Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 8 Oct 2013

Vol. 226 No. 9

Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 43, Private Members' business, non-Government motion No. 9 re issues facing small and medium enterprises in rural towns; and No. 2, statements on political reform, which I intend to insert in a Supplementary Order Paper to be issued to Members, to be taken after Private Members' business for two hours, with all Senators being allocated five minutes to speak.

Before we commence, I wish to notify Members that the reason for sitting two days this week is that it was, naturally, very difficult to predict how this week would work out. I anticipate that the House will return to normal next week when it will sit three days, provided there is sufficient business to be dealt with. I hope that, following Saturday's result, we will receive a great deal more co-operation in the scheduling of business. I will certainly continue my efforts in that regard, as I have done in the House to date. While Members are satisfied with the outcome of the referendum, I hope there will not be too much retaliation or recriminations about the campaign or individuals associated with it on the Order of Business today. It is my strong belief that with the mandate we have received, we should now move on to doing the valuable legislative work the people expect us to do. I strongly hope we can do this in the professional, productive and collegiate manner that has been such a positive feature of the 24th Seanad.

I am not in a position today to answer questions about reform of the Seanad. The people have spoken and I believe they want the Seanad to be reformed. However, that is work for another day rather than today. The referendum result is only four days old and the best course of action is to allow the Government sufficient time to reflect on the outcome. We have several reports on Seanad reform and two Bills on the issue have passed Second Stage in the House, to which the Government must fully respond. I hope we will receive that response sooner rather than later. However, we must remember that the main focus of the Government is on job creation and economic recovery and it is my personal belief our time and energy are best spent in focusing on these issues, while also dealing with the matter of Seanad reform.

All Members of the House are anxious to contribute on the Order of Business today. There is a time constraint on the Order of Business and I do not wish to have it drag on indefinitely. I will do the best I can to facilitate all the Members who wish to contribute.

What time does the Leader expect to take the statements on political reform?

Immediately after the Private Members' motion.

Okay. It is good to be back. It has been a very difficult number of months for every Member. During that time Senators endeavoured to do their work as best they could, although unquestionably it was under a cloud. Sometimes when the spotlight is focused on individuals it makes us all think about the job we do, how well we do it and, in some instances, how we do not do it well and where we can improve. In the last two years, to be fair to the Leader and to the leaders of all the groups in the House, significant changes have been made in how this Seanad operates, such as through the Seanad Public Consultation Committee and various other new ideas and initiatives that have been introduced. We need to do this in a considered way.

It is not just the Government which has that responsibility. I refer to the Leader's colleagues in the Dáil and the Taoiseach. I would not necessarily leave it to them to come up with ideas for reform, and not of this House alone. What the public called for and want is political reform in all of the structures - the Oireachtas, both the Dáil and the Seanad, Uachtarán na hÉireann, and in how local government operates - concerning how politics and politicians serve their constituents and the people. What the result of the vote showed is that people value their Constitution, Bunreacht na hÉireann, and their political structures no matter how imperfect they may be from time to time. We must recognise that. When the Taoiseach brought forward the Bill on the abolition of the Seanad in this Chamber, in one of only two occasions he saw fit in almost three years to address this elected House of the Oireachtas, I accused him of performing the greatest act of constitutional vandalism. He was not allowed away with that because the public made the decision and the people are sovereign. The Taoiseach has accepted that which is good, which I welcome. For us, as parliamentarians and Senators, our job is to move on. The campaign is over. People listened to our arguments.

I commend colleagues from all parties and none for the work they did during the course of the referendum campaign, in particular those who advocated a "No" vote, forgiving those who advocated a "Yes" vote.

Not those who did nothing.

I will leave that to the Senator to discuss. During the course of the campaign there was a focus on our political structures, not just the Seanad, which is good. What is not good, and is a matter we must get into straightaway, is the budget. Let us have no doubt about the timing of this referendum. With a week to go to the budget, when we will be discussing old age pensions, social welfare, jobs, medical cards and all the other areas of government expenditure, the past three weeks have been taken up with the Seanad referendum. I asked, as did many Members across the House, that we change the way we do our budgetary process and try to have proper informed debates well in advance of a budget being produced by a Minister for Finance. What will happen next week is that the budget will be produced and announced as a fait accompli. That is not what the public want. Part of the vote rejecting abolition of the Seanad was very clearly the people saying they want us to act differently, that they want this and any future Government to do that job differently, not to treat them like fools. One never underestimates the electorate. It read into this issue.

We have to get on with our job of work, in which I will support the Leader. In a very considered way, as the Leader mentioned, there have been a number of reports and Bills, including two in this House proposed by Senators John Crown, Katherine Zappone and Feargal Quinn. Other parties and other Members have also produced documents, not only on reforming this House, which is required, but on political reform in general - of our committee system, the overuse of the parliamentary Whip and reform of the Dáil. It is ironic that this Thursday the Lower House will hear the reform package the Cabinet cobbled together two weeks ago in the middle of the Seanad campaign, adding in a couple of extra hours on a Friday and a sitting at 9 a.m. on a Thursday. Does the House know that the time being allowed for debate and discussion on Dáil reform on Thursday is 20 minutes? That is not acceptable.

I congratulate, at long last, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, on the passage of the referendum on the Court of Appeal, which is very important legislation. I want to see the Court of Appeal set up and running by October 2014, the date stated by the Minister. That is good. Let us get on with our job and improve how we do it. Let us look at our structures and work together to improve this House of Parliament.

Like the Leader and Senator Darragh O'Brien, I very much welcome the result of Saturday's referendum on the abolition of the Seanad. It shows that the people engaged very closely with the proposal put to them. They scrutinised the issues and were very keen, particularly in the immediate lead-up to the referendum, to inform themselves. Their decision speaks for itself. I also very much welcome the resounding majority in support of the proposal to establish a new court of appeal.

I commend all of those who were active in the campaign leading up the Seanad referendum. The result seems to have confounded many commentators. The Leader has referred to the reason we have a two-day sitting week on this occasion. It appears that some people might have written off the Seanad in advance in terms of their agreement or otherwise to come into the House. We will see a return to normal business in future weeks, as the Leader indicated.

The referendum result gives us a clear imperative for reform - not just Seanad reform but also political reform. I very much welcome the Leader's announcement that we will have statements on political reform for two hours this evening. We should work together in a collegiate fashion in this House in considering reform measures. There are two key ways to do this. The first is to refer potential constitutional changes to the Constitutional Convention which is the forum in which constitutional changes and political reforms broadly are being debated. Second, this and the other House can progress legislative reforms in parallel. We should be working in a collegiate manner to take what is best from the two reform proposals already passed on Second Stage and the cross-party report on Seanad reform adopted two Seanaid ago which included several very sensible suggestions, some of which have been incorporated into the Bills by Senators Katherine Zappone and John Crown. We must examine what is best in these legislative proposals for reform and seek to progress them in a timely way. That is the clear imperative arising from the very welcome outcome of the referendum.

