Wednesday, 31 October 2007
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Markets in Financial Instruments and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill 2007 — Committee and Remaining Stages, to conclude no later than 2.30 p.m. if not previously concluded, with business to be interrupted from 2.30 p.m. to 3.15 p.m; No. 2, statements on developments in the housing market, to be taken from 3.15 p.m. and to conclude no later that 4.45 p.m, if not previously concluded, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed eight minutes, on which Senators may share time, with the agreement of the House, the Minister to be called upon to respond no later than 4.40 p.m., and on the conclusion of No. 2 it is proposed to take tributes from party leaders and constituency colleagues of a former Member of this House, to commence no earlier than 4.45 p.m. and to conclude at 5 p.m., and No. 3, Witness Protection Programme Bill 2007, to be taken from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., and on the conclusion of said Private Members' business, I will ask the House to take without debate an earlier signature motion on the Markets in Financial Instruments and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill 2007, at which time it is hoped it will have completed its passage through the Dáil.
——who has sadly passed away. He contributed significantly to demystifying issues surrounding mental health in this country. As a society we are indebted to the work he did.
The Markets in Financial Instruments and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill 2007 is before the House today. This Bill was passed in the Dáil last week and allows for a pension for the former Minister, Deputy Michael Woods, to be backdated. I raise the issue because it has come to my attention that a senior garda has also sought to have his pension backdated.
Given legislation has now been introduced to look after a former Minister, I ask the Leader to raise with the Minister for Finance the possibility of examining a situation which affects many pensioners in this country. The website of the Department of Social and Family Affairs states that if one applies late for a pension, it may not be backdated, even by six months, as the decision is discretionary. It would be appropriate for a protocol or directive to be introduced to allow some discretion so that people who have worked hard for this country and, for whatever reason, are late in applying for a pension, will have the opportunity to do so. We should not have rules for former Ministers different from those which apply to every other person who has worked diligently for the benefit of this country. I ask the Leader to bring the issue to Government and advise as to the response. Every Member of this House has had a case brought to his or her attention where people were not able to get their pension.
The Bill is in the House later and I do not want to pre-empt either the discussion which will take place or the decision which will be taken. I have given latitude to the Leader of the main Opposition party to raise the issue but I hope other Members will wait until the Bill is discussed later.
I appreciate there is an opportunity to speak on the matter later as the Bill is being discussed in the House.
We have seen a substantial number of U-turns from the Minister for Transport — more than any learner driver would dare to make. The road safety strategy has been significantly undermined by the changes in approach by the Minister in recent days. It is unfortunate because it is such a serious issue. Many people died on the roads last weekend. It is clear that tackling the problems with the driving licence system should be a priority. Drink driving and speeding are key issues which are not addressed in the strategy as much as they should be. Not enough action has been taken. The strategy does not deal with the shortage of CCTV cameras, for example.
Many provisional licence holders are worried that they will not get an opportunity to do their tests by June of next year. The Government has had ten years to get this right. It is extraordinary that it has not managed to put a proper driving test system in place in that time. That people who apply for driving tests might not be called for 30 or 40 weeks is a demonstration of the Government's terrible incompetence. Can the Leader tell the House whether people who are on provisional licences will be guaranteed to get a chance to sit the driving test by next June? Can it be guaranteed that if people have not been called by next June, the Minister will come back to the House to give them an opportunity to sit the test? What will the Minister do in such circumstances? The uncertainty about whether learner drivers will be called to sit the test before June 2008 is causing them huge stress and anxiety.
I seek guidance from the Chair — I am afraid I am rather confused. Where am I? Am I on a little island called Ireland or am I, as I increasingly suspect, on the flying island of Laputa, described by the late Dean Jonathan Swift in Gulliver's Travels? I ask partly because of the matter raised by Senator Fitzgerald. The Markets in Financial Instruments and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill 2007, which will be considered by this House later today, seemed innocuous — we thought it would not do any great harm. However, a measure has been slipped into the Bill, with wonderfully sly sleight of political hand, to assist one of our own. I accept that the former Minister, Deputy Woods, is so distressed by poverty that he overlooked the fact that he had not claimed his pension for two years — one can quite understand that, just as one can understand the eagerness of the Irish taxpayer to reward the person who saved the Roman Catholic Church hundreds of millions of euro, at the expense of taxpayers. It is inevitable that this country's grateful taxpayers are keen to contribute to the former Minister. I have in my possession a letter that was sent to me by a constituent — a humble worker in a dental practice — who has been disbarred for receiving social welfare provisions, such as a pension, because she is employed by her husband. I wonder how she feels this morning.
