Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 12 Oct 2011

Vol. 210 No. 13

Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 14, motion No. 6 re missing children hotline, to commence at the conclusion of the Order of Business and conclude not later than 1 p.m., with the Minister to be called on to speak first and the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; No. 1, Dormant Accounts (Amendment) Bill 2011 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to commence at the conclusion of No. 14, motion No. 6, and conclude not later than 3 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed six minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply to the debate not later than 2.55 p.m.; and No. 14, motion No. 7, to be taken at 5 p.m. and conclude not later than 7 p.m.

Approximately three weeks ago in the House I raised the issue of the ongoing review at Aviva. I now understand from reports that Aviva is looking to shed anything from 800 to 1,000 posts in this country. At the time I asked what contact the Government had with Aviva. Has the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, been in contact with that company? Last week, the Taoiseach was asked whether progress was being made in Aviva. As all Members will appreciate, the loss of 1,000 jobs located less than one mile from Leinster House would be a significant loss for the city of Dublin and the 1,000 families involved. I was a little concerned last week when the Taoiseach stated that he would await Aviva's completion of its review, as I suggest it will be too late at that stage. Aviva will have made its decision by then and up to 1,000 jobs could be lost. If one takes the example of Quinn Insurance, which was a difficult issue for the previous Government to deal with, most jobs there were retained because the relevant Ministers became involved at the review stage before a decision was taken to decrease numbers at that company. The Leader should indicate what contacts the Government has made with Aviva to ascertain whether it can address some of the concerns Aviva may have in order to save these jobs. This is to avoid arriving at a point on the company's completion of its review next month at which it announces that due to rationalisation, it intends to decrease its workforce by 1,000, after which Ireland runs off to Europe to seek retraining funds and so on because everything has already happened.

Second, several weeks ago Senator Quinn raised the issue of illegal diesel and the many new petrol stations that have opened up around the city and nationwide that are selling illegal diesel at a loss to the Exchequer of approximately €300 million per annum. At the time, Senator Quinn rightly mentioned that the maximum penalties at present are the closure of the offending garage for 24 hours and a €3,000 fine. While this issue should have been dealt with before now — by the previous Government — this practice is becoming more prevalent and is being run by subversive organised crime elements. The Leader should indicate whether the Government has plans to introduce legislation to amend existing legislation to increase dramatically the penalties against such operations in the first instance. The penalty at present is a €3,000 fine and a closure order of 24 hours' duration. The profit derived from a single full container of illegal diesel can be as much as €19,000 and it pays those involved to break the law. Are plans afoot to introduce legislation, which would be supported from this side of the House, to increase these penalties?

I believe all Members share the concerns expressed by Senator Darragh O'Brien on the reports of potential job losses at Aviva. As Senator O'Brien is aware, the Labour Party group already has devoted specific Private Members' Business time to the plight of the workers at TalkTalk in Waterford, during which debate there was much talk of other projected job losses, including those at Aviva, and of what the Government can do in circumstances in which large-scale collective redundancies are faced. It is a highly disturbing situation and at that time, Labour Party Members called for consideration of a review of the notice period that companies must give, which also would be useful in the context of the Aviva reports.

I renew the call on the Leader for a debate on Government housing policy. Yesterday, Members, myself included, called for a debate in the context of the Keane report on protection for those in difficulty with mortgages. Such a debate in this House would be timely and the Dáil will debate this issue for at least one day and potentially two days next week. However, it would be useful to have a broader debate on the Keane report and on housing policy more generally, in which I would include the issue of the provision of rent supplement. There are reports in today's newspapers about the nature of rent supplement and how it is being considered in the comprehensive spending review in the context of the social protection budget. However, it is a matter of concern when one notes that the €500 million spent on rent supplement effectively amounts to a subsidy to private landlords. The effect is that the State is subsidising 50% of private rented accommodation, which clearly distorts the market and keeps rents high, unsustainably so in many cases. A question arises as to whether this is an effective use of Government funding to protect the most vulnerable. Consequently, it would be worth having a debate in this House on the broader issue of housing policy. It should not simply be on those who require protection because they are in difficulties with mortgages, although this is a critical issue, but it should be on the manner in which State spending is targeted and whether it could be targeted better.

I compliment the Carers Association on its briefing today. It made a pre-budget submission and a highly compelling case for maintaining levels of carer's allowance. All Members recognise that family caring, much of which is unpaid, constitutes an enormous saving to the Exchequer.

I do not have a question for the Leader this morning. However, I offer a word of public thanks to him on a matter that is related to the Order of Business and that has significance beyond how Members order their business. Is this acceptable?

Not really but the Senator can frame her point as a question. She may have a question for the Leader in what she intends to say.

I do not have a question.

Phrase it as a question.

Will I make a question?

This has not happened before today.

The Senator could ask the Leader whether he agrees with her.

The Senator had got so far.

I am about to get to a serious moment now.

