Wednesday, 7 May 2008
Order of Business (Resumed)
I support the contributions made by Senators Fitzgerald, Norris and Boyle on Burma. The television pictures and the radio reports are distressing. Those of us in the western world have let the people of Burma down badly in the past 18 months. It behoves the Government, at European Council of Ministers level, to intervene on behalf of them to get emergency aid to the area as a matter of urgency and to get the visa regulations waived so that we can assist them. That is a matter of extreme urgency and the Leader will find no fault from this side of the House in that regard.
This is a day of new beginnings. I hope the Leader will manage to appoint a new Minister for Health and Children because the Government has presided over a failed health strategy, illustrated by the fact that yesterday was National Asthma Day and we have no national strategy for asthma. There are 470,000 people suffering from asthma in this country and Ireland lies fourth in the world asthma league. It is a shame and an indictment of the people opposite that we do not have a national strategy on asthma. We need one as a matter of urgency.
I hope the Leader, who I believe is well in with the new Taoiseach, will keep bringing him cups of tea. I ask the Leader to bring him to the House so that——
We need a debate on the programme for Government, which is a failed document. Senator Boyle has left the Chamber. The Green Party is now smug in Government but the mudguard is falling off the bike. There is no co-ordination, for example, on balanced regional development. The second city of this country is losing out badly. I seek an urgent debate on the programme for Government.
I support Senator O'Donovan's call for a debate on community life. Community life in the ten years of the Celtic tiger boom has been altered by this Government. We need an urgent debate on community life, not just in rural Ireland but across the country. People deserve leadership which they have not been getting. We need an urgent debate.
I join those who paid tribute to the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Brennan, who is not seeking a Cabinet position. I wish the outgoing Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, the very best of luck and thank him for all he has done for this country, and I wish Deputy Cowen every success. The central word will be "success" because in anything he has touched thus far he has been a great success.
I ask the Leader to invite to the House the Minister with responsibility for housing. Over many years the taxpayer has provided fine accommodation for those in need of housing. People like me are asked every day to exhort the powers that be to bring in legislation which will take definitive control over unruly tenants and neighbours. This is the exception rather than the rule. People say there is legislation covering this issue, but it is not working effectively. There are many people in housing estates who have been advised by the local authority and by the Garda to move out. Why should a family minding their own business be made to move out, while the troublemaker is allowed to remain? That is putting the cart before the horse and it is not acceptable.
I ask that a debate be held on this issue urgently and that the Minister of State, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, bring forward definitive proposals which can tackle what is a serious and growing problem.
Last week I spoke about the dispute involving the Psychiatric Nurses Association and I am very disappointed that the HSE has not made any meaningful attempt to address the substantive issues. Claims to the Personal Injuries Assessment Board are assessed on the basis of societal norms, but the compensation scheme offered to psychiatric nurses represents just 12%-15% of that norm. The nurses are not looking for a Rolls Royce compensation scheme, but they are not looking for a yellow pack scheme either, nor do they want to be treated less favourably than any other human being. I urge the management of the HSE to meet soon, because there will be a further escalation of this action from next Monday. People that are greatly in need of professional standards of care will be very disadvantaged if this problem is not addressed sooner rather than later.
There are currently 3,598 children on a waiting list for adolescent psychiatric beds, yet we have only 12 such beds. The intention is to have 30 beds by the end of 2008. Those who need emergency treatment are seen and referred, but there are still almost 3,600 on that list. That is a sad indictment of the state of our health services. It needs to be addressed because there are people who cannot leave their children out of sight due to a fear of what might happen. We are constantly talking about suicide and so on, but that is cold comfort for those living with the threat of it at their door.
I wish the outgoing Minister, Deputy Brennan, all the best and I hope the new Taoiseach will choose a replacement who makes something very special of the Department and will give it a reasonable increase. The Arts Council has done a great job for the Government and it needs a Minister who will give a realistic re-appraisal of exactly what is going on and who will obtain realistic funding.
I join with the Cathaoirleach in welcoming here today the former Senator Brian Mullooley, after 21 years of service to this House. We also welcome former Deputy and Senator, Martin Joe O'Toole, who is also returning on this very historic day.
