Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 21 Feb 2012

Vol. 213 No. 10

Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, Veterinary Practice (Amendment) Bill 2011 — Second Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and conclude not later than 5.45 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply to the debate not later than 5.35 p.m.; No. 2, Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Bill 2011 — Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at 6 p.m. and conclude not later than 7 p.m., if not previously concluded.

As I told the House last week, a discussion on the EU fiscal compact treaty will be held on Wednesday, 14 March. The only business I propose to take on that day will be Private Members' time that evening. Similar to the discussion on the action plan for jobs 2012, every Senator will be given five minutes speaking time to put forward his or her views on the subject. To assist in the preparation for this discussion, a briefing by the Oireachtas Library and Research Service will be provided in the audio-visual room on Thursday, 8 March at 1.30 p.m. I encourage all Members to attend this briefing.

I am giving Members advance notice that we will take the Protection of Employees (Temporary Agency Work) Bill — Second Stage on Tuesday next and Committee Stage on Thursday, 1 March.

I thank the Leader for taking on board the views of the leaders of the groups on the debate on the fiscal compact. I hope Members will take up the opportunity to attend the briefing meeting to be provided by the Oireachtas Library and Research Service in the week before the debate.

I ask the Leader to consider extending the five minutes afforded to Senators on certain debates, if fewer Senators are offering and those who are contributing would like to speak for longer. I agree with the Leader on the functioning of the Seanad and that time is important, but perhaps we should consider the numbers offering to determine the allocation of time. We can perform a very important function in regard to the fiscal compact.

I commend the Government for the recent visit of Vice President Xi Jinping from China. His visit was a success and it will help us to build our relationships with the People's Republic of China. To give credit where it is due, the Government performed very well over those few days, particularly in regard to agriculture. We had a good debate on food and horticulture in this House last week with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, and we must look at ways to expand our newer markets. China will be very important. I am pleased the Government, in its own way, confirmed that it did raise issues in regard to human rights. I am taking the Ministers at their word and I have no reason not to do so.

On 28 September 2011, the Keane report was published. The Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brian Hayes, who took the debate in the Chamber promised to publish a full mortgage arrears implementation strategy in advance of the budget of 6 December, but that did not happen. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, said it would be done before Christmas, but that deadline has not been met. The Government's response so far is to publish the personal insolvency Bill which will help in some instances. The fundamental flaw in that Bill is that it leaves the power and the decision making with the banks. It does not go as far as we want it to go, where we propose to set up a debt settlement office. What the Government is proposing will leave the final decision with the banks who lent the money.

All Senators will be concerned to note that more than 107,000 mortgages are in difficulty. The figures are worse given that more than 7% of residential mortgages are in difficulty. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Brian Hayes, to attend the House next week to update members on how the Government intends to deal with the mortgage arrears crisis. The last figures introduced by the Central Bank show that one in ten mortgages is in difficulty whereas now it is one in seven. We cannot wait for the publication and passage of the personal insolvency Bill which has been promised for the autumn. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister of State, who engages well with the House, to attend the House because the mortgage arrears crisis is getting worse and the personal insolvency Bill will not deal with the fundamental issues. The Government is missing a step and I ask what it intends to do for those in mortgage arrears.

Like Senator O'Brien, I commend the Leader for the plan for a full debate on 14 March on the EU fiscal compact treaty. I agree with the Senator that it would be useful for us, as group leaders, to ascertain in advance the number of speakers who wish to contribute and, if necessary, the timing can be tweaked. It will be a useful debate.

On the mortgage arrears issue, the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, of which I and other Senators are members, finished conducting public hearings on the heads of the personal insolvency Bill. Those hearings were very instructive in terms of recommendations as to how to improve the Bill, to offer greater protection for those struggling with mortgage arrears. Tomorrow the joint committee will discuss a draft report which will be finalised next week. It would be useful for us then to debate the report, and to have the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes attend the House as the appropriate Minister in the context of the findings of the joint committee. We had the benefit of hearing from a wide range of groups and organisations, such as the Free Legal Advice Service centres and New Beginnings, which is working on a front-line basis with people who are struggling with mortgage repayments and mortgage arrears. That would inform the debate.

I have called before for a debate on the development of links with China and other countries in order that we can benefit from expanding our trade links. Like Senator O'Brien I was delighted the visit by the Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping went off well and I am sure the issue of human rights was raised with him and the delegation. The unfortunate fallout was the extreme level of security and lack of press contact. I accept some of the security was necessary but the entrance to Leinster House was blocked to staff and elected representatives while the Chinese delegation visited. Some aspects of the security arrangements were, perhaps, unnecessary and should not have been put in place for this important visit. Like Senator O'Brien I hope we will see the benefit of the visit in terms of renewed links with China and improved conditions for human rights campaigners in China.

I ask the Leader to clarify if the debate on the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Bill will take more than an hour.

I focus my substantive question for the Leader on the new relationship Ireland is developing with China and echo the remarks of Senators O'Brien and Bacik. There is no doubt that Ireland's strengthening relationship with China will bring about important opportunities for trade and investment. I was not the only one watching as events unfolded who felt proud to be Irish in view of what was happening in terms of the developing a relationship with the Chinese.

