Thursday, 5 June 2008
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re Thornton prison; No. 2, motion re the Risk Equalisation (Amendment) Scheme 2008; No. 3, four motions back from committee; No. 7, statements on Report of the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny and No. 8, the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2006, Report and Final Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 7.
It is proposed, in regard to No. 1, motion re Thornton prison, that as the joint committee has not completed its considerations on the matter, this be extended to 17 June; No. 2, motion re Risk Equalisation (Amendment) Scheme 2008 be referred to committee, without debate, at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 3, motion re referral to joint committee of proposed approval by Seanad Éireann of a Council Decision on the improvement of co-operation between special intervention units of the member states of the European Union in crisis situations, a proposal for a Council Framework Decision on taking account of convictions in the member states of the European Union in the course of new criminal proceedings, a draft Council Decision on the stepping up of cross-border co-operation, and a proposal for a Council Framework Decision on the protection of personal data, back from committee, be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 2; No. 7, statements on the report of the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny, entitled Special Report on the Enhanced Role for National Parliaments in the Lisbon Reform Treaty, be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 12.40 p.m. — spokespersons may speak for seven minutes, all other Senators for five minutes and Senators may share time with the agreement of the House, and the Minister will be called on ten minutes from the end of the debate for concluding comments and to take questions from spokespersons; and No. 8, the Civil Law (Miscellaneous) Provisions Bill 2006, Report and Final Stages to be taken at the conclusion of No. 7.
It is important that adequate time be given to this Bill, which is comprehensive and needs time.
I raise the issue of transport. We have seen from the financial returns to the Government that the country is facing a very serious situation. The wasteful attitude of the Government in regard to many projects and poor decision making will impact greatly on people who need front-line services in health, education and other areas. It now looks as if money is not available for those critical front-line services.
I note that for the first time, Cabinet papers have been released under the Freedom of Information Act and that the former Minister for Public Enterprise, the Leader's colleague, Deputy Mary O'Rourke, lost a Cabinet battle to link the two Luas lines. This is an example of poor decision making and the folly of not linking those lines is there for all to see. It is a major source of annoyance to commuters in Dublin and will result in huge expense to put it right, probably €70 million.
This week young people in west Dublin going to sit their leaving certificate were delayed getting to school because of massive traffic jams and chaos on the N4 and M50. Even a minor accident apparently leads to total chaos and traffic jams.
I have asked previously for a debate on the national development plan to ascertain how the Government will tackle the new financial situation and to have a discussion with the Minister for Finance on the Government's priorities at this critical time in the economy given the changed circumstances.
Given the critical nature of the public finances, I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that we have that debate today to discuss the key decision making needed, the poor decision making of the past and the urgent need to examine these issues critically to ascertain how people who wish to avail of front-line services, especially in the areas of health and education, can be protected.
We hear of an increasing number of elderly people not getting the home care packages they need and of an increasing number of elderly people being kept in hospital because the step-down facilities are not in place. Let us invite the Minister to the House to debate the reality of the financial situation.
I am not sure if my question is for the Leader or the Cathaoirleach. We have not had an update on the situation in regard to the building work in the Seanad Chamber and the move to another location. I tried to get an update recently but I got nowhere. I do not want us to be caught between two stools. Nothing seems to be happening and I cannot get any information that anything has been put in place so that work can start the day the Seanad adjourns for the summer recess. I would like reassurance in this regard because the House was informed it would move only if work was being done, that it would begin on time and would finish within the year. That was discussed and the Committee on Procedure and Privileges reported back to the Houses. It is crucial the issue is clarified.
I have often raised the difficulties of the fishing industry. I know it is not a very popular issue and that people do not get excited about it as they do with other issues in the eastern part of the country. We sold out the fishermen with the first national economic programme in the 1950s, we continued to sell them out in the negotiations prior to joining the EEC in 1972 and we have been trying to fight our way back since then. Last year we unnecessarily stopped drift net fishermen from salmon fishing. There is also an initiative to buy out fishermen. All of the above have caused the death by 1,000 cuts of one of our most traditional industries.
