Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 4 Mar 2015

Vol. 238 No. 8

Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, Redress for Women Resident in Certain Institutions Bill 2014 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 1.15 p.m., and No. 61, motion 17, to be taken at 4 p.m., with the time allocated for the debate not to exceed two hours.

In the past 24 hours, Members of the Seanad received a leaked report relating to overspending by the HSE. The Comptroller and Auditor General's office is involved and this is a very serious matter, as it raises questions yet again about the competency and efficiency of the HSE. A figure of €3 million seems to be involved in the overpayment of salaries. It seems extraordinary that in a country of this size, an organisation would not know staff and payment levels, as outlined in the leaked report. There is also a question mark surrounding excessive claims for expenses. I would like the Leader to address the issue and give some response to it. I listened to the Minister for Health on the radio this morning and, in a sense, he shuffled the matter away to one side. He indicated that, after all, it is only a draft report and little more than a puff of smoke. I find that extraordinary coming from the line Minister who has ultimate responsibility in the matter.

I have raised the issue of child care charges and facilities on a number of occasions. There now seem to be many irons in the fire in this respect. For example, last week at the Labour Party conference, the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection committed the party to introducing the second year of free child care. Why should we have to wait for another election in this respect? This has been on the cards for several years and I would like to know Fine Gael's position, as it is a Fine Gael Minister, Deputy Reilly, who has responsibility for this. We should not have to wait for an election and the issue should not be part of an election manifesto to give what is absolutely crucial and essential to reducing the unacceptable financial burden on young families with children and child care needs.

Over the past 24 hours, the media have reported yet another attempt to use the primary school sector for after-school care. That raises fundamental questions. I have no difficulty with the idea in principle but I would like to know who will staff the after-school care service. What will be the attitude of the teaching staff in the schools and what financial impact will there be on parents? There are a number of issues involved and what particularly irritates me is that the Tánaiste is again reported today as saying that because of the recently produced revenue figures for the first two months of this year indicating an increase in the tax take, there is now an opportunity for investment, as she puts it, in education and the road network. I have no difficulty with those issues but in being specific about road networks while ignoring the entire west, it seems that it is a loss leader for the Labour Party if it focuses on the south west. I have no problem with those roads being upgraded, although there is a very serious issue surrounding the upgrading of portions of the N4 near Sligo around Castlebaldwin. It has been a scene of tragedy for many people because of the poor road network, although it is a national primary road.

There are a number of issues relating to child care but it is interesting that the Tánaiste did not refer to them this morning, having mentioned the issue last Saturday in her conference speech. She had the opportunity to address child care and the need to reduce costs for parents but did not do so. I ask that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs would come to the House to explain exactly what is Government policy in alleviating the financial burden on parents with regard to child care. It is vital that with all the debate that now seems ongoing in the area, we should get some sort of clarity in this House in order that there can be some hope for parents and child care workers, who demonstrated outside this House in recent weeks for further investment in the sector. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business in that respect.

It is an amendment to the Order of Business.

I have also asked a number of times for a debate on child care and we should have one in this House. It would be best if we waited until we received the report commissioned by the Minister, Deputy Reilly, on the best mechanism to provide affordable child care. Senators may not be aware that the Minister has commissioned an expert group to report to him on this by the start of the summer on different ways in which child care can be funded. This is very important as there has been a long debate about how best to fund child care and there are different views as to the optimum model for working parents.

For example, there is a question of introducing tax relief for child care or the option of extending the current early childhood care and education, ECCE, scheme, which provides a subsidy for child care provision. Senator Mooney may not know that after-school child care is provided in quite a number of schools.

I am very much aware of that.

I did not interrupt the Senator. Generally, this is not done through the classroom and certainly not through teachers, as that would not be appropriate.

Parents would support teachers in calling for such care to be provided generally through parents' associations, in rooms or buildings adjacent to or part of a school's complex but not in the classroom, and with outside child care workers coming in. The Minister's task force is important. We should have a debate in the early summer, and as soon as the report on the best mechanism to support and ensure accessible and affordable child care has been handed to the Minister.

Yesterday, I welcomed the Tánaiste's announcement at the weekend of the two weeks' paid paternity leave and the extension of ECCE.

That is after the next election.

I ask for a debate on educational reform in the context of the ongoing talks on the junior cycle. I regret that there has been a failure to make further progress in those talks. Everyone, and certainly every parent, is agreed on the need to ensure greater emphasis on continuous assessment, to have an alternative approach to the old rote learning method that all of us would have been familiar with in school, and for a modernisation, reform and shake-up of the junior certificate process. Given that the vast majority of pupils happily stay in school until the leaving certificate now, the junior certificate has much less significance in the workplace than in the past. We need to seize the opportunity to make reforms and ensure the experience of the junior certificate is better for pupils.

Finally, I ask for a debate on the Middle East to take place after the Israeli elections, which are due to take place on 17 March. I am sure all of us watched with concern the address made by the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Netanyahu, to the US Congress yesterday. President Obama was quite right in expressing his concern about the impact the address could have on the outcome of the Israeli election. It would be worthwhile for us to debate the matter and ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to come to the House to comment once we know the outcome of the election.

I rise to support Senator Paschal Mooney's call for an urgent debate to be arranged with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs on childhood, child care, early education, the coherence of all of those issues and also costs. Therefore, I must disagree with my right honourable colleague on this side of the House, Senator Bacik, because we cannot wait and the issue is a matter of urgency. Why do I say so? I am aware that the Minister has established an interdepartmental working group which will report in August. Is there coherence in the sector? Is there a sense of urgency? Is there a reason to believe that there will be political will and armour in the way we invest in early-years care, after-care, and childhood and early education?

We have a document entitled Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures, which is the national policy framework for children and young people, and another document, Right from the Start, the report of the expert advisory group on the early years strategy, which was put out in 2013. Recently, I have heard that the Government is about to develop an early years strategy along with a policy framework. As Senator Bacik has said, another interdepartmental group has been established to study the costs for children from birth to aged six years and after-school needs. Where is the cohesion? Do we have a full strategy for all child care, childhood development and early education? Yes, we should look at costs, but in the context of the strategies being developed and how they can cohere. In that regard, I agree with Senator Mooney that we need an urgent debate. We do not need to wait for another report to arrive. I want to know the following. What would such a report have to do with the expert advisory group on the early years strategy? Is a strategy coming? How will it relate to the later report? How does it all relate to the overall policy framework that was published by this Government in terms of better outcomes for children?

