The Order of Business is No. 1, motion to amend the terms of reference contained in the resolution passed by Dáil Éireann on 23 March 2005 and by Seanad Éireann on 24 March 2005 pursuant to the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Acts 1921 to 2004, to be taken without debate; No. 2, statements, questions and answers on overseas trade, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 and conclude not later than 1.45 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, to be followed by questions to the Minister from the floor, with Sinn Féin Senators to be given the opportunity to ask the first question, followed by rotation back and forth across the House, as with the Order of Business — to enable Members to have an opportunity to put questions to the Minister, we ask that questions be confined to one minute in each case; and No. 3, statements, questions and answers on developments in social protection, to be taken at 2 p.m. and conclude not later than 4 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, to be followed by questions from the floor, which are not to exceed one minute in each case, with Sinn Féin Senators to be given the opportunity to ask the first question, followed by rotation back and forth across the House, as with the Order of Business.
Order of Business
Yesterday, the House discussed third level fees and the abolition of financial support for postgraduates. The Minister for Education and Skills lied to the electorate. He promised to reverse the €500 increase in the student service charge. He signed a pledge to that effect. The lack of Labour Party flags was notable at yesterday's student protest. Last year, there always seemed to be quite a large number of such flags at these protests. The red flag was flying high then, but yesterday there was no protest by labour youth. I did not spot any of them.
The Labour Party leader in the Seanad is not here.
It is a pity the Minister for Education and Skills decided, three days before polling, to sign a pledge that he would not introduce third-level fees and would reverse the increase in service charges. This morning, he tried to tell people that he did not lie to the electorate, but he clearly did. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business this morning, that the Minister for Education and Skills should attend the House to explain why he lied to the electorate and if he will reintroduce third-level fees. There is no doubt that he will do so. Will he make good on his commitment to reverse the €500 student service charge increase? He will not do so, but I would like to hear it from him.
Yesterday, at least 20,000 students took time out to put their message to the new Government. It was a cynical electoral ploy, particularly by the Labour Party in this regard. I did not see any labour movement from Trinity College, although perhaps Senator Bacik is meeting them this morning to discuss how she will extricate herself from the difficulties she finds herself in.
Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to get the Minister for Education and Skills to attend the House to discuss third level fees and the fact that the Labour Party has broken another campaign promise.
The comprehensive spending review is to be published today. It will be announced by the Government at a press conference, rather than in the Dáil or Seanad. The Government did the same thing last week with the review of the capital programme. I ask the Leader to provide sufficient time early next week — I suggest Tuesday — to debate the elements within the comprehensive spending review.
On the Garda Commissioner's draft policing plan for 2012, I raised a matter on the Adjournment yesterday about the closure of Garda stations in my area of Dublin. However, such closures will affect many constituencies, both rural and urban, across the country. The Government is trying to slip this policy in under the radar. The answer I got from the Minister, Deputy Shatter, who was not here, although that does not necessarily surprise me, was that the Garda Commissioner's draft policing plan for 2012 will be produced shortly. I asked if "shortly" meant next week, the week after or in January, but got no reply. I therefore ask the Leader to provide time next week to discuss the Government's plans to restrict or close Garda stations all over the country. Perhaps the Leader can find out from the Minister for Justice and Equality when the Garda Commissioner's draft policing plan for 2012 will be published. I had no joy in getting any information from his office yesterday.
While I have every respect for my colleague across the floor, it is hard to stomach the crocodile tears shed daily for students and Garda stations.
We did not sign the pledge.
If anyone wants to know about the shambles of a government we had up to six months ago, they should see Pat Leahy's documentary. It was not a Government; it made no decisions and was in total disarray.
The Senator does not have a leg to stand on.
Fianna Fáil ruined the country.
The country was left in an appalling state. The Senator has a neck to talk about lying.
Is that Ruairí Quinn?
Is that him?
It is inappropriate to display papers or other such material in the House.
It is a picture of the Minister for Education and Skills signing a pledge for students.
It is not appropriate.
The Labour Party does not want to hear what he said on 21 February.
It obviously does not mean anything.
It was the same with Bertie.
We can produce all the pictures we want, but it is irrelevant to the Government side.
I did not interrupt Senator O'Brien. I strongly reject the accusations being levelled at the Minister, Deputy Quinn.
I commend the Ceann Comhairle and the Commission of the Houses of the Oireachtas for the hard work they have put in to ensure that the public will, in real time, get to see the affairs of the Dáil, Seanad and Oireachtas committees. This is vital progress. I call again on RTE to take up its responsibilities as a broadcaster under its public service remit. UPC is now broadcasting the business of the Houses on channel 801, as arranged by the Ceann Comhairle. To date, RTE is refusing to broadcast such matters into people's homes across Ireland. As the public service broadcaster, it is incumbent on RTE to broadcast the affairs of this House. RTE receives a considerable subsidy from the State through the licence fee.
I also commend a Private Members' Bill introduced in the Dáil by Deputy Mattie McGrath dealing with the theft of precious metals. All parties should embrace this measure which seeks to tackle a serious problem that is putting businesses and jobs at risk. Last week, we saw a despicable act in Castletown, County Laois, where a memorial to deceased children was stolen. We have got to the stage where these people would take the whites out of one's eyes. It is incumbent upon us to introduce legislation to severely penalise those who steal monuments and precious metals. Such legislation should also place an onus on dealers who buy such objects. There would be no such market if dealers did not purchase these objects.
Will the Leader arrange, at the earliest opportunity, for the Minister for Health to return to the House for the sole purpose of discussing his policy on care for the elderly. Two community hospitals have closed in County Laois this week, in Abbeyleix and Shane. This is causing consternation and great distress in the community. The HSE is hiding behind HIQA and using it as an opportunity to close down what we used to call county homes across the entire country. There will not be a public bed left if the HSE has its way. It is winding down and closing hospitals by stealth. I do not believe it is the Government's policy, so I would like the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Health to attend the House at the earliest opportunity. We should have a balance of care provision between private nursing homes and community facilities.