In tandem with this development — Senator Bacik has touched on it — we must engage in a respectful and robust dialogue on human rights issues. It is disappointing that Irish authorities did not raise individual cases of human rights abuses with the Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping during his visit. It is not unusual to raise individual cases with other nation states in the context of diplomatic and trade negotiations. There are often opportunities to make breakthroughs on individual cases that enable the release of certain prisoners. For example, when the Chinese delegation met our President, a noted human rights activist and poet, I could not help but think of another human rights activist and poet, Liu Xiaobo. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China. He is currently imprisoned there since 2009 for inciting the subversion of State power. As many Members are aware, religious expression is also widely curtailed in China. Such activists, as well as democracy activists and reformers, are often repressed. Amnesty International has described human rights violation in China as staggering.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Yes, and I will get to it in a moment. Human rights is a critical issue. Ireland seeks election to the United Nations Human Rights Council. As we put ourselves forward for that election UN member states will examine our dialogue with other countries. The further development of our relationship with China is a prime opportunity to demonstrate our deftness as an honest broker and objective champion of human rights across the world.

I ask the Leader to invite the Tánaiste, or one of the other three Minsters that will travel to China later this year, to come here and have a debate on Ireland's relationship with China in the context of trade, investment and human rights. One of the key roles of the Seanad is to debate such important matters in a non-partisan way and bring to the discussion our expertise from a range of sectors.

First, I congratulate the Taoiseach on his knowledge of geography. He has apparently discovered that Greece is not Ireland and that Ireland is not Greece and he is quite right. Ireland did not build the Acropolis, the Parthenon, start the Olympic Games, invent geometry, give us the art of philosophy and I dare to mention Plato and Socrates, despite the fact that some insects from Mr. Murdoch's grub street might take me to task for that. The Greeks are Europeans and we need to stand in solidarity with them and to fight those institutions that corrupted them or helped them to corrupt themselves. I think of the obscene collaboration of Goldman Sachs in cooking the books for which it got $600 million out of the Greek people. We need to stand in solidarity with them.

In the light of what is going on here I ask my friends in government how will they look the ghost of James Connolly in the eye in 2016 when people are being denied palliative treatment for cancer and drugs that would save their lives. That is the kind of question that needs to be asked. Questions did need to be asked of Vice President Jinping. Of course he should be welcomed and it was appropriate to treat him courteously because China is a great and ancient nation. I heard Professor Jerusha McCormack explain the difference in its approach to human rights in a most fascinating way. They consider it more important to serve the people rather than the individual but we put the rights on the individual. There must be some coming together of these things. We have betrayed our people all across Europe. We have neglected the fact that there is an onus and primary responsibility, or a duty of care, on every government to its people. I was ashamed, as an Irishman, that a single Tibetan was arrested because she had one little placard that read "Free Tibet". She was arrested under section 7 of the Criminal Justice Act that states one cannot have any poster that is "offensive, obscene or abusive". What is offensive, abusive or obscene about freedom? I do not understand the arrest. An Irishwoman at the Cliffs of Moher, again a single individual, was denied the right to protest.

I applaud Mr. Kenny's pursuit of trade but he should remember that it was Greece that gave us one other great benefit, democracy. Yes, Greece had the courage to say no to Xerxes. My distinguished college professor, Professor John Dillon, wrote an article in the Sunday Independent stating that when the Greeks said “No” over 2,000 years ago to the bully Xerxes and half the states gave in, Athens and Sparta refused. They defeated an overwhelmingly larger navy at the battle of Salamis. They defeated Xerxes’s army on land at Plataea.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

That is the spirit of Europe. That is what we should be celebrating in solidarity with the peoples of the Europe and not the institutions that are humbling and degrading us.

I want to raise an issue that was doing the rounds in reports this morning in Sligo and Leitrim that the Teagasc office in Manorhamilton, County Leitrim, is to close. This purpose-built office was opened in the 1970s to give advice to farmers in the area. Recently, staff from Teagasc's Sligo office were moved there and the office now employs six people serving north Leitrim and north Sligo. It would be a concern if the office was closed, as reports suggest, and staff moved to Ballymote or Mohill in south Leitrim. We must do everything in our power to prevent this. The Manorhamilton office hosts nightly discussion groups for beef farmers. Now that farming is doing well, it is important these services are kept in place, particularly for young farmers. We must do everything we can to ensure the Manorhamilton office remains open and the six jobs are kept there. It would send out the wrong signal if it were to close.

Will the Leader convey a message of support to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, to call a halt to the unchecked rape by the Faroe Islanders and Icelanders of the mackerel fishery? Ireland has a mackerel quota of 70,000 to 80,000 tonnes but these two small island nations outside Europe are catching six times this per annum with no restrictions imposed by Europe. When the Minister attends the European fisheries summit meeting soon, I urge him to convey in the strongest fashion to the EU Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries that this must be stopped.

We condemned the Spaniards for years for overfishing. These are two small islands on the periphery of Europe doing what they like with regard to the mackerel fishery. While it is probably much more important to Donegal and the north west than to my area in the south west, mackerel is still, in financial terms, the most important quota to Irish fisherman.

I raised this issue here three years ago. I did not advert to it on the recent debate on the fishing industry and I am not asking that the Minister should attend the Seanad about it again. However, will the Leader convey our support to the Minister to protect the Irish fishermen, and to a lesser extent their Scottish counterparts, from this overfishing? If mackerel continue to be taken out by the Faroese and the Icelanders in an uncontrolled fashion, it will have severe repercussions on the mackerel fisheries for Irish fishermen. It is just greed and wrong.

The European Union, not Ireland, should stop it and control the waters within the Eunion's boundaries. It is important it is done sooner rather than later because this overfishing will decimate and cause job losses in the Irish fishing industry. I am not condemning the Minister, Deputy Coveney, but I urge the House to support him in calling for a halt to this overfishing and asking the European Commissioner responsible to intervene in this issue.

