Wednesday, 6 February 2008
Order of Business (Resumed)
I have already made representations to our colleagues from Hungary to ascertain whether they would put in place some pleasure boat facilities on a marina on the Danube in Budapest. They are working on the matter.
The House will be aware that in the past week there has been a major row in France between Ryanair and the President about an advertisement but that is not the issue I wish to raise. The President of France, as a citizen, took a case against Ryanair seven days ago which was disposed of in the French courts yesterday. I would like to know how that happened. I would like to hear from a representative of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform what we would need to do to get such a prompt reaction for a person who feels aggrieved by the State. We can learn from what happens elsewhere in Europe on this issue. I am sure our colleagues involved in that field of work would have something to say on the matter. I do not understand it but think it is fantastic and something we should consider. I make no comment on the case because it would be inappropriate to do so. However, I am happy for the President of France and his wife.
I wish to raise a very serious issue on which I touched recently. It concerns the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act. I do not want to make a mantra out of this matter. The legislation has been passed by the Houses of the Oireachtas and signed by the President, but has not been commenced. Ordinary people do not understand the reasons legislation, even when signed by the President, is not commenced by the relevant Minister. Members on both sides of the House are receiving calls on behalf of children with special needs. The Act recognises a special need, provides for a child to be assessed, involves all the professionals and insists on resources being made available. The resources are to applied at school or other level and regular reviews are take place. None of this has been done so far. The commencement strategy has been ignored. The Minister for Education and Science has had it on her desk for nearly one year. I call on her to come to the House to explain why the legislation to support children with special needs is still lying on a shelf in the Department and has not been implemented. It is an absolute disgrace.
Regarding the release over the weekend of one of the killers of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe, I too was disturbed to discover that the family had to find out about the impending release of the killer in a Sunday newspaper. I understand contact was made after publication of the newspaper. This was a lack of judgment on the part of the authorities. We need to apologise to the family and to review the procedures in order that similar incidents do not occur in future. Will the Leader impress upon the Minister the need to take action so that a widow and family do not have to learn about the impending release of killers from reading the national newspapers?
The weekend also saw another incidence of gangland killing, this time outside the jurisdiction, in Spain. My party put forward a Bill in this House last autumn to put the witness protection scheme on a statutory footing. At the time we were informed by the Minister that such a scheme was inappropriate. In light of the ongoing crime spree it may be time for the Minister to review his decision and perhaps introduce a statutory witness protection scheme. Will the Leader convey those thoughts to the Minister and perhaps prevail upon him to think again?
I wish to raise the issue of road deaths. I note from this morning's newspaper that the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, has stated it is not his responsibility to ensure people obey the law when it comes to matters such as overtaking or driving without seat belts. This morning a report stated that one quarter of the car drivers killed in 2006 were not wearing seat belts. This is an appalling statistic and I maintain it is the responsibility of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I ask that the Minister be requested to ensure the Garda Síochána enforces this law. It is against the law to drive without a seat belt. I am certain this House will support the Minister in this matter. It is essential to reduce the number of road deaths and the existing laws should be enforced.
Will the Leader of the House invite the Minister for Defence to the House to discuss the issue of the delayed deployment of Irish troops to Chad? This issue is a matter of concern. It was discussed in the House before Christmas and many speakers wished the Irish troops well in the EUFOR mission in Chad. It was recognised at the time, however, that this was a dangerous mission. Since then the advance of the rebels on the capital and the rejection yesterday of the ceasefire by the Prime Minister of Chad raises questions about the safety of the mission.
The Minister is reported in The Irish Times as saying the current turmoil in Chad is a matter for the country's authorities and does not fall within the remit of the UN mandated EUFOR mission. It is clear the French participation in this mission will complicate matters. President Sarkozy has said the French may intervene if circumstances require and if the rebels launch another offensive. It is impossible to make a clear separation between the deployment of the EU mission and what is happening locally. I ask that the Minister for Defence update the House on this issue.