I welcome the clear indications in recent days that next week's budget adjustment will be less than €3.1 billion. It means that there will be some relief for hard-working families and citizens in that the adjustment will be less than was previously suggested.

I also welcome the Government's announcement on Priory Hall. Everybody is delighted to see a settlement in sight for the residents of that development.

I express deep gratitude to the people who exercised their civic duty to vote in the recent referendums, regardless of how they voted. To vote is a patriotic act at the core of an expression of Irish freedom. It is also an act whereby one enters the territory of collective responsibility for how the country is governed. It demonstrates a very welcome resistance to the culture of individualism.

Having strongly campaigned on the need for Seanad reform, I am, of course, delighted with the outcome of the Seanad referendum. I am grateful for the astute leadership demonstrated by the Leader of the House and the extraordinary commitment and work of the founding members of Democracy Matters and all those who volunteered their precious time or financially contributed to that cross-party civic society group. I know colleagues will understand why I pay special tribute to Senators Feargal Quinn, David Norris, John Crown and Sean D. Barrett for their tireless and inspiring commitment to Seanad reform.

My question for the Leader centres on the Taoiseach. I acknowledge the graceful way in which the Taoiseach accepted the people's verdict. I welcome wholeheartedly his recent statements of intent to lead the Government in deciding how to make this House more effective. Seanad Éireann in its current format is crying out for reform and the outcome of the referendum provides a strong mandate from the people for the Taoiseach to begin that process. As others have mentioned, we have two legislative proposals, namely, the Bill put forward by Senator Feargal Quinn and me and the one introduced by Senator John Crown, both of which passed Second Stage in the House and offer a substantive starting point for credible means to effect a radical transformation of how Seanad Éireann is elected and how it functions.

I am strongly of the view that had the panels been used properly and effectively in the past as constituencies of public interest, this House would have commanded greater respect and been more effective in its work. I am, therefore, in favour of their retention. I am also strongly of the view that the Taoiseach's lead on Seanad reform should, as colleagues have urged, be conducted in parallel with substantive Dáil reform. If that is the case, we will not require constitutional change for the present.

Rather, we should seek to get the best legislative change for the Seanad and procedural changes for both Houses so that transparency and accountability become hallmarks of Irish democracy. Will the Leader ask the Taoiseach to come to the Seanad Chamber within a month to outline to us his plans for Seanad and Dáil reform? I assure the Taoiseach that my colleagues and I want to work in a collaborative manner with the Government and all parliamentary Members to ensure the necessary reform in Seanad Éireann is achieved as soon as possible. There is urgent - the people are waiting and watching and they want change now.

This has been a remarkable week. It was a remarkable result and it is one I welcome. It would have been a tragedy had the referendum been passed on the tissue of lies, half-truths and cynicism presented by the Government. It would have undermined respect for democracy. It teaches us a lesson. When it became clear that it was completely wrong that the alleged figure of €20 million would be saved, I wrote to the Standards in Public Office Commission and the Referendum Commission. Both replied that it was outside their scope and that there was nothing they could do. It should be within someone's scope to stop deliberate lying during elections. This illustrates that we need, for that reason and because of the obscure way in which ballots were presented to the people, a permanent electoral commission to examine these matters and oversee such points. An examination of this referendum should be used as a template.

With regard to cynicism, I refer to the immediate volte-face by the Government, which had tried to bully the people by saying there was no alternative, that it was never going to be reformed and that it would not reform. Within hours of the result, the Government was talking about results. I am glad of that but it shows cynicism. The Government then attempted to dump all the blame on the Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton. People should not put party before the country. The saddest thing is that the expensive exercise, costing €15 million, was attempted at a time when we are still in a moment of real economic crisis. To divide the country and set one House against the other was a grave mistake.

In addition to those of us who were visible, there were currents beneath the surface and some brilliant interventions. We were a small number of groups and individuals who took on a Government machine that was so powerful but that underestimated the intelligence of the Irish people. This is not a moment to gloat or to say "Well done" to everyone. We have been given a vote of confidence by those who voted in the referendum. Our real obligation is to them and to show them the valuable work we can do and have done in the past. I never once trashed Seanad Éireann and never said it was dysfunctional although, through the electoral process, it is. We have known for 30 years how that can be fixed. I know the work that is being done. Recently, there was something on RTE about fluoride. The debate started in this House, which never gets acknowledged. New photographic equipment is being introduced to stem the tide of social welfare fraud and to ensure the money goes to people who need it. One person made €450,000 by cheating. The Government got the idea of photographic identification from this House. Let us also make sure we communicate with the public what we have done and what we are doing. We must sell ourselves.

This was a dangerous referendum because it also sought to clip the powers of the Presidency, which was almost entirely overlooked. It was a power grab. The legislation, which is extremely valuable, contained elements I do not agree with and I look forward to saying that this evening.

I am not going to work for nothing; they must be joking. The talk about elitism and cutting the numbers by half was just a titbit to throw out to the public and it caught on very well. Last night, somebody on "Tonight with Vincent Browne" said, "I would agree if they worked for nothing." I say, "No bloody hope." Elitism would mean a House peopled by nobody but aristocrats and millionaires.

I want people in the House like the Leader, Senators John Whelan and John Gilroy who have known what it is like to be unemployed. Should people really be expected to come off the unemployment register and to work for nothing? If so, people are living in cloud cuckoo land and I do not give a damn if it is unpopular, I am saying it and I will not stop saying it. I sometimes work a 12 to 14 hour day, but I will not do it for nothing.

I am glad that people are so calm today and that we will allow for this period of reflection. I welcome what has been said by the Leader and Senator Darragh O'Brien in regard to the question that has been put. In fairness to the Taoiseach, he made a commitment that he would put this question to the people. It has been put, they have answered, he has graciously accepted the result. Therefore, it is time to move on to the next business.

The budget and the finance and social welfare Bills are coming, as well as many other important pieces of legislation which it is the duty of this House to examine thoroughly. We are bound by the people's Constitution and Members should take care of what it says therein. I draw the attention of the House to Article 15. Let us go on in that spirit. The Leader has said it all from our point of view. The House has done a lot of good work through the public consultation process and through other initiatives of this Seanad. We were somewhat stymied on European matters and European scrutiny which is of concern to people on both sides of this Chamber. Perhaps we can return to that business and something can happen, now that we will be discussing Oireachtas reform because the other House is the primary Chamber and that is perhaps where it needs to start.

I also welcome the decision on the Court of Appeal. That is an important and a significant reform. It is hoped, as has been said on the opposite side, the court can be in operation speedily. We are all aware of the delays in the process.

The Leader has provided time this evening for a discussion on Oireachtas reform. I have a different view to some Members. I think it will require a separate group other than the existing Constitutional Convention to examine Oireachtas reform. We all have a vested interest so perhaps a fresh look from well qualified outsiders would be needed and their findings could be material for reflection by both Houses and the Cabinet.

