Tuesday, 21 March 2006
Order of Business.
The Order of Business is No. 1, the Social Welfare Law Reform and Pensions Bill 2006 — Second Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 6.30 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes and the Minister to be called upon to reply not later than ten minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage.
The fact that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform this morning correctly decided to apologise to the deputy leader of my party for his rather frenzied remarks of yesterday is something I welcome, albeit that it was done rather late in the day. The spat yesterday highlights a much bigger issue that we need to debate in this House, namely, the number of gardaí currently in the country and their deployment in the various divisions.
I ask the Leader if such a debate can be organised as there are serious issues around this matter. During the past eight years our population has grown by 500,000 people, there has been an explosion in gun crime and an epidemic of cocaine has hit our streets. We need an independent assessment of the total number of gardaí and officers employed in this State and of where they should be deployed. In my constituency 15 officers transferred from the local station in Tallaght last year. The levels of crime in Dublin 24 and Dublin 4 are not comparable. We need an independent assessment of this matter away from the spat of yesterday. It is important that such a debate take place in this House because the Garda needs to be resourced. We need additional police officers on the ground and police officers operating away from their desks in the front line of duty.
One proposal I put forward to the Government is to allow police officers to remain in place after the age of 55. The idea that all gardaí must be shunted out of the Garda Síochána once they have reached the age of 55 is ridiculous given the current circumstances. A debate would allow much light to be thrown on the possible options that face the Garda going forward and that is something to which I would like to contribute.
Will the Leader ask the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Parlon, to come back to the House to update us on the current position on decentralisation and the problems experienced in FÁS, which is on the brink of a major industrial action. The reason for that is the fact that promotional blackmail is being put forward by the management, supported by the Government, in respect of people who have to move to another part of the country. When decentralisation was proposed initially it was based on volunteering — people had to volunteer if they wanted to move but now people are being blackmailed into moving. That is wrong and that is the reason we need to debate this matter.
I supported the proposals on decentralisation provided they would be done on a voluntary basis. I agree with the point that Senator Brian Hayes made and the point the representatives of the workers have been making over the past week. It will undermine the process of decentralisation if we reach a position where a person's career prospects will grind to a halt by virtue of what is being proposed. It is unfair to say to a person that he or she can be promoted provided the person is prepared to sell his or her house, take his or her children out of school, incur expense in various ways and move to a different location in order to continue his or her career.
That is wrong because people had clear and understandable expectations about how decentralisation would proceed. Any other group of workers, including Members of this House, might react in the same manner if someone was to unnecessarily pull the rug from under them.
This issue should be debated soon. I understand that 13% of the decentralisation programme has been carried out, which is satisfactory progress. From the outset a number of Senators argued, and everyone on this side of the House believed, that it was ridiculous to think that decentralisation could be implemented in three years. Senators on this side of the House asked the Minister to consider making it a ten-year programme. It will take seven or eight years to implement the programme at the best of times. Decentralisation can work and is progressing but will be undermined if people are compelled to decentralise.
Seo Seachtain na Gaeilge. Nuair a tháinig an Rialtas seo isteach, dúradh sa programme for Government go mbeadh plean aige don Ghaeilge that would be outlined and put into operation. Níl sin feicthe againn — níl sé ann. Ba mhaith liom díospóireacht ar aon dhul chun cinn ar an phlean sin agus cad é go díreach ar aigne an Aire. Ba mhaith liom brú a chur ar an Aire dul chun cinn a dhéanamh. I would like to carry out an audit of the issues in which the Minister takes an interest and the issues which he ignores and the real needs of Gaeilge and Gaeltacht both in and outside of schools. I would like to discover why he avoids introducing every positive, creative and progressive proposal for the Irish language and insists on carrying out measures such as forcing companies to do things they neither want or need to do and which are of no use to the Irish language.
Regardless of whether one agrees with him, the points made by the leader of Fine Gael, Deputy Kenny, have created a necessary and growing debate on this issue. This issue can be debated in a much more constructive fashion in this House than in the Dáil because people on both sides share views on the matter. I would like a debate on the Irish language and the Minister's plans for it.
I support the call for a debate on the deployment of Garda resources across the country because it would be very useful. Such a debate should include an examination of how Garda resources are deployed in rural areas, as well as in urban areas. There is a significant deficit in Garda presence in villages and rural areas where people fear for their lives at night. I would welcome a debate on this very important issue.
