Wednesday, 18 June 2008
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re Thornton Hall prison development, which is back from committee, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of the Business; No. 2, motion re Planning and Development Regulations 2008, for referral to committee, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 1; No. 4, Broadcasting Bill 2008 — Committee Stage (Resumed), to be taken not earlier than 12.45 p.m., to adjourn not later than 3 p.m. and to resume at the conclusion of No. 5, if not previously concluded; No. 5; statements on older persons; and No. 27, Private Members' business, motion re the national drugs strategy, to be taken at 5.30 p.m. and to conclude not later than 7.30 p.m.
Regarding No. 5, it is proposed to postpone these statements until tomorrow morning and, instead, to have statements on the Lisbon reform treaty, to be taken not earlier than 3.30 p.m. and to conclude not later than 5.30 p.m. Spokespersons may speak for five minutes and all other Members may speak for six minutes. Senators may share time by agreement of the House. The business of the House will be interrupted from 3 p.m. to 3.30 p.m.
Since this House last sat, the Irish people have exercised their most sovereign right by voting in a referendum. In doing so, they have rejected the Lisbon treaty. We will discuss this in detail later today and there will be much analysis of the reasons for that rejection. However, I take this opportunity to state that we must respect the decision of the people. The vast majority of Members of this and the other House saw the Lisbon treaty proposals as offering great advantages for the State and, therefore, set out to support the Government in securing a positive outcome for the referendum. We did so because we recognised the positive future the Lisbon treaty proposals would create.
For a variety of reasons, however, the people were not persuaded to take the same view as that of the vast majority of Oireachtas Members. We will not have time to do so comprehensively today but we need to analyse the variety of reasons that people rejected the treaty. We must take seriously the concerns that have been expressed. In the last few days of canvassing, I was struck by the significant concerns expressed by women in regard to the defence issues and their fears regarding conscription. I was surprised that people were so concerned by this. It signified an underlying anxiety about the direction in which the European Union is moving. We in the Oireachtas may have debated the issues adequately but as far as the public is concerned, there was insufficient debate to allow them confidently to vote "Yes". That is a shame.
My concern now is that we may see the development of a two-tier Union. Ireland should be at the centre of Europe. We will watch with interest the ongoing reaction from our European partners to this vote and the Government's efforts to resolve the complex issues involved. This issue comes at a critical time. We have always seen our economic future within Europe and we all recognise the advantages the EU has given us. We are facing an extraordinarily serious economic situation, with the collapse of public private partnerships, a stagnant housing market and the highest ever increase in unemployment. Despite claims to the contrary, my colleagues will all agree that we are seeing cutbacks to front-line services. There are cutbacks in home care packages, a lack of contract beds and no speech therapy services in many areas, while area medical officers are not being appointed so no assessments can be made, for example, for domiciliary care allowance and in many parts of Dublin general practitioner services are not available due to the shortage of general practitioners. We need an economic plan and a solution to the Lisbon treaty issue.
I am very concerned that whenever Members on this side of the House have highlighted the economic crisis in recent months the reaction on the Government side of the House has been close to a state of denial. I call on the Taoiseach to come to this House when he returns from his meetings this week and outline his assessment of the economic situation facing the country and his economic plan to deal with the financial crisis we are in at present. That is a priority for this House. I hope the Leader will invite the Taoiseach to the House next week for that purpose.
I wish to raise a number of issues but before doing so I seek a ruling from the Chair with regard to No. 1 on the Order of Business, relating to Thornton Hall. I have a close personal interest in this matter but I am not raising it as a personal issue and I am not seeking an amendment to the Order of Business. However, this is different from almost any order the House has dealt with previously. The House is acting in loco for An Bord Pleanála under section 26 of the Act. My concern is that we are not being seen to exercise discretion when we propose to take this matter without debate.
I have spoken on this issue both in this House and in the justice committee so I am not seeking a debate for my sake. However, I am anxious to get a clear ruling on this. My view is that it is dangerous to take this matter without debate lest any Member wishes to say something about it. A number of cases have been lost in the High Court recently where similar decisions were taken by bodies which were not able to point to where they exercised discretion or formed a judgment. I believe this is an important issue. I am not proposing an amendment to the Order of Business but I am anxious to have it on the record that I raised this matter because I believe it leaves it open to challenge.
I support the points made by Senator Fitzgerald about the Order of Business. It is important to acknowledge that the Irish people have taken a democratic decision, and it behoves us to accept that decision. It is unacceptable to hear people such as President Sarkozy proclaim himself bemused by our decision. I did not like the decision and, indeed, opposed it but that decision has now been taken. President Sarkozy might be better employed finding out why we have spent the last two years trying to clean up the difficulties created by his country taking a democratic decision. It is no different, much as I dislike it.
On the other hand while we must accept democracy, if I had given up on an issue every time a vote on it was lost, I would have stopped talking about 30 years ago. The people who won the referendum should be aware that winning a vote does not mean one is right. I cheered when democracy gave us Robert Mugabe but found out some years later that I was wrong. It was the same democracy that gave us George Bush and, indeed, Adolf Hitler. In fact, it was democracy when Barabbas was chosen and a finer man was left to swing. The fact that it is a democratic decision does not mean it is the right decision. We must accept the decision but we must also proceed on that basis.
