Wednesday, 21 March 2007
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re the report from the Committee on Procedures and Privileges concerning necessary changes to Standing Orders consequent to the establishment of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission and other technical changes. The report was circulated to all Members last night and the motion will be taken without debate; No. 2, Building Control Bill 2005 — Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude no later than 1.30 p.m.; No. 3, Defamation Bill 2006 — Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken between 2.30 p.m. and 5 p.m.; No. 4, Protection of Employment (Exceptional Collective Redundancies and Related Matters) Bill 2007 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 7.15 p.m. and to conclude no later than 9.30 p.m. with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes, those of other Senators not to exceed ten minutes and the Minister to be called upon to reply no later than ten minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage; and No. 23, motion No. 38, to be taken between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. There will be a sos between 1.30 p.m. and 2.30 p.m.
Yesterday the Ambulance Association of Ireland stated, "We have staff working round the clock trying to keep emergency ambulances on the road. We have members doing back-to-back shifts, which is totally illegal, and we are genuinely worried that patients are being put at risk". Front line medical staff such as ambulance crews and others have sought 400 additional paramedic and support staff in this area because the service is, in their words, at "breaking point". It will come as little comfort to them to read in today's newspapers that staff in the upper echelons of the HSE are coining it through the salaries and positions they have negotiated for themselves. The notion that individuals can earn €250,000 per annum and €1,500 per day in overtime is a complete joke to front line staff who are trying to operate a service to help people up and down this country. The Government and the HSE need to be held to account for this and I ask for time to be provided for the Minister for Health and Children to come to the House and explain why a golden circle has negotiated these contracts while other health care workers must put up with Dickensian conditions within the service. That is worthy of debate and I ask the Leader to respond to it.
Yesterday I heard Senator Norris raise the issue of the Abbey Theatre. I join him in calling for a short debate between now and Easter on this subject. It is lunacy that we are talking about hiving off the Abbey Theatre to a part of Dublin which has no connection with our national theatre. The logical solution is for the Abbey Theatre to be based at the old Carlton site on O'Connell Street. That would make sense.
I have said that for the past number of years. I do not know why the Government has not been able to negotiate with the Abbey Theatre and Dublin City Council and get ownership of the old Carlton site. It would be hugely significant for O'Connell Street and for the establishment of theatre in Dublin city centre rather than hive it off to a part of Dublin that has no connection with the national theatre.
I very rarely raise the issue of what people in the public service are paid because I genuinely believe they earn what they get. However, I find it impossible to reconcile today's news on the issue of overtime, in particular. I have been dealing with the public service and the Civil Service for many years but I have never heard of senior management getting overtime. It does not happen in the Civil Service or in the public service where time in lieu operates. When one is promoted to a senior management role, overtime is not paid, although one may get time in lieu.
The Department of Finance regularly tells us about creating precedent. Many people who will read this morning's newspaper will ask from where this came. These people are at Secretary General level in salary terms. As far as I know, no Secretary General in the Civil Service can claim overtime, unless something new has happened. I am not questioning what people are paid but rather how overtime can be applied to people in senior management positions.
It is a major embarrassment to the Government and the Minister that this is happening. Tonight I will meet people from the nursing unions and it is impossible to reconcile this. It is unacceptable, although there may be issues about which we do not know. This has not happened before. I would like someone to come to the House to inform us how we arrived at this situation where people at Secretary General level can claim overtime. It is unacceptable and reflects badly on the management of the health service. We may have been given wrong information by the newspapers, which has happened previously, but if what we read is correct, it is unacceptable.
There is a particular irony about the fact these senior people claim overtime while at the same time they attempt to force through contract changes for doctors and nurses whereby they will work seven days per week, 24 hours per day rotas for a given salary and without any overtime. These changes are referred to as new work practices which are supposed to be the fashion. While the people at the coalface are being told overtime is an old fashioned idea, those attempting to force through these changes claim it.
Like Senator O'Toole, I would not have an argument with the salaries if people were doing the job, which is a good question. If one were running an organisation as large as a health service properly, I would not take issue with the level of reward. However, I take issue with people claiming privileges which they are attempting, by every means of negotiation and use of public relations, to take from others. It is hypocrisy on a grand scale and it is not the way to create the proper ethos.
