Tuesday, 21 June 2005
Order of Business.
Lest Senators think my aim in life is to make uncertainty prevalent for them, which it is not, the reason we are sitting at1.30 p.m. today is that we were to take the Electoral (Amendment) Bill tonight but for some reason it will not now be taken. The time of the sitting had been given in the Chamber and the notices had been sent out prior to our being told the Bill would not be taken.
The Order of Business today is Nos. 1, 2 and 3. No. 1 is a referral motion whereby the subject matter of No. 14 on today's Order Paper is being referred to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights for consideration. It aims to increase efficiency in the exchange of information concerning terrorist offences between the member states, Europol and Eurojust. It is proposed to take this item without debate; No. 2, the Disability Bill 2004 — Report and Final Stages, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business until 4 p.m.; and No. 3, the Civil Service Regulation (Amendment) Bill 2004 — Second Stage, to be taken at 4 p.m. until 6.30 p.m. with the contributions of spokesperson not to exceed 15 minutes and those of other Senators not to exceed ten minutes. The Minister will be called on to reply not later than ten minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage.
The State owes a particular debt of gratitude to one of the finest public servants the country has ever had, Mr. Kevin Murphy, the former Ombudsman. We should reflect on his remarks yesterday. He clearly stated that it is incumbent on Governments and Ministers to take responsibility for areas for which they are responsible. Mr. Murphy also highlighted another issue, namely, parliamentary scrutiny. Many of the inquiries we have had would not have been necessary had there been proper parliamentary scrutiny. Far too often — I say this about all Governments in recent years — we have seen a centralised approach where the chief executive of the Government, the Taoiseach, and his Ministers operate in a way whereby everyone else is excluded. We must take Mr. Murphy's comments on parliamentary scrutiny on board.
Are there too many Oireachtas committees given that Members must spend much time attending committees and plenary sessions with not much effective work being done? Too often the committee system is seen as a method of patronage for chairmen, vice-chairmen and Whips. In that context, we also need to look at a relaxation of the Whip system. There is much talent on both sides of this House but, because the Whip is used by the groups and the parties, too often we do not hold Government to account. Will the Leader make a statement on the current state of the Seanad reform proposals which she, I and others presented to the House last year? What exactly is happening? This House has a considerable role to play in terms of parliamentary scrutiny.
Over the weekend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland sent Mr. Kelly, one of those responsible for the Shankill bombing, back to prison because in his view, he broke the terms of the licence on which he was freed following the Good Friday Agreement. The prisoner release programme happened in both jurisdictions. As I understand it we do not have the same facility in this jurisdiction to put back into prison those who may be outside the terms of their release whereas in Northern Ireland the Secretary of State holds that power. The Government needs to look at this issue. If persons have been released from prison in this jurisdiction and are doing things outside the terms of their release, we need to have the same protection in this jurisdiction as is the case in Northern Ireland.
I fully understand the point made by the Leader regarding the change to the schedule and I do not have an objection to it. However, we should stick to a starting time, whatever it be, unless a matter of urgency arises. The reason I make that point is that I cannot remember another time in my 18 years in this House when 15 Seanad Bills were waiting to be dealt with in the other House. I find it difficult to understand why there is anything of urgency coming to us from the Dáil. I do not know how it organises its business and it is not my business to comment on it. We have worked our way through all those Bills. That we should meet early to deal with another Bill does not make sense. I know what the Leader is saying. I know we should be ready to adapt but in terms of having an orderly approach to procedure, we should only do so if it is absolutely necessary.
I carefully read and reread what Kevin Murphy said yesterday. I agree with what Senator Brian Hayes said about the need for a debate on this matter. The problem is I do not see a debate taking place here. I guarantee that if we have a debate on the matter here it will break down immediately along party lines. It will be about what happened when such and such a party was in Government. I thought there was a flaw in what Kevin Murphy said yesterday. He did not distinguish between accountability and responsibility and he used the words as synonyms for each other as he went along. There is a clear distinction. Whereas the Minister should always be responsible it is not clear that he or she should be always accountable. We need to make that distinction. Mr. Murphy's point is well made that if a committee of the Houses of the Oireachtas includes in its report that it does not know what level of responsibility we should seek from a Minister we have a serious problem. There is no doubt about that. We need to make a distinction between what somebody should do if he or she is responsible and what he or she should do when accountable. That will inform our debate.