With the increase in the price of diesel and the restricted quotas, boats are tied up because they cannot afford to go out. Even if they catch their maximum quota, the cost of diesel for small trawlers — it could increase to almost €2,000 per week — means it does not pay for the running of the boat. There is something significantly wrong and the Government must intervene. That problem was created prior to us joining EEC. Perhaps we could ask the EU to take us out of the mess into which we got ourselves more than 30 years ago. Owing to the restrictions on the Irish fishing industry, it will die before our eyes if we do not get help from somewhere. I ask people to show support for the fishing industry.
Will the Leader ask the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance to address quickly the serious and genuine issues raised by SIPTU, the largest trade union in the country? Mr. Jack O'Connor has clarified the position of the union in a letter in The Irish Times today. I draw the attention of the House to this most important letter and ask the Leader to raise its contents with the Taoiseach as a matter of urgency.
In recent days, the ICMSA and the IFA have had talks with the Taoiseach, whether over tea and buns in Tullamore or somewhere else. Useful work was done at those meetings and the farming organisations thankfully have recommended a "Yes" vote in the Lisbon treaty. Regrettably SIPTU has not yet found it possible to recommend a "Yes" vote in the treaty, although the Irish Congress of Trade Unions has. Will the Leader raise with the Government as a matter of urgency the question asked by Mr. Jack O'Connor and SIPTU last week? They were portrayed in some quarters of the media as almost demanding legislation or constitutional change within ten or 12 days of the Lisbon treaty or else they would not support it. That is not what they have sought.
On the question of trade union recognition and the fall-out from the unfortunate Ryanair decision in the Supreme Court, which has arguably undermined the role and power of trade unions, Mr. O'Connor said:
We have made no demand for a Government declaration to implement "statutory union negotiating rights". Our position is that we will support the Lisbon Treaty if the Government commits to legislate for an entitlement to the benefits of collective bargaining for workers (and, by implication, prohibition against discrimination for seeking to organise to achieve it).
It is a perfectly reasonable request that trade unions should be entitled to organise and to have employers listen to their genuine concerns and views when they are raised on the shop floor. That power and entitlement has been undermined by the Ryanair decision. The unions are entitled to have that revisited and I ask the Taoiseach to address that issue as a matter of urgency. It may mean a commitment on the part of the Government to amend the 2001 and 2004 Acts in order that the definition of "collective bargaining" is clarified in legislation and that we can reverse the worst effects of the Supreme Court decision in the Ryanair case.
Those of us who are concerned about the Lisbon treaty and who want it ratified need to look at those constituencies which are concerned about the possible implications of ratifying the treaty with a view to reassuring them. It appears the Taoiseach reassured the farming community to such an extent that the president of the IFA, who addressed the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs yesterday, has said he is calling very willingly for a "Yes" vote and that the IFA will do all it can between now and the day of the referendum to ensure farm families support the Lisbon treaty.
SIPTU is a very respected trade union which has raised issues of concern to workers. The letter in The Irish Times makes it clear that it is looking for similar reassurance on the intentions of the Government on protecting workers' rights and not any cast-iron guarantees or legislation which would be rushed through between now and the referendum date.
This is a very important issue because we were discussing the Charter of Fundamental Rights yesterday in the House. It was pointed out that rights are enshrined in that charter which protect the rights of businesses to establish themselves in any part of the Union — as well the fundamental rights of workers and citizens of the European Union. Unfortunately, several recent judgments of the European Court of Justice indicate a tendency to give precedence to the rights of business over those of workers. These are complicated cases and it is difficult to make a clear interpretation of the basis on which those rulings were made, but the point made by Senator Alex White is valid. If the unions, and particularly SIPTU, can be reassured on the issue it has raised this would encourage many people who have traditionally supported the European Union to back the Lisbon treaty.