I thank the Leader for his agreement to sponsor my request that a loop system to support those with a hearing disability be installed in the Seanad Chamber. For those Members who may be unfamiliar with the expression, a loop system effectively is a technological system installed in a closed environment that enables those with digital hearing aids to access the sound of a human voice in a highly effective manner, which is considerably more effective than the microphone system in use at present, and many public buildings are installed with such systems. To be honest, although I wear hearing aids, my severe hearing loss means I have only been able to hear approximately between 50% and 75% of what goes on within the Chamber during a debate. Some Members might think this is not such a bad thing——

—— but I have been impressed by the quality of the debate I have heard. However, Members can imagine this places me and others with a hearing disability at a considerable disadvantage, especially when one must engage in an exchange or a debate with a Minister when he or she comes into the Chamber. In this case, the headphones really do not work. I will not demonstrate with the headphones but effectively I would be obliged to take out my hearing aids and put on my headphones. However, if I take out my hearing aids, I cannot hear with the headphones. If I put on the headphones on top of my hearing aids, as I am doing now, it generates that feedback Members may be able to hear and consequently, it does not work.

In part, this is educational and I express my thanks to the Clerk's office, to my colleagues the Independent Senators and to the Superintendent of Leinster House for their support in this request. I thank them and the Leader in particular because as a person with a disability or as a disabled person, I was not obliged to engage in a protracted struggle for the support service. As a citizen and as an Oireachtas Member, I should have a right to participate in a public sphere without shame. Often, people with disabilities feel a sense of shame. While it is a conditioned sense of shame, it is shame nonetheless and can be exacerbated, even implicitly, when those who are disabled are told they should have supports but the organisation in question simply cannot afford them at present. I again express my thanks to the Leader and my colleagues. My understanding from the Superintendent's office is that the Seanad Chamber will be fitted with a loop system first within three weeks, after which the Dáil Chamber also will be fitted. This constitutes an important advance for people with disabilities. Our Chambers will become considerably more accessible for public representatives and members of the public who view or even participate in what Members do. When this happens, it will be a good day. In addition to thanking the Leader, perhaps I could ask him whether Members could eventually have a debate on the issue of people with disabilities and on ways to increase support services for them.

The Senator has done the State some service.

I thank Senator Zappone for an education and the activity she has created in this regard. I did not know anything about the loop system and did not realise this. I also thank Senator Darragh O'Brien for raising again the question regarding illegal diesel I introduced some time ago. It is a matter of huge concern for the State because the money involved runs to hundreds of millions of euros and because it encourages crime.

I wish to introduce one other point about which something should be done. My attention has been drawn to carbon monoxide, which is a silent killer that some estimates suggest kills more than 40 people each year in Ireland, although there is some doubt about how many it kills. Carbon monoxide is a gas that is produced when fuel is burned. It is extremely dangerous to people when emitted in an enclosed and unventilated area such as a house, garage or car. The major problem is that because carbon monoxide is odourless, colourless and tasteless, it is a silent killer. The solution is to have a carbon monoxide detector which can be bought for approximately €30. Someone told me he bought a Chinese made one for only €10, which indicates the possibility of being able to do something about it.

Northern Ireland has introduced regulations requiring new houses being built to be fitted with such a detector. We have not done that, yet it is a simple thing to do. The regulation was introduced in Northern Ireland following the deaths in County Donegal last year of two people, who were, I believe, from the North of Ireland. When the Northern Ireland authorities visited and discovered that the cause was carbon monoxide poisoning, they introduced legislation to ensure every house in Northern Ireland will have a carbon monoxide detector. We can do the same and I ask the Leader to draw the attention of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to the matter and to initiate legislation promptly.

I support Senator Darragh O'Brien's comments on Aviva. Recently the Minister, Deputy Deenihan, announced a number of jobs — perhaps one of my Kerry colleagues can assist me with how many. Those jobs had come back from India or another country in the east having previously gone there because it was more economical. Now these jobs are starting to come back to Ireland. We need to regard this as something about which we can do something. I ask the Leader to open a debate on jobs that went abroad coming back, which would be useful. Senator Darragh O'Brien is correct in saying that we need to act now to get something done about it.

I compliment Senator Zappone on an excellent demonstration. She has done the State some service. I also thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for supporting her worthwhile motion.

I ask the Leader to move, in coming weeks, No. 12 on the Order Paper relating to the Palestinian state and non-Government motion No. 4. On Tuesday, 4 October, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe voted to grant partner for democracy status to the Palestinian National Council. As one of the delegation, with Senators Clune and Reilly, I was delighted to represent this House in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, where we had the opportunity to support the motion which was carried by 110 to five with ten abstentions. The Irish delegation voted very much for the proposal.

I welcome the decision by the Palestinian Authority to release Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hamas in 2006, in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian detainees. It is a good day for this conflict. At some stage it would be useful to have a discussion on the role of the Council of Europe, representing 800 million people. It comprises 47 countries and Ireland was a founding member. Ireland has a delegation of eight very active members of that organisation. Today's release of the Israeli soldier is a very good day for relations between Palestine and Israel. It is a new beginning in a sense and I hope we could have a useful debate — as we had in the previous Seanad — on the Middle East situation. The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade could brief the House on current developments and Ireland's progressive role as the first country to recognise the two-state solution proposed by the late Brian Lenihan Snr. when he was Minister for Foreign Affairs.

