Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, Nurses and Midwives Bill 2010 — Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at noon and conclude not later than 2 p.m., if not previously concluded. There will be a sos between 2 p.m. and 2.30 p.m. No. 2, Water Services (Amendment) Bill — Committee Stage, will be taken at 2.30 p.m. and the business is to be interrupted at 5 p.m. for Private Members' business and resumed at 7 p.m., if not previously concluded. No. 14, motion No. 6, Private Members' business, will commence at 5 p.m. and conclude not later than 7 p.m.

I commend the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, for his decision yesterday to hold an independent inquiry into the "Prime Time Investigates" programme on Irish missionaries abroad, in light of the judgment in favour of Fr. Kevin Reynolds. It is an important step forward that there is an independent investigation into the matter. I commend the Minister and the Government on taking this welcomed step. The inquiry will carry out its function outside this House.

Every day the media reports on proposals for the budget. Today we read the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, proposes to introduce a €50 charge on medical card holders and a trebling of the prescription fee. These proposed changes were raised at the Fine Gael and Labour Party parliamentary party meetings. We can raise such matters with the Leader, but the problem is that we are not getting a proper debate on the budget proposals. Our Sinn Féin colleagues have asked three times, and we have supported them, to allow a half day pre-budget debate in order that the Opposition parties raise the issues that are being raised by various groups, representative of the elderly and those with disabilities as well as others. I ask the Leader to set aside a half day next week for this pre-budget debate. I know the Minister for Finance will be exceptionally busy and I am not necessarily expecting him or the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, to come to the House. However, there are other Ministers, for example, the Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Fergus O'Dowd, is effectively without a portfolio as NewERA is not up and running, who could come to this House. If the Leader has the option only of a full day sitting on Monday, I do not mind as this House should have an opportunity to discuss and debate the pre-budget submissions. If we do not, I will raise these issues and call for votes on them each morning.

The Fianna Fáil Party has tabled 75 amendments while the Sinn Féin Party has tabled 24 amendments to the Water Services (Amendment) Bill 2010. Committee Stage should not have to conclude today. I see the Leader has allowed time after Private Members' business, which is fine. However, Report and Final Stages will be taken tomorrow. That is not the way to do business. This is not emergency legislation. We have no difficulty in facilitating the Government in introducing emergency legislation, having done so in the past. There is no need to finish Committee Stage of the Water Services (Amendment) Bill today, however.

While I commend the Leader and the other members of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges for organising a public consultation in the Chamber tomorrow afternoon, it will only be for two hours. People will be attending from across the country on this matter but we are only providing two hours on it because Report and Final Stages of the Water Services (Amendment) Bill will be taken tomorrow afternoon at 5 o'clock.

I propose the Leader allows Committee Stage run and the House to sit on Friday and Monday to deal with these amendments properly. At the same time, we should not restrict the time given for tomorrow's public consultation — one of the most important departures the Seanad has taken in how it does its business in several years — with the advocacy groups for the elderly.

I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that no guillotine be allowed on Committee Stage of the Water Services (Amendment) Bill, that the House sits on Friday, and if necessary on Monday, to deal with all Committee Stage amendments and to deal with Report and Final Stages next Tuesday, thereby ensuring our citizens attending the House tomorrow will have sufficient time to put their cases and views on the elderly and there will be a proper discussion.

I join Senator Darragh O'Brien in welcoming yesterday's announcement by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, of an inquiry in the Fr. Reynolds case. It is good that all Members acknowledge that such an inquiry needed to be established.

Regarding Senator Darragh O'Brien's call for a pre-budget debate, there was one yesterday with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, on the capital infrastructure programme. The Minister, however, was not treated with the greatest respect by the other side of the House with interruptions during his opening statement——

I was here and did not interrupt him once.

Of course, we all disagree across the floor of the House and we, when in opposition, had disagreements with Fianna Fáil Party Ministers. However, we do try to treat people with respect. In my time here, the Seanad has had a positive tradition of treating people with courtesy and respect when they are making points with which others may not agree.

The Minister is a sensitive soul.

Here is another example of disagreeing respectfully.

I do not agree with Senator Bacik on this. The Minister was treated with respect yesterday.

Senator Bacik to continue, without interruption.

While I believe we should have pre-budget debates, some of which have already been facilitated such as yesterday with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, and last week with the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, they must be conducted with a modicum of courtesy, even when there is disagreement as there should be.

Regarding this morning's headline on a proposed charge on medical cards, I must point out to Senator Darragh O'Brien that no decision has yet been made in this regard. It was also somewhat premature of Members on the Fianna Fáil Party side to accuse Labour Party Members of U-turns on third level fees last week. The Labour Party made commitments on retaining the abolition of third level fees and holding a line on social welfare rate cuts. They remain Labour Party policy.

What about child benefit?

As the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, said last week, it is important to acknowledge that other areas need to be examined. When she suggested creative reforms that will save the Exchequer money, such as the reform of sick pay arrangements which many employers may welcome because it will give them more control over absence due to sickness, it is important both sides of the House listen with courtesy and respect. Reforms such as this must be dealt with in a creative manner. It is not good enough, especially for the Fianna Fáil Party, to oppose every single measure the Government proposes.

That is why interruptions occur. We are not opposing every single measure.

We did not make false promises.

Go on, let Senator Bacik have her run today. I missed her during the week.

Members opposite should remember the word "amnesia".

The people will remember the Government's promises.