I join my colleagues who welcomed the successful visit by the Chinese Vice President. From an economic perspective, it was a very successful visit from which Ireland will benefit. So too will China because business is a two-way road.

I also support my colleagues who expressed the view that we cannot remain silent or ignore the question of human rights abuses in China. Members are aware of the situation in Tibet and some of us have also been in Taiwan, an issue that is not going to go away. We must ensure the question of human rights in China remains on the international radar. It is not our job to define what the broad spectrum of human rights should be in China. That is a matter for the Chinese people and not simply the Chinese authorities. We in this small country must not be silent on these basic universal human rights such as the right to life and the right to freedom of conscience and religion.

While it is not something I normally do in the House, I must congratulate the Sinn Féin party for making its views known on and highlighting the issue of human rights in China at the weekend. We must not remain silent when obvious difficult matters present themselves to us. Perhaps rather than just speaking of the matter we could try to arrange a debate in the House on international human rights at some stage in the coming weeks. While economics, trade and jobs are of considerable importance, fundamental human rights do matter also.

This country has always had a strong record in that regard. Perhaps it is time for us to renew some of the issues we have taken up heretofore. There would be a strong all-party view on human rights. The Seanad is the ideal place to have such a debate.

It is with mixed feelings that I agree with Senator Bradford and previous speakers. On the one hand I compliment the Government on the successful hosting of the Chinese Vice President. I hope the visit will result in increased trade between this country and China. Also on the jobs front we hear that it is likely that PayPal will announce 1,000 new jobs in Blanchardstown in the coming days, which is very welcome news, once again proving that international companies still see us an attractive place to do business and expand their operations. It means the efforts of the Government and State agencies to create jobs are being recognised.

However, it was to my utter dismay yesterday that I learned the Minister for Social Protection is determined to introduce changes to the sick pay scheme. This was originally mooted in advance of December's budget but was not included in the budget. Thank God, said I. At that time I expressed my strong opposition to the measure and my position remains exactly the same. Transferring the burden of the first month of sick pay to the employer rather than the State picking up the tab will result in job losses, especially among small indigenous businesses who are already struggling with commercial rates — to name only one cost which is pressing business owners to the edge of the collar at present.

I am not opposed to the change for the sake of being populist, nor am I foolish enough to believe that reforms are not required in this area. I can appreciate the Minister's point on larger companies in this country that run good sick pay schemes to the benefit of their employees already, as they can see the benefit to the company in the long term of having a healthy and happy workforce. However, such schemes do not exist in smaller businesses for one reason, and one reason only; they are simply unaffordable. If the Minister presses ahead and introduces these changes in next year's budget it will inevitably result in jobs being shed in small companies dotted around the country, as this additional cost will be the straw that breaks the camel's back. I seek that the House would discuss the proposed changes as a matter of urgency to ensure that whatever reforms to sick pay are introduced are equally beneficial to business owners, employees and the State alike.

I congratulate Senator Eamonn Coghlan, who was not present last week in the House——

The Senator cannot refer to people who are not in the House.

I did not say he was not in——

He is here now.

I said he was not in the House last week, but he is present today and I wish to congratulate him.

That is a different way of phrasing the matter.

I am sorry. For the sake of clarity I checked with him on his presence last week. I congratulate him on receiving an Irish Film Television Award for his film, "Man on a Mission". As my brother was a cameraman on the film, there is a joint celebration.

The second issue I wish to raise with the Leader relates to Lifford Community Hospital. An announcement was made on Friday that it would close with the loss of 20 beds in the community of Lifford and east Donegal. I asked the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, when he was in the House last week whether he had an update on Lifford hospital. He said he was not aware of any changes, but the HSE issued its report on Friday to say the hospital would close in three months, pending consultation with residents and families. I ask the Leader about the possibility of raising the matter on the Adjournment.

It would be a suitable matter for the Adjournment.

Yes. If the matter could be raised on the Adjournment the Minister could clarify what will happen in three months time.

The Cathaoirleach should excuse me if I seem a little disoriented.

When I first arrived in the Chamber I heard Senator Norris talking about the defeat of Xerxes at Thermopylae and then heard Senator O'Donovan telling us that our fish had been taken by the Pharaohs. I thought for one moment that I had strayed into a class on the classics, until I realised that he was referring to the Faroes, which are somewhat different to the ones who led the children of Israel into slavery.

There is nonetheless some current relevance to this because Senator Norris was alluding to the fact that the Greeks raised an army of 300 men who stood shoulder to shoulder at Thermopylae and defeated 20,000 Persian intruders. This is relevant to our current situation and I am not referring to any unpleasantness with Iran or anywhere else — I am referring to the health service. It emerged in the newspapers today that there has been a 50% increase in the duration of waiting lists for patients who are awaiting day surgery. Dr. Ronan Boland, who was one of the leaders of general practice in this country, has stated that any suggestion of shortening this is met with disbelief by GPs who are referring patients because the waiting lists are now up to four years to see an orthopaedic surgeon in his area. Meanwhile, patients waiting for varicose vein surgery have had to wait six months.

This is not the high end of a life-threatening crisis, but they are the little indicators of what is happening in the health service. I ask the Leader to bring to the attention of the Minister for Health something which I am sure he knows but to which he does not allude in public. We have the smallest number of doctors per head of population for any specialty one cares to mention, and we have the longest waiting lists. Please join up the dots. It is not a shortage of bureaucrats that is causing our problem, it is a shortage of front line professionals.