Could the Leader ask the Minister of State with responsibility for children, Deputy Brian Lenihan, to come to the House to discuss issues relating to child care, specifically, the registration and management of crèches in light of the very disturbing evidence revealed in the Irish Examiner yesterday? I understand the Minister of State is introducing a review of the current regulations, which date back to 1996. Under these regulations, a crèche is only required to notify the local Health Service Executive area of its existence. It is not required to register with it, meet a certain standard or have training programmes in place. These measures must be minimum requirements of any new regulations. It would be useful if the Minister of State came to the House to debate this very important issue and hear the views of Members even before the review of the current regulations is published.
I agree with Senator Brian Hayes that it would be useful to have a debate on the issue of policing, security policy and related matters to address some of the apparent confusion surrounding the numbers of gardaí and any increases in their numbers. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, and Deputy Bruton should be commended for the way in which they handled this matter. The Minister should be commended on apologising.
Their actions are a measure of the quality of the individuals involved. While some of the other matters Members wish to raise are operational matters for the Garda authorities and the Garda Commissioner, in particular, it does not mean that we should not consider them. Senator O'Meara made a reasonable point because there is huge pressure in urban areas, where the population is increasing, to have extra gardaí, and for their presence to be visible. There is also a need in rural areas to have the force present and visible. Some of us can recall a time when the gardaí used to remind people they had not cut their noxious weeds or tried to establish in the census how many chickens one had in the chicken run. The gardaí were very much part of the rural culture at the time. While it is no harm that these days have gone, there are issues which should be examined.
We should celebrate the sporting success of the past week both in Twickenham and the gold medal Ms Derval O'Rourke won in the 60 m indoor hurdles. It is the first gold medal for an Irish woman in the world games. We should also celebrate the achievements of the Irish racingfraternity in Cheltenham.
I just left a meeting with workers, sugar beet producers and community interests from the Mallow area. They are all devastated as a result of the announcement by Greencore last week to shut down the Irish sugar industry and bring to an end an 80 year old tradition of sugar beet production in this country. We discussed the matter in this House on a number of occasions during the past 12 months. The bigger and even bleaker picture which is now emerging is the profound threat to the entire tillage industry. Members who represent agricultural areas are aware of the integral part sugar beet plays in the overall tillage industry. If 4,000 sugar beet producers are taken out of the equation, including tens of thousands of acres of land, the future of the entire Irish tillage industry is now under extreme threat and at a point of great peril.
I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Agriculture and Food to come to this House at the earliest possible opportunity to debate how this House and the Government can address the crisis facing the Irish tillage industry. We must put whatever measures are necessary in place to ensure its survival. We debated on many occasions the possibility of growing alternative energy crops for the production of biodiesel and bioethanol, which must be at the core of the debate.
I could raise these matters on the Adjournment, but with all due respect to Adjournment debates, these are national issues which require substantive debate at the earliest possible opportunity. I ask the Leader to take the matter on board. I apologise for not being able to remain for the Leader's response because I must return to the meeting. I am grateful to have had an opportunity to raise these issues.
I salute the sporting successes of the last week, in particular, the outstanding performance of the Irish equestrian industry at Cheltenham. It is a vindication of the policy framework to support the industry established in 1969 by one of our great Ministers for Finance, Mr. Charles J. Haughey.
I look forward to any comments the Leader may make about Tipperary-trained racehorse, War of Attrition, and the illusion of its owner that he might have died and gone to heaven.
On behalf of Senator Bradford and myself, it is an honour to have been nominated to this House by the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association. I hope that in any reform of the Seanad the nominating bodies will continue to have a role.
I call for a debate on the Middle East, in particular, on the impact of the disastrous American policies in this area, especially in light of the fact that a Cabinet Minister appeared in New York on St. Patrick's Day and took a salute from returning members of the 69th division of United States Air Force in full uniform who had been involved in the massacre of civilians. It was highly inappropriate and made it perfectly clear that this Government has committed itself to collaboration with the illegal war, as so described by our Leader. The point should be made that this was completely inappropriate behaviour. This is still supposed to be a neutral country and for a Cabinet Minister to have reviewed these returning troops is an utter disgrace to this country.
