Thursday, 4 December 2008
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Act 1996; No. 2, Charities Bill 2007 — Committee Stage; No. 3, statements on the economy. It is proposed that No. 1 will be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, will be taken at the conclusion of No. 1; No. 3 will be taken on Friday at 10.30 a.m., spokespersons may speak for 12 minutes and other Senators for seven minutes. Senators may share time by agreement of the House.
On a point of order, I note the Leader, in presenting the Order of Business, talked about today's business and then went on to order business for tomorrow. That is clearly in breach of Standing Order 16 which states: "The Leader of the House ... for the purpose of this Standing Order) acting on behalf of the Government ... shall propose at the commencement of public business, the business for each sitting day and the order in which it shall be taken." The Leader correctly stated today's business and he then proceeded to tell us what we will do tomorrow. That might be helpful but it may not be ordered today. Tá an Buan Ordú níos-soiléire as Gaeilge "... gnó do gach lá suí agus an t-ord ina dtógfar an gnó sin". I ask the Leader to recognise and accept the Standing Order is clear in that regard and that on each sitting day we are required to agree the business of that day.
It also conflicts with Adjournment Matters. Standing Orders allow Adjournment Matters to be put forward to the following day. It means issues to be taken on the Adjournment today could not possibly be taken in the middle of the business that has been ordered on the Order of Business of the day. It is clear that we require an Order of Business on each sitting day to deal with the public business for that sitting day.
I also feel very strongly about this point and I mentioned it to Senator O'Toole who indicated to me that he intended to take it up. He has quoted from the relevant section of Standing Orders. I have been a Member of this House for 21 years and I have never experienced this before. It is an extraordinary departure not just from the rule book of the House but from the traditions of the House. At the very least, we are entitled to an explanation of this matter from the Leader because it is a very serious matter.
If a vote is called on the Order of Business, on what will we be voting? Will we be voting on the Order of Business for today or agreeing the business for tomorrow? Where will it end? Will we start to have the business for the whole of next week as well? This is a very big mistake and I cannot understand why the Order of Business should be foreclosed in this manner.
I agree with Senators O'Toole and Norris. Standing Orders make it abundantly clear that the Leader must order the business of the day on that particular day. Under Standing Order 16, we will have to have an Order of Business tomorrow.
We had a situation last week relating to specific items concerning EU legislation which were taken with and without debate. Confusion arose as to what was agreed, as if what was suggested was determinative of the Order of Business on the subsequent Thursday. The Leader must be more clear on what exactly is being agreed. In my understanding, we are agreeing the Order of Business of today per the rules. Senator O'Toole is right.
A Chathaoirligh, I listened to the Leader very carefully and he did not say "notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders". There is a precedent in that there was a day when this was done before, but the precedent was never challenged and I am challenging the procedure now. It was incorrect the last time and it is incorrect this time. The Leader has put the Cathaoirleach in an awkward position. This is one step away from coming in on Tuesday and ordering the business for the week with no further Order of Business. This was never contemplated by Standing Orders. It goes against the finest traditions of the House. I ask the Leader to respect the traditions of the House and demur from his proposal to deal with tomorrow's business.
I think that would be wrong. There may have been a precedent but I do not recall it even though I have been here for nearly every day's Order of Business for the past 21 years. I am sure you, a Chathaoirligh, have been correctly advised on that so I am not impugning that advice, but there is no reason to follow a bad precedent. What is this attempt to close down the Order of Business? There is resistance from the Leader——
On a point of order. I do not interrupt anyone and this is my first time to do so. I discussed this with the leaders' group last Tuesday. I have open consultation with them every week on all the business of the House and no one told me they would have a difficulty with this.
Senator O'Toole informed me he objected in the strongest possible terms. First, this is the norm in the Dáil. Second, it has been done before in the Twenty-third Seanad. The House will sit for the next three Fridays and it is an effort to start business with the Minister of the day. There are three other days' sittings when we will take Adjournment Matters and other matters of importance.
If an urgent matter arises between Thursday morning and Friday morning, as the leaders know, I would not be reluctant to allocate time to have it brought to the attention of the House, under the stewardship of the Cathaoirleach. Tomorrow there will be an all-day debate on the economy, which every Member has requested. As we all know, it is a serious challenge to the whole nation and to the Government. On one of the other Friday sittings we will deal with Second Stage of the Finance Bill, a huge Bill that will come before the House for consideration. On the other Friday, two Bills will be brought before the House. If there were only one other sitting day during the week, I would accept that is unreasonable, but I do not believe it is unreasonable when there are three other sitting days that allow for nine Adjournment Matters to be raised in total over the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
I arranged business in this way so that we would all get out of here by 4 o'clock or 5 o'clock on Friday evening. Some colleagues have to go home to Waterford, Kerry and Donegal and, if possible, it would get them home by midnight. That is the spirt in which I am doing this. To have the Minister for Finance present in the Chamber for two out of those three Friday sittings is of the utmost importance. If the Committee on Procedure and Privileges does not have to meet, I will put the correct wording to the House 30 minutes after the Order of Business. Colleagues at the group meeting knew that this was what I was proposing to do this week.