I do not know whether Members would agree with the element of the Department of Education and Science budget which is sent back each year to the Exchequer because the money is not spent. Every day, including today, issues relating to the education budget, teacher numbers, school buildings, school transport and so on are raised. We cannot afford to put seat belts in school buses, to replace the school bus fleet, to put more teachers in our schools or to look after children with autism. How can that be the case if the Department of Education and Science is not drawing down money each year? It is impossible to explain that to the education community, including parents and teachers. School boards of management cannot understand how that is the case. Irrespective of what side of the House we are on, we know of school communities seeking action in their area whether for a child with special needs, to build a school, to get transport, to get an extra teacher or maintain a teacher. It all boils down to money, yet we are told that in the past eight years hundreds of millions of euro have not been drawn down. It is a nonsense. If it is a flaw in the way in which the books are kept in terms of the cash through-flow, that is an issue we need to deal with. It makes a laugh of the budgeting system that we spend a good deal of time dealing with this each year. Schools and educational establishments need more information and need to be better served by that budget.
I am not wildly happy with No. 1. The phrase, "the efficient exchange of information with a view to dealing with terrorism" could mean many things. This matter has been referred to a committee, which must report back to the House by Wednesday, 29 June. It does not give me great hope that it will be thoroughly discussed anywhere and it seems to have fairly widespread ramifications. While I will not make a big issue of the matter, it should not slip through without comment. I would like to know the outcome of the committee's deliberations. If the committee produces a report, it should be circulated to Members, at least, before 29 June. I do not simply want confirmation that it has considered it, I also wish to know its conclusions.
One of the newspapers yesterday reported that 250 children who had arrived unaccompanied and were classified as asylum seekers are now missing. It is the single most horrendous occurrence I have come across in some time. Whatever about the intricacies and the position taken by the Minister, we all have a moral obligation when a child is in trouble. If a child runs out on the road we do not stand back and claim to have no legal responsibility. It is our moral responsibility to look after children anywhere. It is a scandal for 250 children who have come to this country to have gone missing and we do not know where they are. I call on the Leader to ask the Minister to come here and explain how it happened, why people forgot and why the children were placed in inappropriate accommodation with adults in many cases. As only 250 people are involved, the entire budget of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform will not be consumed. This is about our human moral obligation to look after children because they come under our ambit. I understood we all accepted this and I hope we will do so in the future.
While I recognise that time during the remainder of the session is becoming scarce, we need to discuss the EU at some stage. The pathetic sight of the poorest countries in Europe offering to cut back on their aspirations in order to resolve a high political squabble or row between Britain and France is not exactly the spirit of the EU those of us who have been involved in it and prospered from it have come to expect. It is in a terrible mess.
I am extremely wary of the objectives of the United Kingdom, which I believe are to knock down many structures that have made the European Union distinctive and particularly its social model. We need a debate preferably on a day when our MEPs can attend. While I am not attempting to break the rules of the House, perhaps a Friday or a Monday would be best. We need a joint debate with our MEPs on this extremely serious matter. I appeal to the Leader to try to find time before we break up for the summer.
I support the views on the EU expressed by Senator Ryan. I am sure the House will agree that the Taoiseach played a very substantial role last week. At a time when everybody is bemoaning the lack of strong leadership in Europe, as a small country we should be justifiably proud of the increasingly statesmanlike stature of the Taoiseach and the manner in which his credibility has soared in recent months on the European stage. I say this as an Irishman proud of the Taoiseach.
I ask the Leader to urgently communicate with the Minister for Communications, the Marine and Natural Resources over concern that has been expressed at an internal RTE decision to cease the broadcast and transmission of sporting events, particularly GAA commentaries and reports, on long wave and medium wave from 1 July and to transfer them exclusively to FM, which even those Members with the slightest knowledge of broadcasting transmission will know will limit access to the service to those within the island of Ireland.
I have just returned from a weekend at the annual congress of the Federation of Irish Societies, which represents more than 100 affiliated community-based activists throughout the UK. These people work among the most vulnerable and elderly of our society who rely on the traditional medium of radio. I do not want to hear a response from RTE that these broadcasts can be picked up on satellite or the Internet, which, is also questionable following this appalling decision. I would like to know who in RTE made this decision. It will create enormous isolation and will send an appalling message to the Irish abroad that the national broadcaster is abandoning them.
