Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 28 Nov 2013

Vol. 227 No. 14

Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, Oireachtas (Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices) (Amendment) Bill 2013 – Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 11.45 a.m. after the Order of Business; and No. 2, Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Bill 2013 – Committee Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m.

We will oppose the Order of Business. As my colleague Deputy Thomas Byrne mentioned the other day, it is not in keeping with the programme for Government to have Committee Stage of this most important Bill two days after Second Stage. Fundamental changes and reform to pension law are proposed as part of the Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Bill. In the referendum the people voted to keep what they hoped would be a reflective thoughtful Chamber which would give appropriate consideration to important legislation such as the Bill. The Bill will not get the consideration it deserves and requires. We have had an opportunity to table amendments, but by no means have we had an opportunity to assess the impact of the Bill to the extent we should between Second and Committee Stages to table the optimum number of amendments. As Senator Byrne stated on Tuesday, we will oppose the Order of Business in this regard.

I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, comes to the House later to discuss the Central Bank report to be announced at 11 a.m. As seems to be so often the case the media is better informed than the Houses of the Oireachtas. In the Irish Independent today, Charlie Weston highlights what he believes to be part of the report, which is that the number of people throughout the country in arrears for more than three months is almost as high as 100,000. This is despite the Taoiseach and the Minister stating the 30% target for work-outs with people in arrears is being reached by most of the banks. The fox is still in charge of the henhouse and nobody is looking after the people. I have anecdotal evidence from people coming to my clinics that banks, particularly those which have chosen to exit the Irish market, are honing in on people with additional equity in their properties to ensure they sell them to give the bank the quickest exit. This does not give the consumer the best outcome. The forbearance options put on the table are those which suit the bank and not the people. Since 2008 we have sat late hours to deal with bank guarantees and the provision of funds from parties on both sides of the House. Rather than taking on board the spirit with which this was done the banks are showing contempt for consumers. The forbearance options put forward are for the banks and are not in the best interests of the consumers or the struggling coping classes.

Yesterday, several days in advance of the Labour Party conference, the Tánaiste spoke quite cynically about potential tax cuts for the coping classes. The biggest challenge we have had in recent years is the mortgage crisis and all we have done is put the fox in charge of the henhouse and nobody is looking after the people. We used to talk about getting guarantees for banks and money for them and their systemic importance. What about the systemic importance of the real people on the streets in Ireland who are struggling with this? Rhetoric from the Tánaiste several days in advance of the party conference on cutting taxes is disingenuous in the extreme when the people yearn and need real and tangible solutions for their mortgage difficulties.

It is quite amusing to hear Senator MacSharry call the comments of the Tánaiste on potential future tax reform cynical given his performance in this House on a number of occasions.

I welcome the fact the Garda has cancelled an urgent alert regarding a Roscommon woman and her three children, which was raised after the family had been last seen at approximately 3 p.m. yesterday. Aside from the fact the family is safe and sound and receiving help it is reassuring to know the child rescue Ireland, CRI, alert system was successful in this instance. Such an alert is only launched where a child is under the age of 18, where there is a reasonable belief there is an immediate risk to the health and welfare of the child and there is sufficient information to enable the public to help in locating the child. I congratulate the Garda and the PSNI on the successful outcome in this instance.

I also welcome the Revenue extension of the filing deadline for property tax. There has been a bit of a steep learning curve for the Revenue Commissioners in this particular instance but they have shown themselves willing to listen to the public. They have made it clear those who have contacted Revenue and left a message to state they may not get in before the deadline will be deemed to have met the deadline. I hope the learning from this experience will be taken on board by the Revenue Commissioners for next year.

Yesterday at the Public Accounts Committee it was revealed the fund-raising arm of the Central Remedial Clinic has €14 million sitting in a bank account. I am very concerned as to why the money is sitting there. There have been a number of controversies recently relating to HSE pay which have impacted on the confidence people have in the charity sector, particularly when it is given to be understood the money people donate in good faith goes to top up people's salaries. As someone involved in the charitable sector I am very aware the Christmas period is one when charities dependent on the public for most of the money they receive in the year. As a matter of urgency I would like to see the Minister responsible for the charitable sector come to the House to reassure people there is sufficient regulation to ensure money brought in will go where it needs to go.

I reiterate the call for a debate on homelessness which I made yesterday.