Twenty-four Members have indicated they wish to speak on the Order of Business which is to last for 40 minutes. In order to allow as many speakers as possible, because not all will be facilitated, I ask that contributions be as brief as possible.
I want to know when the promise to double of the capitation grant within the lifetime of this Government will occur. I refer specifically to the summer work scheme. I am at a loss for words. I have served on five boards of management. I have seen the amount of work done in schools, from fixing roofs to removing asbestos to fixing boilers. What will replace the scheme now that the Minister is withdrawing it? I understand she faces a challenge with increasing numbers but she cannot allow schools to fall apart. There needs to be something in place of the scheme.
I raise the urgent matter of young mothers in education. In recent days six young mothers have come to me to inform me that the €50,000 once-off funding that came from the Department of Education and Science has now been cut in Galway. The funding helps 60 young mothers access third level education by giving a stipend towards child care. That funding is now cut and the latest news is that 25 of these young mothers are at serious risk of having to drop out of education within the next month. Three of the project workers have been put on protective notice. We need to be serious about education. This is an investment in these young mothers but it is also an investment in their children.
Tá an-díomá orm a chlois go bhfuil Aer Lingus tar éis cosc a chuir ar fógraí as Gaeilge ar an seirbhís as Béal Feirste. Tá sé deacair a thuiscint cad ina thaobh go bhfuil sé seo amhlaidh. Tá súil agam go ndéanfaidh Aer Lingus athmhachnamh ar an gcinneadh seo. Tá dea-thoil ann don Ghaeilge i láthair na huaire. Beidh sé an-deacair do dhaoine, go mórmhór daoine óga, a thuiscint cén fath go bhfuil an cosc seo á chur i bhfeidhm.
Aer Lingus has the unhappy knack of inviting adverse publicity and it has done so again by banning announcements in the Irish language on its Belfast service. I agree with the Taoiseach. What harm would a few sentences of Irish have done to anyone?
The perception is now being put out that in some way this was intended to allay the fears or take the sensitivities of the Unionist community into account. My experience of the Unionist community in the past is that its people are very cultured and it has a great regard for tradition. I do not believe anybody would decide whether to travel with Aer Lingus just because a few words of the Irish language were used.
It is important for Aer Lingus to answer the question of where the loyalty it has got from the Irish people is being acknowledged. I hope it will reconsider this decision very quickly because it does not help Aer Lingus or its reputation.
I strongly support Senator Fitzgerald in her remarks on pharmacists. I attended a huge meeting in Kerry recently on this matter. It is patently obvious that the Health Service Executive is welshing on an agreement that is in place whereby a senior counsel was appointed to liaise and make recommendations in this regard. Now it is trying to get the pharmacists to sign individual contracts outside of and in advance of the completion of that process. It is jumping the gun.
As we stated in the House last week, small independent pharmacists are under great threat. I know the Leader agrees with me on this matter and I look forward to his remarks on it. The serious question at this juncture is what position the Minister for Health and Children is taking. She needs to assert herself strongly and forcefully on this issue.
Last week, the Leader, in a well-meaning response to a query from me, read from a list of Bills that are to be published this session. With respect, we do not know how many of them, if any, will be initiated in this House. Amazingly, in that list the Leader did not mention a measure designed to give legislative effect to the findings of the Constituency Commission report on the new Dáil constituencies.
We are aware the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, has already set in train local electoral area boundary committees. They are to report to him by 20 June 2008. As I understand it, their terms of reference require those local electoral area boundary committees to respect constituency boundaries. I am sure the Cathaoirleach is so aware as well.
In the absence of a measure to give legislative effect to the commission chaired by Mr. Justice Iarfhlaith O'Neill, which constituency boundaries will it have to pay attention to in the review which is in train? No legislation is promised. Is the Government waiting for another constituency review before the next general election? Something is amiss here and I look forward to hearing the Leader, given his knowledge, clarifying the matter.