As the Leader indicated, he interrupted me; therefore, I am entitled to finish. He does not usually do so; he is courteous. At least, we managed to squeeze out a reason. We understand the Minister for Finance is under considerable pressure and has great demands on his time but Ministers are servants of the House, not masters, whatever the circumstances.
What worries me more is the constant pressure exerted on the Order of Business. We are told about time considerations but we started nearly ten minutes late, according to the clock in the Chamber; therefore, it cannot be a matter of time on a day such as this. We should be very careful before we close this important aspect of our business, when significant matters are raised in the House. I have always felt passionately about the Order of Business and have sought and obtained extensions to it. Members of the Leader's party think it is important but it has been opposed at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and I understand the opposition has come from the Leader. We should not close the most significant element of our business.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for his help in our deliberations so far this morning. Today's Order of Business is No. a1, the Supplementary Order Paper regarding tomorrow's sittings which has been submitted with the agreement of the leaders and Whips and is being circulated; No. 1, motion re the Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Act 1996, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. a1; and No. 2, Charities Bill 2007 — Committee Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1.
I welcome the revised Order of Business and it is to be hoped we can resolve any remaining difficulties in advance of future Friday sittings.
No. 2, the Charities Bill 2007, on which it is to be hoped also we will make further progress and perhaps even reach a conclusion, is, sadly, an appropriate Bill for this time of the year. During the week we read the statement from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul on the large number of additional people using the services of that fine organisation. The point was made that many previous contributors to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul are now recipients of its services.
I raise that angle in view of the fact that the unemployment figures published yesterday clearly show the economic crisis facing the country. We will debate economic issues tomorrow but I ask the Leader to allocate time over the next fortnight, if possible, for a full debate on job creation because it is such an important element in the political solution required from Government. We will debate the broader financial issues tomorrow, the state of the public finances, reduction in public expenditure, etc. However, job creation must be given a separate slot in this House to demonstrate our seriousness in tackling this issue.
Solutions to this problem exist. If pay increases result in job losses, increases in PRSI levies are a burden on employers creating extra jobs, the red tape of regulation is stifling small business and the failure of our banking system to respond to the credit needs of small businesses is resulting in job losses, the Government must examine those issues. Those issues must be at the top of our political agenda between now and Christmas. Sadly, almost 300,000 people are out of work and their source of income on Christmas week will be a dole cheque. We must offer these people not just hope but a plan and a solution. While it must be led by Government, all of us in this House must be part of the debate. That is why I hope we will allocate time in the next fortnight to have a lengthy, substantial debate on unemployment and job creation.
With great reluctance but to facilitate the Leader, I accepted the revised Order of Business on the basis that arrangements have been made on the previous basis and that he has agreed we will examine the situation for future Fridays. I look forward to finding a consensus on that. I had a deeply worrying experience on yesterday's Order of Business when, unfortunately, I outlined my concerns in Irish. Each subsequent speaker on the other side of the House clearly did not understand what I said in Irish and I will repeat it in English today so they will understand it clearly.
Senator Keaveney can make her objections afterwards. I have no difficulty with Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann getting a grant from Government. However, I would like the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to come to the House and explain it to me. The Government claims it has increased the Vote for Irish when it has taken more than €1 million from the Gaeltacht courses, cúrsaí Gaeilge, while it has given more than €3 million to Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. That is the only reference I made to Comhaltas. I have no objection whatever to its being supported.
Comhaltas does an excellent job and I resent being represented by anyone on the other side of the House as having an anti-Comhaltas position. That is not my viewpoint. However, I will not allow a Government to claim an increase for Gaeilge when it is being taken away and given to something else, no matter how good the recipient is. I would say the same if it were being taken away from Gaeilge and put into education. The issue is that the support for the Irish language programme which brings students to the Gaeltacht and supports them is being cut. The Government is performing a sleight of hand and it is wrong.
Tá an cinneadh seo míchothrom, uafásach agus, in a lán slite, scannalach. Tá na Gaeltachtaí ag brath ar chóras eacnamaíochta, nó geilleagar, an-bheag. Bainfidh an tarraingt siar seo na milliúin euro ós na Gaeltachtaí. It will have an onward impact on local jobs, fostaíocht sa Ghaeltacht, siopaí sa Ghaeltacht, transport sa Ghaeltacht and many other areas, apart from depriving students of a great experience. When that money is cut the airgead breise — the extra cost — will have to come from somewhere. The only place it can come from is those parents sending their children to the Gaeltacht. It is a wrong decision. Comhaltas is not to be blamed for it and has nothing to defend. I object to the Government decision to take €1.2 million from the Gaeltacht courses and that is the issue.
Will the Leader tell the House the Government's position on the pay freeze contained in the recently agreed wage agreement? The trade union leaders appeared to glean from what the Taoiseach said in the Dáil yesterday that the matter should be re-opened. When the Taoiseach returned from Berlin last night he articulated that he did not propose to re-open the matter. Senator Boyle, presumably on behalf of the Green Party component of the Government, said the 11-month pay freeze should be extended beyond August of next year. What is the Government position?
