Wednesday, 29 September 2004
Order of Business.
I am sure we all join the Leas-Chathaoirleach in his good wishes to Ms Jody Blake. We are delighted to see her back.
The Order of Business today is No. 1, motion regarding a sessional order as agreed by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges; No. 2, Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) Bill 2003-Report and Final Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 4 p.m; and No. 19, motion No. 18, to be taken at 4 p.m. and to conclude not later than 6 p.m.
I have consulted with the leaders of the other parties on the early introduction of the Private Members' motion for this week only.
I welcome you, Sir, the Leader and all colleagues back to the House. We look forward to a full session. My group would also like to be associated with the welcome to Ms Blake, our clerk assistant. She was very much missed while she was away and we are glad to see her back in full fettle and ready for the days and months ahead.
Given the events taking place in the other House today, why did the Leader not move No. 4 on the Order Paper, the Dumping at Sea (Amendment) Bill 2000, given that a significant number of Ministers will be dumped today?
Could we discuss the Bill today? A number of people will be left at sea by the time the Taoiseach gets to his feet. We have a responsibility to wish all the new Ministers the best of luck when the announcement is made. They have a difficult job to do over the next two years, undoing all the mistakes of the past seven years. This side of the House has no faith in this new sharing and caring all-encompassing Government which the Taoiseach will shortly announce. Be that as it may, however, we will wait to see its shape.
It is important to put on record our congratulations to Deputies McCreevy and John Bruton, two senior Irish politicians who have been given significant positions over the past couple of months. I extend our congratulations to the new Commissioner, Deputy McCreevy, and wish him well in his post. In particular, we thank the Government with regard to the appointment of Deputy John Bruton to the post of EU ambassador. It is significant that the Government supported that posting and that a small country such as Ireland can secure such a posting. It bodes well for parliamentary democracy in this country and says much about how Ireland is viewed by other EU member states.
As it now appears likely that there will be a new Minister for Transport, although the Leader is not smiling at that prospect, could she arrange a debate over the next week or so on the shambles of the penalty points system? This House played a major role in the debate on the introduction of penalty points and it is a disgrace that some years later, we still do not have an efficient system in place. The new Minister, whoever it will be, must come to the House and explain what measures are being put in place to ensure that the public has confidence in the penalty points system and that the system does what it is supposed to do, that is, change driver behaviour and penalise those who cannot drive properly on our roads. It is urgent that such a debate take place.
The implication of welcoming people back is to give the impression, which is well understood outside the Houses, that politicians do nothing in the intervening period. I will not welcome anybody back because I have seen most Members around the Houses most days during the summer. This is just another form of work and it is important to make that point.
A crucial point should be made with regard to the Minister for Transport. We must guard against cynicism in politics of which we saw another example this week, when the Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, did a Ray Burke. Ray Burke was famous for opening bridges by planting flowers and taking away the flowers the following day when the opening was over. Deputy Brennan went to Wicklow three days ago to open a new bypass with great aplomb. There were television cameras, cheers and applause. The following day the bypass was closed again because it had not been completed in terms of signage, safety features and so forth. That type of thing brings politics into disrepute. He did the same with speed cameras which were never appropriate for the job. We should not accept that type of behaviour from Ministers.
The Minister has done other good things. He got the roads programme back on track, for which I give him credit. Roads are being completed before time and on budget. Fair play to him for doing that. He is entitled to exult in that and to look for a satisfactory response from the public for it. However, this business of opening a bypass before it is ready simply because it is one's last couple of days in office and one will get one's name on the plaque and one's photograph in the newspaper and on the 9 o'clock news just breeds cynicism.
I wish to raise another issue, one which I have raised many times in the House. I will raise it as calmly as possible now. Can the Leader give us a breakdown, timeline and schedule as to what is likely to happen in the Judge Curtin impeachment proceedings? It appears that our committee of hard working, decent, honourable and committed people will be hung out to dry on this insoluble situation. It is another example of politics being brought into disrepute. This should have been dealt with months ago in the manner many of us suggested. It is not going anywhere at present.
I do not want to discuss the issue and I have not discussed it but we need a schedule for where it is going.
Will we be able to get across the plinth to our cars this afternoon given the number of dissatisfied ex-Ministers, possible Ministers, potential Members, dissatisfied backbenchers and so on who will crowd it after the announcements?
During the summer and since the Dáil rose, an interesting dialogue has been taking place in the media about poverty and inequality with the soon to be Commissioner for the Internal Market leading the charge to discredit many of those who have campaigned very effectively.