Yesterday, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favour of a Polish woman who was refused an abortion. I am not attempting to make an issue of this but we cannot spend the next ten years with our heads buried in the sand pretending this is not happening. This was not a ruling of the European Court of Justice but of the European Court of Human Rights and, therefore, the famous protocol to the Maastricht treaty is of no significance. I would like a member of Government to come to the House to give us an authoritative view on how that decision will impact on the way we regulate this very difficult and emotional area. The one thing we should not do is hope it will go away because I can assure the House it will not.
Three cases, which have been taken by three Irish women, are due to come up and they may well produce a decision. We would be better off to deal with this now sensibly and sanely and without recrimination and to recognise the fact that perhaps we will have to deal with a regime some of us might find distasteful.
I welcome the fact that at long last a new copy of the rules of the road is being issued today, although only 12 years late. I hope that once it is issued, all the rules of the road will be enforced because not a single truck on the road observes the speed limits. How many people have come across a heavy goods vehicle, HGV, on a motorway doing only 80 km/h? The answer is "Nobody". If a HGV were doing 80 km/h, we would probably think there was something wrong with it. HGVs are supposed to have speed limiters on them but they do not because they are perfectly capable of travelling at speeds in excess of the speed limits. Trucks are involved in three times as many fatal accidents as their numbers on the road would suggest. Now that we have an up-to-date version of the rules of the road, perhaps they will be enforced.
I am aware the issue of the rape case in County Clare was raised on yesterday's Order of Business. Many fine Senators spoke on the issue and the Leader acknowledged that and said it was important to have a debate. The time for discussion is over and we need to ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform what action he proposes to take. He must outline that action so that we know this cannot happen again. It is unacceptable that somebody can walk free with a suspended sentence when found guilty by a court. We must do something about that.
While I accept the Leader's bona fides in regard to a debate, I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that after No. 5 concludes at 9.30 p.m., we invite the Minister to the House. The Minister has nine hours between now and 9.30 p.m. and if that is not enough time, then this House has no jurisdiction and we might as well all go home. This is the most serious issue to face this country in recent months and we should give it the same level of importance we gave the emergency legislation on statutory rape. I would like the support of the House in this regard. I apologise to the Leader for tabling an amendment to the Order of Business but we can no longer sit back and talk without taking action.
——with the theme of leading Ireland to the doldrums. That has occurred over the past ten years. If we face 15 years of Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government, it will worsen. We should look at what is happening in the areas of health, employment and law and order and at the lack of accountability of this Government.
I call on the Leader to invite the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to the House as soon as possible for a debate on the competitive challenge facing Ireland. A large number of manufacturing industries are leaving Ireland because of stealth taxes, Government levies, insurance and so on which have been imposed on them by this Government since it took office five years ago.
We have lost a large number of jobs to the Far East and eastern Europe, especially in manufacturing. We need a debate as soon as possible to review industrial policy and to try to get our cost base back in order and avoid further job losses. Such a debate is urgent because there is a great deal of public concern about the number of manufacturing jobs which are leaving Ireland for the Far East and eastern Europe. This is due to an active Government policy on stealth taxes. Since the Government took office, approximately 40 such taxes have been introduced. This is killing both industry and jobs and should not be allowed to continue.
I wish to bring a matter, on which Members might have a debate, to the attention of the Leader of the House. I refer to the question of loss leaders in supermarkets and below cost selling. In particular, I refer to Tesco and its promotion on St. Patrick's Day, in which one received 12 free cans of Guinness or Budweiser on purchasing 12 cans in-store. This encourages binge drinking and certainly undermines the status of the local public house.
My point is that this issue has been brought to my attention and may not have received the requisite attention yesterday. Perhaps it will receive more today. The Leas-Chathaoirleach who comes from a rural area in County Mayo realises the effect on pubs. Publicans control their business, do not permit binge drinking on their premises and control young drinkers. This promotion constituted a major encouragement to young drinkers and non-Irish nationals, in particular, who could have availed of this offer of 12 free cans of Budweiser or Guinness on purchasing 12 cans.