Arising from yesterday's student protest, I would welcome a debate on education. I am concerned by the growth of overheads and bureaucracy in universities, which has already been noted by an bord snip nua as well as by the Comptroller and Auditor General. It is important in these times to spend resources in the classroom and on lecturing, which is the so-called front line. Three areas in particular are badly needed, which would not be expensive to develop: the problems of mathematics, foreign languages and the shortage of people with economic expertise. They are so badly needed, as has been shown in recent years. These problems could be tackled within budgetary constraints. When the Minister brings forward his sustainability proposals, I hope he will take into account the substantial diversion of resources out of the lecture-hall and into the bureaucrat's office that has taken place in recent years. I gather that report is to be completed shortly. I would like to debate it here because we could do a lot more, even under budgetary constraints, than has happened in recent times.
I also seek an urgent debate on education. It was great to see 15,000 or 16,000 students outside Leinster House yesterday. During the Celtic tiger period it was distressing that students were not active in voicing their political views. To a large extent they became focused on monetary issues. However, the fact that 15,000 students were at the Merrion Street gate of Leinster House yesterday spoke volumes. I remember attending student protests in the early 1990s when 20,000 or 25,000 students would march to Leinster House, and they got results. I would like to see an all-encompassing debate on education in which we would look at how we could build relationships with the private sector to see if there were persons who wanted to fund education, such as the likes of Dr. Tony O'Reilly did in UCD in the early 1990s. I would also like to see a step-by-step examination of the bountiful salaries being earned within the education system by the presidents of the various colleges, senior academics, senior lecturers and senior administrators. If we started by cutting their salaries significantly, we could be in a position where we would not have to look at the imposition of extra costs on students and homeowners. In the past decade the Monopoly-type sums earned by professors, senior lecturers, the presidents of colleges, etc. have been a source of outrage. There is no point in starting at the bottom. We need to start at the top and cut the wages of those mentioned significantly.
The point has been well made.
I have one other issue to raise. I support Senator Whelan's call for a debate on older people. We have seen during the years how successful the Council for the Status of Women and the Council for the Status of People with Disabilities have been; what we need is a council for the status of older people, as the population will age significantly in the coming years. That is a good development because it shows people are living longer and are healthier, and, because of advances in medication, something that needs to be embraced. However, we need to provide services within communities and their homes to ensure they will have the quality of life they deserve. The Government should, therefore, examine the possibility of setting up a council for the status of older people.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator O'Brien and endorse everthing he said in calling on the Minister for Education and Skills to come before the House — I agree with Senator Conway in this regard — for a comprehensive debate on education. It is not only about the students who were protesting last year. As somebody once said, students have been revolting for years, but that is their right. However, it is somewhat ironic.
With all due respect to Senator Whelan, I could not help but to reflect when he was making what was a defence of the Government, as I would if I were on his side of the House. If he was still the editor of a provincial newspaper, no doubt his editorial this week would be screaming at the Government about the nefarious activities in which it was involved. I could even write the headline, "Broken Pledges". That is exactly what this is about. It is not so much about what the outgoing Fianna Fáil Administration proposed. I will put up my hands and state that it was proposing a number of the changes the Government is implementing, but the difference is that the then spokesperson on education publicly pledged that he would not implement them when in government.
The Minister has not done so.
That is the core of the argument. I have the greatest of respect for the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, and believe he is trying to do his very best for education, but there is a need for a comprehensive debate on the issues involved.
Senator Conway is correct. The wages of academics in the past ten or 15 years must be addressed. They must lead by example. What Senator Barrett referred to should also form part of that debate. The universities are slipping down the European and world leagues, while the American CEO of one of the new industries establishing in Ireland stated last week that he was astonished by the level of educational attainment of those coming before him for interview. We have a proud tradition of producing graduates from third level colleges, but there are many issues to be considered, other than the imposition of fees. Irrespective of whatever debate takes place here on the future role of education within a limited budget, the people are watching. Those who will be most affected by an increase in registration fees are the ordinary five-eighth and, to paraphrase the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the people can take no more. I, therefore, advise the Government to tread carefully where it imposes various increases in taxation.
I support Senator Whelan's proposals, and also those of SenatorConway on older people. Establishing a council for the status of older people would be a good move. As he stated, people are living longer and are healthier, but we need to facilitate them in the provision of services.
I would like the leader of Fianna Fáil to come into the House to explain something to me. Senator Barrett alluded to courses in mathematics. Perhaps the Fianna Fáil Party should take a course in mathematics and then explain to us how we got to the position where the next generation, not this one, will be compromised. This generation of students will be looked after. However, the generation coming after it and the ones after that concern me more. I have a daughter who is seven years old. She will not be going to university for ten years and I want her to be able to go. If she can afford the fees or if I can afford them, so be it. However, I want her generation to have the same chances as past generations since fees were abolished. There are many families who can afford the fees and many working-class taxpayers consider they are paying their taxes to pay for rich kids who can afford an education. The debate in England has moved in that direction. Any interviews one sees——
Can we take it there will be no fees?
I wish I was Minister for Education or Finance.
We cannot debate the issue now. Is Senator Harte calling for a debate on it?
I call on the Leader to ask the leader of Fianna Fáil to come into House to explain to us new Senators how we reached this position.
The Taoiseach made a good speech yesterday.
World recession — we must educate Senator Harte.
Senator Harte's party is now in government. Does he know that? I know it does not feel like it, but it is a party in government now.
Senator Harte should conclude. This is to attract crossfire.
Nearly a year has passed and those guys are now at the wheel.
Obviously, Deputy Martin has explained to the Senator what happened in the Cabinet and the Senator accepts it. If he comes and tells us the same, we might accept it.
I could arrange a meeting. Deputy Martin would be more than happy to meet the Senator.
The next day what we will do is bring a photograph of the former Taoiseach, Mr. Bertie Ahern, like the Senator's photograph of the Minister, Deputy Quinn.
Excellent, the one of him signing the pledge.
We did not tell lies during the election.
I do not think Mr. Bertie Ahern ever told lies either, according to Fianna Fáil.
I ask the Senator to conclude.
What about the pledge Fine Gael made on mortgages?
I am delighted that the Fianna Fáil Party has reached the stage where it thinks everything has happened since February. Recently I read a book in which Mr. Bryan Gould, the Labour Party stalwart, stated the Tory Party was a party which thought it had the right to govern. This has been shown to be an illusion; I can say the same about Fianna Fáil. It was all an illusion which has been exposed.