There is a strong argument to be made that in agreeing the pay deal in September, the Government acted precipitously and it should have waited until the budget statement was made and the true position on the public finances was known. A very compelling argument can be made on why it entered into that deal at the time and in the way it did. Having entered into it, the credibility of the Government and all the social partners is greatly undermined by these suggestions that it might be re-opened eight or nine months after its implementation, in August of next year. Will the Leader indicate to the House the Government's position on that?
I agree with Senator Bradford when he says there is a clear need for us to debate in this House the Government and Opposition proposals on job creation. We had such a debate in this House on 15 October last, the day after the budget, and the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Kelleher attended. When I invited him and my colleagues to point to any single proposal in the Minister's speech that day that would bring about one extra job or constitute a job creation policy, neither he nor one of the Members on the Government side was able to do so. If we are to have the debate for which Senator Bradford rightly calls, I ask that the Government bring forward a set of proposals, a plan or give us some glimpse of what it proposes to do regarding the most serious economic crisis we have faced for a century, according to the Taoiseach.
I ask the Leader for a debate on the legislation on the fishing industry passed in 2006 arising from a ground-breaking opinion given to the members of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food yesterday by Dr. Gerard Hogan, a leading constitutional expert, who set out clearly to the committee that in his view, administrative-fixed penalty fines or a penalty points system, as opposed to criminal sanctions, could work for the fishing industry.
That was a major bone of contention of the 2006 Bill and something I always believed was the case. The Minister told me at the time, when I was a Member of the Dáil, that he would revisit the legislation. This House is an appropriate forum for the Leader to suggest that amending legislation should be brought forward to appease the fishing industry on the one critical issue affecting them. If we take the result of the vote on the Lisbon treaty referendum in Castletownbere as an example, it was 93% against. That is a reflection of the way that fishing community felt it had been treated, not alone by Europe but also by our own Government. That new evidence which I sought — I am not a member of the committee but the Chairman, Deputy Brady, allowed me to attend — puts the issue beyond all doubt.
I know a young skipper who wants to travel to America to attend his sister's wedding. She is one of the undocumented Irish and cannot come home to marry but he cannot travel because he has a record arising from a fishery offence.
The fishing industry is experiencing very difficult times. Arising from the clear opinion given by a leading constitutional expert, I suggest to the Leader that this House should move on the issue and amend the legislation which is overdue as this is a source of great anxiety for fishermen from Donegal to Kerry to Cork.
On the Comhltas Ceoltóirí Eireann issue, I welcome the fact that Comhltas is being supported by the Government. The role it plays in preserving the culture of traditional Irish music is important, and I compliment Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú on his work in the area. As Senator O'Toole said, that issue should not get in the way of the critique of the cutbacks in the summer school grants.
The theme has been touched on by Senator Alex White but there are three articles in The Irish Times with the following headings: Renegotiation of pay deal must be considered — Senator Boyle; National pay deal must be reviewed, Lenihan hints; and Cowen seeks to reassure unions on public service pay deal. I ask the Leader which of those statements is right. We will have a debate tomorrow on the economy but if the Minister for Finance comes in here tomorrow it is important that he is speaking for the Government and not airing his personal views on this important issue. The Government's own adviser, Colm McCarthy, head of the new cost cutting committee, has said that the 6.1% pay agreement——
He has said that prospective inflation has collapsed as have the Government finances and the lending capacity of the banks. The deal looks well removed from reality just three months after it was agreed.
If the Government is taking the advice of this man and this committee, I ask the Leader to alert the Minister to the fact that we want clarity on this issue and an assurance that the views he will express here are those of the Government and not his personal views.
Senator O'Toole is no longer in the Chamber but he understands my position regarding what he said yesterday. It can be said that the two issues are not linked but Senator O'Toole linked them when he mentioned the two of them in his contribution yesterday. As a musician and a former chairman of the arts committee in the previous Dáil, I may be over-sensitive about the issue but when money for the Abbey Theatre, the National Concert Hall, and Comhltas is mentioned, it immediately draws fire from someone to the effect that money is being taken from some other area. As a musician and an artist I believe we are entitled to invest in the arts as much as we do in any other sector. The issue central to Senator O'Toole's contribution yesterday was valid in its own right. I understood what he was saying in Irish but by linking the two issues in the same contribution, it came across as being an attack on the arts.
I am not misrepresenting him. When Senator O'Toole said that one area is getting money and another is getting less, whether it is subliminal or otherwise, I took that as linking the two issues. I have a difficulty with that.
I endorse what Senator O'Donovan said about the fishing issue. I would like a broader measure than the criminal sanction one, which is important. Now that we have legal advice that seems to contradict the advice available at the time of the passage of the Bill, I endorse Senator O'Donovan's call but request that we have a discussion on the matter because the issue of the closure of the fishing grounds will come before the Commission in the coming weeks. This House must give the Minister with responsibility for the marine the strongest possible endorsement and assurance that we are fully behind his fight to ensure that does not happen. That is important to the constituents I represent in the Greencastle fishery area.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to the House. Yesterday, an international ring of people traffickers was uncovered that incorporated people from Ireland and other countries. That is linked in some sense to the sexual exploitation and sexual abuse issues being highlighted during the international 16 days of awareness of domestic violence campaign. Given that 29% of serious sexual assaults are not reported to the Garda, a discussion with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, either before the end of this session or early in the next session, would be appropriate.