I rise to raise something that I feel very strongly about, and I am sure, and hope, that my colleagues in this House will feel equally strongly about the matter. I refer to the surreptitious attempt by management in the Oireachtas to cut the wages of ushers by 5.6% without reference to either House of the Oireachtas. This is an absolute outrage, particularly when the Tánaiste has said in the past 24 hours that tax revenue has increased, that the Government will now be able to spend on roads and all this kind of stuff. The ushers are people whose salaries range from €24,000 to €34,000.

That is a matter for the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission.

There are people in this House who live in County Dublin but get €25,000 in travelling expenses, which is more than somebody who joins the usher service would receive. We pay tribute to them on a regular basis in this House. We say how wonderful they are and talk about the way they look after us, and yes, indeed, they do. We are all part of a family and, therefore, are responsible for each other. It is disgraceful that people on such low wages should be subject to these savage cuts, particularly when we all know they must endure anti-social hours. Some of them do not see their children from one end of the week to the other. They are here sometimes until midnight or 2 o'clock in the morning. We should have some responsibility towards these people. These are our companions. These are the people who make life work in the Oireachtas. I appeal to the speakers who come after me to strongly support our colleagues and friends - the ushers in this House - and to reject any attempt by management to impose these cuts during a period when the country is recovering without recourse or advice from either House of the Oireachtas.

I move an amendment to the Order of Business: that we take ten or 15 minutes, a very brief period, immediately after the conclusion of the Order of Business in order to make statements. I appeal to the Leader of the House to allow for a short time of ten or 15 minutes.

That is a matter for the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission.

Yes, but we have an input into it. To hell with the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. Damn them if they are going to do this.

I cannot accept the Senator's amendment.

If they are going to put the screws on the ordinary workers in this House, then there is a moral obligation on us to protest about it.

I cannot accept the Senator's amendment.

The matter is not governed by a Minister. It is the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission that deals with that issue.

We can make statements on the matter. We can make statements on the colour of the sky if we feel like doing so. It is entirely within our powers to have statements. How can the Cathaoirleach say we cannot make statements on this matter?

Amendments to the Order of Business are proposed by the Leader.

Nonsense; they are proposed. Come on.

It has to be the Government.

That is the fattest one I have heard in a very long time. They are proposed. Everybody has a right to propose amendments to the Order of Business.

The Leader accepts them or rejects them.

It is the Government.

That is why I am proposing it. I request humbly that the Government, in the interests of the structures of this House, hold such a debate.

There is no member of the Government responsible for the matter.

That does not matter. We can still make statements. We make statements on all kinds of things that are not the responsibility of members of the Government.

The statements are made by the Minister and then the responses are made by the Minister.

Not at all. Statements are made by ordinary Members of this House. We had statements yesterday and it was not down to the Minister but the ordinary Members of this House.

I do not accept the amendment.

I am putting it anyway.

I call Senator Paul Coghlan. The Senator's amendment is out of order.

I ask the Leader to find a way in which we can reflect our disgust at the treatment of our fellow workers in this establishment.

It is not a formal amendment and is out of order completely. I call Senator Paul Coghlan.

I ask all the Senators who speak after me to support me.

The Senator is way over his time.

Only 25% of the Seanad is here. The way reforms have affected the Seanad has resulted in nobody being here for the Order of Business.

I call Senator Paul Coghlan.

We are all aware that the national lottery has experienced three outages or interruptions in service in recent weeks, including the cancellation of one draw. I am concerned about the impact these interruptions could have on sales at ticket terminals and that it would drive lottery players to an online environment. The new operators of the national lottery have made it clear that they see huge potential in developing the online sales channel. However, there is no doubt that the potential for irresponsible playing is greater online than in a face-to-face environment in shops. This is particularly the case when one realises that the online national lottery allows a customer to spend up to €75 per day on its games and to keep €750 on account with the lottery. These are inordinate amounts of money for people to be spending on a State-owned form of gambling. We need assurances from the operators of the national lottery on the controls that they will introduce to ensure we do not create online lotto junkies. I suggest that these controls need to be overseen by the national lottery regulator. I will seek assurances on this matter from the operator of the national lottery and the national lottery regulator at next week's meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform. I am sure the Leader agrees with me that these matters are of huge concern.

What about the ushers? The Senator forgot to say something about the ushers.

That is a matter of concern too but I accept the ruling of the Chair.

Good. It is a matter of concern and I thank the Senator.

I accept the ruling of the Chair.

I call Senator Leyden and ask Senator Paul Coghlan to resume his seat.

We have to go through proper channels.

I thank the Senator.

I would like to second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Paschal Mooney. The points raised by Senator Norris are very important and it is the first I have heard of a proposed wage cut. I will be alerting our representatives on the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. The matter should be resolved because it seems strange that this should be proposed for people who are doing an extraordinarily good job. I hope the Commission will ensure it does not happen.

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy James Reilly, can be justly proud of having brought forward his Public Health (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco) Bill 2014, which has been signed into law today by President Michael D. Higgins. However, the Bill does not exempt the packaging of cigar products, which are manufactured in Ballaghaderreen, meaning that some 50 jobs are in jeopardy. I have been involved with the plant in Ballaghaderreen for a considerable time and I can say that cigars are not a gateway drug for smoking. The Minister has followed the lead of Deputy Micheál Martin who, on 29 March ten years ago, brought in the ban on smoking in public places. He led not only Ireland but the world in this regard and has single-handedly saved thousands of lives at home and abroad. We owe him a great debt of gratitude. I commend the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs for following in the footsteps and the leadership of Deputy Micheál Martin but the cigar plant is very important in Roscommon. The Minister closed the accident and emergency unit in Roscommon hospital so he seems to have a death wish as regards Roscommon. I am surprised Senator John Kelly and others have not persuaded the Minister to exempt cigar smoking from the standardised packaging rules, as is the case in Britain. Now we must compete with British companies in Northern Ireland. It might not be politically correct to be talking about this because nowadays we are talking about banning everything, but the loss of 50 jobs in Ballaghaderreen will have major consequences for Roscommon. I believe the Minister should review the situation. The Bill will not come into effect for another two years and I do not think he is aware of the consequences of his actions. I call on the Taoiseach, who has driven through Ballaghaderreen every day of his life since 1975 and is well aware of the plant, to intervene with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs in this issue. The Minister has cost lives by closing the accident and emergency unit and now he is costing jobs in Ballaghaderreen.