In that debate, we should look at the parallel policies in Israel and Palestine. The Seanad did not sit last week which, in some ways, was a pity because we could have immediately commented on the appalling activities of the Israeli military in bombing a jail in Jericho, which is in another state. It constituted an act of aggression. Imagine the situation of those incarcerated in the jail. They were locked into their cells, had missiles fired at them from helicopter gunships, had tanks fire shells at them and were raked by heavy machine gunfire. This was an absolutely outlandish and barbarous way for people to behave.
We should look at the operations of the Refugee Appeals Tribunal. A number of us, including, I believe, the Leader, have been concerned about them for some considerable time, about the arbitrary nature of decisions and about the complete lack of accountability or transparency. In a recent case, evidence was given in the court that a member of the Refugee Appeals Tribunal had not made one favourable decision in well over 100 cases which they managed to find. I know of people who are alleged to go around the Law Library gloating that they "never let one of them in". This country is highly unusual in that it publishes no information on the record of members of the tribunal or their qualifications. On the basis of what qualifications do they presume to take these arbitrary and disgraceful decisions in the name of the people?
In the past week, I have been made aware of a case of a man whose partner was murdered in Iraq as a result of an honour killing. He managed to flee to this country in danger of his life but he is being returned to Iraq by the Government. There is something really rotten here. As Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas, we should be able to inquire into this matter and say we need proper professional people making these decisions; we need them to be accountable, we need a record of their decisions and we need to know the reason people are being refused leave to remain, so they can get a fair deal.
I share the concern about the situation in the sugar beet industry and I call for a debate thereon. Greencore will gain from this situation as it still holds the value of the assets of the land banks in Carlow and Mallow and the value of the brand of Siúcra. That will be significantly enhanced by virtue of the fact it will be able to import cheap sugar and will not incur the cost of production. However, the workers and the growers must be looked after. The Minister should bring together the principals concerned and perhaps through cash and a share issue, Greencore might adequately compensate the workers and the growers.
I also call for a debate on the significant influx of funding into the people's pockets this year when the SSIAs mature which will amount to €15 billion. In addition, there will be the €2 billion in moneys already saved plus perhaps another €2 billion in the windfall from Irish Nationwide. This reminds me of the American Senator who said that the American arms industry costs a billion dollars here and a billion dollars there and that pretty soon it adds up to serious money. In this case, we are talking about up to 15% of GDP entering the economy in one year. That excludes the repayment capacity people have proven to the banks, which will allow a significant amount extra to be borrowed on the strength of showing how much people can save.
As we no longer set our own interest rates, we need a debate to discuss alternative arrangements for the investment of the lump sums, continuous savings plans and consumer protection measures. We can ensure the consumer is protected but we must do it now because otherwise the consumer might face difficulties with so much money coming into the economy in such a short space of time.
I fully support Senator Brian Hayes in his call for an independent assessment of Garda numbers and deployment. Senator Dardis also agrees and this House could encourage it.
The Leader is aware of the need for an increase in the audit exemption limit for small business, as proposed by the Institute of Chartered Accountants, a body which knows more than most about the need for us to sharpen our competitiveness levels. Many small businesses already face huge impositions in this high cost economy and the least we need is for the Government to act as a facilitator instead of an obstacle by providing a fair and equitable system. We must have a level playing field with the British, who have increased the threshold to €7.3 million. I suggest we should have the same figure. It behoves us all to recommend that the Government introduces the necessary amendment to facilitate this.
Maybe Senator Ulick Burke should bring back his campaign as well. The Opposition fell silent when it found it was mostly its own people doing the overcharging, particularly coming up to the election. The public are the best people to monitor prices.
Is Fine Gael trying to take it over? It was never too worried about stealing a good idea or policy in the past.
We should monitor the situation and ensure large supermarkets do not use this opportunity to shut down small competitors. Time will tell if this was a good or bad idea, the jury is out. Let the public monitor if it is a success or failure.
Once again we are in danger in this House of being left as spectators while important issues are being discussed elsewhere. Could we have an early debate on an issue with which the Leader is familiar, having been in the Department for so long, the privatisation of Aer Lingus? It is capturing the imagination of the media and will be a key issue in the partnership talks, although it is debatable if it should be dealt with in that forum. It will certainly not be debated in the Oireachtas unless we take the bull by the horns and decide this controversial issue should be discussed by parliamentary representatives. In view of this I ask the Leader to give time for an early debate on the privatisation of Aer Lingus, particularly the company's pension fund which is in deficit to the tune of at least €200 million, and the remedies the Minister proposes for addressing this problem if the company is to be privatised. With the House in danger of being relegated to the position of spectators, Senators should take the issue by the horns and address it.
