The Order of Business is No. 1, Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Bill 2011 — Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and conclude not later than 1.30 p.m; No. 2, Finance (No. 2) Bill 2011 (Certified Money Bill) — Second Stage, to be taken at 2.30 p.m. and conclude not later than 5.30 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed six minutes and the Minister to be called upon to reply no later than 5.15 p.m.; No. 3, motion re section 8 of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009, to be taken at 7.30 p.m. and conclude not later than 8.15 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be called upon to reply no later than 8.10 p.m.; and No. 13, motion No. 1 in the names of Independent Senators re Seanad procedures, to commence at 5.30 p.m. and conclude not later than 7.30 p.m.
Order of Business
Last week in the House my colleague, Senator Mark Daly, indicated that he had information to hand suggesting that, in some instances, developers were in a position to purchase back discounted loans from the National Asset Management Agency through offshore companies. On the Order of Business yesterday the Government Chief Whip, Senator Paul Coghlan, stated his view that Senator Daly had abused the privilege of the House, a charge I do not accept. The concerns expressed by Senator Daly were raised by the Taoiseach, Senator Coghlan's party leader, earlier this week. Without making any more of it, I ask that the comments made about Senator Daly be withdrawn, given that the Taoiseach shares his concerns. Moreover, this is a matter that should be examined by the House in some detail.
In Private Members' time last week we debated a motion on the flat-rate water, utility or household charge — or whatever the Government intends to call it — to be introduced next year. I was grateful to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, for making a statement to the House. He was not in attendance for the entire duration of the debate, but I understand it is not always possible for Ministers to do so. However, we on this side of the House are no clearer on what the Government intends to do on 1 January 2012. Will the Leader confirm whether a flat-rate household charge will be introduced at the beginning of next year? The Minister certainly did not make the position clear last week.
I thank the Leader for allowing additional time on Second Stage of the Finance (No. 2) Bill 2011, as it is an important Bill which will set in train the Government's jobs initiative. While I very much welcome aspects of the proposal such as the changes proposed to the rate of VAT and the travel tax, I ask all Members to consider the amendments my party has tabled to the Bill. The fundamental issue is that the jobs initiative which was initially announced as a "budget" will be paid for by a raid on ordinary workers' private pension funds through a levy of 0.6%. It excludes approved retirement funds and existing annuities which are generally the preserve of wealthier people. While I welcome the introduction of a jobs initiative and parts thereof, I absolutely abhor how it is proposed to be funded. It sets a very poor precedent in punishing the very people who are making provision for their retirement in order that they will be less of a burden on the State when they cease working. A levy of 0.6% over a four year period will, in the case of defined benefit schemes which are under ferocious pressure, lead to a reduction of 9% to 10% in pensions being paid to existing pensioners. The Minister for Finance has received a great deal of correspondence from the Pensions Board and various pension schemes asking him, if he is to proceed with the levy, to consider including approved retirement funds in order that there would be a sharing of the burden of this raid on private pension funds.
I, too, welcome the allocation of three hours for the Second Stage debate on the Finance (No. 2) Bill 2011 and the Leader's indication that we will have an opportunity to raise several issues with the Minister. One of the issues we must discuss is how to fund the jobs initiative. I welcome Senator Darragh O'Brien's indication that the Opposition supports the initiative.
Parts of it.
The Senator indicated he supported the concept behind it.
The principle, yes.
He also referred to the changes to the rate of VAT and the travel tax. We must all bear in mind that the Government is between a rock and a hard place in terms of the IMF-EU deal. It is a real difficulty. We need to debate the basis upon which we will fund an initiative, but it is clear that such an initiative is needed and that it is very difficult to identify a source of funding, given the constraints as a consequence of the activities of previous Governments in the last 14 years.
Will the Leader allow a debate on the training of gardaí? This issue will be debated on the Adjournment this evening and several Members raised it yesterday with the Minister for Justice and Equality in the course of the debate on the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998. The announcement that recruitment of gardaí through the college in Templemore will be put on ice for several years is a source of great concern. The Minister said yesterday that his hands were tied by the IMF-EU deal——
As the Senator indicated, this issue will be discussed on the Adjournment this evening. Perhaps Senator Terry Leyden will share time with her.
I will speak with the Senator. However, the issue deserves a fuller debate. The Minister has pointed out that the IMF-EU deal requires a reduction in the numbers of gardaí. We must examine how best that can be achieved.
