Wednesday, 11 March 2009
Order of Business (Resumed).
Tá deacracht agam leis an Order of Business don lá inniu, agus ceapaim gur cheart dhá uair a chloig do bheith againn don díospóireacht ar an nGaeilge. Níl ach aon uair agus ceathrú a chloig againn, agus braithim go bhfuil sé sin ró ghairid. I believe it should be extended to two hours. Perhaps there is a problem with this, but if so we need to hear about it. It certainly needs to be extended somewhat further.
Yesterday, as Senator Fitzgerald has said, there was very strong support across all parties and groups all over the country for condemnation of the atrocities in the North. We now need to focus on positive elements. Among the issues we need to look at are the positive impacts of the Good Friday Agreement and how these affect society. We are not doing enough in this regard. To take a simple example, the North-South Ministerial Council is based in Armagh. I must declare an interest here in that I chaired the parliamentary liaison group of Co-operation Ireland, and we were in regular contact with these people. We recently had a meeting with the North-South Ministerial Council in Armagh. One of the positive things I learned, of which I was not previously aware, is that there are meetings going on all the time between Ministers in the Republic and their counterparts in the North. Such discussions are being held every week. Every time a Minister in the North has any engagement with the ministerial council or with a Minister in the Republic, he or she reports to the Stormont Assembly, so people are engaging with the process. I have never heard in ten years about any report of such engagement except for the odd mention on television. I suggest the Seanad is the appropriate place in which something like that could be done regularly with reports being discussed in this House as regards what takes place.
It is also important to recognise the types of initiatives that are going on. There are obvious, practical, physical things people can see such as the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland, which is probably the most effective of the bodies established, looking after the waterways all over this island. There are other things, too. Along the Border there are many local authority bodies liaising with cross-Border groups, particularly in areas such as Monaghan, Fermanagh and Cavan. Those are the ones I know of, but there are probably others as well. They meet regularly with their colleagues on either side of the Border and focus on local issues. Party politics does not come into it, and neither does unionism nor nationalism. People need to be aware such things are happening and we need to have them recorded and discussed.
It is not just a clear choice, therefore, between the shooting of soldiers and policemen with nothing being done on the other side. Much is happening on the ground and we need to hear about issues such as Garda co-operation. Are people aware, for instance, of the Centre for Autism in Middletown County Armagh, which is supported by both governments and which has people in it from both the Republic and the North? It takes children from Waterford to Antrim, in terms of dealing with these issues. These initiatives are not being presented as the products of peace and the type of things on which we can build for the future, and they should be.
There are other issues in the Good Friday Agreement such as the development of special education and health as well as cross-Border supports that could be taking place, and we should be focusing on those. I do not want to go into further detail apart from saying this is an issue of positivity that needs to be recorded, recognised, acknowledged and developed. We need to discuss these matters in the Seanad so people know there are positives in the peace process, apart from the fact of people not losing their lives.
Finally, I hope we will not pay the price for both governments over the last ten years reducing to almost nothing the grant aid they had previously given to groups such as Co-operation Ireland, which are involved in developing cross-community initiatives deep into the communities. We need to foster new interest in that regard to ensure these earlier initiatives are re-invented.
Ar dtús by mhaith liom aontú leis an Seanadóir Ó Tuathail mar gheal ar an díospóireacht Gaeilge tráthnóna inniu, agus tá súil agam go mbeidh ama ar fáil do Pairtí an Lucht Oibre san díospóireacht sin. I hope all parties get an opportunity to contribute to that debate. The time allocated seems to be somewhat short, however.
I agree with colleagues in respect of the events in the North. Everybody will agree that the joint appearance yesterday of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister was a moment of very considerable power, on a par, perhaps, with many of those moments that have occurred in the last ten years. They stood together to uphold politics and the rule of law over those who challenge the enormous achievements made in the past decade. It was a hugely important moment of solidarity which we should all strongly welcome. We should also welcome and support the initiative taken by one of the lead organisations in civil society North and South, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, and we should remind ourselves of this when talking about the economy. It has taken a really important initiative, namely, the silent protests and vigils which it is organising in different venues throughout the North today. This Chamber should strongly support that initiative as a way for ordinary people to express their horror at the three murders which have occurred there.