As was Fine Gael.
What has that got to do with me?
The Senator is well over time.
I thank sincerely all of the Senators who responded to the letter sent on behalf of the Sinn Féin Senators a number of weeks ago on speaking time. We received a positive response from Senators of all political parties. In regard to what the Leader of the House had to say today on the statements which would be taken on two important topics, with respect, he missed the point. Whether Sinn Féin Members are allowed to ask the first or last question is not the issue. The issue we raised concerned speaking time. What we were asking for, because the Leader is allowing spokespersons of the various groups eight minutes, was that a Sinn Féin representative be given five minutes. That would be fair and reasonable. I, therefore, propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that a Sinn Féin representative be given five minutes in both discussions and hope we will receive the support from Members of all sides of the House promised to us when we wrote to them in good faith recently.
In the past few days I have referred on a number of occasions in this House to the need for a proper discussion on the budget. The Government has leaked much of what will be included in it in terms of cuts in capital spending and to the social welfare budget. Announcements are to be made today on public sector reform. There is a debate on every television programme and, I am sure, in the canteen in every workplace throughout the country on what should and should not be included in the budget.
We in this House are not being given an opportunity to properly tease out alternative proposals being made by all the various groupings and individuals. That is wrong. Why is it okay to have a debate in the media? In this House we are elected to scrutinise policy and engage with the Minister on the budget but we are not given a proper opportunity to do so.
The Leader yesterday indicated that he would try to facilitate a speaking slot for this issue. I call for a half day of discussions in this regard. The Order of Business and what has been on the agenda in this House over the past number of weeks has been pathetic. We need proper debate in the House if we are to take it seriously, which elected Senators do. I urge the Leader to ensure that we have proper opportunities for a full discussion on what will be in the budget. In the past all politicians were accused of being asleep at the wheel but if we are not being given an opportunity to have discussions and debate, it is not our fault that we are not able to provide scrutiny. Proper space is not being made available for us to have such discussions. I will be formally moving the amendment to the Order of Business that we be given five minutes for both statements which are being taken today.
I raise the issue of robberies, particularly those which affect older people. Senator Conway asked for another organisation for older people and I put on record that there are many such bodies working for older people. These include Age Action Ireland, Older and Bolder, the Irish Senior Citizens Parliament and the national council for older people. These bodies are doing a very fine job, and although we are not in the business of setting up many organisations, we should recognise those who are working for older people.
I have risen to speak about robberies, particularly people targeted for gold. I had a call from a very upset woman the day before yesterday who had been robbed. Although she had other valuable items, the only belongings targeted were gold. I watched a television programme which linked cash for gold shops to easy disposal of stolen gold. That programme did an undercover survey, as gold is the only commodity holding value now, that took in four cash for gold shops. The people in the shops were giving a quarter of the market price for gold, with the most being paid at a level of half the market price. The robbers are being robbed as well. Only one of the shops asked for identification and there is no regulation, although there should be. A lack of regulation indicates to robbers that they can rob people of gold and it can be easily disposed of.
When former Deputy Dermot Ahern was Minister responsible for justice, he commissioned a report from the Garda on the matter, which has only been passed to the Minister for Justice and Equality recently. Will the Minister come to the House to make a statement on the matter? Will he indicate after reading the Garda report whether it is necessary to introduce legislation to regulate those shops? They are an easy market for people who get gold through illegal means.
The Senator has made her point.
Senator Whelan mentioned a precious metals and scrap Bill and I would link those issues. The theft of art on motorways is also connected. I would like a debate on the matter and we should do something about the cash for gold shops. That would be one way of stemming the robberies which affect older people in particular.
We welcome the Government support for Deputy McGrath's Bill on scrap metals and I hope the Government parties will also support our leader, Deputy Martin, who has a Bill relating to corporate donations. That issue was mentioned in Fine Gael and Labour Party policy pledges and we expect the parties to live up not only to their promises but the recommendations of the Moriarty tribunal. Unfortunately, they have been completely ignored by Fine Gael.
I will speak on something far more important and which goes to what we are as a Parliament and Seanad. There is talk of abolishing the Seanad and it should be abolished immediately if we are to proceed with the Leader's proposal today to deal with No. 1 on the Order Paper without debate. The motion relates to the Smithwick tribunal and its extension. Dáil Éireann has had a debate but Seanad Éireann, with the Leader under the instruction of the Minister for Justice and Equality, has been refused a debate.
We had a significant debate on the matter in June and the Minister, Deputy Shatter, was shown to have withheld vital documentation from the Houses. Judge Smithwick told the Minister that his imposition of a deadline, which we alleged at the time was done for political purposes, was a major threat to the continuation of the tribunal. We should not forget that this tribunal is like the A5 road in that it comes from an international agreement at St. Andrew's. It involves British-Irish agreements and North-South relations.
If Fine Gael and Labour Party Senators are happy for this motion to go before the House without debate, I urge them to put down a Bill with a constitutional amendment to abolish the Seanad. There is no point having a Seanad if matters of international importance are not discussed. This matter was debated in the Dáil and the Seanad has an equal function, as both Houses must approve the motion. If we cannot have such a debate, what is the point of having this House? Government backbenchers who will oppose my amendment are allowing this Chamber to become a rubber stamp, and if they are happy with that, we should just abolish the Seanad.
I am proposing an amendment to the Order of Business that one hour of debate be provided for No. 1 on today's Order Paper. I urge Government Senators to support this. The Dáil had its opportunity and the Seanad is entitled to the same treatment. We have the same role as the Dáil in passing this motion.
Both Houses must pass this motion and the Dáil is not superior. I urge colleagues to second and support the amendment.
The faux indignation being expressed by the Fianna Fáil Party never fails to amaze me. It is funny at times. One might imagine that the past 14 years have not happened.
The St. Andrew's Agreement happened under Fianna Fáil.
As well as many good things.
Senator Gilroy to continue, without interruption.
It has been said that we are like the previous Government. There have been two television programmes about the crisis in the Cabinet of the former Taoiseach, Brian Cowen. We can imagine if that Government still existed what state the country would be in.