I support the Government's decision that the House would not sit last week and agree that Ministers should travel abroad on St. Patrick's Day. While this issue creates controversy in the media and among members of the Opposition from time to time, there has never been a better time for Ministers to go abroad carrying the message of the success of the economy. Those who carp about this are missing the point. We have an extraordinary asset in that St. Patrick's Day is celebrated around the world. I do not know of any other country which enjoys a similar asset and it is sensible for the Government to exploit it. I congratulate Ministers on the message they carried abroad. Despite what we are led to believe, it is not great fun to travel for two days to the United States or other countries. On the contrary, it is a cause of a certain amount of misery and I commend the Ministers in question on their efforts. I hope the Opposition, if and when it eventually gets into power, will carry on this practice of which it has been so critical.
I join Senators who have extended congratulations to the Irish people who engaged in a variety of sporting activities over the past week. Two of the horses which won races at the Cheltenham Festival are from west Cork, while Ms Derval O'Rourke comes from Douglas. With our Cork humility, we also recognise all the other sporting winners.
I support requests for the Minister for Agriculture and Food to come to the House to discuss various agricultural matters. Senator Hanafin referred to the demise of the beet crop. It was self-evident that Greencore would kill off the sector and the company should not be congratulated on its success in doing so. It is, however, a fact of life.
Senator Bradford raised the serious issue of cereal growing and tillage crops. The development and growth of this sector is at high risk. Notwithstanding the important national issues of beet and cereal growing, we must ask what is the European Union's policy on future food production. Europe is in deficit production in most aspects of food. From time to time, we discuss poverty, food shortages and people dying in various parts of Africa and elsewhere. The European Union, a group of countries which has agreed the Common Agricultural Policy, is effectively dismantling food production. The Continent needs food production which was the primary product of the Treaty of Rome. It is important, therefore, that the Minister debates the issue in the House.
Last December I called on the Minister to come before the House to discuss alternative land use. A framework must be established for alternative land use because we need land for food and energy.
In the congratulations Members are extending to sports people and teams, I want to include the County Galway teams of Portumna and Salthill-Knocknacarra on achieving a unique double in hurling and football, respectively, onSt. Patrick's Day.
It will be some time before Roscommon achieves that.
A group of parents are protesting outside of the gates of Leinster House to highlight the failure by Minister for Education and Science to deliver the necessary funding for the maintenance of St. Catherine's school for children with autism. Given that this is a pre-school facility which prepares children for integration into mainstream education, it is a pity that the Minister resorted to the courts rather than resolve the issue openly and in consultation with the people concerned. The amount of finance involved is small and the resources required for court proceedings, which will bring useless results, will be wasted. I ask the Leader to approach the Minister with regard to making the appropriate gestures and entering consultations. Can any of us imagine what it means for parents to have to stand outside the gates of Leinster House on a day like today in order to highlight the injustice being perpetrated on them and their children, who are entitled to a proper service?
I support the comments on decentralisation. It is important that we acknowledge the public servants who have indicated their inability or unwillingness to decentralise. The loss of the personnel and experience which has been built up over the years will have negative implications for the entire nation. The NRA intends to decentralise 90 staff members to Ballinasloe, yet only one has expressed a willingness to transfer. That indicates something must be done. The Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Parlon, who has responsibility for this matter, should come into this House, forget about his political stunts and face up to the fact that decentralisation as it is currently presented simply will not work.
Senator Ulick Burke has stolen my thunder because I also want to congratulate the Portumna and Salthill-Knocknacarra teams. Many people are disappointed when they do not get to see the full presentation of trophies in Croke Park on St. Patrick's Day.
I support the calls made for a debate on the sugar beet industry. Many years ago, a political decision was made to open a sugar factory in Tuam. We have never replaced the jobs provided by that factory, which employed more than 1,000 people at the height of the sugar beet industry. I hope that we can discuss the circumstances faced by workers and growers. A small number of disappointed growers remain in County Galway who entered into contracts to grow beet and now face an uncertain future. We ought to address the questions of tillage, food production and the rotation of crops. The interesting suggestions made for biofuels could also form part of a debate with the Minister for Agriculture and Food.