It was interesting to read the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General and note that 28 people went to jail last year for welfare fraud amounting to €1 million while, in the same period, €1.5 billion in tax revenue which had been illegally withheld was handed over to the State and nobody went to jail. I call for a debate on the glaring gap in inequality which Combat Poverty mentioned yesterday and which the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General clearly identified, which is that if one is poor and rips off the State in a relatively small way one goes to jail, but if one is rich and does it in style one gets away and in most cases one is not even prosecuted. It is a symptom of the inequality and I ask for a debate on the matter.
The report of the task force on alcohol which was published yesterday makes interesting reading. One of the more powerful provisions introduced by the previous legislation was the capacity to prosecute and have closed licensed premised convicted of serving under age persons. The figures are astonishing. In the whole of the Dublin metropolitan area in the period under study, 63 prosecutions were initiated and there were 14 closures. In the whole of the western area there were 218 prosecutions and 107 closures. I do not believe the people of the west are worse law breakers than those elsewhere.
There is a question about the enforcement of the law in the single biggest area of the State where approximately one third of the population lives and where crime figures show there is a more serious public order problem, proportionately, than elsewhere. Why is there such a discrepancy? We ought to invite the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to the House to discuss the matter, having asked the Garda Commissioner why that is the case.
Will the Leader arrange a debate on public private partnerships? Those of us in the social democratic tradition learned 60 years ago not to let ideology get in the way of reality. We now have a situation where the ideological pursuit of public private partnerships is liable to cost the State 20% more than the provision of capital goods by the State. If we are prepared to spend 20% more to go through a ritual of public private partnership, it is a scandalous waste which has nothing to do with reality or efficiency and deserves to be debated because it is ideology, not common sense.
I am pleased our colleague, Senator O'Toole, drew attention to the fact that the House was not returning; its Members have been here. He was absolutely correct, although I take the point that it is a new plenary session. I welcome back Jody Blake. Colleagues will be delighted to see the reappearance of our valued colleague, Senator Kate Walsh, in her rightful place after a long illness.
I would be grateful if the Leader would address the issue of what is happening to our national airline, Aer Lingus. Media reports in recent days suggest there will be a change of uniform into some type of Wal-Mart type down-sizing, but more importantly there is some suggestion that the name, Aer Lingus, will be dropped. The question arises as to where this is going and if Mr. Walsh has any accountability to the public. I appreciate the difficulties Aer Lingus has had but during the past three years it has been a profitable airline. Due to the recent emphasis on on-line booking the logo has now been changed and the shamrock has been downgraded. One rarely sees the shamrock. The company is called aerlingus.com and on all of the aircraft the shamrock has been relegated. Now there is talk of changing the name of Aer Lingus. This is part of what might be termed the underbelly of globalisation by which we will find ourselves subsumed under some sort of internationalism.
People fought and died for the right to call themselves Irish. It may sound like a cliché today when the trend is to forget those events but people have real pride. The Football Association of Ireland has now changed its logo and removed the shamrock despite protestations to the contrary. It would take something akin to the "Da Vinci code" to figure out exactly where is the shamrock. Will the Leader respond to these concerns about the direction Aer Lingus is taking as the national carrier which has proudly flown the flag for Ireland? Wherever one goes in the world people relate to the shamrock and to Aer Lingus as the national airline. I am very concerned about the way it is going and I hope Mr. Walsh might inform the public why he feels it necessary to take these steps.
The Comptroller and Auditor General's report has been published. Every year it reveals classic examples of squandermania within Departments. I compliment the Comptroller and Auditor General, as the public watchdog, on exposing such excesses in spending. For example, he highlighted in this report the scandal of €50 million spent on electronic voting. There will be an associated annual cost over time to store the electronic voting machines in various locations around the country.
The comptroller highlighted what has happened with regard to the penalty points system. It would appear from reading his report that one might do better to drive around with a dirty licence plate on one's car than to have it cleaned regularly as many people were not issued with penalty points because their licence plates could not be recognised. He referred to cameras that did not work and all kinds of deficiencies, for example, if one drives a company car there is no mechanism whereby one can be given penalty points. It is a sad comment that the Comptroller and Auditor General must point out deficiencies in legislation passed in this House, and of its implementation. As a previous Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts I wonder whether in situations where squandermania is discovered, for which officials and various Ministers are ultimately responsible, any appropriate action is taken subsequently within the relevant Departments. I do not think so.