Fianna Fáil does not know the meaning of the word "amnesia".

The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, also seems not to know the meaning of the word.

Senator Bacik to continue, without interruption. Does she have a question for the Leader?

Will the Leader organise a debate on foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East? I welcome the release last week of Dr. Rafah Nached in Syria. I had called for it in this House and circulated a cross-party motion on it. I will circulate an updated motion to take account of her release and the ongoing appalling oppression in Syria.

Later in Private Members' business, the Independent Senators will present a motion on child health issues. Yesterday, Members attended a briefing in the audio-visual room by Professor Donal O'Shea, University College Dublin, and Professor Niall Mynagh, Dublin City University, on childhood obesity levels and learned of the shocking statistics concerning the long-term health implications of these. This Private Members' debate is important to every Member. I seek the support of fellow Senators to be present this afternoon for Private Members' business and ensure a robust debate. Will the Leader confirm if the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, will attend this debate?

I commend Senator Eamonn Coghlan and the other Taoiseach-nominated Senators for bringing forward this important issue on Private Members' time. I certainly intend to attend and participate in the debate. It is an issue in which the Seanad can play a role in heightening public awareness of a growing issue of concern. Very often people can get lost in technicalities. The issues involved in childhood obesity and health are stark, however.

I welcome yesterday's announcement by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, of an inquiry into "Prime Time Investigates" and the important issue which arose with the documentary programme on which many Senators have spoken. It is important the terms of reference of this investigation are sufficiently broad, so it will not just examine the transactional narrative of who decided what, who checked out what and who authorised what, but also to understand the psychology behind the appalling defamation of and failure in the duty of care to Fr. Kevin Reynolds.

I have already raised the issue as to whether there could be some kind of institutional bias against the clergy arising out of scandals and the fact an Amárach report showed 42% of people believe 20% of the clergy are abusers when the correct figure is that between 3% and 4% have been accused of abuse. When there is such a level of misinformation on an issue of such profound importance, one must ask about the media's role in it. The media plays an enormous role in shaping public understandings of issues. It is helpful this information is in the public domain when we consider what happened to Fr. Kevin Reynolds. If there were any question that any sector in our society was seen as pariahs and not entitled to the same level of due care as everyone else, it must be explored. We cannot conclude on that point but it is a fair question to ask. I hope the compliance committee of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland will be in a position to ask those questions in a fair but an intense manner to establish what went wrong in this case.

Will the Minister for Defence attend the House to explain the lack of delivery of legal services in the Defence Forces? An average of 14 to 16 courts martial are held within the Defence Forces each year. However, no courts martial have been held for over a year. I am of the opinion, therefore, that a reshuffle is required within the legal services of the Defence Forces and I ask that the Minister appear before the House to discuss the matter.

I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to bring the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government before the House to discuss the ongoing situation in respect of Priory Hall. Members are aware that the residents of Priory Hall have been living in unprecedented and cruel conditions in recent months. Many of us have raised this matter in the House during the past month or so. Some Members may have met the residents when they held a protest outside the gates of Leinster House yesterday.

While Mr. Justice Kearns took a passionate approach to the residents in the High Court case, Dublin City Council has sought at every turn to absolve itself of any responsibility for catering for the needs of families with small children. The council sought an eviction order so that it might kick the residents out of their homes but it did not have any plan regarding where they might go. When the High Court found in favour of the residents and directed Dublin City Council to pay for their temporary accommodation, the council lodged an appeal with the Supreme Court. Whatever about the legal reasoning employed by the council, this shows an incredible lack of humanity in the period leading up to Christmas.

It appears the council is taking instruction from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government in respect of this matter. It also appears the council is relying on terms such as "legal precedent", "consulting the Minister and departmental officials" and "our hands are tied". The residents have repeatedly sought a meeting with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government but he has refused all requests. It is for these reasons that I decided to table my amendment and I ask Members on all sides to support it. This is not a party political issue and I understand that Members on the other side of the House genuinely care about the residents and their plight. The very least the residents of Priory Hall deserve is 20 minutes of the Minister's time in order that he might listen to their stories regarding what they have endured, outline in clear terms the instructions, if any, his Department has given to Dublin City Council and accept responsibility for the situation.

Let us be clear in respect of this matter. Priory Hall is but the first of many cases that will arise throughout the country. Individual councils will be approaching the Department and seeking advice on how to deal with these cases. It is time the Minister levelled with the residents and accepted that this is a national issue for which he has responsibility. I ask all Members to support the amendment.

As the person who yesterday called for a public inquiry into the libelling of Fr. Kevin Reynolds, I welcome the decision taken by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, to hold an immediate inquiry. I hope the inquiry will cover all aspects of the television programme which gave rise to this matter. I also hope it will cover a complaint made to RTE by members of the family of a deceased missionary in respect of the treatment of their relative. In view of the fact that the evidence presented in respect of Fr. Reynolds proved to be so untrue and inaccurate, all aspects of the programme must be investigated thoroughly in order to ensure that no person — regardless of whether he or she is dead of alive — has been treated wrongly by RTE.