As far as I am concerned, all types of tobacco and nicotine cause cancer and they should all be treated equally, regardless of what the product is.

I refer to a debate we held in this House on the future of rural Ireland with the Minister of State with special responsibility for rural economic development, Deputy Ann Phelan. During the debate on the CEDRA report, I called for a special task force to be set up to examine and implement the report. I am pleased that, on Monday this week, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly and the Minister of State announced an expert advisory group under the chairmanship of Mr. Pat Spillane. Members of the group will include Mr. Pat McDonagh of Supermacs, Mr. Edmond Harty of Dairymaster, Mr. Chris Martin, CEO of Supervalu, and Ms Helen Carroll from "Ear to the Ground". The full committee has not yet been decided but I think it is extremely important to include a representative of local government in this country, namely, the president of the Association of County and City Councils, who would bring to the table a knowledge and understanding of the issues pertaining to towns and to rural Ireland. I have written to both Ministers on this matter.

CEDRA has put forward 34 recommendations, including on the provision of broadband, parking and rates. No timelines have been given for the implementation of the report, and in a radio interview on Monday evening Mr. Pat Spillane himself was unable to give clear timelines. I call for a further debate with the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan, to examine and prioritise the needs and wants of rural Ireland in order that we can ensure that five or six key items in the report can be implemented in the remaining lifetime of this Government.

I also wish to voice my support for Senator Norris's concerns regarding wage cuts for ushers in this establishment. Regardless of whether we have a right to affect this issue, we have a voice and I am using my voice to support Senator Norris.

It is disgraceful in a period of recovery that somebody in the organisation is seeking to cut the wages of people who are on very low wages as it stands.

I add my voice to Senator Norris's concern but I would like further details because I have only just heard the news this morning. It may be part of something bigger, but if such a thing is happening, I would share Senator Norris's concern. I am not sure how we should handle it and maybe it is not for today but it will need to be addressed. In the 22 years I have been here, I have been very impressed by the enthusiasm, commitment and level of service the ushers have given and continue to give. I would hate to think they were being singled out.

As I said to Senator Norris, those concerns will be brought to the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, which deals with this issue.

We should be allowed to express our strong feelings.

There is no Minister with responsibility for the issue to take queries on the matter in the House.

The commission is responsible and it should take our views into account.

There are Members of this House on the commission and I have no doubt that the issues will be taken to the commission.

They should be looking out for the ushers.

I mention my concern but I also understand there may be a technical difficulty about how we handle it. I will leave that to the Leader to decide.

I was impressed during the week to hear and read what the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, had to say about an open discussion leading up to the budget next year. Last year Senator Healy Eames proposed a Bill calling for the discussion about budget decisions to be held here in this House ahead of time. I do not think she managed to get a slot to discuss it but it is quite important that, if we have a big budget decision this year as suggested by the Tánaiste, it should be open and above board and not behind closed doors. We in this House should have our say.

I wish to speak about concerns I have for people with allergies, particularly children, and the need for some person in each school to have an EpiPen on hand at all times. I am not sure how that can be done or if each teacher would be capable of doing it. One member of our family must carry an EpiPen, without which they could die within nine minutes. It was discussed on television this morning and it is very important that we take steps to resolve it. It is possible to do something about life-threatening allergies so let us make sure that we do not put it on the long finger and find that more deaths occur.

I accept the ruling of the Cathaoirleach on the matter raised by Senator Norris to the effect that ushers' pay is a matter for the Commission but it would be appropriate to request, through the Leader, that the Commission give Members of this House a briefing on the matter. People have spoken without any knowledge of whether this is part of a wage agreement, such as the Haddington Road agreement, so a briefing would be appropriate before we say any more on the matter.

Senator Mooney talked about the overspending by the HSE on salaries and expenses.

The Leader will probably respond to the Senator but if there has been an overpayment, whether of salaries or expenses, those moneys should be repaid to the Exchequer. There should be no question of them not being recouped.

I ask the Leader to arrange a debate in the House on the very welcome Irish diaspora policy, Global Irish; Ireland's Diaspora Policy, which was launched yesterday by the Minister of State, Deputy Deenihan. It would be appropriate for him to come into the House for such a debate as this is the first clear statement of Government policy on the diaspora, which recognises that Ireland has a unique and important relationship with our diaspora spread throughout the world that should be nutured and developed. It defines in a clear way the supports we would like to see in place for people who have left Ireland or who might need support and connects in a very unique way all the many people of many ages spread throughout the world of Irish decent who wish to continue their connection to this country. It also recognises the many Irish people who have done particularly well in their careers throughout the world who are continuing to invest in this country and continuing to make a major contribution. It is welcome that this new policy has been launched and it would be appropriate for us to have a full, frank and open discussion with the Minister, Deputy Deenihan, on it.

I support the call by Senator Mullins for a debate on the diaspora. The Leader promised such a debate previously. There are many laudable elements in the strategy that was brought forward but, sadly, the issue around representation and voting rights for the diaspora has been left out. The Leader might clarify when we would have that debate.

A Minister should also come into the House to discuss the HSE document that was leaked by the Comptroller and Auditor General, albeit inadvertently, if that is what has happened.

I support the calls previously for a debate around the staff in these Houses. I find it quite strange because we have had debates here previously around workers' rights in the case of workers in Aer Lingus and workers in other organisations, so I do not see why the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation could not come into the House-----

-----to discuss workers' right issues and in regard to that we could bring up the situation of the ushers.

I have ruled on this. It is a matter of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission.

That does not mean that we cannot talk about it. We are not to be muzzled like poodles.

I suggest that the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation could be asked in to discuss workers' rights and as part of that we could certainly bring up the issues that have been brought up this morning as regards workers' rights in these Houses. I have concerns about this and I would like to see the clarification that has been asked for.

