before the House. The Leader omitted to reply on the issue. The Attorney General and representatives of NAMA have asked me to provide evidence on the matter but do I look like the Garda Síochána, with an ability to investigate people conducting deals in the paperless world of darkened rooms? A source of the information wrote to NAMA and provided background information. We passed legislation to instruct NAMA on how properties should be sold but it is not following those rules. It is not selling them by auction or tender but in the most perverse manner imaginable, namely, selling them back to the people who originally borrowed the money from the banks, and doing so at greatly discounted prices and enormous losses to the taxpayer. I ask the Leader to bring the Attorney General into the House under Standing Order 56.

I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Finance to the House for a debate on the issue of young couples being evicted from their family homes owing to their inability to repay their mortgages. The number of couples affected, many of whom have young children, is escalating daily. I do not know how anyone in this House can look these people in the eye and tell them why the same banks which are now turning the screws on them have been bailed out to the tune of billions of euro. I, for one, cannot look them in the eye because I do not know why this is being allowed to happen. In my own constituency, I am aware of a couple with young children who will be forced to sell their family home for at least €100,000 less than what they paid for it, which will leave them in negative equity that they will never be able to repay. They will never again be able to afford to buy a home and will be blacklisted because they did not pay the full amount borrowed. There is absolutely nothing to show for the €100,000 they have left to repay. This couple will go on the social housing list or receive rent allowance. Why not sink the rent allowance into the home to keep this family in a house? I ask the Minister to provide for the couples who are in this situation.

During the debate on tourism last week, I suggested that we might invite the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of the Northern Ireland Assembly to address the Seanad and, perhaps, engage in a question and answer session. In the first instance, this is a matter for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges but I wish to go a step further by requesting the Leader and the committee to draw up a comprehensive proposal on how we might have return visits, the type of subjects we would cover and the structures that would apply. The last report produced on Seanad reform emphasised interaction between the Administrations on this island. During the recent elections there was considerable debate on reforming the Seanad but, while these demands are genuine, reform will take time. By developing a proposal based on what I suggest, however, we could signal one element of reform of the Seanad. I would like to think this issue could be addressed in the coming weeks rather than months. It would be well received by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister and would benefit the country because the subjects which could be discussed include tourism, agriculture, waterways, arts and culture. Such an initiative would be in the best interests of both parts of this island, as well as a credit to the Seanad.

I welcome the announcement regarding the new Independent group. Its establishment will be to the benefit of the House. It is being led by Senator van Turnhout and, while I do not know if it will have a Whip, I look forward to working with whoever is nominated for that position. The seven Senators make a formidable group, perhaps even the magnificent seven.

I was disturbed to hear Senator Daly's comments on the Irish Coast Guard. Like the Senator, I was concerned about Valentia and Malin Head. The only matter the Senator forgot to explain was why the previous Administration had this essential machinery stored for two years but we will no doubt get to the bottom of that quickly.

I also look forward to the meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges on how this House can have a structured relationship with the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Like previous speakers, I acknowledge the formation, formally and finally, of the second Independent group and wish its members the best of luck in their endeavours. However, I again refer the Leader and the Cathaoirleach to comments I made on the recognition of Sinn Féin as a group in this Chamber. There is a great deal of discussion about reform of the Seanad and making it more inclusive. My party does not have a representative on the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, despite the fact that it has three representatives in the Chamber, and it is not given formal speaking time. For example, during last week's debate on the important motion tabled by the Leader's party on tourism, Sinn Féin was allocated two two-minute slots. I, therefore, ask that Standing Orders be amended to reflect the fact that Sinn Féin is a group for the purposes of speaking time without allowances. We are interested in being given speaking time, not allowances.

The Senator should write to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges in that regard.

I have asked about this on many occasions and we have not received the response we want. If the Leader would sit down with us to have a discussion about these issues, it would be worthwhile and helpful. If we are not represented on the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, our voices will not be heard. This is the only opportunity we have to raise the matter.