I welcome the announcement by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, in respect of a new direction for the delivery of services to people who are experiencing homelessness. The Minister's new approach will ensure that the money will follow the client and that the provision of funding will be linked directly to specific targets and outcomes. This will allow service providers to focus——

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Yes. Will the Leader make time available for the Minister to appear before the House to provide Members with clarification and further information in respect of his plans to ease the problem of homelessness? I welcome the fact that the Minister plans to move away from heavy dependence on emergency accommodation in hostels and private bed and breakfast establishments. We all want the homeless to be housed in permanent accommodation of a type that is much more suitable to their needs. I welcome the Minister's announcement earlier this morning and I want him to follow through on it. I would be interested in obtaining clarification in respect of this matter and also in having the Minister outline what are his targets.

I support Senator Power's amendment to the Order of Business in respect of the residents of Priory Hall. Unfortunately, I will not be in a position to vote on the matter because I will be delivering to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government a message relating to the dog breeding——

Is the Senator seconding the amendment?

Yes. I would be very happy to second it, if that is agreeable.

Mr. Kevin Cardiff is appearing before a committee of the European Parliament today. I do not wish to impugn the reputation of Mr. Cardiff and all I know about him is already a matter of general knowledge. However, questions have been raised at the Committee of Public Accounts in respect of certain matters, particularly the €3.6 billion that went missing and the advice given to Ministers in the lead up to the events which gave rise to our current and disastrous financial situation. Will the Leader confirm whether it is true that Members of the European Parliament who belong to Government parties and who expressed particular views have been instructed to abstain or withdraw from the hearing relating to Mr. Cardiff? If it is true that they have been so instructed, that will be an extremely serious development. Those to whom I refer were elected not to represent specific Government policies. Rather, they were elected to represent the people of Ireland in the European Parliament. If they do not ask the questions they should ask, they will be in dereliction of their duties. It would appear very bad if questions had arisen about a person and if the Government decided to foist that individual on Europe. This matter relates to our financial standing and to our reputation. I look forward to a reply from the Leader on that matter.

Senator Michael Mullins referred to the appalling case relating to Fr. Kevin Reynolds, a matter I have raised on previous occasions. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources has spoken of the necessity of holding an inquiry independent of RTE. The latter has established its own inquiry. I agree with the Minister because there is a very important principle at issue here. I wonder whether what is being done in this instance will be extended to other areas of the media. I have been involved in debates on various items of legislation, including that under which the Press Council was established. That council was not given any powers and it is not even compulsory for members of the media to joint it. The council has no power to impose sanctions and is not independent of the newspaper industry. Every newspaper has carried editorials regarding every other profession in which it has been stated that the only credible regulatory body is one that is independent. As already stated, the body which regulates newspapers is not independent. I would like the House to be provided with some information on that matter.

During the passage of what became the Defamation Act 2009, the then Government promised a parallel Bill on privacy. The Leader played an important role in arguing cogently in respect of this matter. I remember that very well because he was one of a small number of people prepared to do so. The privacy legislation to which I refer has not yet been forthcoming. Is the Leader in a position to indicate when the Government will introduce such legislation?

I commend the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, for the establishment of an independent inquiry into the libelling of Fr. Kevin Reynolds. I also commend Senator Mullins who yesterday requested that such an inquiry be set up. It is to be hoped that the inquiry will deal, fairly and squarely, with all issues, including objectivity, impartiality and fairness. However, like Senator Mullen, I am concerned with regard to the general level of misinformation that appears to obtain. There is a grave danger that some of that misinformation may have taken hold in sections of the media, particularly RTE. As Senator Norris indicated, a very grave error has been made. I commend the Government, the Minister and everyone else involved in establishing the inquiry and I look forward to the emergence of its findings in a few months.

In dealing with the pre-budget debates, which Senator O'Brien rightly called for — in fairness, he touches on it here every day — Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin are in a sense shooting blind. We are dealing with speculation to a large extent.

That is why I am asking for a debate.

I am not objecting to such debates. It is, of course, a matter for the Leader.

In fairness, Sinn Féin never shoots blind.

Senator Coghlan to continue, without interruption.

I will leave that to others who are more expert than I am in that matter.

Does Senator Coghlan have a question for the Leader?

I have, I beg the Cathaoirleach's slight indulgence.

Senator Coghlan is nearly out of time.

I am trying to be objective about this. I believe the Minister, Deputy Howlin, was treated discourteously here yesterday. The Leader may have to revisit the issue of the restructure of statements followed by questions and answers, which we all think are valuable. We must structure it properly. With respect, the Chair comes into this. The Cathaoirleach or whoever is in his place——

The question is for the Leader this morning.

Of course, the Leader will deal with it but it concerns the Cathaoirleach also. One needs a strict, firm Chairman in dealing with these question and answer situations such as we witnessed yesterday. I raise it merely to seek the Leader's views.

On a point of order, if there was any ill-treatment of the Minister yesterday, we will raise it at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges because if there is a specific complaint, we would certainly be interested in hearing it. Certainly, when I was present he was not treated disrespectfully. If the Minister was treated disrespectfully at any stage of the debate from within my grouping, I will deal with that matter. I would hope we might discuss the matter at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and maybe get some details and see how that can be rectified.

I can give evidence for Senator O'Brien.

First, I welcome the independent inquiry which has been established by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte. I remind the Leader that a number of weeks ago Senators from all political parties sought a debate on media standards in this country following what had happened in Britain in terms of theNews of the World. Perhaps that is something that should be followed up here in this House. I hope over the next number of weeks the Leader will provide space for it.

I also, for the fifth time at this point, reiterate the call for the need to have a proper pre-budget debate. While reference was made to members of the Opposition shooting in the dark, are we shooting in the dark, for example, when the Minister for Finance has confirmed that VAT will increase by 2%, which will devastate many retailers in the country?

