Wednesday, 7 March 2007
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, a motion concerning the amendment and extension of the Diseases of Animals Acts 1966 to 2001 to enhance the Minister's ability to deal with all animal disease situations and also with criminal activity regarding animal health, which motion was referred to the Joint Committee on Agriculture and Food, on which the committee has completed its deliberations and which item it is proposed to take without debate; No. 2, Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2007 — all Stages, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude no later than 1.30 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons on Second Stage not to exceed 12 minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed eight minutes, the Minister to be called on to reply no later than ten minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage, which will conclude no later than 1.15 p.m, and Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken at 1.15 p.m. and to conclude no later than 1.30 p.m.; No. 3, motion for earlier signature of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2007, to be taken without debate immediately on the conclusion of No. 2; No. 4, Roads Bill 2007 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 2.30 p.m. and to conclude no later than 5 p.m., with the contribution of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes, on which Senators may share time, and the Minister to be called on to reply no later than ten minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage; and No. 20, motion 37, to be taken from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. There will be a sos from 1.30 p.m. to 2.30 p.m.
We will co-operate with the Government in its attempts to deal with all Stages of No. 2 today. We welcome the fact that the Government has included in the Bill a key measure Fine Gael has been requesting for the past three years concerning sexual grooming.
News on the jobs front in the past 48 hours, especially in the mid-west region, has been horrendous. It has been particularly bad in Limerick where 200 jobs have been lost and, as we speak, the position regarding Procter & Gamble in Nenagh remains uncertain. None of us should underestimate the significance of announcements for parts of the country that have experienced virtual full employment in recent years. However, we need a debate on competitiveness in the House at the earliest possible time. We have lost more than 30,000 manufacturing jobs in the past five years. The low corporation tax regime was negotiated successfully by Deputy Quinn on behalf of the rainbow Government in advance of the 1997 general election. As we enter the general election campaign it is important that the consensus that exists in this House and in all mainstream political parties is held.
More importantly the European Union should hear from this country with one political voice about the dangers of tax harmonisation. Many multinational companies remain here because of our low tax rate. That has been built up by a credible consensus-led political support in the past ten to 15 years. It is important that the European Union hears that if any tax harmonisation goes ahead, particularly on corporation tax, that position will have dramatic impact in peripheral parts of the Union like ours. It is crucial to speak with one voice on the issue of low corporation tax rates given the number of jobs here that are dependent on US and other multinationals.
Some months ago the people of Dingle held a referendum resulting in them asking that the name of their town be changed to Dingle-Daingean Uí Chúis. The local authority, Kerry County Council, conveyed that overwhelming decision of the people of Dingle to the Government, which promised to deal with it. The Government has not done anything about it in the meantime. I heard on Raidió na Gaeltachta le déanaí an tAire á rá dá mba rud é go mbeadh an moladh ann logainm an bhaile a athrú go Dingle that he could accommodate them. However, the bilingual version, Dingle-Daingean Uí Chúis, would not be accepted. I find the Minister's decision extraordinary because I discovered driving through his constituency that all the towns of Gaeltacht areas in County Galway are signposted bilingually with both names, as should be the case.
There is absolute discrimination against west Kerry on this issue. The Government is treating the people unfairly and should take its decision on the matter. The Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Performance of Certain Functions) Act 2002 should be fully commenced. If it had been commenced by now the row would not have happened and the people could make up their own minds and the decision would be implemented without reference to the Government. The Government should deal with the issue or else the people of Dingle should erect proper signposts. At a conference yesterday in response to hoteliers from the west Kerry area expressing their concern to him, the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism said he did not expect the town to lose any business on the basis of the name. We need to deal with the issue and I ask the Acting Leader to raise it with the Government.
It is rare that I agree with the Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism but regarding the issue a ndearna an Seanadóir O'Toole tagairt dó, is cosúil go bhfuil an ceart aige ó thaobh polaitíochta de mar an t-aon phobalbhreith a tógadh i ndeisceart Chiarraí, ba shoiléir nach raibh ag éirí leis an iarrthóir ba mhó a bhí taobh thiar den fheachtas i gcoinne logainm an Daingin a bheith i nGaeilge. I will say no more on that issue except for one small point. While the people in Dingle may have an issue with this, there most assuredly is not an issue west of Dingle about it. Muintir na Gaeltachta have quite a different view, as has been expressed to me forcefully and vigorously on many occasions.