I welcome the announcement today that an investigation will be held into the treatment of women and girls in Magdalene laundries. The establishment of an interdepartmental committee is an important step towards what I hope will be fuller redress and apologies for the women and girls who spent so long incarcerated in these institutions. I pay tribute to the Justice for Magdalenes campaign and the individuals who have pushed for this for years.
Never would I have dreamed as a young girl growing up on the western seaboard of the United States of America that I would be given the special right — that is the definition of privilege — to add my voice to those of my distinguished colleagues on all sides of the House. I am grateful to both the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach for this trust. However, this gift of privilege is also one of power and in my time in the House I commit to a performative notion of power, that is, power understood not so much as something we possess but as practices that can be performed together to change the structures, dominant cultural norms or the laws — especially the laws — where they render people excluded, marginalised, unfree or invisible.
There is an ethical urgency to the work we are doing together and it is imperative that we attend to the various interpretative lenses we bring into the way we order and conduct our business. I wish to focus on two of these lenses which I hope to bring to my work, shaped largely by my reflective experiences of those I have worked alongside in the past 28 years in Ireland. First, I wish to bring the lens of appreciation for the diverse ways of being human. Diversity is integral to the essence of humanity. For example, the moral worth of a younger person is equal to that of an older person. An acceptance of this perspective leaves one to conclude that lawmakers ought to scrutinise laws to ensure there is an appropriate and equivalent amount of protection, resources and rights for each human being at whatever point he or she is at on the continuum of age. If, as I believe unflinchingly, a society of equals in Ireland will only be established by mutually respecting diversity and difference, then I bring a sense of urgency to my position in this House to ensure that laws are passed that accept and normalise diversity.
Second, I intend to bring a social justice lens to our economic and financial challenges. This will encompass a rigorous commitment to efficiency and effectiveness but in a way that is fair and that invests in social, as well as in economic entrepreneurship, in the social and community sectors, as well as in small and medium enterprises, research and development and multinational corporations. Both types of entrepreneurship are required to get Ireland working again. The social sector has lessons for the economic one and the business and change management models hold great potential to solve some of our most trenchant social problems. The Cathaoirleach and Leader should note these are some of the reasons I intend to propose the motion tabled by the Independent group this evening. I look forward to outlining some of the implications these reflections hold for how Seanad Éireann will conduct its business at that time.
It would be wrong for Members not to welcome the Government's announcement of an interdepartmental committee in response to the initiative of the Justice for Magdalenes group and to examine bringing about what has been well described by the Government as a restorative and reconciliation process. My hope for the work of the aforementioned committee is, first, that it will be given the time it needs to do its work and, second, that it will enjoy co-operation and goodwill from all parties involved. I do not doubt but that the religious orders and State parties will be forthcoming in the provision of full information and records to assist the committee in doing its work. It has been stated that the United Nations Committee against Torture and the Irish Human Rights Commission already have found the State wanting but it is important that the committee should do its work. It would be interesting to consider whether or at what stage the Seanad could have a debate on the issue, whether Members should await the outcome of the committee's work or whether they should have some input in the meantime.
I hope there will be a fair assessment of the undeniable cruelties of our past and that the work of this committee may lead us in the direction of avoiding unnecessary playing of the blame game. I seek an honest examination of all the issues involved, including the poverty that was very much part of the Ireland of the past, a reasonable examination of those orders which provided care when nobody else would, as well as consideration of the responsibility of the families in these cases, who in many cases were extremely derelict in their duties. There often can be an attempt to scapegoat church and State and while church and State may well be deserving of blame, perhaps insufficient attention has been paid to the role of, and dereliction of duty within, families. This also must be part of the story. I wish that committee well and hope its work eventually will bring healing and more to those who undeniably were wronged in the past.
It also is the case that a referendum on judges' pay will be held in October and given the rate at which referendums are being announced, it may not be necessary to hold a constitutional convention as the Constitution will undergo radical reform in any event if all these referendums pass. On the issue of judges' pay an unhealthy populism should be avoided. There are extremely good reasons for the constitutional entrenchment of judges' pay. In the past, judges were subject to bribery and to threat. For example, one scholar has noted that Charles I of England got into the habit of putting questions to judges about the legality of his proposed actions and the fear of instant dismissal exposed those judges frequently to the temptation of giving him the answer they knew he sought.