I have two questions for the Leader, one of which is specific and the other general. The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General again draws our attention to the confusion that is the fair deal nursing home support scheme, which scheme is vital for a great number of our older people and their families. Perhaps the Leader could ascertain from the Minister how the National Treatment Purchase Fund managed to enter into agreements with a significant number of private nursing homes resulting in the State paying in excess of €20 million more than it should have. It is odd that no standard pricing model was used and basic information such as the level of dependency was not taken into account during these negotiations. It suggests that questions need to be asked about the negotiating skills of those involved and I ask the Leader to ascertain from the Minister, the Department or the HSE what happened in that regard.

Each year when the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General is published it causes a certain level of furore among the public, in the media and in political circles, which generally lasts for one or two days. It revealed certain levels of waste and mismanagement across Departments and agencies. Invariably this fuss dies down with seemingly no consequence for those who make poor decisions. I ask the Leader to facilitate a debate on the issue in the House and perhaps invite the Comptroller and Auditor General to come to the House to discuss his report in greater detail. While we are at it, perhaps we could make it an annual event on our calendar or schedule of work. There is a valuable role for this House in ensuring accountability everywhere and we should be striving to expand this role wherever we can.

I join Senator Bacik in commending the Carers Association, which is giving a number of briefings to Deputies and Senators today, for its pre-budget submission. It hopes it will get the support it seeks in the upcoming budget. We had a very useful discussion with the association which represents tens of thousands of people who care for others.

I praise the Leader of the House in respect of changes which have been made in recent weeks regarding Ministers coming into the Chamber. On six occasions we have had Ministers in for statements followed by question-and-answer sessions, which is a very welcome departure from the old way of simply having statements without further interaction. I qualify that by saying that on the first four occasions, a Sinn Féin Member was given an opportunity to make statements, but on the last two occasions when the Minister for Finance and the Minister of State with responsibility for science and innovation came into the House a Sinn Féin Member was not given an opportunity. We were told by the Acting Chairman at the time that we would have one minute to address the Minister for Finance and one minute to address the Minister of State with responsibility for science and innovation.

It is not unreasonable for our party to refuse to accept one minute in a two and a half hour debate. It is important to recognise that we have three Senators in this House. This is not about Standing Orders because I have outlined the precedent that on four occasions we were given the opportunity. Why were we given the time to make statements on the first four occasions and not given that time on the last two occasions? I formally request and we can put this in writing, that a representative of the Sinn Féin Party meet the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, CPP, to discuss these issues.We do not want to have to continue to raise these issues on the Order of Business. Wewould like them resolved. The Leader of the House and other Senators have said theywant all debates and discussions in the House to be inclusive and that all opinions and ideas are valued. In that context it is important that our voices are heard. I hope the Leaderof the House will facilitate a Member of my party addressing the CPP. I ask the Leader to respond and indicate why on the last two occasions we were not given an opportunity to make statements.

I bring to the attention of the House an article written by Mr. Bill Hobbs in last Monday's Irish Examiner which stated it was inappropriate for politicians to comment on or question the Financial Regulator regarding his dealings with credit unions. Mr. Hobbs describes himself as a former ACC Bank official, banking commentator——

The Senator should not name people who are not here to defend themselves.

——and financial adviser. However, the gentleman failed to add to his CV that he was a former chief executive officer of——

We are not discussing any individual who cannot defend himself in this House.

That is fine. I am coming to my point. He failed to inform that he was a former CEO of the credit union development agency himself.

I have ruled on this matter.

This is about freedom of speech, and he is stating that it is inappropriate for politicians to question the regulator——

He does not have the privilege of the House to refute anything that might be said.

Then I would suggest that the Leader either contacts the Press Council of Ireland about this man's article, in which he states what politicians should and should not comment on, when he himself had a vested interest. It brings to mind the image of having a chip on one's shoulder. He has a six inch block on his shoulder.

I have ruled on this issue already. I call Senator O'Donovan.

I bring to the attention of the Leader the plight of property owners in various towns who in 2009 suffered severe losses due to flooding. The night of 19 November 2009 was an appalling night. There was six feet of water in some properties in Bandon, Skibbereen was flooded on three occasions, as was Clonakilty and many other towns. Many of these properties, not all of them commercial, cannot get insurance because once bitten, twice shy. If any of us was driving a car and we had an accident, we would expect to pay an extra premium to be reinsured, but there seems to be a blanket shutdown in these cases. Some of these towns have recurring problems with flooding, I hope not this year. I am not too sure of the appropriate Minister, but I would ask for a debate in the House on that issue. A popular hostelry in Bandon was closed for eight months because the flooding was so severe. Dance floors had to be ripped up and so on. There were three incidences of flooding in Skibbereen in November and December 2009.

I have been contacted by many homeowners about the issue. Would the Leader ask the Government whether a universal system of insurance could be introduced? These floods are an act of God. Sometimes they occur every ten years and sometimes every 50 years, but owing to our wet climate, they are likely to occur again. We should have a debate in this House and I hope that this could be done before the end of November, which is the anniversary of the serious flooding, which also occurred in Galway, Clonmel and many other towns. It is unfair that householders, elderly people and commercial owners, who have suffered enough, now cannot get insurance. It is nothing short of scandalous and I hope we can have a debate in this House as soon as is practicable on that issue.