I also support Senator Cox and I am glad her proposal has been seconded. I look forward to the vote. In particular, I welcome the manner in which she introduced the matter because she asked for a debate rather than making a knee-jerk response by demanding mandatory sentences. Members should listen to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, as this matter is problematic. The judge in question is a very fine judge and there may have been reasons for what he did in the knowledge that the sentence could be appealed against by the Director of Public Prosecutions. However, there is a human tragedy behind this issue, as well as the fact that a remarkable young woman was put through this process. She is extremely lucky to have the support of a valiant and dignified family.
I warn against automatically seeking mandatory sentences which are blunt instruments. This morning I listened to a programme on which a distinguished lawyer from Georgia recounted the story of a young man who was a fine athlete and student and who attended a party at which he had sex with his girlfriend. He was 17 years old, she was 15 and he received a mandatory sentence of ten years in prison. How does this improve society? It was a consensual act. It seems that this is what happens if one opts for the blunt instrument. It constitutes easy politics; in America people went for the "three strikes and you are out" policy. Consequently, a young man was sentenced to 25 years in prison for stealing a pizza.
In that case, I welcome the points made by Senator Cox, as well as the manner in which she raised the matter, which was highly appropriate.
I greatly welcome the interview given to An Phoblacht — not a journal I regularly take — by Mr. Gerry Adams. I make this point as someone who had threats issued against his life by republicans. It was a remarkable interview and I salute his courage. It is an extraordinary development when someone such as Gerry Adams states he will support the police and that Sinn Féin will join the police boards and support the forces of law and order. This constitutes a remarkable development and puts it up to Ian Paisley to bite the bullet, so to speak.
Perhaps, like Senator Leyden, I am reheating yesterday's breakfast, but Senator Brian Hayes made a contribution on the Abbey Theatre.
——over a site that is of prime significance in the main thoroughfare of Dublin. The Abbey is the national theatre and should not be allowed to become the prisoner of vested financial interests in a development on the south side or in the financial services centre. As I noted yesterday, the ghost of Sean O'Casey will come back to haunt them.
On 15 March the Health Service Executive, HSE, advised people in Galway city and parts of County Galway to boil water. Almost one week ago a boiled water notice was put in place to the effect that one should boil water before using it. This notice affects approximately 90,000 people in Galway city and in towns such as Tuam, Athenry, Barna, Headford, Oranmore and Moycullen. As it was issued by the HSE, I probably will be unable to raise the matter on the Adjournment as I would have wished. However, Members should have an opportunity to debate the question of public water supplies. While progress has been made in respect of water quality, I understand that in County Galway a parasite known as cryptosporidium is the source of the HSE's concern. In its opinion, 48 people have been affected by mysterious stomach complaints because of this parasite. As the executive has stated the boiled water notice will be in place for another week, I hope an answer will be forthcoming soon as to the cause of the problem. Galway appears to have the highest number of cases affected by the bug. If possible, Members should have a debate to elicit more information from the HSE than a statement to the effect that it is carrying out further research to ascertain the cause of the stomach ailment.
I fully support Senator Brian Hayes's comments. It proves, if proof was needed, that the HSE's priorities are not yet close to being correct. I have become concerned that the old, the sick, the weak and the infirm will be neglected, given the trend that has developed regarding the new plan to which I referred yesterday, as well as the points made by Senator Hayes this morning.
I fully agree with Senator Norris's remarks on the national institution that is the Abbey Theatre. As the Senator is a prominent and illustrious northsider, I bow to his superior knowledge on the matter and fully support all the points he has made about that great national institution. As I am unfamiliar with them, I do not wish to echo his exact points about the buccaneers. However, I strongly suspect he is correct.
I refer to Part V of the Planning and Development Act and the 20% social and affordable housing provision. Is the Leader of the House aware of any departmental guidelines in this regard? Perhaps she will arrange a debate on the issue, although I am aware time is becoming short. However, recent reports have pointed out that builders and developers have managed to provide alternative sites 4 km or 5 km from the development that was the subject of planning. In other locations one reads of the provision of monetary compensation instead. Ireland is too small to allow such a complete lack of uniformity; there should be guidelines. While the law may not be specific, there should be guidelines and people should not be able——
I too would like to see the integrity of the public service ethos upheld. On rare occasions in days gone by one could work through until 5 a.m. or 7 a.m. without overtime, bonuses or incentives. I understand permanent civil servants now receive performance bonuses. I cannot state I wholly approve of this development.