I have already ruled that this is not a matter for any particular Minister. This is a matter for the Oireachtas commission. It is internal to the Houses of the Oireachtas and it will be dealt with by the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission.

And we should be part of it.

I accept the Cathaoirleach's ruling but workers' rights are workers' right no matter where they are working.

Last week, following threats to republican families in south Armagh who have been forthright in their support for the PSNI and in their opposition to criminality, a booby-trap bomb was left close to the home of a local Sinn Féin leader, Frank McCabe. Francis McCabe junior, a good decent, hard-working man and a good neighbour, whose only offence is that he is from a republican family, was seriously injured. As the Leader will be aware, issues in the North, especially in the Border area, are generally seized upon by some politicians here to attack Sinn Féin but in this instance the Government seems to have been very quiet. This was a serious attack and an attempt to kill, and it was an attack on the peace process. As far as I can gather, the Government has been silent. Those involved are a small number of criminals who are believed to be responsible over the years for the killing of volunteer Keith Rogers, the beating to death of Paul Quinn, the murder of Garda Adrian Donohoe and the wounding of Michael Bellew recently. They have also threatened the lives of Conor Murphy, MP, and another republican family, the Carraghers.

Is the Senator seeking a debate on this issue?

Will the Leader and the Upper House condemn the attempt to murder Francis McCabe junior?

Yes, definitely.

Will the Leader ask the Taoiseach to ensure adequate resources are given to An Garda Síochána to investigate properly the activities of these criminals and will he ensure there is full co-operation with the PSNI and that the PSNI does what it is paid to do? Will the Government send a clear message-----

The Senator is way over time. I call Senator Hayden.

-----of support and solidarity to the people of north Louth and south Armagh that it stands with them in their opposition to criminality and in support of their right to a policing service that protects them and their neighbours?

I welcome the commitment by the Minister, Deputy Kelly, over the weekend that he intends to move to regulate rent increases in the private rented sector. This is an issue that has achieved support from all sides of this House, not least because one in five families in our country and one in three in this area alone are living in rented housing and have been subjected to scandalous increases in rents. However, an immediate problem has arisen. It has been brought to my attention that there are fears that landlords will start to increase rents in advance of regulations being introduced. We have law that limits landlords in increasing rents to once a year and then they are limited in the extent to which they can raise it. I ask the Leader to bring to the Minister's attention an immediate problem, as I will, namely, that we need to have a vigorous education campaign for tenants now in the next week to educate them to say that they do not have to accept rent increases and that they can and should challenge them. In my capacity as the chair of a voluntary organisation dealing with the rented sector, I can say that I will commit my organisation to taking cases on behalf of any tenant who gets those types of rent increases in advance of legislation being introduced.

I ask that Leader request the Minister, Deputy Kelly, or the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, to come into the House to discuss with us further what type of regulation the Minister intends to introduce, and for him to listen to the views of Members of this House whom I know have much experience in this area.

Like other colleagues, I support Senator Norris and I want to do that while fully respecting the Cathaoirleach's decision that we do not have a role in regard to this matter. I refer to the proposal to reduce people's wages by 5.6% without any discussion. These are public servants after all who work extremely hard. This proposal is being made at a time when we have the establishment of a low pay commission, and when various Ministers at various ard-fheiseanna have said that this is the year we can look at pay increases for the public sector. This is happening at a time when ushers in these Houses who retire are not being replaced. It is happening at a time when members of the catering staff who have worked here for decades must during periods of recess go on social welfare payments because they have not been taken on in a permanent capacity. These are issues that have been brought to our attention and there is an onus on us to highlight them in whatever way we can. I respect the Cathaoirleach's decision but Members of this House are on the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission and the onus is on us to raise these issues with them.

The point I am making is that there is no need to go any place. There are nine Members of both Houses on the Oireachtas Commission. It is the Oireachtas commission that deals with this. No Minister deals with it. It is an in-house matter.

That is what I am saying; I am agreeing with the Cathaoirleach. The onus is on us as Members to pursue these matters with the Members of this House who are on the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission because it is not acceptable that these people are being subjected to working conditions to which they are being subjected.

I agree with what the Government Chief Whip, Senator Coghlan, said about the national lottery. It is time we had a debate in this regard.

There have been three major breakdowns of this network in the past number of months. Retailers are being subjected to much hassle as a result of having to check tickets from individuals who come into their outlets because the proper software has not been put in place for people to check their own tickets in the branches, and I understand it will not be in place until the beginning of May.

The Senator is over time.

Furthermore, I would like an analysis carried out into how much of a reduction there has been in the amount of prize money paid out since the new owners of the lottery have taken over?

In regard to Senator Leyden's outburst performance, which is what it was, it was nothing more than a performance in this House-----

It was amateur dramatics.

-----where he comes in gives us a load of bluster and he is gone within seconds, and he goes out of the Chamber with a smile on his face.

Senator Kelly, we do not allude to anybody who leaves the House.

I am only sorry he is not here.

It was a case of amateur dramatics at its best.

Senator Kelly is completely out of order in raising that.

In regard to the issue of plain packaging cigars, I was the only dissenting voice in this House yesterday with the Minister, Deputy Reilly.

Senator Leyden was not even here when the debate took place.

Senator Kelly is out of order in that regard.

He probably was in Buswells or somewhere else-----

On a point of order-----

-----but he comes in today to look at this passed.

I have called Senator Mooney on a point of order.

For the information of the House, Senator Leyden was on parliamentary duties as a member of the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs and was unable to be in the House. He apologised for same and I covered for him.

For the benefit of the House, Senator Mooney might tell Senator Leyden that I raised the issue here in the House yesterday with the Minister and I was the only dissenting voice.

I am aware Senator Kelly did and I established that as well.

Since I was elected, I have been finding it difficult to figure out the rationale of decision makers in this country. In Dublin, we have the second best fire and ambulance service in the world. It is second behind Seattle. Now we have a city manager who wants to disassemble it. We have an inadequate ambulance service in this country, purely because of a lack of resources, not because of the quality of the personnel, who are doing a great job. There simply are not enough of them. Why are we trying to fix a service in Dublin that is not broken? We have the man who wanted to reduce the quays to a cycle lane now wanting to destroy the fire and ambulance service. Incidentally, he is not a Garth Brooks fan. We have a service that almost guarantees a response time of eight minutes in Dublin, while in the rest of the country it is 40 to 50 minutes. Yesterday, there was the start of balloting for strike action within the fire service right across the country purely because they want to downgrade the fire service, our best emergency service. It is a disgrace. These people need to be reined in. I ask the Leader for a debate in this House with both the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly, on the future of the fire and ambulance service, because these services should be combined right across the country.