In the report of the Garda Síochána Inspectorate most of the focus has been on procedures for dealing with sieges, which is very welcome. However, most disturbing is the inspectorate's conclusion about how badly equipped the Garda is. We have been hearing this from Garda representative organisations and other organisations. However, there seems to be casualness about equipping the Garda with modern equipment. If a Member of the Opposition used the language the inspectorate used he or she would be accused of politicising the issue of sending people into dangerous situations untrained, unequipped and unprotected. However, that is what the inspectorate's report stated. That the Garda has only 1,200 bulletproof vests for a force of 14,000 is not because of some process that is needed. It is because of indifference on the part of senior Garda management or more likely the Tánaiste and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. That should be rectified now. The response that it will happen soon is not acceptable and should not be acceptable in a civilised society.
I agree with Senator Brian Hayes on the issue of competitiveness. I have regularly asked for a debate on the issue. A debate on competitiveness can too easily become a debate about wage rates. However, the National Competitiveness Council has demonstrated a succession of issues. From the time the Government and its predecessor came into office we have lived through a boom. It will have taken the Government 13 years to build a decent road from Cork to Dublin and it will probably have the airport closed down by the time it is built. There is a range of issues on competitiveness and I would like the Acting Leader to consider the possibility of us meeting tomorrow to discuss competitiveness. I had a delightful debate with the Minister on Monday night in UCC, which I won judging by the student vote.
On competitiveness, there was a daft proposal from chambers of commerce that not enough people were paying tax. They stated that the 40% who were not paying income tax were somehow outside the political process and should be required to pay tax again. On whatever else there may be disagreement, there is consensus in this House that that is among the daftest proposals that has ever been made. It should be opposed by all parties.
Senator Norris raised the issue yesterday. I do not understand why Trócaire is prohibited from advertising when all the advocates of psychobabble, astrology, tarot cards and psychic lies are entitled to the full freedom of the airwaves to advertise their services. It makes no sense or logic. If we are to have legislation prohibiting activities it ought to have logical reason.
In the understandable absence this morning of Senators from north Tipperary because of the circumstances, I would like to say that our hearts go out to the workers in Procter & Gamble in Nenagh. If industrial jobs can be brought, as they were, to Cashel last autumn, they can be also brought to a town like Nenagh. It is not accurate to describe full employment as applying to every provincial town. The industrial agencies need to work on the matter. That said, in net terms the number of industrial jobs increased by several thousand last year, as did industrial production. We must not overstate what is happening. Of course we all support the single 12.5% rate of corporation tax, which was announced by Deputy Quinn in May 1997, but negotiated by Charlie McCreevy with Brussels in 1999.
I would be very happy to have a debate on competitiveness because I do not think we should paint it in too gloomy colours.
I wish to raise a second point. I was concerned at the misrepresentation of an aspect of proceedings in this House in a newspaper column in recent days about the Taoiseach's initiative, which we all welcome, about meetings with the churches. It was stated that it was high time that Catholic prayers at the beginning of the Oireachtas proceedings should stop. That is a complete misrepresentation. They are Christian prayers and certainly the prayers in English have a lot of similarities — I do not wish to claim them for any denomination — with the sonorous language of the book of common prayer.
I wish to express my concern regarding potential job losses in the mid-west region, particularly at Procter & Gamble and Thompson Scientific, which is based in Limerick. Only a few years ago there was a major announcement about the opening of Thompson Scientific which was hailed as a firm with great potential for the Limerick area. Many of the employees in Thompson Scientific are software engineers who came from the University of Limerick. Not only has the west-Limerick area had job losses in recent years in food processing but we are losing in a high technology market. In this case the company is moving to India which has millions of graduates in various disciplines.
We need to debate the issues of competitiveness, broadband and high energy costs. We should not be blind to the fact that many large companies have come before the Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and voiced concerns about energy and other costs here. We should not take those industries for granted. If they find a more attractive marketplace for their business they will drift to those countries. This is a matter of great concern.
It is up to us to tackle those issues with a view to making this a more attractive economy. When announcing potential job losses it is not good enough for a Minister to say a large number of extra jobs have been created. Extra jobs have been created in the service sector and we are grateful to the emigrants for supporting those jobs but at the higher end of the market we are losing jobs.
I ask the Deputy Leader to organise a debate on the aviation sector without delay. I am particularly concerned about the difficulties at Shannon Airport where there is a stand-off between management and staff in regard to the future development of a business plan. It is having a negative impact on tourism and commercial and business interests in the region. In view of the debate here today about job losses in the region it is vitally important that we have an airport that can service the needs of the community, particularly if new enterprises are to replace existing enterprises.
