Thursday, 19 June 2008
Order of Business (Resumed)
Could the Leader obtain a brief on developments in primary care in the community from the Health Service Executive, especially with regard to primary care teams? I am anxious to know what supports and incentives are in place to encourage such developments. I understand that many professionals are participating in discussions on how the primary care teams can work together and develop but that there are difficulties regarding the details of the cost of the development and whether we are expecting the professionals not alone to provide their professional services and supports but also to come up with the money for ensuring these developments proceed. A huge amount of discussion is taking place but I understand there is no clarity about the financial package for such developments. I hope the Leader can obtain details about this.
I have raised the issue of housing and the homeless on numerous occasions in the House. I am especially concerned about recent media reports regarding bed availability and the concerns of some of the service providers about funding. My understanding is that there are many beds and plenty of money in the system but there are service shortfalls due to pressure points and bottlenecks in the system that must be dealt with. These are not necessarily concerned with the substantive issue of homelessness and providing a bed or a roof for a person living on the street but with dealing with vulnerable people such as those with intellectual disabilities, addiction problems and so forth. There are many issues involved.
Will the Leader arrange a debate on housing, homelessness and the issues I mentioned? We need to talk to the people providing the services on the street and participating in the outreach programmes. They have their finger on the pulse and know what is required. We can discuss the issue in the House but we need to bring those people in. I listened with interest to Senator Leyden's comments about reforming the procedures of the House. Perhaps the Leader will come back to Members in the future with an updated report on Seanad reform. I concur with the view, however, particularly with regard to a discussion on homelessness, that we must bring in the service providers who can give us an accurate account of the issues we must address to resolve the problems.
I am glad Senator Boyle raised the issue of constructive opposition on climate change. I agree it is important and the Senator and I have exchanged correspondence regarding my Climate Protection Bill which is currently before the House. It is No. 9 on the Order Paper. The Second Stage debate is due to be resumed and I look forward to engaging with the Senator on how we can move forward on that constructively with the overall goal of reducing emissions.
Senator O'Toole mentioned a study that is widely reported in the newspapers and on the front page of today's edition of The Irish Times. It was conducted by the ESRI and the Equality Authority and confirms something of which we all are aware, namely, gender inequality in the division of labour. It shows that women routinely work an average of 39 minutes more per day than men. One striking finding is that women are working far more in unpaid work, caring and in child care. I have previously sought a debate on the issue of the division of labour and, indeed, on the representation of women in public life, which feeds into that. This is a vital matter.
I am not saying men are inadequate, although Senator O'Toole suggested that men might feel inadequate. Clearly, they are not used to multi-tasking in the same way women are. It is a subject close to my heart as I am currently multi-tasking with two very young children. This is an important matter on which the Seanad could lead the way, particularly by debating the recommendations of the study. The recommendations suggest that the answer to trying to change the culture where women continue to do more unpaid work than men while they are entering the paid workforce in larger numbers is to introduce paid paternity leave. The Seanad could lead the way by starting the debate on, and calling for, paid paternity leave. This is something I have called for on many occasions. It is important that we debate it.
In doing that we could examine the structures in the Seanad and consider making them more family friendly. Yesterday, in answer to a question from Senator Doherty, the Leader said the Seanad would sit in the second week in July. I have no problem with that and most Senators, certainly on the Opposition benches, would like the Seanad to sit more often throughout the year and do more in terms of legislative activity. However, it is difficult for Members, particularly for those with young children, to make arrangements when we do not know schedules in advance. All Members, regardless of whether they have children, would welcome an advance notification of the timetable.
I wish to pay tribute to the Oireachtas crèche, which has facilitated my attendance today. Providing a crèche in the Oireachtas is an important and good initiative but we still must make arrangements in advance as the crèche must know when we need to use it. All Members have other plans and arrangements to make so they need to know in advance, in so far as that is possible, what the Seanad timetable will be.
This afternoon we will discuss a motion concerning the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 which was passed following the Omagh bombing atrocity ten years ago. It contains strong measures to deal with terrorism. It is a travesty, however, that although we are, quite correctly, dealing with that matter on the one hand, and I will support the motion, we are failing to deal with the biggest atrocity in the history of the Troubles, which was the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. I have raised this matter many times in the House this year. A report was produced by the Oireachtas joint committee, on which all parties in both Houses are represented, which clearly called for the endorsement by the Dáil and the Seanad of its recommendations and findings. The families of those who lost loved ones and who were seriously injured in the atrocities in Dublin and Monaghan are still waiting for closure and waiting for the Government to assist in bringing that closure. I call on the Leader and the leaders of the other parties, as I have done before, to bring an agreed motion before the House to endorse those reports and set in train the recommendations made by that body.