When I heard this morning that the Health Service Executive is in a state of distraction and paralysis over the significant question of how many electricians it takes to change a light bulb, I wondered again whether this is the flying island of Laputa or just a bad joke. I understand that a garda will be made privy to these special provisions. We know that gardaí are unusual people because we have discovered that a garda who ran over somebody at 4.30 a.m., having consumed, on his own admission, three pints of stout and at least two bottles, was then taken 14.5 miles by his colleagues to be breathalysed by them and found not to be over the limit. Gardaí need extra pensions because they are very unusual people.
Can the Chair tell me where I am? Is this Laputa or is it Ireland?
Assuming from the Cathaoirleach's expression that it is Ireland, may I raise one other matter? I understand from radio reports that the Labour Party intends to introduce a civil unions Bill in the other House later today. I salute the Labour Party for doing so. I listened to the debate on the radio and I hope we have a better debate in the Oireachtas. I will re-introduce my Bill. I was disgusted to hear one of the contributors to the radio debate, Mr. Quinn, refer to the protection of marriage when saying that historically, certain provisions had been in place to protect the wives and husbands of people who died. That is a downright lie.
My mother was in this situation after my father died when I was six years of age. My mother got no pension because it was my father who died. If my mother had died, my father would have got a pension. I want the lie that was put out on the air — that the law was introduced to protect spouses — to be withdrawn. It was put out on the air that this is to protect the spouses but it is no such thing; it is sheer prejudice. I really resent what was said and I must put this on the record of the House——
I will table this matter as an amendment to the Order of Business. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the Civil Partnership Bill 2004 be taken.
In support of my argument, I remind the House that I am a member of a family which was here when St. Patrick arrived on the island. I am pretty Irish and I do not need to be lectured about Irishness by anybody as to what is and is not Irish. I am not going to be defined as having second-class citizenship by any person, Member of this House, the other House or the Irish public or told that my relationships, if they are dignified by law, are going to be put by the likes of Deputy Martin Mansergh and Senators in this House at the level of a dog licence. If to teach people that I will not accept this and that I will get full citizenship eventually——
I second Senator Norris's amendment to the Order of Business.
I am concerned to hear reports that nine out of ten of the nation's crèches fail to comply with the standards set out by the Health Service Executive. Reports suggest that some children are subject to being locked up while others are subject to bullying and these reports are a cause for concern among parents. It is important to ensure the level of concern is borne in mind. Some of these breaches of standards are minor in nature. Child care is a growing area. I refer to a report on its annual statistics by the Department of Health and Children published yesterday which predicts a baby boom with total births of up to 70,000 this year, an increase of 11% over last year's figures. It is important to ensure the child care system is expanded to cater for this demand and to ensure standards are among the best in the world. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister of State with responsibility for children to the House to outline his plans for the child care sector.
I also wish to raise the issue of road safety which was raised by other Senators. Fresh from the Minister's 90 miles per hour U-turn on the issue of provisional licences, it seems judges have been forced to throw out 5,000 cases concerning learner drivers because they do not know what is the appropriate fine to impose. As a former member of a local authority, I am also concerned to see that while the Minister's pay will increase by 12%, his Department is overseeing a reduction of 13% in the sums of money expended on non-national roads. A total of 60% of the nation's traffic is carried on those roads and they have some of the highest accident rates. If the Minister is serious about road safety, I would like to see him improving legislation in this matter and providing increased resources in these areas.
Someone once said that if Ministries were provisional licences, the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, would be on his third licence. I would like the Minister to outline to this House his intended actions on road safety.
During the time of the previous Seanad I produced a document entitled A New Approach to Child Care. I ask that the Minister of State with responsibility for children come to the House and explain the details of the new community child care subvention scheme 2008-10, as some confusion exists. His motivation and intentions behind the changes are first class because it will direct funding towards disadvantaged children.