It is just one item. We do not know the details of it yet until we hear the Minister's speech.

Now who is interrupting and being discourteous?

Senator Cullinane to continue, without interruption.

If you are to accuse others of doing something that you yourself were doing, then that is not helpful.

Through the Chair, please.

I was being helpful, I can assure Senator Cullinane.

Yesterday the Minister for Health announced cuts in the health budget that will remove 1,000 hospital beds from the public service, 40 nursing homes are to close and a €50 charge is to be imposed on those on medical cards. This will be a €50 charge on the less well-off in society. It is a charge on sick persons. It will present many who need treatment from getting it. The Government promised to protect those on social welfare. It is at pains to point out that the social welfare rates themselves will not be cut, but imposing a €50 charge on those with medical cards is the same as taking money from the rates because it will impact on those on social welfare.

There is a wealth of information about what will be in the budget. As I stated yesterday, it is madness that every day we wake up there is more information being presented and put into the public domain by Ministers about what is in the budget. Parliamentarians in Germany were discussing what is in the budget, yet here in this House we are not being given the opportunity to do so.

Does Senator Cullinane have a question for the Leader?

I welcome the fact that the Leader indicated that he will look at that. In the context of responding to me yesterday, he provided misinformation about Sinn Féin's pre-budget submission. Therefore, I will wait until we have that debate.

The final point I would make is about having courteous and respectful debates in this House. We all should hold our hands up and say that yesterday was not one of the best debates we had but representatives of the Government parties and the Minister should also hold up their hands. The Minister interrupted many speakers here yesterday. That was part of the problem and the reason the debate yesterday was not what it should have been.

The Government faces an incredible task to have to try and find €3.8 billion in cuts in next month's budget. We wonder why there might be speculation, which I cannot confirm, about a €50 medical card charge on application. The answer might lie this morning in the fact that the EU will monitor us long after 2013 when we might get back into the markets. Such is the level of intrusive EU and IMF scrutiny to which we will be subject. Whenever I try to resolve a problem, I go back to first principles. I thank Fianna Fáil for subjecting us and generations of Irish people to such intensive EU scrutiny.

Thanks for the memories.

(Interruptions).

On an equally important matter, I wonder can we do something about companies such as Aviva, which today finally confirmed that all its promises have come to nought and the workers in all branches will be let go by June. There is a call centre being maintained in Galway. That is about it. The Leader might discuss with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, whether there is a code of conduct or a code of decency that we could require of companies in order that such companies would not string their workers out and there would be some responsibility to workers. We are in a recession and this may be coming down the line with other companies and other workers. It is not good enough that false hope is being dangled to workers. Meanwhile, families are hanging on. Families cannot plan in the absence of accurate information. If the Leader could look at that, we would be doing a decent act for many.

I second the amendment to the Order of Business.

I ask the Leader if tomorrow he would consider marking the start of the 16 days of action opposing violence against women, which is organised by Women's Aid nationally but which is also an international campaign. It would be important at some stage that Members would have an opportunity tomorrow to mark this event. It is an important issue.

I will not propose a vote on the amendment to the Order of Business provided the Leader gives me an undertaking that he will allow time to discuss statutory instruments, SI 527 of 2011, the Road Traffic (Bus Lanes) (Exemption) Regulations 2011, merely to make the point that this is a major decision by the Government. It was opposed by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar. It was a majority decision by the Cabinet that will allow non-Garda drivers drive Cabinet Ministers in the bus lanes, and also Ministers of State who regularly attend Cabinet meetings — that could be a broad brush — and the Ceann Comhairle, but not, strangely enough, the Cathaoirleach. The Cathaoirleach is not exempt, in case he thinks he is.

Senator Leyden might make representations for me.

I will be making representations that this order be removed. I commend Deputy McCarthy, that courageous Labour Deputy from Cork, who stood out and opposed this. He stated that it created an impression that politicians were above and beyond the norms applying to the public. That is the impression.

Yesterday when I was arriving at Heuston Station, there were 50 taxis lined up. They are allowed to use the bus lanes. How will they feel trying to survive in this city now that Ministers and Ministers of State fly by on the bus lanes exempt from prosecution?

Does Senator Leyden have a question for the Leader?

I put the question.

They are carrying them on important State business.

Senator Healy Eames should use the bus lane because she carries out important State business as well.

Senator Leyden to continue, without interruption. Does he have a question for the Leader?

Is it important that the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, would get to the Aviva Stadium to watch a match?

Does Senator Leyden have a question for the Leader?

On a point of order, we are trying to get rid of the IMF and those Ministers should get to their business as fast as possible.

Senator Healy Eames is worse than the IMF.

Senator Healy Eames, please resume your seat. Does Senator Leyden have a question for the Leader?

Please control yourself, lady.

A Senator

When Senator Leyden was in a ministerial Merc himself he flew by a few times.

Does Senator Leyden have a question for the Leader because he is out of time?

I have a question for the Leader. I want to debate this statutory instrument because it was slipped in during the middle of the night. They took their time.

Just like the bank guarantee.

The Senator should resume her seat.

I remind Senator Healy Eames that she and her party voted for the bank guarantee.

In the absence of accurate information.

I call Senator Conway.

I did not finish the point I was making. There was no debate in either House with regard to this statutory instrument. It is being introduced in the sneakiest and most sly way. When I was a Minister of State, I did not use the bus lane at all. Previous Governments were told by the Minister not to abuse that particular provision.