The Cathaoirleach's former colleague, Dr. Maurice Hayes, wrote very clearly and compelling today that this is an important moment for us to uphold the operation of and, historically, the importance of politics, of people coming together and reaching agreement. I believe he said we should not talk ourselves into a crisis in regard to this, that we need cool heads and a cool response and, most important, we need to demonstrate by our actions that politics and democracy work and, as politicians, to set about leading a united community into the future in which there is no room for terrorism of any hue.
I add my voice to those who spoke about the horrific assassination of the two soldiers and a police officer and the attack on the civilians. I express my condolences to the families of those killed and concern for those injured. None of us stands over a return to this type of activity. People from all political parties, North and South, standing together and condemning outright such activity has been a very positive sign that things have moved on significantly. For a while, one wondered whether people said one thing to their constituents and another in Parliament. However, when all politicians stand together and are as firm as they have been over the past few days, it is a great sign that things have moved on.
I agree with Senator Joe O'Toole that we should expose and exploit the things that are working extremely well. There has been a development in regard to how the history of the recent conflict is taught. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement met Dr. Eames and Mr. Denis Bradley last Thursday, and these are the types of issues at which they are still looking. What truth do we want to teach our children and our grandchildren? There is no truth, there is my version and somebody else's version of what happened. What we teach in schools must have that multiperspectivity. The other side must be put forward. We must do everything we can to ensure both sides get to know each other from primary school onwards.
I do not want to get into who might be arrested at this point but people over ten and under 25 years of age may not realise the realities of the Troubles, the awful carnage that took place and the psychological, physical and emotional damage done in many homes in Ulster. We cannot allow that to continue with the next generation.
Will the Leader arrange for the Minister of State with responsibility for children to come to the House to discuss an issue that was brought to my attention? I am chair of the youth committee in the Council of Europe and we will look at an item called the mosquito device. It is used in the UK primarily but it is also used in Ireland in areas where young people tend to congregate. It is a high pitched long frequency acoustic device that is supposed to annoy those under 20 years of age because it can only be heard by people up to that age. People over 20 years of age tend not to be able to hear it. It irritates those affected so much that they disperse, which is the goal, namely, to prevent young people from congregating. However, if a mother with a two year old child goes to a shopping centre, the child will be exposed to this sound but the mother will not hear it. The child will try to get away from the sound but the mother will not know what is the problem. That is one issue. Another issue is whether foetuses, unborn children, can hear it and the damage it causes. We should discuss whether we need to regulate, prohibit or promote the use of such devices. I would appreciate any exposure we can get on this issue so that we can get an Irish perspective on this international debate.
Ba mhaith liom, freisin, cur leis an méid atá ráite faoin am atá leagtha amach le haghaidh na díospóireachta sa teanga Gaeilge inniú.
We all rightly condemn the death of the two soldiers and the constable in the North. It was wonderful to see such unison in that regard. The wife of the constable said she had been cheated of her husband's life. In the South, children have been cheated of an appropriate education. Will the Minister for Education and Science urgently address this House with a view to reversing the educationally and financially unsound proposals he made in regard to mainstreaming children with special needs?
Last weekend I learned that his decision is financially unsound, although he made it on the basis of saving money. Last Friday I visited Scoil Chaitríona in Renmore which has seven children in a special class.
By mainstreaming the seven children, the State will lose €40,000 per year. If put into a mainstream class, these children will require five special needs assistants and a half time resource teacher, and that does not take into account the mainstream class teacher's salary. Members of this House spoke about how educationally unsound this move is but now we have evidence that it is also financially unsound. I encourage every school to do a similar cost exercise.
I encourage the Leader to invite the Minister to the House to address this issue because I am sure he does not want it to cost the State more money. It is causing parents and teachers much grief because they know the effect it will have on children.
Equally flawed is the social partnership model on which the current Taoiseach and the previous one have relied. It is not working. There was great news yesterday with the announcement of 500 new jobs in Hewlett-Packard, but that is in stark contrast to the fact that we are losing approximately 1,000 jobs per day in the private sector. We rely on it for revenue to pay for the public service——
I call for a debate on the social partnership model. I understand that 1.5 million people working in the private sector, including in multinationals, are not represented at the social partnership table. The Taoiseach and the Cabinet are paying too much heed to a flawed social partnership model. We rely on the private sector to provide the revenue to pay for the public sector. Will the Government agree to expand the partnership process to include the job and wealth creating sectors of our society, that is, small and medium sized enterprises and the multinationals? Will the Government establish immediately a think tank with three criterion, namely, to protect existing jobs, to create new jobs and, above all, to identify actions to regain our competitiveness? I look forward to hearing the Leader's response to that.