I refer to the frightening headlines in the Irish Examiner yesterday about abuse, bullying and neglect of children in crèches. All Members know that the women of Ireland are major stakeholders and major drivers of the Celtic tiger. Before the era of economic immigrants, the women of Ireland drove the Celtic tiger. I am sure that many of the parents and women who still carry the responsibility for the care of children must be petrified. They go out to work and must commute from 6 a.m., returning at 7 p.m. They seek clarification of these reports and they want transparency in the standards and vetting applied to child care facilities. Will the Leader invite the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Brendan Smith, to the House as soon as possible to explain the position in order that parents can have peace of mind in regard to crèches?
I wish to raise an issue to which Senator Fitzgerald alluded, namely, the lack of closed circuit television throughout the country. In our town of Athlone a serious situation has arisen where three ladies were assaulted. It was clear from the "Crimecall" television programme last night that the Garda has not yet apprehended anyone for these crimes. We have had planning permission for CCTV in Athlone since 1998. Just prior to the general election, the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform announced with great fanfare that we would have it in a few weeks. Mullingar is in the same position. Will the Leader appeal to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to provide funding in the budget for CCTV and come to the House to tell Members the reason we do not have it?
I agree with Senator White about the urgency of getting the Minister of State with responsibility for children to come to the House. I support her in everything she said. It is middle income families who suffer. While the disadvantaged will be looked after, we cannot keep piling the responsibility for child care onto the middle income group.
Will the Leader arrange for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, to come to the House to discuss the scandal concerning the legal profession and dismal failure of the Incorporated Law Society of Ireland to regulate that profession? There is a need for the establishment of a proper and accountable system of scrutiny. England and Wales, for example, jurisdictions with which our legal system has similarities, have the Office of the Legal Services Complaints Commissioner.
One of the key recommendations of the Competition Authority report at the end of last year was the establishment of a legal services commission. The Competition Authority notes that similar recommendations have been made in other reports as far back as one by the Restrictive Practices Commission in 1983.
This is a major scandal. I believe 10,000 solicitors are registered in Ireland, a small number of whom are involved in this scandal. It has serious repercussions for the banking system and for the individuals affected.
When I brought through the Registration of Wills Bill last year, I received no support whatever from the Law Society which endeavoured to ensure the Bill would not become law. It will do everything to stop anything that affects its members.
This is the time for change. This is an opportunity for the Minister to bring forward a Bill to allow for independent registration and supervision of the legal profession. That profession has always had great influence in these Houses but it is time the Government took a hard stand. It has the excuse now to bring in such a Bill. No other professional body in Ireland, so far as I am aware, is self-regulated. It is not a proper approach. I receive representations from solicitors who want to see an independent organisation established. They are unhappy with the way in which the Law Society deals with rural members. The word "society" is very apt because it is a little club or society which controls its members. Will the Leader invite the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to the House to explain the crisis in the profession and what steps he will take to bring forward a Bill to implement the Competition Authority recommendations?
I wish to raise the issue of road safety and the manner in which the Minister for Transport botched the announcement and made a pig's ear of the matter. He reduced a significant issue to a swirl of confusion. This is the Minister who is responsible for the Shannon-Heathrow slots, who introduced electronic voting and has now made a mess of the road safety strategy. He has panicked and confused 122,000 provisional licence holders. It is important to debate the matter in the House and also the manner in which it was handled.
I add my voice to that of Senator White in the call for a debate on child care. The Senator was a shining example in this area in the previous Seanad. It is important that we debate the issue of funding for child care and the inspection report on crèches, reports of which are carried in this morning's newspapers.
I support Senator Norris in the point he raised about the Civil Unions Bill being introduced in the Dáil by my party today. This is important legislation. We live in a progressive Ireland. It requires sensible and measured debate by all sides. I hope those who supported the principles of the Bill when they were in Opposition will support it now they are in Government.
Some weeks ago I raised the question of what might happen at Hallowe'en time. I regret that what I said has come true. Unfortunately, it is worse than I had thought it would be. A warehouse in Mullingar was seriously damaged by a fire started by a firework. Fortunately, the local authority was in a position to facilitate the individual concerned and no jobs were lost as a result. It made dim viewing to see local authorities having to move into estates around the capital — the same could happen in Mullingar, Athlone or elsewhere in the country — to dismantle the piles of material collected for bonfires. Many old people will be shivering behind their closed doors. Last night in Mullingar is not a night I will remember with good feelings. We need a serious clampdown on the use of fireworks and bonfires. While I do not want to be a killjoy, if we must have bonfires and fireworks, they need to take place in a controlled way. What is happening at the moment is quite serious and I ask that strong action be taken to prevent it.
