Wednesday, 14 May 2003
Order of Business.
The Order of Business today is No. 1, Redundancy Payments Bill 2003 – all Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business until 4 p.m. and, if not previously concluded, to resume after Private Members' Business at 8 p.m. and conclude not later than 9 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons on Second Stage not to exceed 15 minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes and on which Members may share time; No. 2, Criminal Justice (Joint Investigation Teams) Bill 2003 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 4 p.m. and conclude at 6 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes and on which Members may share time, the Minister to be called upon to reply not later than ten minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage at approximately 5.50 p.m.; and No. 13, motion No. 30, to be taken from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
As we informed the Leader in private discussions, the Fine Gael group is in favour of taking all Stages of the Redundancy Payments Bill today and has provided the latitude the Government requires to get the Bill through the House. The amendment tabled by my colleague, Senator Coghlan, the only substantive amendment proposed by either side of the House, would extend the rights provided for in the Bill to at least four other companies. Given the degree of flexibility we have shown, I ask the Government to consider accepting the Fine Gael amendment as it would greatly improve the Bill. Will the Leader make this point to the relevant Minister when he or she speaks to the Bill later?
I draw the attention of Senators to the Local Government Bill, on which the House had a substantial debate around a month ago. I understand the Bill will clear all Stages in the Dáil later today and may come back to this House at a later stage due to a small technical amendment. The Leader is well aware of the balances established in the Constitution on the rights of the Dáil, Seanad and President. The President has, within our constitutional framework, a right to refer Bills which are suspect, either in part or in whole, to the Supreme Court for a final determination. Given the degree of doubt concerning the Government's plans to abolish the dual mandate in the Bill, I ask the President, through this assembly, to consider—
There is a clear precedent in this area by which any Member of the Oireachtas can make a request that the President consider referring a Bill to the Supreme Court to determine its constitutionality. There is no difficulty with my request. It would make sense for all concerned if a final determination on the constitutionality of the Bill was to be made by the Supreme Court, should the President so determine. She has shown tremendous latitude and expertise and I am sure she will show the same in this and future cases.
I support and welcome a proposal made during the teacher union conferences to extend an allowance already available to teachers working in the Gaeltacht to teachers working in disadvantaged communities. I ask the Leader to take up the matter with the Minister for Education and Science. It is difficult for communities to stem the haemorrhage of teachers from disadvantaged schools. We must consider a special allowance for teachers in those communities to ensure a large number of qualified and trained teachers stay. There is an allowance for Gaeltacht areas which should also be available in disadvantaged communities. I ask that this proposal be put to the Government.
The Order of Business is agreeable to us. I suggest that the Leader take note of what Senator Brian Hayes said about Senator Coghlan's amendment to the Redundancy Payments Bill.
The summer is upon us and the fish kill season will start before we know where we are. However, nothing has happened about the nitrates amendment. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Agriculture and Food to come to the House to discuss this serious issue? I gather that Commissioner Fischler has said there will be a problem getting agricultural payments because of the delay in bringing forward this amendment. The earlier it is brought forward the better.
We agree to the Order of Business. However, when we agreed to it, we were under the clear impression – it was not the Leader's fault – that the Redundancy Payments Bill would be retrospective and apply to a few cases of recent redundancies. I want to make it clear that the Leader did not behave in any way other than impeccably. We would not have agreed to the Bill being taken with such urgency if we had been as clear as we are now about the breach of promise by the Tánaiste and the clear and deliberate deception she entered into with the workers in Castlecomer in which she told them one thing but has now done the exact opposite. That is not the way to do business.
I say that to the Government, not the Leader who behaved impeccably in this matter.
There was an appalling atrocity in Riyadh yesterday. All democratic Governments must do two things. We must deal with the problem of terrorism but we must also ensure the response to it is not so ham-fisted, clumsy and disproportionate that it encourages further terrorism. That is the reason I want the matter discussed here. Many of us are beginning to realise that the consequence of each military attempt to suppress terrorism, whether in this country or worldwide, is to generate further terrorism. Some of the issues which fester in the world and on this island are not justifications for terrorism. However, if we want to deal with the type of popular feeling which encourages terrorism, we must deal with injustice in the world. I would like to have a debate in the House on what is driving people to the type of extreme activity we saw yesterday, which is reprehensible and wrong. Putting civilians at risk, whether deliberately or as collateral damage, is immoral and wrong. I would like to discuss the issue.