Like everyone in this House, I agree that a period of calm and reflection is required rather than any triumphalism as a result of last week's vote. The vote proved yet again that where there is a lack of consensus on change to the Constitution, it is very difficult to effect that change. There was most definitely a lack of consensus at this time. The people gave their choice and they made a decision based on a reflection rather than as a knee-jerk reaction. However, I share the views from all sides of the House that the emphasis should not be on this House alone.

I agree with Senator Darragh O'Brien that most people want political reform in the widest possible context. There is no doubt but that the Dáil is crying out for some sort of effective reform, whatever about this House. If any reform is to take place in this House, it has to take account of the other House. We can never be seen, irrespective of what reform policy is adopted, to be in any way competing with the other House. This House has been and should remain complementary to the other House. It is a case of how to build that architecture which is the challenge facing the political establishment. There is no doubt that the Lower House is the principal House and that is where the reform should come from. It should include, for instance, a revision of the Whip system and a study of other parliamentary systems in use in Europe.

The Danish system was used very much as a stick with which to beat us here in the Seanad and it could perhaps be usefully considered as a template to enlarge and extend democracy within this country. In that example the government is accountable to parliament rather than the other way around, as is the case here, where the Parliament essentially does the will of the Executive. Whatever is done and whatever discussions are taken, the process must not be followed in isolation; that is the clear message from the events of last weekend. It is about political reform in the round.

I also echo the sentiments of other speakers and welcome the result at the weekend. There should be calm reflection, with all Senators thinking about where we go from here. Personally, I would have felt a little calmer and more inclined to reflect if there was not such a light schedule of business this week. I have made the point in the past that there has been a deliberate dumbing down of the business this House has conduced in the past few weeks in order to show us as inefficient and ineffective. I hope there will be no petulance in Government circles because of the outcome of the referendum. This House should have a full schedule of business every week from now on.

I welcome the report that there is, at last, light at the end of the tunnel for the residents of Priory Hall. It is important to state it has taken far too long for this outcome to be achieved - it is practically two years to the day when Priory Hall was evacuated. I ask that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, be invited to the Chamber to indicate how similar scenarios which I believe will arise will be dealt with. A protocol must be put in place in that regard.

The most pressing item I would like to bring to the Leader's attention is the report on the 4,600 asylum seekers living in direct provision accommodation, of which almost 1,000 are children. Inspection reports published today by The Irish Times indicate that these families are living in the most appalling conditions. The issue has been raised in this House on a number of occasions by many Members, but these official inspection reports bring into the open what we all know to be true, that some of these shelters are no more than protection against the rain, as opposed to homes in which people can live. It is outrageous to think the State is paying the guts of €70 million per year for what is a national disgrace that is almost comparable to the Magdalen laundries. As a consequence, I ask that the Minister for Justice and Equality be invited to come to this Chamber as a matter of urgency to set out how he can justify the experiences of asylum seekers.

I ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to come to the House to explain to us the details of the sale of the lottery licence. What are the details surrounding the €405 million we are to get upfront? Who is repaying what? What are An Post and Camelot putting in and what are we paying back for the upfront payment? What is the interest rate on the figure of €405 million and how much of the people's money will be paid to Camelot? What guarantee do we have that Camelot will not put up lottery ticket prices? Where are the details? We have had a whirlwind of reporting in newspapers, but there are no details. Therefore, I would like the Minister to come here to explain to us where our money is going and what interest we will pay on this "gift" of €405 million.

The referendum issue has been adequately dealt with and there have been very constructive contributions on it this morning.

The junior doctors strike is an extremely important and serious issue. Over two years ago I flagged that we would have difficulties in how we would man hospitals because of the large number of Irish graduates leaving the country. Even if the HSE was to decide in the morning to sort out the problem of long hours for junior doctors, we would still have a problem in that there is an insufficient number of junior doctors staying in the country after graduating. The Irish Medical Organisation, the HSE and Department of Health should return to the table to try to resolve this issue in the short term. We should engage in more long-term planning to deal with it.

Will the Leader to convey to the Minister for Health the concerns of this House about this strike and the need to resolve the issues involved, given that the procedures or operations scheduled for many patients were cancelled today because of it? It is, therefore, imperative that they be sorted out at the earliest date.

I, too, was distressed to hear of the conditions and, in particular, the indefinite nature of the detention experienced by people in the refugee-asylum system. I am glad that colleagues have raised the subject. Clearly, there is a critical need both to improve the week-to-week living conditions of the people concerned and, much more important, to sort out what is the plan to process them and make an appropriate decision. They do not want to be slightly more comfortable prisoners not knowing how long is their sentence. They want to know what their future is and what plans they can make for their lives.

I am delighted that my good friend and colleague, Senator Colm Burke, has mentioned the plight of junior hospital doctors. He has been an informed and authoritative champion of all manner of issues in the health service and I hope his party appreciates the expertise and diligence he brings to legislation and other matters relating to the health service. However, it should be irrelevant if every junior doctor in Ireland stayed at home today because they are trainees and it is a profound indictment of our system of delivering health care that we depend on the indentured servitude of people who should be receiving training to provide a service that should be provided by career level GPs and hospital specialists. This problem needs to be tackled. Merely palliating it by reducing them below the 24 hour working threshold or improving their overtime does not fix the problem. If people were to lose a gold fáinne down a drainpipe at home, they would not get a plumber's apprentice out to recover it. They would expect a trained plumber. However, if their precious son or daughter needed critically important emergency surgery, they would be happy to bring him or her to a hospital where he or she would be looked after by a trainee, which is inappropriate.

I thank the Taoiseach for putting the referendum to the people. He promised before the last general election that he would do so and he did. He deserves our gratitude for being honest and I hope he takes what should be for him a positive message during his period of reflection. He should acknowledge that the people have given him, our leader, a mandate, which is to reform the political process and begin with reform of the Seanad. This is not a time for victors to gloat or losers to recriminate; it is a time for all of us to knock our heads together to reform our republic and the way it does its political business. We should have a two-pronged approach to this matter. It would be appropriate for the Constitutional Convention to consider big picture issues, but I agree with Senators Katherine Zapppone and Feargal Quinn that we could do things in the next few weeks. I would love if their Bill or mine or perhaps even a negotiated amalgam of the two was put before the House, passed and then put before the other House for implementation, but, even if that is too controversial, would it not be deadly simple to go back to the Seventh Amendment of the Constitution in 1979 and legislate for the result of the referendum that was passed by 92% of the population to extend the voting franchise for university seats to every third level graduate and in the process give approximately 35% of the population a direct say in the election of the Seanad?

Two other mandates have been given. We have been given a mandate by a populous, one half of whom were prepared to judge our performance worthy of capital punishment. We need to get our act together; we need to refocus on the intent of the House and make sure those often cliched but, sadly, often justifiable criticisms made of this institution as being a prep school for the Dáil or a wind-down on the way out of Leinster House are no longer valid and that Members do the job they are supposed to do.