That is very unfair. A small number of us will be here working throughout the day on this Bill and, by and large, they are the same people who put a great deal of effort into this area. I have invited in a group of people for lunch. I am not making the point that I am entitled to eat. I will happily work through any hours but I do not like to be discourteous to people I have invited here on the assumption that we would follow the usual tradition. I do not understand this niggardliness with regard to the way in which we are treated. I appeal to the Leader to provide for a sos during this debate because we all put in the work and we are entitled to be treated with the minimum of respect.
I want to raise another issue, which is serious. It is a matter I have down on the Order Paper and concerns the case of Pamela Izevbekhai, the Nigerian woman who is currently under threat. I asked the Leader last week if he would be prepared to make time for this resolution to be passed. It states that Members of the House did not envisage this kind of action when they passed the relevant legislation. I know that many Members on the Government side feel exactly the same and feel as strongly as I do about this.
I met Pamela Izevbekhai yesterday. She is under very considerable nervous strain. She is scheduled to be deported on 10 December. What an extraordinary way for us to celebrate Christmas, namely, by issuing an order for her deportation back to a country where the lives of herself and her children are very clearly in danger.
I am extremely disturbed by another aspect of this matter. Last week I received a very nasty and racist anonymous letter enclosing an article from one of the Murdoch-owned newspapers. Both the letter writer and the article suggested that her claim for asylum was fraudulent on a number of bases, including the allegation that she had lived in the United Kingdom for two and a half years. This is completely untrue. I have seen affidavits and proofs, including affidavits from her employers, her parish priest and the kindergarten which her children attended, that she was in Nigeria during that time.
I am a member of the National Union of Journalists and, having spoken to some journalistic colleagues, I understand that a journalist was apparently contacted by "a source in immigration", who made these inaccurate statements available to the journalist. It was not the journalist who contacted the source. I would like this matter to be inquired into. Is it appropriate that sources within immigration, paid officials of this State, should leak false allegations to the newspapers during a period when apparently this House cannot discuss it because we are told it is at the European Court of Human Rights for a determination of process?
I do not think I will. I want an explanation now and I want the Leader to take up this matter, particularly the question of the leak.
I also put on the record that the United Nations Development Fund for Women doubted if ordinary police would take action against family members who are trying to force a woman to undergo female genital mutilation. There is no federal law, there is some local law, against it but no one has ever been charged or arrested for this. We are relying on verbal assurances from the Nigerian Embassy. This is exactly what we did with regard to Shannon. I heard a most disgraceful intervention by somebody from the Nigerian Embassy who compared Pamela Izevbekhai's inability to defend her child, who then died despite her best efforts, to child abuse and paedophilia. That was most disgraceful. This woman requires to be protected.
On the issue raised by Senator Norris, if there is somebody in immigration leaking false information to the media, it must be immediately investigated. I support Senator Norris's call and I appeal to the Leader to take very grave and serious action. That is beyond acceptance.
I support the remarks of the acting Fine Gael leader today, Senator Bradford, in regard to the unemployment situation. He is right in raising the issue given that 300,000 people will be unemployed at Christmas, which is very bleak and sad. That is 7.8% of the population
There are a number of people who were half way through apprenticeships in plumbing, carpentry, electrical and so on but, through the decline in construction and the closure of firms, they are now displaced. Will the Leader make arrangements and use his good offices to ensure those people are trained by FÁS — that body is under discussion in another part of Leinster House today — which would simulate the work situation within classrooms and ensure those people get their final certificates? I can supply to the Leader the names of individuals who have left the second or third year of an apprenticeship after being laid off. I want the conditions created, albeit artificial conditions, so they can at least complete their apprenticeships. That would be much more constructive than leaving those people in a debilitating state of unemployment.
Arising from yesterday's debate, while I do not propose to repeat the issues raised in the debate, I appeal to the Leader to take immediate steps with regard to issues such as free car parking, rates subsidisation and so on to support small shops in the Border area that are affected by the exodus to the North to shop. Jobs will be lost. The cost of creating a job in this country is such that it would be much cheaper to maintain existing jobs.
I appeal to the Leader to act on those issues and to grant the debate on employment requested by Senator Bradford and me. I formally second the proposition that we would have a special debate on unemployment, not just in the general sense but on specific strategies to deal with the issue.
I did not hear the Leader indicate what time he expects Committee Stage of the Charities Bill to conclude today. Perhaps he will be good enough to tell us.
We know the European Central Bank is expected to reduce interest rates today by between 0.5% and 0.75%. That will have a real impact on people with tracker mortgages and it has the potential to help those on variable mortgages. When rates were reduced last month, the Leader and others put pressure on many of the banks and, as a result, those savings were passed on — I benefited to the tune of approximately €100. This is hard-earned money which people need in their pockets. I once again ask the Leader to use his office to put pressure on the banks to pass on the mortgage rate cut from the ECB this afternoon.