It is a clear decision and I accept the point that we must work our way through it and examine the reasons that people voted against the treaty. Somebody will have to explain to the people in Roscommon that even though they voted "No", they will not get their hospital.
People must explain these matters to the electorate. That is the reality. We now need to examine how we will take the matter forward. We will discuss it this afternoon and I will put forward my views on how to proceed, what issues must be sorted out and what our agenda on Europe should be in the future. We must work our way through it.
The issue raised by Senator Fitzgerald is crucial. It would be an absolute disaster if the debate on the Lisbon treaty were to overshadow the extraordinary economic difficulties we are facing at present. I ask the Leader to allocate a full day as soon as possible to discuss the economy. The issues concern not only cutbacks but all aspects of the economy. I would like if the Minister for Finance or the Taoiseach were to come into the House and tell us how bad or how good is the situation and outline what course of action can be taken. Let us hear it and let us make decisions, particularly for those of us who are neither in Government nor members of the Opposition. We want to be in a position where we have all the information and can recognise and evaluate proposals and decisions. That is crucially important. I call for a debate on the economy as soon as possible.
It is not a matter of discretion or opinion as to whether the view of the Irish people should be respected or accepted, it is a constitutional imperative that it be so. I regard it as almost something that goes without saying, but I will say it just in case there is any doubt. Of course, one must respect and accept the result of the referendum last week. If it requires to be said, I am happy to do so. The fact is, and my colleagues have touched on this, it does not end there because there is no question that the Lisbon treaty is finished and is dead in the eyes of the Irish people. The treaty that was put to them last week is dead, but by voting as we did we have not necessarily rendered it dead in the eyes of our European partners.
While we cannot ratify it, that does not mean that our decision does not have implications and consequences throughout Europe and with our partners in Europe. We can feel good about the fact that the treaty is finished and is dead in our eyes but we cannot make it finished and dead in the eyes of others. These are the consequences we and the Government, in particular, have to face. I do not underestimate the task and the seriousness and the depth of the challenge that faces the Government in the context of the economic challenges to which Senators Fitzgerald and O'Toole have referred.
I am glad we have ordered an initial debate this afternoon on this issue. I support that call. Sometimes eyes glaze over when this point is made but it is important to make it at this juncture. What is the nature of the debate we need to have? It cannot be just a squabble over who did what when, where there were posters and where there were none, who was out on the street and who was not. By all means, let us have that debate if people feel it is necessary but a much more fundamental debate is needed which has to do with the question of trust in democratic institutions and trust in the very practice of politics in this country. By that I do not mean I am frustrated that the people would not do what the politicians suggested they do.
Senator de Búrca made the point in the newspapers at some stage during the campaign that it must be asked why, in such serious issues, we should expect people to handle a complex issue presented to them for decision four weeks before a referendum, in circumstances where we do not have a real continuing debate about these issues. We have such debates here but we do not have them in the community. That is the level at which the debate has to be had. The question of trust and the question of democratic institutions are all bound up in the result last week. Some of the innovations contained in the Broadcasting Bill might assist in that regard.
There should be a public forum on television and in other areas of the media where people can have an opportunity to tease out these issues in great detail rather than simply presenting them with a complex document a few weeks before the referendum. As Senator Fitzgerald and others have said it will be difficult, although necessary, to analyse the reasons people voted "No". In many cases they are directly contradictory. There are people who thought the charter of fundamental rights did not go far enough and there are those who thought we should not have it. There are directly conflicting views.
It is all very well for people to come forward with a wish list, whether it is Sinn Féin, Libertas or anybody else. I have a wish list. We can all have one. The question is whether we can deliver it. By all means, let us have a debate about the aftermath but let us have a more fundamental debate about what it means and how we can improve the quality of our public discourse on issues such as this.
I would like to start by commenting on the vote last week of the Irish public in regard to the Lisbon treaty. This is the first opportunity the House has had to discuss the outcome of that vote. We are in a situation we did not predict. There was a resounding "No" vote to the Lisbon treaty and it is a difficult position for Ireland to be in. I wish the Taoiseach good luck tomorrow when he attends the summit in Brussels because he is in a difficult position. I agree with the approach he has taken to date, which is that there are no quick fixes, that we have to be measured, take our time and remain calm and look to protect Ireland's interests but also to negotiate with our European partners, see what their view of the situation is and how we can all move together. It is a complex situation.
It was disturbing to see in The Irish Times this morning the result of a European Commission telephone poll, which indicated that 40% of the people who voted "No" said they did so because they did not understand the treaty. That goes back to the point raised by Senator Alex White that we must do a better job of communicating Europe on an ongoing basis to the people of this country and other member states because it is not fair to expect them to be able to digest complex legal treaties in the space of a couple of weeks and to make an informed decision on them.
We should avoid political recriminations even though people are looking for someone to blame. I was amused to see this morning that Commissioner Peter Mandelson was finding fault with the Government. The same charge could equally be levied at him, as he was a target for a lot of criticism in the Irish campaign. We should avoid that kind of political recrimination. What we have to look for now are constructive ways forward. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Foreign Affairs to address the House on how he envisages we can move forward. He has been to the Council of Ministers meeting yesterday and has had an opportunity to take the temperature and to identify how the ministers of the other member states are feeling.