An urgent debate is also required on the Open Skies issue, negotiations on which have continued for some time. A deal has been concluded between the EU and US in recent days. There is an effort to allow that to pass without the provision of the necessary marketing fund to allow the region compete in the Open Skies environment. I am disappointed with the Minister in respect of what has happened. I am also disappointed also that the marketing fund promised for the mid west region has not been put in place in tandem with the announcement in regard to Open Skies. It is vitally important that Shannon Airport can compete on a level playing field. I ask the Acting Leader to invite the Minister for Transport to come before the House at the earliest opportunity to outline what he intends to do to ensure a viable aviation sector which guarantees employment and tourism in the mid west. Perhaps he could arrange for this after the St. Patrick's Day break.
Yesterday, I briefly mentioned a protest that was taking place outside the gates by a group of Kurkish people. The Kurds are among the most oppressed people on the planet. They have been denied a homeland, their territory has been carved up, their villages bulldozed, women raped, men tortured and families driven through minefields. There is a point here for us as parliamentarians because yesterday a Kurdish politician was sentenced to six months in prison for referring to the Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan as Mr. Öcalan. One gets six months imprisonment for calling him "Mr.". What kind of a democracy is that, yet it is trying to enter the European Union? This is a matter we should take very seriously.
I am sure you, a Chathaoirligh, as a regular attender over many years at the interparliamentary union, will know that the group takes very seriously the rights of elected members. A strong protest should go to the Turkish Government about sentencing to six months in prison a man simply for using the word "Mr.". I remember at the first foreign affairs committee which was established that the entire Kurdish representation, 12 to 15 members, was put in prison. I cannot recall whether it was for speaking Kurdish but it was something like that. This is a matter we should look into.
I have great sympathy for the people in Procter & Gamble. Once again business management took the procedure of not informing the workers first but informing the media through a press release. This is wrong. It is not good PR but this is the way American capital works. Senator Dooley is beginning to realise that now after the way in which they all lick-spittled over Bush as hard as they possibly could in the desperate hope of keeping their own airport open.
He stuck a good one in their eye just now in his little deal with the EU, so one can sell out on human rights as much as one wishes but one will get damn all back from the Americans.
I have the greatest pleasure in finding two items of disagreement with Senator Mansergh. The first is the business that we are all in favour of the 12.5% corporation tax deal. On the surface it is quite a good one but Professor Anton Murphy, who discovered the black hole in the Irish economy a few years ago that had to be very well looked at, was on the airwaves a couple of days ago and pointed out the dangers of this because if this situation is addressed in America as Barack Obama had suggested that it may well be, there will be a flight of that kind of capital too. Professor Murphy pointed out that there were a number of companies with about a dozen employees who were reporting profits of hundreds of millions of dollars that were not made in this country. We were being used to launder the money. We are the new Cayman islands. Beware of false profits because when that goes out all one is left with is a house of straw.
I am calling for a debate. On a more spiritual note, I also disagree with Senator Mansergh about the prayer. I said this a long time ago. I do not think it is appropriate. It is wrong to say that everybody here agrees that "every word and act of ours shall be inspired from Thee". There are people who are agnostics and atheists. In the other House there were Jewish Members and there have been Muslim members. Why should they have to expect that every act and word of ours comes from Jesus Christ?
I support the call for a debate on competitiveness and the economy. While I sympathise deeply with people who have lost their jobs, there is an inevitability about this which we must examine. I watched a BBC television programme last night where a female mill worker from Rochdale was brought to Sri Lanka to see where her job had gone. The woman in Sri Lanka was paid £100 per week for work for which the lady in Rochdale had been paid £800. The interesting thing was that the Sri Lankan lady was worried that somebody in China or Malaysia would do the job more cheaply than her.
It brings us back to a debate we should have on the report on skills and upskilling people, which came out yesterday. The two closures which have taken place are regrettable but of the two, the job losses at Thomson Scientific are far more worrying, which is the point made by Senator Finucane. It is the loss of those high-quality jobs which is really worrying for Ireland and something to which we must pay serious attention.
Next week is National Pensions Awareness Week. As we will not be present in the House next week, I wished to raise my concerns about it today, as I have raised concerns about this campaign on other occasions. I notice that this year, the campaign to entice or encourage people to take out pensions will be even more aggressive than before and will target people between the ages of 25 and 35. The money available to the Pensions Board has been doubled for this campaign.