I welcome the launch this morning of the Dóchas report — Dóchas is the Irish association of non-governmental development organisations — into the issue of disability and international development. The report points out that people with disabilities form approximately 10% of the world's population. Some 80% of disabled people live in developing countries and form the world's largest minority. This report makes a compelling case for integrating the whole issue of disability into international development policy. Given that Ireland is the sixth largest international aid donor per capita in the world, there is an opportunity to lead international efforts towards truly inclusive development by integrating disability fully. I ask the Leader of the House to invite the Minister of State with responsibility for overseas development aid to debate this issue with us in the Seanad.
I, too, support Senator O'Toole in his call for the Government to engage with the fishermen. Fisheries is a traditional industry that has served this country very well. However, fishermen feel very neglected by the manner in which they have been dealt with by Europe. This is, perhaps, a downside for Europe, and I hate saying this, but it provides material for debate on both the "Yes" and "No" sides on the Lisbon treaty. They feel isolated and neglected and I call on the Government to engage with them at this difficult time because their basic incomes are under threat and they need support.
Many Senators spoke yesterday about road safety and there was some debate on the issue. I support those Senators who are calling for the Minister for Transport to come before the Seanad so that we may have a detailed discussion on road safety. Road safety depends on three factors, one of which is the conditions of drivers. All drivers must have a certain amount of responsibility. A number of issues arise, including drink and drugs and people driving under the influence of those substances; the issue of speed, which was discussed yesterday, and the roll out of speed cameras around the country; and the issue of road fatigue.
One of the first subjects I addressed on the Order of Business in this House was fatigue on the roads and the lack of rest service stations on national primary routes for road hauliers and regular road users. It is very dangerous practice to expect people to drive long routes without any facilities for rest. I again ask the Leader to intervene with the Minister for Transport and call on him to address the Seanad on this issue. The condition of our roads might also be addressed. I congratulate the Government on the new bypass at Carlow. It is a marvellous piece of infrastructure and is certainly very welcome for drivers approaching Dublin from the south-east. However, the state of the local and regional roads leaves a great deal to be desired. There are many dangerous bends and junctions that cause serious accidents and deaths on a daily basis throughout the country. I ask the Leader to persuade the Minister to address the Seanad on how he proposes to invest in these roads. Any time representations are made to local authorities, the immediate response is that they do not have the resources to deal with these roads. Many of them are roads inherited over many generations, but they are not adequate for the traffic levels and vehicles on them today. If we are serious about reducing road deaths and carnage these are the issues we must address.
Signage, one of the basic requirements of any good road system, is abysmal in this country. As we approach the main season for tourism, we can see the total deficits and lack of adequate caution, hazardous and even directional signage everywhere, It is a debate that is urgently needed in this House.
I apologise on behalf of the Irish people to the Spanish ambassador and the people of Spain for the refusal of the Irish Coast Guard Service to let him visit the marine rescue and co-ordination centre at Valentia. I raised this yesterday on the Order of Business, but since then I have learned that the director of the Irish Coastguard Service, Mr. Chris Reynolds, in a Radio Kerry interview, said he would not allow the Spanish ambassador in because it is an operational facility. He said it was a workplace, and as such, it would not be appropriate to let him visit.
However, I have been informed this morning that on 13 April, this year, a group from the RNLI in Dorset, England, was allowed to visit the facility. In addition, some 15 people from Estonia's department of the environment were allowed to visit the marine rescue and co-ordination centre at Valentia. This exposes the lie and the excuses made by senior management for not allowing the ambassador to visit the centre. The real reason, of course, is because senior management is well aware that Spanish lives will be put at risk if the centre is closed and there will be a loss of Spanish speaking rescue co-ordinators, who will effectively be retired if Valentia closes.
The Spanish ambassador's visit would have highlighted Spain's concerns if Ireland closes this facility. On behalf of the Irish people I wish to apologise for insulting the Spanish ambassador.