Will the Leader arrange for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, to come into the House and discuss not only the planning situation, but also the major problem in the construction industry? There is an opportunity, given that there is a new budget coming on stream, for us to do something in that regard.
There are 190,000 people currently employed in the construction industry. We are in danger of losing many of those jobs in the next five or six months. When we are reviewing the national development plan, which we will have to do, there will be an opportunity to put a major job creation project for the construction industry in place, which could tackle the problem over the next number of months.
I was at a meeting last night. There is no doubt the construction industry is stressed. It has already lost 100,000 people. We cannot afford to lose another 100,000 people from the construction industry or any other industry in this country to unemployment. There are already 300,000 or 400,000 people heading that way.
We are living in a very difficult environment and we cannot afford to pay exorbitant wages, which is exactly what we are paying in some sectors, including the ESB as I pointed out the other morning. It is time we looked at all these things. These are difficult decisions. I know the social partners do not like to take too many difficult decisions but, for the first time, they will have to.
I ask the Leader for a debate on the HIQA standards launched this week regarding the promotion of best practice in residential care settings for older people and to improve the quality of life for residents in these settings. I would like a discussion on how the additional loading on each bed in each setting was arrived at. The HSE transformation programme 2007-10 places an emphasis on providing services in primary, community and continuing care settings rather than in acute hospitals.
St. Patrick's Geriatric Hospital in Waterford is a hospital and not a nursing home. The nursing staff are skilled in rehabilitation nursing, which is very important in enabling people to have the best quality of life they can. They are also skilled in venopuncture, canulation, gastronomy tube insertion, male catheterisation, CPR and nurse prescribing, among other things. It is a very different setting from nursing homes and has skilled staff. It should be remembered when any decision is being made, because St. Patrick's Hospital in Waterford should retain its hospital status and is providing a service which has been lauded as being the standard to be achieved by all working in this area.
We should have a debate here with the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, with special responsibility for older people, Deputy Máire Hoctor, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney, or the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, whomever is most appropriate. Perhaps all of them could come in and make a contribution on what the best outcome would be for these people because what is happening now is not popular.
The issue of the setting of fees needs to be debated very widely because if these charges are to be passed on, in addition to residence, they seem to be set at boom time levels rather than being realistic proposals for people trying to carry out their jobs. It is having a dreadfully negative impact. People are seriously worried.
Is mian liom fáilte a chur roimh an socrú atá déanta chun an Ghaeilge a phlé inniu. Ar nós na cainteoirí eile, tá súil agam go mbeidh seans ag gach éinne gur mhaith leo páirt a ghlacadh sa díospóireacht é sin a dhéanamh. Díospóireacht thar a bheith tábhachtach a bheidh ann.
I join the other speakers who have expressed abhorrence at the terrible, brutal events which have taken place in Northern Ireland in recent days. We all hoped and believed this was part of the distant past and had been consigned to history. I do not honestly believe it is in the gift of anyone to take the life of another person. I have always held that view and still hold it.
I very much agree with Senator O'Toole's comments on the positive side of the progress made since the Good Friday Agreement. All of us, North, South and internationally, have invested a significant amount of hope and confidence in the Good Friday Agreement and that which has flowed from it since. We have seen major progress, which perhaps we could only have dreamt of and aspired too 20 years ago. Anything which distracts from or undermines that is not for the common good.
I do not understand how any reasonable person is not able to read the signs and understand that people on this island want peace. We stood each day in this House for many years condemning brutality in other parts of the world and always asked that diplomacy would replace military activities and terrorism. One cannot ask another part of the world to do that and not do it in one's own country as well.
There is a good opportunity to build on the unity that has been expressed in recent days. One difficulty with the events which have taken place is that if the united approach is not evident and manifested, things can grow gradually over a period of time. The initial weeks after events of this kind are particularly important. I accept an all-party motion is a step in that direction.
I strongly support the view of Senator O'Toole regarding having ongoing reports and debates. We had them during the Troubles in the North of Ireland and we have all, from time to time, called for debates on the North. We have had some since the Good Friday Agreement, but we should have them on a regular basis in the future. We should have an opportunity to discuss specific developments, activities and aspirations in this House in the future.