I ask the Government for clarification of its position on public private partnerships. In my home city a major educational project, the Cork School of Music, is being held up allegedly because of difficulties with the concept of public private partnerships, yet on radio this morning I heard the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform talking about building a prison using public private partnerships. I do not have any problem with the proposal to build a detention centre for young people because it is long overdue. However, I do have a problem with the reason it is not possible to build the Cork School of Music using public private partnerships, particularly if it is possible for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to say he will build a prison less than one week after I heard the Minister for Education and Science explain the problems. I would like the issue of the Government's position on public private partnerships debated and clarified in the House once and for all.
As regards the last point made by Senator Ryan, as the Senator is aware, that matter was discussed by the Joint Committee on Education and Science. It was made clear by the Minister that the problem related to the terms of the growth and stability pact, not public private partnerships. I asked that question at the committee and the Senator was present when the Minister made those remarks. I am surprised he commented in the way he did.
My other point relates to a request which might be made to the President with regard to the constitutionality of a Bill. It is normal for Members during the passage of a Bill through the House to make comments on the constitutionality or otherwise of various sections or the Bill as a whole. However, it is still the sole prerogative of the President.
It is not appropriate for the House to call on the President. In addition, if she decides to refer the Bill, you, a Chathaoirligh, as a member of the Council of State, will be involved in that decision. I am sure you will be able to convey whatever views are made in that regard.
As regards the nitrates directive, certain local authorities have delayed introducing guidelines. However, it would be wrong to suggest that nitrates are responsible for fish kills. As an angler, I am aware that it is more likely to be phosphates or sources of pollution emanating from the agricultural industry and local authorities. However, that does not take from the point Senator Henry made.
It would be desirable for the House to mark the Special Olympics by a debate or some other means. I was surprised by the report that the Irish Nurses Organisation had stated nurses would require payment for the work they would do during the Special Olympics. Given that they are based on a huge national voluntary effort, I am surprised by that decision. Perhaps an inquiry could be made in that regard.
Mr. Finucane: As regards the bombing of several compounds in Riyadh, expatriates live in the compounds, including an Irish population of 1,500 in Riyadh alone. There are 2,000 Irish people in Saudi Arabia. Some 15 of the 17 suicide bombers who participated in the atrocity on 11 September 2001 came from Saudi Arabia which appears to be an al-Qaeda hotbed. What is the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Consulate in Riyadh doing to ensure the 2,000 Irish people in Saudi Arabia are protected? Are there contingency plans because of the increasing turbulence in the area? When the bombers bombed the compounds, they did not discriminate against American, British or Irish citizens. Their actions were against the expatriate population in Saudi Arabia. What precautionary measures are being taken by the Minister for Foreign Affairs?
Mr. MacSharry: Would it be possible to ask the Tánaiste to come to the House for an urgent debate on the insurance issue? While I appreciate that we will have an opportunity to discuss motor insurance this evening, I would like a debate on insurance generally but particularly public liability insurance. It has come to my attention – I am sure other Members have heard about it from constituents – that many important community based festivals and activities are in jeopardy this summer due to prohibitive public liability insurance costs. It would be appreciated if the Tánaiste could come to the House without delay for an urgent debate.
I supported wholeheartedly the Local Government Bill which was intended to abolish the dual mandate. I was entertained by the squawks from some who, even when they grudgingly accepted the abolition, wanted to be able to hand on their seat to their spouse. That is an amazing feudal system in a republic. As regards the legality and constitutionality of the Bill, the President is a fine lawyer. Among her other qualifications, she was Reid Professor of Criminal Law at Trinity and practised at the Bar and is well able to determine whether a Bill may contain constitutional flaws. It is my understanding that any Member of the House can make such a suggestion and, under the Constitution, if two thirds of Members of the House – in concert with the Dáil – oblige her to do so, she must comply. I respectfully suggest that the Seanad has a role to play in respect of this matter.
While what happened in Riyadh was an appalling catastrophe for the people and families involved, it was only too predictable in light of what happened in Iraq. In that context, No. 13, motion 29, in the name of the Independent Members, refers to the moral obligation of the so-called allies to provide medical and rehabilitative aid to the members of the civilian population they injured in the course of the war. I was advised yesterday that there is a legal obligation to do so under the fourth Geneva Protocol. I support Senator Ryan's view that as long as there is injustice in the world, there will be this kind of festering sore and inappropriate violent expression of unease at injustice.