I note with concern, however, that a commentator remarked in the newspapers last week how few prominent women were coming out on the "Yes" side. This is yet another indictment of the very poor pro-treaty campaign being run by the Government. The strongest arguments in favour of the "Yes" position have come from the Opposition. The Government needs to be doing much more in the last few days of the campaign, in particular, putting women forward to argue for the "Yes" side, because they comprise a large group of undecided voters at this point.
Senator de Búrca commented on the odds in favour of the "No" side. I notice one punter placed a bet of €10,000 on the "No" side to win, so let us just hope he or she got it wrong.
The arguments in favour of the Lisbon treaty are very strong, from a feminist perspective, particularly because of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, and also because of what the European Union has done to date in terms of promoting gender equality. That is very important and needs to be put on the record. However, it is also important to stress that the treaty will facilitate further expansion of the EU eastwards. That is something all of us should very much support and be in favour of. It is another reason for supporting the treaty, although I was slightly hesitant in declaring all this because I backed Hilary Clinton and——
——it has been proven this week to be the wrong course, so perhaps I shall not be putting any bets.
On a more serious note I want to ask the Leader for a debate on No. 21 on the Order Paper, a motion which I have table dealing with the issue of genital mutilation. A report has been published by the Women's Health Council of Ireland calling for legislation. It is a literature review which is examining this issue and which is particularly serious for women in developing countries. It is becoming increasingly serious in Europe for women who come here from other countries. Female genital mutilation, or cutting, is a brutal practice, which needs to be outlawed and specifically criminalised, even in European countries. I have been active on a campaign to do that. I have a motion on it before the House and the women's health council is again saying that specific legislation is a necessary, although insufficient element, to counter this barbaric practice in this country.
I listened with interest to the proposal from the leader of the Opposition with regard to the amendment of the Order of Business. I hope the Leader sees no great problem in accommodating such a debate. I am not sure I agree, however, with the urgency for it today. We all know there has been a slow-down in the economy and that this has impacted on tax revenue.
However, it is important that everybody recognises the positives and the progress made in the past decade. While Senator Frances Fitzgerald touched on infrastructural issues, she did not mention our low tax base or our tremendous progress in regard to unemployment. Many other positive things have been done. There has been huge investment in infrastructure. We know there are challenges ahead and that we must confront and overcome them. We must learn from the past and consider how best we can overcome problems in the future.
If we are to have such a debate, it should be meaningful and we should be informed when it will take place, what Member of Government will participate in it and the time allocated to each speaker so that we can put forward new solutions to these challenges.
An issue I raised previously is what mechanism exists to assist the Leader in responding to issues raised by Senators on the Order of Business? What type of co-operation and co-ordination exists between the Departments and ministerial offices with which the Leader must communicate? I am somewhat at a loss to understand why on many occasions it takes weeks or months to get a response in respect of an issue raised on the Order of Business.
I have also asked the Leader if he will obtain from the Department of Health and Children a detailed outline in regard to its policy for accident and emergency departments and if he will ascertain from the HSE the mechanism through which such policy is implemented, the criteria and supports in place in this regard, in particular in respect of each accident and emergency departments in Dublin. What co-ordiantion exists between departments in this regard?
Those Senators who continue to interrupt will not be called to speak on the Order of Business. I will not allow Senators who continue to interrupt another Senator while making a valid point to speak as they will have said enough during their interruptions.
The UK constitutional structure is that sovereignty resides in the Crown through parliament. In the Irish constitutional set-up sovereignty resides with the people. This is the reason we are having a referendum in Ireland and the UK is not.
I say this because whether Tony Blair or Gordon Browne promised a referendum in the United Kingdom is a matter of domestic politics there. It is not an issue which should influence the referendum in Ireland. The reality is that even if the UK did hold a referendum it could be over-ridden given the principle of supremacy of the UK parliament. In Ireland, changes to the Constitution are decided by way of referendum. I say this because we have been subjected by the British press in Ireland to a barrage of criticism in respect of the Lisbon treaty, in particular in The Sunday Times by representatives of a UK-based organisation, Open Europe which is apparently linked to the UK Independence Party. I accept the right to free press. However, we should know from where these viewpoints are coming.