I welcome the early opening of the new M8 Cullahill to Cashel bypass on Monday next, which I presume will be opened by the Minister, Deputy Dempsey. It is 40 km of new road which will help to speed up journey times in the south and will also help to reduce accident rates. We are still quite behind when it comes to infrastructure. Other countries have had a motorway network for some time. The first motorway was opened 50 years ago this week in Preston. It is very smooth on the surface, very much like somebody else who is 50 years old this week, our leader in the Seanad, Senator Alex White. Will the Leader agree that, as Senator White enters his sixth decade, he is improving with age and that his best years are still ahead of him?
I draw the attention of the House to the number of institutions in this country, including a number of hospitals, which have decided they will not display a crib this year. The reason they gave in the newspapers today is that they do not want to upset our non-Christian brethren. This is political correctness gone overboard.
It is an issue to which we should draw attention to make sure we do not go too far with political correctness. Before we know where we are, Santa Claus will also be banned because he is a derivative of St. Nicholas and, clearly, if Christmas is to be banned, we should not have Santa Claus either. It is an issue to which we should draw attention.
This morning I attended the launch in the science galleries of Trinity College of the European City of Science and I commend the success of Dublin in achieving that for 2012, a matter to which I referred a couple of weeks ago. The chief scientific adviser to the Government made a statement which is a real reminder to us, namely, that a number of other European countries of similar size to Ireland, such as Finland, Sweden, Austria and Switzerland, are putting all their emphasis on to science, which is where they see the success of their economies in the future.
We have a tradition as an agricultural country but we are no longer just that. Of course we must invest in that area, but we must make sure we stand behind the opportunity that the European City of Science for Dublin in 2012 provides. It must continue to be supported by the Government, as it has been to date. It is a huge opportunity for success, of which we should not lose sight in the years ahead.
I refer to issues raised regarding funding for the Irish language. Ar feadh mo shaol, rinne mé gach iarracht a chinntiú go mbeadh ardú ar chiste na Gaeilge. Chabhraigh mé le gach eagras sa tír seo, ar nós Chonradh na Gaeilge, Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge agus na coláistí samhraidh. Tuigeann Seanadóirí gur labhair mé ar an mbonn sin, gach seans a bhí agam. Bhí díomá orm aon uair ina raibh gearradh siar d'aon tsórt ar aon cheann de na heagrais. Níl aon amhras faoi ná go bhfuil sár-obair ar siúl acu. Tá sé tábhachtach freisin, dar ndóigh, go mbeadh tacaíocht an Stáit ar fáil chomh maith. Is í an Ghaeilge príomhtheanga an náisiúin. Ba chóir dúinn tacaíocht a thabhairt di.
Throughout my life, I have felt I was a good candidate for the Poor Clares, God bless them, because I spent more than 40 years going around with a begging bowl looking for a few pence here and there to support some Irish cultural cause. If additional money has been provided by the Government to help Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, that is greatly satisfying. I thank those who made kind comments about Comhaltas, which is very much appreciated. I have always seen Comhaltas as a non-political movement and I have always tried to bring all politics into it. I have said exactly the same regarding the Irish language in the House. It belongs to the people of Ireland, not one political party, and I have always worked on that basis. It should never be any different.
Comhaltas always succeeded in embracing both traditions in the North of Ireland. I met loyalist leaders in Dublin and leaders of the Orange Order who visited the Republic to discuss their culture and how we might be able to promote that. I have not discussed this publicly but it is something I always wanted to do. Likewise, with regard to the diaspora, Comhaltas is organised in 15 countries on four continents and we provide services to 3 million people annually. The Irish language is central to our work and one of our main aims is to promote it. Education has been a particular part of our work. We run 1,000 classes each week, a summer college for young people and a diploma course for teachers, and we provide performance certification and so on. Senator O'Toole will be glad to know education, especially in Irish, is very much part of our work.
If the organisation has received a little money over recent years to assist our work, it has not only helped our culture but has also helped our cultural tourism. I give credit to Senator Buttimer for his comments at an Oireachtas committee when tourism officials appeared before it because, as he said, our heritage and culture are central to the tourism industry. Above all else, I refer to the number of young people who become involved in cultural activities. To show we are not elitist, this year Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann attracted 250,000 people and more than 10,000 performers and generated €30 million for the region in which it was held. We do not boast about these statistics but it gives a context to this issue. I will give every support I can to the coláistí samhraidh and to every language body but I hope no one will begrudge Comhaltas being successful in delivering an attractive programme for which the Government provided investment.
A number of weeks ago I made an urgent request of the Minister for Health and Children to introduce legislation to control the sale of herbal ecstasy in head shops throughout the country. Senator Wilson repeated the call in an Adjournment debate. I reiterate the request as a result of numerous calls from parents and health officials yesterday in Galway city. The head shop in Galway has distributed leaflets throughout the city advertising and offering a 15% discount in legal highs, skins, pipes and bongs for Christmas. However, the substance about which I am most concerned is BZP, the party pill, which has led to two young people receiving psychiatric treatment in University College Hospital Galway for three and four weeks, respectively. I appeal to the Leader because Government inaction is leading to threats to the safety and mental health of our young people. I acknowledge the House has a full programme but the Leader and the Government will not want to put the mental health of our young people at risk and, therefore, I would like a response on when they will act.