I am delighted to see some people in the Press Gallery today because another mandate has been given. The real problem of absenteeism in this House is absenteeism of the press. One of the reasons we have never been able to make a case for what we do here-----

Tá an t-am istigh.

The press and the media had their own little referendum about us several years ago and they abolished us.

I have one last point to make. Could we, please, consider amending the way we do business to increase the frequency with which we can introduce backbench and Independent legislation? There are so many things I want to do in the next two years and I get to do only one every eight months.

The Senator is well over the time limit.

Rumours of our demise were grossly exaggerated. However, I do not share everyone's joy on the basis that all will be well, that there will be reform and it will all be hunky dory, because if the schedule for the Seanad this week is anything to go by that is the level of contempt that would be visited upon us had the vote gone the other way at the weekend. That is how the Government intends to respect and regard the will of the people. We have seen already that there is a pattern in this country that if Governments do not get their own way in a referendum they try to re-run it or brush it under the carpet. As Senator John Crown clearly illustrated, there was a referendum in 1979 which extended the voting right for university panels to graduates of all third level institutions. Each successive Government decided to wilfully ignore the will of the people and ignore the referendum. I fear the Government intends to ignore the outcome of this referendum as well. It will kill us with a sort of kindness. Despite the best efforts of the Leader and the Deputy Leader in this House to behave and perform in a professional and dignified fashion throughout the entire debate on the referendum, in which they kept their dignity and professionalism while still holding true to the cause of the Seanad, there are no Ministers in the House this week, no legislation and no Thursday sitting. We should have a Thursday sitting and the person coming in on Thursday should be the Taoiseach to respond to the outcome of the referendum and tell us what will happen next because it was not gifted to him on Saturday to decide what happens next. It does not fall to the Taoiseach or the Government.

I will make one last point if I can.

The Senator's time is up.

Certain Ministers have said that people were confused and did not know what they were doing. That is not a Government that is accepting the will of the people. They said that people always vote “No”. They do not. They voted “Yes” to the Court of Appeal and in the children’s right referendum-----

I must ask the Senator to conclude.

-----but they voted “No” to giving the Government more power on this occasion and in the Oireachtas committees referendum.

The Senator must, please, conclude as his time is up.

I thank you for your forbearance, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. My question for the Leader is-----

The Senator has gone past time for asking a question.

We should sit on Thursday and have a Minister present, if not the Taoiseach to respond to the outcome of the referendum.

I remind Senators that nearly everyone in the Chamber wants to speak and it is impossible to include everyone within the time constraints, but those who exaggerate the few minutes they have been given and eat up the time of others will cause problems for those who wish to speak. I will do the best I can, but I cannot work miracles.

I commend all of those people who voted both in the Seanad referendum and in the referendum on the Court of Appeal. There is a message for all of us inside and outside the political system that 65% of the people of the State did not vote either on the future of the Seanad or the Court of Appeal.

A total of 39% voted.

I am sorry. More than 60% of people did not vote, which is a significant section of the population. We must reflect on this; not just in terms of the referendum but also in terms of future elections as well because we must mobilise people and encourage them to vote.

I said as well on the Thursday before the referendum that the vast majority of people outside the four walls of this House were more concerned about the pressing issues of the budget and unemployment. A couple of hours ago I heard that 65 people have lost their jobs in the Leader’s home city of Waterford. Those are the issues that are exercising people’s minds, yet on Monday we still did not have an Order of Business or clár for the Seanad for this week. When we did get it, as previous speakers said, it was very light. The first thing we must do while having a debate on political reform is to invite the Taoiseach to the House and to be part of the debate because he was the one who called the referendum and who put the proposition to the people. The Taoiseach was also the person who did not engage, debate or sell his own argument.

A great number of the people who voted "No" actually voted for real reform, not just reform of the Seanad but also the Dáil. They sent the whole matter back to the Government demanding reform. The Government has a responsibility to ensure there is such reform. It is incumbent on the Taoiseach, who moved the referendum Bill in the Dáil, to commit to both the Dáil and the Seanad that he will answer for his failings in the campaign. More important, he should talk about his future plans for reform, not just of the Seanad but also the Dáil.

In the past few weeks I said I would welcome the clarity the referendum would bring. I especially welcomed the type of clarity it has brought. In fairness to the Government, including the Taoiseach, it put the matter to the people having said it would do so. I agree with other speakers in that regard. We are here and have a job to do. There will be much discussion about reform over the coming weeks but we must get on with the business of the House. Next week's budget needs to be debated in the House. I do not see why it could not be debated on Thursday. Senators will have plenty of suggestions on the budget and, perhaps, they will have objections.

With regard to the proposed sugar tax, the Royal College of Surgeons, backed by the Irish Heart Foundation, has today suggested a 20% sugar tax on sweetened drinks. Professor Donal O'Shea believes the tax, in itself, would have a significant impact on childhood obesity. Obviously, it is not just a question of that tax or of taxing more because I would be in favour of lowering the tax on certain healthy foods to lower the overall cost to already hard-pressed consumers. Obesity is killing 6,000 people per annum in the country. While I acknowledge that implementing a sugar tax such as the one proposed will not solve the problem and that education will comprise a considerable part of the solution, it is an example of a measure I would like to discuss in the House in advance of the budget.

I welcome the measures introduced by the European Parliament today. Certain measures designed to discourage cigarette smoking have been brought in very conclusively. Menthol cigarettes will be outlawed and 65% of the service area of cigarette packaging will be covered with health warnings, including imagery. Fine Gael MEPs have been pushing for a proportion of 75%. I welcome the measure as it is very significant.

Saturday's result was a great victory for democracy, the Seanad and the Constitution. I commend all those who voted, especially those who succeeded in persuading the majority to vote "No". Many of them are present in this Chamber. I will not name anybody as we all know who they are. There are some, but not too many, in the other House. I commend my leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, for his sterling performance, especially during the famous debate in which he argued against an empty chair.

An empty dressing room.

Let us for one moment step back from this matter. We have had a hard, bruising bout. We were under fierce attack for the past six months and terrible things were said about this institution and us. I am not prepared to rush headlong into any specific talks on the reform of this House on its own. I do not believe anybody who thinks seriously about the matter would want to do so either. Let us pause to reflect. The Taoiseach, for whom I have great time in other circumstances, must realise he has made a very serious mistake. He was gracious. Somebody said he was very gracious in defeat. I would say he was gracious like Sonny Liston was after Muhammad Ali knocked him out in the first minute - as gracious as that, he could be.

If there is to be an overall reappraisal of how politics works in this country, let it start with the primary House, the Lower House, and proceed to the presidency in general - I am not talking about the present incumbent. Let the Seanad be part of the process. We have other fish to fry. There is a budget to come and people are out of work. There is a lot going on and people are still in negative equity or have mortgage problems. That is the real world.

We have had a fair bashing of the Seanad. It is time to leave us alone for a while.