There is €70 million outstanding to farmers for payments under the various schemes such as disadvantaged area scheme, AEOS and REPS. That is not just money sitting there; it is the livelihood of thousands of people. I would like the Leader to seek an assurance from the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that all these payments will be cleared by his deadline of November. There has been recurring delays and it is simply impossible for farmers, who cannot get credit from banks and who have spent money based on the assumption they would get this money, to keep going. Coupled with this is the uncertainty that will be brought about by the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, proposals to be published today. The CAP reform will go on for years. There is also the forthcoming budget. Can the Minister give the assurance that the November is indeed the date by which these €70 million in payments will be made?

I notice the young students in the Visitors Gallery today, who are all looking very fit and obviously come from a very good school. I was watching the "Prime Time" television programme last night, which dealt with the epidemic of obesity that is facing Ireland and much of the rest of the world. The forecast is not very good for our nation. I am currently doing some research on schools in Ireland which I hope to present to the House in the near future. Recommendations are being made for a sugar tax. I am not sure whether I agree with that or whether it is the answer to our problems. This is not just a health issue but also an education issue. When I am ready to present my findings to the House, will it be possible to bring both the Minister for Health and the Minister for Education and Skills into the House at the one time? I do not want to be pointing this directly at the Department of Education and Skills or to the Department of Health, but when my findings are presented, we may save the Government a lot of money in 15 or 20 years if the recommendations are implemented. The only way we can do this is through bringing both Departments together at the one time. I am wondering whether this can happen.

I had the privilege of visiting the Johnson & Johnson plant in Ringaskiddy on Monday. This week is known as national corporate responsibility week, and 65 of the largest companies in Ireland are involved in helping students in certain schools to remain in education. It is a very important process for both the companies and the students. The programme has assisted more than 18,000 students to date. It is something that should be encouraged. Some of the biggest companies are involved in this project, such as Johnson & Johnson, Musgraves, IBM, Diageo and Ulster Bank. We were informed by a person from Musgraves that the company assigned seven staff to seven students in schools in disadvantaged areas to help those students remain in the education system.

Perhaps this is an area where the Minister for Education and Skills and the Minister of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation could work with these companies and schools to devise a national programme and get more companies involved. An explanation was given about one of the staff being assigned to a student who wanted to drop out of school, but because the staff from Musgraves provided mentoring, that student stayed in the system. It was a learning process for the company because they found people who could provide leadership to young people and who could then go on to provide leadership in the company. There is a benefit for the employers, the employees and the students, and this is something that should be encouraged.

An article was published in The Sunday Times this week which highlighted the issue of apparent parliamentary interference in the appointment of members of the Judiciary. As Members are aware, I attempted several weeks ago, in the context of criminal trials, to introduce legislation which would have attempted to regularise any connections made between Members of Parliament and the Judiciary. It was, as they say, shot down in flames. I was told that a wall of separation existed between the Parliament and the Judiciary and that such legislation was an attempt to breach that. It would appear from this article that such a wall of separation truly is in ruins. It is very endemic to the culture of this country and to the culture of public life that representations were made. To preserve the integrity of the process and the good names of members of the Judiciary, who I am sure have acted in good faith at all times, we need to have a definite code of conduct which clearly states that such representations must never happen in future.

As documents were available on a limited number of individual cases, one or two people were highlighted, one of whom was the late Judge Miriam Reynolds. While I am very much in favour of ending the practice of any such interference being made, I would like, in the context of what was a good piece of journalism published by The Sunday Times, to state a couple of facts about the judge, who sadly died from cancer two years ago at a very young age. It will not be widely known that at the time Judge Reynolds presided over the horrific Roscommon incest case, she was on chemotherapy for cancer throughout her skeleton. She was a wonderful woman who behaved with great courage and fortitude, and great devotion to duty, when she could just have gone on disability. The final case she took part in wasone which coincided exactly with her final illness. She had to be persuaded by colleagues——

The Senator really should not be discussing individuals. I have previously ruled on this matter.

I am discussing her positively.

It does not matter whether it is positive or negative.

I am making the point that the record should reflect that this woman had a heroic role in Irish family law and criminal law. I would like to ensure there is no ambiguity about that.

I commend Senator Zappone for her achievement in having the loop system included in the Seanad Chamber. As someone who suffers from a hearing disability, I have quite a lot of difficulty in this Chamber so I hope it will improve my ability to understand. Perhaps "understand" is the wrong word because sometimes one may not understand what is going on in the House regardless of whether one can hear it. At least I will be able to hear what is going on, so well done to Senator Zappone. I commend her for that.

I wish to raise two items. The first concerns the theft of overhead telephone cables by unscrupulous gangs. This is causing great difficulty, so I ask the Leader to bring it to the attention to the Minister for Justice and Equality in order that the Garda Síochána should take a greater interest in this matter. In my own area alone in recent months, telephone cables have been stolen in three locations. The effect of such thefts is serious for private houses and businesses that operate on the periphery of towns, particularly concerning the loss of Internet usage. On one such occasion, five businesses were out of operation for four days until Eircom could replace and repair the cables. We have moved away from the tradition whereby Eircom was the only company visible to the public through its vehicles. In recent years, many subcontractors have come on board. Consequently, no one takes any notice of an unmarked cherry-picker doing work at a telephone pole.

