Wednesday, 5 July 2006
Order of Business.
The Order of Business is Nos. a1, 1 to 3, inclusive, and 25, motion 19. No. a1 is a motion in respect of the referral of the report of the independent commission of inquiry into the bombing of Kay's Tavern in Dundalk to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights for consideration, to be taken without debate; No. 1, Investment Funds, Companies and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill 2006 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business until 1.30 p.m.; No. 2, the Institutes of Technology Bill 2006 — Second Stage, to be taken at 2 p.m. and to conclude not later than 5 p.m.; No. 3,the Hepatitis C Compensation Tribunal (Amendment) Bill 2006 — Second Stage, to be taken at 7.15 p.m. and to conclude at 9.30 p.m.; and No. 25, motion 19, to be taken from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. In the case of Nos. 1, 2 and 3, spokespersons have 15 minutes and other Senators ten minutes, and the Minister will be called upon to reply not later than ten minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage. There will be a sos from 1.30 p.m. to 2.30 p.m.
No. a1 on the Supplementary Order Paper is the fourth and final report from the independent commission of inquiry. Previous reports covered the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974, the Dublin bombings of 1972 and 1973 and the murder of Seamus Ludlow. The main focus of this report is the bombing of Kay's Tavern in Dundalk in 1976 in which two men, Hugh Waters and Jack Rooney, were killed. It also makes reference to other attacks by loyalist paramilitaries in the same period which the judge deems relevant in providing a broader context for his findings.
The independent commission whose task it was to examine e-voting issued a substantial report yesterday. It concluded that although the machines to be used for elections were fine, the system software that would ensure the correct functioning of those machines was defective. My opposition to this project from the beginning was based on the fact that it was not an all-party proposal. The Government can only change a fundamental part of our electoral system if it does so on a cross-party basis. Otherwise, the entire system is subject to ridicule. Instead of producing this Cabinet sub-committee that will study the matter again, for about the fifth time, could it make a definitive decision on this situation over the summer months? There cannot be confidence in the electoral system unless all parties participating in that system give it their full support. This has never happened in the case of e-voting. If the Government wishes to change the system of voting, I request it put it to a referendum. The Irish people are happy with and have confidence in the current system. It may be slow, arduous, protracted and so on, but there is confidence in it and anything that undermines confidence in the electoral system is negative and we must ensure this does not happen.
We were told that the introduction of e-voting would lead to substantial reductions in the costs of running elections. Some €55 million has now been spent on this initiative. What could have been built with that money? We could have built 20 four-teacher schools or advanced many other projects. There has been no political accountability relating to the decision taken by the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey, one lonely day in his office when he dreamed up this fiasco. It is time the Government came to a definitive decision on the matter and rather than meeting in conclave over the summer it should publicly state there will be no electronic voting system for the next general election and beyond.
I thank the Leader for putting on the record of the House yesterday that only the Dáil needs to give its approval before the Government proceeds with the flotation of Aer Lingus. Would she agree that the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, who will present this motion to the Dáil tomorrow, should make himself available to this House for an hour or an hour and a half to take questions, irrespective of statements on the issue? At the very least, the House should be afforded the opportunity to put direct questions on the viability of the proposal to the Minister. This would give the Government and Senators an opportunity to have their say before this decision is taken over the summer.
The request made by Senator Brian Hayes to have the issue of e-voting dealt with on an all-party basis is a very generous and reasonable one. This is an extraordinarily embarrassing situation for the Government and some of the Members of this House, who had no political interests in the issue, made the same request last year.
The issue of An Taisce's response to applications for planning permission has been frequently raised by Members on both sides of this House, including Senator MacSharry and others. There is a perfect example given in today's newspapers. Whatever one may say about Fintan O'Toole, nobody would argue that he is anything but democratic and caring with a strong commitment to the environment. I will not comment on the value of individual planning applications, I am merely presenting an example. Mr. O'Toole put forward an application for planning permission through a due and democratic process for open consideration. This application has been described by An Taisce as criminal. This illustrates the irresponsible attitude of An Taisce. Fintan O'Toole has supported An Taisce for many years.