The UK Independence Party wants out of Europe. I do not believe the Irish electorate should be influenced in terms of the referendum on the Lisbon treaty by UK propaganda. We fought long and hard for our sovereignty. It is our decision and it should be based on Ireland's interests. It is important we bear this in mind. We should not be influenced on this issue by the propaganda of the UK press.
Last week, I spoke at a women in business conference in the midlands which was encouraging women to start up their own businesses. I took poetic licence to speak on the issue of the Lisbon treaty and reminded them — many of whom were quite young and under 40 years of age — that prior to our joining the EU women in the private and public sectors had to give up their jobs when they got married. Following an appeal to them for a "Yes" vote on the Lisbon treaty I received a great round of applause.
The Leader stated earlier that Committee Stage of the Broadcasting Bill 2008 has been postponed until 18 June. This is the forth time arrangements have been made for a discussion on issues affecting older people. The programme for Government is committed to giving people choice in regard to the age at which they retire. It is a denial of the human rights of older people in the private and public sector that they must retire from their jobs at aged 65 years. It is urgent we have a debate on older people.
Women were denied their human rights when they had to give up their jobs following marriage. The Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children with special responsibility for older people, Deputy Máire Hoctor, is willing and able to participate in such a debate. Yesterday, I spoke to Deputy Barry Andrews, Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform with special responsibility for children. He is looking forward to coming to the House to discuss children's issues. I want to know what the Government proposes to do in respect of child care subventions and other proposals currently on the table. Older people and children are the least looked after in our society. Their human rights are being denied.
In my experience, young women are worn out trying to work and take care of their children. A Bill in respect of flexible working time drawn up by me was not pushed through despite it being accepted at the partnership meetings. The reason for this is that not enough women sit at the Cabinet table; it is dominated by men. With all due respect, this is a man's club.
At the risk of embarrassing anybody, I would like to second Senator Fitzgerald's amendment to the Order of Business.
Yesterday, the Leader got rather nasty with me in regard to my comments in respect of the budgetary position. However, I accept the cut and thrust of politics and the Leader's position. We now have a budget deficit despite the Government having had a surplus this time last year of €260 million. The former Minister for Finance and current Taoiseach, Deputy Brian Cowen, told us we could not be trusted with the economy. How dare he and how dare he insult the people of Ireland. Where did that surplus go?
We have had a €2 billion surplus during the lifetime of this Government. The Government is a little like Tom Thumb sitting on its hands while having its fingers in the pie. It is time we had an urgent debate not alone on the national development plan but on the economy. I want to hear what the Green Party Members have to say on the programme for Government which is now in tatters.
This is the last day we will have an opportunity to discuss the Lisbon treaty. For this reason the debate we will have this morning is important. This is the first time I have committed myself against the treaty. It is important that I am allowed to state this. The people taking a conscientious position on the "No" side have been abused, misrepresented and treated with a fair amount of contempt. A good number of threats have been made against the people exercising their democratic right.
It depends. I am not that sensitive. However, being called a flake is not a compliment. I am not getting all dithery about it. One can call me a flake if one wants. I may be a "loo-la" but I will ask questions that the Government side, and in particular the Leader, does not like answering.
We have known for sometime that the Taoiseach, Deputy Brian Cowen, has not fully read the treaty. We then discovered the Commissioner has not fully read the treaty and stated that anybody who did would be an idiot. This was glossed over by stating, as I pointed out previously, that Members of the Dáil voted for the treaty not having read it. The Minister for Finance has read it, however, and this is what allows him to commend the treaty.
It has got worse and this is why I want to ask these questions. We now know a member of the Referendum Commission, Mr. Justice Iarfhlaith O'Neill, does not understand it either. He was asked about neutrality and after some hesitation he stated that action must be consistent with Ireland's policy of neutrality. He then went into the question of moving from unanimity to qualified majority voting and he stated, "It's quite difficult to be precise about what that means. There certainly is not a precision about it whereby we could say it applies to A, B, C or D." I make this point as a preface to asking these questions again. We have a Taoiseach and Commissioner who have not read it and a member of the Referendum Commission who does not understand it. However, the Irish people are expected to vote for it.