That is a matter for the Garda Síochána.

That is why I am asking the Leader to ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to take up this issue with the Garda Síochána. It is becoming prevalent in rural Ireland with a consequent negative effect for businesses. The stolen telephone cable is being illegally exported to Bristol where it is stripped for its copper value. There is quite a lucrative business going on around the theft of telephone cables.

I wish to discuss Senator Darragh O'Brien's point about illegal diesel that is being sold throughout the country. I have some knowledge of this subject because I have fallen victim to it in recent weeks. About three weeks ago in Dublin, I bought €50 worth of diesel in a garage. When I attempted to return home that evening, I had to be towed 100 miles to Carrick-on-Suir by a garage man from my own area. I have since done some research into this problem. There are approximately 120 garages in the country that are taking part in this. The cost of repairing a vehicle ranges from €2,500 to €15,000 and the vehicle could require a new engine. Individuals in suits are going around, particularly to smaller units that are not part of garage chains, offering this diesel 30 cent or 40 cent per litre cheaper than the normal price.

A question for the Leader, please.

If the Cathaoirleach will allow me to do so, I will put a question to the Leader. I have been in contact with the Customs Service, whose representatives met me in Leinster House. They told me that the technology being used by those who are washing diesel has outpaced their ability to detect it. They do not have the necessary resources and funding to bring such people to court. I brought a sample of the diesel to——

The Senator is out of time.

I am just finishing. I brought a sample of the diesel to the Customs Service representatives. Even though I could tell them where and when I bought it, and they were already watching the garage, because the scientific methodology is far ahead of their ability to detect it, they need more funding to bring such illegal activities to book. The Leader should raise the matter with the Minister for Justice and Equality. The Customs Service should have the required funding because the Exchequer is losing massive sums of money. Something needs to be done about this cross-Border racket.

I agree with Senator O'Keeffe that the delay in payments to farmers under various schemes is unacceptable. This money is vital for the families concerned as well as for the real economy with people facing into pre-Christmas expenditure. State payments should be among the first to be made. If it was in the commercial world, people would be seeking legal advice to secure payment more quickly. This is simply unacceptable. There are many reasons for failure but there are no excuses. I ask the Leader to speak directly with the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Coveney, to get assurances on the dates for final payments to farmers under these schemes. While there may be a delay in a small number of cases from time to time where documentation is incorrect, it is ridiculous in the extreme that €70 million that should be in the economy is still in the Government's coffers as a result of having been delayed in this way.

As we approach Christmas, we are also approaching our own national budget as well as the budgets of local authorities throughout the country. I seek a debate on local government funding. Local authorities are recording annual deficits of €6 million. Meanwhile, it is alleged — I ask the Leader to check this — that one of the Dublin authorities has in excess of €120 million on deposit. If so, we should examine our national approach to local government funding. We cannot tolerate a scenario where smaller local authorities without the commercial rates base are struggling to maintain employment and a basic level of community services, while at the same time wealthy Dublin authorities have the arrogance to invest €120 million of public money to secure the best rate of return rather than using it to supply public services.

There was disappointment yesterday when it was announced that the British Government did not appear to be allowing a full and substantive inquiry into the murder of the solicitor Pat Finucane. I recall meeting some of his family members in Leinster House some years ago, and they wanted truth and justice for their late father, as we all should. I hope that matter will be revisited and that the Government will be able to put whatever pressure is possible on the British Government to bring the case to a full conclusion.

Having checked the records, I note that I first asked the House back in February 2004 to consider the possibility of establishing a truth and reconciliation commission. I ask the Leader to liaise with the appropriate Government officials to inquire about having such a debate in this House. There are too many unanswered questions, hidden bodies, other victims that are unaccounted for and crimes across this island for us to remain silent. Part of the healing process, North and South, should include a truth and reconciliation commission where all the questions, no matter how difficult, can be raised and all the answers given. It appeared at the weekend that we have new converts to the cause of truth and reconciliation. We should attempt to put in place such a mechanism as we know it worked very well in South Africa. We have a different problem and different requirements, but too many bodies remain unaccounted for and too many families cannot mourn their loved ones because they cannot find the bodies to bury. While these questions remain unanswered, there is a duty on us to try to bring some degree of closure. I am not saying a truth and reconciliation would solve all the problems, but it would be a step in the right direction. We should consider all these issues in a balanced fashion. On the day I ask the Government to pressurise the British Government to act more openly on the Pat Finucane case, equally I want us to contemplate a truth and reconciliation commission to ask the hard questions which remain to be posed.

I commend Senator Bradford for embracing Sinn Féin policy so robustly in calling for a reconciliation commission. We have been calling for that for a long time.

Bring the potential President in front of it.