Ba mhaith liom cur leis an méid a dúirt an Seanadóir O'Toole mar gheall ar an díospóireacht speisialta a bheidh againn tráthnóna inniu ar stádas na Gaeilge. Cé go gcuirim fáilte roimh an díospóireacht — is fiúí agus is maith an rud é go mbeidh sí ar siúl — sílim go raibh an ceart ag an Seanadóir nuair a dúirt sé go mbeidh an díospóireacht beagáinín ró-ghairid. Ba chóir go mbeadh an díospóireacht ar siúl ar feadh cúpla uair a' chloig. Is ábhair iontach tábhachtach iad stádas na Gaeilge agus an méid atáá dhéanamh againn ar son na teanga.
As someone who has said in the House that he firmly believes in sending delegations abroad and presenting a very positive Irish image abroad, St. Patrick's Day is a great opportunity to showcase Ireland. I am a positive believer in it, and as we approach that day it is important, in the context of the awful events we discussed yesterday and are still discussing today, that we showcase the country positively.
I will raise one issue and move to others quickly. I ask the Leader to give us an assurance that the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin, will pursue a bilateral agreement for our forgotten people, the undocumented Irish who are like fugitives in America and cannot come home for family events. I mentioned the issue last week. I ask the Leader to assure us that a bilateral agreement will be sought, rather than waiting on an emigration Bill, which is pie in the sky and will clearly not arise. The American and Irish Governments should reach an agreement as there is enough good will to do so. Will the Leader respond to this point?
I support the views expressed to the Leader, to which I ask him to respond. In light of the weekend's awful events, we should heighten co-operation through the structures of the Anglo-Irish agreement. Will the Leader try to get action on harmonising prices in the North and South? It could be done through the Anglo-Irish conference. We could start with a couple of products and harmonise prices and taxation to provide a level playing pitch, which would have considerable implications for trade, sustainability of jobs, Exchequer returns and all-Ireland co-operation. Will the Leader prioritise the pursuit of tax harmonisation on a number of goods through the agreement?
Ba mhaith liom an Ghaeilge a labhairt, ach níl mórán focail agam. Tá suim agam mo chuid Gaeilge a fheabhsú. Tá mé ag freastal ar rang Gaeilge chun é sin a dhéanamh. I welcome this afternoon's debate on Irish, to which I will listen. I do not have enough confidence to make a contribution, but I hope to be able to do so in future.
The House discussed social partnership and whether the model should change. I do not have enough knowledge to state whether it is faulty, although I wish I had. I do not have the time to go into the subject in enough detail to make such a strong statement. However, I would welcome a brainstorming exercise. The model may or may not be right for the new generation. I would welcome a discussion on how to improve competitiveness and our relationship with the unions and on our salaries, etc. Given the fact that these are aspects of social partnership, it would be a welcome discussion in the Chamber.
I read a report today on upgrading the Planning and Development Act 2000. Doing so before the summer recess would be timely, given the fact that new local councillors will be elected. Completing the preparatory work on updating the development plan, outlining the relationship between the Department and local authorities and organising seminars for new councillors are important matters if the new crop of councillors is to understand the situation. Will the Leader accelerate the arrangements for the debate in the House? The matter of updating the Act has arisen often, but it is now more important than ever that we move on the issue quickly.
Right now, a delegation from the Joint Committee on European Affairs is arriving at Stormont to advise those in the Assembly on how to organise themselves to handle European affairs. It is in return for a visit approximately one month ago by the Assembly's European committee. I should be in the delegation, but I was unable to go at the last minute. This is exactly the sort of cross-Border co-operation that we should have.
Each joint committee should find a reason to visit the North and to invite its counterpart to come south. The more co-operation there is, the less the likelihood of any misunderstandings. Our horror at events during the weekend should be made clear. The more that we can do so and avoid ambiguous words, the better.
It could be a positive step, one that we should consider doing during the coming weeks.
I draw the Leader's attention to something that occurred yesterday. European finance ministers agreed to allow France to reduce the VAT rate on restaurant food to 5.5%. Previously, I stated that reducing the rate of tax can sometimes increase the amount of income. There are examples of this. It seems that the Irish tourism industry is competing with everyone, certainly France. If the French authorities believe that reducing their VAT rate on food will encourage tourism, it is the type of initiative that we should be taking. The change only occurred yesterday, but we should be following suit.