I wish the Taoiseach every success. He is retiring only as Taoiseach and is not retiring from public life. He will be prominent in the years ahead. He has great experience and is one of the most popular leaders this country has ever had. We are very fortunate in Fianna Fáil to have the calibre of person like Deputy Brian Cowen to replace him. I am fortunate in being the only Member of this House to have served under six Taoisigh, five of whom were from the Fianna Fáil Party. That is unique, and it is also unique for the Cathaoirleach to be in his position today. I look forward to the events later in the day.
I want to be associated with the best wishes that have been extended to the Minister, Deputy Séamus Brennan. He is a wonderful, brilliant, intelligent Minister and he was a great general secretary of Fianna Fáil who led us to victory in 1977 and was responsible for me being a Dáil candidate that year. I thank Séamus for that.
I appreciate that but this is a special day, as the Cathaoirleach will acknowledge.
The commemoration at Arbour Hill this morning was a wonderful occasion and start to the business today. I compliment Reverend Christopher Jones, Bishop of Elfin, who gave a wonderful homily. I hope it will be published and distributed throughout the country, as it was a great assessment of where we were, where we are and where we are going.
I would like to be associated with the comments on Burma. The Government reacted quickly in pledging €1 million in support, and I know it will give more. Whatever assistance we give is vitally needed. It is an international tragedy.
Will the Leader request the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, to at least consider the following possibility, although I am not advocating it to a great extent? The Lisbon treaty referendum will be held on 12 June. I ask the Minister to consider using the e-voting system on that day, given that 500 million people will be waiting for the results. People will be asked to vote "Yes" or "No" in the referendum. It will not be that complicated. It would be a good occasion on which to use the electronic voting system. It is a vote on the Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill.
The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government needs to consider this system afresh. The referendum will be on 12 June, the count will take place on 13 and 14 June and 500 million people will look at our results following the election. It would be a wonderful indication of our progression if we could give the results one or two hours after the close of polls on the evening of 12 June.
I want to follow up on Senator Fitzgerald's mention of the Lisbon treaty. I spoke at a number of Fine Gael public meetings this weekend. It is evident there is a lack of information and a certain apathy about this treaty and the referendum. Also, a message has gone out that it would be a disaster — that was the language used by the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, who is leading the campaign for the Government — for Europe and for Ireland if this treaty failed. That frightens people and is considered arrogant because it suggests they have no choice in the matter other than to vote "Yes." It is the wrong approach to the referendum. It needs to be explained to people what is in the treaty. The misinformation which has been put out by the "No" campaign has raised genuine concerns about Europe and certain aspects of it. They are the genuine concerns with which we have to engage rather than tell people they must vote "Yes" because to do otherwise would be a disaster for Europe. The Minister of State has used that language in this House, and it is unfortunate.
The incoming Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen, has an opportunity to win this referendum, but the message must be changed from one of disaster to one of explanation and sweet reason. He also might consider changing the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs who is leading this campaign, given the negative reaction to his approach to date to this referendum.
I did not intend speaking on the Lisbon treaty but I must say that I listened to the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, speak in this House and I was thrilled with the manner in which he handled the debate here. He interacted with everybody in the House, he had his finger on the pulse and had a complete understanding of what the Lisbon treaty is about. After having listened to him, I made the same point to people outside this House, namely, that we are particularly fortunate to have such an erudite and focused Minister leading this campaign. I am sorry to disagree with Senator Regan because we are neighbours in one way in another part of the country. I felt I had to say that because I have the opposite view of the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, to that which the Senator expressed. I have also heard the Minister of State interviewed on radio and television programmes. He presents a robust message, but he is prepared to listen to every question put. The use of the word "disaster" in the event of a "No" vote was necessary as there was a degree of apathy and lack of interest apparent. The Minister of State was correct to point out that it is not simply a matter of flipping a coin and voting "Yes" or "No". The issue is more important than that and the comments were necessary so that people would engage in the debate at this stage. The comments of Senator Eugene Regan have been helpful, too, in focusing attention on the issue.
I join in the good wishes expressed to the outgoing Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Séamus Brennan. We were fortunate recently to have the Minister in the House for the debate on tourism, which I found helpful. I pay tribute to him because in my experience Deputy Séamus Brennan throughout the years has been especially quiet but at the same time very energised with any portfolio which he held. He was always accessible and available for discussions. His most recent portfolio, namely, the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism includes the inspirational aspects of the work of the State and Deputy Brennan has handled these so well. I wish him well and I am sure we will hear more of him in some other context and in another forum in future.