We have expanded the Petersberg tasks to include permission to intervene in the war against terror in third countries. This is very worrying. Can we have answers on this? Can we have answers to the questions I asked about the European armaments group, coyly renamed the European Defence Agency, and whether Ireland will be committed to budgetary spending to get into the international arms trade which is the specified intention of the European Defence Agency to go into competition with the United States of America? The Irish people are fully entitled to know this.
I applaud my colleague Senator Bacik for taking her position but I will state this. It will not only be men who are involved in these military adventures. Women will also be involved. Many women in this country will not want us to go down this road. With regard to neutrality——
It was pointed out that this is the last opportunity for the House to discuss the Lisbon treaty prior to the country voting on it. The arguments have been made in the House advocating a "Yes" or "No" position. On responding to today's Order of Business, will the Leader make one last attempt to encourage all voters in the country to participate in the referendum? It is important to have as high a turnout as possible and that the intervening days are used as much as possible for people to hear both sides of the argument.
I happen to be advocating a "Yes" vote, having advocated a "No" vote on previous treaties. I explained to the House why this is and one of the reasons is that having advocated a "No" vote and seeing my arguments not accepted by the Irish people I do not see the point in making those arguments again. It is time to move on and consider this treaty as a separate international instrument.
With regard to the possible economic competence of the Opposition party, which was already raised on the Order of Business, when the Irish electorate judges this they know who was in Government when we had the highest rates of inflation, unemployment and borrowing. They make their judgments accordingly.
I wish to speak about the delay in administering the nursing home repayment scheme. What is happening is a disgrace. People who applied in 2006 have not been informed yet whether they will receive money. Others were written to and advised their applications were mislaid and others were sent application forms suggesting their applications were incorrect, which is not right. Will the Minister lay before the Houses of the Oireachtas a report on the nursing home repayment scheme detailing what has been paid, how many applications have been received and what the position is with regard to repayment? Is a quota system per month in operation? People want to know.
What is the situation with regard to the fair deal legislation which was promised more than 12 months ago? Every time we inquire about this, we are told the Bill is coming soon. I hope it will not be sprung on us in the last week prior to concluding our business and rushed through the Houses of the Oireachtas. It needs to be debated. Is the Leader in a position to indicate when we will have the Bill? Will we have it prior to the summer recess or must we wait further? People are in limbo with regard to subsidies for their elderly parents and relatives and they do not know where they are. It is about time the Government clearly indicated what it intends to do in this area.
I welcome today's debate on the Lisbon treaty. It is interesting to see that of the six Independent Senators, four have already declared with two voting "Yes" and two voting "No". I believe the other two of us will declare today. I have been fastidious in my studying of the treaty. I am a member of the Forum on Europe and have attended practically every meeting. I am also a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs. I intend to announce today that I will vote "Yes" and I will discuss that later during the debate on Europe.
In spite of the budget difficulties, I recommend to the Leader that he advises the Government and the Minister for Finance not to endanger the investment in education provided for in the national development plan, particularly in regard to technology and science because our future depends on that. I was impressed as I entered a car park of which I am a registered member recently because the barrier opened before I reached it and as I left the car park, the barrier also opened. This is due to modern technology called vehicle registration identification which enables the machine to read the car registration as it approaches the barrier and it opens automatically. The reason I mention this is Senator Coffey referred to speed cameras and speed limits. Vehicle registration identification is a perfect way of ensuring speed cameras work in a totally different way from what we are used to in cases where people speed up and slow down. This technology could be deployed on every road in Ireland in speed cameras. As one travels between cameras, if one has reached the next camera quicker than one should have, one could be challenged in court immediately.