The Senator is out of time.

On a point of order, I chaired the session yesterday and I accept that the Minister, Deputy Howlin, was giving a very good account of himself. I do my best to protect the integrity of the Chair in the Cathaoirleach's absence.

On a more important matter than bus lanes, I believe the Fr. Kevin Reynolds issue was discussed for 20 minutes at Cabinet yesterday, which indicates how seriously the Government is taking this matter. I commend the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and the Cabinet for referring the issue to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and I look forward to a full, comprehensive investigation into the processes used and the editorial decisions regarding the "Prime Time Investigates" programme.

With regard to the upcoming budget, I agree with the principle adopted in many other European countries whereby budgets are discussed before budget day, there is robust and detailed debate on the various budget submissions and each issue is gone through in detail and the Budget Statement is effectively a summing up of a period of parliamentary consideration on the budget. For budget 2012 and beyond, I urge the Leader to try and ensure that the Government adopts a different model for debating the budget and to ensure that both the Dáil and Seanad have a greater role in the process.

I would like to make a point with regard to health cuts. I hope the Minister for Health is also looking at cutting payments to consultants, who are paid six figure sums. I sincerely hope he is looking at renegotiating GP contracts. Some GPs in certain parts of the country earn almost €1 million a year from the State, whereas GPs in England only earn up to between €100,000 and €150,000. We need to start with cuts at the top. If we do that and do a deal with those at the top, the people on lower pay will be prepared to share the burden. However, when they see bankers, consultants and other people still earning mega bucks, even though the country is effectively run from abroad, that is a concern. I ask the Leader to organise a debate on the economics of health and to examine how this House can play its part in returning to basics and basic health economics. What has happened is that we have a two-tier process. There is a gold-plated tier at the top, who are becoming multimillionaires in the health area, while the people at the bottom are suffering.

I would like to bring to the attention of the Members a very sad article written under the pseudonym of Annie Shipsey in theVillage magazine about the problem with regard to special needs assistants. The article was entitled Thank you Mr. Timothy Geithner and I recommend that everybody in the Oireachtas read it. As a result of this article, I have been asked to put a few specific questions to the Minister for Education and Skills and I would be very grateful if the Leader would convey these questions to him. The questions are as follows. How many special needs assistants are employed by the Department? How many special needs assistant whole-time equivalents are being used by our schools? How many special education teaching hours have been allocated, but go unused by our schools? I ask the Leader to note that I do not ask what resources have been allocated, because we know those figures, but what resources are applied, because there appears to be a disconnect between what has been allocated officially and what has been applied. There is a suspicion in some quarters that this a form of stealth cutback. May I have clarification in this regard?

I would like to mention with respect the awful injustice perpetrated on Fr. Reynolds. As I mentioned yesterday, one of our first priorities, not just in RTE but across the entire public service, except in cases where there is a personal issue, should be to ensure that gag orders cannot be applied when the State makes any kind of a settlement with anyone injured by the State. Time after time in the health service, I have seen gag orders applied, a quiet payment being made and the people in authority who made the error getting away with it. The question we must ask as we go forward to investigate what happened in this case is whether as a country we have suffered from having too much or too little investigative journalism. The answer is pretty obvious. In the past ten to 20 years, we have had a complete shortage of appropriate, terrier-like investigative journalism of the kind which might have uncovered problems here before they became insoluble. We must not try to turn the press, the watchdogs of the people, into poodles.

With regard to proposed amendments to the Order of Business, I would take suggestions on the Order of Business much more seriously if I felt that Members were using the time we spend in this House more productively if they were not getting involved in endless procedural wranglings. If we had a little more discipline and tried to pretend this was not a kindergarten food fight between two spoiled children most of the time, we would get through the Order of Business within the allocated time.

I commend Senator Conway for his comments on how the Minister for Health should try to bring some degree of control to spending within his Department. Senator Conway has raised some of the difficult but fundamental questions that need to be addressed. I also agree with him with regard to his aspiration that the budgetary process and debate will be more open and commence earlier. This is something members of the Fine Gael Party have advocated for a number of years. It would be useful, particularly at a time of economic distress, to have a long run-in and lengthy opportunity to debate the spending and taxation options.

I join my colleagues in commending the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and the Government with regard to the decision to launch the public inquiry into the Fr. Reynolds matter and the situation at RTE. In that regard, I hope we will have some time in the next few months to have a debate on the topic of tolerance. One of the issues touched on by Senator Michael Mullins and others, is the question of the possible intolerance which now applies to people of religious faith in this country. The issue of tolerance and how society is becoming more intolerant and negative towards religion and the hundreds of thousands of people here who practise their religion regularly needs ventilation and debate. There are major issues now in education, the health service and across the political spectrum, where people of religious views are being challenged and we need a debate on tolerance and respect for religion in this State.