I have never heard of mosquito devices. Having only learned of them this morning, I gather that they can only be heard by younger people. By playing a sound, younger people do not assemble where they are not wanted. A number of retailers in Europe have discovered that a great way of ensuring that young people do not gather in certain areas is to play Barry Manilow or Mozart. As young people cannot stand that music, they move away quickly. I do not understand it, but it is a better idea than mosquito devices.
Ar nós na Seanadóirí eile, cuirim fáilte roimh an seans a bheidh againn stádas na Gaeilge a phlé níos déanaí inniu. Beidh gach Seanadóir in ann a gcuid tuairimí ar an ábhar sin a chur in iúl. Tá sé fíor go bhfuil an teanga faoi bhrú.
Now that the economy has slowed, particularly in terms of planning, it would be timely to invite the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to the House and to ask him to use his good offices in liaising with local authorities to expedite the granting of planning permissions and fire safety certificates. Evidence suggests a considerable delay. While that delay was understandable in the past ten or 11 years, the excuse of numbers no longer exists.
Irrespective of whether we like it, the building industry is important. However, we are not discussing that industry alone. Rather, we are discussing individuals whose applications for planning permission have been delayed considerably. I would welcome a debate on the matter.
I congratulate the Garda on apprehending six or seven people in Drumshanbo in County Leitrim who had been running a cannabis growing facility, about which I heard on radio. They were members of a well known Oriental gang affiliated with a notorious Oriental outfit. Several years ago in the House, I raised other matters pertaining to gangs, but my comments were rubbished. I was told that there was no evidence to suggest that foreign gangs were operating in Ireland, but I have been proven right, as every Senator knows.
Ours is a country with a proud history in welcoming people to our shores, but we could do without the people in question. As far as I am concerned, they have no place in this country or society. If they want to ply their evil trade, they should return to where they came from. As every Senator knows, tolerance for it in their country of origin is far less than the tolerance exhibited in Ireland.
I would welcome a debate on the role of the Construction Industry Federation, CIF. Senator Butler had some cheek defending it this morning given the fact that it gobbled up profits for years and colluded with the Government to leave us in this situation.
Like Senator Fitzgerald and others, I ask for a debate prior to the budget. Yesterday, the Governor of the Central Bank, Mr. John Hurley, stated that the economy might shrink by 6%. The National Economic and Social Council, NESC, the Government's think tank, stated that we must reduce prices by 20% if we are to restore our competitiveness. In light of these facts, it is important that the House play a central role in the discussion on the budget's formulation.
In light of the trips made for St. Patrick's Day by Ministers, which I support in principle, I seek a series of post-event debates in which the Taoiseach and Ministers are invited to the House for a discussion and questions and answers session on how they got on abroad, what they achieved and how best they sold Ireland.
It is important to have accountability in respect of the trips abroad. It also is important in this time of economic recession to tell the world that Ireland is open for business and has an educated and great workforce that is ready and willing to work. Equally, it is important, in light of the recent events in the North, to tell the people of the world that we are united in the pursuit of a peaceful Ireland.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to the House to discuss the impending cutbacks in RTE. The decision by RTE to axe "Questions and Answers" is regrettable and wrong. It continues a trend in broadcasting to eliminate jobs, public service broadcasting and, more important, current affairs and talk radio. As for public service broadcasting, RTE has a duty to present current affairs to the nation, and "Questions and Answers" was an extremely good programme. I have been in its audience but not on the panel.
I ask the Leader to make inquiries on the proposals to televise Seanad and Dáil proceedings. I am cognisant that there was a debate about the role of the Seanad on national radio this morning in which two Members of the Seanad participated. Two other very well chosen, hand-picked cynics appeared with the two Seanadóirí. They began by seeking the abolition of the Seanad and descended further by seeking the abolition of the Presidency. It is about time the Seanad was able to show the world what exactly its Members do, the type of debate that goes on in this House and of which it is capable.
The media has not assessed properly the Seanad's role. When the Seanad was reformed in 1938, times undoubtedly were much more difficult economically. The crisis of the Emergency was about to begin and the standard of living was only a fraction of its present level. However, at that time, the people recognised the need for a second Chamber. If the Seanad is to be televised, Members should ensure they get equal access and that they order their business in such a way that the Order of Business in this House does not coincide with that of the Dáil. As no one else will do it for them, it is up to Members to ensure the work they do is presented accurately to the public.