Ba mhaith liom tréaslú leis an Seanadóir Bacik a bhí ag caint faoi na cúramóirí ar maidin. Bhí cur i láthair iontach maith acu. Ba mhaith liom iarrraidh uirthi, ins an ról atá aici, labhairt leis an Aire Cumarsáide, Fuinnimh agus Acmhainní Nádúrtha, an Teachta Pat Rabbitte, maidir leis an ESB agus na haonaid leictreachais atá caillte ag na cúramóirí le déanaí ón chomhlacht sin. I commend Senator Bacik and the Carers Association for their fantastic presentation this morning. I ask the Senator to intervene with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources on the question the carers raised about the loss of electricity units. How come these have been lost? They should be reinstated.

Very much pressing this morning is the European scenario. When the first and second Lisbon treaties were being peddled by all the major parties in the State, we were told about a Europe of equals. Is it a Europe of equals as long as we are equal to France and Germany? That would appear to be the case. President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel met over the weekend to come to some kind of arrangement. Where is the Europe of equals? Are we not supposed to have all member states sitting around the table making decisions, or do we leave it to France and Germany, which tell us afterwards what is happening? President Barroso is announcing a new policy initiative today in Brussels and is to come tomorrow to the Taoiseach to tell him what is to happen. Is that the Europe of equals we were promised?

Government representatives seem to be at sixes and sevens on this issue. The Germans have suggested that there needs to be a third Lisbon treaty, whereas the Taoiseach's stated aim is that we should regain sovereignty. He said we do not need a treaty. The Minister of State responsible for European affairs, Deputy Creighton, said she would consider a treaty whereas the Tánaiste, Deputy Gilmore, told us we would not need a treaty and that whateverchanges would be required under Lisbon 3 would be brought in surreptitiously through some legislation.

Not surreptitiously. Legislation is passed——

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

It is a question of where the people stand on this. We need a debate on these issues. Where is the coherent Government policy on what is happening in Europe? Is there to be a third Lisbon treaty? Is one being proposed? Where does the Government stand on the question of trying to regain our economic sovereignty from the European Union? Are we always to be at the beck and call of France and Germany, or are we to stand up for our national interests, as the Slovakians seem to have done last night? We call for a debate on these issues because they are really the pertinent issues of the day.

I join Senator Kathryn Reilly in requesting the Leader to invite the Minister for Education and Skills to the House to discuss the amalgamation of VECs and, in particular, the criteria used to decide on the location of the headquarters of the newly amalgamated VECs. It will be very interesting to hear the criteria the Minister used to decide on the locations. What savings, if any, will be made on foot of the amalgamations? From information I have gleaned, I believe it will cost rather than save money to amalgamate the VECs.

I will ask the Minister to reassure the staff in the VECs concerned that their jobs are secure and that nobody will be forced to move from their present location. Cavan and Monaghan VECs have been amalgamated and the headquarters is to be located in Monaghan town. While I welcome this on behalf of my constituents in Monaghan, I draw attention to the fact that Cavan town has a new purpose-built, fully fitted VEC office that is capable of accommodating twice as many staff as are currently located there. The office in Monaghan is much older and basing the headquarters there will necessitate the building of new premises. What savings will be made? I suggest to the Minister that a new location halfway between Cavan and Monaghan, at Cootehill, could be considered. I very much welcome the fact that Senator Reilly raised this issue yesterday. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister, Deputy Quinn, to the House as a matter of urgency.

I join Senator Bradford in calling for truth and reconciliation. He mentioned, in particular, the Pat Finucane case, which is very relevant today. I object to the Sinn Féin Senator's remark that European leaders are telling Ireland to jump. Sinn Féin, a 32-county, all-Ireland party, is the only party in Europe, or in a western democracy, that has different policies in different jurisdictions.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

I call for a debate on the setting up of the truth and reconciliation facility.

Sinn Féin, which jumps higher than the DUP in Northern Ireland when it comes to accepting cuts, should not talk about a different policy here. It has sanctioned cuts worth €300 million——

When we have a united Ireland, we will have control over our sovereignty and that will be sorted.

We do not have it and the Senator will never have it.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

My question is——

Is the Senator saying we will never have a united Ireland?

The truth has not gone away, you know: that is the expression. My question is whether the Leader will arrange a debate on the setting up of the truth and reconciliation facility. The people who are shouting most about truth and reconciliation in the press are those who——

That point can be made in the debate.

Senator David Cullinane has made a very reasonable point on what could be perceived as the exclusion of Sinn Féin from some debates in this House.

It can only be helpful to our deliberations to have all diverse views put forward. Perhaps the CPP would again consider this matter.

I compliment Senator Zappone on her very graphic contribution this morning on impaired hearing and on her desire that all Members of this House should play a full and meaningful role. The Senator has done a service not just to the operation of the Oireachtas but to all those people who have impaired hearing. If one recalls the taboo that was once attached to disability, one can now see how ridiculous it was. Society has moved forward and has become much more mature in this regard. The points made by Senator Zappone are worthy of much broader consideration. I ask the Leader to arrange, with the appropriate Oireachtas committee, or as part of the new consultative process we are considering, for Senator Zappone to be invited to one of the meetings, with other Members who have an interest in this area. Those interests are very wide and deep.