I welcome the decision by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, to carry out an independent feasibility study of the proposed interconnector between Northern Ireland and the Republic and, in particular, the area from Woodland in County Meath to Kingscourt in County Cavan, on into counties Monaghan and Tyrone. I would ask that the terms of reference of this independent feasibility study be published as soon as possible and that we take into consideration not only the economic consequences of putting this cable underground, but also the health and environmental consequences of putting it above ground.
I want to raise a matter related to the groceries order, which was abolished by this House. Today the Irish Farmers Association issued a statement that its members are being badly squeezed by predatory pricing by the large supermarkets. That is clear. It is related also to the Beverage Council of Ireland, which stated last week that the unloading of enormous quantities of drink by supermarkets was adversely affecting the situation regarding alcohol. This was also a power of the groceries order. I wonder whether we can have a look at the matter.
I want the Leader to ask the relevant Ministers whether, in the light of the action currently being taken by the hoteliers' association and others against their employees' interests and the intervention of the labour market, the Government would consider preparing legislation that would rectify any defect to be found. It is outrageous that the most financially vulnerable elements should be targeted by this wealthy group.
It is all part of a situation where the Competition Authority is involved. We ought to have a look at the way the authority operates, in making a tin god out of competition. It has already inhibited the rights of the weakest elements in the acting profession. For example, those who do voiceovers who earn an average of €7,000 a year who are inhibited under threat of criminal sanctions by the Competition Authority and others from being represented collectively in bargaining. It is the same in the case of the pharmacists. There is also the judgment in the Ryanair case last year. I hope that the Government will give a commitment to introduce legislation that will protect the rights of our most vulnerable workers.
Last week I asked the Leader to request that our embassy in Nigeria monitor the fate of various people who have been expelled ruthlessly back to that country. The Leader gave me a commitment that he would do so but I have heard nothing from him since. I would be glad if we could have an update on that and a commitment that these people's future will be monitored. We have a moral responsibility.
I suggest that we all unite in condemning the so-called Real IRA for coming out and saying they will re-open their campaign.
They are utter cowards. They seem to think that we have forgotten the shame they brought on us at the time of the Omagh bomb, and that this has evaporated. It has not. They are also traitors to this country, North and South, because they are doing it, apparently, in the context of a major investment conference in the North of Ireland. We should condemn them as cowards, as traitors and as totally unrepresentative of the Irish people.
Today is international day to raise awareness against female genital mutilation. I want the House to acknowledge that and I call for a debate on the issue. I request that the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Michael Kitt, would come into the House to have a debate on this matter because it needs to be recorded that yesterday he allocated funds totalling more than €1 million to the UNFPA which is engaged in an international campaign to deal with gender-based violence, in particular, and female genital mutilation specifically. It is an issue that is not only happening in an international context. It is something of which we must be aware in our growing immigrant populations. Legislation is also required, as is the need to heighten awareness. A debate in this House might help people realise it is a practice not tolerated in this country and it would highlight the issue. I urge the Leader to ask the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Michael Kitt, to come to the House to discuss this matter, particularly as he has demonstrated a commitment on behalf of the Irish people through financial support.
I support Senator Wilson's welcome to the announcement by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources last night that there will be an independent study of all the implications of the new North-South, and ultimately east-west, interconnector, cables and pylons. I am proud that Fine Gael was to the fore in calling for this and congratulate Deputy Simon Coveney on his leadership in this regard.
Will the Leader ensure the Minister is aware it is important local voluntary groups are involved in the establishment of the independent study and have input in terms of personnel and terms of reference? This is critical to ensure their confidence in it. The terms of reference must be clear in addressing the question of whether it should be underground or overground. They must also address the costings and the route. The public must have confidence in the outcome. I urge the Leader to get clarification from the Minister to ensure it will be an independent process that will involve all the stakeholders and result in the confidence of the people.
I support Senator Fitzgerald's view that it is appalling there is not yet a solution to the pharmacists' dispute. The issue should go immediately to arbitration. The behaviour of the Health Service Executive in seeking to reduce the fees paid to pharmacists in anticipation of arbitration is wrong. It pre-empts the process. We should have independent arbitration that is not pre-empted by either side.