I thank the Cathaoirleach. I also seek a debate on the economy. I refer to the excellent news that Hewlett-Packard is to take on 500 people and that Intel is to invest a further €1 billion. While we undoubtedly have not reached the end of the trough of unemployment, there are signs of the shoots of recovery. When the recovery comes, as it will inevitably, despite the media's persistent belief that this recession is never-ending, although we are only in the first year of it, people will wonder why Ireland recovered so quickly. As the most open economy in the world, we have in place the systems that will ensure that we continue to trade particularly well in the world, and such systems have been in place for some time. I recognise the futility of blaming the Construction Industry Federation for the world downturn.
Is mian liom fáilte a chur roimh an díospóireacht a bheidh ar súil tráthnóna. Níl a lán ama againn ach beidh seans againn oráid a dhéanamh.
Like Senator Butler, I also seek a review of the national development plan and wish to see job creation schemes put first. However, it is important not to simply end up with a series of white elephants and to avoid going down the famine road. We must ensure that any changes to the NDP are cost-effective, as well as putting employment-generating schemes first. I look forward to a debate in these Chambers on the subject of a review of the NDP.
I wish to pick up on a point made by other Members pertaining to reconsidering our planning and development Acts. Like Senator Quinn, I am concerned that many young people have nowhere to go in our towns and villages and are constantly moved on and criminalised by machines such as the mosquito device. I will not go down the Barry Manilow route, as I happen to believe he produced some good music. The song, "Mandy" was one of my favourites, as was "Copacabana".
While not dwelling on that point, my question is serious. In many of the new towns and villages that have sprung up and have been developed over the past ten years, there are no facilities for young people. They are moved on from dwelling to dwelling or from street to street with nowhere to go and nowhere to hang out in the absence of cafés and youth centres. This issue must be addressed, both locally and nationally, by means of changes to the planning and development Acts.
In the past, I asked the Leader to take up the issue with the other group leaders in the Seanad to ascertain whether our weekly schedule could include special debates on aspects of the economy, given the unique and special circumstances that prevail in light of the current difficulties. That could and should be accommodated by agreement between the group leaders, particularly in the weeks and months ahead.
The second issue I wish to raise pertains to HSE services for older people. While much good work is being done in our communities by people who provide services for older people, I am concerned about proposals from the HSE to amalgamate and reduce services in the area of home help, home care packages and meals on wheels. I ask the Leader to procure a briefing for me on same.
As was expressed yesterday and again today, wonderful unity has been demonstrated, both North and South, in the unanimous condemnation of the mindless and senseless murders that took place in the North. Yesterday, I asked the Leader, although he probably inadvertently overlooked dealing with it in his response, for an early debate with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform regarding an update on these matters. I call this morning for such a debate, which was also requested by Senator Fitzgerald. Members can move on and deal with all the other matters that have been mentioned.
I support strongly the points made by Senator O'Toole this morning, and not for the first time. Although many meetings are taking place North and South, one hears nothing about them. No progress is reported to either House of the Oireachtas and Members are not engaging with the process. The Senator's proposal would be very useful for the Seanad, as have been many other good ideas that have been mentioned in the Chamber from time to time. I look forward to hearing the Leader's response in this regard.
I join in the condemnation of the actions of the so-called Real IRA and the Continuity IRA, which claimed responsibility for the callous murders of the two soldiers and the policeman. They have no support and no mandate on either side of the Border and I sincerely hope the perpetrators will be brought to justice as soon as possible. It is important to note that in the past 12 months, there have been 40 attempts on the lives of policemen in Northern Ireland, which did not come to notice until the recent death of a police officer. Like other Members, I was heartened to hear Martin McGuinness describe the perpetrators of these heinous acts as traitors to the country, which is what they are. Certainly, Members should not be complacent in our attitude. We must give the Garda the tools it requires, including the capacity for greater surveillance and intelligence gathering. Any such expenditure is justified because it will benefit the security of our citizens and the State. I join other Members in calling on the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to the House to report on what is happening.