Look what happened to him.
Indeed. Members should also remember that Article 3 of the United States constitution sets out the right to hold office for judges during good behaviour and there is a right to receive compensation at stated times, "which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office". This pertained to protecting the independence of judges. Given the straitened circumstances in which we find ourselves, it of course may be necessary to give constitutional backing to the right of the Government to propose a reduction in judges' salaries, but one must remember——
I will finish this point with a question to the Leader. One must remember this is an encroachment on the independence of the Judiciary and Members should consider the matter in a debate. I ask the Leader to consult the Government on whether it might not be necessary to introduce compensatory legislation that might establish with more force than ever that it would be a criminal offence to seek in any way to interfere with the independence of a judge by offering any kind of threat or inducement, direct or indirect, in any way. While such protections may already be provided, it may be that with this proposed constitutional adjustment——
—— legislation is required and I ask the Leader to consider this possibility.
I note Senator O'Brien's comments regarding NAMA and his attempt to draw a conclusion that certain people were ad idem. Nothing could be further from the truth because to be clear, the Fianna Fáil Senator concerned claimed on the record that developers rebought their former assets at a fraction of the original price in some instances. He also stated they were buying back at below market value, that the taxpayer was losing millions of euro, that there was widespread corruption in that regard, that NAMA was not operating in accordance with the law——
Senator, we are on the Order of Business. Do you have a question for the Leader?
I appreciate that and I am coming to it. He called for the Attorney General to appear before the Seanad on the matter although as the Cathaoirleach is aware, that would be a matter for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and no doubt it will address it. Senator Daly seriously should put up or shut up. There was no shred of evidence——
He was the same as the Taoiseach.
This is not relevant to the Order of Business. Does Senator Coghlan have a question for the Leader?
—— but he tried to state that the Taoiseach was in agreement.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
—— you are completely out of order.
With respect, a Chathaoirligh——
—— the Taoiseach merely referred to things he had heard.
Senator Coghlan, have you a question for the Leader?
The Taoiseach believed him.
He asked and he hoped that NAMA——
Senator Coghlan, have you a question for the Leader?
—— would be on top of the situation and he clearly accepted that it was.
I respectfully ask the Leader that this serious matter be referred to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, which is the place for it.
On what basis?
I note the Government's decision regarding the Magdalene laundries and I welcome this speedy decision to at least establish this group to report within three months. It is vitally important that an independent chairperson be appointed to this group and that there will be a follow-up to the recommendations it is to be hoped will arise therefrom. I also welcome the decision by the relevant orders of sisters to co-operate with this committee and note the Justice for Magdalenes group has welcomed the Government's decision. In the circumstances a speedy resolution is important. However, I remind Members the Minister already has made up his mind in this regard as he has stated there is "irrefutable evidence that this State and the courts colluded in sending young women to what were then known as the Magdalene asylums". The Minister should provide evidence and facts to back up the statements he made in the Dáil on 17 December 2009 because the information I have to hand suggests he already has made up his mind. He stated then there is "irrefutable evidence as a consequence of court records and files that have been examined in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform" but he has not confirmed that in his actual statement.
I seek an opportunity for Members to have further detailed discussions on the recommendations of this committee when it reports to the Government. However, at this point I believe some form of apology should be offered by the Government on the basis of the evidence the Minister has stated now is available in the Department of Justice and Equality. I hope he has found the aforementioned files in that Department and that they confirm what he stated on the record of the Dáil in December 2009.
I ask the Leader if he could arrange that in the future the line Minister would attend for Adjournment debates. I appreciate that Ministers have commitments, but since I came back to the 24th Seanad, not once has a line Minister being present to reply to an Adjournment matter of mine. I am referring to the matters I have tabled. Last night Senator John Kelly and I had tabled an Adjournment matter about the future of 24/7 accident and emergency services at Roscommon County Hospital, but the Minister refused to come to the House to answer it.
He was the same about Navan hospital.
I am asking the Cathaoirleach of the House and the Leader of the House to do their utmost to ensure——
It is not a subject for the Cathaoirleach. Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?
I am asking the Leader of the House to ensure that in future, the line Minister would come to the House to answer questions pertaining to his or her Department and not to rely on Ministers of State in a different Department, as happened last night when the Minister of State, Deputy Ciarán Cannon, could not give us any commitment or any indication——
The Senator is out of time.