I am sympathetic to some of the sentiments expressed by Senator Brian Hayes in respect of teaching in disadvantaged areas. I am aware that there is an ongoing turnover of staff in that area and this is, for many reasons, unsatisfactory. Will the Leader provide for a debate on disadvantage in education? Many of the issues to which Senator Brian Hayes referred might be discussed in such a debate.
Members will be aware that yesterday, the High Court decided to refuse the application for costs by the McBrearty family in respect of their presence at the Morris tribunal. The High Court judgment is one of the most sympathetic I have ever read. The judge said:
. . . I do this with great regret, as nobody could but have sympathy for the parlous position in which the applicant and his family find themselves. . . . If there was any way in which a point could be stretched in relation to the various issues I have had to decide, so as to find that the position of the applicant and his family was so different as to not require me to follow the decisions to which I have referred, I would have been prepared to do so, not just in the interests of the applicant, but in the interest of the Tribunal itself. I say this because it seems to me that if the applicant does not have the benefit of the services of solicitor and Counsel for the duration of the Tribunal—
I agree. I will merely read the final line of the court's judgment into the record. It states:
. . . However, the Government has refused to assist the applicant, the legislation does not permit the Tribunal to assist ahead of making findings, and the case-law does not permit of an exception in the applicant's case. . .
The judge is quite clearly stating that while he and the tribunal do not have the power to award the kind of costs sought by the McBrearty family, the Government does have such power. Previous Administrations did so in respect of the Stardust tribunal and the blood tribunal. It has also been done by the UK Government in respect of the families who went before the Bloody Sunday inquiry.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to before the House, as a matter of urgency, in order that we might re-examine this matter? Our Constitution guarantees equality of treatment for all, but there is no equality of treatment in how this family is being treated.
Most Members will welcome yesterday's decision by the regulator to overturn the decision by An Post to foist roadside letterboxes on communities throughout the country. The company has obviously lost sight of its remit in respect of its social agenda. The postman is often the only person with whom elderly people in rural areas come into contact each day. The arrogance of the company was underlined by the fact that it proceeded, without permission from the regulator, to purchase 500,000 letterboxes at a cost of €10 million. It is clear that, for a company that is so cash-strapped, it has obviously lost the run of itself. There is a need for the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to come before the House to outline if he, as the main shareholder, was consulted in respect of this daft decision.
I agree with the Leader of the Opposition in respect of the Local Government Bill and I fully support Senator Dardis in terms of his reply in that regard. If there is a shadow of doubt regarding the legality of the Bill, I am sure the President, in her wisdom, will refer it to the appropriate authorities.
I disagree with Senator Norris regarding the spouses and families of locally elected representatives throughout the country. Such families have represented the electorate, on a voluntary basis, with distinction. I resent his remarks and ask that he withdraw them.
I support Senator Higgins's plea to the Government to look closely at yesterday's High Court judgment on the McBrearty affair. I refer, in particular, to the specific point he raised in respect of the Government's responsibility and duty to ensure that any citizen who finds themselves in the same position as the McBrearty family can be guaranteed the right to be supported in terms of engaging legal representation.
I am glad Senator Dardis raised the issue of the Special Olympics and how we should mark the occasion. The most appropriate way we could do so would be by bringing forward the Disability Bill as soon as possible.
Not only should we bring forward that Bill, we should ensure that it includes a rights-based approach to disability. Those with disabilities, whether physical or intellectual, must be guaranteed a legal right of redress and should not, as was the case in the original legislation, be left exposed or vulnerable. I look forward to the publication of that Bill. I ask that the Leader inquire, on behalf of the House, as to when it will be forthcoming. It is appropriate that we should deal with it before the commencement of the Special Olympics.
On the Local Government Bill, we should be clear in our support for the principle that we, as Members of the Oireachtas, should have the right and the entitlement to put a plea to the President, through our contributions in the House, to consider examining an item of legislation. We have done so on more than one occasion; we did it in respect of the freedom of information legislation. While it is entirely at the President's discretion to decide how to deal with such a request, the principle of our making it is important.
I support the call for the Seanad to mark the Special Olympics and I agree that the introduction of the Disability Bill would be an appropriate way of doing so. It is important, in symbolic terms, to stress that the Special Olympics are about more than games; they involve allowing people to express their full potential and encouraging others to develop a consciousness of the needs and dignity of people with disabilities.