Next January we will commemorate the 90th anniversary of the sitting of the first Dáil on 21 January 1919. I do not believe we are deserving successors to the vision, tradition and the sacrifices that generation made if we fail to uphold our own sovereignty in an area where collusion from British forces, known certainly by the Northern Ireland Office and in all probability at the highest levels of Government in Westminster, allowed this to happen and that we are not seeking some form of redress and truth for the people who were bereaved. I feel strongly about that and I appeal to the leaders of all parties to assist in progressing the common sense recommendations made by that committee some years ago. In doing that, this House can give a lead to the Dáil to follow suit.
I support the calls for a debate on price inflation and the insurance industry where there is a plethora of areas we need to look at. In his capacity as Chairman of the former Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment, the Leader and his fellow committee members did commendable work in making impactive recommendations on the insurance industry but the benefit has not flowed to the consumer. There is still a strong perception, which is probably a reality, that the insurance industry is profiteering, as are many other industries, to a far greater degree than happens elsewhere. This area, including the issue of legal fees, needs to be addressed and action must be taken. It is a pity if we wait for a recession to make corrections in those areas. Let us take the initiative and encourage that to happen.
Senator Boyle referred to what he called the luxury of being in Opposition. It is clear there is a duty in being in Government which requires two things, namely, a recognition of when something is going wrong and that the Government takes responsibility upon itself to act in dealing with the issue. In fairness, at times there is occasionally a late recognition of when something needs action but what is continually missing is the Government taking responsibility to do something about it.
What always happens is that the responsibility is either handed over to another organisation or a new organisation is created to take responsibility for it. I raise this issue because it is now apparent that the Dublin Transport Authority, an organisation that is responsible for so many matters we raise regularly in this House,will have two features missing from it. The first is that no politician will play a leadership role in determining what that organisation is doing and, second, that organisation will not be subjected to parliamentary questions. We are now in a situation where health issue are the responsibility of the HSE, transport issues will be the responsibility of the DTA while the issues many Senators have raised today on the cost of living will be the responsibility of the National Consumer Agency.
Given the focus of this Government in handing over responsibility for these matters to other organisations that we cannot question, led by a Taoiseach who said he believed in the primacy of politics, where is that primacy when the power politicians have is continually eroded? At the end of its term of Government, I ask the Leader what exactly it will be responsible for?
I would welcome a continuing series of debates on the Lisbon treaty and the aftermath of the referendum. A certain response is being extracted now and I would like, in particular, to examine the military details. One of the reasons I am glad the treaty is stalled is that it means the European Defence Agency is not statutorily incorporated into the European Union. I do not want it to be and I think we need a real examination of the armaments industry.
I call for a debate on No. 31, which concerns the situation in Zimbabwe. While it was placed on the Order Paper by Senator Callely, I signed it as well as the amendment. It is time we looked at that issue. I ask the Leader to look at the motion and its amendment and, perhaps, compile a composite motion that could be supported by all parties. The amendment was signed by the Fine Gael Party, myself and Senator Bacik. I say this because we are moving into an election situation in which more than 100 people have been killed and more than 200 have been seriously injured, some maimed for life.
Inflation in Zimbabwe is 1.6 million per cent. It is in the realms of complete nonsense. The sterling rate to the Zimbabwean dollar is 8 billion to the pound. This is cloud cuckoo-land. Meanwhile the head of the airforce is in charge of operations terrorising people to vote for Mr. Mugabe and a formula is handed out. Going into the polling stations, people are expected to ask for help from the ZANU-PF officials because they want to vote for Robert Mugabe. If they do not say that, they are in danger of being beaten up or murdered. It is time the international community made its presence felt. The behaviour of South Africa has been pathetic. President Mbeki has been a disgrace and shows no concern for his fellow Africans. I raised this matter with Kader Asmal when he was here. Simply in solidarity with the suffering people of Zimbabwe it would be very useful if we had an agreed motion. I ask the Leader to consider that.