Like other Members, I once again raise the issue of the delays being experienced by social welfare applicants, with people waiting up to nine weeks to receive their benefits. This is an absolute disgrace. I appreciate that the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Hanafin, is trying to deploy additional staff at social welfare offices, but the problem persists. People pay PRSI and income tax from the first week they join the workforce. It is entirely unacceptable that they should have to wait nine weeks to receive social welfare benefits. These delays also put pressure on community welfare officers, with people obliged to turn to them for money while they wait for their social welfare applications to be processed. The delays are clogging up the entire system. This matter must be dealt with urgently.
I join Senator Buttimer in paying tribute to John Bowman for the impartial way in which he chaired so many interesting political debates over the years and for his encouragement of audience participation. This is not the right way for RTE to claw back its budgetary shortfall of €68 million. Eliminating some of the American trash on our screens or imposing cuts in the salaries of some its highest paid personalities might be better ways of doing so. A message must go out loud and clear from this House that we will not tolerate any dilution of RTE's commitment to current affairs programming and debate. We in this House are only relevant if the public knows what we are saying in the course of the interesting debates that take place in this Chamber. I pay tribute to Mr. Bowman and thank him for all his years of service. I wish him well for the future.
I join colleagues in welcoming yesterday's announcement of the creation of 500 jobs at Hewlett Packard, as well as the investment of an additional €1 billion by Intel. I intend henceforth to begin my reply to the Order of Business by focusing on positive news, so that the staff of "Oireachtas Report" will be able to offer a balanced broadcast to the people, featuring the good news as well as the bad. I wholeheartedly welcome this very good news, especially for people on the east coast and for young students and apprentices.
On behalf of the House, I call on the Minister for Education and Science to give serious consideration to increasing, as a matter of urgency, the marks awarded to leaving certificate students for mathematics and science by 50%. It is in these areas that jobs will be created in the future.
There is no misunderstanding. The purpose of my proposal is to encourage students to study mathematics and science. In the future, more jobs will require that type of expertise. I would welcome the assistance of those Members who are intellectual scholars in considering how we can create more jobs in the future.
Various Senators called for an all-party motion regarding the brutal murders of three unfortunate people in Northern Ireland in recent days. I have no difficulty with the inclusion of such a motion on the Order Paper so that the issue can be debated as soon as possible. I congratulate the Irish Congress of Trade Unions on its endeavours in getting everybody to join together today. People throughout the world will see on their television screens that the North of Ireland is a peaceful place and that we on this island are a peaceful people who will not let anything interfere with the working of the Good Friday Agreement. We are fully behind all those who are playing such a significant role in furthering the objective of a lasting peace on this island, an objective we all share.
Senator O'Toole referred to the meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council that will take place in Armagh. I, together with colleagues in this and the other House, am a member of both the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body. I propose that the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, under the stewardship of the Cathaoirleach, should examine how we can make this House a conduit for debate on these issues. For example, an update should be delivered in this Chamber on at least a bi-monthly basis on the achievements, activities and agenda of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body. In addition, we should, from time to time, invite Ministers and other participants to update us on meetings of the North-South Ministerial Council.
Dr. Robin Eames and Mr. Denis Bradley attended an informative meeting of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement last Thursday under the stewardship of the Chairman, Deputy Treacy, at which they outlined the important work in which they have been engaged. I will undertake to consider how we can progress this at the earliest possible time. It is also my intention to invite the Taoiseach to the House for statements on Northern Ireland. I have already discussed this with him and as soon as he has an opening, I will include this on the Order Paper.
Senators Fitzgerald and Keaveney called on the Minister of State with responsibility for children to attend the Seanad and give his reaction to the report of the Ombudsman for Children on the death of children in care. I have no objection to such a debate.
Senators Keaveney and Quinn referred to the mosquito devices and I have no difficulty arranging this. Senators Healy Eames, O'Toole, Alex White, Ó Murchú, Reilly, Ormonde, Glynn and Hannigan called for an extended debate on the Irish language. This was in acknowledgement of the special fortnight from 2 to 17 March. We normally have the opportunity of a debate on the Irish language. The Minister is not available because it is a difficult time this week, with Ministers taking off to all parts of the world, but the Minister of State, Deputy Carey, will attend the House to acknowledge the importance of the fortnight. With the agreement of the House we will have a further opportunity for an extended period of time to allow Members to make a contribution to the great work taking place. I often refer on the Order of Business to the wonderful work of TG4, which plays a central role in promoting the Irish language, Irish culture and everything to do with our country.
Many colleagues called for a debate on education and we have no difficulty in arranging that.