I also refer to a commitment given by the Leader to ensure the duration of debates would be extended to three hours. According to the Order of Business, statements on child protection will only be taken for two hours. Will the time allowed be extended to three hours? This is an important issue and I am sure many Senators will want to make a contribution and be part of this important debate. I fail to see any reason the duration of the debate cannot be extended to three hours.

Like previous speakers, I am delighted Senator Ivana Bacik has said there will be a discussion at some point on the findings of the UN Committee Against Torture regarding the Magdalene laundries. We should go further; the House should unanimously endorse the recommendations made in the report. Its main recommendations need to be acted on. First, a formal apology should be issued to the victims; second, an independent inquiry should be held; and, third, we need to sing from the one hymn sheet and unanimously endorse the recommendations. If we are to have a discussion on this matter, we should examine the wider issues raised in the report. For example, it found——

We are not having the debate today.

With respect, the report also found issues relating to the penal system and prisons which need to be examined in the debate also.

During a raid on a post office in County Wexford earlier today two people were injured, although their injuries are not life threatening. However, robberies have reached a new stage. Banks and An Post have protocols in place which have resulted in criminals gaining little from their wrongdoing, but we are moving to a new stage where shots are being fired to injure rather than to threaten people. I am concerned that post offices in rural Ireland are easy targets for serious criminals. With the advent of the motorway system, these serious criminals are travelling down in a few hours to do their business and follow their plans to use back roads and escape quickly. Will the Leader invite the Minister for Justice and Equality to the House for a debate on this issue which is crucial to the safety of those manning post offices and small bank branches in the countryside?

I ask the Leader to provide an opportunity for a full debate on security in rural and urban areas.

I wish to propose an amendment to the Order of Business, namely, to allow the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, to come to the House to respond to the outcome of the deliberations of the Irish Human Rights Commission. It decided that we should establish a statutory mechanism to investigate the matters advanced by the Justice for Magdalenes group. It would be an appropriate opportunity for the Minister to redress the situation. The statement is significant. We all have a responsibility to apologise for what happened to young people in Magdalene laundries. Justice should be done in that case.

It was said by a Member in the Dáil on 17 December 2009 that the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform had irrefutable knowledge of the Magdalene asylum, as it was called, and that action should be taken in that regard because the treatment was appalling. That Member was Deputy Alan Shatter. I hope his actions speak louder than his words in that regard. I see from his website that he looks forward with hope. I hope the people who were affected by being in the laundries can look forward with some hope, and that he will give them hope.

The previous Government took action in that regard through the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, but that was in advance of the decision of the United Nations committee. The circumstances have changed for the Government in that regard. The residents involved in the Justice for the Magdalenes group were used as slaves and ill treated, about which there is no question. When the Minister was his party spokesperson on justice in 2009, he stated categorically in the Dáil that the evidence was irrefutable. I will elaborate further on the matter if the Minister is allowed to come to the House today to discuss the issue. I am sure he would be delighted to get an opportunity to indicate the decision in that regard that the Cabinet presumably made when it met this morning. Let the Minister come to the House later this evening to make a statement on the matter. Let the House be relevant.

Last year criticism was expressed about newspapers that printed only bad news. A few of us said that we would make sure we have good news. I came across some good news today. NUI Maynooth has become the first and only university outside North America to be included in the 2012 edition of The Princeton Review, a guide to the best 376 colleges. It is good news. Let us ensure we look for good news every now and then.

I ask the Leader to consider inviting the Minister for Justice and Law Reform to the House for a wide-ranging debate. My attention has been drawn to a number of points that have cropped up in recent times. One was the reference by the Director of Public Prosecutions to the annual bill for gardaí waiting for cases that do not take place as they are cancelled when they come to court. The bill came to €17 million. That is an issue we can do something about.