This is a classic example of the extreme lack of moderation in An Taisce's responses and it also illustrates why democrats and environmentalists like Mr. O'Toole and others are appalled by the approach taken by this organisation time and again. It shows why ordinary people feel persecuted by An Taisce when they make reasonable applications in the interest of themselves and their families and why rural resettlement groups and other rural groups cannot cope with An Taisce's attitude. Describing a fair, honest and open application for planning permission, like that of Mr. O'Toole, as criminal reflects on an irresponsible group that needs to be taken to task. We do not need this kind of help in protecting our environment. I make no comment on the particulars of Mr. O'Toole's application, I know nothing about it, except that it was made through due process.
Regarding electronic voting, it is almost a case of the less said the better. It is an embarrassment to a country that would see itself as a leader in the field of e-government. The Government now knows that the computers, or e-voting machines, work. Big deal, what an achievement. One reached the stage where one might worry about even this. However, the Government bought bargain basement software that was not validated. One of the world's foremost authorities on software validation works in a third level institution in this country, not, incidentally, the one in which I work. He was not asked to validate that the e-voting software would do what it was claimed it could do. It has now come to light that the software must be properly designed.
It was two members of the Labour Party, who are computer experts, who first raised the questions on what are now accepted as the flaws in the system. There is a suggestion in the report that these machines could produce incorrect answers resulting in the elimination of the wrong person from an election. If a returning officer makes a mistake using the current system there is a process by which to make checks and, if necessary, rectify the mistake. We know who decided on this and it is extraordinary that people will not let the initiative go. Speaking as someone who has lost as often as he has won in elections, I would prefer to lose under the current process than lose the way a well-known Member of the other House lost using the experimental method.
The money is not entirely the issue. The issue is the absolute refusal to listen to good sense because it did not come from within Government ranks. Perhaps, in the future, for a host of reasons, we may see an approach from this Government that is a little more humble and a little less domineering.
There are reports in today's newspapers that the incidence of MRSA in our hospitals has not declined. There is also information on the number of cases of MRSA, which the chief executive of the Health Service Executive, Professor Brendan Drumm, did not want released because he felt it might frighten people. He had good reason to think they might be frightened. People have good reason to be frightened when they feel going to hospital puts them at risk of becoming more sick.
Today's reports indicate that the HSE had planned to recruit 50 staff to deal with infection control and that it was refused permission to do so because there is an embargo on recruitment in the public sector. I do not know what sort of ideological hammer is being used to decide that nobody can be recruited anywhere. Why does the Minister for Finance deem it better to have a surplus to reduce public expenditure than to provide money to deal with the incidence of MRSA in hospitals? Until we show that the HSE can, and is allowed to, manage this problem properly and can reduce the incidence of a potentially fatal illness, there is no hope for reconstruction of our health service.
As an appeal on the Order of Business, it is important that the future of Aer Lingus be debated. For once I agree with my colleague Senator Ross, we are in grave danger of having our national airline sold for a bargain basement price. I no longer know who this is to pacify. I am not sure the unions approve of the sale though we will wait and see. I am never too sure about the unions on these issues.
When the Taoiseach is claiming the affiliations of the unions I will remind him of some of the things Senator Mansergh has said from time to time. It would be a disaster for the Government to rush a motion through one House of the Oireachtas which did not address the fact that Aer Lingus, if sold shortly, will be sold at a bargain price which could jeopardise its prospects of buying new aircraft because the capital resources will not be there to do so.
With regard to the second report of the Commission on Electronic Voting, at least Senator Brian Hayes quoted it accurately, unlike Senator Ryan, who gave us populist soundbites. Notwithstanding that it was fairly painful for candidates to have what happened in one constituency happen to them, I am sure some of the candidates who had to endure four days of counting might take a different view of the matter.
The report is over 350 pages long and is worthy of debate in the House. Everybody will have to sign up for it eventually, if it is to be generally accepted in the country. That is self evident. The methodology used to do that can be argued over but it is up to the parties to discuss the way forward on the matter. The report states that "when compared with paper voting, electronic voting methods in general can deliver enhanced levels of accuracy and similar levels of secrecy and that this potential also exists in the particular case of the chosen system". There is enough evidence, albeit some of it anecdotal, from the past as to the abuses that took place with the paper voting system to suggest it is not a perfect system either. I compliment the Clerk of the Seanad, through the Cathaoirleach, on her work on this matter. The report runs to more than 350 pages and in that context it should be debated fully and not just treated to a few sound-bites. Senator Ryan's point can be used in support of the electronic voting system. If we are world leaders in the development of software, surely we can develop a system that will be suitable for our needs.