The issue is not just about the Lisbon treaty. The same problems have emerged previously. I have been involved in the campaign on the Amsterdam treaty, the Nice treaty and recently the Lisbon treaty and there is a serious issue about the support of the citizens of Europe for the project. People are not engaged in the way they should be. Most European leaders are very honest in saying that if they had put the treaty to the public in the various member states, very few of them could have guaranteed that they would have had a level of support that would have carried the treaty. We need to accept that and ask what can be done to address the democratic deficit. We also need to look creatively at how we can do that because if we manage to somehow salvage the treaty and not address that fundamental issue we will face further difficulties in the future and that is not in any of our interests.
I welcome the publication of the recommendations of the commission set up to review constituency boundaries. The results have been positive. The remit that was given to the commission——
I will take that on board. Colleagues have already mentioned the Lisbon treaty and like many others I voted "Yes" in spite of the Government campaign rather than because of it. In a debate in this House before the treaty referendum took place I made the point to the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs that the Government campaign had been badly run and that in particular there was an absence of women's voices on the part of the Government's "Yes" campaign. As people on the Government side have pointed out, there are three women Ministers in Cabinet. Three out of 15 is just 20% but far less than 20% of the Ministers speaking on the Lisbon treaty were female.
That is a fair point. It shows a lot of problems with the way in which the campaign was run. It also confirms the need to reiterate a call I made previously on the Leader for a debate on women's representation in politics. That is an important point and it was shown up by the treaty result.
Will the Leader consider an amendment to the Order of Business to allow us to take the motion on Thornton Hall with debate? As my colleague, Senator O'Toole, has said, this is a very important issue on which this and the other House is being asked to sit as a sort of planning authority to make a decision as to whether this enormous super-prison structure will go ahead. It is very important for us to have such a debate in this House. We have had some debate before and I have certainly spoken about the matter here and in the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights. However, other colleagues should have the opportunity to speak on the matter. A guillotined debate took place in the other House last night. It would be a travesty to ask us to pass the motion without debate given its importance not only for the local community but also for our criminal justice policy generally. I call for an amendment to the Order of Business to enable us to debate the matter today.
I warmly welcome of the decision of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to proceed with a number of consultations on the Green Paper on local government reform. This is a very innovative measure. While I know we are running out of time in this session, certainly after summer when the consultations have been completed it would be opportune to indulge in a meaningful debate on local government, especially as it affects town local government. Many in this Chamber will realise that many towns that were previously villages have grown to be far larger than they used to be and therefore it would be meritorious for them to have a town council to give the people of those population centres a voice.
On a related matter I am very pleased to inform the Seanad that the Minister, Deputy Gormley, addressed this morning's meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to give his proposals on the compilation of the electoral register. He has warmly welcomed the report of the Oireachtas joint committee. That is a welcome development which I hope will resolve many of the difficulties we all know exist at election time. After elections we all complain about the deficiencies in the electoral register. Let us hope that will become a thing of the past.
The Government blew it. The campaign was too little, too late, which is why we got the result we did. If the Taoiseach was in control of his party and given that Fianna Fáil has an opinion poll rating of 42%, where were those people on 12 June?
We will debate the matter this afternoon. Those on the "No" side, including Libertas and Sinn Féin have argued for a renegotiation. The logic of a renegotiation is that what is renegotiated must be ratified either by the Oireachtas or by the people in a referendum. The logic of their case for a "No" vote in this referendum is that another referendum will take place on the Lisbon treaty with guarantees or whatever opt-outs might be negotiated.
The limited scope for renegotiation is illustrated today with the British Parliament proceeding with ratification of the Lisbon treaty. We are in a very difficult situation. While we in Ireland may say the treaty is dead, the reality is that the rest of Europe does not believe so. However, I will continue my comments in this afternoon's debate.
I thank the Leader of the House for arranging a debate on the outcome of the Lisbon reform treaty referendum so speedily. When we applied for membership of the then European Economic Community back in the 1960s we were rebuffed on at least one occasion. The French refused to accept Britain and Ireland at that time. However, that did not stop us from going back and applying again. We were eventually accepted and have become leading members of the European Union. A democratic decision was taken last Thursday by a tight margin. There is, however, nothing in the Constitution to prevent a question being put to the people twice. It happened in the divorce referendum when people voted "No" initially and "Yes" when the question was put again. It was easier to put the "No" point of view in the first campaign and to defeat that proposal at that time because I was on that side of the campaign. The Nice treaty was rejected in the first referendum and then accepted. We should have very careful consideration. Time is on our side. Most of the provisions of the Lisbon reform treaty do not come into place until well into the future.
People did not get the full picture. The fact that the treaty document was not circulated to every home was damaging to the campaign because people wondered what there was to hide. Whether it was read or not does not matter. People must have the document. They were voting on the reform treaty and surely they needed a copy. There is no point asking people to go to a library, post office or Garda station. The people on the "No" side said they had the treaty and would provide copies. These are the lessons that must be learned.