As a former psychiatric nurse, I would like to draw the attention of the House to the fact that this is Irish Nurses and Midwives Week, which gives the profession the opportunity to showcase its continually developing role in the rather challenged health system. The expanding role of the nursing and midwifery profession is taking on a more collaborative aspect. This week provides an opportunity to showcase a lot of the good work that nurses are doing. I invite Members to a short presentation by the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland, to be held in the Members' restaurant between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m., on the exciting changes and developments in the profession.

I also wish to comment on the report on direct provision centres referred to by Senators Aideen Hayden and John Crown and reported on by Carl O'Brien today in The Irish Times. I have raised this issue on numerous occasions in this House, as have some of my colleagues, most notably Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh. We have continually called for clarification on many issues. I still have a concern about the money that goes from the Department of Social Protection to the Department of Justice and Equality without any legal basis, in my opinion. I have never been able to get an answer to my question as to the basis under which that money is transferred. I ask the Leader to organise an urgent debate with the Minister for Justice and Equality on how we can reform the asylum system in Ireland and particularly the reception facilities currently in operation.

Earlier today a report was published by HIQA on the children's high support unit in the HSE's Dublin north-east region. Unusually, HIQA issued an immediate action plan, which demonstrates the seriousness of the report. While I welcome the statement from the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs that all operations in the centre will cease, what will happen to the two children currently in the unit? That was not dealt with in the Minister's press release. How will children who are in need of high support be accommodated in the future? At the time of the report, there were four children and young people in that high-support unit. Most seriously, the report states that staff were instructed to lock the doors of the unit by the national director for child and family services. The report also highlights serious risks in the context of fire safety. I ask for clarification on this issue. Did a directive come from the national director for children and family services to lock doors? If so, it indicates a cultural problem that is totally unacceptable and which causes alarm bells to ring. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to the House urgently to address these questions, which are directly affecting children today.

I, too, call for a period of calm reflection after what was a bumpy ride, to say the least, for the last few weeks. It was one of those peculiar, bizarre and typically Irish situations that the Seanad found itself it in, where its very survival was a matter of considerable public discourse. I believe that reform will happen in due course because the people voted very clearly for reform. They want us to reform and we will do so. In recent months I have studied the various reports on reform and the Seanad Bill proposed by Senators Katherine Zappone and Feargal Quinn. One of the biggest concerns of the public is the fact that only 2% or 3% of the population has a vote in Seanad elections. The aforementioned Bill could provide everyone in Ireland with a vote, which is very interesting. A constitutional referendum would not be required to effect such a change. There are a lot of possibilities but we need to get it right. That will take a period of time.

Will the Leader facilitate a period of reflection for several months to ensure what happens in the future with this House will be correct, reflect what the people want and that this House will support our democracy, which is not even 100 years old? We still are a very young democracy and this Chamber will play a crucial role in not just getting us out of our present difficulties but ensuring Ireland becomes the best country in the world.

The Seanad has received an enormous mandate from the people.

An Leas-Cathaoirleach

The Senator’s time is up.

That mandate brings with it a deep responsibility. We certainly need to live up to and honour that responsibility.

An Leas-Cathaoirleach

The Leader has put statements on political reform on the Order Paper for tonight. It will be interesting to see how many of those Members who want to get in on the Order of Business will be here tonight for that debate. One political reform might be instead of Members and the media using and highlighting two minute soundbites on the Order of Business, they would choose not to ignore contributions made by Members over five hours on important legislation.

I will be in the Chamber tonight.

I just want to point out that we will have that special item later tonight.

I agree with the Leader that the most important issue is the forthcoming budget and jobs, particularly when we have one citizen leaving the State every six minutes due to emigration. The way we reform these Houses and our way of government will ensure, in the long term, that the economic crisis that befell us will not happen again. Colleagues have spoken about the Constitutional Convention but the issue of the Seanad’s place in the Constitution has been settled. It is not an issue for the Constitutional Convention to look at again. The two Seanad reform Bills introduced by Senators John Crown and Feargal Quinn and Katherine Zappone should be examined again. The Seanad Public Consultation Committee, which the Leader and Senator ivana Bacik have championed, is the proper way for the Seanad to examine its own role.

Many times I have pointed out how the Oireachtas has failed in EU scrutiny. In the first two years after the Lisbon treaty was passed, 139 items of legislation were sent from Europe to be examined by national parliaments. Of the 428 submissions made subsequently by national parliaments, Ireland made only one, an appalling record for a democracy. We must also examine the Seanad’s role in Government appointments and get an outside examination of our government system such as one by the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. The role of the permanent government in our democracy has never been analysed. It calls itself the permanent government and is always there. This week there will not be a debate on the forthcoming budget. It is the permanent government that frames the budget and decides the line items but the Ministers themselves do not even know what is in it before it is announced in the Dáil Chamber. That is not a way for a democracy to do business.

A reformed Seanad also needs to have a role and a vote for the Irish overseas, our emigrants and those in the North.

For once, we are all in agreement in this Chamber. Senator John Crown pointed to the outcome of the 1979 referendum which gave graduates from other third level institutions a vote in Seanad university elections. When I asked the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, why this referendum result had never been enacted, he could not answer. He did not bother coming back to me on it either.

To paraphrase Shakespeare, “I have come to bury the Seanad, not to praise it.” That is what Ministers and Deputies did. It is time they came back and said, “We have come to praise the Seanad, not to bury it.” From now on we should get the respect we deserve. When we debated the referendum, I stated I had no problem with the people making a choice on the Seanad. Strictly speaking, the vote was not about reforming the Seanad but retaining it as it stands. It is up to us as Senators, with the help of others who would give us advice, to reform it in a way that is for the betterment of society.

We still have people this week saying it is dysfunctional, it is an affront to democracy and it is undemocratic. Those people have no respect for their own Constitution. In the past few months, like the hounds after the hares, people could smell blood and they went after us, but it backfired on them. The Irish people are not stupid. I ask all Deputies and some Senators who say this is an affront to democracy to step back and examine themselves. They are saying they are part of an affront to democracy and part of an undemocratic institution. We got a reprieve, but it is up to us to prove the importance of the Seanad for the next Seanad, whatever form it takes. People should stop kicking us around as they have been doing. We are an easy target. The press and the political boot boys will move to another target.

I acknowledge the presence of the former Senator, Professor George Eogan, in the Visitors Gallery. Professor Eogan is one of our more distinguished predecessors, having led the excavations at Knowth. At the time he was the first person in Knowth in millennia, and in Newgrange. His contribution to Irish society and this Seanad should be recognised. I thank thim. He was in Nobber yesterday at the O'Carolan Harp, Cultural and Heritage Festival. I could not be there myself.