I too welcome the former Cathaoirleach, Mr. Brian Mullooly. I was delighted to see him looking so well. He set a great standard in the House which has been followed by other Cathaoirligh since then.
I, too, congratulate the Taoiseach on his achievements in office and wish him well for the next stage in his career. I was in Washington during the visit of the Taoiseach last week and was very impressed by what I saw. He made a wonderful speech to the Joint Houses of Congress and I attended two other speeches that he made on the visit. I do not know if he made other speeches but the impact he made, the influence he had and part of the reason we have been so successful in reaching agreement in Northern Ireland is because of the personal contacts of the Taoiseach and his interaction with individuals, which was apparent on the visit especially with Ms Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives. This relationship is only one of a number the Taoiseach has been able to cultivate and which have been invaluable to Ireland.
I was unaware of the illness to the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Séamus Brennan, and was disappointed to hear of it. As Senator Ó Murchú said, he has been very efficient and competent in the roles he has undertaken, but he also has a great sense of humour. There were at least three occasions when I spoke to introduce him and he said that he always liked to speak after me as it was not necessary to lower the microphone.
Will the Leader draw to the attention of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, whoever he or she will be, the concerns of relatives of missing children, especially those in Europe? I am aware of one instance where the relatives of one missing child in a European country found that the Schengen information system was not in operation. This is a system set up by the police forces of the various countries and when someone is sought, either a missing person or a criminal, the information is passed to all the other police forces covered by the Schengen information system. I know of one case where this information was not passed on. If we allow one child to slip through the net, there may be others. I do not know how the system works but the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform should take an interest in this matter to ensure that the Schengen information system between the police forces is in operation to ensure we do not have a situation where children continue to go missing.
As with other speakers, I record my concern about the humanitarian crisis in Burma. I agree with Senator David Norris who mentioned climate change and the fact that cyclones which have killed more than 22,000 people to date are clearly linked to the phenomenon of global warming. It is likely we will see such humanitarian crises recurring across the globe in the coming decades.
The Lisbon treaty was mentioned and one of its provisions deals with the establishment of a European voluntary humanitarian aid corps. This will be a positive development which will develop the civilian capabilities and assets of the European Union as well as the military assets which are more familiar to most people. This will be a role which the European Union more than likely will be called upon to play on an increasingly regular basis in the future and which we should encourage people to support.
I ask that the incoming Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food be invited to address the House on the important issue of agriculture. I make this request in light of a recent report which was sponsored by the United Nations, had the backing of the World Bank and was part-funded by a number of large biotechnology companies. The report studied the future of world agriculture. Four hundred scientists participated in the compilation of the report. It took four years to complete and is a comprehensive examination of global agriculture. One of its findings was on the issue of GM. The debate about genetically modified foods has been heated. GM has been discussed in the context of increasing food yields. The findings of this report suggested that GMOs do not offer any real potential for increasing food yields for parts of the world where hunger and starvation are serious problems. It would be important to address this issue of GM in any debate on agriculture because it is an issue that is slipping in the back door and farmers are being encouraged to think of GM crops as being some kind of magic fix for some of the food problems and food shortages we will face in the future.
I have listened on many occasions to Members from all sides of the House criticising the HSE and the services it often does not deliver. This happened again today and I concur with Senator Prendergast's views on the psychiatric services where there is a significant deficit.
The Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney, once referred to the HSE as a big ship that would not be turned overnight and how right she is. I remind the Minister of who it was created, constructed and designed this ship, namely, the HSE. It is certainly a ship that is overburdened with administration. I do not think there were any voluntary redundancies; instead many new administrative grades were created. It is costing a fortune to maintain and run the HSE. Professor Drumm has been appointed captain of the ship but it seems to be going around in circles. It is rudderless and going nowhere and it is certainly not reaching the people it should, namely, the citizens of this State. They are stranded without the services they deserve. It is lurching from crisis to crisis. I refer to the record of misdiagnosis of cancer, trolleys in wards and the lack of psychiatric services. Members on all sides of the House agree that it is unaccountable, it lacks transparency and we are not getting the service we deserve from it. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate not on the services but on the HSE's structures and how it was put together.