Will the Leader get an assurance from Government that the proposal in the recently leaked internal HSE memo for the withdrawal of services in local hospitals in the north east, including Cavan and Monaghan, will be withdrawn? It is appalling that in the absence of a super-hospital - which does not yet have a site and is ten years away at least - there is talk about the withdrawal of services. I urge the Leader to get a commitment from Government, which has executive responsibility in this area, to stop this nonsense. Someone lost the run of himself or herself in the drawing up of this plan.
This is a HSE, not a Government matter. The issue will arise at the Oireachtas joint committee next Tuesday. It is important such discussions take place. I urge the independent pharmacists not to sign any contract at this stage pending the outcome of the negotiations and discussions.
We dealt with the Irish Pharmaceutical Union last year in the context of an important Bill and found it a very responsible organisation in acting on behalf of its members.
Many pharmacists have entered long-term contracts through the deal they had with the former health boards, the Department and the HSE. Those contracts are being broken now, without negotiation or discussion. I think the issue will be resolved. We solve everything over here, eventually.
However, it takes time. Finally, I condemn the activities of the editors of RTE's nine o'clock news last week. They used a half cocked, fabricated document - seven pages were taken out of 56 pages. I hope Senator Eugene Regan, the expert on the tribunal-----
Will the Leader invite the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to the House to discuss spiralling job losses throughout the country, particularly the loss of over 100 jobs last week in Clonmel? These jobs were not lost to a far eastern country but to Wales, because the Welsh authorities gave the richest man in Ireland a very large site for free. The Minister should come to the House to address these and other job losses.
I wish to draw the attention of the House to the ongoing crisis at Kerry General Hospital. Will the Leader bring it to the attention of the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney, and ask her to look at the front page editorial in the current edition of The Kerryman? This is a responsible local newspaper, not given to alarmism.
Consultants in the hospital have taken the unprecedented step of issuing a joint statement outlining the crisis. These highly professional people are the care providers in the hospital and this is not a step they would have taken lightly. My colleague, Senator Coghlan, is well aware of the situation in Kerry-----
-----and has been vocal about it. Perhaps the Leader will ask the Minister to examine this crisis. The hospital was opened only 20 years ago as a state-of-the-art facility for the mid-west region. According to the consultants, however, it is under-staffed, under-resourced, people are at unjustified risk of infection, terminally ill patients are dying without privacy and dignity and the accident and emergency department is bursting at the seams. There has not been as much comment about Kerry General Hospital in Tralee as about other hospitals in the country but this issue has taken Kerry by storm. The mayor and councillors of all parties and political persuasions had a joint meeting last week but the HSE did not even attend. This is a problem that must be addressed and I ask the Leader to convey that to the Minister.
We are almost having a debate now on the pharmacists' issue. I cannot understand why time is not allocated for a discussion of the issue. I agree with the comments of Senator Fitzgerald and others on the dictatorship of the HSE in this matter. It is extraordinary that the Seanad is talking itself into a situation where it never debates anything relevant. The important thing seems to be that we debate subjects that are utterly irrelevant and do not address matters that are topical and relevant. The only time we can do it is in the 50 minutes we have been allocated.
Why can we not have a debate on autism, a subject that concerns all sides of the House, rather than the Constitution? Why must we pretend that we have an enormous amount to debate on Wednesdays and Thursdays when there is no legislation? Why can we not debate something relevant? Why can we not debate in the House today the issue concerning pharmacists? There are important things to be said about the approaching crisis. Why can we not consider the legislation on auctioneers which was promised at least a year ago?
This issue arose a year ago last January. The abuses which were taking place then are still taking place. Legislation was promised by the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael McDowell, and was expected before the previous Dáil was dissolved. That legislation has not been produced. There are abuses. Scoundrels are practising as they have always practised. This House is doing nothing about the abuses of auctioneers. Can the Leader tell me when the legislation will be brought to the House? Is the delay in its introduction related to the fact that there are so many licensed estate agents in the Dáil and the Seanad?