Many people, even at the very top of Government, do not know what the powers and functions of the Seanad are. I suggest the Oireachtas Library and Research Service set out a one page document on the functions of the Seanad. We have all heard about the 90 day delaying power, which is one of the main functions and powers of the Seanad, but we have a whole range of other powers not just in the Constitution but also in statute. We have to approve much European legislation in the area of justice and home affairs. As individual Members we have the same rights as Deputies in the Oireachtas committees. There are a range of other issues in legislation and it is important we set them out and assert ourselves as a Chamber. Only with that full knowledge of what we can and should do can we operate as a full Chamber. I do not know if the Leader has discussed today's extra business with my party leadership - I will go with their view on it - but my view is that it is way too early and we have a perfect opportunity on Thursday to do this. I will be here on Thursday. The Seanad should sit on Thursday and that is the view of most Members.

I was delighted earlier this year when the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government announced the establishment of the Pyrite Resolution Board and the pyrite remediation scheme. Only during the summer did I discover that this requires legislation to establish. I see no sign of the legislation and would like to know where it is. The Seanad would be willing to play its part and initiate that legislation to get it going. Announcements were made in March and during the summer about this issue and people were delighted. We welcomed this and did not begrudge it in any way. We want it to happen as soon as possible. I thought things would be moving by now and so did others because these houses are in such a bad state and they keep getting worse and worse. I would like the Seanad not to delay the scheme, even if the Government has not given us the legislation to pass.

Following on Senator Ned O'Sullivan's comments on reflection regarding last Friday's result, will the Leader ask the Government to reflect on the proposed changes in local government which will mean the decimation of local government as we understand it? There was an attempt last week to rush through the Local Government Bill, which I am glad to say was seen off. If we are reflecting, we should reflect on politics across the board in this country from town councils upwards.

I ask the Leader to pass that message on to the Taoiseach. I raise the terror that has been rained on people who are being asked to have their medical cards reviewed, particularly elderly people.

Medical cards are being withdrawn without the chance for people to do the necessary paperwork. For me, this was brought to a head in recent days when an 83 year old man whom I was helping and representing contacted me to state he was to have surgery this week but still had no medical card. This is an absolute disgrace. He has a low income and there is no reason his card should have been withdrawn. He returned the review forms to be told his card was being withdrawn. I ask the Leader to request that the HSE come to the House and explain what is happening with medical cards. It is unacceptable that the vulnerable in our society are treated like this and I want an answer.

Tá cuid mhaith Seanadóirí anseo ag caint faoin chúpla mí deacair a bhí againn. A number of Senators have bemoaned the difficult number of months we have had, but I contend that this pales to insignificance compared with the conditions that many people who find themselves in direct provision have gone through. I recommend all Senators read Carl O'Brien's articles in The Irish Times. He raises issues that have been raised many times in the House and also echoes the sentiments of the Ombudsman, Emily O'Reilly, and Mrs. Justice Catherine McGuinness. I also recommend people check out the Irish Refugee Council's website and read a number of the reports it has published. Even if one does not want to argue about the conditions and the human rights issues, one could look at it from a purely economic perspective. In the past month Senator Martin Conway and I were on a delegation that went to see the operation of the Portuguese system. Portugal is also a troika country in a bailout system. It has signed up to the EU reception conditions directive and provides a process which is much more humane and takes on board people's human rights and the need for integration. More importantly for the mandarins in the Department of Finance, it costs much less. The Portuguese refugee council, which deals with most of the people seeking refugee status, works on a budget of approximately €1 million per year. We spend €73 million on the direct provision system, €63 million of which goes to the companies running the direct provision system. This system is a gravy train for people and companies running a very inhumane system. The State has abdicated its responsibility in this case and we need a debate as soon as possible on what has been brought to light. I call for this debate to happen on Thursday. Let us ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House on Thursday and debate this as a very urgent issue.

Given the historic day that is in it I ask the Leader to extend the Order of Business by a few minutes to allow everyone to speak. I am sure whatever Minister is standing by will not mind under the circumstances.

As a matter of utmost urgency I call on the relevant Minister to come to the House to discuss the situation of junior doctors. It is incredible that these people are expected to work such hours if one considers that truck drivers would be jailed for working the same hours and pilots would surely be arrested for doing the same. Today 13,000 operations have been cancelled and a skeleton Sunday-type service is being run throughout the country. It is very worrying and is foremost in all of our minds. We should press ahead immediately with a debate.

We all welcome the result of recent days. While we are reflecting and having a period of calmness we might get on with a little work. With respect, I do not know that we must wait for the Government to order the business in this House. Nothing in the Constitution states this. If a Minister is not available, I suggest the Secretary to the Government come to take notes and pass them directly to his masters in the Cabinet.

Senator Mark Daly has rightly pointed out that EU scrutiny effectively does not take place in this country. Civil servants in this country, with their counterparts in Brussels, formulate policy and both Houses of the Oireachtas rubber-stamp it. The committee system is a second rubber stamp. The legislative programme for the European Commission from July to December this year has 67 pages of proposed directives that probably will not get a minute's debate in this House before they have passed the point of no return. They will come here as primary legislation when the Minister of the day will tell us they must be transposed by a particular date because we have signed up to them.

I suggest that, with or without the Minister, with or without the Secretary to the Government of the day to sit there, we give them a copy of the recordings and begin to take the 67 pages of proposed legislation before it passes the point of no return in these Houses.

Because I have been one of those who have been most critical, I wholeheartedly welcome to the House Lise Hand and her colleagues. I very much hope this marks a new dawn where, rather than just covering the intemperate outbursts, albeit rare but occasional, by me and others, they will cover the very worthwhile work done in the House. Senator David Norris mentioned some issues that began in this House. It was in 2009 that the issue of mortgage arrears was brought up here and that the first legislation emerged from it. There are countless such examples. Considering how they voted, the people are entitled to know this.

It is refreshing to see the interest among the media today. I welcome Miriam Lord from The Irish Times, Lise Hand from the Irish Independent and Shaun Connolly from the Irish Examiner. I am disappointed RTE and TV3 are not represented also because I believe the coverage of last week's events influenced the outcome of the vote on Friday, given the 27-23 vote last Wednesday on Senator Feargal Quinn's Bill on upward-only rent reviews, which was very useful. At this stage, I also pay tribute to the retired journalist Jimmy Walsh who covered this House for a very long time.

An interesting point is that on 1 July 1937 the plebiscite was held on the Constitution. Some 685,105 voted for, while 526,945 voted against. The number who voted on Friday to get rid of the Seanad was 591,937, while 634,437 voted against. Therefore, the numbers are quite close in the two events. However, we have to move on. I have presented to the Leader of the House, Senator Maurice Cummins, an open letter from the former Leader, Mrs. Mary O'Rourke, which is very worthwhile and should be considered in the light of his discussions on reform. I believe the letter will be published in the Irish Independent tomorrow.