I support Senator Fitzgerald's call for information and a debate on the issue of pensions in the light of the decision of the Tánaiste, Deputy Cowen, regarding the former Minister. A genuine issue is reflected in Senan Molony's article in today's Irish Independent about a garda with no pension despite many years' service in the force. I am sure many others are in a similar position. The Minister had indicated to this gentleman that he could not legislate for an individual. However, that is precisely what he has done in this case. It calls for a debate. It would be very useful for this House to discuss the issue and have the relevant information from the Minister.
It is a symptom of three characteristics of the Government which need to be put in context. Arrogance has been displayed since the general election. We have seen it in the extension of the numbers of committees and Ministers of State, and salary hikes which are in no way comparable with other leaders in Europe. We also have the issue of low standards in high office. No Minister will stand up and be counted regarding the Taoiseach receiving money for his personal benefit. We have seen sheer incompetence on the provisional licence issue. We have known for ten years that a prerequisite for road safety is that people should know how to drive and be qualified drivers. No move was made on the issue which was highlighted by my party over many years. The Minister tried to sneak it in over a holiday weekend. There is no check on the Government and it is unfortunate that its smaller parties do not provide some check. We do our best in Opposition.
I wish to empathise and sympathise with the 900 people who have lost their jobs in Seagate in Limavady. It is an area just across the water from where I live. Donegal people are involved in both plants in the north west and it is a sad day for them. Having gone through the demise of the textile industry, we offer them the hope that with a decent redundancy package, other opportunities may arise. I add my voice to others asking that the focus——
I appreciate that.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs to come to the House to discuss the ongoing meetings of the North-South Ministerial Council regarding issues of mutual concern such as employment and access and mobility? The council is carrying out studies on mutual recognition of qualifications, including in the areas of health and education, the introduction of single tariffs by mobile telephone operators and the greater availability of public service information for people who wish to cross the Border to live, work and study. The council is also discussing mutual recognition of pensions, which is topical. Given this activity at North-South ministerial level, it is important that the Upper House be kept abreast of what is happening.
I commend The Irish Times on the arts section of yesterday's edition, which addressed the issue of music therapy. The Order of Business was amended, as the debate on suicide, which was due to resume later, has been deferred. However, will the Leader seek to ensure the debate on mental health and suicide is resumed? Anybody interested in mental health issues should read the article on music therapy.
Last week, I called on the Minster for Education and Science to come to the house to debate the issue of funding for child care, which should also refer to the content of preschool education. This issue is as relevant to the Minister for Health and Children and I welcome Senator White's call for a debate on this because it is urgent and important.
The initial proposal by the Minister for Transport regarding learner drivers was a frightful gaffe, which was bereft of common sense. He subsequently decided to defer implementation until 30 June on the basis of the input of the driver testing industry but there is no way more than 425,000 provisional licence holders will be dealt with by then. Like Senator Fitzgerald, I call on the Leader for a debate on this important subject. I would like the Minister to give a guarantee but he may have to revisit his proposal because he will unable to give one.
On the subject of pensions, it behoves us all to strive to ensure a level playing pitch for all conscientious State servants in whatever category.
Will the Leader clarify that residential facilities for non-national children seeking asylum are not under the remit of the social services inspectorate? If so, what measures can be taken to ensure they would fall under its remit, as this is critically important? Will the Leader also confirm that residential facilities for children with disabilities fall under the inspectorate's remit? They were previously exempt but plans were announced earlier this year to bring them under its remit.
Last week I asked if it would be possible for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to the House to address the Law Reform Commission's recent report on vulnerable adults and the law. Will the Leader ask the Minister, when he comes to the House, to address the vulnerabilities facing those with mild intellectual disabilities in terms of their protection within society and their right to participate as equal citizens? I ask that he focus specifically on the support services in place when such persons graduate from schools catering for their disabilities. The parents of such vulnerable persons often find there are no automatic linkages into other support services. These parents only come to our attention when they are in crisis, either because they are in danger of losing their children or because the latter have fallen into criminal activity as a consequence of their vulnerability.