The Senator can speak to us in four years.
I support the call for a debate on education. It is gravely worrying that no Irish university is in the world's top 100 institutions. We must explore this in an education debate. The idea that the Minister for Education and Skills, who is in the photograph which Senator O'Brien is enthusiastically waving around——
It is of him signing the pledge.
It is not appropriate to display photographs in the House.
I could probably cover the walls with the pictures of the broken pledges from the Government.
Has the Minister presented the budget to the Senator? Perhaps he has.
The word "pathetic" was mentioned but a better word might be "prophetic". Either Senator O'Brien is endowed with the gift of clairvoyance or the Minister has already spoken to him. It is one or the other.
We should bring him in today and see what he has to say. The Senator can support my amendment to the Order of Business.
There should be no interruptions.
The suggestion is that we discuss the budget in advance of its announcement but parliamentary procedure is a bit faulty in that respect. I am calling for a debate on education and a discussion of the chronic under-investment in the past 14 years in third and fourth level institutions, which means not one is in the top 100 universities in the world.
Last night Sir Richard Branson called on the British Government to introduce legislation for organ donation with an opt-out clause. A Bill was introduced in this House three years ago which had a very good debate on Second Stage. Then I was asked whether I would adjourn it with two or three minutes to go so that consultation could take place in regard to the opt-out. It was not just an opt-out; it was an opt-out with co-ordinators in each hospital to encourage organ donation. Nothing has happened and the Bill fell with the change of Government. I wish to know whether we should consider introducing the same or a similar Bill again. Perhaps the Leader would find out the view of the Government on the matter. I mention it because a large number of people are waiting for organ donations. Let us consider the success when somebody donates an organ, in particular when an accident occurs and a family says it is happy to have the family member's organs donated. I have read of people who have said that they feel so good because, for example, the death of their son has at least given somebody the right to see, or to have a kidney or liver transplant. We can do that with an opt-out clause that is well advertised. If anyone does not want his or her body to be used to help someone else then he or she can opt out.
I recall a lovely quote: "Do not send your organs to heaven; we need them here on earth." We do need them here on earth but for those who are concerned about an opt-out clause which says that if one does not opt out then one can assume that one's body parts will be used, I assure them they will not be used without the consent of the family. That can all be covered. It is time we considered the matter again. The British are now following what we attempted to do. We should lead the way once again. It is worthwhile confirming with the Minister for Health whether he would support the reintroduction of a similar Bill to that which was introduced three years ago.
Most days our thoughts and vocabulary are primarily dominated by economics, financial matters, family income, personal debt and Europe. I was shocked and saddened to learn that this country is No. 1 in Europe for the use of heroin and we are third highest for deaths from illegal substances. It is a shocking indictment to hold those positions in Europe. There is a human side to what is going on in the world. I believe the matter needs to be addressed. I call on the Leader to ask the Minister for Health to come to the House for a serious, lengthy, genuine debate not just on the problems but on solutions to the trauma that is affecting so many households and families, namely, the scourge of illegal drugs. It is a family health issue. It does not need to get mixed up between the areas of justice and health; it should be specifically dealt with as a family health issue. I seek that the Minister for Health would come to the House for a debate on the issue.
As we all know from the front page ofThe Irish Times on Tuesday, employers will have to pay the first four weeks of their staff’s sick pay under proposals drawn up by the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, to shave €150 million off her budget. I am aware other Members have raised the matter on the Order of Business. However, I have heard very little to reassure employers that the Government is not going to follow through on this ill-thought out proposal which will do more harm than good to the economy.
The Minister will be in the House this afternoon. The Senator will be able to pursue the matter with her then.
I will be able to pursue the matter with her. May I finish?
It could be speculation.
Senator O'Brien should be allowed to speak without interruption. Senator Coghlan is informing us that the Minister will be present this afternoon.
Yes. May I finish?
Speaking as an employer I find the proposal difficult to comprehend given that we hear repeatedly from Ministers that job creation and the protection of existing jobs is their top priority. If the proposal is implemented it will stall job creation and in the long term may lead to businesses having to cease trading. I ask Members to imagine for a moment that they are employing 100 people who are all working very hard in a factory. Most of my staff have been with me in excess of ten years. I treat them fairly and well. They love working with me but it is hard work. I suggest to the Minister that she might push the measure through but exclude Mondays. To be honest, it is like giving one a choice of taking a Monday or Tuesday off to go to the doctor and say one is not feeling the best and know one is going to get paid for it. I do not think the Government has thought this one through.
As an employer running a small business, the labour laws of this country take up so much of our time, trying to survive in business.
The labour laws are far too weak. That is the problem. We need stronger labour laws to support workers.
I do not believe we need stronger labour laws. Is SenatorCullinane an employer?
One does not need to be an employer to know that workers need rights.
I am calling for a debate on——
We need to support workers' rights.
May I finish, please?
Senator O'Brien should be allowed to speak without interruption, please.
That is a good start.
I employ 100 people, most of whom have been with me in excess of ten years. They love where they work and I treat them fairly but I am not certain that this proposal will allow me to operate my business in the future. I call for a debate on the proposal as a matter of urgency and a wider discussion on the Government's lack of focus on small, independent employers dotted around the country who provide tremendous benefits to their communities. While attention must be paid to foreign direct investment it is not the only show in town. We all know that an indigenous Irish company employing one person is equivalent to a foreign direct investment company employing five people. I will raise the issue with the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, if she is in the House this afternoon but I ask the Leader to provide time for a debate also.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Thomas Byrne. I also support the call by Senator David Cullinane for adequate speaking time for Sinn Féin. It is a perfectly reasonable request and it can only be good for the deliberations in this House to have all views properly ventilated.
I also support the comments of Senator John Whelan on the broadcasting of what is happening in this House, particularly where RTE is concerned as it is the public service broadcaster in this country. An important element of the operation of democracy is that the general public would be aware of and engaged in the political process. This country is particularly fortunate in that there is a great interest in politics. That is largely due to those who are involved as volunteers on the ground. They show an interest and are prepared to give their time. We must also give credit to the media which tends to highlight certain aspects of the political process. There is a deficit in that regard, namely, the adequate coverage of this House. There is an imbalance because that is not happening. Therefore, we are not serving the public well. It would be in the interests of RTE to come on board at this particular time. It does exceptionally well out of politics with its programmes. There is no reason it could not be generous in its response.