I request the Minister to come to the House. There has been a complete——
The Senator has made his point.
The Minister gave a commitment prior to the election and the election was fought on that basis. As far as I am concerned——
We dealt with that issue last night.
——many of the issues were fraudulent. The Government parties were elected on a fraudulent manifesto.
I wish to raise an issue which the Minister for Social Protection must address. A regulation was passed in the 2008 budget whereby disability benefit can only be claimed for the period of two years. The ramifications of this decision are now coming home to roost because people are being taken off their disability benefit and being told to apply for invalidity pension, which is very long-term, or disability allowance, which is a means-tested payment. Two years may seem a long time to be on a disability benefit but it applies in the case of cancer sufferers and those with ongoing serious illness. A man in my constituency has undergone surgery over a period of two years and he is awaiting further surgery. His disability benefit has been discontinued. He was told to apply for an invalidity pension but his application has been refused. While I appreciate the system may be open to abuse, surely it is preferable for the medical personnel to decide whether applicants are genuinely sick. I would welcome a debate in the House on this issue which the Minister must address as people are suffering. This man has paid contributions for 40 years and now he has nowhere to turn to get money.
I think all Members of this House would have liked to have said a few words about the late Brian Lenihan but, from my point of view, the opinion of the Independent university group was eloquently expressed by Senator Mullen and I do not propose to add further to it because the matter was handled in a very dignified way. I shall write privately to the Lenihan family.
I am particularly interested in what Senator Zappone said and she spoke with remarkable clarity, intelligence and dignity. We must proceed with dignity in this House and I ask the Government parties and the Independent group nominated by the Taoiseach, to get together by lunchtime to see if it is not possible to incorporate the slight Government amendment to this proposal. We demean the Seanad if we call unnecessary votes. The amendment tabled by the Government could possibly be accepted by the Independent group. This very important matter would have greater strength if it were put through unanimously and I think we all would like that to happen. I ask the Leader of the Government parties and the Independent group to meet through their Whips to see if this is possible as this would avoid an unnecessary vote that would make this House look silly.
I am very glad the Government has established an inquiry into the Magdalene laundries. I do not think the remit is quite wide enough and I would prefer it to be slightly wider. I asked originally for the three things the Magdalene survivors asked for, which are an apology, an inquiry and some degree of compensation. Those three elements should be incorporated in the inquiry. I agree completely with Senator Mullen that there should be no scapegoating. I do not think I have ever done so. I have always stated that it is a mistake to label any large group of people — in fact, any group of people — within which there will be good people and bad people, people who behave responsibly and those who behave irresponsibly. Some orders of nuns have been mentioned in particular. Some of them undoubtedly behaved very badly but I have also met representatives of those sisters abroad and they have done this country a great service in their work. We should avoid labelling people. I was a little surprised — I am sure it was not intended — when Senator Mullen said, rightly, that neither the Church nor the State should be scapegoated. I maintain they must be held accountable in a dignified fashion for their actions——
I ask for this debate because the point should be made — perhaps Senator Mullen would then agree with me — that it would be an equal mistake to scapegoat the families. I am glad to say that he is now nodding because it might appear to some people in reading the text that he was scapegoating the families. Those families were in desperate circumstances. I heard a woman speak so passionately about her misery and her grief and the fact that her brothers could not release her——
The Senator knows well these are points he can make during the debate.
——because, as they were members of the labouring class, they were not considered fit persons into whose custody she could be released. I would welcome the opportunity during the debate to make it clear that we have the greatest sympathy for those unfortunate and marginalised families as well and they should not be brought under attack.
I ask the Leader for a debate on the HSE annual report for 2010 which has been published today. Given that the HSE budget for 2010 was €14.2 billion and it is proposed to spend €13.4 billion in 2011 in the delivery of health services, it would be appropriate to ask the Minister to come to the House in order that Members, as public representatives, can have some dialogue and discussion with him regarding the published figures for 2010. There have been some significant achievements by the HSE but I think all of us would have major concerns about some aspects of how the services are being delivered. We have difficulties in our own area regarding our local hospital and its future and there was some discussion last night about Roscommon hospital. In light of there being €800 million less to spend on health services in 2011, it would be appropriate to have the Minister come to the House to hear the concerns of the Members on how the HSE does its business and to reflect on the results for 2010 which have been circulated to all Members today.