I join with other Senators in congratulating the various Irish sporting teams and individuals who were tremendously successful over the past seven days. I was privileged to be at Twickenham for the rugby match, and it was a great occasion. The House will be delighted to know that the Dáil and Seanad rugby XV beat the team put forward by the House of Commons and the House of Lords by a score of 17-10 at noon, before the international match in Twickenham.
On a more serious note, I agree with colleagues who have raised the sugar beet issue, particularly with the announcement last week by Greencore that the last remaining plant in Mallow, County Cork, is to be closed. Previous speakers, and Senator Callanan in particular, spoke at length on the issue. I agree with many of the sentiments he expressed. This matter poses a serious threat to the future of the tillage sector in Irish agriculture.
Beet was a very important crop in the overall agricultural scheme, and we should invite the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Coughlan, to this House to explain her Department's proposals, if any, to replace this crop. Other relevant Government agencies should be invited in to explain what is proposed for the towns of Mallow and Carlow, where significant job losses have come as a result of sugar plants closing down in the past couple of years.
I join with colleagues who have requested the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Parlon, to come to the House to discuss decentralisation. He was here two weeks ago when we had a debate on the issue, and I raised the matter of FÁS and the problems connected with its move to Birr. The Minister of State answered virtually every question except that one. Over the past couple of days we have seen that significant problems exist in that area. It would be useful if the Minister of State again came to the House.
Decentralisation has changed from its initial plan to being a forced plan, as in the case of FÁS. It has become a system of relocation, where people who are already decentralised and located in Government offices around the country are being moved around, rather than the initial idea of the decentralisation of civil and public servants from Dublin to the regions.
I join with Senator Hanafin, who raised the issue of moneys which will come into the economy as a result of the maturing of the SSIAs. It would be useful to have a discussion on that issue in the House over the course of the next few weeks.
I join the other Senators who asked for an urgent debate on the sugar beet industry. Unfortunately, in January 2005 a motion on the issue was put down in this House, but the required cross-party support to strengthen the Minister's hand going into tough negotiations was not forthcoming. Our prediction then proved completely correct. The danger is now that not only has the beet industry been wiped out, but the process could be repeated with the malt and barley industries. Some 80,000 acres of land now lie idle where beet would have been sown had Greencore not pulled out. The most disgusting aspect of Greencore's actions is that it is walking off the pitch and making sure nobody else can play the game after it.
That does not happen in any other sector. I would welcome news of a potential takeover of Greencore, as any company would be better than Greencore. It is regrettable that we have such a weak Minister for Agriculture and Food, who has not stood up to promote the industry.
It is worth noting that Finland had two factories, one of which is still open. It is regrettable and disgraceful that the sugar beet industry could be wiped out under Fianna Fáil. It was established by Cumann na nGael and wiped out overnight by Fianna Fáil.
I join with Senator Ross in applauding Ministers who leave the country for St. Patrick's Day. It is a great honour for the diaspora to see elected Members and Government Ministers and there is much work to do on such occasions. I went to Chicago independently and attended St. Patrick's Day parades on Saturday and Sunday, the latter in south Chicago. They were wonderful occasions. However, there needs to be balance and some Ministers could have managed to return to Ireland for St. Patrick's Day itself.
It was nice to see that St. Patrick's Day passed off with an acceptable level of violence, if I may use that phrase. The festivities did not boil over as we had feared and I pay tribute to the gardaí, especially in Dublin, for the fact that the thuggery we saw a month ago did not recur.
I ask the Leader for a debate on youth affairs. I do not know if Members are aware but this weekend the annual Dáil na nÓg was held in Croke Park, attended by some 200 school pupils from all around the country. We should debate the many challenges that confront youth. The House is always graced with the presence of many school pupils, far exceeding that of members of the press, so it is appropriate to debate issues important to them.
——on account of her honesty and knowledge of farming. Despite criticism from Opposition benches every Member will agree she is one of the finest Ministers we have had for some time. I am sure she would be delighted to return to the House to discuss any issue related to farming. I am not from a beet-growing area and will not speak on the subject. There was some criticism of the Minister in the media last week——
A few days absence gives everybody great tongues. Senator Brian Hayes expressed his appreciation for the apology of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform for his frenzied remarks. It stands to the credit of both Members that the apology was made and graciously accepted. They both said they had not slept and neither did Deputy Rabbitte. They are all having a difficult time. The Senator also called for an independent assessment of the number and deployment of gardaí.