On the point made by Senator O'Toole about An Taisce, it would appear that some people in this country would like to see the development of a rural zoo that they can visit at weekends but which has nobody living in it. Those of us who live in the rural zoo would like to be able to continue to do so ——
——notwithstanding that we are conscious of our obligations from an environmental and aesthetic point of view. I wish to say to such people that it is quite certain that some of the great houses they wish to protect, such as Carton and Castletown, would never have been built if An Taisce had existed at the time.
At the last general election, electronic voting was tried in three constituencies. Fortunately, there was no close-call count in any of those constituencies but I ask Members to consider what might have happened if it had been tried in Limerick West. On the basis of the commission's report, the wrong candidate could have been selected in the event of a close count. This is a serious issue. In that situation, would a person have a case against the State?
It is worth reflecting on electronic voting. I was in favour of it because I thought it would probably deliver a result more quickly and would be more scientific. I have reconsidered, having studied this report, which found a significant number of defects in the software. Even if we go ahead with further expenditure, which could amount to anywhere between €2 million and €10 million, there is still no paper trail, which was the main aspect of what was being sought in the past.
It is very unfortunate, and it would not happen in any other country, that a Minister would be so arrogant about the introduction of electronic voting. He ignored political and expert advice and was adamant about proceeding. He was obviously dictated to by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, which said in 2002 that we would save €13.8 million with electronic voting. Let us not forget the additional expenditure such as the €4 million spent on a publicity campaign, not to mention the storage costs. With regard to the latter, we have the ridiculous situation where the life expectancy of the machines is 20 years but in many cases returning officers and others have entered into commitments on a 25-year basis.
This issue will roll on and on. In Waterford, the cost of storage is approximately four times the average. It is about time we put our hands up and admit that we got it wrong. If we go back to the manual voting system, so be it. At least then the tally men will be happy and we can get on with the business of elections. This has been a shocking disaster, caused by the arrogance of the Government.
I wish to refer to two recent defining moments in the history of Irish education which have been almost overlooked, save for some brief references in the media. For the first time in the history of Irish education, newcomer Irish citizens of 22 different nationalities were able to sit their leaving certificate examinations, in curricular and non-curricular areas, in their respective mother tongues. This is an enormous achievement and a wonderful way for Ireland to celebrate its enriching diversity and to show the world that our education system ensures equality of esteem for all those foreign nationals ——
I compliment the Minister for Education and Science, the State Examinations Board and all those who helped to make this a reality.
My second point is one which perhaps it is not popular or profitable for politicians to discuss. I refer to the final departure of the Christian Brothers from active participation in the Irish educational landscape. The Christian Brothers mission, set up by that great Waterford man, Edmund Ignatius Rice many years ago has come in for its fair share of criticism in recent years.
We all know why this happened. There is no need for me to spell it out and some of it was well deserved and justified. However, I wish to pay a personal tribute to the Christian Brothers for the monumental contribution they made to the development of Irish education at primary and post-primary level and for helping to bring education to the masses and the remote areas of Ireland, such as the area from which I come.
Ireland, past and present, owes this organisation an enormous debt of gratitude for empowering many generations through education ——
I was against electronic voting from day one. There was never any public demand for it. In fact, the public did not want it and the Minister accepted that on the wireless yesterday. He said the Irish public never asked for electronic voting and did not want it. It was a gimmick that simply did not work. It was a failure. As a result, the Irish people have lost confidence in electronic voting. The report states that something could be cobbled together and perhaps that is so. However, I heard an IT specialist say yesterday that because of the relationship between the software and the hardware, which I do not understand because it is very complex, they do not know what new problems will emerge.
In light of the fact that the Irish people have lost confidence and that increased participation was not demonstrated anywhere because of electronic voting, why not return to the old system which worked and gave people a human interest in politics? It was also indicated on the radio yesterday that the machines could be sold to the city of New York, where they could be used.