While I agree we should debate the pharmacists issue, it should be noted that the Irish Pharmaceutical Union and the Health Service Executive will discuss the matter at a joint committee meeting next Tuesday. It is important we consider the manner in which the HSE has moved the goalposts.
I welcome the allocation of funds to institutes of technology under the third level minor works scheme. We should recognise the important role played by such institutes in our education system. It is time for the House to focus on institutes of technology.
Senator Fitzgerald mentioned that this year is the 90th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act, which gave women the vote. In that context, perhaps the House could examine the major issue of bullying in the workplace. I accept it does not affect women only but also men. While it should be considered a separate issue, it ties into the topical issues of drugs and alcohol, which I remind Senator Ross we are debating today. Nurses do not want to be abused in their workplaces by people who have abused alcohol. The issue of bullying can be related to a second and badly needed debate on the supports offered to victims of all forms of violence, including sexual, psychological and verbal violence. We have stayed quiet on these issues for too long.
We have all seen the pictures of last week's visit of the Taoiseach to Ballymena to meet Mr. Paisley. I would like a discussion not only on the positive work being done on an all-island basis but also on the opportunities which have been presented but not yet taken up. In that context, I link two issues raised by Senator Ó Murchú in the recent past - RTE's decision to withdraw its medium wave service from Belfast and other areas and Aer Lingus's decision to stop using a few words as Gaeilge on its services out of Belfast. Will the Leader ask Aer Lingus management whether it intends to rebrand its logo as well, thereby removing all Irish symbols from its Belfast service?
The former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael McDowell, agreed to publish the results of the Rossiter inquiry as soon as they became available. The report has been available for some time, but the current Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, seems to be dragging his feet on its publication. When will the report be published?
Similarly, the Health Service Executive has failed to publish a report about the abuse of elderly people in nursing homes. The Government seems to be in a position to suppress information such as that contained in these reports which should be in possession of the public. I ask that the reports be published as a matter of urgency.
I join Senator Norris in condemning the threat made by the so-called Real IRA to resume its terrorist activities in this State and Northern Ireland. I hope the full rigours of the law will be used against them to suppress their activities at every possible opportunity.
Last night I am sure everybody in the Chamber realised that Senator John McCain, aged 71, consolidated his frontline position to be the Republican Party candidate in the forthcoming US presidential election. If he becomes President next year Senator McCain will take up his position at the age of 72.
The joint programme for Government states: "Those reaching retirement age should be allowed to retire if they wish, but those who would prefer to stay at work should be facilitated in doing so". I want the Government to come forward urgently to implement legislation to give people the choice.
I support the calls by my colleagues on the pharmacists' dispute and I, too, would welcome a debate. Such a dispute would have a detrimental effect especially on pharmacists in the small towns and villages around Ireland who provide an invaluable service.
I want to raise the issue of sewerage infrastructure and the difficulty in attaining foreshore licences for the development of this important infrastructure. In Waterford a seven-village sewerage scheme is hamstrung by confusion and lack of clarification on who has responsibility for issuing foreshore licences. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to the House to debate this issue and give us clarification because it is causing serious backlogs in the development of rural towns and villages around the country.
Today is national coursing final day in Clonmel and I acknowledge that thousands of sports enthusiasts are attending the finals and have attended the trial stakes around this country.
I ask the Leader for a debate on crime in society. Such a debate should outline in particular how the Garda is dealing with violent crime. I am conscious that for many years we have been dealing with criminals who use arms and other methods that heretofore were not available. Notwithstanding that, the proposal to use tasers should be very carefully monitored. I suggest that in many cases the use of pepper spray would be a more appropriate response to a violent situation, particularly when the person concerned may have taken drink or drugs and his or her heart rate is significantly increased. The use of a taser on such a person would cause a heart attack. I ask for a debate on this issue. We should bring it to the attention of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform that the use of pepper spray is what is required.