I was approached by a citizen, Neville Brennan, with a suggestion recently. In the case of the new Eazy Pass for all tolls in Ireland, would it not be a great idea to give people the opportunity to attach the pass to their tax discs? They could have the option to use it. The concept of using technology to do that is worthy of consideration and I intend to pass on that suggestion to the Minister for Transport because it is one sure way of using technology to reduce costs while being of huge benefit to citizens.
I support the amendment to the Order of Business to hold a special debate on the economy with specific reference to the national development plan and frontline services. Economic storm clouds are gathering and we have had three concrete pieces of evidence in recent times——
On the basis of the Davy Stockbrokers report, the FÁS projection that one quarter of building workers are about to lose their jobs and the shortfall in taxes of €430 million in May, the debate is warranted and urgent. The Government must accept responsibility for the lack of money following the boom and the lack of improved public services, which also merits debate. In debating the NDP, will the Leader take into special consideration two issues? The rail system should be developed and no expenditure cuts should apply to its development considering our responsibility relating to carbon emissions and quality of life issues. From an economic, social and quality of life perspective, the rail system is critical. I also support Senator Quinn regarding education and investment in research at third level. I appeal to the Leader to schedule the debate rather than dividing the House in order that we can gain a perspective on this crisis.
I would welcome a debate on the economy, although not necessarily today. I am conscious of how citizens view a Government in given circumstances. The markets collapsed in America in 1929 but it was not until 1930 that the economy went into severe decline and it was 1932 before this affected Europe. That was a different time and place. A Fianna Fáil Government was elected in 1932 and it was in office for 16 years. The reason it stayed in power in the midst of the depression was it looked after all the people to the best of its ability. In more difficult times, which are not a depression, Fianna Fáil and the Government will continue to look after all the people to the best of their ability and will be thanked by them accordingly.
I join Senator de Búrca in welcoming the report Dóchas published earlier. The organisation appeared before the Sub-Committee on Overseas Development last week. Its work is excellent and it is another sign that if we contribute more to overseas development, we will achieve results and we will help to ensure aid reaches the right places.
I agree with Senator Mary White's comments on the involvement of women in politics. I have mentioned previously women comprise only 10% of the Cabinet, which is clearly not enough. Ireland has the second lowest representation of females in government in Europe with only Malta behind it. However, males are not prevalent in some aspects of society. This year fewer males are sitting the leaving certificate examinations than females. Young male underachievement and participation in school are major issues. Will the Leader arrange for the Minister for Education and Science to come to the House to discuss how he is encouraging young males to stay in school because this has implications for crime levels and achievement?
I agree with Senator Alex White's call on the Taoiseach to clarify the issue of concern to SIPTU regarding the Lisbon treaty. We were happy when clarification issued to the IFA earlier this week and the assurances given allowed the association to come on board to support the treaty. The key issue affecting unions and workers is that we will continue to have a strong economy and create and retain jobs. Jobs are very much at the core of the debate on the treaty and the strongest assurance that can be given to workers and future generations is that the treaty and Ireland's deep, ongoing involvement in Europe will be the best way forward for the economy and of ensuring jobs will continue to be created in the numbers they wish. The passage of the treaty is the best guarantee of job security and job creation.
Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Callely, Buttimer, Boyle, Quinn, O'Reilly and Hannigan expressed strong views on matters pertaining to the NDP and the challenges facing the Government. A debate will take place and, hopefully, the new Minister for Finance will attend at the earliest time.
Transport matters were highlighted by Senator Fitzgerald and Senator Quinn referred to speed cameras. I will endeavour to have the debate on that matter take place at the earliest opportunity.
Senator O'Toole sought an update on the proposed transfer of the Seanad from this Chamber to another part of the House. The Cathaoirleach will endeavour to establish the up-to-date position and come back to the Seanad on Wednesday, 18 June. I share Senator O'Toole's serious concerns. It was our clear understanding under the Cathaoirleach's stewardship that we would not leave the Chamber until work had commenced on the main building and we are all in agreement with that.