I want to ask about the situation regarding Aer Lingus because I agree with my colleagues that it would be good if the Minister came to the House because he has attended a meeting of the Joint Committee on Transport. However, this is our responsibility. We passed this legislation, neutering ourselves. It is the responsibility of Members on the Government side because the Government has a majority. There was nothing we could do. We could vote against it but the legislation would still go through. I hope Members on the Government side will never again abrogate their responsibility to the Irish people by allowing legislation on important matters like this to go through only one House of the Oireachtas. This is an appalling matter.
Yes, but a matter in which I have been consistently involved has been raised, namely, An Taisce. When an Irish Independent columnist starts writing about a columnist from The Irish Times there is only one reason I have ever seen for that and it is to cause mischief. In this case I would say that the use of the words "infection" and "criminal" was very unwise by An Taisce but it may well have had good reason to object. Mr. O'Toole was quite reasonable in his response. He might not welcome all the allies on this side because he is one of those people who has consistently defended An Taisce against the attacks by politicians. He said that his one regret in this case is that An Taisce itself might be discredited by the use of widely misreported language. He is right and I support him on that but I also support the statutory role of An Taisce.
I request the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to come to the House to discuss the axing of major programmes on RTE Radio 1. Senator Norris raised this matter recently. It is unfair to radio listeners who have paid their licence fee that programmes they enjoy will be axed by a producer in RTE who has come from a small rural station in Northern Ireland. She had wielded the axe and there is to be a total reshuffle.
That is a small station compared with RTE Radio 1. It is unfair that programmes such as "Rattlebag" and the "Mystery Train" are to be axed when listeners do not want them to be. It is only right and the proper that the listeners and the person who is the shareholder should be consulted on this reshuffle. It is like a Government reshuffle during the summer recess when people are axed unfairly from positions. I can remember radio programmes such as "The Kennedy's of Castleross" and "Harbour Hotel".
I spoke last Thursday about the traffic chaos in the vicinity of Dublin Airport and the difficulty in accessing the main airport building. I suggested we should examine the possibility of developing another airport in the eastern region because if a major incident occurred at Dublin Airport it would cause utter chaos, but little did I know then that such chaos would occur a few days later, as happened yesterday. While what happened was unacceptable and we cannot speak about that, it threw the airport into chaos and discommoded thousands of travellers.
With the number of people using Dublin Airport and the expected growth in passenger numbers, we should seriously examine the provision of another airport in the eastern region. If we are to maintain and grow our tourism industry and maintain our other industries, we need to ensure that we have an airport that can cope with the numbers who wish to avail of it and to ensure their safety at all costs. When a major incident occurs, and hopefully there will be no further such incidents, we must ensure that the eastern region does not close down. In light of yesterday's incident at the airport, I request that we seriously consider developing another airport in the eastern region.
The e-voting debate is far from over. It must take into account the hundreds of spoiled and invalid votes that are found in every constituency and also the errors in manual counting, but I accept this is a matter for the medium term and one on which there needs to be all-party consensus.
It is a real dilemma for us on this side of the House as to which side we do not support.
The Chair mentioned at the start of the Order of Business that the Dáil has passed the Defence (Amendment) Bill which underlines this country's commitment to the United Nations. In that context, we should compliment our ambassador to the United Nations on being appointed co-chair of a committee on UN reform, which is a personal recognition of his merit and a recognition of the consistent stance of this country in support of the UN.
We debated energy policy in this House during the past year but one of the areas we have not fully debated with an open mind is the question nuclear energy. I am concerned about a report obtained yesterday through a freedom of information inquiry that appeared in a British newspaper article today. It states that the British Government's nuclear inspector has raised serious questions about the safety of the ageing atomic power stations in Britain, particularly in regard to cracks that have appeared in the reactor cores. I was not aware of that safety concern and neither do I believe were the British, but that article was carried in a British newspaper today. Apparently, the company that runs these stations has indicated that it does not know the extent of those cracks or of the damage done by the reactors and it cannot fully explain the reason those cracks have occurred.
I raise this matter because at an early stage in the next session we need to debate the question of energy, particularly nuclear energy. The British Nuclear Safety Directorate is faced with significant regulatory issues for all operating reactors. It is concerned that there are major difficulties and questions about all the reactors in Britain and it is not easy even for the people who run them to answer those questions.