In another case, a judge referred to the need for a garda to accompany prisoners to court every time they are mentioned. Even if it is only to remand the prisoner, he or she must be accompanied from a prison to the court. It takes two gardaí and a driver to take one prisoner and three gardaí and a driver to take two prisoners. Very often, nothing takes place and it is just mentioned that the prisoner has been remanded for another two weeks, for example. In Northern Ireland that is done by video link. It seems to me that it should be possible to do that. On that basis, the amount of Garda overtime, money spent and Garda time wasted does not make sense.

When the Minister for Justice and Law Reform comes to the House, could we ask him about the 2007 Coroners Bill which lapsed when the Government changed? I do not know why that was the case. The Bill was initiated in 2007 but it has not come into operation yet. It must come into operation at some point because it is required under European regulations. The European Convention on Human Rights has demanded that we ensure the required steps take place. These are some of the points the Minister for Justice and Equality could handle in the Seanad. It would give Members an opportunity to express their feeling on what should take place. I believe the Minister would welcome the opportunity to come before us to hear the views of Members.

During the term of the previous Seanad, we discussed the Croke Park agreement and had an informal arrangement to continue that debate. It would be opportune for the Leader to arrange with the Government to have a substantive debate on the Croke Park agreement, which is deemed to be central to economic recovery. There was a commitment to substantial savings in public expenditure. If we are to return to economic growth and job creation, we must ensure, at a minimum, that the savings materialise as promised. I ask the Leader to request the Government for an update on the savings achieved in advance of the forthcoming budget.

I second Senator Terry Leyden's motion to amend the Order of Business. I do not wish to join the universal praise for the formation of another group of Independents in the Seanad. The Croke Park agreement was mentioned in the context of duplication in the public and Civil Service. This is more duplication. In the Lower House, Deputies Richard Boyd Barrett and Shane Ross are in the same grouping. I do not see why that cannot apply in the Seanad. I think the duplication is not appropriate and it is mind boggling that members of political parties can be members of an Independent grouping. I agree with Sinn Féin that it is totally wrong that it is excluded from the grouping. If it can be done, I would be more than happy to join an Opposition cross-party group to allow Sinn Féin to have speaking rights in the Chamber, when that party seems to be excluded.

The Senator should go ahead with that.

It does not seem to be allowed.

It is allowed.

It will further public scorn of the Seanad.

The Senator should change the name of his party to the Fianna Fáil-Sinn Féin Party.

Let us proceed without further interruption.

It will further public scorn of the Seanad and I ask the Independents to consider bridging the gap of their differences and uniting in the interest of the efficiency of proceedings.

Cloud computing has been in the news and I am delighted that Senator Quinn has reminded us of the need for good news. Dell has announced jobs in that area. However, a report in the newspaper on Friday suggested that Government Departments are reluctant to use cloud computing. On the one hand, we are promoting Ireland as a venue for cloud computing, but, on the other, the Government will not actually use the service. I ask that the Minister with responsibility for public expenditure, who is responsible for public procurement, comes to the Seanad to discuss that issue. We have good news but the Government needs to ensure that departmental procurement policy follows suit.

I welcome in advance that the Minister for Finance will come to the House. I call for a wide-ranging debate on finance matters. It was brought to my attention at the weekend by a number of business people who negotiated the restructuring of their payments and were sent new contracts to sign. Two of them signed and returned the contract without reading it. One person read it, but in all three cases, it was noted that the bank had added an additional 1% increase to the repayments. That needs to be addressed.

It was also brought to my attention, and this is news to me, that once a person guarantees a loan, following its repayment the guarantee stays in place, because one is not guaranteeing the loan, but the person who has taken out the loan. One is guaranteeing the person for life. People do not realise this. Once one guarantees a loan and it is repaid, one should contact the bank and tell it that the guarantee is now null and void. Otherwise, should the person look for a loan in the future, even in 20 years time, the guarantee that was put in place 20 years earlier is still in place.