The evidence is very disturbing that the number of people presenting to homeless services has risen dramatically over the past 12 months. I would like the debate in this House not to mirror the debate yesterday in the Dáil. I do not want to go into the issues but I would like this House to have an evidenced-based debate, because it is a matter of interest to all sectors of the House, and not one during which people scream and shout at each other claiming to know more homeless people than the next. There is evidence the Government is taking action, particularly with regard to the annual extra provision cold weather shelter rolled out by the Dublin regional homeless executive. I am aware the Government's policy, which is prevention and move on, is based on evidence and international best practice. More than 80% of people in homeless services want a home and are capable of independent living. For anyone to suggest people in homeless services are there because it is a choice is a disgrace.

I second the call by Senator Hayden for a debate on homelessness before Christmas. We have a top expert in the Seanad who can provide us with evidence for the debate and I hope the request will be acceded to. I am a reasonable woman and I have a reasonable question for the Acting Leader.

My understanding is that next week a very significant Bill will be before the other House. It is the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill 2013, for which we have been waiting for quite some time. It will be extremely important in ensuring greater equality and support for people with disabilities. I have invited some of the top technical experts in the country to provide a briefing for Members on this long-awaited Bill. When it is passed, my understanding is that it will enable us to be ready to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; therefore, it is very important that we get it right. My question is about the use of the audio-visual room for the briefing. I requested use of the audio-visual room to allow these experts to brief Members on this very significant law. I received a note back from the proper channels stating the Dáil Committee on Procedure and Privileges had agreed that only school groups could use the audio-visual room up to 2 p.m. and, therefore, my request would have to be refused but that I could use certain other rooms. I am not happy with that answer. My group leader, Senator Jillian van Turnhout, has written a letter to the Cathaoirleach requesting that the briefing take place in the audio-visual room. We have not yet received a response. If there is a problem with the overuse of the audio-visual room, so be it. Let us have a meeting and set up guidelines, but let us use that space to brief Members on important items such as law making. During the recent referendum debate there was much touting on the importance of engaging experts for law makers to help us to do the right thing. Can the decision be amended and guidelines written? Can I at least have my experts in the audio-visual room next week to brief Members on this significant Bill?

By way of clarification, the Committee on Procedure and Privileges of the Seanad has not accepted the decision of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges of the Dáil. Consequently, the view was that Seanad Members should not be treated in the same way, if the committee on Procedure and Privileges of the Dáil took a decision affecting its Members. That clarification might by useful to the Senator and the Leader.

Thank you very much, a Leas-Chathaoirligh because I have received a letter back through the ushers to say I cannot use the room.

The matter is still sub judice, but I am informing the Senator and the House of the deliberations of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges of the Seanad.

Thank you; I appreciate it.

The Minister for Education and Skills spoke eloquently this morning on radio about junior cycle reform. The new junior cycle programme will begin for students in 2014 and among the key features will be a focus on literacy, numeracy and other key skills. The changes will be made incrementally and the first subject to be affected is English, with the first assessment in 2018. The Minister has acknowledged that teachers have concerns that will be addressed. That is welcome. I recall that when the primary school curriculum was being overhauled, for each subject there were three days of in-service training; two outside and one inside the school. There will be one day's in-service training in the case of the new junior cycle programme. The new English curriculum is quite complex and will need much discussion. It is welcome that the Minister is committed to discussing the issue with the unions.

We had a debate in this House on the teaching of history. Some regretted that it would no longer be compulsory. While I opposed the motion on that occasion, I recognise the importance of history in the junior cycle secondary school curriculum and think we should all insist on it receiving a strong place in the new programme. As the discussions develop with the unions and teachers, I would welcome an opportunity to hear the Minister's views on the progress being made on this very important reform of the education system.

I would like to confirm what the Leas-Chathaoirleach said about the audio-visual room. This issue was brought up at a meeting of the Committee on Members' Interests and I strongly opposed the attempt to encroach on our rights. Decisions were taken then. Senator Diarmuid Wilson has followed up the matter and our decision is that pending the full establishment of our rights, to which we strongly hold, the audio-visual room is available and that it is not up to the staff of the Oireachtas to tell this House how it should order its business or where meetings should be held.