I was not impressed by the Referendum Commission's advertising campaign showing photographs of half bodies with the slogan "Get the full story". This implied people did not have the full story and something was being hidden. The advertising agency which prepared those advertisements should be reviewed as to whether it will be appointed in the next campaign. We will have that debate later.
As former Deputy Frank Cluskey said when people asked him how he lost his seat, "I didn't get enough votes". We did not get enough votes last Thursday and hopefully we will have another opportunity in the next 12 or 18 months to put this case before the people and decide when we get full and careful clarification and consideration on all the issues raised. It is a shame the Charter of Fundamental Rights was so misrepresented that it would allow the introduction of abortion, which is totally prohibited under section 40 of the Constitution. It was a shameful exercise by the "No" campaigners. So be it. We fought it out, the game is over for now but let us have a rematch.
What are the Leader's intentions on the Electricity Regulation (Amendment) (EirGrid) Bill scheduled for tomorrow? Does he intend to proceed with that in the morning bearing in mind that he has moved the Broadcasting Bill to tomorrow? I agree with Senator de Búrca regarding the publication of the local election boundary provisions. I, too, believe three-seat constituencies are not the way forward. It is good news to see constituencies with a higher number of seats. However, I ask Senator de Búrca to impress on her leader the need to reform other three-seat constituencies, such as in this House. It is time we saw some movement on Seanad reform. Could she bring that to her leader and see if we can have something on it in the next few months?
There will be much analysis of last weeks' referendum result. I picked up on the low turnout, just over 50%, although we had one of the most intensive and divisive campaigns in living memory. There was a very low turnout. It reminded me of the fact that three years ago the Taoiseach established a task force on active citizenship. It reported two years ago and one of its recommendations was to try to increase turnout up to 80%. We have heard nothing on these recommendations from the active citizenship report in the last two years. It contained some very good ideas and I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to the House to tell us what he will do about implementing those recommendations.
In this time of sharp economic downturn I agree with the comments of my colleague, Senator Fitzgerald. There is great shock on the wide price gulf between North and South. I refer to basic foodstuffs, for which the supermarket giants charge double in the South. All our National Consumer Agency says to the people is "shop around" while it conducts surveys. I wonder if it is a toothless wonder. The euro has gained in value and there are other factors in our favour, yet nothing has been passed on for consumers in the South. In our part of the country we seem to have price matching rather than price reduction. Much of the blame can be laid at the Government's door because of the removal of the groceries order. We have no price control. There is a strong argument for its reintroduction, perhaps in modified form, to protect the weaker sections of our community and to protect all those on low wages who will be affected more because of the recession we are in. These are the people we should move to protect. I would like the Leader at an early juncture to arrange for the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to come to the House for a debate. I would like to hear in a concrete way what the National Consumer Agency is doing about this.
I look forward to the debate on the Lisbon treaty. What all Senators seem to be saying is that winning the vote does not guarantee ultimate success. Of course, we live in a changing society and the arguments are already shifting. In line with all other speakers, I believe the analysis of the consequences are hugely important for us.
On another issue to which I referred some weeks ago, will the Leader provide for a debate on the local electoral area changes announced yesterday, perhaps in conjunction with the constituency boundary changes? We still do not have that Bill.
I very much welcome that this House has responded so immediately to the situation after the referendum on the Lisbon treaty and I congratulate the Leader on taking this action. I had actually submitted a Standing Order 30 motion that this was a matter of urgent national importance but I have withdrawn it in light of this welcome move.
We are in a remarkable situation. I, for the first time, voted and spoke against the treaty. I did so because of the insulting way in which people like Mr. Giscard d'Estaing made it clear that the treaty and its language were deliberately obfuscated to sell a pup to an ignorant Irish electorate who would do what they were told by their electoral masters. That is a rough translation of what he said. Then, there was the performance of our own leaders, which was regrettable, saying they had not read the treaty and that one would be foolish to try. At least Senator Regan read the treaty. I think he brought it in every day and gave us a lecture about it, but at least he stuck to his guns and he appeared to know what he was talking about.
Senator Fitzgerald referred to a two-speed Europe possibly developing. The two-speed Europe is already here. There is the speed at which the megalocrats in Europe want to drive the institutions and the speed which the general population of Europe want — the Irish people are by no means alone in this.
That is profoundly undemocratic, as is the response of some of the leaders of Europe, who should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.
If there is egg on faces, the massive quantity of it should land on the people in Brussels who attempted to bully and hector, and who said we would be punished economically and would be the first victims financially. There were even people saying we should give back what we got. We got nothing to which we were not fully and legally entitled; of that there is no question. We also gave a hell of a lot. We gave our best expertise and the brains that helped to drive the Community. At the top of the Community, one will find Irish people giving loyal service. The Irish people are loyal to Europe but when they are treated like fools, when they are treated with contempt, when they are treated with a lack of respect for democracy——
I am sick of asking questions in this House. I asked a series of very detailed questions about the military aspects of the treaty — that was why I voted against it — including the European Defence Agency, coyly renamed from the Western European Armaments Group, and the redefinition of the Petersberg tasks to include intervention in a third country because of a threat of terrorism, which is what got the United States into Iraq. That is why I am worried.