While I mean no disrespect to him, I read that Dr. Martin Connor is being hailed as the saviour of the situation. This Leonidas of our small Spartan army of consultants is now only working part-time because he is spending half his time as a research fellow in Stanford University. In drawing together the two strands of our conversation today, one can say that if the HSE had been in charge at Thermopylae the movie would not have been called "300", it would have been called "30".

I also wish to congratulate the Government on the success of the visit of the Chinese Vice President. I welcome the trade agreements that have come from that visit. The Government's strategy is based on reducing public debt, solving the banking crisis and creating jobs. In that regard, I congratulate the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, and the IDA on today's announcement of 1,000 jobs for Dundalk. The facility is based in Haggardstown and it is a red-letter day for this country when we have 1,000 jobs coming to the north east. The IDA has told me that it is 2004 since it made such an announcement of 1,000 jobs.

Electing Deputy Gerry Adams was a great move.

Senator Cullinane led with his chin there.

Senator D'Arcy to continue, without interruption.

I have to tell Senator Cullinane that Deputy Adams was conspicuous by his absence from the announcement today.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Deputy Adams is probably too busy working out how to solve the human rights problem in China.

It is a great day nonetheless and I hope with some new job announcements due in the next few weeks, we will get the country back on its feet. Before finishing, I must recognise the fair mindlessness of my colleague Senator Darragh O'Brien who acknowledged the work of the Government on the Chinese visit.

The Senator will get me into trouble.

Last week, the Leader and I attended a meeting of community and voluntary organisations in Waterford city. We heard at first hand the impact that cuts are having on many community organisations. That has been quantified by a report, which was published by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, on downsizing the community sector. It shows the true extent of those cuts. While we have seen on average a 2.82% cut in public spending across the board, the community sector on average has seen a cut of 35% and by the end of 2013 we will see 11,000 more jobs lost in that sector. It is not only about job losses, but the services that are being curtailed and will be lost, for example, meals on wheels for older people, community child care, youth work and drug prevention work, all of which are under threat because of cuts to funding. The Leader was at that meeting where he heard from people who are benefiting from all the schemes provided by community development projects and voluntary organisations. I ask him to arrange a debate to discuss this report. It quantifies the cuts and shows in very stark terms the imbalance in how they are disproportionately affecting community and voluntary sector organisations, which are primarily aimed at disadvantaged communities. This shows disadvantaged communities are suffering most from the cuts.

I ask the Leader to arrange a debate in order that we may discuss the importance of the community and voluntary sector.

Some months ago the Taoiseach was to the fore in raising the issue of cloud computing. This is a buzz word for many and I am sure many Members do not have a clue what it is about.

The Senator should speak for herself.

We looked it up after it was announced.

Does Senator O'Brien mean that includes me? I beg to differ on that. I believe the Government should switch its e-mail and document services from expensive outdated servers to some sort of cloud-based system. This proposal would save approximately €10 million over five years, which incidentally is roughly the amount that would be saved by the abolition of the Seanad. We should give serious consideration to this proposal.

I contacted Deputy Tom Hayes, the Chairman of the Joint Administration Committee, and I was told the committee would look at it. Cloud computing would mean that we would save on software licences and energy cost overheads. It would give us greater flexibility to create and edit documents outside the office, while also allowing us to set up e-mails in a more flexible way. We are quite curtailed and Members who have an iPhone or BlackBerry will realise that it is subject to problems all the time. Cloud computing would make it easier for us. Denmark has already done this and said it had saved 70% of its Government's IT budget. We need to embrace this.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

I ask the Leader to follow up on the issue with Deputy Tom Hayes, emphasising how important it is to embrace cloud computing technology.

I wish to join others in congratulating the Government on the very professional handling of the visit to Ireland by the Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping. It was a wonderful occasion and it will have long-term effects on trade. A proposed trading hub for Chinese products in Athlone will create 2,500 jobs. I hope that will go through. The GAA played a very important role in welcoming the vice president, as was the case during the visit of Queen Elizabeth II. The visit to Croke Park was important. The GAA, as a major voluntary organisation, was to the fore in the role of job creation.

This is just an observation, but let the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government note that the issue of registration charges for septic tanks has not gone away. A meeting last night on this issue in Ballygar was well attended. Rural dwellers are determined not to register until a grant scheme is put in place by the Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan. That is absolutely crucial and it obvious from the contributions that Fianna Fáil has been leading the opposition to this issue. I am now more convinced than ever that there will be a very low uptake on registration. By registering a septic tank, one is allowing oneself to be assessed and processed.

Is the Senator in favour of pollution?

I am in favour of rural dwellers being treated the same as city dwellers, who do not face charges for dealing with sewage. This is a very important issue. The Minister will lay down regulations. It is quite obvious to me that very few people will put their neck into the noose by registering for the septic tank charges. When one goes down that road one is inviting an inspection and the fact that one's septic tank may not be up to the standard being laid down by the Minister.

Will the Senator register? Has he registered?

I have not registered yet.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

There is no process for registration.

Will the Senator register?

I convey the view of the electorate to the Minister that he had better come up with a grand scheme for the upgrading of septic tanks, otherwise the scheme is doomed to failure.

I join colleagues on all sides in congratulating the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Government for the handling of the State visit of the Vice President of China at the weekend. The visitors saw the country at its best. I understand there was extensive television and media coverage of the visit throughout China and, hopefully, there will be enormous growth in trade and tourism as a result. Senator Paul Bradford is correct. It is appropriate that human rights issues would have been raised with the visitors and I understand that happened. I agree that we should have a debate, as requested by Senator Bradford, on human rights issues throughout the world, at the earliest opportunity.