My concerns, which I have raised here on many occasions, relate to misleading and false information about tax relief. In addition, people are not being provided with a considerable amount of information relating to charges imposed by operators and the fact that there is no guarantee with pensions and no final outcome with regard to how people's contributions will result in a reasonable pension.
The Government and the Pensions Board should not be providing one-sided information on pensions. They should highlight the downside, namely, the fact that people are gambling with the stock market and that there is no guarantee in respect of their outcome. People are entitled to get both sides of the equation. When the Government promotes such a campaign, it is incumbent on it to highlight the downside of any promotion like this. It should be withdrawn because it is a one-sided campaign, which is unfair and misleads consumers.
Tourism is an important earner for Ireland. It is significant that its benefits are spread throughout the entire island. Cultural tourism is a significant element of that industry. The last major survey that was carried out in Ireland revealed that the top three preferences for tourists were of a cultural nature.
The Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism said yesterday that he did not believe that An Daingean would lose a single tourist as a result of the name of the area being displayed in Irish on road signs. I agree with him and would even go a step further. I believe it could be an attraction because An Daingean and the Gaeltacht are cultural destinations for tourists.
In respect of the change itself and the plebiscite, I believe Senator O'Toole will agree that this is a legislative issue and can only come about with the change in the Act passed by the Houses of the Oireachtas. It might be helpful if somebody obtained a copy of the Irish Examiner from about six weeks ago. It contained a letter from Donna Ó Cinnéide outlining the deep hurt and disappointment felt by people of the greater Kerry Gaeltacht area at being omitted from that plebiscite.
I join with the calls for a debate on competitiveness or some allied subject. We cannot sit back and see these job losses occur throughout the economy and suggest that they are localised. This has developed into a trend. I cannot list off all the job losses, but there have been losses at Pfizer, Thomson Scientific and Procter & Gamble and others which have occurred in recent weeks. Different explanations are given for them by the IDA. Some say that there are different types of job substituting for it and that these types of high-level jobs are going to go. The reality is that a serious problem exists, part of which is the fact that there is cheaper labour in eastern Europe. The Irish economy and the Government must respond to that threat if the days of the Celtic tiger are to survive.
It is absurd for us to weep tears in here — I will not call them crocodile tears — for specific situations when we are not going to address the big picture. Part of this picture has been addressed by Senators Norris, Mansergh and Brian Hayes, namely, the 12.5% rate of corporation tax. It is important for us to have a specific debate on this issue.
This rate is under threat. Undoubtedly, there are moves between France and Germany to undermine the Irish position on this matter. The fact that we have a veto here does not necessarily guarantee that it will survive for long. There are ways of circumventing a veto in European terms. They hit one somewhere else, which makes one's situation almost untenable.
It is very important that we do not ally ourselves with the position of some people in Ireland, including the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, who say that rate should be 20%. We should openly compete with eastern European countries by considering lowering, rather than raising, the rate and should not necessarily stick to the rate of 12.5%. I would like a debate on that issue, which should take place urgently.
I ask the Deputy Leader to arrange a debate on insurance. The Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise and Small Business has worked very hard to assist in bringing down the costs of insurance. Over 400,000 people have two penalty points at the moment and the insurance companies are increasing the costs of insurance. Hibernian Life & Pensions has increased its costs by approximately 10% for those who have two penalty points and is providing pro-rata decreases for those without penalty points.
It is enough to have penalty points and to pay the fine.
There should be a debate on the cost of insurance; the effect of penalty points on motorists, given that one in five motorists now have penalty points; and the difficulty that will arise for people in paying increased insurance costs for their cars, in addition to costs to date. Penalty points are being exploited by the insurance companies for their benefit rather than that of hard-hit motorists.
I was amazed to learn that 2,400 people have been deported from the State and that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform admitted that he had no idea if any of them are back in the country. In addition to this, I read in a newspaper report that 7,000 people are evading deportation orders. One must remember the cost involved. A total of €9 million is spent flying these people home on special flights. It is very worrying. We have all made representations on behalf of people who possibly applied for citizenship. Why are people waiting years to have their applications processed if, at the end of it, they can be deported but it has no effect afterwards? Why are people having their lives put on hold? I met one lady who has been waiting six years to get her application processed. I assume some people are being deported because of criminal records and it is very worrying that they can come back into the country. The Minister has admitted he has no way of checking whether they are back in the country. That is not satisfactory.