In this regard, does the Leader believe that it would be timely to have a follow-up debate on the task force report on emigration? The House debated it 12 to 18 months ago and we can use this debate to acknowledge the increasing revenue being placed before Irish emigrant organisations in the UK and in the US. It would also be an opportunity to report progress on what has been happening. Following her recent visit to America, the Leader will be aware that there are a number of issues to be discussed.
Politicians should be extremely concerned about an article that appeared in one of the Sunday newspapers that claimed that up to 800,000 polling cards were issued which were surplus to requirement. We should all recognise that the present system concerning local government administration and its approach to electoral registers has failed. Any Senator who checks the register in his or her own area will quickly discover that it is out of date. We should contrast it with the situation in the North of Ireland, where the electoral register is independent of the Government and, according to all accounts, seems to be working effectively. The present system in this country will lend itself to widespread fraud. All we need is 8,000 people to vote fraudulently, representing 1% of the surplus polling cards, and politicians' jobs could be lost. It is incumbent on the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to look closely at this situation and to outline his intentions to this House. The present system should be changed. There will be a census next year so we will have a chance to make changes in this country in order to change the existing system.
The system used to work effectively in the past, mainly due to the mainstream political parties which had a very vigilant approach to the registers in their area. Changes have taken place in every town around Ireland and we cannot keep up with it. It is time for urgent change.
I congratulate all those involved in having Irish recognised as an official EU language. In the past two weeks, my daughter has been sitting her leaving certificate examinations and I read with interest the opinions of people on the examination papers that she sat. I was amazed to read about the Irish paper and the problems that Irish poses for students. We have more students in this country taking higher level French than are taking higher level Irish, even though they have been taught Irish since the beginning of primary school. It is now causing such a problem for students that they are being exempt from it. It is up to the school to deem whether the student should be exempt from Irish.
Can we make time in the autumn to look at the area of teaching Irish? There is obviously a problem with it when more children are taking higher level French than Irish, even though they are only exposed to French from the age of 13. Irish is a requirement to gain entry to universities. If we do not have this debate now, the day will come when Irish language and culture will become as rare and as under used as Greek and Latin.
Senator O'Toole speaks of the amazement of those in the education sector at the return of millions of euro to the Department of Finance. Can one imagine, knowing the trouble in the health service, how people felt when they saw that €70 million was returned to the Department of Finance? While no one wants to see money spent unwisely, surely some of the funds could have been redeployed given the great number of important issues to be addressed in the health service.
I ask the Leader again this week to request the attendance of the Minister for Health and Children to discuss MRSA infections in hospitals. I raised last week the sending of a short paper by clinical microbiologists over a year ago to the Department in which they set out recommendations on the combatting of these dreadful infections. They have not had a proper reply. Apparently, the Minister is to bring in a professional group from the United Kingdom to examine the matter, which means it will take another year before we get anywhere. I was fascinated by the comment of a Member of the Dáil who said of a Minister that he was always one report away from a decision. I would not like to think the same was true in the case of MRSA given that approximately 100 people die from these infections in our hospitals every year. It is a dreadful state of affairs. It would be wrong to allow another year to go by before making any further progress on the issue.
No. 3 on today's Order of Business, Second Stage of the Civil Service Regulation (Amendment) Bill 2004, allows the House to discuss one aspect of the responsibility and accountability of Ministers and civil servants, respectively. Members may have noticed that the Taoiseach decided to seek more information yesterday on the revocation of a particular licence. While few people will disagree with the principle involved, it is important to ensure such decisions are adequately grounded and open to some scrutiny. If they were not, the decision would represent a very arbitrary power.
Killarney House and its environs form an integral part of Killarney National Park and are its nearest aspect to Killarney town being virtually in it. In fact, the house and its environs back onto one of the town's streets. The town council, townspeople and people of Kerry are concerned that Killarney House has been locked up and idle for seven years. It is time for an early announcement of the Government's revised programme for the park. I use the word "revised" because the management plan which was originally launched over ten years ago is out of date and I gather there is a new one which exists in draft form.