It is important at this time of year to consider the joys of Christmas. I hail somebody whom I think is one of the greatest leaders of the last millennium. I refer to Pope Francis, even though I am not a Roman Catholic. He has a thing called an apostolic exhortation which is not an encyclical but a most fascinating document. Since the Vatican is both a state and a church, we should discuss it in this House because he goes straight to the heart of matters dealing with the church. He addresses the document to all baptised people to express the joy of the Gospels. He talks about narrowness within the churches and the many who feel superior to others because they remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past. He talks about excessive clericalism and democratising and decentralising the Vatican. He talks most significantly about the injustice of the current financial system and the tyranny of market capitalism and the fact that the economy kills people, as we know it does. It has killed people in this country, where it is survival of the fittest and the law of the jungle prevails. He talks about the unemployed across the European Union and claims the rate is up to 40%, while in Spain it is 60% for those under 25 years. A man with this vision who also speaks about the homeless is somebody to whom we really should listen. This is a very significant document. We have a situation across the world where there is no moral leadership among political or religious leaders. Here is somebody who is showing us the way and giving us an opportunity and I hope we can discuss this very important document, either before or immediately after Christmas. I also salute the Muslim Minister from Britain who, transcending her own religious views, spoke about the discrimination against and the ethnic cleansing of Christian communities in the Middle East. I am very pleased to learn from the Irish Genealogical Society that it has helped in the restoration of one of the world's great libraries, the National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo. In the past few days pallets of books donated from Ireland, a very significant proportion of which were donated by Professor Geraldine Smith of the School of Ecumenics in Trinity College, Dublin, have made their way to Sarajevo to help to repair the gap created during the bombardment of that city when remarkable, beautiful and irreplaceable manuscripts from the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Muslim and Jewish traditions were destroyed. That is very important. My main plea is that we take this important document from such a significant world figure and examine it, not just in its religious context, although I do not see why this House should not discuss that aspect, but particularly in the light of its concern for democratisation and the poor and the worry about the ruthlessness and callousness of the financial system.

In light of the terrible burglary in County Tipperary last weekend and the brutality of the gang's actions towards the Corcoran family, I request that the Minister for Justice and Equality come into the House to debate the possibility of amending the criminal law to prevent similar attacks happening in the future. We must send a message to those living in rural Ireland that they are safe in their homes. The closure of some rural Garda stations and the ever improving road network has only served to give these gurriers the confidence to rob, pilfer and maim those people who are living in rural areas. The human cost is such that the victims and their families are likely to be traumatised for the rest of their lives. It is up to us as legislators to ensure the inviolability of the dwelling is upheld and that people feel safe in their homes.

We must look at the statistics. Only one fifth of sentences for burglary convictions lead to jail terms of more than five years, while almost half of all convictions for burglary attract sentences of three years or less. To add insult to injury for those affected by the actions of these thugs, many robberies are carried out by repeat offenders. There is no minimum or mandatory sentences for burglars. I think this is unacceptable, given the spate and gravity of attacks in recent years. We can see from the statistics that the criminals involved are not being deterred from committing burglary again.

Is the Senator calling for a debate on the matter?

I certainly am. It is high time that we strive for better standards in our criminal justice system. We must work to ensure that justice is seen to be done, not only for the victims but for society as a whole. We are doing an injustice to everyone in the country by not having mandatory sentences for people who commit burglaries. A mandatory, or at least a minimum, sentence for burglary would act as a deterrent and would be more palatable for the victims and the thousands of people who are living in fear of burglars in rural areas.

On a point of order, may I point out that the word "gurrier" is on the index of prohibited words in this House, unlike the 'F' word, which I used some time ago in all innocence and which was misinterpreted by dirty minded people.

I note Senator Norris's intervention but it is not a point of order.

I beg the pardon of the Chair. I will withdraw it instantly.

I totally support the well made arguments of Senator Jim D'Arcy on the changes in the junior cycle curriculum, particularly his comments on the teaching of English and History, as I taught both these subjects. One day's in-service training for teachers to come to terms with the whole new system will not be adequate. The success of the system is predicated entirely on the full co-operation and understanding of the teaching cohort.

I have said before that the reason many young people find history unpalatable is because of the way it is being taught. The students are being fed a load of facts without ever trying to find out why things happened. History can be an enthralling subject. The Chinese communist leader Deng Xiaoping when asked for his assessment of the French Revolution said: "It is too early to say". That might be one extreme but during the time I was teaching, the teaching of history was not fit for purpose.