Today is International Women's Day. We have seen the hullabaloo in the press in recent days about the Trócaire advertisement and the issue of young women in African countries. It is the responsibility of those of us who are lucky enough to be in government in first world countries to examine our responsibility and the role of women in politics and government. I ask the Deputy Leader and the Leader to arrange a debate on the role of women in government to ascertain whether there is anything we can propose before we end this session. Who knows where any of us will be in six months time? I certainly do not.
There is a very important role for women in political life. We do not have maternity leave or child friendly policies. We need to make changes in the institutions. If private business can make changes to facilitate family-friendly work practices then these institutions ought to also. I seek a debate on this matter before the end of the session.
I, too, am concerned about the ongoing situation regarding Dingle. Senator O'Toole is correct. We all know a plebiscite was held in Dingle and the democratic decision was overwhelming. Despite the commitments given in the light of that result, the town is still suffering from Government neglect. The signs are still directing people to a town in County Offaly. No disrespect is intended to the town in County Offaly, which is a wonderful place also. While tourists eventually reach Dingle, one can ask why they should be made to suffer in not understanding the signs or misreading them and having a terrible holiday experience in trying to arrive at their destination. As has been said, what is happening in Galway is totally discriminatory and is crying out for immediate redress.
Many people have called for a debate on the recent job losses and the need to upskill. This led me to consider the role of FÁS. Some of its programmes do not deal with the current situation. I seek a debate to examine the updated position of how FÁS is reforming its programmes to address this issue.
I was impressed by the number of senior Irish civil servants there who are able to play a large part as Europeans but they also keep an eye on the Irish situation. There is a degree of complacency in Ireland, especially among younger people who are used to our success and believe it will continue. Like Senator Maurice Hayes, I would be much more concerned about the job losses at Thomson Scientific because it is part of the high-tech sunrise industries that made our success in recent years, rather than the more old fashioned industries. We have to avoid being complacent and concentrate on making sure we adhere to what made us successful.
I thank the Cathaoirleach because I know we are short of time. It is unacceptable that workers in Nenagh found out about their job losses on the Internet. In that regard, I rise in support of my county colleague, Senator Mansergh. We will be seeking good alternative employment. Despite what the media say, manufacturing industry is continuing. I commend the workforce in Tipperary which has been very steady. As a representative of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, I can state they have been very good to employers who have made substantial profits which they have reinvested in the community. The sum of €25 million that is invested in Nenagh on an annual basis will be significantly reduced. We would like to see something done for Nenagh.
I agree with Senator Ross about the underlying trend that has begun in terms of job losses. Everybody here is genuinely concerned about the job losses in Nenagh and in Limerick. This is an ongoing issue. In parallel to the manufacturing and service industries, many people have lost sight of the fact that the agriculture sector has been losing jobs at the rate of 10% per annum. This is a huge loss. We heard of the tragedy of the factory closure in Nenagh today but the reality is we are closing down rural Ireland on an ongoing basis.
The Government is contributing to this closure by the way in which it penalises people by over-regulation and by the fact that the support mechanisms for agriculture are being clawed away by the over-enthusiastic and unconcerned Department of Agriculture and Food officials who visit farms. They are not there in an advisory capacity, rather they are there to penalise people and prevent them from going about their work and being productive. That is a serious concern. I would welcome a debate on job creation but, in addition to job losses in the agriculture sector, our output from agriculture is decreasing annually. These losses must be replaced with manufacturing jobs. I hope when we have a debate on job losses, the agriculture sector will be included.
We must talk up the country and stop talking it down. Senator Quinn has hit the nail on the head. There are politics of envy in Germany and France about Ireland because they have over-expanded social welfare states. In France there is a short working week and they are trying to increase the working week from 35 hours to get the economy back on track. I am very optimistic about the Irish public servants who have worked for years in Brussels getting all the tremendous tax benefits we have here. I am fully confident, and I assure Senator Ross in particular, that they will continue to do so. We need a debate on upskilling and the role of universities in the regions in developing economic aspects there. More people are required to study at fourth level. We need more PhDs in order that the multinationals here can have added value for their products.
Any business will keep going if it is making a profit and if people want to buy its product. The Pfizer case was tragic because there was no demand for its medication. The bottom line is we have to continue to be confident.
I am sure Senator White is correct in saying we do not need to talk ourselves into trouble but we have to listen also to the multinational companies. I was on a visit to a pharmaceutical company in Switzerland recently and far from suggesting that our problem with employment was companies relocating to eastern Europe, China or India, they talked about our employment costs compared to other European countries and pointed out that taking Switzerland as a denominator of 100 with regard to cost, Ireland's score is 95 and Grimsby is 70. There is much leeway between these scores. We need a debate on competitiveness and I hope it can be held before the end of the session.