I sympathise with the issue raised by Senator Ó Clochartaigh of the McCabe family in Northern Ireland. Any decent person must express concern about a terrorist attack.

Hear, hear. Well said.

If we want to put it in context, 20 years ago another McCabe family on this island suffered a grievous moment of terror when a family member and a loved member of the Garda was slaughtered in the line of duty. At the time, it would have to be said, there was not very much concern - there was neither empathy nor sympathy - from Sinn Féin. Matters have moved on and progressed since. There is no need to engage in debate.

Senator Bradford seems to be stuck in the past. He has not really moved on, has he?

To look to the future, we can never forget the past. We can never forget the losses, the pain, the hurt and the suffering. I am surprised-----


Senator Bradford-----

-----without interruption.

I, more than anybody, have made that point in this House and have called for a truth and reconciliation commission. I have no difficulty in being sympathetic towards all sides, but I agree that we require that balance.

What I wanted to raise this morning was my surprise at the comments of one of the leading trade union members on a radio show this morning. There is talk of some type of new national conversation or dialogue on pay, taxation and expenditure. That, if done properly, could be worthwhile, but when a leading trade unionist claims that the happiest day of his life was when Syriza was elected in Greece, one would wonder what sort of sanity would be brought to an economic table by such a voice.

The same gentleman, who, presumably, never in his life created any job or supported any enterprise, or supported any business, made the bizarre statement that business people across this country are stuffing their back pockets with loot. The same business people, the 200,000 self-employed business people in this country, are employing tens of thousands of people and they need support, not cynical comments-----

-----such as that from a leading trade union member. I hope that there will be realism at the table of economic dialogue, not some sort of claptrap ideological debate which would be more in tune with the former Eastern European policies of the 1970s.

I agree with Senator Bradford's comments on the self-employed. Many self-employed people who ran small businesses over the past four to five years in difficult financial circumstances continued to pump money in from their savings in order to keep companies going and workers employed, and they made considerable sacrifices. Those who run their own businesses have to pay commercial rates whether or not they are making a profit. For instance, €66 million is collected from the rate payers of Cork City Council, and the total cost of wages and salaries in Cork City Council is €74 million. Regardless of whether it is making profits, the commercial sector is paying a significant amount of money in. I certainly agree with Senator Bradford's comment that small business have maintained employment right throughout these difficult times.

I raise the issue of the HSE document which was circulated. It was good that it was sent to us because we now see what is happening behind closed doors. Many issues were raised in the 42-page document and it would be helpful if we had a debate on the matter. A number of issues were highlighted, such as funding being paid out where service level agreements had not yet been signed. Of 103 invoices identified, 41 could not be matched to a valid purchase order. There are many issues in the document related to the financial management of the HSE. In fairness to the staff of the HSE, they are doing a good job, but where there are deficiencies they should be identified and seen to. I see no reason we should not have a debate on this important issue at some stage in the future, because there is much going on behind closed doors that we are not aware of and that we should be aware of to ensure we are getting value for money for the taxpayers of this country.

I request a debate with the Minister for Education and Skills on an issue that I have already raised in this House - that is, the Department's attempt to seek large amounts of additional information on pupils. School principals are being instructed to gather information, including details on pupils' religion and their PPS numbers, whereas previously only the school would hold that kind of data. The only State agency that collected information on citizens' religious beliefs previously was the Central Statistics Office, and this information was traditionally reserved for the census, where the identities of persons were anonymised for statistical purposes. I have been contacted by a school principal who told me that she has been contacted by concerned parents, as I have been, who want to know what safeguards are in place to protect their children's sensitive data. The Department has informed the principal that failure to provide the information will be met with withholding of funding to the school in question.

We have already seen public concern about the gathering of PPS numbers by Irish Water. Indeed, Senator Quinn introduced an important Private Members' Bill and the practice was subsequently abandoned. I have grave concerns regarding the gathering of significantly more information about primary school students than has ever been collected previously. I am concerned that schools which have a duty of confidentiality to their students and parents are being threatened with funding withdrawal if they do not pass over students' PPS numbers and religious details. These are heavy-handed tactics from the Department of Education and Skills. There are real concerns about the confidentiality of the data, not to mention the need to gather it in the first place. We need the Minister to explain this policy to the House. Let us remember that the EuroMillions winner, Ms Dolores McNamara, had her private details viewed by over 100 employees in the Department of Social Protection at the time. My point is that information can be accessed once it is collected. What parents and schools need to know is what safeguards are in place, and the Minister should clarify.

Briefly, I support the concerns expressed about overspending by the HSE. I raised with the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, the culture of spin and the spending of taxpayers' money on spin doctors. There was a report in The Irish Times today of officials sending a note on which was written, "Say something about the context i.e. scale of €2.9m taken seriously however we pay out over Xbn per annum etc - careful not to give impression it’s OK but what would ‘good’ look at our scale of annual payroll payments."

Senator Mullen is way over time.

This is the culture of spin that I am talking about. This is what taxpayers' money is paying HSE public service officials to do - that is, to make themselves look good by briefing each other about the bad news in advance. We should not be paying for that.

Senator Kelly stated how good the ambulance service is, and it is good. I heard about a case in Knocklyon, in my constituency, last week in which one person was waiting three and a half hours for an ambulance. I presume it is something like this that garners attention, whether it is based on the correct evidence or not.

Something must be done about that because it is not right given that it is an area that is three minutes away from a hospital.

I support the call for a further debate on child care but I want to put it in the context of a debate that is evidence-based. We must ensure we come out of that debate with strategic and co-ordinated developments. A Senator mentioned all the reports, which contain a lot of evidence-based material. The group set up by the Minister is cross-departmental and will gather all the reports together and look at evidence-based material. The most important debate in this House I am calling for is one on quality in child care. We are not putting enough money into child care because there are people working in child care who are on the minimum wage. We are asking child care workers to work for very poor wages. Quality in child care is very important, as are buildings. We now have funding of €260 million per year. It must be strategic and evidence-based.