I rise to follow up on the failure to draw down funding in the Departments of Health and Children and Education and Science. There is a great deal of concern about smaller schools losing teachers. The INTO published figures in Roscommon recently on 12 schools nationally, each of which lost a teacher because the schools were just one pupil under the retention figure last September. At a time of investment of significant resources in education, it is an especial blow to smaller schools to lose a mainstream teacher.
I support the call by Senator Brian Hayes for an update on Seanad reform proposals. When Senator O'Rourke took over as Leader of the House, it was one of her aims, as announced in a fanfare of publicity, to bring forward legislation in this area. We have heard very little since the report was published.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Agriculture and Food to the House to attend a debate on beef premium penalties of over €90 million which are to be imposed on Irish farmers. All the farming organisations were outside the gates of Leinster House and in Buswell's Hotel last week protesting on this issue. As a farmer, I believe we should not be penalised following the changeover to full decoupling. Commitments were given by the former EU Commissioner, Mr. Franz Fischler, and the then Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Walsh, that no penalties would be imposed on Irish farmers if we opted for full decoupling at that time. It was made clear that individual farmers would not lose out from the changeover to full decoupling. There is an onus on the Minister to honour this commitment. As we speak, all agricultural enterprises are in a very depressed state.
The point I was going to raise has been fairly adequately dealt with by Senator Mansergh. Many people think the grounds for revocation were decidedly iffy. I am glad the Taoiseach has asked for the grounds, and if he is not able to tell us what the grounds were at least he could tell us that there were grounds. One suspects it had more to do with political expediency than with security.
I would like to touch briefly on Senator Ryan's point on the way we deal with European legislation. While nine out of ten directives are quite routine, every now and again there is one which has important implications for human and civil rights which there should be some way of flagging.
While I would support the plea for a revision of the electoral arrangements and the register, as a simple voter in Northern Ireland, the system there appears to be designed to keep people from voting as much as anything else. At a time when the problem is to get young people to vote, the system should be voter friendly while at the same time designed to prevent fraud and so on.
This week and next week, the school bus fleet will be taken off the roads until next September. It is not long since the Members of this House, the media, parents, school boards of management and so on mourned the tragic loss of the children in Meath. Last week a school bus went on fire but luckily there were no children on board and a child remains in a critical condition after falling through the back window of a school bus yesterday.
What will it take for the Minister who has responsibility for the school bus fleet to accept responsibility and either take some of those buses off the road completely and replace them, or at least bring them to a state of roadworthiness? As Senators Kitt and O'Toole have mentioned, this is particularly important when we see the return of funds to the central Exchequer and when the Minister stated clearly after the Meath tragedy that it would take considerable funding, which was not currently available to the Department. The Leader should ask the Minister to ensure adequate tests for roadworthiness are carried out and, where necessary, that ramshackle buses are taken off the road and replaced so children can travel in safety and parents are not unduly concerned about their safe return home.
On the return of funding, Senator Feeney mentioned the Irish language. It is unacceptable that so much funding will be spent on translating, out of necessity, documents which will become useless, particularly documents of a technical nature. This funding could be used very well in other areas to promote the Irish language, such as in the provision of textbooks in Irish to children in Gaeltacht areas. This is not being done. We must get our priorities right and I ask the Leader to ensure this happens.
Will the Leader arrange a debate on tourism, which is one of our most important industries? We have recently noted a great drop in the number of visitors to Ireland, particularly to the west. The Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism said he has carried out one of the most comprehensive surveys every carried out in the United Kingdom on the locations to which UK tourists are going. He has given a few flimsy excuses as to why they are not coming to Ireland, one of which is that they believe they can come to Ireland any time they like. The second excuse is that, to the UK tourist, Ireland represents more of the same or is much the same as the United Kingdom. We should have a debate on tourism and the survey carried out.
I agree with Senator Finucane on the article in the newspaper last Sunday. It is time we considered the use of the PPS number when registering people to vote. It would solve many problems and also present opportunities. This is especially the case in respect of presidential elections. If, for example, somebody from Carlow found himself in Donegal at the time of an election, he could legally vote in Donegal. This makes sense. We should update our outdated system and consider having a national holiday to encourage people to vote. Often they cannot vote if they are commuting and travelling great distances. We should examine these issues.