I was waiting for someone to make the point that there are 500,000 more people in the country and, therefore, the number of gardaí would need to expand. The deployment of gardaí is an operational matter for the Commissioner but a debate would be useful and I will seek one.
Senator Brian Hayes also said that the Minister of State at the Department of Finance should return due to what he referred to as promotional blackmail in respect of FÁS. I will ask that the Minister of State return but I doubt he will, as he was in the House during the last sitting week.
Senator O'Toole stated that decentralisation is a voluntary strategy and the number of people offering to take part has not been bad but once there is an element of compulsion, decentralisation will go off the boil. The Senator spoke about Seachtain na Gaeilge and how, while the plan was laid out in the programme for Government, we do not yet have it. He asked where it was and for the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to attend the House so that we could debate the matter.
Senator O'Meara asked for a debate on Garda deployment and for the Minister for Health and Children to address the House on crèches and the management and ownership of same, which I will try to arrange.
Senator Dardis also asked for a useful debate on the Garda and suggested that we should celebrate all of Ireland's sporting achievements, which occurred in the space of one week. It was almost too much to take.
Senator Bradford, who explained he needed to attend a committee, referred to the devastation in respect of the Mallow beet factory and asked for a debate on the tillage industry. He asked that the Minister for Agriculture and Food attend the House. Senator Mansergh praised the Irish equestrian industry and explained he was honoured to be the recipient of a nomination, alongside Senator Bradford, from the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association.
It was a nice remark. I am delighted that the horse owned by him and his lovely wife won. Senator Norris raised the matters of Iraq, Israel, the Refugee Appeals Tribunal and how there is no transparency in how the tribunal reaches its decisions. I do not understand either. I wrote to the council previously but never received a reply.
Senator Hanafin spoke about the sugar beet industry and how Greencore will gain the brand name Siúcra. He said that Greencore should share its cash and shares. He also raised the matter of SSIAs and the consumer protection measures that should be in place. Many cowboys will stalk the land with their wares and the principle of caveat emptor must be strengthened.
Senator Coghlan spoke about the requirement for the audit exemption limits for small companies to be raised and asked for a debate on the Garda. The Senator cannot make an amendment to the Finance Bill in this House but the matter could be raised as an amendment to the Bill elsewhere.
Senator Leyden warned the House that the groceries order has been lifted and said that the public should monitor the situation as jurors.
Senator Ross asked for a debate on the privatisation of Aer Lingus and supported Ministers travelling around the world for St. Patrick's Day. He said that we are a small open economy that must trade, with which I agree. It was a silly argument to make that Ministers should not go as they do a lot of work. There is no pattern of fun, as Ministers must go from one appointment to another, which is exacting.
Senator Callanan provided the House with a good dissertation on sporting activities, singling out all of those involved who came from west Cork, and asked for a debate on tillage farming and alternative land uses. He asked where Europe is going in terms of food production. For those of us not born of the soil, the Senator's contribution was interesting and to the point. I will seek to arrange a debate in the House with the Minister for Agriculture and Food.
Senator Ulick Burke referred to the wins by County Galway. I would stick with Portumna if I were him but he also mentioned Knocknacarra. Both Galway wins were great.
The Senator also called for funding for St. Catherine's school for children with autism. I will seek to speak to the Minister on this matter. He is sincere in raising it.
Senator Ulick Burke also referred to the decentralisation programme and noted that only one person in the NRA wishes to move to Ballinasloe despite the function of the NRA being to provide roads to all places.
Senator Kitt congratulated Portumna and raised the matters of sugar beet industry workers and growers, tillage and food production. Senator John Paul Phelan also referred to sugar beet plants in Mallow and Carlow. He mentioned the difficulties of FÁS in the decentralisation programme and SSIAs. Senator Browne also raised the matter of the beet industry and Greencore walking off the pitch, a comment with which I agree.
Senator Feighan applauded Ministers travelling to the US but wishes that more of them would remain on platforms at parades in Ireland.
Senator Feighan was also pleased, as were we all, that St. Patrick's Day passed off peacefully.
Senator MacSharry called for a debate on youth affairs, which would be very useful as it is never debated here. We only condemn those youths who go off the rails.
Senator O'Brien defended the Minister for Agriculture and Food, with all her abilities and charms, in gallant style. We hope to invite her to the House.