I wish to speak about the post office robberies. I empathise and sympathise with Senator D'Arcy to a large degree. More security needs to be put in place for rural post offices. My sister was a victim in County Roscommon, when she was robbed at gunpoint. Thankfully the Garda was in a position to act quickly and arrest people. There is an issue with people moving from other parts of the country to rural areas and all of a sudden there are local robberies with information being given to their friends in whatever part of the country they left. It is a matter that deserves debate.

I respectfully disagree with my colleague, Senator Byrne. I believe the new Independent group of the Taoiseach's nominees is very welcome and I wish them well in their work. I remind them of what I earlier encouraged them to do and ensure they are independent. Let it not be said that the term "independent Taoiseach's nominees" becomes an oxymoron in this House, like military intelligence or male intuition. They should strive to ensure it is possible to be independent. In due course the voting record will show whether they are. Either way I am sure we will hear some fine contributions.

In keeping with Senator Quinn's determination to bring good news before the House, I draw the House's attention to an excellent initiative from the Irish Hospice Foundation through its hospice friendly hospitals programme. Today it launched a range of resources for end-of-life care in hospitals, an issue in which I have a particular interest. We in this House last year had the first ever Oireachtas debate on the need for better quality end-of-life care. I hope to initiate a cross-party group of Members of the Dáil and Seanad which would keep the focus on the need to improve the quality of end-of-life care in our homes, hospices and hospitals.

Today at the launch of these resources, which aim to bring hospice principles into hospital practice, we saw, for example, the family hand-over bag. We have all seen the indignity faced by loved ones of a deceased person who are handed a plastic bag with the personal effects of the deceased person. The hospice friendly hospitals programme of the Irish Hospice Foundation has excelled in drawing attention to these important and symbolic but very real gestures of care. We saw the family hand-over bag that is now used and an altar table that is available. We also saw the introduction of an end-of-life spiral symbol to show people in the hospital that there is a person who is dying or who has just died in order that people can die in circumstances where their dignity and that of their loved ones is respected. This is an example of something that can be achieved without a large allocation of resources. I ask the Leader to bring that initiative to the attention of the Minister for Health because I would like to hear the Government's plans to give further support to such initiatives, which are so important. We talk a great deal about human rights and the dignity of the person. We must never forget that people at the end of their lives are often forgotten, as are their needs, and we should draw attention to their needs.

I welcome the formation of the group of seven Independents. Perhaps we could have a seven-a-side match at some stage because there are some fit men on this side of the field and we would need to match them.

We are coming into the tourist season and I would like to relate an experience I had last week coming from Belfast after collecting my son from college. There are signs on the M1 pointing towards Dublin — as one would think. As I continued along the road, the next thing I saw was a sign for Omagh 22 miles away at which point I realised I had gone off the Dublin M1 road. There are actually two M1 roads. There is a Northern M1 and a Southern M1. I thought I was on the proper road, but I was not and it added an hour to my journey. Anyone coming to Belfast who wants to drive to the South will automatically stay on the M1, which ends up in Enniskillen. We should bring the matter to the attention of the Minister. It may be that those on either side of the Border would not want to give up that term, M1. The title of the other M1 should be changed to the M3, for example, in order that the route from Belfast to Dublin would have just one name.