Senators O'Toole and Coffey raised their great concerns for the fishing industry. This has been highlighted many times by Senator O'Donovan. We are all concerned about this industry and I have no difficulty arranging such a debate. Senators Alex White, de Búrca, Regan, Norris, Boyle and Bradford all expressed their concerns and asked for the Taoiseach to look at the statement by the president of SIPTU, Jack O'Connor, in The Irish Times this morning to try to allay the fears of the workers in SIPTU. As a total of 40% of the members of SIPTU are Fianna Fáil, we will certainly pass on the views of the Senators to the Taoiseach after the Order of Business this morning.
In respect of the Dóchas report and people with disabilities, I certainly have no difficulty in having time left aside for a debate on this. Senator Coffey spoke about road safety, drivers, drink and drug driving and the challenges that face everyone out there. As I said earlier, I have no difficulty in having a debate on this, particularly in respect of county roads and bad bends. If the machinery, staff and employment are in place from November to January in some counties when work is scarce and money tight, one could do a lot with a digger and few trucks in respect of clearing the view on some of the bends if the finances do not otherwise exist. Members of the Opposition would know because nearly all the councils are under Opposition stewardship. To assist the Opposition in respect of this, I can say that we do this in Westmeath and it is very successful. We can get a considerable amount of good safety work done in those quiet months of the year.
Senator Daly highlighted his serious concern and made an apology to the Spanish ambassador in respect to the serious matters the Senator put on the record of this House. In my 27-year membership of the House, I have not heard a Senator make such a strong statement on behalf of the Irish people on many occasions. I have started inquiries following the highlighting of this incident yesterday and am awaiting a response to the serious position in which the Spanish ambassador found himself in respect of Valentia coast guard station which was highlighted by Senator Daly. Hopefully, we will have an update on this for the House on Wednesday, 18 June 2008.
Senators Bacik, Regan, Mary White, Hannigan, Norris and Quinn all spoke about the Lisbon treaty, while Senator Mary White spoke about the votes of women. It concerns the votes of women of all age groups and we should not be ageist in this respect. To reply to Senator Hannigan, I understand that 20%, not 10%, of the Government is female. I also understand that people are appointed to these positions on ability rather than gender, which is the way it should always be. Having said that, I certainly will pass on to the Minister the views of the Senators.
In response to Senator Bacik, I have no difficulty in having female genital mutilation debated here at some time in the near future. Senator Callely again asked me about issues relating to the HSE and the Department of Health and Children. When I get inquiries of this nature, I pass them on to the Minister in charge and I await a response like everybody else. Naturally, I get priority in respect of these matters but the method in the Dáil is different from that in the Seanad. I suggest that any Senator who is not familiar with Standing Orders should familiarise themselves with them. My door is open if they then wish to discuss any part of those Standing Orders they wish me to take to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, and I will be only too pleased to do so.
Senator Cummins inquired about the fair deal legislation. This is the health (long term residential care services) Bill which the Seanad knows is to provide for a new structure of financial support for persons requiring residential care in public and private nursing homes. I understand this is at a very advanced stage before publication. It is only a matter of weeks, and possibly not even that, before it will be published. I will come back to the Senator when I get an update on this. I agree with the sentiments expressed by Senator Cummins here this morning in respect of the urgency of this matter.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 18 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Jerry Buttimer, Paudie Coffey, Maurice Cummins, Pearse Doherty, Paschal Donohoe, Frances Fitzgerald, Dominic Hannigan, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, Joe O'Reilly, Joe O'Toole, John Paul Phelan, Feargal Quinn, Eugene Regan, Shane Ross, Alex White)
Against the motion: 24 (Dan Boyle, Martin Brady, Larry Butler, Ivor Callely, Ciarán Cannon, John Carty, Donie Cassidy, Mark Daly, Déirdre de Búrca, John Ellis, Geraldine Feeney, John Gerard Hanafin, Cecilia Keaveney, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Fiona O'Malley, Ned O'Sullivan, Ann Ormonde, Kieran Phelan, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Maurice Cummins and Paudie Coffey; Níl, Senators Déirdre de Búrca and Diarmuid Wilson.
Amendment declared lost.