I agree fully with Senator Henry on the MRSA superbug. I recently attended a meeting in Kilkenny involving people who were directly affected by the bug. One lady, who had been in a ward with four others, explained she found out she had MRSA when the contract cleaners came into the ward. One cleaner asked the other what mop he was using around the lady and when the latter asked why he wanted to know, the former said it was because the lady had a serious infection. This is truly shocking. One can imagine the lady's reaction and that of the patient beside her.
Last week we heard a presentation on cystic fibrosis. The representatives said their greatest fear on going to hospital did not pertain to cystic fibrosis but was that they might pick up the MRSA superbug while there. It is time urgent action was taken on this issue.
Senator Brian Hayes, the Leader of the Opposition, praised one of the finest public servants the country has ever had, Mr. Kevin Murphy. I agree with the Senator in this regard. Mr. Murphy talked about parliamentary scrutiny and said he felt Deputies and Senators were not holding the public system sufficiently accountable because they are rushing around doing constituency business. These words were quoted in the newspaper and I can only presume he said them. I suppose he never had to run for public office. I am not being snide in saying this but I am just making a comment. One of the abiding dilemmas for public representatives concerns the division of time and labour between parliamentary duties, including business in the Houses and committees, and keeping one's seat, getting it back or getting on the ticket. These tasks all eat into one's time. I noted Mr. Murphy's remarks on public accountability. He would know about this from experience. He also had some good points to make, born of his vast experience within the parliamentary democracy system.
Senator Brian Hayes also referred to the relaxation of the Whip system in committees. This would be a feature of the ideal world, in which we could vote as we wanted rather than according to the policies of our parties. It would be heaven to be able the vote the way we wanted, rather than according to the party line. However, that is not allowable.
We await Fine Gael's return to office to do that.
The proposal regarding Seanad reform was raised by Senator Brian Hayes and SenatorBannon. As Senator Brian Hayes is aware, there was a delay regarding two Members being put forward for the committee. The Progressive Democrats, Fianna Fáil and the Independents put forward their Members. There was a long delay following which the Labour Party put forward its Member and after another delay, Fine Gael put forward its Member. All are now in place. I regularly see the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, about the matter. He has assured me he would have a meeting of the five people on the committee before the end of the session and we will then set about implementation.
Senator Brian Hayes also raised the matter of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. Peter Hain, and the return of Mr. Seán Kelly to prison. The Senator asked whether we have the same facility in this jurisdiction. It appears we do not.
Senator O'Toole raised the matter of the 15 Seanad Bills on the Dáil Order Paper. Earlier in the session, Senator Ryan, offered his services to the Dáil as a consultant in terms of processing Bills. The collective Members of the Seanad could offer themselves as consultants in this regard, however, we do not know what the other House might think of the idea. I cannot understand how there can be 15 Seanad Bills on the Dáil Order Paper, although there has been a rush in the past ten days to get them processed.
That is right.
Senator O'Toole also said a Minister should be responsible even where he or she is not always accountable. The failure by some Departments to draw down allocated moneys is extraordinary. I got caught once on that, in my first year as Minister for Education, but I never got caught again. Every three months I would ask the Secretary General of the Department for an update on expenditure. It was the only way to keep track of it and I never returned another penny to the Department of Finance.
The Department of Education and Science has a great many calls on its resources and should use its money accordingly. The needs are myriad in education and health and the money could well be used. Senator O'Toole said that this was making a laugh of the budgetary system. In one of today's newspapers, Dr. Moore McDowell argued that it was a mark of honour to return money. I believe it is a mark of foolishness, not honour.
Senator Ryan referred to No. 1 on the Order Paper. It is proposed that the work of the committee will be completed by next Wednesday. The Senator asked for a report on the committee's deliberations and I will seek one. I am uneasy about saying there will be no debate on matters of this kind because I do not know what is happening within the committee system. It must be asked if we are in danger of letting matters through which are not fully debated and might need further scrutiny. We do not know.
Senator Ryan also referred to the 250 children who are seeking asylum and who have gone missing. The Senator rightly says we have a moral obligation to look after children.