I wish to say how sad I am on the death of a good friend and colleague, Brian Lenihan. There is no more to say as regards anecdotes or praise of the man because it has all been said, but I am very sad still.
The issue has been raised about the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, coming to the House. The Minister made himself available in the House for the very uncontroversial and universally supported Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Bill and I was glad he was able to be here. However, he was not available to come to the House with regard to the issue of Navan hospital which I raised on the Adjournment, nor was he available when Roscommon hospital was raised in another Adjournment matter. I know also that when Senator Imelda Henry was speaking about Sligo hospital, he was not available to come to the House. It is very unfortunate. It is crucial that the Minister for Health comes to the House to talk about local hospitals. He spent most of the past two years travelling around Ireland campaigning for hospital services in local areas. While he has very important work to do with regard to the Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Bill, he should also discuss the local issues which were an important part of the election campaign. I note that the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, made himself available to come to speak about an important financial issue I had raised. If the Minister for Finance is available to come to the House on an Adjournment matter, the Minister for Health should also be available.
The Minister for Finance is away this week doing very important work. However, the Leader had promised that we would discuss a wide range of issues during the passage of the Finance (No. 2) Bill, such as finance, the IMF and the European Union but we are unable to do so because the Minister is unavailable. It is important, therefore, to have a special debate on the various issues in that Department. Senator Bacik misinformed the House this morning that the IMF agreement required a reduction in Garda numbers but the IMF agreement does not mention Garda numbers. One of the features of the IMF agreement is that junior bondholders be burned, yet Ministers are claiming credit for that every day of the week.
Perhaps the Leader might ask the Government to hurry up the bringing forward of the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Bill to give power to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, who was on television last night pontificating about Government policy and what the Government had achieved. After 100 days in office the Minister has no power because the Bill has not been passed by the Dáil or been brought before the Seanad. It is very unfortunate that the Minister, when asked last night what he was doing about the deficit, had to give the frank answer, "Nothing". It is a source of embarrassment for the Government that the flagship Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has no power. The Leader should tell the Government to get a move on.
I have a concern about the signage plan of the National Roads Authority which is removing iconic signs all over the country. We do not want our beautiful country roads, particularly those in scenic areas, to be turned into boring American-style boulevards with generic signage and viewpoints throughout. In north County Clare from where I come there is some iconic signage that has been in place for many years. One particular sign in the Ballyvaughan area was removed by the NRA a number of months ago. Given the fact that it was photographed by millions of people from throughout the world, it proved to be one of the attractions in the area. Many signs erected during the years are part of our street and road furniture, tourist product and what makes this country different. In recent times the authority has adopted a one-size-fits-all approach in terms of what it perceives to be important and the changes are masquerading under the guise of road safety. We all believe road safety is important and if signs are causing difficulties for people and creating road safety issues, they must be removed. However, where there are examples of beautiful signs that are part of the fabric of the country and its tourist product and that have not been the cause of any accidents, there is no reason they should be removed. I ask the Leader to speak to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government who should ask the NRA to explain why it has adopted a one-size-fits-all approach, failed to enter into dialogue and engage in consultation with communities which have emotional and logical reasons for keeping signs and why the ball is being kicked between it and local authorities in terms of who is responsible for what, as there seems to be confusion about the matter. There is definitely public anger. They are all State agencies——
Yes. They are all supposed to be working for the common good. They have a responsibility to communicate with and inform local communities and bring them with them. I ask the Leader to discuss the issue with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and the NRA as a matter of urgency as we approach what it is hoped will be a successful and busy tourist season in rural Ireland.
On the point made by Senator Martin Conway, I know the sign in Ballyvaughan to which he referred, which is wonderful. Anybody who has not seen it should have a look at The Irish Times today which carries a great picture of it. I agree with the Senator.