When I related this to tourists, they said to me that when they leave Dublin Airport and see signs for the N7, N4 or N2, they automatically believe the "N" refers to "north". Tourists who do not know the geography of the country presume they are going north when they go onto those roads. In other countries, signage is different. France, for example, uses the term "RN", meaning route nationale, and thus has roads with titles such as RN 21. We should consider our signage on roads throughout the country. If one assumes “N” means “north” and that one is going north all the time, one could end up in Donegal rather than Mayo, which would be no harm. This can and does happen regularly. Perhaps the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport will consider the signage on the Belfast-Dublin road such that there will be no confusion owing to there being a different name on each side of the Border. I got confused because of the problem. The person to whom I told this ended up in Dungannon. When he asked for directions to Dublin at a petrol station in Dungannon, the staff there said he was the fourth person that day looking for directions to Dublin. I ask the Leader to bring this to the attention of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an díospóireacht a bheidh sa Teach ar an Déardaoin ar an straitéis 20 bliain don Ghaeilge agus todhchaí na Gaeilge taobh amuigh agus taobh istigh den Ghaeltacht. Ba mhaith liom imní iomlán a chur in iúl. While I welcome the opportunity to have a debate on the Irish language on Thursday, I object vehemently to the position being taken by the Government not to afford any longer an opportunity to people living in the Gaeltacht areas to vote for board members of Údarás na Gaeltachta. The Government, which is in office for just three months, is already cancelling the opportunity of the people to have a democratic voice. We fought for over 800 years for the opportunity to have democratic institutions within the State, yet a new Government, less than three months in power, is deciding at Cabinet level, without consulting the people, that there will be no elections to elect community representatives to the board of Údarás na Gaeltachta. I oppose this step vehemently. I was planning to table an amendment to the Order of Business today on this matter but will instead give the Leader an opportunity to hear the discussion on Thursday. What is being done represents a retrograde step. The 86,500 people who live in Gaeltacht areas are being denied the opportunity of a vote, and this is wrong. As a democrat, I hope the new Government will reflect on the stance it has taken in the past week.

The fishing industry is worth approximately €800 million in exports and domestic sales to the economy. The industry is crucial to the future recovery of the country and is an integral part of the Food Harvest 2020 report. Last week I called for a debate on the fishing industry. I hope the Leader will see fit, in the next week or ten days, to have a debate on the fishing industry because a vital meeting of the Fisheries Ministers is taking place on 27 and 28 June in Europe at which the future of the Common Fisheries Policy will be discussed.

As an add-on to the debate on the fisheries sector, I ask that we have an opportunity to discuss with the Minister a compensation scheme for fishermen who lost gear and pots off the Irish coast in the past month or so. Damage amounting to tens of thousands of euro was caused to fishing equipment. Many of the affected fishermen cannot afford to return to the waters without some compensation from the Minister.

While we are having a debate with the Minister, which is vital, it is important that we invite Commissioner Damanaki to the House in order that all Members would have an equal opportunity to debate with her the future of the Common Fisheries Policy.

I want to address the rise in the number of cannabis growing factories nationally. In my town this weekend, a cannabis factory was discovered by local gardaí. I ask the Leader to request the Minister for Justice and Equality to address that issue. Currently, one can legally import cannabis seed via the Internet or directly from anywhere in the world. Legislation is not in place to prevent this from happening. The Garda and the customs service have been extremely successful in preventing cannabis from being brought here through ports and airports, but this is a new industry in which cannabis seed is legally brought in. It only becomes illegal when the seed is germinated. We must address this issue urgently. In my own area of Carrick-on-Suir over the weekend and a number of weeks ago in Mooncoin, County Kilkenny two large cannabis factories were discovered in residential houses by the Garda. We must close down such factories. The Minister must come into the House to discuss the introduction of legislation to prevent cannabis seed from being imported legally and then becoming an illegal product.

To answer Senator Thomas Byrne with regard to the formation of groups, he might allow one or two of his own a free transfer to the group he wants to be allowed to form.

That is not relevant to the Order of Business.

I would support any scheme to seek redress for the victims of the Magdalene laundries. There was one in my own town and it must be said quite a number of those who passed through the laundries had positive rather than negative experiences. However, a great deal of the report indicates that many had a negative experience and, therefore, there should be redress, but it must happen in a way that it will not become a cash cow for lawyers. It is imperative, in so far as any inquiries are made, that they are made without the attendant unsustainable costs of the legal profession. In that regard, will the Leader indicate if there is any intent on the part of the Government to implement in the immediate future the recommendations of the Competition Authority which date back to December 2006 when it sought independent regulation of the legal profession? I note some eminent senior people within the Administration have put up a defence for the exorbitant fees charged and the uncompetitive practices that have afflicted not only the State but many individuals because of our failure to tackle the abuses within the profession in an appropriate way. I refer, in particular, to barristers, even though I am aware the same is often said about solicitors, but there is at least some competition in that respect.