I am moving an amendment to the Order of Business today because of my concerns. I want No. 27, motion 15, concerning rendition, to be taken today. It shows how we are already compromised by this Government. As we speak, aeroplane No. N54PA is on the tarmac at Shannon Airport. Commandant Ed Horgan, who was on the platform with me as the voice of the people against Lisbon for this military reason, is detained at Shannon Airport. He is not allowed to leave the airport. He has requested the Garda to search that aeroplane which was in Guantanamo on 3 June this year. Attempts are being made to remove the camera which he legally possesses and destroy the film. For that reason, and because I got no answers to any of these questions about the increasing militarisation of Europe, I am moving an amendment to the Order of Business.
I second Senator Bacik's amendment to the Order of Business. I also have spoken on the issue of Thornton Hall and consider it regrettable that it is proposed to develop a mental hospital beside the prison. I am glad to see the Roman Catholic bishops came out strongly on this issue.
Will the Leader request the Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs with responsibility for integration policy, Deputy Conor Lenihan, to explain to the House the situation that has arisen in respect of Integrate Ireland Language and Training Limited? This is a non-profit campus company of Trinity College which was established in co-operation with the Government to provide language skill courses to newly arrived refugees, asylum seekers and programme people. It employed 40 full-time staff and trained teachers. It has developed a programme and a website.
This is a scandal. Its headquarters at the old veterinary college were sold and it was told it was to move to Greendale community school. It has now been told, however, that it is being axed and the Department of Education and Science has put out a press statement that misleadingly suggests it is going voluntarily. This is wrong. We must have an explanation why these 40 teachers are being let go and why newly arrived programme refugees from Burma and Sudan are being left swinging in the air, so to speak.
I join other Senators in asking the Leader to arrange a debate on the economy as a matter of urgency. He has been living in denial for the past 12 months. Inflation has increased to 4.7%, VAT on retail sales is down by 8% and, as Senator Coghlan rightly noted, consumers are suffering. These consumers are the people of Ireland, the men and women who go about their daily business, but they have gained no refuge from this Government.
Twelve months ago, the Green Party sailed into Government promising the sun, moon and stars. The only thing they have done is turn the Celtic tiger into a Celtic snail. I hope Senators Boyle and de Búrca will take heart in that.
Thanks to the Government of which they are part, 200,000 people are unemployed today. The ordinary decent people are facing the cut backs in health and education which the Minister for Health and Children promised this House would not be made.
I welcome the commission's report on constituency boundaries but, unlike Senator de Búrca, I have a fundamental difficulty with the way it proceeded with its business in regard to Cork city and county. It is wrong that a two-tier Cork city has been created because of the way seats have been allocated.
I thank the Leader for allowing us time to reflect on the Lisbon treaty. It is especially appropriate in this House, where the issues were not properly debated before the referendum. We will be debating in somewhat of a vacuum because there is no plan B or C. There is simply no plan.
They had no plan on what to do if this occurred. It may be a disaster for the political parties who advocated it but it is not a disaster for those who voted for it. I am somewhat tired and I do not indulge in any triumphalism because it is a difficult situation for everybody but I do not think we should say we respect the decision of the Irish people and then say they were wrong and will be bypassed. We should say that we accept, not respect, what the Irish people have said. We have to deal with the situation into which we have been thrust. We should not speak about people being able to make an informed decision.
I am about to conclude.
People made a perfectly informed decision. It was just as well informed as that of Members. It is patronising to suggest that the people made their decision because they were ignorant of what was happening. Those who voted "No" and those who voted "Yes" did so for different reasons. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. There were legitimate, good reasons on both sides. Those who voted "Yes" did so for myriad reasons, as did those who voted "No".
During this afternoon's debate we should accept what happened and focus on what Senator Regan said. I agree with him in respect of this matter. The treaty is going to be renegotiated because it can be improved and made acceptable. We should indicate that one of the ways we can extricate ourselves from this matter is by presenting to the people a treaty which is acceptable to them. I have no difficulty with a second referendum being held, provided it is not conducted in the same manner and with the same direction and as long as tax guarantees to corporates, which are not contained in the treaty as it stands, are provided.
Notwithstanding what Senator Ross stated, it is my observation that members of the public are fed up of and cynical about our being obliged to put referenda to them on a second occasion. If there is one lesson we need to learn it is that the Government must get matters right on the first occasion. On many occasions prior to the referendum, I reported to the House the findings of a survey I carried out on the streets of Galway. When carrying out that survey, I discovered that nine out of ten people were of the view that the treaty was not explained properly.
I have been educated in recent days. I met young people at Irish college and students and their teachers. One 12 year old with whom I spoke presented me with a note in which he stated that the outcome of the referendum was that the "No" side won and that when the campaign started the Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen, told the people to vote "Yes", while the "No" side told them about the contents of the treaty.
Yes, I apologise. However, I ask the Leas-Chathaoirleach to bear with me. The boy in question included on the note a drawing of the Taoiseach stating "Vote yes right now!" and of those on the "No" side stating "How the Lisbon treaty worksis . . . ". The children to whom I spoke were incredibly engaged by the treaty and they basically stated that those on the "Yes" side did not explain the treaty.