I call for a debate on the role being played by the Revenue Commissioners. There was discussion last week on the Order of Business with regard to the Revenue Commissioners exerting undue pressure on businesses, farmers and the farming community to pay taxes when they did not have the money to do so and the Revenue Commissioners showing little or no flexibility in that regard. This was causing businesses to close and damaging the prospects of new employment being created. I also question the role being played by the customs section of the Revenue Commissioners with regard to a number of cases in my constituency. One of these concerned a person from Donegal with a registered business in the North of Ireland who spends most of his time in the North and whose vehicle was seized recently. Instead of engaging with the individual the Revenue officers contacted the finance HP company which is located in the United Kingdom and told it the vehicle had been seized. That HP company now wants the vehicle returned. This gentleman stands to lose approximately €15,000 or €16,000 and his business, which employs eight people just across the Border from Donegal, is now under serious threat. That should not be allowed continue. At the very least that man should have been allowed an exemption under SI 60/1993 which is referred to in section 135(a) of the Finance Act. I fail to understand the reason the Revenue Commissioners would victimise an individual in such a manner. This morning I e-mailed the Minister for Finance and officials in that Department but we need an urgent debate on the role played by the Revenue Commissioners because they are hounding people. It is not fair.

I support the amendment to the Order of Business on the taking of the Water Services (Amendment) Bill today. I hope the Leader might agree to the sensible proposal from Senator Darragh O'Brien because the large volume of amendments submitted by Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil cannot be discussed in their entirety in two and a half hours. I hope the Leader of the House will allow us debate the Bill until midnight tonight and resume it on Friday because if debate on that issue is stifled in the same manner it was stifled last week it will undermine the status of Seanad Éireann and hold this House in contempt.

Is the Senator seconding the amendment?

I ask the Independent Senators to examine their conscience and ask themselves whether that is in the interests of democracy and in the interests of the more than 2 million people living in rural Ireland who have a septic tank. This legislation is being pushed through the House when the national debate is focusing on the budget and it is undermining the status of the legislation.

I was present for the entire debate in the Chamber yesterday referred to by other speakers earlier. The Minister, Deputy Howlin, was treated with a level of disrespect. When we invite Ministers to the House for statements the least we could do is treat them with the respect they deserve, and everyone here deserves that respect. Some of the Opposition spokespersons constantly heckled the Minister, certainly towards the latter part of the debate. It is disingenuous for some Opposition spokespersons to say the Minister acted with anything less than impeccable decorum when he was here. The person who made that statement should be grateful to the Minister because he corrected one of the Opposition speakers yesterday who introduced a topic that was not being discussed. That might be the reason the offence is being taken. I support Senator Coghlan's suggestion that we re-examine our procedures, particularly in regard to statements. Such debates are valuable but as they stand currently it leaves it open for what is called abuse of our positions where people are more interested in scoring petty points against invited guests to this House than making a meaningful contribution.

In my publication A New Approach to Ageing and Ageism I highlight that the greatest achievement of the 20th century was the increase in longevity. The contribution to that is a higher standard of living for everyone, the availability of drugs etc., an awareness of diseases and the need for people to mind their health. Today's edition ofThe Daily Telegraph reports on the result of a fascinating survey which highlighted that cancer survival rates are six times better than those of a generation ago. As this Seanad has one of the leading cancer consultants in the world in our presence it would be very interesting for him to bring us up to date on the area. For instance, a woman with breast cancer today can live ten years longer now. Those with colon cancer can live ten years longer and those with non-Hodgkin lymphoma can live ten years longer also but survival rates for those with lung, brain and pancreatic cancers can be weeks rather than years.

The Leader, Senator Cummins, has been most innovative to date and I suggest it would be unique to have one of our own Members make a professional presentation to the House on the advances in cancer treatment and where the money and research should be going in the future. It is a good idea. We are all aware that Senator Crown has saved the lives of many people suffering from cancer and it is my pleasure to make that suggestion to the Leader.

This Seanad should acknowledge the appointment of two Libyans living in this country to the new Libyan Government, that is, Dr. Fatima Hamroush, an ophthalmologist based in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, to the position of health Minister carrying all our expertise to Libya and also — I am very interested in this appointment — Fathi Akkari, a lecturer in the Institute of Technology Tallaght to a post in the education Ministry. There is a great opportunity now for this country to forge links with the new Libya and help rebuild that country. There are opportunities for architects, engineers and others to go to Libya and I hope Enterprise Ireland will take a constructive role in helping——

Is the Senator asking for a debate on that matter?

I suggest to the Leader that he convey to the relevant Ministries the opportunities in Libya but I must add that it is a proud and joyful day for Libyan ex-patriots in this country.

Ba mhaith liom aontú leis an méid ata ráite ag an Seanadóir Ó Domhnaill maidir leis an díospóireacht a bheidh againn inniu ar na tancanna séarachais. Níl a fhios agam an dtuigeann baill an Rialtais cé chomh tábhachtach agus atá an cheist seo do phobal na tuaithe. Tá sé ag cur as go mór dóibh. Tá sé fíor-thábhachtach go mbeadh an Bille seo ag dul tríd Tithe an Oireachtais i gceart. Ba cheart go mbeadh gach deis againn na leasuithe ar fad atá curtha síos a phlé. Dá mhéid ama agus is féidir a thabhairt don díospóireacht sin, ba chóir é sin a dhéanamh. We should give as much time as possible to the septic tank debate. It is a major issue not just in rural Ireland; it will affect some urban areas as well. It is not just an urban-rural question and therefore it is important that as much time as possible should be given to debate all the amendments tabled.

I raise the issue of Aviva Insurance. I ask that the Minister, Deputy Bruton, be invited to the House to discuss the negotiations that are ongoing with Aviva regarding its proposal to close down all of its outlets in the Republic. It is a huge blow. There is a base in Galway and there is talk of having a call centre based there but it does not bode well for Ireland. I would also like to know how it relates into the issue of upward only rent reviews. Is it one of the major issues impacting Aviva's decision and, if so, what does the Government intend to do to tackle that issue? It appears to be dragging its heels on it. What are the plans for job creation? Many jobs are still being lost but where are the jobs to be created?