Today we are celebrating the appointment of new Ministers and several existing Ministers will change their positions or be moved aside; this publication may provide a sad commentary on the efficiency of those Ministers in their responsibilities to date.
I wish to join in the welcome to Senator Kate Walsh and Ms Jody Blake, Clerk Assistant. In its report launched this month the strategic task force on alcohol states that adults in Ireland had the highest level of binge drinking in comparison to adults in other countries. The study showed that binge drinking is a norm among Irish men. Of every 100 drinking occasions, 58 end in binge drinking. For women, the figure is 30 occasions out of 100.
I call on the new Minister for Health and Children, to be announced this afternoon, to apply the guts and drive the former Minister, Deputy Martin, showed in regard to the ban on smoking in the workplace to deal with this scourge of excessive consumption of alcohol and binge drinking.
It is good to see the Leas-Chathaoirleach in the Chair. It could be a forerunner of things to come. I wish to be associated with the warm words of welcome to everyone but particularly to Jody Blake and Senator Kate Walsh. I trust that the Leader enjoyed her sojourn in Kerry——
I was not going to refer to that.
In view of the expected announcement in the Lower House and the precedents which exist for the possible appointment of a Member of this House to the Cabinet, will the Leader provide a sos in order that we might hear the announcement?
There is some concern abroad about the renowned house of culture in our capital city which is facing demolition because of a planning application. Quite apart from the famous figures who hang out there, it also houses the Pope mobile built by Bill Cullen which was used by Pope John Paul ll when he visited Ireland. I refer, of course, to the National Wax Museum. May I be bold enough to inquire as to where the Leader might consider it appropriate to rehouse the museum?
I would like to commend to every Member a sentiment I discovered by chance a couple of weeks ago which is attributed to Thomas Francis Meagher, who brought home the tricolour, and which runs, "The prosperity of a nation requires the protection of a senate".
I wish to pay tribute to the outstanding contribution of outgoing Ministers, particularly those who held the portfolios of Finance and Agriculture and Food. I share the sentiments expressed by the Leader of the Opposition.
As regards transport facilities being opened or reopened, I was glad to be on the train that crossed the Clare viaduct, between Limerick and Waterford, on its reopening. Members will be glad to hear that the viaduct remains open.
I agree with Senator Ryan. I do not like to see people on social welfare payments being sent to prison, even if they have abused the system. One of the most acute matters for debate is that of growth and social inequality. There ought to be a recognition in any such debate of the amount of social progress we have made across the board in reducing absolute and consistent levels of poverty.
Far from there being any ideological drive for public private partnerships, most commentators would state that the country has been very slow, cautious and hesitant in that direction. This, in part, has been for very good reasons. We should approach this matter with an open mind. When occasion can be made for the use of public private partnerships, we should avail of them. However, I do not believe we should have too many illusions about them either.
A special report published yesterday in conjunction with the Comptroller and Auditor General's report focused on the pilot project relating to public private partnerships for school buildings. It clearly shows incompetence and wastage on the part of the Minister and the Department regarding the contract awarded in 1998. That contract involved the building of five schools, at Ballincollig, Dunmanway, Shannon, Tubbercurry and Clones, which would be leased for 25 years at a cost of €283 million.
We now find this is 13% more than the Department would have had to pay for the construction of these buildings in the traditional way. In addition, the Minister said a 6% to 8% bonus would accrue by proceeding in that way. Overall, this means a variation of 20%. This shows incompetence and a waste of money on the part of the Department and the Minister. This will probably be his last chapter of failure as he ends his stint in the Department of Education and Science.
This project will probably jeopardise the entire building programme of the Department of Education and Science. With so many primary and secondary schools in need of completion it will probably be used as a delaying tactic. The Leader should ask the new Minister for Education and Science to come to the House to indicate his or her policy on the future construction of schools at both levels.
I have re-read the report on the Irish in Britain, which makes a good contribution to fully understanding the plight of many Irishmen and Irishwomen who live abroad. From the information provided it is clear that a good response has been made by the Government and many agencies with finance and back-up services to resolve some of the difficulties that exist. The report is largely concerned with statistical information.
Many people have raised questions about this matter in recent years. Most Senators know of the many human stories and those people, many of whom are of advanced years, need to be attended to. They made their own contribution to Ireland having worked abroad and sent money back here when it was badly needed.