To some extent, there is still a stigma, or a perceived stigma, attached to some disabilities. This is certainly true regarding impaired hearing. I hope this matter will not be allowed to slide away to the sidelines. We have an opportunity based on the research Senator Zappone has done and on her graphic contribution this morning. Let it not pass without our availing of it. There are opportunities within the committee structure to do as proposed. If so, the Seanad will be to the fore in taking a stand on this matter.

I strongly support Senator Landy, who is trying to make some progress on tackling illegal activities and the loss of revenue to the State. On a number of occasions, I have referred to the laundering of diesel, the loss of revenue owing to cigarette smuggling, cross-Border illegal activities and VAT scams. Many people, such as Senator Landy, experience great losses and damage to their property and vehicles, and this needs to be tackled as a matter of urgency. If the agents of the State are under-resourced and incapable of tackling the problem, we have a serious issue on our hands.

I ask the Leader to facilitate, at the earliest possible date, a discussion with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation on the opportunities presented in respect of social enterprise. I was at a presentation this morning at the Joint Committee on Jobs, Social Protection and Education. Many people do not realise that there are great economic benefits in developing this area further. The area employs 100,000 people with a turnover of €5 billion. It is an untapped opportunity at a time when every politician aspires to see job creation maximised. I refer to a small organisation that operates in County Galway. Roscommon Home Services operates in Galway, Roscommon and Mayo.

A question for the Leader, please.

It employs 389 people. While politicians are supportive, it is an area where the public service is less than enthusiastic. I am keen to have a discussion with the Minister, Deputy Bruton, on this whole area, its potential to create vast numbers of jobs and to stimulate economic activity throughout the country.

I too welcome the impending release of Gilad Shalit. In recent years all sides of the House have called for his release because of the great burden it placed on his family and the fact that there is impending peace in the Middle East. As my colleague, Senator Leyden, suggested, I hope this is a step in the right direction. It is difficult to understand how the Palestinian people can call for justice for themselves when they would not afford the basic rules of the treatment of prisoners to Gilad Shalit. He was not allowed to receive letters or parcels from his family and he was not allowed to receive visits from the International Red Cross and the Red Crescent Movement. It does the Palestinian cause no service when those involved treat a prisoner in such a way. We welcome his impending release.

Yesterday I spoke about the eurozone and Angela Merkel and Monsieur Sarkozy. There was a letter in The Irish Times today on the eurozone. It was signed by 100 people from the eurozone, including ten former presidents, ten ministers for foreign affairs and five former finance ministers. It included only one Irish signatory, a man who spent most of his adult life in the United Kingdom, Lord Haskins. Three countries from the eurozone had no representative signature on the letter, Estonia, Latvia and Malta. One half of the 100 signatories were not from the 17 countries in the eurozone. Basically, they suggested that Ireland and other eurozone countries should sign over the running of their finances to the Germans. I call on the Leader to bring the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade into the House to discuss this issue because, again, we are being told what will happen after the fact.

I stated yesterday and I will continue to emphasise to our colleagues in Europe that there is no way the Irish people will back any referendum to give more power to the Germans, the French, the European Commission and unelected bureaucrats such Mr. Barroso and others. The fact that they had the opportunity to get——

A question for the Leader, please.

The question for the Leader is to ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs to discuss diktats from the European Union. They had the opportunity to run the euro correctly and they made a mess of it. Why should we give them more power to make a greater mess of it?

That would be the Germans.

That would be the Fianna Fáil Party.

Did the Labour Party support the last referendum?

Senator Daly, you are out of time. I call the Leader of the House.

I asked Deputy Gilroy a question.

Senator, you are out of time.

The Leader of the Opposition referred to Aviva and the possible loss of 1,000 jobs.


Senator Daly, please resume your seat.

Certainly this is a serious situation. I understand Government agencies are and have been in contact and will continue to be in contact with the company with a view to minimising the loss of jobs.

Senator O'Brien and several other Senators raised the question of illegal diesel. The matter was raised by Senators Landy, Mullins and others and it is a serious problem. If, as Senator Landy has stated, the Customs Service needs more sophisticated equipment to detect and prove the case, it should be provided. All necessary equipment should be provided for the Customs Service and the Garda to root out the scourge of illegal diesel in our society. It is an all-Ireland problem, caused by subversives in many cases, and it must be stamped out. At a time when we need finance, it is costing the Exchequer large amounts of money.

Senator Bacik called for a debate on the Keane report and housing in general and on the €500 million on rental subsidy which is paid annually. We have requested the Minister of State, Deputy Penrose, to come to the House to discuss these items and I hope he will be with us soon.

Senator Zappone referred to the loop system. Anything that can assist Members in the performance of their duties should be supported in the House and I thank the Senator for raising this important point. Several Members have hearing difficulties in the House and the same applies in the other House. I thank the Senator for raising the matter with me and I am satisfied that the system will be in place soon.

Senator Quinn commented on the issue of carbon monoxide detectors. I will raise the matter with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. He will be here later to speak on local government, a topic on which many other Senators have requested a debate. The Senator's suggestion that detectors should be put in all new homes should be taken up by the Minister and we will raise the matter with him.