May I ask the Acting Leader to invite the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton to the House to discuss the manner in which medical investigations are conducted for those who apply for benefits based on disability, such as the invalidity pension? It is clearly important that the medical regime is strict to ensure only people who are entitled to these pensions would get them. In my view there is a lack of transparency in the process. A person may have to wait for months to see a doctor and then faces a further waiting period to get a result and yet receives a letter stating in one line that he or she is suitable or unsuitable for the grant. I do not think that is good enough in this day and age. People should receive a comprehensive answer as they are entitled to know the reason they have been deemed unsuitable. I am not casting any aspersions on the medical corps in the Department of Social Protection, but the system must be transparent. There is a valid suspicion in the community that the medical process is often used to save money by delaying and dragging out the process. How many medical opinions are overturned on appeal? I have seen a number of cases , in which it seemed clear to me that the applicant was entitled to an invalidity pension but was refused in the first instances, but some 12 or 18 months later following an appeal process is adjudicated to be entitled to the benefit. That person's condition may not have changed one whit in the meantime. The reason I raise this issue is as a result of a case I am involved in. An individual with profound Parkinson's disease has had to wait for two years for his invalidity benefit to be granted. This former self-employed man has been living on his savings and I think it is very unfair that it has taken such a long period to be granted an invalidity payment. I would like a comprehensive explanation of the Department of Social Protection's medical procedure.

We hope to see the publication of a Bill on the extension of the university panel. That is very welcome. It will increase the franchise to graduates of all universities and third level institutions. A person with a third level qualification will have a vote in the Seanad elections under this new panel. I request a debate on this prior to the publication of the Bill so that we can have an input into the legislation. We have the possibility of creating a modern, up-to-date online voter system, so that graduates would be able to log on, register and vote by e-mail. That would also be a step in the right direction towards equality - I mean equality for people with-----

It would like hell. May I correct that? There would be 750,000 voters for the university seats and there are fewer than a thousand voters on the other panels. There is only one elector for the Taoiseach's nominations.

Will Senator Norris please resume his seat? It is unfair to interject. This is the second time the Senator has interjected.

A Leas-Chathaoirleach, if Senator Norris had the manners-----

Senator Conway, I have dealt with the matter. Please continue.

I was talking about equality for people who are blind and visually impaired who are not in a position to vote.

In that case, I beg the Senator's pardon.

Senator Conway, please do not get distracted, and continue with your point. I have dealt with Senator Norris.

At present the blind or visually impaired graduates who need assistance to vote on the university panels must ask a third party for assistance, whereas if there was an e-mail or electronic form of voting they would be able to vote and exercise their democratic right without the need for assistance from a third party. This Bill gives Members an opportunity to be able to look at ways and means of taking a step in the right direction for equality and complying with our obligation under various laws including the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

Unfortunately my train of thought was totally thrown by that obscene interruption.

I join with Senator Hayden in commending the PSNI in Enniskillen on finding the missing children from County Roscommon. I think the expert advice in the early hours is important. It was terrific they found the children so soon. They deserve the thanks of the House for that.

I also thank the Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Sean Sherlock. Yesterday, when responding to amendments during our discussions on the regulation of accountants, he agreed to talk to Senator Quinn and us on the delays in procedure, the lack of penalties, restrictions on the authority of the regulatory body and the fact that bodies such as the EBS, the INBS and credit unions which, because they are not listed on the Stock Exchange, are not subject to the same regulation.

It was an important gesture by the Minister. The regulation of accountants has been let slip.

Later this morning we will debate pensions and will make additional provision for the restructuring of certain occupational pension schemes for the purpose of reducing benefits paid to certain person under such schemes. A most interesting debate on pension fees is happening in the UK today. The UK Government plans to cap pension management fees at 0.75% but Legal & General claims it should be 0.5%. A 1% increase in administration fees adds €120,000 to an average pension so we need to debate pensions in the House. We are bailing out some pensions from a welfare point of view but we do not want to bail out high cost and inefficient companies. I seek a debate, particularly apropos of the developments in the UK today and on the costs of maladministration. The failure to properly take demographic developments into account and so on costs people on pensions because each 1% increase in administration costs €120,000. I seek a debate on that aspect of pensions and want the matter added to what the Minister will discuss with us later this morning. Go raibh maith agat.

I agree with Senator Zappone's comment on the audio-visual room and appreciated the intervention of the Leas-Chathaoirleach. The debate underlines the importance of this room. As she rightly pointed out, the legislation has been awaited for a long time and is hugely important. The idea that we would be unable or hindered in our own understanding of it, particularly following her efforts to organise a briefing, and somehow we could not conduct it, seems to me to be down to a lack of common sense. I trust that common sense will prevail.

Last week I raised a matter and I remind the Leader again that we seek a debate with the Minister for Education and Skills on the chief inspector's report. Today, I welcome the Minister's report on nine new schools and their ethos. It is the first time for us to see clear evidence of parents having their say on the choice of ethos for the schools. The variation in ethos shows the diversity that he hopes to introduce and the range of teaching and ethos that would be available in those schools which reflects the children living in those communities. The initiative gives parents strength and provides them with a say and stake in the running of the schools which is welcome.