On the scrappage issue which has also been raised; I have a particular interest in Tipperary in that regard. We are all worried about the many monuments we have in this country that could be used for scrappage. They are of historical and sentimental value. Some monuments are valuable. People are now talking about mounting security on monuments lest they be stolen as others have. One of the glaring cases relates to Holy Cross Abbey where an ancient relic was stolen. I believe it was stolen for the casing which would be particularly valuable because of its gold content. The thieves broke into the abbey, desecrated it and stole the casing and the relic contained within it. As the Archbishop of Cashel has said that Holy Cross Abbey will never be the same again without the relic because of its historical and traditional value. Regardless of whether one has a religion or not, if people have a particular reverence, as they would have had for that relic in Holy Cross Abbey, can one imagine how people feel to have it desecrated in that manner? I appeal to anyone who is listening and has the relic to bring it back.
I agree that legislation is required. I commend Deputy Mattie McGrath on taking this step. If we allow this to go on it will be a very serious development. If the thieves believe they can get steal our heritage throughout the country with impunity, they will continue doing so. I hope all of us can unite on this issue. There is much goodwill among all politicians on fundamental issues of this kind. This is one for which I ask support.
When a Senator who employs 100 people and provides financial assistance to 100 families every week of the year speaks on job creation and matters pertaining to it, we should listen seriously to her ideas, suggestions and concerns. I support what was said by Senator Mary Ann O'Brien. She is following the lead given two days ago by Senator Fidelma Healy Eames. I look forward to the Minister for Social Protection being in the House this afternoon and, I hope, putting to bed this mad idea of further penalising hard-pressed employers. We cannot have employees or jobs without employers. Our whole being must be focused on job creation and the support of employers. I look forward to hearing the Minister relieving our worries and concerns on that matter this afternoon.
My friends across the way appear very concerned at what they see as U-turns in education. Many of them will have served in this House or the Dáil with the former Leader of this House, Mrs. Mary O'Rourke. During her time as her party's education spokesperson Mrs. O'Rourke was very strident in her support of student unions and took part in, and almost led, marches to Croke Park. When she became Minister with responsibility for education she appeared to engage in a different set of proposals from those she had advocated months previously. She simply explained this to the Dáil by saying she was now on a different side of the House. This may be of some assistance to the Opposition Senators in explaining away their concerns.
I thank Senator Bradford. That is much appreciated.
Of course, Mrs. O'Rourke's late brother, Mr. Brian Lenihan, also spoke a memorable phrase, which could have been patented by his Fianna Fáil Party, when he referred to the futility of consistency. That is the tradition from which they are coming.
That is most helpful. I thank the Senator.
I support what was said by a number of colleagues about the need for a broadly based debate on older people. I have raised this matter on several occasions in the past seven or eight years and have suggested the holding of a referendum to enshrine the rights of older people in the Constitution. We will be having such a referendum in relation to children. We should also consider a constitutional amendment to protect the rights of older people.
Senator Byrne raised the proposal to take No. 1 on the Order Paper without debate. I am concerned when any motion goes through without the debate. When I was in Opposition I always felt motions should not be passed without debate and I must be consistent on this occasion. I am not sure why it is necessary to deal with this item in this way. I would be happier if we had some degree of debate on it. I know the Leader is constrained by ministerial timetables and responsibilities. However, could we proceed with other business and give the Leader an opportunity to arrange time for even a minimal debate on this matter later in the afternoon?
Even half an hour.
It is important for the Seanad that we ventilate our views on such matters. It is not practicable to have a full debate on this matter, as Senator Byrne proposes. I suggest we move on to Nos. 2 and 3 and that the Leader and the Whips explore the possibility of debating No. 1 later in the day. Rather than have a silly vote, the result of which we know in advance, could we not try to find time and space for a debate later this afternoon? There may be a valid reason this cannot be so. The Seanad should not be a rubber stamp. We should be a House of debate and consideration and not a rubber stamp. Sometimes this must happen, but I suggest some flexibility with regard to No. 1.
Ba mhaith liom cuidiú leis an leasú ar Riar na hOibre atá molta ag mo chomhghleacaí, an Seanadóir David Cullinane, go dtabharfaí cúig nóiméad cainte do ionadaithe Shinn Féin le linn na ráitis níos déanaí inniu.
I am seconding Senator Cullinane's amendment regarding the speaking time for Sinn Féin Senators. This is not an unreasonable request. If it is not acceded to, we will be obliged to call a vote on the amendment. The vote will probably take longer than the time we would be given to speak. I would prefer that we would be given the time to speak rather than wait around for a vote. Members of both Government parties have privately indicated to us that they are in support of the motion. I hope they will vote as they have spoken to us.
We are not trying to be unreasonable. We are trying to have a vigorous debate, to question the policies of the Government in a constructive manner and to provide a diversity of viewpoints. I implore the Leader to reconsider the allocation of speaking time for today.
Ba mhaith liom ábhar eile a árdú chomh maith. There is a story in a Galway newspaper this morning about people who were victims of flooding in County Galway and who are finding it very difficult to get quotations from insurance companies. This is a very serious matter. They cannot move their houses. The flooding is not in their control and much of it is caused by a lack of infrastructural work by the State. This is a serious matter and I call on the relevant Minister to come to the House to discuss this matter, to say what he can do to rectify the situation in order that victims of flooding are not discriminated against by insurance companies and to clarify the role of the Financial Services Ombudsman of Ireland in this matter.
I also second the proposal by Senator John Whelan on health care. Senators Paul Bradford and Martin Conway also spoke about the role of old people in our society. We need to have this very important debate. The privatisation of health care for the elderly is almost Government policy. This follows the example of previous Ministers with responsibility for health care. I have heard the Minister for Health described as Mary Harney with a beard. Progressive Democrat policy is being followed through and health care for the elderly is being privatised. This is completely wrong.
That is sexism gone askew.