Senators Leyden and Daly remarked on the exchange of prisoners between Palestine and Israel. I have asked the Tánaiste to come to the House. He has a busy schedule but he has promised that he will come as soon as possible and we can hold a debate with him on this and many other items related to foreign affairs. I hope the exchange of prisoners will be a new beginning and that it will bring the parties to the negotiating table. This is what everyone seeks and I hope it will take place soon.

I thank the Leader.

Senator Gilroy referred to the fair deal scheme and the National Treatment Purchase Fund entering into contracts with certain nursing homes that are costing the State over and above what other nursing home contracts cost. The Minister for Health will be in the House on 27 October. As far as I know, I have not yet received written questions from anyone who wishes to table questions to the Minister for that date but I would welcome questions in that regard. Senator Gilroy's question is a fair one and should be addressed to the Minister.

Senator Cullinane commented on speaking time. I do not wish to get into it too much but Sinn Féin has three Members and the party is not a group. Those in the party have been facilitated on many occasions. They have the power to ask three questions and were they present, each could ask questions on various items. No precedent was set in the case of the Minister for Finance and the other Minister who was here. We have given time to the Sinn Féin group on some occasions. I am keen to be inclusive and have been. We gave the Sinn Féin Members Fine Gael Private Members' time to speak last week. I have been more than fair and inclusive and will continue to be so in the future.

Senator O'Donovan raised the flooding in Skibbereen and Bandon, including the problems with insurance and the possibility of a universal insurance system. Many families found themselves in devastating circumstances, not only in Skibbereen and Bandon but throughout the country. I will inquire of the relevant Minister whether it is possible to introduce such an insurance system before reverting to the Senator.

Senators O'Keeffe and MacSharry referred to farm payments. I understand that 75% of disadvantaged area payments have been made and a commitment has been given to make further payments by the end of the year. Single farm payments, which will amount to between €1.2 billion and €1.3 billion, will commence in the middle of October, with the objective of having 99% of payments made by the end of the year. It should be noted that the payments commencing in October are advance payments, which places Ireland well ahead of many of our European counterparts in this regard.

Senator Coughlan raised the problems we are experiencing with obesity, an issue which Senator Crown and other Senators also raised in recent weeks. I would welcome a report from the Senator to the House on this issue. Perhaps it would also be possible to have some form of presentation or seminar in a venue such as the audio-visual room. I am sure all Senators would welcome a report on this issue. I will endeavour to have the two relevant Ministers come to the House for a debate if such a report is furnished to us.

Senator Burke raised links between businesses and schools in Cork, which take the form of a mentoring system. This is a good idea which should be raised with the Minister for Education and Skills when he comes to the House in early November. I note the comments of Senator Crown on the former judge.

Senator Landy made a number of points on illegal diesel and raised the issue of the theft of telephone cables. While the latter issue is new to me, it certainly should be brought to the attention of the Minister. If the Senator has any difficulty in doing so, he may contact my office and we will progress the matter.

Senator MacSharry raised the issue of local government funding. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, will be before the House for the debate on the dormant accounts fund and we will also debate local government funding, structures and so forth on 9 November. Many Senators have raised such matters in recent weeks. I understand the Minister has come before the House on several occasions. I thank him for his co-operation and agreeing to come to the House again on 9 November to discuss these matters.

Senator Bradford raised the issue of an inquiry into the death of Pat Finucane. The Taoiseach made a clear statement on this matter in the other House yesterday. There is all-party agreement that there should be an inquiry into the death of Mr. Finucane. I understand the Tánaiste will meet the Finucane family for discussions, following which the Government will decide on the next step. The Government agrees there should be an inquiry into Mr. Finucane's death, as the Taoiseach has made clear. I hope that arising from the outcome of the meeting with the Finucane family, we will be able to progress the matter with the British Government. Senator Bradford also raised the issue of a truth and reconciliation commission. I will ascertain from the Government what the position is in that regard.

Senators Ó Clochartaigh and Daly referred to our relationship with the European Union. The Government's aim is to regain our economic sovereignty. Its position is that it will continue to try to achieve this objective in the years ahead and I believe it will succeed in that regard.

Senator Wilson referred to Senator Reilly's call yesterday for a debate on decisions regarding the location of headquarters of vocational education committees. I agreed yesterday that the manner in which VECs were notified of the decisions was unacceptable. I referred yesterday to the position in Waterford and indicated my unhappiness with the position regarding the VEC headquarters in the region. Senators will be able to raise the issue with the Minister for Education and Skills when he comes before us in early November to have a debate and take questions and answers.

Senator Mullins referred to the need to advance job creation in the area of social enterprise. I fully concur with him that this issue should be investigated with a view to creating further jobs in communities nationwide. We will have the relevant Ministers in the House.

Is the Order of Business agreed to?

It may have slipped the Leader's mind but I suggested we bring the Comptroller and Auditor General into the Chamber every year for a discussion.

I may have omitted to refer to the contributions of a number of Senators. The Comptroller and Auditor General appears before the Committee of Public Accounts. That is the appropriate forum and I do not have any intention of bringing him into this House.

Order of Business agreed to.