I also support Senator Terry Leyden's point that there was a total misrepresentation by the media and the Opposition of a very simple-----
I call on the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Minister of State at his Department, Deputy Billy Kelleher, to debate the issue of jobs and wage structures. The Taoiseach recently replied to my party leader, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, regarding job losses in the construction and manufacturing industries, stating that he is confident they will be replaced by jobs in other sectors, that we will have 3% growth and an increase in employment growth of 1%. I hope he is right.
However, I am very concerned about the issue. While we may be able to replace some of the jobs in the pharmaceutical and information technology industries, although we have not had as much success as I had hoped for in that regard, that cannot negate the fact that a significant number of jobs all over the country are being lost in construction. In particular, I am concerned at any discrimination in the job losses between Irish and non-Irish workers. Plumbers, plasterers and so forth are losing their jobs. I urge the Government to consider a re-skilling programme, in lieu of third-level access, in 2008. That point is very important and I will continue to make it until we see some progress.
I support Senator David Norris in his call that any loophole in the minimum wage legislation be closed by the Government. I cannot stand here as my party's spokesperson on tourism and support the Irish Hotels Federation in what it is trying to do, which is disgraceful. It is no coincidence that it is within the tourism industry that the minimum wage is being attacked. The same happened with Irish Ferries which, because it is registered outside this country, is giving four-----
I condemn what Irish Ferries is trying to do. The Government has said it cannot do anything but any legislation that can be introduced from a European point of view, or anything that can be done by the national employment tribunal to alleviate the situation should be encouraged. Attacks on the minimum wage from the tourism sector, whether from the Irish Hotels Federation or Irish Ferries, are a disgrace.
I hope to respond without interruption to the matters raised by Senators. I congratulate everyone associated with the 90th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act 1918. If the Senator believes time to acknowledge the Act is necessary, I have no difficulty with allowing time during the coming weeks.
The Minister's undertakings on pharmacies were straightforward and forthright and left my mind at ease concerning the appointment of an independent arbitrator in respect of the challenges facing the Health Service Executive and the pharmacy industry, small family pharmacies in particular. I speak on behalf of all Members of the Oireachtas when I say that it is not on for the HSE to believe for one minute that it will eliminate family pharmacies. At the same time, value for money must be the order of the day for the executive. Drug manufacturers have a significant role to play. In some destinations in the EU, services, facilities and drugs are considerably lower in price than in some Irish pharmacies.
The HSE and the Irish Pharmaceutical Union will be present when the Minister addresses the Joint Committee on Health and Children at 3 p.m. next Tuesday. All members of the committee will wish to make contributions, but anyone with time available and who knows the plight of the pharmacists should attend to assist in any way possible. Following the meeting, the leaders of the various groups in the Seanad will meet and review the situation. I am in favour of enhancing procedures so that Senators can assist everyone concerned - the Minister and the Government - in terms of the pharmacists' plight, the cost of drugs and the challenges that lie ahead.
Senator Hannigan referred to the notice in respect of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe. The family was notified before the release, but not before the publication, which is regrettable. In future, I hope everyone keeps in mind that a reasonable period of at least seven days should be given to the family of the unfortunate person who was murdered or, in this case, lost his life protecting the citizens of Ireland. I will pass Senators' opinions on to the Minister after the Order of Business.
I note Senator O'Toole's remarks about Ryanair, President Sarkozy and his latest wedding. The Senator referred to the commencement notice of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act. I made inquiries of the Minister today. She will be in attendance in the House this evening and Senators may be able to ascertain answers during the two-hour sitting commencing at 5 p.m. We all would like to see a commencement notice signed on the Bill, which has passed through the Houses and been signed by the President.
Senator Hannigan referred to gangland-----
On a point of order, I am confused. In the Leader's response to me, he kept stating that the Minister will attend the House. I understand she will do so regarding the Private Members' motion on drugs. Is the Leader suggesting it is appropriate to raise wider issues?