While most, or all, of us applaud the efforts of the Minister for Agriculture and Food to keep tabs on the EU Trade Commissioner, I must share a little of the satisfaction of a certain farm organisation of which I am a member that the said Commissioner cried off attendance at a conference in Kilmainham because of the warm reception he could expect there. The farm organisations have about as much trust in the Commissioner sticking to the EU negotiating mandate in the WTO as Nationalists and republicans——
I will speak of more mundane matters. I seek a debate on an issue which is presumably dear to everybody in this House, namely, planning matters. A recent case highlighted in the press reached a new low. In County Wicklow a farmer objected to the erection of two new windows by a man in a house on the grounds the sheep might be looking in.
Exactly. It was not in the interests of the sheep or the cows. We have reached a ridiculous point in planning. Planners, particularly An Bord Pleanála, should be accountable to someone, perhaps this House. This is not the only case of animals being more important than humans in planning matters.
I wish to raise another, perhaps more serious, issue which was already discussed by Senator Bannon. He stated the loss of jobs is a matter of great concern. It is worthy of debate because nobody knows what is happening. Two sides of the argument are put forward. Some state multi-nationals are leaving for eastern Europe because costs are lower there. The other side of the argument is that those jobs are being replaced quickly and we are being alarmist. I do not know what is the truth and we should debate the matter.
Everybody is agreed about one point on which there is no doubt and I speak as one who is not a great fan of trade unions. The cost base here is a major problem. It should be emphasised that it is not only the fault of staff or a matter of having a head count and laying people off to cut costs.
Employers behave extremely irresponsibly on this matter. The Irish Business and Employers Confederation is an apologist for the food industry which has raised prices to an unforgivable level. This should not be allowed and should be investigated. Employers also behave irresponsibly with regard to banks and credit cards and this is another area which should be examined. It contributes to the cost of living.
Senator Bannon mentioned semi-State bodies such as Bord Gáis, the ESB and the VHI. State employers contribute to the increase in the cost base. We should debate this matter and not take the easy course and state the cost base is too high and too many people work. We should examine both sides and ask why the cost base is so high. Both sides of industry should come under scrutiny because it could be a serious matter for us.
I wish to be associated with Senator Mansergh's tribute to senior civil servants. I have known many here, in the North and in Britain. It seems the more senior they are, the longer hours they work. We all owe them a debt of gratitude and I never heard the term "overtime" being introduced. While people should be rewarded for what they do, it would be an unfortunate concept to introduce into the public service.
I also wish to re-echo Senators Mansergh and Norris in welcoming the statement from Mr. Gerry Adams. It is most important and timely and I hope, as do we all, that it will enable us to get over this week and look forward to progress in the North at the weekend.
Last weekend, we had the horror of the number of road deaths increasing. The real challenge to us is that we know the solution to part of this, which was recorded on the radio and in newspapers this morning. In the area around Newry, north of the Border, the amount of speeding has dropped dramatically since the erection of cameras. In the past, Senator Brian Hayes identified that cars coming from the North know once they cross the Border they can speed because it is unlikely penalty points will be applied because we do not have a united jurisdiction in this regard.
We know speed cameras will force, delay and hold people's speed down. We can see the solution and in the past we argued the answer is to erect modern speed cameras which do not require paperwork. It needs the determination of the Minister and the Government to tackle road deaths due to speeding. I urge the Government to act on this now. It is not a matter to be put on the long finger because the answer is in front of us and we know what to do.
I am greatly concerned about the fact that the other day The Irish Times reported British Government officials claimed 55% of the Irish-registered vehicles they checked are not safe. Coaches and buses are in breach of safety regulations in Britain. The figure is horrific and if it is the case, what about speed checks here? We have a national car testing regime and believe this should not happen. However, if the British Government is able to state it has a problem with Irish vehicles, particularly buses and coaches, the challenge applies here. We must act on this and cannot allow it. Otherwise, we must blame ourselves for the continuing road deaths.
I ask the Leader to consider having a debate on the State Airports Act. As the Leader might be aware from some of today's news bulletins, there has been a breakthrough at Shannon Airport, where management, unions and staff representatives have finally agreed on a very significant cost-cutting measure to bring the airport in line.