I commend the Irish Examiner on its investigation into child care services. Does the Leader agree it is incredible that a national newspaper should have to wait six months to obtain information, at a cost of thousands of euro in freedom of information requests, on an issue of concern to thousands of parents? Will the Leader allow a debate on the freedom of information legislation and on the provision of information from the Health Service Executive regarding child care facilities? There must be uniformity in terms of reporting and the follow-up of complaints in respect of such facilities. I join Senator Mary White in calling for an urgent debate on the confusion surrounding the community child care subvention scheme.
Will the Leader allow a debate on the provision of paediatric diabetes services, with particular reference to the HSE southern region, including Cork city?
I support the comments made by Senators Fitzgerald and Coghlan on the Government's speedy handbrake turn regarding learner drivers. The silence of Members on the other side of the House indicates they are embarrassed by the Government's handling of this issue. I raised the matter of the inadequate provision of public transport in rural areas on the Order of Business last week. With his senseless policy, the Minister almost removed the only means of transport for thousands of people in rural areas. Will the Leader agree to a debate on the provision of transportation links in rural areas and on the role of the Road Safety Authority? We have missed an opportunity to highlight the importance of road safety.
Will the Leader arrange for a discussion, on the next occasion the Minister for Health and Children comes into the House, on the future role of community pharmacists? Will the Leader also brief us on the negotiations under way between the Health Service Executive and the pharmacists' representatives in respect of the dispute about their fees? There has been extensive media coverage of this dispute. Having spoken to pharmacists in my area, it is my understanding that the public perception that they abruptly cut off the supply of methadone to clients is incorrect. Any pharmacists providing methadone to patients ensured appropriate arrangements were in place to allow such patients to continue——
Appropriate provision was made for those patients. It is important that this be put on the record of the House. In fairness to the pharmacists in question, they have done a great job in bringing people in from the street and providing the required medication in an integrated and efficient fashion. I congratulate all pharmacists who participate in the methadone programme.
What should have been a watershed in efforts to improve road safety has degenerated into a chaotic and shambolic event. Is this the best the Government can do on road safety? There is an urgent need for the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, to come into this House and explain why he was about to criminalise 120,000 drivers with provisional licences. He is covering up his significant failures on drink-driving, people driving uninsured and speeding. Like many others in this House, when I was driving home last Thursday listening to the Minister making these announcements on radio, I am sure drivers, either with provisional licences or not, were overtaking me at speed.
The Minister has failed utterly in two years to act on road safety. He should come into the House and explain himself rather than making the U-turn he did at the weekend on what was supposed to be Government policy. That is a shambles.
I also wish to raise the matter of child care. For the most part I agree with Senator Mary M. White, but I disagree with her indication that the Minister's proposals are first class. Too many people in Government are driving around with a first-class service, but the Government's proposals for child care are not first class.
There should be a serious debate on this issue because it will have a significant effect, and not just on people who receive social welfare payments or family income support. They will not be the only ones hammered by this and the Minister should come to the House to explain what he proposes to do. Otherwise we will see fabulous empty buildings across the State because the Minister has lost touch with what is happening on the ground.
We should have those two very important issues debated in this House as soon as possible to show we have some sort of credibility, especially if the Government is to accept the pay rises it is throwing at its members like confetti at a wedding.
I support the request by my colleagues, Senators Norris and McCarthy, for a debate in this House on the Civil Partnership Bill. We should all support the Civil Union Bill which the Labour Party is to bring before the Dáil today but it should be also noted we have a Bill on the Order Paper for this House which deals with the same matter and which would also give a route to legal recognition for same-sex relationships. This is a matter in which Ireland lags behind other progressive countries and we urgently need that debate.
I also support Senators Buttimer, Twomey and Mary M. White in seeking a debate on child care. In examining the provision of child care, Ireland lags very badly behind other progressive and developed countries, as there is a lack of support for parents who work outside the home. I have raised this issue previously and we should consider it as part of an overall package of measures, including paid paternity and parental leave, which we do not yet have.