The Leader played a very decisive role by way of his calm approach to the future of the House. The Leader of Fianna Fáil, Deputy Micheál Martin, also played a very important role, as did Senators David Norris, Sean D. Barrett, Katherine Zappone, John Crown, Feargal Quinn, Rónán Mullen and others, not excluding Members of both Houses, including Labour Party, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil Members who played a very decisive role. As someone who attended this House as a Minister, I can say that when all is said and done, I respected it so much. I found it to be the most incisive and responsive House of Parliament. I got and took the best advice here. I amended Bills, as the record of the House will show. We should never diminish its role, rather we should respect it. I wish all of my colleagues continued success and the respect that this House was shown by the people last Friday.

I remind Senators that we are 12 minutes over the allotted time. I am trying to be fair, but most Members have taken advantage of my indulgence, some by nearly two minutes.

In a few moments we will be discussing a Private Members' motion tabled by the Labour Party Senators which deals with struggling towns throughout the country. It is a very good motion and exceptionally comprehensive. It deals with the real issues in the real Ireland. We are talking about towns in which small businesses have their doors padlocked and there are shutters on the windows. Even those that have survived are wondering whether they can pay the commercial rates charged and insurance premiums. What we are seeing is a haemorrhaging of young people from these towns to the four corners of the earth looking for work. Some 140 Garda stations have been closed down. The greatest insult is that these towns are to have their statutory voice removed by having the local council abolished. I was wondering on Sunday morning, after the referendum, whether people were reflecting on what way their lives had changed as a result of the referendum.

Will democracy have been improved in some way? Reform is in the air; it is like a mandate. It is like a sedative, but it does not change anything outside this House. People will not be jumping up and down, unless we do our work.

I was listening to Michael O'Regan, political correspondent of The Irish Times, who made a lot of good sense in one sentence. He said what we needed was more policies and less politics. The greatest reform we could have is to loosen the strings of control and put the Whip aside on occasions. We should not force people to press buttons and fill seats when they have a different view of what is being put before them. The people will be looking for this. They will not be looking for gloating or grandiose grandstanding. What they want is for us to do our job. In fairness to the Seanad, there is less personality politics in this House than in the Dáil. There is greater scrutiny of legislation. One statistic I came across is that in 2009, 1,201 amendments to legislation were accepted. If that had not happened, that legislation would be law with all of the flaws contained in it. We should, therefore, forget about patting ourselves on the back. We should do one thing, namely, keep an eye on the real ball, an ear to the ground and, above all else, give the service - pay or no pay - that we want to give and promised to give to the people.

The referendum outcome underlines the importance of democracy in the country. People sometimes take for granted the views of the public, but we should never underestimate its views or knowledge of our political institutions. The public indicated in its vote on Friday that it relished democracy, that it wanted more, not less, and that it wanted the Government and all institutions, including the Civil Service, to be held accountable.

The word "reflection" was mentioned. It might not be the right word. The word "reform" is also being used extensively, but we need to bring about change, not just to Seanad Éireann. There must not just be a knee-jerk reaction but change to the way in which politics is done in this country, from local council level through to Government level. That can only be done in a uniform manner. It must not be a knee-jerk reaction or amount to political populism, the course of action taken by the Taoiseach and certain elements of Fine Gael and the Labour Party. Sinn Féin then jumped on the bandwagon because the opinion polls were suggesting it was popular to do so.

That is from the party that did a U-turn on the issue.

We need political courage at a time when the country is at a crossroads, not politicians jumping on the bandwagon of political opportunism and reacting to the manner in which polls-----


That is not leadership; it is exploiting opportunity. If we are to turn the country around, we need leadership from the political classes, not populism.

I have spent 12 years in the Seanad. I am a full-time Senator; I am on the job seven days a week helping people around the country. I felt very diminished by what had happened in recent months, but I have been re-energised and I am moving forward.

I raise a very important issue. On the front page of the Irish Independent today there is a picture of Gay Byrne with his friend, Bertie Ahern. Underneath the picture it states: "Gay: I'll quit day job at 80." Some months ago I introduced a Bill in the Seanad to end compulsory retirement at 65 years.

With all due respect, if Mr. Gay Byrne can continue his job until he decides to go and Mr. Pat Kenny can also decide when he wishes to go, why are we depriving older Irish citizens of the opportunity to remain in their jobs after 65 years of age if they wish to do so or to work part time? In addition, this is an issue on which the Whip system should be withdrawn. We want to improve society and equality for Irish people. I will push this Bill.

We have had Second Stage and it was supported on all sides. This is Fianna Fáil policy and the Bill was seconded by Senator John Crown. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, said that while he did not normally agree with Fianna Fáil policy, he was glad this one was put forward. It had the support of practically all Senators but due to the Whip system, the Government Senators had to vote against it. I am calling for a new way of doing business here. I will push this issue forward. I am here to improve society and help Irish people. We should abolish the concept of mandatory retirement at 65 years of age.

I call Senator Jim Walsh. There are two Senators still to speak; we are approximately 15 minutes over the time limit and the Minister is waiting; therefore, I ask the Senator to be brief.

I understood the Chair was not going to call me owing to the time constraints.

I am being extremely indulgent because of it being an historic day, but I must be cognisant of those who are waiting also.

"Reform" is obviously the buzz word of the moment. In that regard, there should be an in-depth debate in the House with the Minister for Health on the HSE. The HSE has been dysfunctional, and recognised as such, for a number of years. It must be overhauled and, in my opinion, totally restructured. The fact that we find ourselves in a position where people who are in need of medical attention are being deprived of it because doctors have decided to go on strike, is highly regrettable and should have been avoidable. To expect people these days to work over 100 hours per week, apart from the effects on themselves and the fact that it breaches any sort of employment law, is obviously a risk factor for patients. I seek a full debate on this issue.

We must also examine the payment structure within the health service. Since I became a Member of this House I have been a long-time critic of the failure of successive Administrations to tackle both legal and medical fees, which are nothing short of a scandal. However, there appears to be no appetite or courage on the part of politicians to do that. The time has now come. Members of this House have a significant mandate from the people, for the second time in this Seanad's term, and we should discuss and seek the changes that are necessary in the interests of our citizens.

Friday's achievement was that it put an end to a growing period of heedlessness in this country. Despite what we might think of ourselves and our power, it took the people to do that. We could not represent the people and be listened to during the past summer in this House. However, the vote we received on Friday is not for back to normal but to go forward. We have been given a clear signal by the people that we have a responsibility to reform both this House and the other House in order that both can work effectively to quickly meet the needs and issues facing the people.

I agree with reflection. Will the Leader bring motion No. 8 on the Order Paper, tabled by me and Senator Paul Bradford, to the attention of the Taoiseach in order that it could also form part of his reflections? It proposes that we have proposals from Members on all sides of the House, that we have a set of agreed proposals for reform by 20 February 2014 and that a committee be established to achieve this and reflect the membership of this House. I hope the same will happen in the other House. I thank the Leader for putting the issue of political reform on the agenda this evening. However, I ask him to communicate my request to the Taoiseach.

I understand there are time constraints, but I must refer to a couple of matters after listening to what has been said here today.