Tá sé fíor-thábhachtach go mbeadh díospóireacht leathan faoi seo. Tacaím leis an moladh atá déanta ag an Seanadóir Whelan go dtiocfadh an tAire chuig an Teach le go bpléifimís an cheist seo amach leis.
I compliment Senator Darragh O'Brien on the quality of his performance this morning, but not on its content. The Senator should check what his party signed up to in the memorandum of understanding, with which it saddled the Government.
Is that the first one or the one the current Government agreed to last July?
I support the call for a debate on education. I would prefer to debate No. 1, the resolution on the Smithwick tribunal. I would prefer that we would have debates on tribunal reports. This motion is to allow for an interim report on 9 March to give the good judge an extension of time. He is making wonderful progress.
The Government restricted him.
There are more witnesses to be heard. This is a simple matter and we should not get tied up over it.
The Minister now has to extend the time. He was the one who restricted the tribunal. We are proven correct.
Good progress has been made and we should allow the tribunal to continue. We can deal with the matter at another time if necessary.
We should commend the Taoiseach on his actions yesterday. Of course we must defend and save the euro in every way we can. The matter is urgent, as the leader of Fianna Fáil said this morning on "Morning Ireland". We must do this with the tools we have at present rather than trying to bring about further treaty change. That might be allowed for further down the road. Defence of the euro is urgent and important and we must deal with it now. Let us get on with it.
I do not think anyone in the House, particularly from the three main parties, is in a position to point the finger at anyone else with regard to creating economic difficulties. We should also remind ourselves that data based on 2009 figures show we had the fifth highestper capita GDP of the European countries in the OECD. This achievement was brought about by Fianna Fáil, although I am not happy with many of its mistakes due to the procyclical policies it followed in the past ten years. However, it came about following a serious mess being made of the economy in the 1980s, between 1982 and 1987, and we all know who was in power then.
I wish to raise the issue of the recent court case in Belfast relating to the bankruptcy of Seán Quinn. I was very sorry to see that happen because he is a man for whom I have great admiration. He built up an extraordinary multi-billion euro company from a start of just 23 acres of bad land in Fermanagh. His story was a phenomenal success story and it is very sad to see the situation that has arisen for him personally and for employees in his company.
In that regard, I want to raise two issues that arise. The first is our bankruptcy laws. The fact that Seán Quinn went to Belfast to seek bankruptcy raises many of the arguments we on this side of the House made when bankruptcy changes were debated here recently. It is a terrible reflection on the Department of Justice and Equality that more than three years into this crisis, it is still only considering what it may do about bringing forward realistic bankruptcy legislation. I ask for a debate on this in the House. The time it takes the Department to come to conclusions and for legislation to pass through the House leaves it far too late to try and change the situation.
It is also imperative that bankruptcy lasts no more than one to three years. The costs of the bankruptcy and the Revenue costs should also be eliminated in cases of bankruptcy. Currently, we have a ridiculous situation where those costs last for 12 years. We have good entrepreneurs in this country, but if we cannot get them back to work, to investing and to creating jobs, we will be looking at high unemployment for the next decade and possibly longer. In that regard, I ask that this debate be extended beyond these two areas to competitiveness. It is extraordinary that the troika had to insist to Ministers recently that they should do something about the exorbitant legal and medical costs in this country. People are being ripped off. Senator Conway probably best described it when he used the term "monopoly money". The fact that we allow people in privileged positions to continue to rip people off is a shame on the Houses, the Administration and our public service.
I find it extraordinary to read comments in the newspapers from people, particularly those who work in RTÉ, about salaries and pensions of Members of these Houses. Like many people here, I work for far less than I got, only a proportion of what I got, when I was working in the public service. I make no apology for what I get now. If we do not fund and resource politicians properly, this gives rise to corruption and leads to a failure to attract talent into the political scene, where it is needed. I propose we invite the Minister with responsibility for public services to the House to discuss the reason we are putting a cap on the salaries of CEOs in semi-State companies. These are important organisations that are at the root of how we will extricate ourselves from the current economic crisis. I am talking about Bord Gáis, whose very good CEO is now leaving, the ESB and the people who run the banks. We must depend on these people and if we do not have quality management, we will lose out. At the same time, RTE is paying monopoly money to contract broadcasters. I want the Minister to come in to debate the cap of €200,000. There is no reason anybody in RTE should get in excess of what the Taoiseach is paid. It is time we spoke up and enforced a cap and stopped listening to the ráiméis broadcasters go on with while hiding behind their exorbitant salaries.
Last night a gentlemen who came to see me here in the House asked me if I realised we were in war time and asked what happens during war time. When put starkly like that, one rethinks everything. At this juncture, we must guard our fundamentals where possible. For that reason, I believe strongly that employers, the source of our jobs, must not be made to pay further for absenteeism. I know we will have a debate this afternoon with the Minister for Social Protection and I am delighted with the level of interest this issue has raised. Perhaps it is the employee who should bear the burden of sick leave. We need to widen the debate. It should not be the employer or the State who should bear the burden.
Education is another fundamental it is important to protect. It is the driver of our economy and the key to personal growth. I am aware that many Members have sought a debate with the Minister for Education and Skills and I support that call. The proposal to cap student numbers is very worrying, particularly when the only choice our young people have is education or emigration. Education is a right, but it must be a right that is accessible and affordable. We must ensure we guard standards and provide a quality education. I am delighted with what the Minister, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, said in the newspapers today, namely, that good teaching is about doing research, teaching and some community work. That is the type of lecturer we need and should support. I have concerns about the waste——
Does the Senator seek a debate on education?
I do, but I would like to make this point because I have waited a long time for the opportunity to do so. There is significant waste at the top and I wonder whether we can continue to afford to have university residences for our university presidents. We are in war time and must look at everything. All bets are off and we must consider whom we should serve. We need to serve citizens and students and we need to serve our employers in order that they continue to provide employment. We are at a new juncture.
I urge the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, to press on with the abolition of severance pay for senior civil servants. Today we saw that the Secretary General of the Department of Education and Skills, who is about to retire, has volunteered to renounce her severance pay of €126,000. I compliment her on that. The figures are sickening. This is huge money and we cannot afford to pay such sums at this time. We cannot leave the issue to a voluntary code, so the Minister should press on with the abolition of such payments.