I support the comments made by Senator Donohoe. The DTA is a new body coming into force. Public representation will be badly needed in that regard. How are we to get the message across in each of the four counties between Dublin City Council and the three other councils unless our public representatives represent us on that board?
The Minister must take into consideration the responsibility that each council will have in that regard. There is no better way to have accountability than through the people who were elected to that council. Senator Donohoe has made a very important point. I do not want another HSE created here on a transport system. It is our responsibility, as public representatives, to ensure public representatives are accountable on all boards created from here on in.
I believe we must review what is going on in the HSE. It is disturbing for me, as a public representative, to hear different stories, one worse than another, every day. A one-day sitting of the House would serve us well when we could look at all the faults within the HSE. Before anything else happens, the Minister who is looking at the new Dublin transport authority should consider how we can have representation on that board and how it will be accountable.
I would like if Senator Boyle would practise a little bit of what he preaches in terms of his speech on responsible opposition and deal with responsible government. We saw a few examples of that this morning when a number of Fianna Fáil speakers mentioned turbary rights — I agree with them and support them fully in what they said — but yet we know that the Green Party leader and Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, has a very different stance on that issue. Senator Butler has been consistent in raising the Health Service Executive and Senator Donohoe mentioned in his comments about how we have continuously handed over powers to new agencies and new bodies, yet when the Labour Party tabled a constructive motion on reviewing the HSE the Government voted it down. The motion was not even particularly controversial. It is pathetic that we have to come in here and be criticised for not being constructive. I urge the Government to be honest with people and to be constructive.
With a view to that I seek a constructive debate on housing and the funding of local authorities in terms of their housing output. I have been seeking such a debate for four months. I accept we are in constricted financial times currently but perhaps the Government can be constructive in telling people the situation on the ground and that there are significant cutbacks in house building.
I also seek a constructive debate on the schools building programme. The Government made a number of announcements in advance of the previous general election and it was recently discovered that although 26 primary schools around the country went out to tender for new school buildings they seem to have disappeared completely off the list and off the radar. No information is being given to boards of management as to when the new school buildings might commence. I would like to see constructive government in that regard.
I join with other speakers in calling for a debate on pricing. A wholly unsatisfactory debate took place recently with the National Consumer Agency in the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment. The response we were given by the agency is that people should shop around. That is an insufficient response and it is not acceptable. I agree with points made by previous speakers. Senator Hannigan referred to telephone tariffs and a number of speakers in recent days, including me, raised the issue of fuel prices, which beggars belief. The cost of fuel is a significant factor in supermarket prices but, as previous speakers mentioned this morning, how is it that in the North of Ireland where fuel is more expensive, the cost of supermarket goods is 30% cheaper across a range of products than they are on this part of the island. That does not make any sense. I urge the Leader to arrange debates on housing, the schools building programme with the new Minister for Education and Science, and most important of all, a discussion on prices, before we leave for the summer, especially given that we have an extra week's debate. We cannot afford to leave the House for the summer recess without having a debate on that important subject.
I agree with Senator Bacik. As a member of the Opposition it is very difficult to make arrangements if one does not have a clear timetable. Unlike Senator Bacik I do not have children but such information is important to ensure that one can attend all the relevant debates. It would be more appropriate if the Leader could possibly give timetables in advance or if the staff in the Seanad office could make that facility available to Members.
I wish to refer to the fishing industry in this country, which is currently experiencing major difficulties. The global cost of fuel is impinging negatively on the industry and it is affecting fishing fleets on the west coast, the east coast and the south coast of the country. I applaud the new Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Brendan Smith, and the Minister of State, Deputy Tony Killeen, on the discussions they held in Athlone last weekend, which were constructive and were welcomed by the fishing federation and the industry. While the outcome of the discussions was positive the Government has no control over the matter, which has been discussed by the European Union and in the Commission. It appears the EU will provide some mechanism to member states to allow them to approve additional moneys for vessels and fishing fleets in Ireland to subsidise the high cost of fuel. I very much welcome that initiative. We should address the matter in this House prior to the summer recess. I call on the Leader to invite the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to the House for a debate prior to the summer recess to give us all an opportunity to discuss the matter with him and to commend him for the work he has done to date on the issue, which is a crisis situation.
Two weeks ago I raised the blockades in French ports of crab and lobster being exported from Ireland. There has been some lifting of that blockade in France, but only some, as blockades are still in place. That is another issue that we can perhaps discuss when we have that debate.