I thank Senator Brian Hayes for his co-operation on the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) (Amendment) Bill. Senators Brian Hayes, Ryan, Mansergh, Finucane, Norris, Maurice Hayes, Ross, Ormonde, Quinn, Hanafin, Ulick Burke, White and Henry referred to job losses, competitiveness and tax harmonisation. It is depressing to hear of job losses in Procter & Gamble and Thomson Scientific. The losses at the former are not as severe as we thought at first. That does not mean it is not serious for the 300 people who may lose jobs but some 200 jobs will be saved. Serious questions are raised by the matter and it merits a debate.
Ireland has one of the most open, globalised economies in the world and is very competitive. If we were not, we would not survive in this environment. This is a tribute to employees. While wages are high, productivity is also high by international standards. This is the route to survival. There have been job increases nationally as well as job losses over the past years. Yesterday's report on skills indicated we expect to create 1 million jobs in the next ten years. We must adjust our educational system and FÁS, to which Senator Ormonde referred.
There is unanimity on tax harmonisation in this country. It has been defended at draft constitutional treaty talks and successive Council meetings. It will be defended by the Government and will not be conceded, irrespective of what Germany wants to do. As a result of our trip to Washington the Cathaoirleach is aware that there is international fascination with our success. We must be doing something right.
We should have a motorway to Cork and other cities but the projects undertaken at present are being completed on time and within budget. This is an indication of our competitiveness and a tribute to those working on the projects.
Regarding agriculture, it is a characteristic of the past century that when the economy was successful people left the land. This happened in the 1970s and in the 1990s. Happily, such people do not have to take the boat anymore. Is it any wonder young people will not take up farming if they are being told how terrible it is at the breakfast table? I have a son, and some young people want to farm, as my generation did in our 1920s. We did not care about the Government and red tape. We wanted to farm.
Senators O'Toole, Ryan, ÓMurchú and Coghlan referred to Dingle-Daingean Uí Chúis. Having had a referendum, it is strange that we do not proceed on the basis of the result. I am fascinated by Senator Coghlan. Tourists would have some difficulty winding up in Offaly if they were travelling from Killarney to Dingle-Daingean Uí Chúis.
I have some difficulty with that. I will ensure the matter is raised with the Minister.
Senator Ryan referred to the report to the Garda Inspectorate, equipment and the fact that there were only 1,200 bulletproof vests. This seems a high number. The Commissioner is the accounting officer for the Garda Síochána. Significant amounts of money are made available to the force and it is up to the Commissioner to allocate the money.
Senators Mansergh and Norris referred to the prayer. I am surprised by the illiberal response of Senator Norris. I thought it was liberal to allow the prayer.
I do not see the difficulty but it is a matter for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges whether we continue with the prayer.
Senator Dooley referred to the aviation sector, an important matter. Last week the EU and the US introduced a new policy. People can look forward to flights to Baltimore and Washington directly from Shannon. Senator Dooley makes a fair point with regard to the marketing fund and the capacity of the airports to survive in this new environment. It is a subject that merits debate.
Senator Norris referred to the Kurds. As a member of the Joint Committee on European Affairs I had the privilege of meeting leaders of the Kurdish community when we were in Turkey. Understandably, the leaders were enthusiastic about Turkey joining the EU. The freedom they require and the protection of their language and culture can be provided within the EU. However, there remain great difficulties regarding the possible accession of Turkey. We must keep the Kurds to the forefront of our discussions to ensure their rights are protected.
Senator Terry has been consistent in arguing her point about pensions. Historically, equities have been one of the best things in which to invest, notwithstanding the events of the past week. A pension fund portfolio should contain a balance between property, equities and cash.
Senator Leyden referred to insurance for small business. There is a degree of exploitation in targeting people with two penalties. Many of them are no worse drivers than people without penalty points. We should not condone speeding but this is a crude way of attacking the sector.
Senator Browne referred to the deportees. There has been improvement in processing times. There is a difficulty with those who have been here for some time. One cannot argue that people should be deported and then complain about the cost of sending them on aeroplanes. Anyone who has committed a criminal offence or is a threat to society in other ways can be deported quickly.
Senator Cox referred to International Women's Day and the Trócaire advertisement. The role of women in politics merits debate. We will try to do so before the conclusion of the session.