We need a debate on the budgetary issues referred to by previous speakers. We are discussing issues such as septic tanks, the household charge, etc., in this House. They are all measures that will hit the low income families but the well is dry. Those families cannot afford to pay any more. When will we have a decent debate on taxing the wealthy in this society as mentioned by Senator Conway? They are the wealthy elite in the golden circles in this economy who can afford to share more of the burden. We need a serious debate and that should happen pre-budget to ensure the positive contributions we make can be taken on board in the pre-budget period and also in the Estimates. Tá mé ag glaoch go gcuirfí díospóireacht ar siúl maidir leis na ceisteanna seo.

On the matter raised by Senator Norris, I understand the committee which will scrutinise the appointment to the Court of Auditors does not include any Irish MEPs. However, MEPs who are not official members may attend the meeting and raise questions. I also understand eight nominations will come before the committee in question today, of which six will be approved and two referred for further examination.

Is it possible to increase the number of new Bills commencing in the House? In recent weeks, a Bill was published to address the cash for gold business where stolen items are being exchanged for cash and melted down before the Garda are informed. In recent days, a Garda superintendent informed me of a case involving two young lads who left secondary school at lunchtime, removed a copper cylinder from a vacant house and traded it in for €50 from a scrap metal merchant the same evening. When the gardaí went to secure evidence, the copper cylinder had unfortunately been melted into a small block and they were unable to secure much evidence. The Garda Síochána is anxious to have the legislation enacted at an early date. Could the Bill be commenced in this House if it has not already been commenced in the Dáil?

I will speak briefly about rumours that a €50 charge may be introduced for the issuing of medical cards. I informed the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, that if he were considering this option, he should first examine general practitioner contracts and bear in mind that GPs are well paid for patients they accept on their panel who may be an elderly person who attends the GP clinic daily or someone else who never visits the doctor. The Minister should ensure that persons who apply for a medical card are not charged €50 by a general practitioner to stamp a form indicating that the applicant has been accepted as a patient. GPs must stop charging €50 every time a person needs a letter stating he or she has a back ache in order that he or she will have a better case for obtaining a medical card or having a medical card renewed. They must also stop charging medical card holders, including elderly people, €20 to take bloods.

To use the Minister's words, they should take the shoe box off the desk in order that elderly people who have medical cards no longer believe that by giving the doctor an extra €30, €40 or €50 they will get a better service. If these steps are taken, I would not have a problem with proceeding with the proposal to charge €50 for a medical card. At least the doctor would not get this sum for stamping the card in the first instance. I ask the Leader to request that the Minister meet the conditions I have outlined before pursuing the proposed €50 charge. In doing so, he would save patients money.

The Minister is familiar with GP contracts, having had one for a number of years.

Senator Darragh O'Brien and many other speakers welcomed the announcement by the Minister of a public inquiry into the treatment of Fr. Reynolds by RTE. The decision is to be welcomed by everyone and I hope the inquiry will be full and comprehensive and deal with all the matters arising.

The public consultation committee laid down times for those attending proceedings and its timetable will be adhered to. It was agreed by the public consultation committee that proceedings would conclude at 5 p.m. On Tuesday next, the House will hear a presentation by some experts in the field and people involved with older people. We are, therefore, giving more than adequate time to this matter, although we will give more, if necessary.

On the call by a number of Senators for a pre-budget debate, I have tried to secure a Minister for such a debate but it is difficult at this point with the budget looming. I have, however, secured the services of the Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, who will come before the House for not longer than one and a half hours. He has cancelled several appointments in his diary to come to the House. I will accede to requests by Senators in this matter and the debate will be arranged for next week as there would not be any point holding it the following week.

I asked a question on the Water Services (Amendment) Bill 2011.

Senator Ó Domhnaill's claim that we are confining the debate on the Bill to two and a half hours is incorrect. If the Senator had listened to my announcement on the Order of Business, he would have heard that the debate will resume after Private Members' time. The House will sit for as long as we can keep the Minister in the House after 7 p.m. I do not have any intention of guillotining the debate on Committee Stage. A significant number of amendments have been tabled and we will deal with them. I assure the Senator the debate on the Bill was not guillotined on Second Stage.

If Senators had listened to the Order of Business, they would have learned what was planned regarding Committee Stage.

On Senator Bacik's contribution, we all welcome the release of Dr. Rafah Nached in Syria. I will continue to endeavour to have the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade come before the House to debate foreign affairs issues.

On Senator Eamonn Coghlan's contribution, it is my understanding that the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, will be present for at least part of the debate in Private Members' time. I am sure we will have a good and robust debate on the very important issue raised in the motion. I compliment Senator Coghlan on tabling the motion.

Senator Power raised the issue of Priory Hall. The Government expressed sympathy with all those who have been caught up in the events at the complex. Dublin City Council has been making good progress in addressing specific individual and family needs. It has placed 37 families free of charge in apartments provided by the National Asset Management Agency close to Priory Hall and secured accommodation for five families courtesy of a voluntary housing association. It has also agreed to give 57 residents in receipt of rent supplement deposits to secure private rented accommodation as an alternative to hotel accommodation. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, will be in the House for a long time in the next couple of days and I am sure he would be willing to have a chat with Senator Power on this issue if she wishes.