For 20 years or more there has been very serious concern along the east coast from County Down to County Wicklow about the Sellafield nuclear plant which has been raised in the House on many occasions during that time. To a certain extent, when the tsunami hit Japan and there was a nuclear emergency, we were very concerned that the same could happen to any nuclear plant. When the European Union decided to conduct a safety test on all 143 nuclear plants in Europe, there was a certain sense of relief. However, it was announced last month by the British authorities that they did not intend to include the plant at Sellafield in the examination. I do not understand this decision. The spokesperson for the British authorities sounded like Mrs. Margaret Thatcher who once said, "Out, out, out," when she replied, "No, no, no." They claim the plant does not produce nuclear energy and is now a reprocessing facility. Therefore, they do not intend to include it in the safety audit. I know the Minister has spoken to the Secretary of State with responsibility for the plant. However, to the best of my knowledge, he has not received any word which would put his mind at rest. Will the Leader make sure the Minister receives an answer and tells us whether the plant at Sellafield will be included by the British authorities in the examination of nuclear plants? I happen to be one of those who believes nuclear power has a future and that we should ensure, if we are to have it as a energy source in the future, it is safe. There are very serious concerns about its safety. An effort is being made to ensure safety tests will take place, but the plant at Sellafield has been excluded from the audit. Will the Leader make sure we receive an answer from the Minister on whether he has succeeded in getting an reply on this issue? Are we still waiting for a response such as that given by Mrs. Margaret Thatcher — "Out, out, out" — although we have stated we are concerned about the issue?
On the question raised by Senator David Norris, the Independent Group requests clarification from the Leader of the House that the amendment tabled is to facilitate implementation of the motion without delay. With this understanding, I can confirm that the Independent group will accept the amendment.
That is a matter to be considered in the debate.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to fast-track the referendum on the rights of children? It is almost six years since the all-party joint committee on the Constitution came to a decision that the rights of children, as enshrined in the Constitution, were not adequate. There has been a considerable debate on the issue and it would be a fitting tribute to the late Deputy Brian Lenihan who did so much work in this area if the referendum was held sooner rather than later. I also ask that it be held independently and not cluttered with other referendums. The rights of children are so important to society at large that a special referendum should be held. It is a very sensitive issue. Prior to Brian Lenihan being appointed Minister of State with responsibility for children, the joint committee on the Constitution engaged in a public consultation process for almost 18 months. The membership of the committee was broadened to include representatives of Sinn Féin, Independent Members and so on and it was unanimously agreed that a referendum should take place. Some of the blame must lie with the last Government; perhaps it was too lethargic. This will be one of the most important referendums ever held in the history of the State. If we cannot hold it this year, given the Presidential election etc., I respectfully ask the Leader that it be a priority for the Government next year.
I would like the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to attend the Seanad to discuss the irregularities in the service provided at the Passport Office on Molesworth Street and the difficulties many members of the public are experiencing in trying to have the telephone answered to find out the exact fee for obtaining a passport at a quicker rate, as well as the service available to Oireachtas Members. It is important that this service is restored, in particular for Members who represent rural areas. If the system, including the Department and the Passport Office staff, cannot provide the service that was offered at one stage — particularly for Members travelling from rural constituencies — then the only alternative is for passport offices to be established in the regions. In that way, members of the public could obtain a requisite level of service. It is totally inappropriate that, for example, a group of young Donegal students due to travel abroad this weekend applied for late passports but cannot receive details from the Passport Office as to when the documents will be ready. They have had to phone an Oireachtas Member for assistance and even then it is difficult to get the co-operation that would be expected from the Passport Office. We need clarity in that regard.
The second issue I wish to raise, which was also raised by Senator Darragh O'Brien, concerns the need for clarification on utility or water charges. We need urgent clarification on this matter but unfortunately it was not forthcoming following last week's Private Members' motion. We need clarity for a number of reasons, but primarily because people need to know whether they will be faced with utility charges from January 2012. In addition, increased waste charges are being proposed by the Government in the Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which will be coming before this House in the coming weeks. That will represent a further increase in charges for the collection of household waste nationally.
The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food should attend the House for an urgent debate on agriculture. It appears that the new Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is not fully sincere about the objectives in the Food Harvest 2020 report. Last Wednesday, funding schemes available to farmers were suspended, even though 50% of funds available for the €90 million scheme was coming from the EU. That means that 50% of the available funds from Europe cannot now be made available to Irish farmers.
I ask the Leader to arrange an urgent debate on agriculture and fisheries. Perhaps we could have both debates on the same day, if possible. If money is available from the European Union, I fail to understand why it is not being drawn down. The Minister should explain the position to this House.
Senator Darragh O'Brien referred to water charges. The Minister did make a statement on that matter, but I am afraid that I cannot add anything further. We will try to seek further clarification from him but I cannot add to what he has already stated.
I am sure the 0.6% pension levy will be raised under the Finance (No. 2) Bill which will be taken today.