I have already responded to the point made by Senator O'Toole.
Senator Hannigan spoke about gangland killings. I agree with him and will pass on his strong views to the Minister after the Order of Business. Senator Hannigan also spoke about the high percentage of road deaths. As he outlined to the Seanad, 25% of people who died on our roads last year were not wearing seat belts. This is unacceptable. The Garda Síochána is doing a great job. Its dedicated traffic corps will be at full strength later this year with 1,200 members. Never have so many gardaí been allocated on behalf of the force to deal with traffic calming and the various regulations and rules we have introduced for them to implement. This high percentage surprised me, to say the least. I thought the number was much smaller than that. It is down to enforcement after we bring in the regulations and the laws.
Senator de Búrca called for the Minister for Defence to come to the House to discuss the despatch of Irish troops to Chad. I will try to ensure this happens next week if possible.
Senator Healy Eames spoke about funding for a summer works scheme for schools. I will pass her views on to the Minister for Education and Science. We can have a lengthy debate on funding for education in the coming weeks. The Minister will be in the House this evening so there may be an opportunity for Senators in respect of the inquiries they have made to myself and to the Department of Education and Science. I will do anything I can to ascertain responses and replies to the queries made to me by Senators on the Order of Business. As the Cathaoirleach said, my door is open at all times to assist any Senator, particularly those 25 Members who have not been previous Members of either House of the Oireachtas, and to find any information they require.
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú expressed very strong views about Aer Lingus and the Irish language. All Members of the House must agree with him given that the Irish language has been officially recognised by the EU and that Aer Lingus is the national carrier. I will pass the views of the Seanad on to Dermot Mannion, chief executive of Aer Lingus, later today and tell him that all sides of the House would like to see the Irish language, even if it is just cúpla focal, used on flights from Belfast to other destinations.
Senator Coghlan inquired about the number of new Bills. I am pleased to inform the Senator that since last week, the Finance Bill, the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill, the Immigration Bill and the Motor Vehicle (Duties and Licences) Bill have been published. As the Senator is aware, the Finance Bill is being debated in the Dáil this week. I am sure the Senator is pleased to hear that all these Bills will be put before us before the Easter recess.
The constituency review is taking slightly longer because it is comprehensive. One or two Senators asked me whether an embargo on Senators standing for election to local authorities might be considered. Everything is being considered. I will come back to the Seanad on the last day of this session and update it on the review of local electoral area boundaries.
Senators Wilson and O'Reilly spoke about an issue that is of interest to me because it concerns my constituency. I have never seen people and their families so concerned or interested about anything as the proposed cable to run from Kingscourt across north Meath and down into Meath West, which is my constituency.
I congratulate the Minister for Transport and the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources on ensuring that there will be an independent feasibility study to find the right way to proceed. As we all know, there is never a wrong time to do the right thing. I thank Senator Wilson for bringing the matter to the attention of the House today. All local communities will be consulted. It is the order of the day. A full independent analysis of the best way to proceed will be undertaken.
Senator Norris was right to express concern about alcohol abuse. I have no difficulty in having a future debate on that, particularly in respect of the free availability of alcohol in various outlets across the countries. We should have another look at this issue, particularly in light of the abolition of the groceries order. I will try to set aside time for this debate.
Senators Norris and Kelly raised a number of issues such as the situation of workers in tourism destinations, including hotels. I have been in contact with the Minister's office about a full debate on tourism. As soon as I have a date for this, which could be by the end of this week, I will notify the Seanad. In respect of the inquiries made by Senator Norris and the monitoring through the Nigerian embassy, I can contact my office later today to see how that is progressing.