I call on the Minister for Finance to urgently consider ways to reduce the cost of doing business in this country. In that context, I refer, in particular, to the rising price of diesel and how this is impacting on business. I call on the Green Party to consider this matter. We must examine ways to reduce the excise duty on diesel in order that we might get the country moving again. I spoke to wholesalers of diesel in Galway who indicated that their output has decreased by 10%, even though the cost of diesel is rising, because business is falling off. The Government takes in more than €1 billion each year in excise duty.
I am glad a debate on the Lisbon treaty is being held later today. Prior to the referendum, the House engaged in quite a lengthy debate, over approximately six or seven weeks, on the treaty. It would be worthwhile focusing today's debate on what is needed following the rejection of the Lisbon treaty by the people of this State.
It should be stated that the Lisbon treaty is dead. I hope a new treaty will emerge that deals with the loss of power, issues of neutrality, public services and worker rights. If it deals with those issues positively, it would be a treaty I could recommend to the Irish people.
The idea, even at this early stage, of talking about a Lisbon II is just not good enough. The idea that we will accept the rights of the people and at the same time scare them into——
I caution elected Members on this as I understand most were on the "Yes" side of the campaign. We should not try to scare the Irish people into thinking they made the wrong decision. Thank God our Constitution makes the people sovereign rather than the politicians here. The Irish people were to decide the outcome of this question, they have done so and we must accept that. On our part, we want to work with the Government to try to negotiate a better deal.
Will the Leader facilitate a debate on the economy? There is no doubt we need a full-day debate on the matter as the number of people losing their jobs on a week by week basis is alarming. There is much fear out there and there is to be another increase in mortgage interest rates. People are concerned about the rise in inflation, ESB bills and other aspects that put them under pressure. We must have that debate.
In my county we have lost 2,000 jobs in the past year. Donegal has the highest unemployment levels at this time but the problem is not unique to Donegal. It is happening right across the State. I ask the Leader to invite the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Mary Coughlan, to the Chamber for a debate on her plan for dealing with the current position.
As we were informed earlier, there is only a certain number of sitting days left in this term before the summer recess. Is it proposed that the Seanad will sit the first week in July? I note the Labour Party has put forward, by means of Private Members' business in the Dáil, a proposal, which Sinn Féin supports, to increase the number of sitting days. The Seanad should sit through the summer regardless of what the Dáil does — we are an independent Chamber — to deal with some of the issues we want debated on the economy.
This year may be the first that we have not had a debate on the Irish language or on the North. Will those debates be facilitated before the end of the term?
In advance of a meeting with the HSE on Friday in Athlone, will the Leader investigate through the Department of Health and Children home care packages in the midlands area? There have been serious cutbacks in this area as is evident by the number of people who have contacted me, in particular a 58-year-old man who suffered a brain injury who is taking up a very expensive rehab bed in Mullingar. The service costs between €5,000 and €7,000 per week.
Professor Drumm continues to talk about saving money for the HSE but only ten hours of an assistance package can be provided for the man in question to go home. That leaves five hours lacking. Health professionals have contacted me to try to secure the extra five hours. The budget of the Carers' Association has been cut by €40,000 and new applications are not being opened. I want the Department of Health and Children to provide answers in regard to home care packages in the midlands before we attend that meeting on Friday afternoon.
I asked about the case of another man approximately four weeks ago who also suffered from a brain injury. He is at home with no back-up facilities.
Another issue relates to the patient treatment fund. Will the Leader inquire about the length of time it takes for a hip replacement under the National Treatment Purchase Fund?
I would like to be able to tell the House that I would do so in exchange for Senator Norris withdrawing some of his demands relating to marriage and the family. I will not mislead the House as we are not ad idem on every issue. I am very happy to second this very good amendment to the Order of Business.
I welcome that we will have a debate on the Lisbon treaty. I note a comment in The Irish Times this morning suggests the Government strategy appears to be to buy time until the real attitudes of other member states become clear while allowing the Irish public to note that other states are continuing to ratify the treaty. If this is an accurate report of the state of affairs it is to be regretted because, as my colleague Senator Ross said, listening to the people is not simply a matter of saying one respects their opinion and then seek to undermine it at the first opportunity.
The rejection of the Lisbon treaty last Thursday presents us with a long-awaited opportunity to reflect in a serious way on what Ireland wants the European Union to be in 50 years and where Ireland will be in it.
However, it seems the Irish people have voted "No" to cultural uniformity. I ask the Government to take the time to listen carefully to people and be open to representing their precise will in negotiations with our European partners. I ask that the Government does not, in any way, behave apologetically regarding the decision of the Irish people in those dealings.
I have a couple of issues to raise and am glad the Leader has allowed time this afternoon for a debate on the Lisbon treaty in the aftermath of the referendum result, as it is opportune.