I note the National Women's Council of Ireland, in its pre-budget submission launched last week, called for a package of measures to support parents who work outside the home in a variety of different ways, including a greater provision of child care and support for child-care facilities. The Irish Examiner report demonstrates the need for regulation of existing child-care facilities. That is a vital issue, particularly for parents who work outside the home.
I will mention the debate on crime sought last week. In particular, comments were made on the other side of the House about the need to introduce draconian measures to fight gangland crime. There were even calls to bring back internment. It is important we do not succumb to that sort of knee-jerk reaction to the appalling gangland murders we have seen in recent weeks.
Last week, the Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Bill was rushed through because it was necessary to correct an inadvertent slip made in earlier criminal justice legislation rushed through without adequate debate. On the criminal justice side it is important we consider much more comprehensive and long-term measures to fight the spectre of organised crime in Ireland. Knee-jerk calls, such as for bringing back internment, are not the correct answer.
I previously raised the matter of empty houses throughout the country and it has now come to my notice that a substantial number, some 5,200 houses, are closed up by local authorities, with managers standing over such a decision. I call on the Leader to ask the Minister responsible to come into the House to explain why this is the case. People have been on the housing lists for ten years. A great deal of money has been allocated for housing development, but it would be beneficial if a small amount of money were invested in the refurbishment of these derelict houses to enable people to live in them. It is embarrassing for the Government and the local authorities that this has been allowed to happen.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald paid tribute to the late great Anthony Clare. I join her in acknowledging that this great man made a marvellous contribution to those who were most in need. He was a genuine decent friend and a wonderful man. He made a huge contribution to the lives of hundreds of families throughout the country. I salute everything he did and achieved. I extend our condolences to his family at this very difficult time. As we all know, a sudden death in a family is extremely difficult. I assure his family that we acknowledge the achievements of this excellent man and our thoughts are with them at this difficult time.
Senators Fitzgerald, Norris, Regan and Coghlan expressed concern and put forward proposals in regard to pensions. As the Cathaoirleach said, Members will have an opportunity to express their views in this regard after the Order of Business when the Markets in Financial Instruments and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill 2007 will be taken. I have no difficulty in stating my opinion on the matter. If a person is entitled to a pension, having worked long and hard for it, I am sure there is no more caring Minister than the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen. The Senator opposite and I, who come from midland counties, as does the Minister, will be aware that the Minister was not reared with a silver spoon as were many people in various walks of life. He knows the importance of a pension to a family and to the person who has worked hard for that entitlement.
I acknowledge all the Minister did when he was Minister for Health. He would have had first-hand experience of this area when he held that portfolio. Members can make their views known to him on the debate on that Bill.
Senators Fitzgerald, Hannigan, McCarthy, Coghlan, Twomey and others made known their views on road safety. I agree a major challenge faces the Government on this issue, but it must be said that from the 21 July 2005 to 20 July 2006 more than 80 lives were saved because of the introduction of random breath testing. I acknowledge that legislation was introduced under the previous Government. Fair comment is always welcome in this House, but to say there was not anything done to address this problem is unfair. Having chaired the committee that was responsible for making the introduction of random breath testing possible, I know the party members who supported me when I presided over the hard decision that had to be made on its introduction. I do not want to embarrass any Member here but no Member of any party on the opposite side supported me when I made the proposal and——
I made that decision because there was no amendment to it and no one opposed it. I brought that proposal from the committee to the then Minister responsible. The subcommittee appointed by the Taoiseach at that time recommended the proposal within two weeks. They are the truthful facts of what happened.
Some 2.1 million vehicles are on our roads today, which represents an increase of 700,000 since 2000. That signifies a major transformation in the economy in the past 25 years. Thousands of people are not emigrating every week as was the case in the past.
On a point of order, I ask the Leader to address the past ten years of Fianna Fáil being in power, the incompetence surrounding the managing of road safety issues and the debacle over the weekend concerning provisional driving licences. These were the matters raised this morning.
This year's death toll stands at approximately 290 people while two years ago it was 400. Please God, there will be an excess of 80 lives saved this year.
Regarding the Government's announcements on road safety last week, I was disappointed the proposal regarding the use of black boxes, made by the former Oireachtas Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business, which I chaired, was not considered. If it were considered, why has it not been acted upon? I will seek a debate with the Minister on road safety in which I will make strong play for the insertion of black boxes in the 53,000 vehicles under the Government's stewardship. The committee was in unison on this proposal. We have a duty to ensure school buses, taxis and other vehicles that come under Government licence have a black box. The costs of €200 per box can be wavered in the forthcoming budget as an expense.