I hope that the appropriate Minister will come to the House to discuss the report with us again and give us an update on progress. Many of these people are in their twilight years and need assistance urgently. While many of the agencies and organisations, voluntary and otherwise, are reaching out and endeavouring to help, in many areas we need a more proactive approach and we should have a debate here to pool our information and assess the progress made.
I join other Members in welcoming everybody back today, particularly Ms Jody Blake and Senator Kate Walsh. I express my disappointment that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government wants to shirk his responsibility in failing to take a matter on the motion for the Adjournment regarding Slanemore, Mullingar, County Westmeath.
——why he announced the closure of St. Catherine's College of Education for Home Economics. This closure was contrary to the best advice of Department officials, consultants, etc. Prior to this announcement, €1.4 million was spent on the refurbishment of the school. The Minister has many questions to answer on this matter about which there is considerable public concern. Either he or the new Minister for Education and Science should come to the House to explain the reasons for this closure.
I join Senator Mooney in calling for an urgent debate with the Minister for Transport on the future role of Aer Lingus. As the Senator rightly pointed out the airline is experiencing dramatic changes in its direction. While I may not be as concerned as the Senator is over the shamrock, I am very concerned about the level of services being delivered to the west and the mid-west in particular. Unfortunately, Aer Lingus has taken a particular decision on cargo.
Senator Ó Murchú has talked about Irish people in their twilight years who have given so much to this country and England in the construction industry and many other industries. Many such people have just one final piece of dignity — the certainty that they can be buried in this country. Aer Lingus's decision to drop cargo services and the repatriation of bodies has had a detrimental effect on these people's opportunity to rest in peace in this country. We owe it to them to facilitate their burial in this country, not only to help them in their latter years, as Senator Ó Murchú has said. It is something we need to address and I would like to have a debate on it in the House.
The issue of connectivity in the mid-west region is a wider one. There was a debacle over the summer when Aer Lingus and EUjet sat down to do a deal, which never transpired. We believe that people in Aer Lingus misrepresented people in EUjet, the net result of which is that one can fly between Shannon and Dublin between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m., but one cannot return later than 1 p.m. It is appalling that an airline which is still in State ownership is not delivering for us. We should debate that in the House very soon.
I would like to conclude by speaking about those who are employed in the company and the news filtering out from the grand plan developed by Aer Lingus's three musketeers over the summer. We believe the plan was hatched to further their own interests and their pockets, based on the decisions which have been taken and the plans being put in place.
The House should be concerned about the increasing levels of vicious assaults and violence on our streets. I have always stated that such behaviour is caused by a cocktail of alcohol and illegal drugs. This country — I will not mention the Government — is losing the battle against the importation of such illegal substances. During the debate we need to have on this issue, we should consider whether Ireland really is a multicultural society. It seems, unfortunately, from press releases and everything else I have heard that many of those who are being targeted — those who are victims of such vicious assaults — tend to be non-nationals or guests in our country. I genuinely believe that we need a debate in the House to examine whether Ireland is a multicultural society.
Like the previous speakers, I welcome Senator Kate Walsh and Jody Blake back to work.
As part of the debate on the involvement of public private partnerships in the construction of certain schools, I wish to state that I have served on the governing body of such a school in Tubbercurry, County Sligo. The developers, Jarvis, acquired the land and built the school on time and within budget. Jarvis could not have been more helpful to the board of the school, which has 800 students following the amalgamation of three existing schools. The facilities which have been put in place for the children who attend the school are absolutely unbelievable. They are made available to the public and the community at weekends and other times, as required.
I do not know how the Comptroller and Auditor General can say at this time that the project is over budget by 13% because the schools are leased for 25 years before being handed back to the Government. Jarvis is still responsible for the costs of maintenance and everything concerned with the running of the school. As the school was finished just two years ago, it is very early to say it is over budget. All Senators are aware that more work needs to be done as the years go by.
I am. In response to Senator Ryan, I would like to point out that I received a telephone call from a constituent as I made my way to Dublin today. I spoke to the father of a young family whose wife has a job. He applied for and was granted social welfare between social employment schemes. He discovered recently that he has received a social welfare overpayment of €52,000 and has been asked to repay the relevant amount. It is accepted that he did not make a false declaration or anything else. I could understand a departmental official making a mistake for a month, two months or three months, but I cannot understand an overpayment of €52,000. That is criminal and someone in the Department is not doing his or her job. It is very wrong that the individual in question, at this stage, is being asked to repay €52,000.