The Senator also referred to the ignominy over what happened in Europe on Friday and Saturday. The Taoiseach's distress was very clear. I believe it arose because he never dreamt that Prime Minister Blair was going to do what he did, given that they had done such great work together. However, it should be said loud and clear that the British signed up to the CAP decoupling settlement in full knowledge of what it would mean. Now, because of internal politics and because Mr. Blair obviously wants to stay longer in Downing Street, they are playing games with what is a very serious matter. The Senator rightly referred to the embarrassment caused by the poorer countries offering to return some of the funding due to them.
Senator Mooney rightly praised the Taoiseach as a strategist and statesman. He said the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources should ask RTE why, from 1 July, all sporting events covered by radio will be heard only on the FM bandwidth. I cannot understand the decision about which the Senator seeks a debate, nor was I aware of it. I will ask the Minister whether he is aware of it and if he will raise the matter with RTE. The Senator also called for a debate on the task force on emigration.
Senator Finucane referred to the electoral registers. Spread around, 8,000 votes would make a difference in many seats. When politics was more pervasive and attracted more volunteers, a person's name was removed from the register when he or she died and the names of girls and boys were added when they reached 18 years. There was local scrutiny — we used to be great at it — and people prided themselves on being expert watchers of the electoral registers. This type of occupation or task appears to have died away. Perhaps a body other than the county councils should take responsibility for the registers. When the issue is raised every so often county managers or those with responsibility for the register indicate they are taking action.
At one time, rent collectors visited every house and would ask if anyone had turned 18 years or had left the household. Swatches of people would be removed from the register at each election and everybody would ask who had removed the names. It would be Government parties versus Opposition parties.
We should suggest to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government that next year's census would offer an opportunity to change the system.
Senator Feeney raised the issue of Irish as a spoken language, which the House discussed last week while she was attending a committee meeting. The Senator is concerned about how the language is taught and the possibility that it will fall into disuse if the current position is allowed to continue.
Senator Henry referred to the €78 million allocated to health which was returned to the Department of Finance. Given all that needs to be done, no one can understand this decision. The Senator also requested that the Minister for Health and Children come before the House to debate MRSA. Marian Finucane's radio programme featured a most riveting discussion on the issue this morning. The descriptions of bathrooms and wash rooms in well-known hospitals — Ms Finucane would not allow speakers to mention the names — were awful. Ireland has the third highest incidence of MRSA in the world. It is terrible that one goes into hospital to be cured and leaves with an incurable disease.
In response to Senator Mansergh's request, we will have an opportunity to discuss ministerial and Civil Service responsibility and accountability during the debate on the Civil Service Regulation (Amendment) Bill 2004. The decision on the revocation of a licence should be open so that people will know the reason a person is returned to prison.
Senator Coghlan noted that Killarney House has been locked up for seven years. Senator Kitt raised concerns about schools losing teachers. I cannot understand the position that has developed. Senators receive circulars which make everything sound wonderful but the letters we receive from schools do not match the fine words in the circulars. The number of teachers in disadvantaged schools appears to have decreased or else the number of disadvantaged schools has decreased. I do not know which is the case but the rhetoric does not match the delivery. We will endeavour to have the Minister come before the House to discuss the matter.
I replied to Senator Bannon's first question. He also requested that the Minister for Agriculture and Food come before the House to discuss the beef overshoot and associated penalties. We will see what we can do in the time left this session. The Minister is at the top of the pile.
Senator Maurice Hayes described the revocation of Mr. Kelly's licence as iffy and stated there should be grounds for such a revocation. He also referred to the manner in which European legislation is dealt with. As other members of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs will be aware, we nod our heads in agreement when a list, which means nothing to us, is placed before us. There is a worry that important matters are overlooked.
I could not agree more with Senator Ulick Burke's comments on the school bus fleet. While a new bus fleet should be acquired, it would be helpful if the ramshackle buses were taken out of service and replaced immediately. We have two months to do so before term begins. The money sent back by the Department of Health and Children would buy an entire fleet of buses.
Senator Ulick Burke also asked about the ramshackle buses and objected to the expense of publishing technical documents in Irish when very few people will read them. When we embraced the Official Languages Act, we embraced it in all its manifestations — that is what the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs will say.
I saw the downturn in the tourism figures mentioned by Senator Paddy Burke. The west, mid-west and south west suffered a decline in numbers and I will ask the Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism to come into the House for a debate on tourism.