I support the comments of Senator John Kelly who sought a debate on the economy. It is essential that in this Seanad we keep our focus on the various challenges facing the country. I would like to believe the Seanad will play a constructive role in that regard, as it has in the past.

While many in the newspaper industry, whom I noticed had showed up here on day one but have not been seen since, would be critical of the Seanad, they have not listened to or compared the debates that have happened in this House on the challenges we face——

——with those that have happened in the Lower House. We need to step up our game in this regard. I am concerned that the drag on the Government by elements within the Labour Party not to face up to our difficulties could be ruinous for the whole economy and for each and every citizen in the country, particularly our young people. I, therefore, ask that we have a debate on this issue under the headings of banking, fiscal rectitude — in other words, the deficit that must be tackled and overcome — competitiveness and growth. In that regard, it is welcome that a debate will take place tomorrow which will focus on the competitiveness aspect. I suggest for the Leader's consideration that over a fortnight before the end of this term we have a debate on each of these component parts and invite somebody who is objective and fair and an expert on the subject to address the House.

There is no provision for that to happen.

That could be done. Surely we can make provision for it.

Provision can only be made for distinguished people to come in. It is a matter for your party to take it up with the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.

I do not want it to be buried in a basket somewhere by putting it to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. If we are talking about Seanad reform, then we must be innovative.

It is a matter for representatives on the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. The Senator can write to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.

In the past, under a former leader, people from outside this Chamber addressed the House and we followed that up with a question and answer session. These things can happen if there is the will to do so. People connected with the public service can also be brought in. We must find ways and means of doing this because the situation is too serious. We are all paid out of the public purse and the people are depending on us to come up with solutions to problems.

The Senator can take this up with his representatives on the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.

I ask that we do this. I ask the Clerk of the Seanad to play her part as well. There is no point in people putting obstacles in our way. We want to find solutions to the problems, not identify the problems. Everybody knows the problems. We must do this in a constructive way.

The Clerk has no role in this, as the Senator well knows.

Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil le Ceannaire an Tí as ucht chomh sciobtha agus a tugadh chun cinn an díospóireacht maidir le cúrsaí Gaeilge agus Gaeltachta. Ag tagairt don phointe a rinne mo chomhghleacaí, an Seanadóir Cullinane, tá sé fíor thábhachtach go dtabharfar am cuí d'ionadaithe Shinn Féin labhairt ag an díospóireacht sin, mar tá cuid mhaith ceisteanna, mar a d'ardaigh an Seanadóir Ó Domhnaill ar ball, maidir le todhchaí an údaráis ach go háirithe agus maidir leis an ról daonlathach atá ann ó thaobh muintir na Gaeltachta de le vótáil ar chúrsaí an údaráis agus ar bhord an údaráis.

Chomh maith leis sin, i gcomhthéacs an gearradh siar ar mhaoiniú a rinneadh ar an údarás faoin Rialtas deiridh, tá go leor ceisteanna ardaithe thar an deireadh seachtaine ag na fógairtí a rinne an tAire ar an Déardaoin. Ba mhaith liom a fhiafraí den Cheannaire an bhfuil aon bhealach gur féidir an méid ama atá leagtha amach don díospóireacht sin a leathnú go dtí trí uair a chloig, mar a moladh an tseachtain seo caite maidir leis na díospóireachtaí, mar tá mé cinnte go mbeidh neart le rá ag daoine ar ghach thaobh den Teach maidir leis an straitéis 20 bliain.