I agree with the views expressed by Senators Norris and Cummins about the statement by the Real IRA that it wishes to re-engage in violence. I make a strong appeal to that organisation on behalf of Seanad Éireann and in the interests of humanity and all that has been achieved. We are all republicans. Our forefathers in 1916 were on the same side. Regardless of whether one is from Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil or the Labour Party, we were all together in 1916. We are making historic progress. The Taoiseach visited Mullingar on Friday morning for a very important working breakfast with the organisation led by Senator Glynn. He then flew by helicopter to Ballymena to meet the First Minister of Northern Ireland, Ian Paisley. It was an historic day. Five or ten years ago, who would have thought this possible? We are all fighting to achieve the one goal and we all know what it is. It is happening far more quickly by peaceful means. The progress we have made could only have been achieved through peaceful means.
Senator O'Malley called for the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Tom Kitt, to come to the House for a debate on the topic mentioned by her. I have no difficulty with putting that request before the Minister this afternoon.
Senator O'Reilly spoke about the HSE and services in Cavan and Monaghan. I will pass on his views to the Minister.
Senator Prendergast called for the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to come to the House to discuss job creation. I welcome the Minister's announcement today of a new fund of €60 million to boost small and medium-sized firms. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment had a three and a half hour meeting this morning where Mark Fielding from ISME spoke about the challenges facing small and medium-sized businesses. Some 98% of jobs in Ireland are created by small and medium-sized employers. These people must be respected. They are there for the long haul and to create sustainable jobs. That is where we will be able to make a contribution in the future.I have no difficulty in having a lengthy debate in the Seanad on what we have achieved in the past ten years and where we will go in the next ten years.
Senator Ned O'Sullivan raised the plight of Tralee General Hospital. I will pass on his strong views to the Minister after the Order of Business. I will discuss the matter with the Senator to determine how we can ascertain the position and the possibility of discussing it in the Seanad at a future date.
Senator Ross expressed his concern that the Seanad should debate more pressing issues. I agree with him and I am pleased to inform the House that from Tuesday week, 19 February, the House will sit three days. I will liaise with the leaders of the various groups. Senator O'Toole eminently represents Senator Ross's group at the leaders' group meeting, although some Senators in that group might believe he was not the leader. I would like the proposals to go before Senator O'Toole who can bring them before the leaders' meeting. We can then provide time for them and treat them as urgently as the request made to me by the father of the House, which I appreciate.
Senator Keaveney called for a debate on the success of the institutes of technology and their development in the future. As everyone knows, from Letterkenny in Donegal to Sligo, Athlone, Carlow and throughout the country, there has been a transformation in terms of boys and girls from lower and medium income earners who have been able to avail of third level education because of the institutes. I have no difficulty in setting aside time to debate the way that can take place.
Senator Cummins raised the question of the Rossiter report and the Health Service Executive report. I can contact the offices of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Minister for Health and Children to determine the up-to-date position on those reports.
Senator Mary White was impressed by Senator John McCain's success in the United States last night. I stayed up most of the night because as Members are aware, blood is thicker than water. I have an old friendship with the Clintons. They all came from the Cassidys in Fermanagh. I cannot take sides in my position as Leader of the House but we must keep in touch with the old family tree. There should be no age limits in this regard.
If one has the ability and if the good Lord gives one the health, one should be allowed make a contribution in whatever walk of life. I fully support those who have the ability and the experience. That is what will pave the way in the United States in the long term.
Senator White made a point about consultants and doctors having to retire at a certain age. People are in such good health these days they want to work for as long as possible. There can be nothing more depressing than looking forward to doing nothing. I never heard anything like it. The brain would go to seed and one would be gone in a few years. That will not happen to politicians because we are all very alert.
Senator Butler wanted to know the up-to-date position regarding sewerage schemes and asked that the Minister would come to the House for a debate. I have no difficulty in that regard.
Senator Hanafin called for an urgent debate on crime. I will have time put aside for that. In fairness to the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, he has been very co-operative whenever I have contacted his office. He has been fully supportive by coming to the House and being of assistance in it.
Senator Alan Kelly called for a debate on tourism and jobs. I have already made a commitment in this area and have no difficulty setting aside time for this debate to take place.