I am looking for a debate on child care, a debate we cannot hedge. We have had many debates on child care. I want to ensure that we have choices that guarantee quality and that respect the people working and providing the service for half nothing. We need a realistic debate. We cannot be against water charges, property tax and waste charges. We must come in here with a percentage of GDP that we are going to put into child care. I want us to come in here prepared. We have spent long enough talking about it and we have to do something. We are doing a lot. We appointed the first Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and set up Tusla. Significant action is being undertaken in a co-ordinated way for the first time. It would be a pity to throw the baby out with the bath water and say we want a second year. I want a second year of early childhood education but I want to ensure it is money best spent and that we are doing things properly.

I would like a debate on milk and the lifting of quotas in the dairy industry. We need to tease this out. I am glad to hear that a debate on the dairy industry is taking place in the Dáil. It is almost being painted like a new Celtic tiger, perhaps a milk tiger, but I am not so sure it is as clear as that. We need to tease out the ramifications for farmers. I know some farmers who are very concerned about their lot considering they bought quota in recent years and invested tens of thousands of euro. They want to know whether there will be compensation for them. It is being painted as being very rosy but let us have a real debate with the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

I support comments by previous speakers this morning about the lack of understanding shown to the self-employed and entrepreneurs by unsympathetic union leaders. I do not know if we fully understand the value of self-employed people who create jobs. I believe they deserve a medal and special commendation in our State. First of all, do we realise that they are actually tax collectors for the State? They must pay employers' PRSI for the joy of creating work and jobs on which people depend. They get a raw deal when they fall into unemployment themselves. In many cases, they pay unsustainable rates, development charges and rents as well as their income tax. Over 50% of our population - about 1.8 million workers - depend on the self-employed and our farmers to give them a job. Meanwhile, a union leader depends on those employers so they have people to represent. Will the Leader organise a debate on self-employment and its value in order that we get an understanding of it? If we are thinking about creating jobs, work, the value of work, creating opportunities for our young people and keeping our families in Ireland instead of telling them to look to the boat, we need to give special commendation in more than words to the self-employed. We need to come up with some really decent tax incentives and tax reform policies that will support our job creators.

I support the call for a debate on the self-employed and small and medium-sized businesses. I acknowledge the role they have played and are playing. We started off with an initiative to ask each of the small and medium-sized businesses to employ one additional worker. There are 200,000 small and medium-sized businesses in the country and it would have been a great initiative to fulfil. I know that some are doing this but I feel they are forgotten.

I support the call for a debate on the diaspora. I acknowledge the role played by the Minister of State, Deputy Deenihan, and feel a debate in the House would be very worthwhile.

I refer to last week's figures published by the CSO showing that the number of overseas visitors between November 2014 and January 2015 increased by 9% compared with the corresponding period for 2013 and 2014. Tosnú maith, mar a deirtear. These figures also show positive results for the sector with the number of people employed in the accommodation and food services sector increasing by 16%. Last year broke all previous records in terms of numbers of overseas visits-----

Is the Senator looking for a debate on the matter?

I certainly am and it will be a worthwhile one because it is a worthwhile and very successful story. I acknowledge the role played by the tourism industry in our economic recovery. No doubt the initiatives by the Government such as reducing airport tax to zero and the 9% VAT rate were major contributors to this.

I am asking about what I would call a "no-brainer", namely, the Public Health (Availability of Defibrillators) Bill 2013, which Senator Quinn brought to the House towards the end of 2013. I bumped into a really superb paramedic last week who told me about a 15 year old girl in a school he had been called to who had collapsed. The teacher put the girl into the recovery position. In fact, her heart had stopped. The little girl is back in school six weeks later and what saved her life is a defibrillator. It is a very easy piece of machinery to use and it is very easy to train people to use it. It is becoming more cost-effective to buy them. Senator Quinn put forward a very simple Bill. He wanted defibrillators in all sorts of places such as hospitals, schools, churches, shopping centres and bus stations. CPR is wonderful but it is not at the races compared with a defibrillator. A defibrillator is an incredibly intelligent machine that can tell exactly what position somebody's heart is in and restart it. It is very easy to use. Could the Leader ask the Minister for Health what they are doing and when they will come back to Senator Quinn and push this Bill through?

I apologise as I know the Cathaoirleach has ruled it out of order but I have to stand up and support Senator Norris's statement on the cut in wages for the ushers. This is not acceptable.

I support Senator Ó Clochartaigh's comments on the McCabe case in Northern Ireland. Any act of terrorism is not acceptable. Certainly, we have made great progress in recent years and this case needs to be investigated by the authorities on both sides of the Border as a matter of urgency.

I also support the self-employed. Thousands of self-employed people have gone out of business in the past five or six years as a result of the economic crisis this country faced. Unfortunately, they were not able to get social welfare or State benefits readily and were treated very badly. These were people who had created jobs when they had the opportunity but who fell on hard times.

These individuals found that the various structures of the State were not designed to offer them support. The comments made this morning by a so-called leading trade unionist were disgraceful. I may as well place on record that I have had no respect for that man for many years. The drivel he uttered this morning in respect of self-employed people was just shocking. That person should play no role whatsoever in any future partnership negotiations because I do not believe he is fit to do so.

In the context of the timing of the Order of Business, the Leader has made great strides in the context of improving the efficiencies of the House. However, he should consider the possibility of taking Commencement Matters at 9.30 a.m. each Wednesday and Thursday and then taking the Order of Business at 11 a.m. I am of the view that it is a little late to begin the Order of Business at noon. Perhaps he will take my suggestion into consideration during his next review of the business of the House.