The vote will take place in the coming weeks. I hope we can have a debate not just about that but how that this breakthrough will affect the future of the State Airports Act. Clearly, if the vote is successful, a significant business plan will be put forward.
It is also important that the Government makes a statement at this stage on the funding necessary for Shannon to deal with the fall-out from the open skies agreement. It is incumbent on the relevant Minister and the Government to provide the required funding to allow Shannon to make the transition necessitated by what I would term the fall-out from the open skies agreement. It would allow the airport to continue to offer services to the transatlantic routes and ensure facilities are on the west coast of Ireland so that we not only get our fair share of tourism from the United States but are also in a position to offer direct daily services 12 months of the year to the industrial base that is the entire Shannon Airport and wider mid-west region.
I join Senator Ross in calling for a debate on planning, a subject I have consistently raised in this House for five years. It is a significant issue and on which we have not made progress. We have had rural planning guidelines and although the Minister's intention was certainly to help the process, my experience in listening to people in a number of different counties is that the different guidelines have been used only to beat people as opposed to facilitating them.
The idea of facilitating the views of cattle or sheep is laughable but it is testament to how ridiculous the planning system is. It is the single most subjective process in this country and is grossly unfair.
Its role as a prescribed organisation, along with others, needs to be monitored. The influence of such organisations on the process is not always positive, although they do carry out some good work.
I call for yet another debate on transport and road safety in particular. I join Senator Quinn who stated that we know the problems and asked why we are not dealing with them. Although speed cameras on the roads may have a role, if we persist in putting such cameras and checkpoints on roads where one could land a jumbo jet, we are not going to do anything to prevent the deaths of people like the eight killed over last weekend.
If we are honest, we know these deaths are of people of a certain age and occur at certain hours of the morning. They do not occur on wide dual carriageways or motorways. I have nonetheless been told that the cameras we see cannot function on the roads where these accidents occur. We can be busy fools and feel we are making a financial contribution to the State with speeding fines etc., but if we are truly to tackle this issue, we must be more draconian and focused in our measures. There should be a debate on the matter. If those who are Members of this House in five years time are to reflect on a reduction in deaths, we must take such steps.
I support the call by Senator Ross for a debate on employment and, in particular, the job losses we have seen over recent months. It is a matter of concern and I fully support the Senator's balanced approach to such a debate. We should consider the various issues involved, including benchmarking and the minimum wage.
Issues relating to research and development have been well addressed by the Departments of Education and Science and Enterprise, Trade and Employment. There is a good emphasis on this and it is the way forward. The House would do well to analyse the matter sensibly and a debate would be beneficial.
I support the call by Senator Cox for a debate on the specific issues and general area of consistency of sentencing. The issue from a few weeks ago, where sentencing was perhaps very lenient for the offence committed, has been well articulated. Yesterday, we saw a case where the penalty seemed to be disproportionate to the offence.
We must look at the area in a balanced manner because it is very difficult when removed from a case to make definitive judgments whereas a jury or judge will have sat through a case and heard evidence and arguments from both sides before making a considered opinion. We must be cautious in the line we take, but there is public disquiet about sentencing policy, which is not good for the administration of justice. Accordingly, we should have a debate.
I support Senator Quinn in his call for a debate on road safety. Much of what Senator MacSharry has said would reflect my views. Focusing on some aspects of Senator MacSharry's contribution, namely, the timeline in which many of these accidents take place and the age cohort involved, it has already been proven statistically that almost a third of accidents involve this younger age group. How can we continue to put forward proposals to try to reduce carnage when there is support and encouragement for what is an endemic drink culture, especially and sadly among the younger generation?
Is there any law preventing a large international multiple such as Tesco from indulging in an exploitative promotion such as that which occurred last week in advance of the national holiday? That supermarket chain offered ten free cans of beer for every ten cans purchased. This was an immoral decision taken by the corporate entity that is Tesco. I believe the decision was taken in the UK and that it was done on the basis of a British stereotype of how the Irish react on St. Patrick's weekend.