In the absence of Senator Bacik I welcome an additional 950 bicycles to the streets of Dublin as part of the Dublin Bikes scheme. I know that she would welcome the scheme's extension if she were present. The additional bikes mean that she may have to fight harder for her space on the roads that she cycles along. I welcome the statement made by the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Oísin Quinn, that he will not accept sponsorship from drink companies for the bike system. Obviously the council needs sponsorship but he said that is important not to link alcohol near the good work done by the National Roads Authority to promote Dublin as a city that welcomes and promotes cycling.

Go raibh míle maith agat. I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for giving me the opportunity to once again raise the issue of the Russian adoption crisis in Seanad Éireann. The Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald has three weeks to fulfil her own words from her initiative, Putting Children First. She has three weeks to make a clear and courageous decision to save stranded children in Russia and take prospective adoptive parents out of their living hell. She has three weeks to act with compassion and grant the much sought after amendment to the 2010 adoptive legislation. It will allow a small number of Irish families to bring home the Russian child that they already love as their own.

The Irish adoptive parents' circumstances are no different today than they were prior to the Hague Convention deadline of 31 October. They are still approved to adopt children and love the children that many of them have met. The adoptive parents should not be punished for exceptional circumstances that are not of their making.

Last Sunday I attended the commemoration of the setting up of Óglaigh na hÉireann held at the Garden of Remembrance. I spoke face to face with the Minister on the issue. She advised me that she was working flat out on the issue but flat out is not good enough. Every day I hear the word “leadership” bandied about and I call for political leadership. She has been elected as a leader and part of her job is to make political decisions so let her get on with amending the 2010 legislation.

I wish to say a few words on the threatened industrial action by ESB workers that is due to take place nine days before Christmas. It seems an unnecessary dispute.

The ESB pensions are fully funded until 2018, according to the Pensions Board. I recall that a couple of hundred million euro was injected into the fund less than two years ago but a funding plan must be agreed in order to bring it back to financial health. As we all know many pension funds are in trouble at this time. Nobody in the ESB pension is under threat, no jobs are under threat and no pay cuts are required. Meetings are due to take place between management and unions this week and next week and I hope that this unnecessary action will not go ahead. I hate to think of the impact a strike would have on businesses, schools and primary health care centres. The strike is and should be of great concern to us all in the House. It is an unreasonable threat and I want both sides to step back from the brink and ensure that we have no cutbacks and that no strike action takes place this Christmas or in the years ahead. Both sides must reach agreement and I hope that talks will be successful. Go raibh maith agat.

Senator Mary White has raised the issue of Russian adoption again and I have also discussed the matter. Yesterday I discussed the problem with the Minister. Clearly, her heart is in the right place but, as Senator White has said, that is not enough. We must encourage the Minister to find a solution. I gather that the matter is in the hands of the Attorney General and that is where the matter is being held up. I know that the Minister understands the problem. Only four or five families are involved so it should not be an insurmountable issue. There is a difficulty with the Russian adoption on that basis. I hope that the Minister will solve the matter because time is short.

Two years ago we had a very good debate here on food waste which acted as a reminder to us all of the amount of food that is wasted. In the western world we produce about 300% more food than we need yet 1 billion people per day go hungry and suffer malnutrition in the rest of the world. The main cause is that people in the western world waste food. The figure for Ireland is quite startling with each family throwing out €700 worth of food per year, with some families throwing out food to the value of €1,000. The solution is in our hands. We must stop producing too much food and leaving it on our plates or in saucepans. There is another thing that we can do and it concerns expiry dates. Producers still print "best before" dates on their products.

"Best before" just does not make sense. It is not a question of "best before". I can remember looking at "best before" when I was in the business of potatoes. I spoke to the supplier and reminded him that he was supplying potatoes on a Thursday which had a "best before" date of Monday. He said, "Yes, they are new potatoes, they are the best. If you really want to taste them well, they are best if one cooks and eats them before Sunday." That does not mean there is anything wrong with them on Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday. I mention it because it is sinful to think that 1 billion people are going hungry in the world while we are throwing out so much food on that basis. A new organisation, FoodCloud, set up by two women, aims to get the waste food that in the past we fed to animals but since BSE and the foot and mouth scares we do not feed waste food to animals any more. As such a system is in place in different parts of the world, FoodCloud deserves attention. I ask the Leader for a debate on the issue in the near future. It is worth bringing the issue to the attention of the rest of the country and as it is in our own hands we can actually do something about it. We could refer to the debate we had about two years ago to see the basis of that. It is clear that 60% of the food that is binned is edible and yet we do not eat it, either because we are concerned about it or have produced too much or are lazy or are interested in the "best before" date rather than in our health.