Before I begin, I wish to confirm to the House that I understand the separation of powers between the Judiciary and the State. I call on the Leader to arrange an all-day debate on several matters. The first of those matters is sentencing. Some of the sentences handed down by members of the Judiciary are an absolute joke. The second matter to be discussed during the all-day debate I am requesting would be free legal aid. In recent times, a 19 year old with 46 previous convictions was again afforded free legal aid. Where is the disincentive to prevent that individual from committing further crimes? As stated on previous occasions, I firmly believe that anybody can fall, inadvertently or otherwise, on the wrong side of the law. In that context, it should be a case that after three strikes people should no longer qualify for free legal aid. Recently, two gardaí were ambushed by five men and one of them had his eye socket broken as a result of a blow from an iron bar. The five men involved were arrested the following day and brought to court where they were granted bail. That is wrong. These perpetrators were-----

The Senator should not comment on individuals. The people involved can be readily identified.

The case in question is in the public domain in any event.

That does not matter. Those involved are not here to defend themselves. The Senator should not comment on individual decisions handed down by judges either.

A couple from the part of the country in which I live travelled to Australia recently in order to visit their daughter. Both were very badly injured when they were involved in a car accident that involved one fatality. The person who caused the accident was incarcerated within seven weeks. If the accident had occurred in this country, it would not be dealt with by the courts in under two years. Issues such as the security of prison officers and our prison strategy could also form part of the all-day debate I am requesting. There is a need for a serious debate on all the matters to which I refer and I am of the view that this is the House in which it should be held.

Before I reply to the Order of Business, I note that there are only seven or eight Members present. Approximately 25 Senators made contributions on the Order of Business. Where did they go?

The Leader should not reply to them.

I am reluctant to reply in respect of many of the points raised by those who have gone missing.

Senator Mooney quite correctly raised the leaked HSE report which deals with overpayments, copies of which many of us received. As a number of Members noted, those overpayments should be returned to the Exchequer. Those who are overpaid by the Department of Social Protection are obliged to repay the excess amounts they received. I will try to get the Minister to come before the House in order that he might discuss with us the fact that the document was leaked and also the information contained in said document. I am obliged to wonder whether Senators were meant to receive copies of the document in question.

The Senator also referred to child care. As Senator Bacik stated, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs has established a task force on child care. There is a possibility that the Minister may come before the House next week in order to discuss this matter in advance of the report's publication. When the task force has issued its report, I envisage that we will certainly engage in a debate on its contents. I am trying to encourage the Minister to come before the House for a general debate on the matter in order that the House might have an input into the process.

Senator Bacik referred to child care and commented on the importance of reforms within the education sector, particularly in the context of the junior certificate. The Senator requested a debate on the Middle East following the forthcoming Israeli election. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, has come before the House to debate that matter on a number of occasions and I am sure he would be quite willing to return.

I take on board the Cathaoirleach's ruling on payments relating to the staff of the Houses. My understanding is that all staff endured similar cuts. However, it is absolutely ludicrous for people on low wages to be asked to accept further cuts. This is the first I have heard of the matter and I am of the view that it is worthy of investigation by the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. Those of us on this side of the House will be raising it with our members of the commission. I am sure everybody else will do likewise. It seems very strange that a proposed pay cut such as that to which Senator Norris referred is being contemplated. We are all aware of the work the ushers do and how it complements that which we do. The ushers also support us in our work in a very courteous and mannerly way. This matter should be examined by the commission. I am sure that members of all parties and none will raise it with their representatives on the commission and, hopefully, report back to us in early course.

Senators Paul Coghlan and Wilson referred to difficulties relating to the national lottery system. As has been pointed out, this matter will be addressed by the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform next week.

Senators Leyden and Kelly referred to tobacco products and the possible loss of 50 jobs in Roscommon. I do not know whether the company involved stated that those jobs may be lost or whether Senator Leyden is suggesting that this might happen. As Senator Landy pointed out, however, tobacco is tobacco and, regardless of whether one is talking about cigarettes, cigars or pipe tobacco, it causes cancer. Members on all sides have supported the Minister with regard to plain packaging of tobacco products. We should stick by our guns and continue to support him rather than taking the parochial route, as Senator Leyden has done in this instance.

Senator Landy referred to the CEDRA report. As he correctly pointed out, an expert advisory group has been formed to deal with the implementation of the 34 recommendations contained in that report. As the Senator stated, the relevant Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan, was in the House a number of weeks ago to discuss that very matter. I am sure she would be willing to return in order that we might have a further input into the process.

Senator Quinn referred to discussing relevant issues prior to the introduction of the budget. We did not discuss such issues last year but we did so the previous year. We will certainly try to ensure that the House will engage in pre-budget debates this year. All NGOs and interested organisations make submissions prior to the budget and the Minister is presented with all of the relevant information relating to these. I agree, however, that the House should probably have a further input into the process.

I note Senator Quinn's other point with regard to allergies that are life threatening. The Senator requested a debate with the relevant Minister on the matter in order that we might ascertain what proposals he has in respect of it.

Senators Mullins, Brennan and Ó Clochartaigh made reference to Government policy on the diaspora. I have organised a debate on the matter with the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Deenihan, which is scheduled for next Tuesday.

Senator Ó Clochartaigh also raised the issue of staff of these Houses. We dealt with the Workplace Relations Bill in the House last week and it is a pity that it will not be before us this week. However, we have dealt with that matter. I can assure Senator Ó Clochartaigh that I have no problem whatsoever in condemning the attack on Mr. Francis McCabe. Indeed, I have no problem in condemning any violent attack on any individual in this State or across the Border and condemn it I will, on every occasion. The word "condemn" was not in the Sinn Féin vocabulary for a long number of years but I am glad that party members are coming around to using that word now. It is necessary for Sinn Féin to condemn all attacks. However, as has been pointed out by Senator Bradford, when another McCabe was murdered, Sinn Féin representatives were waiting for his killer when he was released from prison. They refused to condemn that murder for many years. I am glad that "condemn" is coming back into the vocabulary of Sinn Féin members. They will certainly have support from this side-----

The Leader should ask the Taoiseach to condemn it as well.

They will certainly have support from this side of the House in condemning all violent acts against individuals in this country.

The Leader should ask the Taoiseach to do the same.

Senator Hayden raised the issue of rents and argued that an information campaign informing tenants of their rights should be instituted. I support her comments in that regard and hopefully the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government or a Minister of State at his Department will come to the House to discuss regulations which could be introduced to help tenants.

Senator Wilson agreed with Senator Paul Coghlan's comments on the national lottery. I am sure the questions he posed will be raised at the meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform next week and hopefully we will get answers to them from the new operators.