Following on from the visit of Vice President Xi Jinping from China, the national jobs plan, announced last week, will drive the economy forward. I welcome the regional dimension to the plan and congratulate Dundalk and Haggardstown on securing the 1,000 jobs announcement today. I hope IDA Ireland will reach the 50% target of locating foreign direct investment into the regions outside Dublin and Cork. I want to ensure that towns such as Ballinasloe, located in the centre of the country, which lost 1,000 industrial jobs being the next big location for foreign direct investment. I congratulate the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, IDA Ireland and all associated with the major announcement for Dundalk. We want many more of those job announcements. That the Taoiseach is assuming responsibility for accountability in respect of the national jobs plan is welcome and, hopefully, this is the start of positive developments.

I heard with interest the references to the classical world from other Senators. As I listened to Senator John Crown refer to Leonidas I was glad neither Senator Mary White nor Senator Mary Ann O'Brien were present to hear the rival produce placement. Horatius at the Bridge did not spring to mind as I contemplated the meekness with which the Tánaiste discussed Ireland’s concern about human rights in China recently. We are in a difficult position. We have to be welcoming towards our guests — they were very welcome and we should try to forge whatever links we can — but that does not mean we must be silent about human rights abuses. I support the call by Senator Zappone, Senator Bradford and others on the need for a debate on the issue.

I recall a few months ago when I brought forward a motion of gendercide, that is, the killing of young girls before and after birth particularly in India, China and in the Caucasus region, that the Government, in its amendment, saw fit to remove references to India and China and I wondered at the time whether that was about not frightening the horses. Last week I related the story of Chen Guangcheng, a blind Chinese man and human rights activist, who had exposed the forced abortions taking place in parts of rural China and how he had suffered as a result. The actor Christian Bale has showed much more courage than anybody in the Government so far in seeking to meet that man in order to highlight the sacrifice he is making for authentic human rights.

The Government is right to put the best foot forward but it must find a way to be courageous in raising human rights abuses. I was struck by the contrast between the Tánaiste's meekness — the meek shall inherit the earth — on the subject of China and the relative truculence with which the Holy See was dealt in recent months. The priorities may have got skewed along the way.

Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh. Tá gach rud ráite cheana ag mo chara, an Seanadóir D'Arcy, ach caithfidh mé cúpla focal a rá. Lá iontach é seo do mhuintir Dhún Dealgan, do mhuintir Chontae Lú, don oir-thuaisceart agus don tír ar fad. Rinne PayPal fógra iontach uair go leith ó shin go bhfuil 1,000 post ag teacht go Dún Dealgan. Níor tharla sin sa tír seo le fada. Scéal iontach ar fad é dúinn go léir. Is mór an phribhléid domsa í seo a cloisteáil mar ní minic a bhíonn fógra mar seo le cloisteáil. Ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas a dhéanamh leis an Taoiseach, an Teachta Enda Kenny, Leis an Aire Richard Bruton, leis an leas-phríomh oifigeach ó PayPal, Louise Phelan, le Barry O Leary ón IDA agus leis an fhoireann uilig a bhí freagrach as an bhfógra éachtach seo. Níl an t-am agam seo a rá as Béarla but I call on Leader to arrange a debate on the jobs issue and this wonderful success.

SATIR, a Chinese firm, started in Dundalk approximately a year ago with 40 people working and that will rise to 100 jobs in the near future. It is a milestone for Dundalk and the north-east region and should be welcomed by all parties here. There is a spin-off value for the region and regional college and I congratulate everyone involved.

We have heard a fair amount of classical allusions so I shall top them off with a quotation from ancient Greece. There is a little aphorism "meden agen” which loosely translates into “enough already” or “we have had enough”. The employers of Ireland have had “meden agen” from the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton. I warmly support Senator Mary Ann O’Brien’s comments on the proposed imposition of the first month of sick pay penalty on the employer. It comes soon after the Government’s decision to reduce the redundancy rebate for employers from 60% down to 15%. As the Senator said, both these measures will cost jobs and someone must call a halt.

On an urgent note, I am delighted to applaud the work that has resulted in 1,000 jobs being created in County Louth. It is a great day for that county but in contrast it is a bad day for mine. The Commission for Energy Regulation has issued a proposal to impose new charges on new entrants into the energy provision sector. It will support and underpin the profits of Bord Gáis and existing providers but will make it almost impossible for new people to enter the sector. Members will have heard me speak on a number of occasions about the LNG project in Kerry on the Shannon Estuary. The investors have put in €40 million of their own money, seek no Government grants and gone through all planning and other stages. However, the energy regulator has said to them that in order for the company to get into the sector a further €10 million per annum must be paid by it to pay for the gas interconnector with the UK. That is patently unfair and is only the decision of the regulator.

Last week I raised the matter with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte. My colleague, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, helped me to promote the project when we were councillors or in a different walk of life. I call on the Leader to again go to him and the rest of the Government and rectify the matter immediately. Some mechanism must be put in place to compensate the principals behind the project or they will walk away with the loss of 500 jobs, the country's energy security greatly threatened and the project will be a total disaster.

Like others I commend all involved in the Chinese Vice President's visit over the weekend. I also commend the people of County Clare who gave him a warm welcome. As has often been the case in the past, the scenery and hospitality of County Clare is used to the advantage of this country. I commend the Lynch family in Sixmilebridge whose farm the Vice President visited. He also visited the iconic Cliffs of Moher, one of the best tourism products this country has, and I believe he was in awe of its stunning scenery.