I support Senator White in her call once again in regard to Russian adoptions. I am working with some of the families. As Senator Quinn said it concerns about five families. The heart of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, is in the right place. She is physically working on the issue and is trying to do it within the ambit of the law. She wants to do it and if she can do it, she will. I know she will do it. I hope to come in to the House and say, "I told you so", because she has told me she will do it.

Those are good families who want to offer a house to children from another country.

I did not get in yesterday on the homeless issue but as spokesperson on the environment and housing I want to ensure it is put at the top of the list. I am aware the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, said she hopes to end long-term homelessness by 2016. However, there has been a huge increase from eight to 16 persons per month in Dublin alone. No accommodation has become available from NAMA to date. I would dearly like to invite NAMA to the House when I would ask that question and would want an answer. I have also raised the issue at the Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht because there are unfinished houses all over the country. There may be homeless families in Dublin who would like to move to some of the unfinished housing estates given that €10 million has been allocated for refurbishment work. A survey could be undertaken to determine the unfinished houses that will be finished. I call for an urgent debate on the matter and a change in the way things are done. The Minister of State has said she is putting the issue at the top of the list. Focus Ireland should be helped further to ensure that advice is available to families before they become homeless. Prevention is better than a cure.

I second Senator MacSharry's proposed amendment to the Order of Business. I fully endorse what the Chair has said this morning in respect of the use of the audio-visual room by Members of the Seanad. As he rightly pointed out, the Seanad CPP totally rejected the proposal and a fait accompli that was visited upon us by the Dáil CPP. It was decided that this matter be put on the agenda for the Joint Administration Committee meeting which was held two weeks ago. Unfortunately, due to the absence of the Superintendent, due to illness, that item had to be deferred to a later meeting. Both my colleague, Senator Coghlan, and I got an assurance from the Chair of that committee and the Captain of the Guard that the Members of this House could continue to exercise their right to use that room pending a decision of that committee.

I welcome the announcement this morning by the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, of the patronage for nine new schools to be built in the coming years. In particular, I welcome the decision that the new second level school to be built in Kingscourt, County Cavan, announced by the then Minister of State, Batt O'Keeffe, in 2009, will be under the patronage of the education and training board of Cavan and Monaghan. I commend the former chairman and members of Cavan VEC over past decades who worked diligently towards providing this new school for the people of Kingscourt and the surrounding areas. I pay tribute to Mr. Clifford Kelly, former chairman of the committee, who worked diligently with many other people, including my colleague in the Lower House, Deputy Brendan Smith, in this regard. It will be welcomed by the adult education officer of County Cavan VEC, Ms Fiona Maloney, who hails from that town and whose family provided the site for the excellent facility that houses the Youthreach centre, the community centre and the football grounds and whose family also own the land that will be used for the provision of the new school. I ask to Leader to ensure the Minister for Education and Skills has this much-needed facility constructed at an early date.

We debate regularly the costs and the difficulties in the health service. As we need to have a debate I ask the Leader to arrange for it at an opportune time. We need a debate on the promotion of preventive medicine and the need for lifestyle change. I say this against the backdrop of an article in today's edition of The Connacht Tribune which gives the results of a recent survey conducted by Croí among the farming community at a number of marts in County Galway. The statistics, which are alarming, showed that 50% of those surveyed had high blood pressure, that 61% were overweight and obese and that 97% exceeded the recommended waistline measurement. If that is indicative of one section of the community, obviously as a nation we have a very serious health problem. This points to the need for lifestyle change, diet, exercise and regular health checks to prevent heart attacks and strokes. Given that the health budget is significant there are huge savings to be made by people addressing potential health issues at an early stage. It would be appropriate that we have a debate on the effectiveness of the health promotion campaign because if the survey is indicative of the health of the nation there are serious problems coming down the road.

I second the views of the Members who have mentioned the use of the audio-visual room. I cannot tell the House how strongly I feel about this issue. We have been through the referendum on the Seanad. One of the points made over and again was that we all want inclusiveness for our citizens. That is why we are here. What are we doing? We are going backwards, making our own little laws in here in our bubble to keep the citizens out. I have a very important Private Members' motion coming up in December. It seems useless that I cannot invite in my groups to brief all the Members because we have only eight or ten minutes in which to make our case.

It is so important that the important groups and citizens we represent serve as touchstones.