I support Senator Quinn with regard to seeking an opt-in clause for organ donation so that organs would be available unless people choose to opt out. That would help many people make their decision. I have not signed to say that on my death my organs can be donated. However, I would not have any difficulty with an automatic opt-in clause.
This morning I did an interview with a transition year student from Blackrock College on the reform of the Seanad and I commended Senator Cummins on introducing reform whereby Ministers take questions here and on how that has opened up debate. We are only beginning with this and it is not fully established, but I complimented the Senator in my interview on Blackrock College radio. I would like the Leader to take on board the request of the Sinn Féin Members to be given an equal amount of time for questions. We can continue to improve and I see nothing wrong with giving them parity because their contributions are informed and interesting. I encourage the Leader to support their request.
I call for an urgent debate on education in Ireland. TheFinancial Times is the most influential newspaper in the world and on 7 November, it printed an article by Dr. Thomas Begley, who spent seven years as dean of the business school in UCD. In his article he complimented the lecturers, academics and students, and highlighted the fact that the IDA brands Ireland as an island of innovation. It is a pity that Senator Healy Eames, an authority on education, is not present, but Senator Barrett is. Mr. Begley stated that there is a growing gap between rhetoric and reality in Irish education, that the standard has decreased in the primary and secondary schools and that standards are slipping in Ireland by comparison with other OECD countries.
Two years ago, Mr. Craig Barrett, the previous chairman of Intel, drew our attention to our poor performance in mathematics. We need an urgent discussion on the education system. How in God's name can we continue to attract multinationals to the State if the students emerging from our universities have obtained qualifications by rote and by having good memories and if they are not taught to analyse? We all know that, in many cases, those who have the best memories get the highest points in the leaving certificate examinations. We will not be able to compete with the multinationals if our third level graduates cannot analyse, critique and argue. This morning, I urged three transition year students not to learn material off by heart and instead learn to analyse, critique and deliver. I asked them to be action people and deliver the goods.
There is such competition internationally to attract multinationals that we must adopt the correct approach. Our secondary and third level education systems are being starved of resources. The people do not understand. We agree unanimously that education is the key to human development and job prospects.
Is the Senator calling for a debate on education?
We are putting money into the banks and starving the education system. It is urgent that we address this.
The point is well made.
The country is experiencing a serious crisis and the elephant in the room is the unemployment rate. Unless our students are ready to compete and take on jobs offered by the multinationals, which we need to invest directly in the State and create employment, we will be in poor shape.
I join other Senators in calling for a debate on the Smithwick report. If it is such a simple matter, why can we not have a short debate thereon? I am sure it could be facilitated but it is a matter for the Leader.
I would welcome a debate on older people. It is far too long coming. We now have a Minister for Children and Youth Affairs but there would be no harm in having one for older people, whose concerns are equally important. Older people have brought us to where we are; that is the way life works, yet we choose to treat older people in the most appalling manner.
Senator Walsh commented on RTE. I cannot put my point any better than he did, so I will not say anything more on the issue. Suffice it to say politicians must stop running themselves down. What are we at? This is a profession and we need to be professional about how we conduct our business. RTE and other media might try to bash us but we should not buy into that. I would welcome a debate on this point.
I very much support Senator Noone's comment on our being more professional in how we do our business. We all want to see a much more effective and productive Seanad. We should consider the amount of time lost yesterday through the calling of votes and alterations to the Order of Business.
It was the breach of trust that was responsible.
We lost at least an hour and a half yesterday that could have been used productively.
The point was made.
The commitment given——
Senator Mullins to continue, without interruption.
There are ways of making points other than through losing considerable productive time.
It was democracy.
The main proposal exercising people's minds at present is probably that of the Minister for Social Protection on sick pay. We all know sick pay comprises a difficulty but the manner in which it is being handled is not in the interest of increasing employment and protecting small businesses. There is certainly a problem with sick pay throughout the public service that needs to be addressed, but the Minister will have to find other ways of addressing it rather than through putting the burden back on small employers.
As with yesterday, I do not propose to answer the questions of Senators who have left the House. It is extremely discourteous.
On a point of order, I understand the Leader made that statement yesterday. I was one the Senators affected. I, as a representative, left yesterday to meet the Hungarian ambassador and members of the foreign affairs committee of the Parliament of Hungary. It was my duty to do so. The Leader has an onus to respond to every point, irrespective of whether the Senators who raised them are present.
That is not a point of order.
It is only courteous to inform the Leader if one is leaving the House and cannot return after raising a point.
Senator O'Brien referred to the funding of education. I mentioned yesterday that the Higher Education Authority, HEA, had submitted a report to the Minister of Education and Skills on Monday last. The Minister needs time to examine it. When the HEA publishes its report, we can debate it. The question of education has practically dominated the Order of Business today. I will certainly allow a debate on it, in addition to a focused debate on various aspects thereof. It is needed. In fairness to the Minister, he has been in the House on several occasions and is willing to come to debate the issues Members have raised. He will continue to come to the House.
On pledges, I will not refer to those made prior to the election. However, the pledge that Fianna Fáil signed with the troika will certainly cost the people much more than other pledges made.
Had it not signed it, we would have no funding resources and——
In regard to the capital programme——
——would have to cut funding by €18 billion this year.
The Leader to continue, without interruption.
A little realism on the part of the Leader would not go astray.
I was asked last week to arrange a debate on the capital programme. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, will be in the House on Tuesday to debate it, as I stated yesterday.
I asked about the expenditure review.
The Minister will be present to deal with what he was asked to discuss last week.
That is fine but I asked——
Perhaps he can incorporate that subject when responding to questions.
The Leader should be allowed to respond.
I am just trying to be helpful.
The questions of whether and which Garda stations will be closed will be taken in the context of the Garda Commissioner's draft policing plan. As with every organisation, the Garda Síochána will have to manage with reduced resources. The Commissioner has rightly been examining all aspects of the Garda policing model, including the deployment of personnel and the utilisation of modern technologies in the operation of Garda stations, in terms of opening hours and possible closures. The purpose of the review is to ensure Garda resources are managed and deployed in the most appropriate manner to meet existing and emerging policing requirements and maintain Garda front-line services in a manner consistent with Government policy. Clearly, an examination of opening hours and, in some cases, the viability of stations will form part of the report. In that regard, the Commissioner will have to consider whether better policing services could be delivered to certain communities by having Garda members on patrol rather than in a station. This can be discussed at a later stage.