On the question of An Taisce, I believe that it will regret the preposterous and potentially libellous language it used in opposing what was a straightforward and legitimate planning application. It shows a darker side to An Taisce. For many months I have made the point that it has lost its way on the question of the development of rural Ireland. The day is long gone when a certain elite group, as existed in the past, saw rural Ireland as a big picnic park to which its members would go on a Sunday and they would return to their own abodes for the rest of week and pontificate and philosophise on the quaint customs of the peasantry of Ireland.
I do not know if Members are aware that in the town planning agency in Britain there exists a specific group who monitors the planning code in this country. We we asked that group why such a role did not exist in respect of any other country in the world, we were told it was because of the historical connection with Ireland. If one studies what that means, there are many people in Ireland——
Teagasc has issued a report on the impact on Irish agriculture of the new World Trade Organisation trade agreement. The report makes it clear that there will be a further decline in Irish agriculture and the number of families involved in it. The report states that by 2015, Ireland will have as few as 8,000 full-time dairy farmers with viable businesses. The number of such farmers is declining rapidly. Only 6% of cattle farmers will have viable businesses by 2015.
The incomes of many Irish households in economically sensitive areas will be so small that they will be unable to exist on their farming incomes as they have done before. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Agriculture and Food to come to the House to debate the matter. The Minister will be representing Ireland during the summer recess and it is important that she takes the issue seriously. I use the word "seriously" advisedly because she must have a commitment to the retention of maximum number of families in Irish agriculture.
If the scenario envisaged in the Teagasc report is allowed to take place, there will be a serious decline in farming in this country. We have just spoken about An Taisce, which will obviously have a role if this decline is allowed to continue. I ask the Leader to bring it to the Minister's attention that she must resist any further decline and the impact of the latest WTO trade agreement on Irish agriculture.
Senator Brian Hayes made a very interesting point about a cross-party committee but we should also say that eventually decisions must be made and the talking must stop. No. 25, motion 7, on the Order Paper is a Fine Gael motion that calls on the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to give this House a definitive timescale for the final introduction of electronic voting. This seems to contradict the Senator's calls for committees and discussions. The Minister mentioned two matters yesterday.
The report includes 41 recommendations which will cost the citizens of this country millions of euro. It shows a significant lack of leadership on the part of the Government and its lack of respect for taxpayers at a time when terminally-ill patients must undergo a means test to obtain a medical card.
In respect of An Taisce, I will call for a debate in the early autumn on prescribed organisations relating to the planning process. First, I want to praise An Taisce for the many excellent measures it undertakes, such as the green flag scheme.
However, I believe An Taisce should be deprescribed from the planning process. Senator Norris made a point about wildly disproportionate language. I believe that its actions in general are wildly disproportionate. It lodges its objections at the last minute of the last applicable day in an effort to be divisive and destructive. Senator Dardis noted that some people would like see rural Ireland become a kind of zoo. I am a resident of this zoo whose residents are entitled to have the rural Ireland they want rather than a weekend retreat for Senator Norris and his colleague.
We live in rural areas and are entitled to build our homes as we see fit, not half doors over which we can look out and smoke pipes like Peig Sayers.
A unique event is taking place on the other side of this city. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is launching the joint policing committees. This is an excellent step forward. We have heard about the principle of subsidiarity many times in a European context. Joint policing committees will allow local authority members and community groups to have their say in policing their areas, a development which must be welcomed. A total of 22 pilot schemes have been launched and I appeal to the Leader to ask the Minister to extend them to all 114 local authorities without delay.
A debate is obviously needed on electronic voting and I recommend that the Leader arranges a debate on the commission's report when the Seanad returns after the summer recess. I understand that the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children and, presumably, the Government, have decided on two pharmacy Bills. One of these Bills deals with fitness to practise provisions, while I understand the other deals with the regulation of pharmacies and services. There are many questions about whether pharmacies should be located within or adjacent to health centres and conflicts of interest. Could the Leader inform the House when it is envisaged that these Bills will be published, in which House they will be introduced and when?