I acknowledge the €640 million that has been invested in the capital programme this year. An extra 7,000 people have been employed in the past ten years. There is much achievement as well as an understanding of what is taking place with the downturn in the economy.
Senators referred to the need for the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to attend the House to discuss competitiveness, jobs and everything to do with employment. I have given a commitment for this to take place after St. Patrick's Day.
Senators Butler, Ormonde, Buttimer and Hannigan called for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to come to the House to hear our comments on the construction industry and the 190,000 jobs in this industry. I am seriously concerned about the 100,000 people who have lost their jobs in this sector, particularly the apprentices whose situation has been highlighted by Senator Hannigan and other colleagues over the past number of weeks. We must discuss that issue and see how we can assist everyone in that industry. Everyone is entitled to be supported in the downturn irrespective of the industry they work in.
Senator Prendergast called for the Minister of State with responsibility for older people to come to the House to discuss care for older people. I will make this request immediately after the Order of Business. Senators Ormonde and Glynn called for a debate on planning and development and called for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, to discuss planning and fire officer certificates. Senator Glynn referred to validation dates, in which there can be major discrepancies ranging from three days to seven weeks in some local authority areas. Some indication should be given, as suggested by the Senator. I have no difficulty in arranging this the week after we return from the St. Patrick's Day recess.
Senators O'Reilly and Buttimer wished our Ministers well on the St. Patrick's Day showcase. I refer to their endeavours and hard work going all over the world. I wish them well and I also wish the Cathaoirleach well. I understand he will represent this House on St. Patrick's Day in the White House. I congratulate him on representing us. It is a wonderful acknowledgement that he is doing so and we congratulate him on taking the céad míle fáilte from the Upper House of Parliament to our friends in the White House.
I asked the Leader a specific question on the Ministers' trips on St. Patrick's Day, which he avoided answering. I asked if the Leader would consider whether the Ministers could, on their return to Ireland, present reports to the House. I did not wish them well, I asked that specific question.
I had intended keeping that matter for last but it is a great pleasure to accede to the Senator's request.
Senator Quinn referred to VAT and its reduction to 5.5% last week in France. This is very welcome and I will include it in the proposals from this House when we are having a debate on the economy, which has been requested by many Senators including Senator Fitzgerald, in our pre-budget proposal to the Minister. This would help our tourism industry in a major way.
Senator Glynn congratulated the Garda Síochána for the arrest of persons in Drumshanbo regarding the drugs find. I agree with the sentiments expressed by Senator Glynn.
Senators Buttimer and McFadden expressed disappointment that "Questions and Answers" will not continue. The professionalism of Mr. John Bowman is exemplary. He is one of the best broadcasters RTE has ever had and we wish him well in continuing whatever he will do in the future. He is one of the more serious and responsible broadcasters whom we all enjoyed viewing and listening to. We wish him continued success in the future. I never had the pleasure of being invited to appear on the show but many colleagues had the great honour and privilege of appearing on the show. It was necessary and the programme has played an important role in political life. I wish Mr. John Bowman all the luck that we can wish anyone in that profession and we congratulate him on all he has done.
Senator Hanafin called on us to review the broadcasting of the Dáil and the Seanad. We can discuss that in our contributions tonight and if necessary we can change the Order of Business so we have a live broadcast of the Order of Business one morning a week on TG4 or another channel. This would enhance the image of the Seanad for the people of Ireland, who would see the great work that is taking place on their behalf in Seanad Éireann. We are the protectors of the Constitution on behalf of the people of Ireland and taxpayers. Under my stewardship, no Bill has ever been guillotined in their Seanad, with the exception of one Bill. Every section is discussed in minute detail——
I take the content of the contributions on the Bills. When colleagues pleaded with me at 5.30 a.m. to guillotine a Bill I did not do so. I apologise to no one for doing so. This House stands to protect the Constitution of the country.
This House is relevant to what is taking place in Ireland. The people of Ireland must be protected. There was much hard work done on the Constitution for years and I will not turn my back on our forefathers who gave us this country.
Senator Callely called for a debate on the HSE and sought to be briefed. I will make the request. Senator Cummins outlined his disappointment on the nine week wait for unfortunate people who are unemployed. This is unacceptable and there must be some way in which this can be addressed. I will request the Minister to attend the House after the St. Patrick's Day recess to discuss this matter.