It was grossly immoral and I had many phone calls when wearing my other hat as a broadcaster of a programme in the north west. The calls came from people who were helpless, as they saw it, in the face of this type of corporate consumerism, which was at the bottom of the issue. It was about making money and it did not matter to the corporate directors of Tesco if young people would go out with 20 or 30 cans of beer as a result of this promotion and be killed the following day. There must be some law preventing this act of encouragement.
We all accept that passive smoking is a killer. What about the passive promotion involved in this, which plants the idea in the minds of people, particularly young people, that all they have to do is go into a supermarket and buy ten cans of beer, getting another ten free?
There must be some type of constraint on the wider commercial sector in this country, which also has a moral responsibility to be part of the society in which it operates. I am saddened the company made this decision, especially because some good people work within it. The decision will not help the company and I hope members of the public would act accordingly and make their views known to the managers in local stores.
Senator Brian Hayes raised the matter of what he termed the golden circle of top brass within the Health Service Executive being eligible for massive amounts of overtime, and I take on board Senator O'Toole's point about the newspaper reports being correct. Overtime was a term I never heard of in the six Departments in which I worked. Secretaries General in those Departments worked all hours when necessary, with early mornings and late nights, but overtime never arose. There was a performance bonus, but that was a separate matter. I question whether the reportage is correct but if it is, the matter is an outrage.
Senator Brian Hayes joined Senator Norris, who raised the issue yesterday, in asking for a debate on the Abbey Theatre. It would merit a debate and I will endeavour to have the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O'Donoghue, attend the House.
Senator O'Toole inserted a caveat on the accuracy of overtime reporting, which must be checked. Senator Ryan also referred to how wrong "overtime" reporting was. He spoke about the Polish woman who was refused an abortion and who received significant compensation after taking the matter to the European Court of Human Rights, which did not acknowledge the protocol to the Maastricht treaty in its decision. The precedent has been set. As the matter has received considerable coverage, should we not debate what the decision will entail? It was quite startling. I presume she took the case because she was refused an abortion in her own country. The Senator stated that it is about time the new rules of the road were issued.
Senator Cox moved an amendment seconded by Senator Bannon asking that the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform attend the House at 9.30 p.m. or when we finish our business to debate the recent judgment in a rape case. I will seek the Tánaiste's attendance, but I have not been able to leave the Chamber to do so, which I am sure Senator Cox understands. I agree with the amendment and I hope our party will vote for it. I thank the Senator for raising the matter, as it is in keeping with her ethos. When I say I will seek the Tánaiste, I cannot say I will get him. I want to be clear in that respect, as I do not want to be accused of misleading the House. I hope the House will accept my comments in good faith.
I hope our party will enjoin with Senator Cox's motion. I do not want to mislead anyone. While I have not spoken to the Tánaiste yet, I hope I will. We will work out the best way to deal with the Senator's legitimate request, which was seconded by Senator Bannon. I thank Senator Cox for raising the matter.
Senator Bannon, echoed by Senator Ross, sought a debate on the competitive challenge facing Ireland. We will speak on the issue because it developed in an interesting way.
Senator Leyden raised the matter of loss leaders in supermarkets. Senator Mooney, when entering the Chamber, did not know his colleague had raised the matter previously. It was a 12 for 12 offer. I watched the television advertisement and could not believe that so wanton an invitation to destructive behaviour was aired. Senator Moylan raised the issue yesterday, but it was due a second airing because of the idea that someone could haul 24 cans to a field where debauchery and so on would occur and would later perhaps be involved in road accidents.
Pubs are becoming the safe place to have a drink. One can drink in company and in moderation and pub keepers run good houses generally. We have heard much about how rural pubs are being denuded of customers. When one considers what we are willing to put up with in terms of drinks advertising, the pub seems a haven of security and safety for people who want to drink. Senator Leyden used the word "grotesque". I had a vision of groups of 14 year olds and 15 year olds hauling cans away to a park or field——
They are not able for drink of that kind.
Like all Members of the House, Senator Norris supports Senator Cox. I share his concern about mandatory sentences because they are blunt instruments. Our judges have different specialties and abilities, but we will see what comes of the debate. Senator Norris praised the Gerry Adams interview in An Phoblacht, which I hope the Oireachtas Library will keep because I am about to go to look for it. Senator Norris also called for a debate on the Abbey Theatre.