It is particularly audacious for my colleague, Senator David Cullinane, to lay the blame for the referendum result at the door of the Taoiseach. I remind the Senator that his party collaborated in the Taoiseach's solo run and was only too willing to act like Shane O'Donnell, receiving the hand pass at the end of the solo run to put the ball in the back of the net. That has to be said.

The Fine Gael-Sinn Féin alliance is up and running.

It is in government with the DUP.

A Senator

The Government of the future.

We are well over the time limit. Please allow Senator James Heffernan to make his contribution without interruption.

I apologise to the Leas-Chathaoirleach, but I cannot let this go. What annoyed me most during the campaign was the contributions made by two of the privileged Taoiseach's eleven who derided Members and this Chamber. I say to those two Members from Galway that they know where the door is. Let them use it and make way for Senators such as Senator Katherine Zappone who has the courage and integrity to stand up for what the Seanad is about.

There were also many on the opposite side who showed tremendous courage during the debate. I recall Senator Tony Mulcahy who before the summer blew the spurious €20 million argument out of the water and left it bare for all to see. I refer, in particular, to the Labour Party Members who stood up and were counted during the debate. Fair play to them and well done.

I hope the House will join me in proposing a special vote of thanks to the Leader of the House, Senator Maurice Cummins, for the courage, commitment and dignity he showed during the campaign.

I will speak briefly before the Leader replies. It was an historic, constitutional occasion. Everybody in the House, acting not only as part of an institution but as individuals, should have learned something from the debate, be it good or bad. It was good for the future of the institution, although the outcome was probably unexpected. Many citizens may have forgotten that since 1 January 1938 the imprint of every piece of legislation passed into law has had the involvement of Seanad Éireann, but many are slow to forget this. Perhaps the Leader or somebody else might enlighten me. I hear the argument that 60% of the electorate did not turn up. I have been involved in politics for a long time, ever since I was a child. I have never seen more than 70%, on average, turn out to vote. The average is in the high 50s and low 60s. From my research, it appears the turnout in this referendum is in the top six for referendums held in the past 20 years. These things puzzle me. Perhaps the Leader has some answers, but I thought it was a substantial turnout. The citizens had their say and gave their verdict, which was positive for this institution. I respect this.

I thank the Leader for his indulgence. It is an unusual and historic day for this establishment. I apologise for allowing everybody in, but there will be no vote on the Order of Business and I took the liberty to try to give everybody his or her say on the day that was in it.

We certainly have had a marathon session. I do not wish to reply to all of the comments made on the Seanad referendum and the issue of political reform because we will have another opportunity to do so later today. I am sure we will have a comprehensive debate, not only on the issue of Seanad reform but also on political reform in general.

Senator Ivana Bacik raised the issue of Priory Hall, as did other Members. I hope that matter will be resolved amicably in the coming days.

Senator Katherine Zappone referred to the issue of legislative change being required for reform. I agree with her that there is no appetite among the public for another referendum on the issue of how individuals should be elected to Seanad Éireann. Therefore, we must deal with that matter through legislative change.

Senator David Norris called for a permanent electoral commission. I will bring that matter to the attention of the Government. I note the Senator's points on the ballot papers. Many pointed out that the ballot papers for the referendums were less than clear and this matter will have to be addressed in future ballots.

Senators Paul Coghlan, Mark Daly, Marc MacSharry and others referred to EU directives. I am firmly of the view that this House should be involved in the scrutiny of EU directives, but there are very few due to be transposed into Irish law before the end of the year. We have already had two debates on different directives - the first on a health directive, in which four Members spoke, and the second on a directive on child exploitation, in which 12 Senators spoke. If anybody wishes to bring forward further suggestions for debate on directives, I will certainly facilitate them. I agree that scrutiny of EU legislation is an area in which this House should have a greater involvement.

Senator Paul Coghlan and others referred to the importance of ensuring the new Court of Appeal is established as a matter of urgency.

Senators Aideen Hayden, Jillian van Turnhout and Trevor Ó Clochartaigh raised the issue of direct provision for asylum seekers, with reference to a report in The Irish Times today. That report shows that the inspection regime put in place by the Reception and Integration Agency, within the remit of the Department of Justice and Equality, is working. Identifying problems and having them fixed is the purpose of a good inspection regime. Maintenance issues are an ongoing fact of life and dealt with on a comprehensive basis by that body. I hope to have the Minister in the House in early course for a debate on the issue. I had asked that he come on Thursday, but he indicated that he was unavailable. I assure Senators that I will ask him to come to the House soon to address the matters they have raised.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell sought details of the sale of the national lottery franchise. She might table the issue for discussion with the relevant Minister on the Adjournment.

Senators Colm Burke, Marc MacSharry and John Crown referred to the need to resolve the dispute between junior doctors and the Health Service Executive at the earliest possible date. All Members share that wish.

Senators John Crown and John Whelan referred to the 1979 referendum on Seanad reform, in respect of which no legislation has ever been implemented. I hope a motion will be put to the House urging the Government to implement the provisions of that referendum as soon as possible.

Senator David Cullinane referred to job creation. As I said, the Government's focus in the forthcoming budget and in general is on jobs and job creation. The Senator expressed his regret at the loss of 70 jobs in my home city. However, Honeywell has offered assurances regarding its continued confidence in Waterford, where 300 people remain employed.

Senator Catherine Noone raised the issue of submissions to the Minister for Finance on the sugar tax. I am sure he has received these submissions, but we will have to wait until next week to see whether he acts on them. The Senator welcomed the measures being taken by the European Union to tackle the abuse of tobacco. This initiative was led by the Government and, as I am sure everybody will accept, represents a win for all the people of Europe in taking on the tobacco industry.

Senator Ned O'Sullivan referred to political reform, an issue I have covered. With Senator John Gilroy, he has reminded the House that this is nurses week. We all agree with their comments lauding the important work of nurses and midwives.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout referred to the Health Information and Quality Authority's report on a facility in Monaghan.

I understand a decision has been taken by HIQA to close the unit by the end of October. There are two young people residing in the unit and the HSE is finding suitable alternative placements for them. All managers and staff in the unit will be redeployed.

Senator Mark Daly mentioned EU directives. With regard to pyrite legislation, I will find out for Senator Thomas Byrne the current status of the Bill.

On the point raised by Senator Denis Landy, we will have the local government Bill in the House in the next couple of weeks. I also note the Senator's point on medical cards, a matter I will bring to the attention of the Minister for Health. Compared to when the Government took office, 250,000 more people are eligible for free GP care, a point that should be highlighted.

Most of the other points concern reform of the House and the body politic. Senator Mary White mentioned her Bill on mandatory retirement, a point that will be addressed again in the House. On the point made by Senator Fidelma Healy Eames, I will listen to proposals for reform of the House from any quarter and bring these matters to the attention of the Government. Senator James Heffernan commented on the role of Sinn Féin in the campaign.

Order of Business agreed to.