Yesterday or the day before at a meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts, it was noted that a certain charity in the north of Dublin had a fund-raising arm with in excess of €14 million sitting its bank account although it was out fund-raising and saying it needed this, that and the other. This is associated with the storm over top-ups. Members all know about my great interest in the regulation of charities. In my deep research, I noted that some of the bigger charities had in excess of €300 million or €400 million on deposit. I would like the Acting Leader to have a word with Minister for Justice and Equality to talk to us about this. The media are creating a storm about the top-ups at present but we need transparency regarding all charities, be they foreign aid charities, smaller charities or bigger ones. The public has a right to know if the charities are holding large sums on deposit. It should be transparent.

I call for a debate on employment, unemployment and jobs. There were some positive announcements in recent weeks in this regard and, to be fair, more jobs have been created and the unemployment figures have dropped. This is partially due to the fact that some jobs have been created but also due to the fact that people are still emigrating.

Some 58,000 jobs have been created.

There are more people on labour activation courses and in education and training. The announcements are not all due to the fact that jobs are being created.

We also need to examine regional development and what is happening in the regions. I come from the south east, as the Acting Leader will know. Only yesterday I received figures from both the IDA and Enterprise Ireland that offer a breakdown, on a county-by-county basis, of jobs created by IDA-supported and Enterprise Ireland-supported companies and jobs lost. With regard to the IDA, 75 jobs were created in 2012 in Waterford while 186 were lost. With regard to Enterprise Ireland in the same county, 692 jobs were created and 846 were lost. There are still regional disparities, therefore, and there is still high unemployment in some parts of the State.

While it is obviously welcome that we are witnessing a drop in unemployment – I accept there is an increase in employment and job creation – it still is not enough for all those who are unemployed. I genuinely believe we must continue to focus on this issue. It ought to be the No. 1 priority for all of us, both in government and opposition. In the wake of what the Government would say and what I accept is positive about the figures that have emerged in recent weeks, it is an opportune time for us to have a discussion on how to build on those figures and create more jobs for those who are currently out of work.

Senator MacSharry tabled an amendment concerning the proximity of Committee Stage and Second Stage of the Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Bill 2013, the next item we are due to discuss. The Bill was published last week and the matter was agreed by the leaders. Fianna Fáil has tabled a substantial number of amendments so I will not be accepting the amendment to the Order of Business.

With regard to the point on the Central Bank, I do not know what it will publish this morning. I have not read about the announcement. We have a mortgage arrears resolution process in place and the Central Bank has set targets for banks. As the Senator knows, there are sanctions if any bank does not meet those targets. Consequently, we will not be accepting the amendment in this regard either.

I am not sure about the position on the comments regarding budget 2015 and the Tánaiste. I am aware that the Tánaiste made comments. I am sure all the detail will be revealed this time next year when the budget is announced.

Senators Hayden and Barrett acknowledged the fast action of the Garda and Police Service of Northern Ireland in locating the Roscommon family. I agree with them. The fast action is a credit to the police services and to the Child Rescue Ireland, CRI, alert system. Through the media this morning, the Garda asked that the privacy of the family in question be respected. It was refreshing to see how quickly the Garda acted in conjunction with the Police Service of Northern Ireland to resolve the issue.

Senator Hayden raised the issue of homelessness services and called for a debate on the matter, as did Senator Cáit Keane. The Leader has said he desires the Minister to come to the House to debate the matter. However, due to the heavy legislative programme over the next three weeks, it is unlikely that the debate will occur this side of Christmas. The Leader is acting on it.

Senators Hayden and Mary Ann O'Brien referred to the charity sector. I will pass on their comments to the Leader and ask that the relevant Minister come to the House to discuss the regulation of charities so the public can be confident money donated to charitable organisations is used in the best interest of the recipients and service users. This is a very important point to make. The Seanad could play a very useful role in this area.

Senator Zappone and others referred to the use of the audio-visual room. The Leas-Chathaoirleach has outlined it is an organisational matter for the Houses and the Seanad CPP. I hope it has been made clear to Senator Zappone as to how she can move forward in that area.

The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill 2013, which is to be debated in the Dáil next week, will come to this House in due course.

Senators Jim D'Arcy and O'Sullivan referred to junior certificate reform. Both welcomed the fact that teachers' concerns are to be addressed in this matter. That was an important statement that the Minister made this morning and it is to be welcomed that there are major changes. We have had numerous debates in this House on the junior cycle and its proposed reform. I take the point that it will not proceed or be successful without teachers.