On Senator Higgins's point regarding the payment of costs, there is no question but that the court has decided the position and that the tribunal is correct in stating that it cannot award costs until the end of the process. I was involved in such a tribunal in the past. There is nothing to stop the Department undertaking to pay those costs. That would not require any great change in the law. The problem could be solved if the Department was prepared to accept it could award costs because the people involved are central to what is happening.
It is seldom the Department of Health and Children receives an offer of $4 million. The latter is a rare occurrence. In light of the current crisis in health, will the Leader intervene with the Minister for Health and Children and Comhairle na nOspidéal and seek a response in respect of this matter? Professor Patrick Kelly has, for three years, been waiting for a response from the Minister for Health and Children in respect of his magnanimous gesture to pay $4 million towards the cost of providing equipment and the installation of a neurosurgical unit in Galway. This offer cannot, in the current climate, be rejected. I ask the Leader to plead with the Minister to issue a quick response. We have only two such units – one at Beaumont Hospital and the other in Cork. Good practice necessitates that two hours is the maximum overland journey for which this service is appropriate. All areas in the Western Health Board lie within two hours travel of Galway city.
I share Senator Higgins's concern about An Post services. However, as a member of the Communications Workers' Union, and that union's nominee to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the Seanad I believe it is important that we get the full picture in terms of what is happening. I ask the Leader to contact the regulator in order to ensure that there is a level playing pitch. At present, a European company could establish operations here and deliver post in urban areas. However, An Post is expected to deliver to all rural locations. All that is requested is a level playing pitch which will allow people to trade on similar terms. As matters stand, that is not the case.
I join Senator Higgins in complimenting the communications regulator in not allowing An Post to provide roadside letterboxes. There is a genuine fear and a feeling of inconvenience in rural communities with regard to the safety of people's post in such boxes. What concerns me greatly, however, is the proposal to introduce two-tier postal charges. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to come before the House to assure Members that a two-tier system of postal charges will not be introduced. The Minister should also take action regarding the closure of approximately 500 rural post offices. The latter is being achieved by stealth in many counties. Since Christmas, I understand that six rural post offices closed in County Longford. Action must be taken on this matter. There is no other provision made for elderly people who depend on the rural postal service.
Although the current peace process in Northern Ireland has reached somewhat of an impasse, the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement still prevails. There is enhanced political and cross-Border communication at local and business levels. However, there is one impediment to enhanced cross-Border co-operation at business level, namely, the "roaming" mobile telephone charges that are incumbent on business people. If we are to discuss gateway status between Derry and Letterkenny and the establishment of a linear business park there, the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Dermot Ahern, should intervene with his counterpart in Northern Ireland in the interests of reducing the charges to which I refer. By travelling five miles and crossing the Border, one can incur extra charges. We must facilitate a more harmonised economic baseline for the type of co-operation to which I refer.
In regard to the Redundancy Payments Bill, I agree with Senator Ryan's point, specifically because of the situation with the assurances given to the workers of the Comerama plant in County Kilkenny.
In regard to the matter raised by Senator Higgins, it would be both discriminatory and anti-rural if what Mr. Hynes proposed in respect of a two-tier pricing system in regard to postal services in urban and rural areas. I do not believe anyone in the House wants that to proceed. I am sure the Leader will take that on board.
Some time ago, the Leader promised that she would, if possible, arrange a debate with the Minister of State at the Department of Finance regarding the proposed sell-off of surplus State assets. It is important that we pursue this matter in terms of the chronic shortage of land for local authority housing, particularly where local authorities can show that the transfer of such land to them would help reduce their waiting lists.
With regard to the horrific explosion in the compound in Riyadh, the Department of Foreign Affairs needs to take urgent action. I spoke to one Irish citizen – an airline crew staff member – last night who was injured in that explosion. She had to be moved to hospital and was lucky to escape with her life. As Senator Finucane stated, the mad people who perpetrate these acts do not care who are in the buildings they target. There may be American citizens there, but there may also be Irish citizens present. We need to take action immediately because these people are not safe.