Senators Norris, McCarthy, Hannigan and Bacik proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, as is the right of any Senator. Senators Hannigan, White, McFadden, McCarthy, Keaveney, Buttimer and Bacik called for a debate on the standards in crèches. Much good work has happened with the setting up of many crèches. At the outset a grant of €50,000 was available which has been increased to €100,000. While much has been achieved in this area, there is room for improvement. I have no difficulty in asking the Minister to come before the House on such an issue.
Senator McFadden called for the Minister to clarify when CCTV will be installed in Athlone and Mullingar. As the Senator knows, I played a major role when a Deputy to have this decision brought to where it is. I will assist, along with Senator McFadden and my counterparts in the Dáil, to see this happen at the earliest time possible.
Senator Leyden called for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to attend a debate on the legal profession and the proposal for a legal services commission and putting in place new procedures. As I said last week, solicitors, in the main, have been trusted by families for generations. We do not want to see anything happening to that trust. I hope in the coming weeks we can have a debate on the difficulties that have recently emerged in the news.
Senator Glynn made a timely call for the use of fireworks to be licensed so they can be used in a controlled way during festive times. All Members agree with these sentiments and I will pass them on to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. We can have a debate on this worthwhile proposal when we are debating environmental matters.
Senator Keaveney expressed her disappointment at the announcement by Seagate on the closure of its plant in Limavady. The company employed 900 and all Members will join with the Senator in this disappointment. However, we must also welcome the announcement by a former Member's company, Northbrook, of the creation of 300 jobs in the North of Ireland. I will pass on the Senator's concerns at the Seagate closure.
Senator Keaveney also called for the Minister for Foreign Affairs to address the House in a debate on North-South Ministerial Council meetings. We have had a debate once every year at least in this regard, with the Minister for Foreign Affairs updating the Seanad on matters pertaining to Northern Ireland. I have no difficulty with this and it should happen before Christmas if at all possible.
I am certainly in agreement on the music therapy debate and am conscious how important that is. Senator Keaveney has excellent skills in this area. Her expertise is a major asset to the occasional discussion in the House of matters pertaining to the music industry.
Senator Maria Corrigan sought clarification and I apologise to her and to Senator Tony Kett, because I overlooked finding out from the Minister about the matters she quite correctly raised. I shall certainly take this matter up today and I have no difficulty in allowing time for the Minister to come to the House again to take proposals from very experienced Members in this field such as Senator Corrigan. Her membership of the House will certainly enhance debates pertaining to this area over the next five years.
Senator Jerry Buttimer also called for a debate on Health Service Executive services, especially in the south. There is no difficulty in allowing time for this.
Senator Ivor Callely called for a debate on the role of pharmacies and the progress of the current discussions with their representatives. As I said the last time this call was made, there is no difficulty in allowing time for this.
Senator Ivana Bacik called for a further debate on crime. I have no difficulty with this either as we all know there is no longer a fear of the law. I call on members of the legal profession who are Members of both the Dáil and Seanad to come together and contribute to a debate on how we can put back that fear of the law. Ultimately, that is what it is all about, regardless of the crime. We must look to the professionals to come to our assistance. It is the professionals in each area who can bring about meaningful change.
Senator Larry Butler called for a debate with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on housing. As the House knows, a debate on this issue is scheduled for today and I look forward to the Senator's contribution. He quite correctly pointed out that 5,000 houses under local authority stewardship appeared to be vacant. The Senator has some knowledge in this regard and will impart it later in the debate in the House.
Will the Leader request the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to provide Government time if the Bill is defeated in the Dáil? He was very dismissive of what I said to the effect that I had the right to ask questions. Of course I have. I do not need the Leader of the Seanad to tell me that. However, if he gives me that undertaking I will not press the amendment because it is a waste of time voting on this issue.
Many Senators asked for a debate on child care. I know this is a very important and pressing issue. I shall endeavour to have the Minister of State with responsibility for children, Deputy Brendan Smith, address the Seanad within the next two weeks in this regard. I listened to him tentatively this morning on "Morning Ireland" and he made an excellent contribution during his interview.