I invite the Minister for Education and Science to the House again. This morning's lead story in the Irish Independent about the widening gap between the top performing and low achieving schools is worrying. I am not surprised by the news but it is totally misleading because the published leaving certificate results of top performing schools are not valid unless they are benchmarked against the entry performance of the same students in first year because we cannot be sure that is due to the school.
Time and again, newspapers publish results without noting how the children were performing when they entered first year. However, it is time for the Government to examine the resources and funding it provides to fee paying schools and, especially, what the team of teachers in these private schools are doing differently to produce these results, and I suspect they are doing something differently.
I strongly support the promotion and practice of music and the arts, as it is critical to our culture and identity. However, is it proportionate at this time for the Government to give €3 million to Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, given the severe cuts in core education areas? I would like everyone to put their hands on their hearts and answer that question. I lived in Belgrave Square, Monkstown, and I benefited from the sessions. I am a supporter of music.
I agree with Senator Quinn regarding the removal of cribs from shops and hospitals. As a republic, it is our job to welcome visitors and to respect their traditions and cultures but I also hope they respect ours. The replacement and removal of cribs at Christmas time is akin to taking Christ out of Christmas. Where that happens, he is being replaced by the new god of materialism, which is a road we do not want to go down and it is political correctness gone too far.
I support Senator Bradford's remarks on unemployment and the need for a debate on the matter. With regard to the revised Order of Business, we can only reluctantly accept it, with the utmost respect, because it is totally at variance with normal practice. Surely a day's business can only be relevant to that day and something cannot be done in advance.
I understand a meeting took place and we accept it reluctantly and without wanting to set a precedent.
I strongly support the remarks of Senators Quinn and Daly with regard to the practice of removing cribs and I hope to God that it does not take hold. It is anti-Irish and is completely against our tradition and everything we have lived with all our lives. It would be a wholly unacceptable practice if it were to take hold.
Senators Quinn, Daly and others referred to the removal of cribs. This matter was brought to my attention on a number of occasions recently. What would happen if the Irish people went to other countries that have different values from us? I have been to those countries and when in Rome one does what the Romans do. Those people have come to Ireland and they are very welcome. Our Christian traditions should obtain. The director of one organisation in Mullingar told me he cannot advertise to groups with regard to Christmas parties.
I always get slightly alarmed when I hear people stating, "political correctness gone mad" because that has become such a cliché. Every year in the recent past I have heard people bemoaning the absence of cribs at Christmas. It does not appear to me as though any individuals, certainly not the new communities in Ireland, have been asking for cribs to be removed. Nobody has been asking for cribs to be removed. Nobody is banning cribs or suggesting that they should be banned.
It is up to individual businesses, organisations, agencies and families whether they want to have cribs. It is entirely a matter for them and I do not hear anyone demanding that a crib be removed from any place. As somebody who was brought up Catholic but is now an atheist, I am delighted to see how much celebration there is of Christmas and how much Christmas has become an inclusive event and not only a Christian event. I am delighted to see celebration and festivity. We need it at this time.
I do not see any sign of a reduction or dilution in the celebration of Christmas, far from it. We celebrate it far more openly and inclusively now than we did before.
I support the words of Senator Norris on the Pamela Izevbekhai case. I wrote to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform asking him to consider allowing her to remain on humanitarian grounds with her young daughters. Will the Leader consider a cross-party motion of support for Pamela's case?
The apparent leak from the immigrant authorities is very disturbing. All of us on both sides of the House would express concern at that. Pamela has received a great deal of support, not only from people on the Opposition side but also from the Government side. Is a cross-party motion possible in this case? We had one on the Ingrid Betancourt case and on other issues.
As we are about to celebrate the 90th anniversary of women voting for the first time in this country and the 90th anniversary of the election of Constance Markievicz as the first woman to be elected to the Dáil and as an MP, I call for a debate on gender equality. We have a particularly poor record of women's participation in the Oireachtas. With 13% in the Dáil, we rank at 87th internationally. I recently examined the overall number of seats filled since the election of Markievicz in 1918 and only 6% of the more than 6,000 Dáil and Seanad seats filled since then were filled by women. That is an appallingly low performance.
This House is an appropriate place to examine this matter as our record is better, with 21.7% female at present. We should have a debate on gender equality, the advancement of women in politics and ways in which we can improve the representation levels of women. Extensive research has been done and we know that child care, lack of access to cash and women's confidence are issues, as is the culture in which women are not advanced. These are the four "Cs". Two obvious recommendations this House could make are to improve the provision of child care and State supports for child care to give women a choice as to whether they will enter public life or stay in the home. or both.
We could also examine the culture. When, 90 years after the election of Markievicz, we still provide in the Constitution that women's place is in the home, there would be cross-party support for removing that provision from the Constitution and changing our culture to make it more positive so that women would choose whether to enter public life, stay in the home or do both. We need to make that choice available so that women's place is not only in the home but also in public life and in this House as much as anywhere else in Ireland.