I strongly support the sentiments expressed by Senator Higgins in respect of An Post and the provision of postboxes and the discontinuation of traditional deliveries by postmen or postwomen. With regard to post offices closing, it has been my experience that two situations obtain: first, in many circumstances people did not support their local post offices by using them to obtain their pension payments, television licences or postage stamps and they did their business elsewhere; and, second, no one would take over the operation of post offices. With regard to the latter point, for example, when a post office approximately four miles from Mullingar closed down, I could not find anybody who would show an interest in taking it on. That is the other side of the coin.
Yesterday, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform announced that he is considering the establishment of a reserve Garda force, which would be made up of approximately 1,200 voluntary people, to patrol the streets. We have heard many proposals from the Minister recently. On each occasion the Angelus bells ring, he seems to get divine inspiration. I again ask that the Minister come before the House to outline his proposals on this reserve force. A few weeks ago, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, suggested he would set up a special traffic corps, only then to discover it would be unconstitutional. Has the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform investigated his suggestion properly to discover whether the reserve Garda force would be unconstitutional?
It is important that the Minister should come before the House to debate these matters and also the situation in prisons. Yesterday, the Prison Officers' Association said that the timeframe for the Minister's proposals for reform is unacceptable and unmanageable. It is important that this matter be dealt with or we will have a crisis in our prisons.
I agree with Senators Brian Hayes and Ryan on the Redundancy Payments Bill. As the only Kilkenny man in the Seanad, I wish to make special reference to the Comerama plant in Castlecomer to which Senator Coghlan also referred. I was present at a number of meetings where commitments were entered into which, apparently, will not now to be honoured. Castlecomer has been an unemployment blackspot since the closure of the coal mines there in the 1960s and 1970s. With the closure of the Comerama plant, it is imperative that commitments entered into by the Tánaiste should be honoured by the Government.
I wish to ask the Leader about a report in today's newspapers by a Garda review group which seems to suggest that the number, currently 44, of 24-hour Garda stations in Dublin will be significantly reduced as the review progresses in the coming years. It is highly inappropriate that, at a time when such public order problems exist, any review of Garda resources would seek to close any existing 24-hour Garda stations in the capital.
I thank all the spokespersons of the various parties who have agreed the timeframe for dealing with the Redundancy Payments Bill. Senator Brian Hayes spoke about the amendment which his colleague, Senator Coghlan, has tabled, which I note and have read. I am sure Senator Coghlan will make a spirited espousal of the amendment during the debate.
Senator Brian Hayes also expressed his personal view, as I accept he has every right to do, that the President should refer the Local Government Bill to the Supreme Court. Interestingly, this morning I was reading a 1959 review of the Seanad in which it was stated – a point later taken up by Senator Norris – that two thirds of the Members of this House had the right to request the President to undertake a particular course of action. I have no doubt that the President has the ability and acumen to be able to deal with matters as they come to her or to him.
Senator Brian Hayes also brought up the extension of the special allowance payable to teachers in the Gaeltacht area to teachers working in disadvantaged areas. I think this came up at the INTO conference over Easter. Senator Fitzgerald also brought up the matter. It is a very good point.
Senator Henry mentioned that the fish-kill season was upon us. She also talked about the nitrate directive and other harmful chemicals which in overabundance can lead to dramatic fish-kills. It is very a fair point.
Senator Ryan mentioned the atrocities in Riyadh which made awful and tragic viewing. There is no doubt that violence breeds violence. While that has always been the case, it is horrific the way violence occurs with such regularity. We should endeavour to organise a debate on foreign affairs in the light of what is happening and will clearly continue to happen in the area.
Senator Ryan also brought up the question of public private partnerships and I was glad that my colleague, Senator Dardis, referred to it. I was interested in the debate which took place which I listened to and watched on the in-house television service, and there is no doubt that finance in general is the problem, along with sticking to the stability pact parameters. We were led to believe, however, that the difficulty lay in the public private partnerships, on which, taking Senator Ryan's main point, there should be a debate. It has become the mantra, "Everybody is in favour of them", but no one knows much about them. We should have a proper structured debate on the issue and I will seek to have one. I thank Senator Dardis who was also at the meeting of the joint committee for his comments on the matter. We understand the point made by Senator Brian Hayes who was speaking for himself in a public forum which is perfectly understandable.
Senator MacSharry asked that the Tánaiste attend the House to discuss the general issue of public liability insurance, a matter which comes up all the time. Everybody one meets has the same story. There are loads of events planned for the summer and autumn which cannot be held, and when one inquires as to the reason, one is told that the cost of insurance is huge. We telephoned the office of the regulator this morning.