I note the confirmation that prices are 30% higher here than in Northern Ireland in the same supermarket chains. It is very serious that it is 30% dearer to shop in a Dunnes or a Tesco in the Republic than it is in Northern Ireland. The advantage of the strong euro has not been passed on to consumers in the South and that is also very serious. Hard-pressed consumers are voting with their feet and travelling to the North to shop. I am very conscious of that coming from County Cavan. There is a constant stream of shoppers travelling across the Border to Northern Ireland from counties Cavan, Louth, Monaghan and Donegal. I appeal to the Leader to take up this urgent matter.
As Senator Regan pointed out, section 4 of the Competition Act declares price fixing by cartels to be illegal and criminalises it under section 6. If necessary, we must invoke that legislation. The role of the Competition Authority must be examined also. All pricing authorities in the country must be brought to bear on this extremely serious issue. It is especially serious for small shopkeepers and people who are trying to make a living in the Border counties that the people who are usually their customers are streaming to Northern Ireland to do their shopping. Something needs to be done about it. I call on the Leader to arrange an urgent debate on the matter.
ESB bills have increased by 30% and fuel has risen by 60% in recent years. When all the increases are combined it is evident that inflation is rampant. Controlling inflation is the key to economic management and for that reason we need to have a serious debate on the issue, not just an aspirational debate but one in which we would find out specifically what can be done by the Competition Authority and the relevant Minister. I appeal for such a debate to take place.
I welcome the extension of the session by a week. It is important that debate takes place on important issues. I congratulate the Leader on that. It is equally important that we have a discussion on carbon emissions, and the fact that we are 12.5%, or one-eighth, over our target. We are not reaching our Kyoto Agreement targets, which in the first instance were generous to Ireland. We are making marginal progress. An audit is required to ascertain the position and what practical steps are necessary for us to take. I call on the Leader to have a focused, practical, solution-driven debate. In the face of both rampant inflation and the carbon emissions, we have done the aspirational bit. We have made the speeches and set out the stalls. We now need action, results, specific targets and a programme of activities. I appeal to the Leader, who may be a future Minister, to call in the relevant Minister and get results here. I am sure after my last remarks he will.
Senator Boyle has proposed and Senator Glynn has seconded the proposal that leave be granted for No. 13 to be taken before No. 1. I have no difficulty with this and I agree to the amendment to the Order of Business.
Senators Regan, Ross, Coghlan and Norris expressed their views on the Lisbon treaty. I will take on board the proposals made this morning, especially given the research published yesterday in The Irish Times indicating that 40% of those who voted "No" did not understand what they were being asked to vote on. This is very serious and we have a duty as legislators to correct the areas in which the electorate had serious concerns. As I said yesterday the people are to be congratulated on a 53% turnout, which is very high for a referendum. It was not a landslide rejection because a 4% swing would have won the vote for the "Yes" side. However, we must take the positives as Senator Ross has said this morning.
Senator Leyden referred to the Seanad playing a central role in coming months in making the concerns of the electorate known to the authorities in Europe. I will endeavour to have European Commissioners come here to address the various areas in which the electorate have concerns. I would like to start with the taxation matter with the agreement of the Government. As Senators are aware, the Leader of the House can only carry out the requests made of me by agreement of the Government. Some positive proposals have been made this morning and I want to ascertain whether we can put the Seanad centre stage bearing in mind the importance of the issues that the electorate still want addressed. I get a feeling that the electorate wants to be part of Europe and play a central role as we have always done. We have been very good Europeans. Ireland through all its Presidencies under various Taoisigh who have led the country has excelled. Those Presidencies allowed Ireland to show Europe how efficient, organised, determined and appreciative we are, and how seriously we have treasured the membership of the European Union during our 35 years of membership.
Senators Hannigan, Buttimer, Coghlan, Walsh, John Paul Phelan and O'Reilly all expressed their serious concern over the price differences in major stores of up to 30% between the North and the South as has been highlighted today. The National Consumer Agency has a direct role in this regard and representatives of the agency have appeared before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment in recent weeks. It is regrettable that this committee is meeting at a time when we are taking the Order of Business. I only attended the very early part of the meeting. I have some serious concerns. As Senator Coghlan and others pointed out, the committee made its presence felt at the time of the review of the groceries order. It might be time to review the committee's report. Senator Coghlan and I, who are members of the committee, might discuss the matter with the committee Chairman to establish what progress can be made to assist the Government in this regard.