I remind Senators that this is national child care week. It is appropriate that, on our first day back, we remind ourselves of how badly the Government is serving both members of the public and Members of the two Houses when it comes to delivering adequate child care facilities. I ask the Leader once again to arrange a debate in the House on child care. The Government should be taking the lead on this issue, particularly by providing a child care facility in this House and in every Department.
I wish to take the opportunity to extend my congratulations to Senator Tuffy who had a baby over the summer recess. Senator Tuffy will come in here and this House will not serve her child care needs very well. However, she is but one of many young mothers and fathers in need of child care whom the Government is letting down. The Government should be taking the lead. I ask that we arrange a debate on child care as soon as possible.
I welcome Jody Blake and Senator Kate Walsh back to this Chamber.
I congratulate the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, on their efforts to try to secure the release of the hostage, Mr. Bigley, in light of the fact that his mother comes from Dublin. It is very important that every effort be made and I congratulate our Government on its exertions to that end.
Since we have recently had discussions on the North of Ireland, perhaps we might soon have an update from the new Minister for Foreign Affairs regarding the talks and the current situation.
I join in the words of welcome to Jody Blake and Senator Kate Walsh.
I support the call from my colleague, Senator Bannon, that the Minister for Education and Science, whoever he or she may be, come to the House to discuss the closure of Sion Hill College. Some Members might not be aware of the background to this situation. It appears that the Minister's own officials and independent consultants argued against this closure. An effort was made under the Freedom of Information Acts to ascertain that information. The Minister's officials did not want to release the documentation but the Information Commissioner allowed it. It clearly showed that the closure of Sion Hill was decided against all the advice available to the Minister.
I accept that, politically, the Minister is the person to take the decision, as has happened. However, it is important that we have the current or new Minister in the House to clarify the issue and tell us exactly what brought about the decision to close Sion Hill, a college which gave generations of service by producing home economics graduates.
I wish to support what Senator Ó Murchú said on the broader issue of Irish emigrants, be they in London or the United States. The Leader is aware of the fact that one of our colleagues on the Fine Gael benches, Senator Higgins, has said on more than one occasion that he would be prepared to resign his Seanad seat if the Government agreed to his replacement by an official voice for Irish emigrants. The Senator has written to the Taoiseach regarding this matter. We have had numerous debates about the need for Oireachtas representation for emigrants.
When they are in Opposition, various parties make certain suggestions and the Government of the day quickly forgets them. It may not be possible to reach a solution. However, Senator Higgins has said he is willing to resign his seat in the Seanad following his election to the European Parliament if he can reach agreement with the Government on his replacement by a voice for Irish emigrants abroad. I request that the Leader and Deputy Leader ask the Taoiseach to give that genuine offer genuine consideration. We would all welcome a structure by which Irish emigrants were officially represented in this House. Senator Higgins is offering a structure to do so. If the Government exhibits fair play, we could make a very positive gesture which would be a step forward for Irish emigrants. All we can do is ask the Leader to put pressure on the Taoiseach to enter into meaningful dialogue with Senator Higgins on this issue.
I support Senator Ormonde's request for a debate on Northern Ireland. It would be timely. Much has happened over the summer. It looks like events are moving in a reasonable direction and I hope we can have a debate and be brought up to date before too long.
I note the case of the social welfare applicant who is required to refund money paid in error. I had some experience of such cases as an ombudsman in another jurisdiction and I understood the position to be that money paid out as a result of a Department error could not be recovered and certainly should not be recovered. The Social Welfare Acts are so complex that people cannot be sure of the details. The money paid out over the years has no doubt been spent and it is entirely unreasonable to ask people to return it. I hope the Minister will take that view.
I am glad to hear everyone in great voice. Senator Brian Hayes kindly wished good luck to new Ministers as well as to the new EU Commissioner, former Minister, Deputy McCreevy, and to Deputy John Bruton. The latter's appointment as EU ambassador to Washington is a signal honour for him and for this country and I have no doubt he will do a good and thorough job. Senator Brian Hayes also raised the need for a debate on the penalty points system.
I met Senator O'Toole regularly during the summer. Most senators were attending committees and other business in the House except perhaps during August. Senator O'Toole spoke about roads being officially opened by Ministers before they are ready for use. However, when certain events are looming, one does one's best to show oneself off and there is nothing intrinsically bad about that.
No. Senator Ryan called for a debate on the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General. He made a point about welfare fraud vis-À-vis what I will call "posh" fraud. The situation is staggering. Those engaging in welfare fraud are talked about, although no one condones any type of fraud in any way. Senator Ryan called for a debate on inequality. I have been sent six copies of a new report on inequality by Combat Poverty and I hope we can soon have a debate on the subject.