Sympathy was expressed with regard to the McBrearty family not being able to obtains its costs. Many agreed with the Senator on the matter, on which we will approach the appropriate Department because, as Senator Maurice Hayes said, it should be worked through a Department.
Senator Higgins also raised the issue of post boxes in rural areas. I was thinking about the regulatory issue, of which the Senator is well aware, also this morning as Cathal McCoille put the regulator under intense pressure but she held her own, on which I say, "Well done," to her. I agree with the Senator. I want to know who paid for the post boxes. Have they been paid for? Can one send back 500 or 5,000 boxes, or whatever the number was? I doubt if one can because they were made to measure.
I thought to myself that the position of the regulator had been well vindicated. All sides of the House would say to Etain Doyle, chairperson of the regulatory body, Comtech, that if an intervention was ever needed, that was it.
Senator Norris said it would not be egalitarian to bring in one's spouse or a relation to represent one if the dual mandate was abolished. However, Senator Brennan made the very fair point that it was the members of one's family who answered the telephone and door, took notes and looked after all the various matters associated with being a representative. In many cases they could very fairly represent the person retiring.
The skill of dealing with people is often instilled in a family.
Senator O'Meara supported Senator Higgins in his call about the McBrearty family as well as on the issue of post boxes. She also looked for the Disability Bill to be brought forward now to mark the Special Olympics. We have been seeking to have the Bill brought forward in the Seanad.
Senator Maurice Hayes also wanted to mark the Special Olympics. He also said – I think he is right – that the relevant Department could intervene in the non-payment of fees to members of the McBrearty family to enable them to attend the tribunal.
Senator Ulick Burke mentioned the offer of €4 million for a neurosurgery unit. I am indebted to Senator Mansergh who used the phrase that we should fear Greeks bearing gifts. He even gave me the Latin version, Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes. I wonder if there are ties to such an offer. No matter in what Department I served, I was never lucky enough to meet a benefactor who was willing to give me €4 million to underpin some part of my Department. It would be fine if the offer came with no ties and if there was no other agenda – perhaps it has given that a neurosurgery unit is involved – because, as Senator Ulick Burke pointed out, there are two centres of excellence in Beaumont and Cork. It sounds like a very noble donation but I imagine there is an underlying reason for it. Perhaps I am just being miserly about it but I will ask the Minister the reason he is refusing it.
Senator Hanafin defended An Post, those who work for the company, the members of the Communications Workers' Union and stressed the need for a level playing field in regard to its activities. He also referred to the two-tier system. It is part of the directive that a universal service should be provided. I do not know, however, if the directive stipulates that there should be a universal price. Perhaps that would be a separate matter. Bearing in mind that John Hynes is on his last hurrah and that he departs his position next month, he defended himself well enough this morning.
Senator Bannon agreed with Senator Higgins in regard to An Post and the closure of rural post offices, and asked me to invite the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, to come before the House. Senator Glynn also referred to this matter and stated that that people in rural areas must support such post offices in order that their revenue will rise and they will, thus, be made more viable. There is no policy which states that certain post offices will be closed. If the person who operates a post office dies or wants to retire, their position is advertised, but, if nobody comes forward, the post office must close. The point is well taken that people should collect their pensions from or do their daily business at post offices, which also offer many additional services.
Senator Coghlan also raised the two-tier pricing system in An Post, with which he does not agree. He asked that the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, come before the House. We are hoping to have a discussion on the disposal of property. It is hoped that the Minister of State will come before the House next week to discuss decentralisation, a topic which should fill the House with clamour. However, we may also seek a debate on the matter to which Senator Coghlan referred. The Senator also raised the subject of the expatriates in Riyadh and the issue of violence.
The Senator said that the Minister is receiving divine inspiration in respect of various matters. It is good for a person in the public eye to have ideas and talk about them, rather than adhering to departmental briefs and becoming boring.
The Minister will be in the House this evening and I hope Senator Terry will put forward her points of view and refer to her diminished admiration. If she does so, it will make for a good debate.
Senator John Phelan raised the matter of the Redundancy Payments Bill. I was fortunate enough to hear the debate in the Dáil last week when the Tánaiste was challenged about commitments that she allegedly made in regard to making redundancy payments retrospective. She provided a most spirited response and firmly declared that she had not made any such commitments.