The review of the groceries order was a major undertaking as we were carrying out the trawl of the insurance industry at the same time. During that review representatives of the multiples stated that they were purchasing for the North of Ireland under the umbrella of a market of 60 million, the UK. Part of the differential was explained because the goods were coming in under the UK territory. At the time they pointed out that wage costs were much higher, as is still the case. The South of Ireland is a high cost location with higher wages than in the UK. We need to review all these areas. Perhaps under the scope of Seanad reform it could happen that the committee chairpersons would be answerable to the Seanad in this area. We could then make our presence felt both as members of committees and take it a stage further still. Senator Regan's suggestion regarding section 4 of the Competition Act 2002 is worthwhile. It should be seriously considered by the Minister and the Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment.
Senators Regan, Boyle, Bacik, O'Reilly and others were very interested in our carbon emissions and matters pertaining to our environment and climate change. I can agree to have this matter debated. One Senator remarked that the Government might not be doing enough. As Senators know we now have a carbon budget each year, which is starting to address the challenge. However, the economy and the global downturn will naturally affect the timeframe. Experienced Senators and those with vision for the future who may wish to go on to play a more central role in Government will agree. We need to set our priorities when things are bad and the downturn is there.
Senator O'Toole called for a debate to review the progress we are making in insurance costs, particularly regarding the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, of which he is vice chairman. I have asked the Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Penrose, to allow me to get the insurance inquiry restarted during the lifetime of this Dáil and Seanad. He has agreed and this will start early next year. I can now inform the House and the insurance industry that the data for 2007-08 will be used to measure the performance of the industry in reducing its prices. Its costs have been reduced as a result of the four Acts introduced in the lifetime of the previous Dáil under the former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern.
I do not understand why insurance premiums should be rising. They should be reduced by another 20% or 25% as a result of the legislation that came about following suggestions from the industry to ensure that Ireland is a safer place in which to live and travel. In particular, the areas of private and commercial motor insurance and employers' and public liability have been tightened up by the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act and the Civil Liability and Courts Act, and the introduction of penalty points and random breath testing. All these major initiatives came from the Government to ensure that the industry would be a much stronger position and that premiums would be reduced substantially. All fair-minded people would agree that premiums have been reduced by 30% to 40% in most cases. The industry should note that the watchdog, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment, will be in being during the lifetime of this Dáil and Seanad. The Chairman has agreed that we will begin again our trawl of the industry every year for the next four years of the lifetime of this Government, as we did during the 29th Dáil and the 22nd Seanad.
Senator Boyle informed the House of the conference that took place in Portlaoise and the challenge of keeping the locations of sporting areas centre stage in communities. Every Member of the House would agree with his sentiments and we will bear that in mind and see what we can do to highlight this to the Minister during debates or when legislation comes to the House. Some are trying to encourage GAA and other sporting clubs, particularly soccer and rugby, to move to the outskirts of towns. Not everybody has transport to bring people a mile or a mile and half outside towns with inclement weather. We all encourage young people to get involved and participate in sport. I fully agree with Senator Boyle's sentiments.
Senator Buttimer again called for a debate on the economy, but, as the House knows, I have given a commitment that we will have a full and wide-ranging debate on the economy before the summer recess. I have committed to at least a half-day of debate on this. We look forward to that. We have a new, young and dynamic Minister of State with special responsibility for children and youth affairs, Deputy Barry Andrews. I will pass Senator Buttimer's views to the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, and he will give the Senator's proposal serious consideration.
Senators Leyden and Glynn expressed strong views on turbary rights, especially in areas of the Midlands, where we all live and which we represent. Senator Glynn correctly said the opportunity of turf cutting ties in with the high price of oil and alternative energy. We are coming to the end of a ten-year agreement with the farming organisations. Because the price of oil has gone through the roof, it should be extended by at least ten years. I call on all concerned here for common sense to prevail. Everyone is entitled to this. We have our industry in Bord na Móna, which has been an outstanding success. It was established by a father figure, Dr. Todd Andrews, in 1946 and has stood good to the people of Ireland to today, especially to give meaningful employment in areas such as Rochfortbridge and Cúl na Móna, areas which we all know and in which we grew up.