Following on from this, will the Leader organise a question and answer session with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport on how to take advantage of this successful visit, watched by hundreds of millions in China, and increase Ireland's portion of the 38 million Chinese people who go abroad on holidays every year? With the Taoiseach paying a return visit to China in March, a golden gateway has been opened with China which will propel Ireland to the top of the international countries which Chinese people visit. We need to take advantage of every opportunity to promote Ireland as a tourism destination. I would welcome a question and answer debate on how we can capitalise on tourism from China.

I dtosach, ba mhaith liom aitheantas a thabhairt don chomhfhreagras ón gCathaoirleach maidir le Seachtain na Gaeilge, mar bhí moladh déanta againn go ndéanfaí marcáil faoi leith ar Sheachtain na Gaeilge trí dhíospóireachtaí trí Ghaeilge agus mar sin de sa Teach seo. Dúradh nach féidir sin a dhéanamh i mbliana ach go mb'fhéidir go bhféadfaimís é a dhéanamh an bhliain seo chugainn, ach go mbeadh muide mar Sheanadóirí in ann labhairt i nGaeilge ar an 7 Márta, mar atáá dhéanamh sa Teach eile.

In the media flurry surrounding the visit of the Chinese delegation, another important initiative launched last Friday in Galway by the Minister for Health, for which I commend him, was missed. It can only be called the pre-meeting perambulation initiative. Due in the city for several visits on Friday, the Minister experienced at first hand the stress of having to sit in Galway traffic for an hour and a half. Instead of sitting there and getting worked up, however, he decided the best antidote was to get out of his car and walk to the meetings. It is handy enough to be able to do that when one has a ministerial driver but I was stuck there for the same time without having the luxury of being able to leave my car.

It draws to our attention once more to the issue of Galway city traffic which has been ridiculed up until now and which I have raised here on several occasions. I call again for a debate on this issue. I accept it is a broad issue and that the Leader has told us we have a wonderful mayor, Hildegarde Naughton, who has brought together a discussion group on the matter. However, the group needs to have the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport on board as there are broader players involved such as Bus Éireann and Iarnród Éireann, as well as issues surrounding air access, an outer bypass and the N17 bypass. These all contribute to traffic chaos in Galway city. It has gone far beyond a joke and we need a debate around it. Perhaps the Minister for Health could attend the House to give us his personal experience and advise us how to deal with the health implications of having to sit in traffic such as Galway's.

I welcome the raising of the important issue today of human rights in China. As I stated last week, it is also important, however, we have a balanced debate about the positives in China too. Over 150 million people have been brought above the poverty line in less then ten years. When I was in Shanghai some time ago, I noted over 350,000 young people were in third level education with a large number of them travelling to study outside of China. The number of people learning English in China is far greater than in any other part of the world at the moment. There are a lot of freedoms in China. It is important that, when we have a debate on human rights, it is balanced. We must also look at the positives that have been achieved in that country where more than 1.3 billion people live.

I wish to refer to a matter raised by Senator Mary Ann O'Brien on making employers liable for the first four weeks of sick pay. It is a difficult issue to deal with and it warrants a debate. In having such a debate we should also include people in the public sector being on full pay for the first six months of sick leave and on half pay for the second six months. It would be appropriate to debate that issue also when we debate sick pay in the private sector because it is a concern for the private sector that it would have to carry such a responsibility.

The significance of the visit of the Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping cannot be overestimated. The fact that Ireland, a small country on the periphery of Europe, was one of just three countries the vice president visited is an astonishing compliment to this country and its potential. I fully endorse all that has been said on all sides of the House in congratulating the Taoiseach and members of the Government on the manner in which they hosted the vice president over the three days and those who engaged with him, not least the family in County Clare and all those who came in contact with him.

I also compliment Mr. Niall Gibbons of Tourism Ireland who was the first out of the traps, as it were, as one of the State agencies that will act on the advantages that have been gleaned as a result of the extraordinary coverage the visit to this country received in the Chinese media. As a result of another Government initiative last year, China is one of the countries that will now have easy access to this country in conjunction with the upcoming Olympic Games in addition to a number of other Middle Eastern and Far Eastern countries — 17 in all — who will be able to gain visas not only to the UK, but by extension to visit this country for the next 12 months.

I would like the Leader to raise an issue I brought up with the Minister for Justice and Equality in a previous debate in this House as it is timely to mention it again. Those Chinese nationals who receive tourist visas to visit the Republic of Ireland are unable under the current regime to visit the North of Ireland. As Members on all sides of the House are aware, this country is promoted and marketed internationally as the island of Ireland through Tourism Ireland. The CEO of that organisation, Mr. Niall Gibbons, is doing an outstanding job in that regard. It seems somewhat of an anomaly, in particular, as Northern Ireland has much to offer this year, in terms of the Titanic quarter and also Derry being the city of culture next year. I urge the Leader to once again bring the issue to the attention of the relevant authorities. It is initially a matter for the Department of Justice and Equality to extend the visas and I am aware the Minister for Justice and Equality is working hard in this regard with his UK counterparts.

I agree with Senator Mullen about the extraordinary media coverage that the Irish visit received in the Chinese media, but I understand we were knocked off the headlines on the last day by the French who trumped us by giving two pandas to the Chinese. The panda is the national symbol of China and it is always a major news story. In future, the Government might be able to counter any attempt by the French to trump us by giving pandas if the Minister for Health and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government were to act as the counterparts to the French pandas on Chinese television. Perhaps it would help to bring more visitors to this part of the world. I mean that in the best possible taste.

I am sure the Senator does.

I echo the sentiments expressed on the new trade relationships that have been formed with China. Last week, I was in the United States and I experienced the transformation in attitude there towards this country. Last year, they were putting us down but this year there was a complete turnaround in attitude by America. A positive image and pride has been restored in this country. It is about time we began to restore and instil a positive attitude in people in this country.