Senator Mark Daly raised an issue which has already been referred to on a couple of occasions. I understand that the chairman of NAMA, Mr. Frank Daly, requested and had a meeting with Senator Daly on that matter. He asked Senator Daly to substantiate the allegations that were made in this House. Senator Daly, however, was unable to provide any evidence in that regard. Those statements concerning Senator Daly were made by Mr. Frank Daly of NAMA at the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly conference yesterday morning.
I do not wish to be difficult, but more to the point, an accusation was made that Senator Daly had effectively abused the privilege of the House. It was put up to him by the Government Chief Whip to make those comments outside the House, which he did. He was raising a concern that the Taoiseach had also raised. I am not talking about the overall issue, but I think it was something that should not have been said in the House.
We are not having a debate on it now.
I know that.
We are not having a debate, but I am only repeating what Mr. Frank Daly of NAMA said yesterday. I cannot add to it.
I compliment Senator Zappone on her maiden speech. I can assure her that her respect for diversity is, and will continue to be, shared by all Members of the House. We look forward to the Private Members' motion this evening.
Senator Mullen made a number of points concerning the Magdalene laundries, which were also referred to by Senators Leyden and Norris. A committee has been established to investigate this matter and hopefully a restorative and reconciliation process will begin. I suggest, however, that we should await the committee's report before having such a debate here. It would not be advisable to do otherwise at this point in time.
As regards judges' pay, personally I do not think the proposed referendum is an encroachment on the independence of the Judiciary. However, Senator Mullen and I can agree to differ on that matter.
Senators Leyden and Byrne referred to Adjournment motions and the need for the line Minister to attend such debates. The line Minister will attend the House where possible. Senator Leyden knows that the practice of having one Minister to take Adjournment motions has been going on for a long number of years. It is not possible to have the line Minister in for all Adjournment motions but, as Senator Byrne stated, only a week or two ago the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, attended the House for a motion when he was available. In addition, the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, also attended the House for an Adjournment motion. Therefore where senior Ministers are available they will certainly attend the House, as has happened already. It is totally unreasonable, however, to expect line Ministers to attend the House for every Adjournment motion concerning their Departments.
Senator Moloney rightly raised the issue of disability benefit and problems concerning her constituents in this respect. The Social Welfare and Pensions Bill will be coming before the House soon, and she can raise the matter with the Minister at that stage.
Senator Mullins referred to the 2010 HSE report and I will certainly consider having such a debate. The Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, has already attended the House and will do so for many other matters that need to be debated in the coming months.
Senator Conway referred to the iconic sign in County Clare and road signage generally. It is strange that the National Roads Authority would not have had consultations with the local authority involved before removing this sign. It is regrettable that did not happen. I will raise this matter with the relevant Minister.
Senator Quinn raised the important point of Sellafield and the safety audit to be carried out on nuclear plants throughout Europe. As the Senator correctly stated, the Minister has made representations to his counterpart in the UK. I will try to ascertain what reply, if any, has been received and will ask the Minister to continue to press this important item of concern for the people of Ireland.
I believe the matter of the Private Members' motion will be sorted out this evening such that we will have one common motion. We all want to see reform of this House and of how we do our business. We will all look forward to that debate during Private Members' time.
I agree with Senator O'Donovan that the referendum on children's rights should be held separately from any other referendum, which is contrary to what Senator Leyden asked for last week. I will try to ascertain the current position, the reason for the delay and when it is proposed to have this very important referendum.
Senator Ó Domhnaill raised the matter of the service provided by the Passport Office. Quite a number of complaints have been made about it and Members have expressed complaints about it in the past few weeks. I do not know whether it is possible to have the Oireachtas service for rural Members, in particular, but it is a matter we can raise with the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Gilmore. Senator Ó Domhnaill also raised the question of having a decentralisation of the Passport Office. A very successful passport office operates in Cork. As to whether it would be necessary to have offices in other regions is a matter for the Minister and I am sure that he will give it consideration. I will also at an early stage try to arrange for a debate on agriculture and fisheries.
The committees will be announced tomorrow. A number of Members have talked to me about the committees and who should and who should not be on a committee and so on and so forth. I have tried to facilitate every group and every Member. I hope that tomorrow when all the committees have been announced Members will be happy with the committee to which they have been allocated. There was a question that some Members may not be members of committees but we ironed that out with the Government Whip and every Member will certainly be on at least one committee in the coming Seanad.