Díospóireacht eile atá uaim ná díospóireacht maidir le cúrsaí taistil tuaithe. Tá sé tagtha chun cinn go bhfuil imní ar na daoine atá ag plé leis na cláir taistil tuaithe ar fud na tíre go bhféadfadh an clár a bheith i mbaol. Tá mé cinnte, de réir an méid a bhí le rá ag Fine Gael roimh an olltoghchán, go bhfuil siad go mór i bhfábhar an chláir taistil tuaithe agus tá mé ag glacadh leis go bhfuil siad fós, agus Páirtí an Lucht Oibre chomh maith céanna. B'fhéidir go mbeadh sé go maith dá dtiocfadh an tAire cuí isteach sa Teach le léiriú dúinn cén todhchaí atá ag an gclár sin, mar go bhfuil sé riachtanach ó thaobh daoine a thabhairt chuig an ionad pobail, daoine a thabhairt chuig na siopaí, chuig dochtúirí agus mar sin de. Laghdódh sin an imní atá amuigh i measc an phobail maidir leis an dream atá ag plé leis an rural transport scheme. Ba mhaith an rud é nach mbeadh imní orthu faoi sin feasta.

I join the Leader of the Opposition, Senator O'Brien, in complimenting the new group that has been formed in the House. They are excellent people and will do a great job here.

We are all appalled at the recent murder of a gentleman in Donabate. We extend our sympathies to the family of the gentleman in question and hope that the Garda Síochána will apprehend somebody at an early stage for this vile crime.

There were requests last week for a debate on the programme for Government. Rather than having a wide-ranging debate on the programme, we should break it down into various areas such as finance, education and so on, in order to have more focused debates in each area over the coming weeks. That might satisfy everybody and people can have a say on particular aspects of the programme for Government.

Senators Ivana Bacik, Jillian van Turnhout, David Norris, Jim Walsh and Terry Leyden, among others, referred to the report of the UN Committee Against Torture on the ill-treatment of residents in Magdalene laundries. The Cabinet will discuss this matter on Thursday and have proposals afterwards. I will be inclined to accede to the request for a debate after the Cabinet meeting but not today after the Order of Business. Therefore, I do not propose to accept the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Leyden.

I accept what the Leader has said.

Senators David Norris, Fidelma Healy Eames and Mark Daly have requested a debate on the economy. The Finance (No. 2) Bill will be before the House in a fortnight. I have spoken to the Minister for Finance in that regard. On Second Stage he is prepared to allow Members to expand their contributions to deal with a number of the matters on which a debate has been requested, including NAMA and a number of other financial matters. Rather than allocating two hours for the debate on Second Stage, we can extend the time to be allotted. I hope this will satisfy those Members who have sought a debate on the economy and related matters.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames sought a debate on education, a subject also mentioned by other Members. I hope to have the Minister for Education and Skills come before the House next week to deal with the issue of language support teachers for special needs pupils. Members can also raise other education matters during the statements.

Senator Mark Daly raised the matter of the Attorney General requiring evidence from him. Last week in the House he made an allegation of corruption against NAMA. I presume he has evidence of the allegation of corruption he mentioned under privilege. We will certainly discuss the matter at the meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges tomorrow.

Senators Paul Coghlan and Mark Daly discussed the issue of Irish Coast Guard equipment at the stations on Malin Head and Valencia. It is dreadful that new equipment has been in storage for two years and not been used. My information is that both Irish Coast Guard stations will be refurbished and that the equipment will be put in place at that time. It is an indictment of the previous Minister for Transport that €5 million was spent on new equipment which was not put in place. I am sure the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport will be delighted to address the House at a later stage.

Senator Paschal Moloney raised the serious matter of mortgage repayments. There is a two-year moratorium with regard to institutions guaranteed by the State. This is a matter that can be addressed during the debate on Second Stage of the Finance (No. 2) Bill in a fortnight.

Senators Labhras Ó Murchú and Jim Walsh called for an invitation to be issued to the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. This can be done. We will discuss the matter at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges tomorrow.

Senator David Cullinane asked why Sinn Féin could not be represented on the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. Sinn Féin has only three Senators and five are required to form a group for representation on the committee.

With respect, Standing Orders can be changed.