Senator Ryan also noted the report of the task force on alcohol and, if I may use a pun without meaning to be smart, it makes sobering reading. The subject is well worth debating. The excessive use of alcohol rather than its moderate use is highlighted. The Senator also wondered about the discrepancy between the number of prosecutions for under age drinking offences in Dublin pubs compared to those in the rest of the country.
Even in the short debate we have had, the two sides of the argument have been put regarding the public private partnership company, Jarvis plc, and its construction of schools. I met someone involved with one of the schools mentioned by Senator Ulick Burke and that person is entirely pleased with the workmanship on the school. However, the Comptroller and Auditor General has highlighted the issue and it would be useful to debate his full report.
Senator Mooney queried the direction being taken by Aer Lingus, particularly regarding its name. The airline has emphatically denied it is changing its name and has stated it will continue to be called Aer Lingus. However, I understand the Senator's disquiet and will use my office to see what is the position.
Senator Finucane also raised the matter of the report by the Comptroller and Auditor General as well as the penalty points system and other matters.
Senator White supported the point made by Senator Ryan on the study on alcoholism. She referred to important statistics in the report as well as raising the issue of the comments of the director of the Crisis Pregnancy Agency, Ms Olive Braiden, on the connection between drunkenness and unplanned pregnancy.
Senator Coghlan called for a debate on the preferred location for the wax museum but as he then ran away, I cannot answer him.
Senator Mansergh quoted the lovely words of Thomas Francis Meagher, or "Meagher of the sword"— I wonder how he knew of the Seanad as he spoke two centuries ago. Nevertheless, he said the prosperity of a nation requires the protection of a senate. I am sure the House agrees and likes what he said. The Senator also referred to economic matters and I approve of his comments.
Senator Ulick Burke referred to the issue of public private partnerships involving schools and other matters he deemed to highlight Government mishandling of various issues. Senator Ó Murchú raised the plight of the Irish abroad, on which there is a good, up-to-date report which deals with the human stories involved.
Senator Bannon called for a debate about St. Catherine's College of Education for Home Economics at Sion Hill. I do not know who will be the Minister with responsibility in this regard but when new Ministers are duly authorised, we will proceed to arrange a satisfactory stream of them to the House.
Senator Dooley raised the issue of cargo handling at Aer Lingus which in some cases concerns the repatriation of deceased persons to be buried in their home countries, with which we would all agree. The Senator referred to the huge uncertainty at Shannon Airport. This is not new and dates from the last term and from other issues. However, I take the Senator's point. If a new Minister with responsibility in this area is appointed, I hope we will have that Minister in the House to discuss the issue. As the Senator stated, one can travel from Shannon to Dublin at 7 a.m. but the latest one can return is at 1 p.m., which is madness as one would not complete one's work in that time.
Senator Feighan raised the issue of vicious assaults on the streets, including on non-nationals. While an assault on anybody is terrible, those perpetrated on non-nationals are particularly vile and vicious. I take the Senator's clearly made point.
Senator Scanlon had good news regarding the school built by Jarvis plc at Tubbercurry, with which local people are very happy. However, the Comptroller and Auditor General saw fit to discuss the matter in his report and we will have an opportunity to discuss it.
Senator Terry reminded the House that it is national child care week. I also was delighted to hear the good news about Senator Tuffy. She worked in the House until the end of the last session, dealing with several Bills, and I hope all is well with her.
Senator Ormonde congratulated the Government on sending succour and support to Ken Bigley, with whom are all of our good wishes. I also include Deputy Michael D. Higgins, who is nothing if not forthright and who also played a lead role in this support, as well as the Taoiseach and others.
Senator Bradford referred to St. Catherine's College of Education for Home Economics at Sion Hill and also spoke of the position of Senator Higgins. Perhaps Senator Higgins should come to the House to tell us of his plans. We have not seen him for a very long while.
No, I would like to hear it from the Senator.
Senator Maurice Hayes raised a social welfare issue which was also referred to by Senator Scanlon. There is a different regime in this jurisdiction and it is definite that those who, through no fault of their own, have been overpaid receive a demand for repayment. A case may be made for staggered payments, perhaps weekly or monthly, although the mistake may not have been made by the recipient but by officialdom. That should be brought to the notice of the Ombudsman, Ms O'Reilly.
I regret that I pointed to the absence of a Member; I would not deliberately do so.