Every Member would like to join Senator Whelan in congratulating the Ceann Comhairle on his initiative on the televising of debates in both Houses. I thank UPC for doing that.
Senators Phelan, Keane and Ó Murchú raised the issue of scrap metal and a Bill that may be introduced in the other House. The cash for gold issue is a cause for concern throughout the country and even monuments and graveside memorabilia are being stolen for their scrap value.
Senator Barrett and others spoke about the importance of mathematics, languages and economic subjects. We can raise that issue with the Minister for Education and Skills. Senator Mooney spoke about school fees, which also can be raised with the Minister.
Senators Cullinane and Ó Clochartaigh raised the issue of speaking time. I have repeatedly pointed out that Sinn Féin does not have sufficient numbers to make up a group. The Sinn Féin Member in the previous Seanad sat with other Senators in order to form a group. I have facilitated Sinn Féin Senators with far more speaking time than I am required to provide and have given them Private Members' time. I have given the three Sinn Féin Senators more than a fair opportunity to make their point. They have three minutes for questions and the three of them can speak on the Order of Business. They have ample opportunity to contribute and we have facilitated them in practically everything they have requested.
Senators Byrne, Bradford and Noone referred to the Smithwick tribunal. The chairman of the tribunal wrote to the Clerk of the Dáil on 15 October to indicate that he was not in a position to meet the 30 November deadline. The Government has approved the Minister for Justice and Equality's proposal to put a motion to the Oireachtas requiring the tribunal to provide a further interim report by 9 March 2012 and to complete its work by 31 May 2012, in line with the chairman's request. The Government is conscious of the sensitivity that attaches to the tribunal. The Minister will not be available for most of the day but we have made inquiries and he will return to Dublin at 4.30 p.m., at which point I will facilitate a 15 minute debate on the tribunal. I am glad to facilitate the House in this regard. The motion merely deals with an extension of time but if Members require a debate, I will facilitate them.
Senator Quinn raised the issue of organ donations, in respect of which he introduced a Bill several years ago. I will revert to the Senator within a day or so on the question of whether the Government intends to introduce its own legislation or if he needs to reintroduce his Bill. It is an important subject.
On the issue of sick pay, the Minister for Social Protection will be in the House from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. I understand the cost to the Exchequer of sick pay has increased from €100 million to €900 million in the past decade. This is unsustainable. As regards putting the cost onto employers, reference was made yesterday to the Government's role in developing an environment for creating jobs. The measure appears to be contrary to the measures several Senators and other commentators have outlined in regard to creating such an environment. However, this is a matter that can be teased out with the Minister.
Senator Walsh spoke about bankruptcy legislation and the legal profession. The Government is committed to introducing bankruptcy legislation at an early stage and the Legal Services Regulation Bill will be debated in the House shortly. I note the Senator's comments about a cap of €200,000 on salaries for RTE presenters.
Senator White made a cogent point on education and transition year students. I think I have addressed most of the points raised by Senators.
I asked questions about insurance companies in relation to the flooding in Galway and nursing homes.
I apologise. I will raise the question on insurance with the relevant Minister to ascertain whether it is possible to engage with the insurance companies on insuring those whose homes and property have been destroyed by floods. It is a serious matter, especially in light of the extensive flooding in recent times. I hope to be able to revert to the Senator on the matter.
We dealt with the health issue and nursing homes. Several Senators referred to older people. The Seanad has formed a public consultation committee to deal with the problems and rights of older people and this committee will be holding hearings in the House next Thursday. We have taken the initiative on this matter which should not be forgotten. We hope a number of people involved in dealing with people and providing geriatric care will address the public consultation committee and any other Members who may wish to listen to the debate in this House. We have decided to deal with this important matter which will be addressed in the House in the coming weeks.
Senator O'Brien has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That the Minister for Education and Skills attend the House to explain why he lied to the electorate and if he will reintroduce third level fees." Is the amendment being pressed?
In light of the Leader's commitment that the Minister for Education and Skills will come to the House when the report has been read, I withdraw my amendment.
Senator Cullinane has proposed an amendment, "That five minutes be allocated to a Sinn Féin Senator at the conclusion of contributions by group spokespersons on Nos. 2 and 3 on the Order Paper." Is the amendment being pressed?
Under Standing Order 62(3)(b), I ask that the division be taken again by other than electronic means.
- Byrne, Thomas.
- Cullinane, David.
- Leyden, Terry.
- Mooney, Paschal.
- Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
- Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
- O'Brien, Darragh.
- O'Sullivan, Ned.
- Walsh, Jim.
- White, Mary M.
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Barrett, Sean D.
- Bradford, Paul.
- Brennan, Terry.
- Burke, Colm.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Comiskey, Michael.
- Conway, Martin.
- Cummins, Maurice.
- D’Arcy, Jim.
- D’Arcy, Michael.
- Gilroy, John.
- Harte, Jimmy.
- Hayden, Aideen.
- Healy Eames, Fidelma.
- Heffernan, James.
- Henry, Imelda.
- Keane, Cáit.
- Kelly, John.
- Moloney, Marie.
- Moran, Mary.
- Mulcahy, Tony.
- Mullins, Michael.
- Noone, Catherine.
- O’Brien, Mary Ann.
- O’Keeffe, Susan.
- O’Neill, Pat.
- Quinn, Feargal.
- Sheahan, Tom.
- Whelan, John.
Senator Byrne has proposed an amendment, "That one hour of debate be provided for No. 1 on today's Order Paper." Is the amendment being pressed?
In the light of the support given to my suggestion by members of the Government party and their recognition that this is a parliament, not a rubber stamp, I am happy to withdraw my proposal.
Is the Order of Business, as amended by the Leader of the House, providing for a debate on No. 1 for 15 minutes at 4.30 p.m., agreed to? Agreed.
Order of Business, as amended, agreed to.