There is a job of work to be done. I am not sure of the figure but more than 100,000 people are employed in the HSE. Many of those very good people work on the front line. I feel sorry for those people, the nurses, doctors, physiotherapists, who are delivering a service on the front line and who are criticised in public fora such as this. I feel sorry for those people because they are overburdened and overworked. We need to look under the stones of the HSE and find where the real inefficiencies lie. I appeal to the Leader to invite whoever is the Minister for Health and Children to the House to debate the structures of the HSE and to see if a better model can be found which is more effective and more responsive to the needs of this country.
I endorse the call for a debate on the marine made by my colleague, Senator Denis O'Donovan. The Leader may not know that I raised this issue last week because he was busy with international duties supporting the Taoiseach. I suggested we should have issues pertaining to the marine brought under one remit. This request for a debate was gracefully refused by the Cathaoirleach on the basis of a lack of ministerial responsibility——
I was asking that this time around, the Leader of the House might bring it to the attention of the new Taoiseach that the House has an interest in the marine and that we would like all matters related to it consolidated under one Minister. The Minister for Transport should come to the House in the near future to discuss this issue, which is of particular interest to me.
I wish to acknowledge the extremely significant events of yesterday. Anybody with an awareness of the history of this island could not have imagined a decade ago the variety of people who stood yesterday on the site of the Battle of the Boyne, with the Taoiseach leading the welcome to communities from throughout the island. When the Taoiseach-elect, Deputy Brian Cowen, is in situ, I ask that the Leader invite him to the House as soon as possible for a discussion on how to consolidate the continuing efforts to build relations between the peoples of this island. The Taoiseach made the point that the manner in which we respect the views of others, particularly minorities, will determine what life is like for the citizens of this island in the coming years. We generally consider the issue of accommodating minorities as one that is relevant to Northern Ireland. However, there are other minorities on this island and we must find some way of embracing the opportunities and challenges this presents. Our discussion with the new Taoiseach should consider the links — cross-Border, cross-community, in education and so on — that will facilitate the growing mutual respect among all the peoples on this island that was fostered by the Taoiseach.
I join in the good wishes extended to the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Brennan, on his decision to step down from office. I knew him well in his role as Government Chief Whip when I was a Member of the other House. He has done much good work in the areas of arts and tourism. I agree with Senator Prendergast that the Arts Council must continue to develop its role in the future. However, we must acknowledge that the significant increases in funding for the Arts Council are yielding results.
I concur with the points made by other Senators on the situation in Burma. I assure the Minister for Foreign Affairs that we will be supportive of any measures he takes to alleviate the hardship in that country.
I congratulate Sean McSharry, the ten year old who has become the youngest European to conquer Mount Kilimanjaro. I am aware of the difficulties he faced because I reached the summit in January. I nearly killed myself in the process.
Queen Elizabeth II has enjoyed a long and happy reign. I wonder whether the incoming Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen, will enjoy the same. We hope his reign will be good for the people of Ireland but I am sure he will forgive me when I express the hope that it is not as long as that of Queen Elizabeth II.
I welcome the former Cathaoirleach, Mr. Brian Mullooly, to the Chamber. It is always good to see former colleagues visiting the House. I hope I will do the same when my day comes.
I endorse the points made by colleagues in regard to the crisis in Burma. The debate on the Lisbon treaty affords us an opportunity to discuss the EU's role in providing humanitarian aid. We must work closely with Europe in the context of globalisation and climate change. This is an area to which we should give careful attention.
I have observed the work being done by the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Roche, to promote the Lisbon treaty. There is no doubt he is making an impact. I recently attended a meeting at which he explained himself clearly. Everybody who attended that large meeting came away satisfied that he had outlined exactly what is expected of us in regard to the referendum campaign.
I am sorry to see the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Brennan, stepping down from office because of ill health. I have known the Minister for more than 25 years. I began my political life working with him in the constituency of Dublin South, where I stood alongside him in four elections. I know his workload, efficiency and effectiveness. He has tremendous ability in terms of organisation. He is stepping down just for a short term. I wish him a speedy recovery and I have no doubt he will be back with us in a short time, perhaps in another role.