Senator Mullins referred to services for homeless people, an issue which was also raised on the Order of Business yesterday. We all welcome the proposals made by the Minister, Deputy Hogan, on this issue, which I hope will have the desired effect of helping homeless people on our streets.

To respond to Senator Norris, I am not aware of any Government instruction to Members of the European Parliament regarding Mr. Cardiff's proposed appointment. I will ascertain for the Senator if and when it is intended to introduce a privacy Bill.

Senator Paul Coghlan referred to the question and answer session with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform yesterday. The constant interruption of the Minister was disrespectful. It will be difficult to get the Minister or any of his colleagues to come before the House if they are treated as he was yesterday. Perhaps the reason for yesterday's behaviour was the decision to allow Senators two minutes to ask questions. Some Senators used this time to make statements rather than ask questions. We will have to review the position on question and answer sessions, as a number of Senators requested.

We will deal with the pre-budget submission as Senator Cullinane requested.

Senators Healy Eames and Ó Clochartaigh referred to Aviva and the introduction of a code of conduct for companies. The way in which workers are treated is despicable. In many ways, Aviva gave some notice, whereas in my own city Talk Talk gave practically no notice. Therefore, it is a matter that will have to be addressed by the Minister. Perhaps in the new year we can have another debate on job creation and job initiative measures. We have had a number of debates to date on the issue.

Senator Leyden said he did not use statutory instruments while he was Minister of State. I did not think bus lanes were in being at that stage.

It was not that long ago.

A Senator

Were there buses?

They were there. I am insulted.

Senators Martin Conway and John Kelly asked about renegotiating GP and consultant contracts and called for a debate on health in respect of medical cards. We can have that debate in the context of the pre-budget submission next week. Everything is on the table. The country is in a deplorable state and many cuts will have be made in every Department, as I have said on numerous occasions. That is just a fact of life.

Senator John Crown asked about special needs assistants. I will try to get information for the Senator on that issue. We agree with the point he made yesterday that gagging orders should not be applied in settlements where public bodies are concerned. I agree with his assumption in that regard.

Senator Paul Bradford called for a debate on intolerance by the media towards people who are practising their religion. It may be possible to arrange a debate on that issue in conjunction with a number of other issues in regard to the media.

Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill referred to the role of the Revenue Commissioners. In regard to the individual case he mentioned, perhaps he would submit it as an Adjournment matter. While the Senator had issues with it, Customs and Excise should be complimented on its excellent work in the seizure of contraband goods and drugs and tackling diesel laundering in recent months. It plays a very important role. All the officers involved should be complimented and thanked by the House on their work in that regard.

Senator Mary White referred to advances in cancer care. That is an issue about which the public should be informed. I am sure Senator John Crown would enlighten us on that issue, whether in this House or in the audio-visual room, by making a presentation to us on the advances in cancer care and where we are going in that regard. That would be welcomed by Members of both Houses.

Senator Michael D'Arcy raised the case of two Libyan citizens who are taking up positions in the national government of Libya. I think that——

On a point of order, I would like Senator John Crown to speak on the matter in this Chamber because it would let the public know that we were debating the issue.

That is not a point of order.

It should not take place in the AV room but here in this Chamber.

That is not a point of order, as the Cathaoirleach has said. We should compliment and congratulate the Libyan citizens on taking up positions in the new government. We all wish the Libyan people every success for the future. Senator D'Arcy also pointed to the opportunities for Irish people in the new Libya.

Senator Colm Burke raised the issue of cash for gold and cash for scrap. I will check the status of any Bill dealing with that matter. If we are to have a Bill on the issue, I will endeavour to ensure it will be a Seanad Bill and commenced here.

Which Minister is coming into the House for the debate on the Water Services (Amendment) Bill and until what time is he available this evening? That information will help me to decide whether to press the amendment. That is just a question.

I cannot give a definitive answer but I am sure the Minister will be available until 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. to deal with it. I hope we will have dealt with all the amendments tabled by then.

Senator Darragh O'Brien has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That the House sit not later than midnight and that the debate on No. 2 be adjourned until Friday, 25 November 2011." Is the amendment being pressed?

On the basis of the answer the Leader has given it is being pressed because there will not be sufficient time before 9 p.m. when the debate will be guillotined.

Amendment put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 17; Níl, 32.

  • Crown, John.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Mac Conghail, Fiach.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
  • Zappone, Katherine.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D’Arcy, Jim.
  • D’Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Harte, Jimmy.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O’Keeffe, Susan.
  • O’Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • Whelan, John.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ned O’Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O’Keeffe.
Amendment declared lost.

Senator Power has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government on the situation in Priory Hall be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 13; Níl, 35.

  • Cullinane, David.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Brien, Darragh.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D’Arcy, Jim.
  • D’Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Harte, Jimmy.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Mac Conghail, Fiach.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O’Keeffe, Susan.
  • O’Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • Whelan, John.
  • Zappone, Katherine.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ned O’Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O’Keeffe.
Amendment declared lost.
Question put: "That the Order of Business be agreed to."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 35; Níl, 13.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D’Arcy, Jim.
  • D’Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Harte, Jimmy.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Mac Conghail, Fiach.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O’Keeffe, Susan.
  • O’Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • Whelan, John.
  • Zappone, Katherine.

Níl

  • Cullinane, David.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O’Keeffe; Níl, Senators Ned O’Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson.
Question declared carried.