Scarcely a day goes by when we do not hear calls for more technology and increased availability of broadband. We hear complaints about the absence of broadband in certain areas on a daily basis. Millions of people in Ireland and throughout Europe take part in lotteries through modern technology every week. At a time when we are looking for more technology and more students studying mathematics at higher level, certain people argue that it is not possible to implement electronic voting. Why can we not implement electronic voting? It is ridiculous to advance such arguments when we are trying to advance technology and education.
An Taisce has made life very difficult for many people, particularly people living in the Burren in north Clare. The only conservation effort in respect of the Burren I have witnessed from An Taisce has been a plaque that is approximately the size of today's Supplementary Order Paper. An Taisce put up a stone plaque stating that it supported conservation near where the national park was to be located.
I do not know Fintan O'Toole but I know that the county council is dealing with his application for the development at Ballyconry. It is unnecessary for An Taisce to brand him as a criminal, if the allegations about the article in today's edition of the Irish Independent are correct, and to suggest that he is not entitled to make his application in the same way as everyone else. An Taisce is showing the same face to Mr. O'Toole that it has shown to all ordinary decent people in north Clare whom it has harassed and made miserable over the last number of years.
I join with others in raising the issue of the report on electronic voting which was released yesterday. Like Senator Norris, I opposed electronic voting from day one. At this stage, the Government should cut our losses and try to sell these machines to the city of New York if it wants them, rather than throw good money after bad.
I agree with Senators Dardis and Ó Murchú regarding An Taisce. A prevailing attitude among members of that organisation and other people in Dublin is that we in the countryside live in some type of zoo and that they would like to preserve our quaint mannerisms and activities. Speaking as a rural person, it is important that people continue living in rural Ireland if it is to develop. We need proper planning.
Media reports on An Taisce's objection to Mr. O'Toole's planning application may bring to people's attention the difficulties imposed by An Taisce on others with genuine ties to the rural areas in which they live and who usually want to build modest extensions or developments.
I agree with Senator Ulick Burke in respect of Teagasc's report on the World Trade Organisation talks. It is important that the Minister for Agriculture and Food holds the line and ensures no further concessions, which she has done so far. If there is to be a viable rural agricultural enterprise, she has our support.
I join in the call for a debate on energy, within which we could focus on nuclear safety. I also join in calling for a debate on e-voting. I hope that we will focus on the current democratic deficit. Most of the attention seems to be on the cost, but the software can be amended for a relatively small amount of money. The Government is fulfilling its duty to provide value for money by ensuring that the money previously expended will be used properly.
I understand that a debate will be arranged on the report on e-voting, at which time the good points made by the Senator should be put. We have exceeded our allocated time by approximately five minutes, most of which has been spent on e-voting. However, e-voting is not a matter for the Order of Business.
While that is a good idea, I do not know how my party would view it on a national basis. The Senator is right in saying that confidence cannot be undermined. I will send a note to the Taoiseach's office informing it of the Senator's suggestion, which I hope he has the right to make it on behalf of his party, as it would open many doors. While the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, is not legally obliged to attend the Seanad to discuss Aer Lingus, I will suggest that he does so to answer the Senator's request. I commend the Clerk of the Seanad on her work on the matter of e-voting.
Senator O'Toole agreed with Senator Brian Hayes about dealing with e-voting on an all-party basis. He also addressed the matter of An Taisce and its words of criminality in respect of a well known person's application for an extension. If it had four feet, An Taisce would have shot itself in them. It has done marvellous work in the areas of water quality, green and blue flags and so on. Young people are proud of their green flags and what they have gained for their schools, but An Taisce is systematically trying to undermine rural communities.
In County Westmeath, people — usually farmers — have applied to open quarries to supply materials to Ascon Limited, which is building the new road. The county council has granted those applications, but each has been appealed by An Taisce irrespective of whether the person wants to open a quarry for a week, month or year. These farmers have no other forms of income. They are trying to make some money from their assets by providing a company with what it needs to build a necessary road. An Taisce has given them a blanket non-recommendation. It should examine its conscience if it has one.
Senator Ryan spoke on e-voting and stated that the computers work, but the software does not. I do not want to be elected or, if I am to be humble, fail to be elected by means of a computer. Instead, I want to be elected by people writing their votes on paper, putting them into boxes and having them counted. I welcome that e-voting will not be used in the next election, as machines can go wrong. The Senator also raised the matter of the increased rates of MRSA and how the Department of Finance has turned down the Health Service Executive's request to seek 50 people to deal with infection controls. The Senator asked for a debate on Aer Lingus.