It did not take the Fine Gael spin doctors long to get to Senator Coghlan. There has been some indoctrination.

Senator Coghlan should be allowed to speak without interruption.

I thank Senator Harte for his compliments on the documentary, "Man on a Mission", which won an IFTA recently. I was very proud to have done my first documentary in Kenya and witnessed the spirit of those young Kenyan athletes who live in poverty and rather difficult conditions. However, this brings me on to an appalling documentary about bare-knuckle boxing that I saw on television last Sunday, entitled "Knuckle". It traced feuding between a number of families in the Traveller community during a 12-year period. Brothers, cousins, fathers and grandfathers beating the pulp out of one another made no sense whatsoever.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

In the past 24 hours or so, people have communicated with me, given my background in sports, and asked how members of the Traveller community could afford to bet more than £100,000 in cash against one another or drive top of the range cars to fights while supposedly being on social welfare.

How can RTE justify television licence fees being spent on such documentaries?

That is a sweeping generalisation and should not be allowed to go unsubstantiated.

If two cocks were thrown into a pen, animal activists would be out complaining.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Will the Leader call on the Minister for Social Protection to investigate how people are able to afford such luxuries while being in receipt of social welfare payments?

I agree with Senator Darragh O'Brien in calling for some action on the personal insolvency Bill and the tragedy of mortgage arrears, a silent crisis that is still continuing three years after it was first highlighted in this House and when solutions were debated. There has still been no tangible action. As the Senator stated, the latest figures show a significant increase in the number of those in mortgage arrears, yet real solutions are as elusive as ever. An unnamed source in this morning's press seemed to indicate that if one bank is forced in any way to pass on concessions to people in mortgage difficulties, it will recoup that money in charges. This would be fundamentally wrong.

It is time that we act as an Oireachtas to introduce solutions. This House has made several attempts, for example, the family home Bill and the Debt Settlement and Mortgage Resolution Office Bill 2011, which has been left on Second Stage in the Dáil. The heads of a personal insolvency Bill have been published and are before a committee, yet there seem to be no solutions for people. There are all sorts of solutions for the banks and all sorts of solutions are being passed on by the EU to Ireland as a nation state, but when will we do it for the people? They are the most important element, yet we still have had no action. There is no shortage of suggestions from both sides of the House. They are workable and could make a real difference quickly. As Senator Barrett stated, the back stairs to the Department of Finance seems very much open to bankers. This is to the detriment of struggling families. It is time that the banks were forced to use some of the money given to them to deal with people in mortgage arrears and to help people.

Will the Leader personally involve himself in the issue of the slowness of agri-environment options scheme, AEOS, and single farm payments to farming families throughout the country? Families are being given different excuses every day as to why their payments are being delayed. Today I was phoned by family members who were reduced to tears on the telephone. They were told that the money would be in their account last Thursday. They made arrangements for a bank payment in line with that plan, but nothing arrived. When I called offices to inquire on their behalf, I was told yet another story. Surely any government should aspire to providing a professional service and to being honest with people as to when the money they are owed will be paid to them.

I join Senators Jim D'Arcy, Brennan and Mary Ann O'Brien in welcoming this afternoon's announcement by PayPal to the effect that it will locate 1,000 jobs in Dundalk or, as Senator Jim D'Arcy clarified for us, Haggardstown, during the coming four years. It is great news for the north east, including the counties of Cavan, Monaghan, Louth, Meath and north Dublin. I congratulate everyone who was involved in bringing about this day. In particular, I congratulate a young lady from Raheen Upper, Donaghmore, County Laois, Ms Louise Phelan, the vice president of PayPal Europe. Ms Phelan was responsible in no small way for ensuring these jobs came to Dundalk, as well as for the 1,500 jobs that are already located in Blanchardstown. It is worth noting that she is the sister of our late colleague, former Senator Kieran Phelan.

The principal of Lauragh national school organised a public meeting on rural schools in Kerry last night. I thank the Leader for facilitating several debates on this issue. A positive development in this regard is the GAA's decision to support the issue because it realises its own vested interests are at stake. Rural schools must be maintained if the social and sporting life of communities is to be sustainable. I look forward to further debates in this House on issues relating to rural Ireland. If we do not have viable communities we will not have a rural Ireland in the future.

Today marks the 24th anniversary of the death of Aidan McAnespie at Aughnacloy. He was on his way to a GAA match when he was shot and killed by British soldiers. The former Garda deputy commissioner, Eugene Crowley, was appointed by the Government of the day to produce a report on the matter. I call on the Leader to ask his colleagues in Cabinet to arrange for the publication of that report. The Historical Enquiries Team in the North has stated that the version of events set out by the British army is the least likely to have occurred. The PSNI came to similar conclusions when it stated in a report produced in 2008 that the British army's version of events lacked credibility. Perhaps the Leader can ask his colleagues to publish the Irish Government's version of the events.

In regard to the call by the Leader of the Opposition, Senator Darragh O'Brien, for a debate on the fiscal compact, I have no problem in extending the time allocated to Members. We can give them all the time they want to express their opinions.

On the question of mortgage arrears, obviously many people are experiencing difficulties in this regard. Senator Bacik has indicated that the heads of the insolvency Bill have been discussed in the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. When the committee's report is made available perhaps we can have a debate on the subject of mortgage relief and the insolvency Bill.