Senator Kelly raised the issue of the fire and ambulance services, which was also raised yesterday on the Order of Business by many Senators. As was pointed out, HIQA has reported on the matter and its report cannot be ignored. Patient safety is of paramount importance and must be addressed. I am sure that this matter can be concluded and dealt with through conciliation and hopefully, the right result will emerge as a result of that process.

Senators Healy Eames, Bradford and Conway spoke about a national dialogue on tax and expenditure. They also referred to the comments of a trade union leader about the self-employed and about employers stuffing their pockets with money, which were extraordinary. It would be right to say that many self-employed people are creating jobs and are helping to create a better economy. Many employers are putting people back to work and are putting money into their employees' pockets. That is what the trade union leader in question wants to see but his comments were very inflammatory. I also heard his comments regarding Syriza in Greece. He lauded that party's election but pointed out that the five demands of Syriza have already been delivered by this Government. His points in that regard should be taken on board.

Senator Colm Burke made reference to the leaked document from the HSE. I note his comments in that regard and am sure that it will not be the last we will hear of said document, which was leaked to all Members of this House.

Senator Mullen made reference to the additional data requested by the Department of Education and Skills and the need for reassurances from the Data Protection Commission in that regard. As the Senator pointed out, there has been much coverage of the recent introduction of the primary online database and criticism has centred on the use of the PPSN as a unique identifier for each student and on data retention. The creation of a database of primary school pupils is a long overdue development in the education sector which has been supported by both the INTO and the National Parents Council. Similar databases have existed for pre-primary, post-primary and higher education students for many years.

The Department of Education and Skills consulted the Data Protection Commissioner about the collection and retention of individual pupil information for the primary online database in December 2013. The commissioner has stated that the PPSN can be collected by schools for the purpose of the preparation of the primary online database. The Data Protection Commissioner was satisfied that the Department had a legitimate and proportionate purpose for requesting personal details on primary school pupils for the new national database. The retention policy has been agreed with the Data Protection Commissioner.

The primary purpose of the primary online database will be to monitor the educational progress of primary students through the primary school system and onwards to post-primary level and to help them to develop their full education potential. Once up and running, the database will also be used as a basis for the allocation of teachers and capitation grants. Aggregated data will also be used for the production and publication of primary-level statistics. The database will also collect information such as PPS number, name, address, date of birth, nationality, learning support status, Irish exemption status and class status as well as two optional items of sensitive personal data relating to ethnic or cultural background and religion. The latter two items require the written consent of parents for inclusion. The PPS number will serve as a primary identifier in the database and will allow for pupil identity to be validated to ensure that there are no duplicate enrolments in the system. Under social welfare legislation, both schools and the Department of Education and Skills are specified bodies which are allowed to ask individuals for their PPS number where such individuals have a transaction with the State. In this case, the individuals in question are availing of State-provided education.

The primary online database may only be accessed through a password-controlled account and only the school attended by the pupils and a small number of departmental staff will have access to that account. Access within the Department to the primary online database data is limited to the database team which currently is fewer than 15 people. No agency or other Government Department will have direct access to the primary online database. The Department proposes in the future to share some of the personal data stored in the database with other State bodies, namely, the Central Statistics Office under the Central Statistics Act, to assist in the compilation of national statistics; the National Council for Special Education under the Education and Welfare Act, in order to assist in supporting resource allocation for pupils with special educational needs; the Child and Family Agency under the Education and Welfare Act, to ensure that each child of compulsory school age is in receipt of an education; and the Department of Social Protection, to validate pupil identity. This comprehensive response to Senator Mullen's concerns should give him-----

I will consider that response and thank the Leader for it.

-----all the information he requires and I hope he is satisfied in that regard.

Senator Keane called for a debate on child care and asked that any such debate be evidence-based, which I am sure will be the case. Hopefully we will have that debate with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Reilly, next week.

Senator Healy Eames asked for a debate on the elimination of milk quotas. We had a debate on milk quotas and milk prices on 10 December last so I do not propose to have a further debate on the issue. It was well flagged that milk quotas would be eliminated in 2015 so I cannot understand why anyone would have bought milk quota in the last year or two and paid a high price for same.

Senator Brennan referred to Central Statistics Office figures on overseas visitors. The figures make for wonderful news. He commented on the fact that there has been a good start to this year already. As he said as Gaeilge, tús maith, leath na hoibre. Certainly the efforts the Government has made in respect of the 9% VAT rate and eliminating the tax on flights has helped tourism and associated businesses, including hotels and so on.

Senator O'Brien raised the matter of the Public Health (Availability of Defibrillators) Bill and the need for the increase in usage of defibrillators. As has been pointed out, the Bill went through this House but I will inquire again on the position. I gather HIQA carried out costings on the provision of defibrillators in all the areas that Senator Quinn set out. Anyway, I believe there should be an increase in the usage of defibrillators in many areas of the country.

Senator Conway rightly pointed out the plight of self-employed people, who can get no social welfare payments when their businesses go to the wall.

When we changed the ordering of business I said I would welcome comments from any Member on the changes. The comments on the Commencement debate are among the first I have heard on the matter. We are doing it for a trial period. I am willing to change it in any way that suits the vast majority of Members and staff. At the moment it is working quite well. Perhaps we will look at closing the gap between the Commencement debate and the Order of Business. We deal with the Order of Business at noon but perhaps we could bring that back to 11.30 a.m. and close the gap. That would probably be a good idea but we will leave it until this term is over and then make any changes that are necessary. I am certainly open to suggestions from any Member.

Senator Sheahan called for a debate on the consistency of sentencing and the qualification of people who commit offences on a regular basis for free legal aid. He also raised the length of time involved in dealing with crimes. We have raised the question of law and order and sentencing with the Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald. She has a good deal of legislation coming to the House in the coming month or two and she has guaranteed that she will come in for a wide-ranging debate on law and order. Sentencing policy will form a strong part of that debate. I imagine Senator Sheahan will get the opportunity to raise the matter with the Minister at that point.

I do not propose to accept the amendment to the Order of Business.

Senator Paschal Mooney has moved an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to clarify the Government policy on child care and alleviating the financial burden on parents arising from child care costs be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

In light of the Leader's response I am not pressing the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Order of Business agreed to.