I congratulate the outgoing Taoiseach and wish him well in the next stage of his career. I wish the new Taoiseach every success and look forward to seeing him in this House when he comes in to debate whatever issues are pertinent at the time and I look forward to our working closely with him on those issues.
Listening to the debate, some of those on the "Yes" side of the Lisbon treaty are starting the blame game already although we are 50 days away from the referendum. Some are blaming the Government for not doing enough, others are blaming the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dick Roche, and want him sacked from leading the campaign, while others say we should use a flawed and unsafe electronic voting system to count the votes just in case we cannot get rid of the Government and the Minister of State, Deputy Dick Roche, in the meantime.
The reality is that people on the "Yes" side are beginning to understand that the misinformation being issued will not wash. We heard misinformation from the previous speaker that it is all about climate change. The Lisbon treaty is not all about climate change. Six words that have been inserted by the Irish Government into a massive document deal with climate change. The Lisbon treaty is about other issues. I welcome the fact that the Technical Engineering and Electrical Union this week has called for a "No" vote in the Lisbon treaty.
Will the Leader facilitate a debate, to which he agreed two weeks ago, on the issue of school secretaries and caretakers, some of whom are paid less than the minimum wage? They are in Donegal, Sligo, Limerick and other regions. Many school secretaries and caretakers are unable to avail of the benefits under the Department of Education and Science scheme.
I support the call for a debate on the fishing industry. It is important to have that debate not only for the larger vessels but also because of the impact on the driftnet and draftnet salmon fishermen who have been put out of business since the decision of the Government last year. The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Mary Coughlan, is tipped for promotion within the Cabinet this evening. As a Donegal Senator I wish her well. I hope she signs a statutory instrument that will bring to an end the criminalisation of the fishermen before she leaves that office, if indeed she does.
I endorse the call by other Senators in regard to Burma. I urge the Department of Foreign Affairs to press the EU and the United Nations to urge the military junta to allow aid workers and non-governmental organisations into the country to help with the disaster relief and to issue visas as soon as possible to NGOs in Ireland such as GOAL and Concern.
Yesterday was an historic day. I joined my party partly because of our policies on Northern Ireland which was the reunification of our country by peaceful means and with the consent of the majority in Northern Ireland. That was at a time when some in Fianna Fáil wrestled with the whole area of peaceful means and constitutional politics, whether it was right or not. The area of consent certainly was heresy at that time. That is why I believe yesterday was an historic day. We heard a Fianna Fáil Taoiseach speak of respecting the traditions of each area of the country and living in peace and harmony on this island.
I make those remarks not to score any political points but because it is an area of which the Taoiseach should be justifiably proud. In that context I ask the Leader for a debate on Northern Ireland within the next few weeks or so. This is an opportune time to have such a debate.
I can call the Leader to reply but there are a few speakers offering. The reason I allowed some time was that tributes were being paid to someone who is retiring. I will call three final speakers. It will not be possible to allow other Senators to contribute.
Today is a historic day on which we bid farewell to one era and usher in a new one. I join my colleagues in thanking the outgoing Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, for all he has done. His greatest legacy will be to have brought peace to the island of Ireland. I also welcome the new Taoiseach, Deputy Brian Cowen, who, like the Cathaoirleach, is an Offaly man. Many people from the county are in and around the grounds of Leinster House today.
A number of terms capture the character of the new Taoiseach. He is an inspirational figure, an extremely energetic motivator and a man of exceptional organisational skills. I wish him well in the office of Taoiseach.
The Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Dick Roche, who was before the House last week, is also an energetic man and an enthusiastic proponent of the Lisbon treaty. He has explained the text to members of the public and politicians and we should stand behind him. He is doing an excellent job and deserves our full support.
Yesterday, 250 Irish businesses, members of the Business Alliance for Europe, publicly endorsed the Lisbon treaty. These companies represent 2.1 million Irish employees. Senators should consider how the House can be used to better promote the referendum due in four weeks.
I wish to be associated with the tributes paid to the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Séamus Brennan, who will retire today. The Minister played a positive and constructive role in politics and was always amenable to accepting suggestions made by the Opposition. Several years ago, for example, he accepted my proposal to change the term "old age pension" to "State pension". While it may not have been an issue of great significance, it demonstrated his ability to listen to Opposition voices. I hope he enjoys many more years in other political roles.