I am struck by some of the comments by some of the people on the "No" side of the argument. Many of my friends and neighbours voted "No" and each of them has given me a different reason for doing so. I accept Senator Ross's point that those who voted "Yes" also did so for different reasons but the notion that the Government or anyone acting on our behalf can go to our European colleagues and get a new agreement that is acceptable to everyone who voted "No" is unrealistic. I am appalled by the hypocrisy of some of those involved on the "No" side who have opposed every treaty that has been put to the Irish people since we joined the European Union.
They put forward the notion that they would support a better deal if one were negotiated when everyone knows they would not support any deal negotiated on the European Union. There is an element, small though it may be, among those who opposed the Lisbon treaty that would wish us to leave the European Union. Contrary to what these people say in their public statements they wish us to leave.
I have two issues on which I wish to raise questions. Can the Leader, at the earliest possible opportunity, arrange a debate on the boundary report for local elections that was published yesterday? The local and European elections are less than a year away and I feel we should have a discussion on this matter as soon as possible — certainly before the summer recess.
I join other speakers in requesting a debate on the economy.
We have not had one since the new Taoiseach took office and a new array of Ministers are now in office dealing with economic matters. I wish to place particular emphasis on price increases, as mentioned by Senator Coghlan, especially fuel costs. In Government the Green Party is against reducing excise on fuel but this is regrettable. The Government has capitalised to an unfair degree on the increase in fuel costs in recent months and it would be opportune for consideration to be given to this.
Before I respond I want to clarify that No. 4, Broadcasting Bill 2008 — Committee Stage, is to resume not earlier than 11.45 a.m. and to adjourn not later than 3 p.m., if not previously concluded. I said 12.45 p.m. earlier but meant to say 11.45 a.m. In addition, with regard to the debate on the Lisbon treaty, I propose that spokespersons have seven minutes and all other Senators have five minutes, and Senators may share time. That will take place from 3.30 p.m. to 5.30 p.m.
Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Alex White, de Búrca, Bacik, Regan, Leyden, Coghlan, Norris, Buttimer, Healy Eames, Doherty, Mullen and John Paul Phelan all expressed their views on the Lisbon treaty referendum. I agree that the views of the people and the decision of the electorate must be clearly respected and are sacrosanct as far as we, as democrats — people who are elected to high office in the Dáil or Seanad on behalf of the people of Ireland — are concerned. We must respect this. However, I must also point out to the House that a 4% swing would have given a "Yes" vote. One would swear it was a landslide victory.
I congratulate the 53% of the Irish population who came out to vote in the referendum, which was a very high proportion. These people must be commended. We all know that 10% of the electorate are not available to vote for one reason or another in any election. There are also those less fortunate people who are sick in hospital, those on holidays and so on. In view of this, 53% was a very high turnout. A 4% swing would have given a decisive victory to the "Yes" side. Those who are trying to blame the Taoiseach or anyone else should remember that the Taoiseach's county of Offaly overwhelmingly voted "Yes", whereas in Mayo, as Senator Healy Eames knows——
Experience is a wonderful asset in life. Having listened to all the comments here this morning, my opinion is that the father of the House, Senator Ross, has given us the benefit of his enormous experience. I agree with much of his contribution and I will listen attentively later to all the contributions on this very urgent matter. I thank the leaders for their co-operation with regard to changing the Order of Business to allow me to arrange this debate. I anticipated, as did my personal staff in my office, that this urgent matter would need to be taken on the floor of Seanad Éireann before the Taoiseach departs for his very important meeting in Brussels tomorrow. I wish him well on behalf of the people of Ireland in his serious and onerous task of letting Europe know that we still want to be part of the Union that has brought us into the 21st century and has given our future generations a major opportunity that many of us did not have when we were being reared in the Ireland of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.
I gave my word to the House that we would have this debate before the summer recess. This is particularly needed now, as Senator John Paul Phelan correctly pointed out, since we have had changes in the Cabinet and a new Taoiseach. As Senator MacSharry reminded me, we had a full and lengthy debate on the economy in this session. However, the challenges facing our country due to the global downturn mean the economic situation is changing by the month. I certainly do not want the House to go into the summer recess without getting an update from Government on the present economic climate and the difficulties and challenges that will be faced in the six months before the next budget.
Senators de Búrca, Hannigan, Coghlan, Glynn, Buttimer and John Paul Phelan called for a debate on the review of constituency boundaries for local elections. There have been many changes in this area, and Senators from every county were yesterday contacted by anxious local authority members who were trying to find out what their fates and their political futures would be. I previously represented a three-seat constituency in the north of Westmeath, which has now become a four-seat constituency. It is certainly a change for us, but when it was previously a four-seat constituency we won three seats out of four, as Senator McFadden will recall. It was no accident, because we did it back-to-back, which was a marvellous achievement.
I look forward to playing my part in achieving this again in the next local election for the political party in the Midlands.
Senator Bacik called for a debate on women in politics. I have no difficulty in arranging this and I applaud anyone who encourages women, and young women in particular, to get involved in public life. It is a difficult life but it is rewarding to serve one's community. Senator Glynn called for a debate on local government reform and on local town councils in particular. I have no difficulty in allocating time for this. This debate can also encompass the new approach of which the Minister informed the Joint Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government this morning. I will leave aside time for this, but not before the summer recess.