Senator Darragh O'Brien and others alluded to the visit by the Chinese Vice President. We all agree it was a wonderful visit that will provide great opportunities for both countries. Our embassy in China reported that the Vice President's visit received extensive and positive coverage in the Chinese media. It was the first item on CCTV's news reports and reported on the front page of most newspapers, including People’s Daily, China Daily and Beijing News. The coverage emphasised the significance of the visit in terms of deepening the friendship and strengthening the co-operation between Ireland and China. References are regularly made in China to Ireland’s successful transition from an agrarian to a knowledge based economy. The visit was also viewed in the broader context of EU-China relations. Mr. Xi’s comments on China’s willingness to support Europe in addressing its debt problems have been widely reported. It has been a very successful visit and I hope the Ministers who will travel to China in the months ahead will foster closer relationships and trade between our countries. This will yield jobs in Ireland and create opportunities in China for many Irish companies.

Senators Bacik, Zappone, Norris, Bradford, Mullen and Mullins mentioned human rights. It would be timely to arrange a debate on human rights not only in China but also internationally. I hope we can arrange it in the coming weeks. It is something that should be discussed in this House which has an excellent record in discussing human rights abuses in many countries and it is probably an opportune time to do so again.

We have a further hour allocated to Committee Stage of the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Bill today. I believe an hour will probably suffice, but we will review it as it goes on. We spent two hours on it last week and have another hour today. If it is necessary to extend the time, we will review it at that time depending on the availability of the Minister.

Senator Comiskey spoke about the closure of Teagasc offices in Manorhamilton. I suggest that the Senator table an Adjournment motion in that regard and he might be able to get further information on the subject.

Senator O'Donovan spoke about the Faroe Islands and Iceland having no restrictions in mackerel fishing. The Minister addressed this matter not last week but the previous time he was here. He spoke of his dissatisfaction and concern in the matter. I will certainly relay the Senator's concerns in the matter to the Minister again and I am sure he will take it up at European level.

Senators Darragh O'Brien, Jim D'Arcy, Brennan, Colm Burke and Wilson spoke about the announcement of 1,000 jobs in Dundalk, or Haggardstown to be precise, as Senator Jim D'Arcy mentioned. It is a wonderful day not only for the people of Dundalk and Haggardstown, but also for the entire region, as Senator Wilson said. Many people thought that the days of announcements of 1,000 jobs were well and truly gone. It is wonderful to see an announcement of so many good jobs in an area which obviously needs them. I hope that when further announcements are being made, Waterford and the south east will be also considered as it is the greatest unemployment black spot in the country.

Senator Harte spoke about Lifford Community Hospital. Again, he might table an Adjournment motion on the matter.

Senator Crown spoke about the 50% increase in waiting lists for day surgery and the shortage of doctors in the system. I know he raised the issue with the Minister when he was in the House last week and I am sure the Minister will take on board what the Senator mentioned in that regard.

Senator Cullinane spoke about cuts in the community and voluntary sector. It is a gross exaggeration to say that many of these services will go completely. There will certainly be cuts, which have been announced in practically every Department. However, to suggest that these services will go as a result of the cuts is hyperbole.

Senator Noone spoke about cloud computing and switching e-mails to embrace this technology in the Oireachtas. I am sure the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission will be very interested in saving money and it is a matter the Senator might raise with the commission.

Senator Leyden spoke about a grants scheme for septic tanks. The Minister has already commented on that issueand said he would address it when the time came.

Senators Mullins and Brennan called for a debate on the jobs plan. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, has agreed to come to the House to debate the jobs plan on 6 March and we will have an opportunity to discuss the matter then.

Senator Conway spoke about the Chinese visit and got in his promotion of the beautiful county of Clare and the benefits for tourism that may accrue from the visit. The promotion of tourism is an important part of the visit because there are approximately 100,000 visitors from China. As a result of the extensive, excellent coverage we got in China the number will increase significantly in the coming years and this will be of benefit to County Clare and every other county.

Senator Ó Clochartaigh commented on the use of the Irish language. I urge people who have Irish to use it as much as possible during seachtain na Gaeilge. I am unsure whether it would be possible to specify a particular day because people would be confined to speaking the Irish language but I urge that they use the language as much as possible, especially during seachtain na Gaeilge.

The council in Galway should be capable of finding a solution to the traffic problem there but if the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, is needed I am sure he will assist in the matter.

The Minister, Deputy Reilly, might have an opinion on it as well.

He may well have but the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, was the person the Senator sought.

Senator Mooney raised the issue of visas for Chinese visitors in order that when they come they can visit Northern Ireland as well. This matter should be discussed and I understand it is a matter for discussion between the Minister for Justice and Equality and his counterparts in the United Kingdom. Certainly, I will bring it to his attention.

Senator Eamonn Coghlan commented on the positive attitude in the USA towards this country. We are all pleased about this and I am sure St. Patrick's Day will provide a further platform for Ireland to be promoted. I share his comments on the television programme on bare knuckle fighting. It was dreadful to see the programme and what goes on. I note his comments on social welfare. There is probably some abuse of the system but it does not apply to the Traveller community as a whole. Given the large vehicles they drive and the amount of money exchanged in the programme it appears some people probably should be investigated by the Department of Social Protection. However, I suggest the vast majority do not come under the system in the way we saw in the television programme with so much money being exchanged.

Senator MacSharry raised the issue of farm payments. I understood farm payments were well advanced. We had been advised by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine that they were well in advance of those in previous years but I will raise the matter with the Minister.

Senator Daly spoke about the publication of the report of the former deputy Garda Commissioner. I will inquire about the position with the Minister for Justice and Equality.

Order of Business agreed to.