Senator Dardis has read the whole report on e-voting and said a debate is necessary and a way forward must be found. He spoke about the software and hardware systems. His comments on An Taisce were interesting. His analogy of our being in a zoo and people gazing and gaping at us as they went back to their city pads——
Senator Finucane discussed his case. If it had occurred under e-voting, there would have been a hue and cry all over the land. The Senator may well have been in another House if e-voting had been in place. That is the other side of the matter.
If we examine the matter on an all-party basis, we should put our hands up if we got it wrong.
Having the leaving certificate exam available in the mother tongues of 22 nationalities is a remarkable achievement, a matter that Senator Fitzgerald did well to raise. He also made an affirmative reprise on the Christian Brothers, outlining what they have done for education during the past 150 years. This matter was previously raised in the House several times, including by Senator Glynn and others. In such issues, there are always up sides and down sides, but the Senator was correct to state what the Christian Brothers have done for Irish education.
Senator Norris always regarded e-voting as a gimmick. Is it not great that he can stick to his principles?
I agree with the Senator's comment that he regretted the disproportionate language of An Taisce.
Senator Leyden referred to the RTE programmes that have been axed, namely, "Rattlebag" and John Kelly's "Mystery Train", and asked for the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to discuss the matter in the House. The Senator asked whether RTE would have more reshuffles during the recess. We hope not, particularly in terms of political programming.
Senator Terry raised the matter of events at Dublin Airport yesterday. I doubt that she was proposing Abbeyshrule as the alternative airport, which was proposed by Senator Bannon, as she was discussing a more urban setting. When I address the issues raised by Senator Bannon, I will show my support.
We will see. Senator Mansergh referred to the e-voting debate and An Taisce. He said this side of the House had reservations about the issue because we had been the victims of journalistic tongue-waggings by the gentleman in question, whose case for an extension I now espouse. He also said we had provided the co-chair of the UN reform committee, which is a good sign of our participation in the UN.
Senator Quinn mentioned a report on the dangers inherent in aging nuclear reactors in the UK.
Senator Ó Murchú picked up Senator Dardis's interesting point that An Taisce regards the country as a zoo or a theme park, where visitors could come to gaze and then leave. The Senator also said An Taisce would come to regret its words and I agree.
Senator Ulick Burke talked about Teagasc and the WTO talks. He noted that it forecast a decline in all farming, including dairy farming, and called for the Minister to come to the House to discuss the matter. She has proved her mettle at the talks in Geneva, or wherever they were held.
Senator Kitt referred to the Fine Gael motion, No. 25 on the Order Paper, calling for a definite timescale for e-voting to be introduced.
Senator Bannon called for Abbeyshrule to become another airport. It is an airport already but he wanted it to be a second major airport. I would support that call but I doubt the Senator's colleague in Fine Gael meant to say Abbeyshrule. We could provide cross-party support for it.
I did not agree with Senator Bannon's earlier comments about the Government and will not join him in that regard.
Senator MacSharry said An Taisce had done good work but that it had proved to be divisive and destructive. As somebody who comes from rural Ireland he made his point very passionately. He referred to the joint policing committees which the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is establishing today and called for the pilot schemes to be extended countrywide.
I have some news for Senator Coghlan on the pharmacy Bills. As he said, the first Bill covers fitness to practise and is expected to be published later this year. The second Bill provides for the regulatory framework, but no date has yet been given for its publication. We will seek to publish it in this House. It is welcome that both the Minister's Bills published today, concerning privacy and defamation, will be Seanad Bills and will be debated in the House in the early autumn.
Senator Daly urged action to ensure the increased availability of broadband and talked about An Taisce's activities in the burren area.
Senator John Paul Phelan called for a debate on the e-voting machines and on An Taisce. He said the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Coughlan, should stick to her point of view and fight harder for Ireland.
Senator Hanafin wanted a debate on energy and on the democratic deficit evinced by the random application of the surplus vote to individual candidates. He said that was anti-democratic, which was a very fair point.