Senator Hannigan asked whether I intended to take the Electricity Regulation (Amendment) (EirGrid) Bill tomorrow. As the Senator knows, this Bill must go through the Dáil before it comes to the Seanad. However, because of the debate on the Lisbon treaty referendum in the Dáil today, which will take five hours, this may not happen. With the permission of the leaders and spokespersons, I propose to leave this until next week. Tomorrow's business will be statements on older people, which was to take place this afternoon but cannot now take place because of the debate on the Lisbon treaty referendum.
It is Lisbon.
Senator Hannigan mentioned Seanad reform. Many Senators opposite will not be interested in this, but the Seanad reform committee is having a meeting with the Minister at 4 p.m. today. I assure the House that real Seanad reform will take place under my leadership. We can update the Seanad on this, particularly as most leaders are represented on the committee. I hope we will be able to take this a stage further this afternoon at our meeting with the Minister.
Senators Coghlan and Buttimer stated their serious concerns with regard to high prices in our department stores compared to prices in the UK. They propose to call the new Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Mary Coughlan, to the House to let their views be known. The Senators also requested that the grocery order decision of the committee be reviewed during such a debate at which the Minister would be present. I have no difficulty in setting aside time for such a debate.
Senators Norris and Mullen proposed an amendment to the Order of Business. I am not in a position to take the matter they propose today, even though I have always tried to facilitate Senators to the fullest extent possible. In regard to statements on the Lisbon reform treaty to be taken today, Senator Norris has a matter on the Order in this regard. I ask the Senators to reconsider their matter and we will consider it — without my making a commitment in that respect — at another time. I ask the House to co-operate with us as far as possible because it is important we get through the business proposed for today if possible.
On the matter Senator Norris raised regarding the appointment of a Minister with responsibility for integration, I will make inquiries and report back to him directly on this.
In response to Senator Doherty, I confirm that the House will sit during the second week of July because of pressure of business and the urgent matters and challenges facing us as legislators and facing the nation and Government.
Senator McFadden made inquiries regarding a meeting to be held on Friday in Athlone concerning home care packages and all the various issues regarding the HSE. I will use my good offices as a Senator, and Senator McFadden can also use her good offices, to ascertain this information. I will do everything I can——
The Leader's position, as provided for in Standing Orders, is to propose the business of the Seanad on sitting days and to propose when the House will sit. As the Senator is aware, on matters such as this, she has possibly the same opportunity and avenue open to her as I have, but I will endeavour——
My response is that I will endeavour in this regard, but the meeting will be held on Friday. I will contact the Minister's office and I will do everything I possibly can, but I cannot give the Senator the assurance that I will have the information by Friday.
Two amendments have been proposed to the Order of Business and I will take them in the order in which they were raised.
Senator Bacik moved an amendment to the Order of Business, "That item 1 be taken with debate." Is the amendment being pressed?
I cannot take that matter today, but I can review the request for a later date. I cannot take the matter today because we have agreed the business and the schedule is very tight. Committee Stage of the Broadcasting Bill must be taken today. It is important we discuss the Lisbon reform treaty today because the Taoiseach is going to Europe tomorrow morning. In view of the serious challenge he is facing, the views of this House on this matter must be given to him. He will seek the views of this House before he goes.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 20 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Jerry Buttimer, Paul Coghlan, Pearse Doherty, Paschal Donohoe, Frances Fitzgerald, Dominic Hannigan, Fidelma Healy Eames, Nicky McFadden, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, Joe O'Reilly, Joe O'Toole, John Paul Phelan, Phil Prendergast, Eugene Regan, Shane Ross, Brendan Ryan, Alex White)
Against the motion: 25 (Dan Boyle, Martin Brady, Larry Butler, Ivor Callely, Ciarán Cannon, John Carty, Donie Cassidy, Maria Corrigan, Mark Daly, Déirdre de Búrca, John Ellis, Geraldine Feeney, Camillus Glynn, John Gerard Hanafin, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Lisa McDonald, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Francis O'Brien, Fiona O'Malley, Ned O'Sullivan, Ann Ormonde, Kieran Phelan, Jim Walsh, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ivana Bacik and Pearse Doherty; Níl, Senators Déirdre de Búrca and Diarmuid Wilson.
Amendment declared lost.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 18 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Jerry Buttimer, Paul Coghlan, Pearse Doherty, Paschal Donohoe, Frances Fitzgerald, Dominic Hannigan, Fidelma Healy Eames, Nicky McFadden, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, Joe O'Reilly, Joe O'Toole, John Paul Phelan, Eugene Regan, Brendan Ryan, Alex White)
Against the motion: 27 (Dan Boyle, Martin Brady, Larry Butler, Ivor Callely, Ciarán Cannon, John Carty, Donie Cassidy, Maria Corrigan, Mark Daly, Déirdre de Búrca, John Ellis, Camillus Glynn, John Gerard Hanafin, Cecilia Keaveney, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Lisa McDonald, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Francis O'Brien, Fiona O'Malley, Ned O'Sullivan, Ann Ormonde, Kieran Phelan, Shane Ross, Jim Walsh, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ivana Bacik and David Norris; Níl, Senators Déirdre de Búrca and Diarmuid Wilson.