I wish to follow up on some of the sentiments offered by my colleague, Senator Joe O'Reilly, with regard to apprentices. Thousands of young apprentices half way through their various apprenticeship courses are being let off and left stranded and abandoned. I support the call for FÁS, or whatever agencies, to engage with those apprentices to try to find a way for them to finish their apprenticeships, whether it is through reskilling or retraining on their courses or diverting them into other educational courses. It is not good enough that they are abandoned and stranded. These are young people in their formative years with two or three years of their courses behind them and they are fearful that they cannot finish their apprenticeships. They need urgent help and I am interested to hear the Leader's comments in that regard.
I add my voice of concern with regard to the €1.2 million cuts in Gaeltacht courses. In Waterford, we have a Gaeltacht in An Rinn of which we are very proud. This Gaeltacht has welcomed all and sundry into the community over many generations to partake in its culture and the organisations through which it promotes the Irish language. The community groups, agencies and organisations promoting the Irish language and culture will suffer because of these cuts. They no longer will be able to do what they have always done to promote the Irish language and engage with the wider community, and that is of great concern.
I acknowledge Senator Ó Murchú and the good work of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann in all counties North and South and beyond. I do not begrudge it funding and it deserves any funds it receives. The Irish language, however, needs to remain a priority. An Rinn is a jewel in the Irish crown and in Waterford's culture. It has always extended open arms to the outside community to come in and participate in the promotion of the Irish language. That should continue and should be supported by the Government.
I received representations from a constituent on a matter of which I was unaware. A total of 45 people are studying the Arabic language for the leaving certificate, which might surprise some people. However, no text is available for those students to study. Will the Leader take up this issue with the Department of Education and Science? Christmas is approaching and half the school year is gone, and those students have no textbook with which to study the Arabic language. That is a disgrace. I am sure there are others in the same position. I ask the Leader to take up that matter on my behalf.
I wish to raise the very serious issue of the people who were arrested and the poor, unfortunate women who were the victims of the network of brothels and prostitution in the towns listed in The Irish Times yesterday. When I read it, I tried to think what it must be like to be one of those women with no English and no family or support here. There is little protection for these women. They are the victims. I also considered the men who use the services of these brothels. Will the Leader organise a debate on this matter?
This insidious practice is taking place in rural and provincial towns throughout the State. Landlords who rent their premises to such persons should be liable for prosecution and members of the public should have the confidence to report the existence of brothels to the Garda. I commend the Garda on the great work it has done in arresting these individuals. We should have a debate on this urgent matter.
I formally second Senator Norris's resolution regarding Ms Pamela Izevbekhai and her two beautiful daughters. The resolution calls on this House to seek an assurance that Ms Izevbekhai and her children will not be deported on 10 December. The idea of a child bleeding to death without any anaesthetic is mind-boggling. The prospect of the possible deportation of Ms Izevbekhai and her children suggests a cold and callous attitude on the part of this State and does not reflect well on our humanity.
I congratulate Senator Bacik, together with my colleague in Westmeath, Deputy O'Rourke, on organising the 90th anniversary celebration of women in politics. This is a worthwhile initiative. We should encourage greater participation by women in politics. Women contribute differently and more logically than some of our male colleagues.
How do I follow that? Ar an gcéad dul síos, iarraim arís ar an gCeannaire díospóireacht a eagrú mar gheall ar deontas na gcoláistí samhraidh, atá á tharraingt siar ag an Rialtas. For the benefit of those Members who misunderstood the points made by Senator O'Toole and me yesterday, I call for a debate on the Irish language, with particular reference to the removal by the Government of the grant to na coláistí samhraidh. This comes at a time when the Gaeltacht is under severe pressure. Tá muintir na Gaeltachta faoi bhrú. The withdrawal of this grant means that all children will not have an equal opportunity to go to the Gaeltacht. It may also cause hardship to families who have benefited from and grown dependent upon the income arising from the role of bean an tí.
Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann has been wrongly brought into this debate. In fairness to Senator O'Toole, he did not criticise the grant to that organisation. What he said was that the Minister and the Department, as outlined by Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge, was allocated an increase of 62% in the Irish language fund, of which €3 million was given to Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. This point was mischievously misrepresented by some Members to suggest we were critical of that organisation. It is wrong of Members on the Government side to lampoon those of us on this side of the House who have raised this valid point.
I beg the Cathaoirleach's indulgence to restate how important it is that we do not blame immigrants — the new members of our society — for the removal of cribs from shops and hospitals. No Irish person wants this; it is political correctness gone berserk. Let us celebrate and rejoice in Christianity and all other religions and creeds. We are entitled to religious expression of all denominations and the crib is central to that. I take this opportunity to criticise Dublin City Council for the monstrosity in O'Connell Street and the cost it incurred. It makes no sense.