Senator Kitt referred to how people still need to boil water in County Galway. He mentioned cryptosporidium, which is supposed to be responsible for the ailment, and he asked for a debate on public water supplies.
Senator Coghlan referred to how the HSE's priorities have gone awry. He also wished to join with Senators Norris and Brian Hayes regarding the Abbey Theatre.
Local authorities behave in different ways and there is no uniformity in how they undertake Part V of the Act, but most councils are flexible and have come to good arrangements with developers on acquiring housing under Part V.
Senator Mansergh spoke about the lack of opportunities in the Civil Service. He was in the position cited at one time, namely, working through the night and early morning, writing, thinking, reflecting and arranging.
His voice is authentic in this respect, as it is regarding the Gerry Adams interview and all matters pertaining to the North. We will not say the name of another man who cried off because he was going to face a warm reception in Kilmainham. He was sensible in that regard.
Senator Ross asked for a debate on planning matters, but the three debates we have had on the issue were not fruitful. He raised in a funny way the planning situation involving the farmer, the three windows and the reinforced glass. He also spoke about the haemorrhaging of jobs. While he stated that we do not want to be too alarmist, our cost base is a problem, but it is not the only problem. Senators have noticed that as soon as a firm announces it is to lay off people, one can be sure the next news bulletin will carry the news of another firm also wishing to lay off people. It is as if the second firm wants to get in on the backwash of the earlier announcements of job losses. Like the international scene, Irish employers can be examined in many ways. I will seek a debate on the issue.
Senator Maurice Hayes spoke about senior civil servants and the Gerry Adams interview.
Senator Quinn spoke about the special cameras at Newry. Part of their efficacy is that they measure one's speed while coming and going. While the Senator stated that 55% of Irish-registered vehicles are not in good shape, I cannot understand it because they must undergo strict national car tests. Sometimes, one wonders about reporting in newspapers.
Senator Dooley spoke about State airports and Shannon Airport and welcomed the fact that a resolution may be near, which I hope is the case. He sought finance for Shannon Airport to work through the fallout of the open skies agreement, as it would be useful.
Senator MacSharry called for a debate on planning. While we have had three such debates, it is the most important issue facing people.
If the planning authority does not get one under one heading, it will get one under another. It might decide that it does not like the shape or height of the house one is planning to build. Everybody will agree that, for safety reasons, the site should extend for a certain distance to the left and right of the house. I am appalled and alarmed by the manner in which decent and ordinary people are being refused planning permission on a daily basis.
There is something extraordinary about it. When planners get up every day, it is as if they decide how many applications they will refuse that day. They then get on with their business, which affects people in rural areas. It is awful that they take no account of people's day-to-day housing needs. They do not approve plans for balconies and conservatories, for example. However, their own houses are always in beautiful locations, overlooking lakes or surrounded by verdant corners of rural land.
Senator Jim Walsh supported the call made by Senator Ross for a balanced debate on employment. He also supported Senator Cox's call for a debate on sentencing, as we all do.
Senator Mooney called for a debate on road safety. He also spoke about an issue raised today by Senator Leyden and yesterday by Senator Moylan. The Senators have helped to highlight the despicable behaviour of a particular supermarket. It has been suggested a promotion was organised on the basis that Irish people, particularly young people, wanted to drink on St. Patrick's weekend and that the company in question decided to send them all out hopelessly and irresponsibly drunk. An appalling lack of judgment was shown by the particular supermarket. I hope it feels the pain as a result of what people are saying about its actions.
Senator Cox has suggested an amendment to the Order of Business. She has proposed that statements on the suspended sentence handed down in a rape case last week be taken at the conclusion of the debate on No. 4. Is the amendment being pressed?
I acknowledge the statement made by the Leader of the House and accept her good faith. I wish to strengthen her hand with the Minister by proposing that she emphasise to him that it would be important to discuss the matter during the debate on the Defamation Bill 2006, or at another time today on foot of an amendment to the Order of the Business. If the Minister is not prepared to debate the matter this evening, we should certainly provide on the Order of Business tomorrow that time be allotted for a discussion on it. If the Minister believes such a debate would be inappropriate, I will have to pursue the amendment tomorrow.