Senator Norris complimented Pope Francis, implying he is a man of vision. The Senator asked that we have a debate on the Pope's important document. I will make the Leader aware of the Senator's comments.

Senator Lorraine Higgins raised the issue of the burglary in Tipperary last week. She called for a debate with the Minister for Justice and Equality. I am not sure when we will have the Minister in the House again. From my recollection of the description of the event, the fast action of the Garda is to be commended in thwarting the would-be burglars in their actions.

It was requested that the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, come to the House to discuss investigations into disability grants and the disability pension. She will be in the House shortly to discuss a different issue. Perhaps the matter is one for an Adjournment debate. It is a matter for the Cathaoirleach to decide on.

Senator Conway called for a debate on the legislation on the university panel that is due to be published and referred to having an input into it. The point he makes about creating an online voter system for the blind and visually impaired is welcome and worth discussing. I am sure he will bring that to the attention of the Minister when the Bill is being discussed.

Senator Barrett referred to the regulation of accountants and the Companies (Amendment) Bill. It was discussed yesterday with the Minister of State, Deputy Sean Sherlock. Today we are to discuss occupational pensions. I am not sure whether the Minister will have an opportunity to address concerns in this regard during the debate today. Perhaps we need to have an ongoing debate on pensions because the position on pension schemes is very serious for many people.

Senator Susan O'Keeffe referred to the chief inspector's report and called for a discussion in the House. I support the call and will bring it to the attention of the Leader. The Minister for Education and Skills announced patronage for nine new schools. It has been a very worthwhile exercise by the Minister. I refer to his having consulted parents and to their having been in a position to respond in their own localities as to the kind of ethos the proposed schools should have.

Senator Diarmuid Wilson also mentioned that issue. In my area there will be two new schools in Carrigaline, one under the patronage of the Edmund Rice Education Trust and the other, Educate Together. This will add to diversification in the area and parents genuinely will have a choice. It will continue what is a worthwhile exercise, the most important element of which is that it is inclusive. Like Senator Diarmuid Wilson, I hope the Minister will move forward and that the nine schools will be delivered at an early stage.

Senators Mary White, Feargal Quinn and Cáit Keane raised their concerns about the Russian adoptions crisis, about which the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, spoke when she was in the House yesterday. She is still working with the Attorney General to try to find a resolution. Having spoken to her, I can assure Senators that not only is her heart in the right place, but she is also determined to find a solution. The comments of Senators this morning will be passed to her.

Senator Terry Brennan referred to the threatened action in the ESB. I hope it will not come to this. Management and the unions are meeting today and we should give them space, as it is important that they are meeting and sitting down together. I hope there will be a resolution to the issue. I wish them well and hope for a positive outcome.

In response to Senator Feargal Quinn, I remember well the interesting debate on food waste that took place two years ago. It is probably a debate we should continue. Perhaps the Senator might do so in the form of a Private Members' motion. I will bring back his comments to the Leader who I am sure will be in discussions with the Senator on how we should proceed. It is one thing recognising that there is waste, finding a solution to the problem is another. As the Senator mentioned, we cannot feed much of the waste to animals because of changing regulations. I had heard about the food cloud. It is innovative and I wish those involved well with it. It is an important issue.

Senator Cáit Keane was concerned about the level of homelessness. I hope we will have a debate on that issue.

Senator Michael Mullins sought a debate on the issue of health promotion and quoted the findings of a survey. The level of obesity is a significant issue. The Senator was speaking about adults, but the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, launched a report, Growing up in Ireland, in which the level of obesity among children was highlighted. The cure is prevention. This is an important month, "Movember", and I note Senator Diarmuid Wilson is supporting the initiative which is also about prevention and raising awareness.

Senator Mary Ann O'Brien was concerned about the charity sector. I will bring her comments back to the relevant Minister and hope we will have a debate on it.

On Senator David Cullinane's comments on job creation, this has been a positive week. In fact, 58,000 new jobs have been created in the past year. Like the Senator, I am a member of the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation which has looked at the problems being encountered in the south east, about which he is particularly concerned. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, will shortly produce the Action Plan for Jobs 2014 which, no doubt, he will be willing to come here to discuss at some stage and hear the views of Senators.

Senator Marc MacSharry has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister for Finance on the report of the Central Bank on mortgage arrears be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 19; Níl, 26.

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Crown, John.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • O'Brien, Mary Ann.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
  • Zappone, Katherine.


  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Keeffe, Susan.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Aideen Hayden and Michael Mullins.
Amendment declared lost.
Question, "That the Order of Business be agreed to", put and declared carried.