Senators Bradford, O'Toole, Alex White, Regan, Coghlan and Coffey called for debates on job creation, the economy and the banking system. We all welcome today's announcement regarding a reduction in interest rates. I hope that reduction is passed on to customers. The provision of a State guarantee to the banks was the correct action to take. However, we do not want to see those institutions attempting to claw back their losses through increases in interest rates and margins. We hope everything will become clearer in the next week. The decrease in the European Central Bank interest rate, along with corresponding decreases in Sweden and the United Kingdom, should be of considerable help to businesses, especially small and medium enterprises. Members also referred to difficulties in regard to apprenticeships. The Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment has taken this matter on board and is actively engaged in addressing it.
This is an important week for the 1.3 million social welfare recipients who will receive an additional payment this week, totalling €200 million. The Christmas bonus of 100% of the normal weekly payment is very important to those in receipt of social welfare. I congratulate the Minister, Deputy Hanafin, and her Department on their achievement in fulfilling this commitment in these difficult economic times. The Minister said this week that this is the ninth year in which the full 100% bonus will be paid. This shows that the Government, despite the difficult economic situation, wants to continue to protect the most vulnerable in our society. Some 900,000 recipients and their 400,000 dependants will benefit from this bonus to help them through the Christmas period. This will be warmly welcomed by Senators on all sides of the House.
Senators O'Donovan and Keaveney referred to the proposal for fishing penalty points by the eminent lawyer, Mr. Gerard Hogan. This is an issue worthy of debate and I will convey the Senators' views to the Minister after the Order of Business.
Senators O'Toole, Keaveney, Ó Murchú, Healy Eames, Coffey, Buttimer and Regan expressed their views on funding for the arts, including Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann and the Irish language. It is fair to say that all Senators wish to see the maximum funding in place to protect and support the language. That has always been the case in the House. I commend Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann on its heroic work since its establishment in Mullingar more than 50 years ago. Senator Ó Murchú, an eminent Member of the Seanad, is also chief executive officer of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. People are overjoyed at the commitment he and his lady wife have given over the years, engaging regularly in fund-raising. I referred yesterday to the work done by the late Edward Longford and Mrs. Longford to ensure the Gate Theatre, which celebrates its 80th birthday this year, remained open. Such unsung heroes should be acknowledged.
Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann has done great work in affording respect to the intellectual and creative talents of musicians. It is an underestimated talent that is not appreciated in this State to the extent it is elsewhere. Irish music is a trade brand, a claim few other places can make, with the possible exception of blues music in certain parts of the United States or country music in Nashville. Irish musicians are of great importance as ambassadors for our nation.
Senator Keaveney expressed serious concerns about the incidence of domestic violence. I have no difficulty with having a debate on this issue. As I said yesterday, it may be accommodated within next week's Second Stage debate on the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. I will pass the Senator's strong views on to the Minister.
Senators Norris, O'Reilly, Bacik and McFadden voiced their serious concerns on humanitarian grounds about the Nigerian woman, Pamela Izevbekhai, her two lovely young children, and the difficulty in which she finds herself. The decision is to be made by the European court by 10 December. The matter is before the courts but last week I expressed strong humanitarian views on it. I wish them well when the European court gives its determination.
Senator Hannigan welcomed the Cullahill to Cashel——
Yes, I will. My apologies but I forgot that point. I will convey it in the strongest terms possible to the Minister's office immediately after the Order of Business. It is a serious matter that has been brought to the attention of the House by Senator Norris, who outlined his views with considerable knowledge.
Senator Hannigan welcomed the opening of the Cullahill to Cashel motorway by the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey. I welcomed this yesterday. It is another great step forward as a result of the huge investment being made in the country's infrastructure by the Government.
Senators Quinn, Daly, Coghlan, Glynn and Buttimer expressed their concerns that Christmas be celebrated. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ, which is the most important part of Christmas. With regard to the symbols of Christmas, particularly the crib, those in charge of our hospitals and other public institutions should display the crib with respect in those institutions over Christmas. No administrator in a hospital should feel under any pressure whatsoever. We should celebrate the birth of Christ in the traditional Christian way, as people in Ireland have done for generations.
Senator Healy Eames expressed strong views about the difficulties she mentioned, which come under the remit of the Minister for Health and Children. I am informed by Senator Wilson who raised this matter previously on the Adjournment that legislation is due in late February. I will convey the Senator's views to the Minister this afternoon. If something can by done through the Garda Síochána about the issues raised by the Senator and the circulation of leaflets, it can be addressed immediately. Senator Healy Eames also expressed strong views about school examination results. I will convey her views to the Minister.
Senators Bacik and McFadden called for a debate on gender equality and gender achievements. They spoke of celebrating the 90th anniversary of the election of Constance Markievicz in 1918. I am aware from reading the history of Castlepollard that she addressed an area in my home town in 1922. I have no difficulty joining the ladies of this country in celebrating the achievements of women in those 90 years. They have been incredible. It is nice to see a former Senator who is now back in the Dáil, my colleague, Deputy Mary O'Rourke, organising the celebration of the achievements of women over the past 90 years. I wish them well.
Senator McFadden also congratulated the Garda Síochána on the arrests made yesterday. Ten people have been arrested and are being questioned following raids on brothels. I congratulate the Garda on its vigilance on this issue. I will convey the Senator's views to the Minister.