I ask the Leader to reflect again on the need for an urgent debate on the World Trade Organisation talks. In recent days, Commissioner Mandelson has issued a further unhelpful statement in which he underplayed what he is determined to do to Irish agriculture. Not only is he the greatest threat to the passing of the referendum on the Lisbon treaty, he is also a major threat to the future of Irish agriculture and tens of thousands of jobs. Given that "veto" is the only word he understands, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, whether Deputy Mary Coughlan or her successor, must indicate his or her willingness to stop the destructive Mandelson proposals.
I agree with the suggestion made by several speakers, including Senator Buttimer, that the new Taoiseach be invited to the House to outline his policies on a broad range of issues. Senator Fitzgerald noted the issues facing the Government. The Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, made a valedictory address to the House several weeks ago. It would be interesting and informative if the new Taoiseach were to come to the House at the earliest possible date to outline his proposals and policies. I ask the Leader to raise the issue at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.
With the eyes of 500 million Europeans upon us, the only disaster likely to befall us on 12 June would be if we brought the electronic voting machines out of storage. They are best left alone and we should stick to pen and paper for the referendum.
Senator O'Donovan has taken a consistent and correct position on an important issue on which there is cross-party agreement, namely, fisheries. Serious problems have emerged in this area, one of our greatest natural resources. Despite the publication of the Cawley report on fishing, little action has been taken to protect our fisheries, both inland and at sea. Provided it is protected and conserved, the fishing resource renews itself. Fisheries could become an even larger economic sector if we protected them properly. I call on the Leader to arrange a debate on fisheries.
I extend my best wishes to the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Séamus Brennan, on his retirement today. The self-congratulation we have heard from the Government benches in this House and the Other House for the past month will have to stop tomorrow to allow the Government to get back to business.
I, too, wish to be associated with the well-deserved tributes to the outgoing Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, and the outgoing Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Séamus Brennan. In their dealings with Members from all sides and in the performance of their duties in both Houses I have always found both men to be conscientious and diligent. I wish them well in future.
When does the Leader expect the designated land Bill, which is intended to curb the exorbitant cost of land, particularly for public projects, to be published?
I join other speakers in extending good wishes to the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, and Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Séamus Brennan. Yesterday, when the Taoiseach met the First Minister, Dr. Ian Paisley, at the Battle of the Boyne site, was a great day for Ireland. I was one of the lucky few to be present and it was wonderful to be there. It was a wonderful day for all the people of this country, North and South. I extend my best wishes to the incoming Taoiseach, Deputy Brian Cowen.
Many Senators expressed their appreciation of the great efforts made by the outgoing Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, on behalf of the country. I was honoured to represent the Seanad in the House of Representatives in Washington last Wednesday.
It was an experience I will never forget. The Taoiseach made a tremendous contribution and wonderful speech. The event attended yesterday by the outgoing Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, and outgoing First Minister, the Reverend Ian Paisley, at the Battle of the Boyne site will make its mark for generations to come.
I worked closely with the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Séamus Brennan, particularly in the period from 1997 to 2002 when I was a member of the legislation committee, which the Minister established at the time to streamline the priorities of Ministers and the business of both Houses. The committee was also the instrument used to enable a large proportion of legislation to be initiated in the Seanad. Deputy Brennan has a great intellect and is a wonderful person to work with. His terrific ability has been underestimated. I wish him well and look forward to working with him again. I also welcome the incoming Taoiseach, a near neighbour and lifelong friend, Deputy Brian Cowen.
A large number of pressing issues were raised by Senators. However, the Minister of State is waiting to come before the House and I gave him my word the House would try to complete our consideration of the Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2008 before 2 p.m. With the permission of the House, I propose to respond tomorrow morning to all other matters raised. I ask the leaders to meet me after the Order of Business to agree an all-party motion on the tragedy experienced by the people of Burma. I thank Senators for their understanding on this special day.
I welcome former Senator, Mr. Brian Mullooly to the House. He and the late Senator Seán Fallon taught me most of what I learned in the Seanad. It was a great honour and privilege to serve under his stewardship and it is lovely to see him on this important day.