As I said, with the cost of oil gone through the roof it is common sense that a decision would be taken quickly on this. In the election two Fine Gael councillors came out strongly and said they would vote "No" because their people were so hard-pressed. It was very difficult to say otherwise. I have no difficulty passing to the Minister the strong views expressed in the House.
Senator Callely called on me to supply a brief on primary care from the Health Service Executive and information on how primary care teams will be funded. I will make that request of the HSE and the Minister. As a former Minister of State, Senator Callely has much expertise and experience in this area and I will do everything I can to get the figures he requested. The Senator and others called for a debate on housing and homelessness. I have no difficulty with this taking place.
Senator Bacik called for a debate on multi-purpose labour and other labour issues. She also made a request regarding the workings of Parliament. I take my instructions from the Government, which gets agreement of the Whips in both Houses if possible. It is not possible to do as she asks. We can tell colleagues the weeks we will sit but regarding the matters to be debated and Bills forthcoming, there are many areas in which our destiny is not in our hands. As always, I will let Senators know which weeks we will sit during autumn and winter, but it is not possible to specify the hours and matters to be discussed. However, we will endeavour to assist all Seanad Members to the best of our ability.
Senator Jim Walsh highlighted his serious concerns about the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and called for us to bring an all-party motion on it to the House. All Senators want to find out the truth of what happened in this terrible atrocity. I will bring this to the Leaders' meeting next Tuesday before the Order of Business and see how we can progress this proposal. Senator Walsh also pointed out the 90th anniversary of the sitting of the first Dáil is coming up on 21 January 2009.
Senators Donohoe, Buttimer and John Paul Phelan spoke about the Dublin transport authority, DTA, and the Minister's handing over of power. As every Member of this House is a member of one committee or another, we all know those authorities have to appear before the committees and are directly answerable, live on television, to the responses and queries of the Oireachtas Members. It is about getting value for money and getting the job done efficiently. While I share some of the views the Senators expressed, we had the Minister in the House to discuss the DTA and these views were strongly expressed, particularly regarding public representatives being members of the new authority, which I fully support. It is untrue such bodies are not accountable. They are answerable to Oireachtas committees, the same as the National Roads Authority, NRA.
Down the years Members were very frustrated with the NRA, but now that it has been established for almost 15 years, it is an outstanding success. The work taking place across the entire country is incredible. It is on budget and in some cases ahead of time. It takes a long time to achieve the fine-tuning we would all like to see. The same is happening with the HSE and will happen in the teething stages of all these other authorities being established. The professionals and experts dealing with their own professions are bound to bear fruit. Politicians want to see value for money and are great people for establishing and seeking funding for the various projects. However, we then have to hand them over to the professionals who have the expertise to get the job done. We all hope the Health Service Executive will become a success like the NRA.
Senator Norris raised No. 24, motion 31 on Zimbabwe. We had an all-party motion before the House when we agreed our strong views on what is happening in Zimbabwe. We cannot condone anything that is happening there. The all-party motion has been agreed already by everybody in the House.
Senator Butler requested a review of the HSE and I have already covered this. I can have this take place but I do not envisage it happening before the summer recess unless we do it in some other way because there is so much legislation arising for Members' consideration as well as the half-day debate on the economy. I envisage we will sit during the second week in July, will recess into committee work for the last two weeks in July and will take the usual holidays for the month of August. We will return with a very heavy schedule beginning with the committees during the first three weeks in September. Then, as we all know, the Houses return in the last week in September.
Senator John Paul Phelan called for a debate on housing. I have no difficulty in this taking place but if the Senator wants it to take place before the summer recess, I ask him to speak to the leader and deputy leader of his group to ascertain whether they will take it in Private Members' time. If not, I give an undertaking that we will take it after the summer recess. On the school building programme, I will inquire from the Minister about the matters the Senator has highlighted this morning. I will come back to the Senator directly in this regard.
Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill called for a debate on the fishing industry. I have given an undertaking that this will take place before the summer recess. The serious challenge facing this industry is of the most urgent nature. In Athlone over the weekend we heard of the horror stories and difficult plight that industry is facing. It should be one of our greatest industries.
I wish our new Minister, Deputy Brendan Smith, and his Minister of State, Deputy Tony Killeen, well. They spent nine arduous hours discussing this with the representatives of the industry in Athlone over the weekend. I know they are doing all they can with the EU to get whatever initiatives are necessary and to find out what can be done to assist the plight of those involved in this industry. I wish them well. I will have statements on this issue in the House before the summer recess.