That is the reason Sinn Féin is not represented on the committee. If Senator Thomas Byrne wishes Fianna Fáil to give up one of its positions——

I did not say that.

The Senator suggested Fianna Fáil might form a group with Sinn Féin which would allow extra space.

That is a trivial response. With respect, the Leader of the House is not taking the issue of reform seriously. There is an issue with our speaking rights in the Chamber.

The Leader of the House to continue, without interruption.

Senator Michael D'Arcy raised the issue of post office robberies throughout the country. In that regard, there is a need for a debate on law and order issues. Debates have been sought on various issues relating to the Department of Justice and Equality. The Minister will come before the House next week to discuss renewing the terms of the Offences against the State Act. He will also come before the House to discuss law and order issues and, I hope, the report of the Inspector of Prisons in the coming weeks.

I am sure we would all like, with Senator Feargal Quinn, to congratulate NUI, Maynooth. As he stated, it is good to have good news. He also raised a number of matters relating to the Minister for Justice and Equality, including the Coroners Bill and the cost of people being remanded. In that regard, he suggested the use of video links. It is an excellent idea on which we can arrange a debate with the Minister.

Senator Paul Bradford called for a discussion on the progress report on the Croke Park agreement. The previous Seanad discussed this issue and we can certainly arrange another debate on it.

Senator John Kelly raised the issue of the banks with regard to restructuring loans and people having to pay an additional 1% without knowing this because they did not read the small print. I am sure the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, would be delighted for this issue to be raised during discussions on the Finance (No. 2) Bill in a fortnight.

Senator Rónán Mullen raised another important item — the quality of end of life care. Next week the two Ministers of State at the Department of Health will come before the House to deal with a number of matters, including the fair deal nursing homes scheme on which last week Members called for a debate. There will also be statements on primary care. I advise Members that these items will be discussed next week having been requested last week.

Senator Jimmy Harte raised the issue of road signage. This matter urgently needs to be addressed and we will raise it with the Department and the Minister.

Senators Brian Ó Domhnaill and Trevor Ó Clochartaigh called for a debate on the Irish language. We have acceded to this request and the debate will be held this week. Senator Ó Domhnaill also discussed the fishing industry, on which there is a need for a debate. However, after three days I have received requests for a debate on approximately 30 items. We will do our best to fit in as many as we can.

Senator Jim Walsh raised the report of the Competition Authority on legal fees and other services. This matter was addressed in the IMF-EU bailout programme and can be dealt with here also.

Senator David Cullinane referred to the amount of time allocated for a debate. If there is not sufficient time today for the debate on the child protection report, the debate can be resumed and continued in the weeks ahead. We will ensure those who wish to speak in the debate will have time to do so. I cannot be any more reasonable than this.

Senator Jim Walsh asked about bringing distinguished persons to the House. On the first day we met I indicated we would proceed with bringing distinguished persons to the House. Whether we can expand this will be discussed at the meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. My aim is to make the House as relevant as possible. In that regard, I will be amenable to any suggestions by which we can do so and improve its workings.

We have a rota for Private Members' time which is as follows: 8 June, Fianna Fáil; 15 June, Independent Taoiseach's nominees; 22 June, the Labour Party in Government time; 29 June, Independent university Senators; 6 July, Fianna Fáil; 13 July, Fine Gael in Government time; 20 July, Independent Taoiseach's nominees; and 27 July, Independent university Senators. That is the programme for Private Members' time until the end of this session.

Senator Leyden proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That the debate with the Minister for Justice and Equality on the Irish Human Rights Commission's recommendations and the statement by the United Nations Committee against Torture on the matters advanced by Justice for Magdalenes be taken today" but has indicated he will withdraw it.

I withdraw the amendment because the response from the Leader was very comprehensive. It is vital that the Government discusses this issue before it comes before the House. I thank the Leader for such a comprehensive response. He gave a commitment that the Minister would come to the House to discuss the issue.

Order of Business agreed to.