Thursday, 7 May 2009
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Companies (Amendment) Bill 2009 - Second Stage (resumed), to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business, with spokespersons having 15 minutes and all other Senators eight minutes. Senators may share time by agreement of the House.
Yesterday in the House, the impartial role of individuals working for the public broadcasting service and other media interests was raised. It probably warrants a debate to see how much this affects people's day to day work, given the scandalous remarks that were made. For instance, if we look at some of the people who work for the public broadcaster, they include Miriam O'Callaghan whose brother is running for Fianna Fáil in the local elections. Ryan Tubridy has two first cousins who are Members of the Dáil.
It is on the Order of Business. We can say that the person who was political editor of the Irish Independent prior to the general election got a job with the Government after the general election. Some of the political correspondents who currently work in Leinster House are either married to or connected to close family members who are standing for Fianna Fáil in the coming elections. Never once in all the years these individuals have been doing their work has this side of the House accused them of being biased, partial or unfit to carry out their jobs because those with whom they are connected are running for or hold office with Fianna Fáil. The Leader of this House should apologise on behalf of Fianna Fáil for the remarks that were made about George Lee in this House yesterday.
Senator Twomey has made some fair points. I thought he was going off on a tangent at the beginning, which I did not like. However, I certainly think it is a point worth making - that we in political life accept those coming into it. It must be a good thing if people at the top of their careers choose to serve as public representatives, and that should be welcomed. It is important to note, however, that there was an implication coming from the most recent reproach to that band of people that in some way this was a unique move. There are people in this House and the other House who opted to enter public life when they were at the top of their careers. They include solicitors, barristers, accountants and business people, all of whom could be earning more money outside public life. It is important not to get carried away with the view that because one person is coming into public life at the moment it is something unique, because it is not.
Thankfully, there are many people who bring with them to these Houses what they have learned outside. Whether they come from the media, the public sector or elsewhere they should be welcomed. It is a most discouraging and demoralising aspect of our work that when those about to leave second or third-level education are asked about their future careers, the number who choose public representation is negligible. It does not even get on the radar. I have been criticised for saying in the House before that it is because we do not do our business properly. It goes back to things like Seanad reform, which is part of it. Good things need to be pointed up and others need to be reformed.
It is important that we would welcome people into public life. A week ago, the newspapers were full of comments about people having their jobs kept open for them when they were in public life. The recent recruit from RTE made it quite clear that his job was being protected, as it should be. In a democracy, every public or private workplace should rejoice and support any member of their workforce who opts for public representation. That is the responsibility on all of us, in the public and private sectors, and in all parties and none. The points made by Senator Twomey are correct. People have moved into public life before from various backgrounds. We accept them and recognise their good offices. People do a job and get on with it. We need to make an opening for people to opt for and make a career in public representation. I would certainly like a debate on that issue.
The prediction that the European Central Bank is set to reduce interest rates by a further 0.25% today to just 1%, which is its lowest ever level, is welcome news for many hard-pressed home owners. It could lead to an approximate saving of €40 for them each month if the reduction is passed on. It is vital that it is passed on because we are in danger of witnessing more people having to give up their homes because they cannot afford them. At the moment, our social housing lists are as high as they have been at any time during the past 40 years. Before Seán Lemass's leadership led to change in modern Ireland in the early 1960s, there were 60,000 people on the social housing lists. Even after the boom of the Celtic tiger years and the biggest house building programme in the history of the State, 60,000 people are still looking for houses. It is a failure on the part of the Government. The further additional cuts that have been announced recently mean that these figures will increase further. The Leader should request the Minister to attend the House to explain exactly what he will do to tackle the area of social housing before it spirals out of control.
I commend the ESRI on its report on job discrimination in Ireland. The report shows that people with foreign-sounding surnames have only half the chance of getting job interviews compared with those with Irish-sounding surnames. This is despite having the same qualifications. The rate is high compared with other countries and, as the author points out, more information needs to be given to employers on this issue. Discrimination in the workplace needs to be tackled. To get the country out of this mess, we must ensure we have the best qualified people for the job. It does not matter whether they are applying for factory jobs in the west or office jobs in Dublin, no one should get a job based on their name, who their father was or who their brother is. It should be purely down to their ability to do the job. I therefore ask the Leader to arrange a debate on workplace discrimination. Since one third of the Fianna Fáil Ministers of State, and half Fianna Fáil's Cabinet members, are descendants of politicians, I ask for that debate to include the dangers of nepotism.
I would also be interested in a debate on the dangers of nepotism.
I join other speakers in calling for a debate on the media, including their influence, fairness and how they are perceived. Whoever makes the decision to enter public life deserves the respect and thanks of all citizens because it takes great courage to put one's name forward.
Having said that, however, when people put their names forward, one cannot blame people for commenting on that, whether they are from the Government or Opposition side of the House. It is legitimate to question one's reasons for entering political life as well as one's policies. In that regard, we do not have to name he who must not be mentioned.
However, it would certainly explain the robustness and eagerness with which certain headlines may have been distributed in the past. Without naming him or being disrespectful to the person in question, it is a legitimate question at this point.
While I do not know whether it is appropriate for the House to debate issues related to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, the issue of naming people in the House needs to be debated in open session. An objective analysis of the record will prove that in the seven years since I entered the House, the Chair's rulings on which names may be mentioned in the House, which Senators may refer to individuals by name as well as the issues and times at which people may be referred to by name have been inconsistent. A highly selective approach has been taken to picking up on Senators who refer to individuals outside the House by name.
Members will be aware that I have been particularly critical of individuals in the Health Service Executive who have responsibility for sums of money equivalent to 47% of annual revenue from taxation, which will amount to €34 billion this year. The third party individuals I have named in the House have been in control of the budget of the Health Service Executive, an organisation which does not operate in the same way as semi-State bodies such as Bord Gáis which has a commercial mandate and responsibility under the Gas Acts. It is perfectly legitimate for Senators to refer to such individuals by name in the context of our work in representing the public interest. It is not our role to appease the Chair by complying with rulings made on the basis of opinions expressed by the individuals who advise the Chair. I say this with the greatest respect.
While I have the most profound respect for the Cathaoirleach, the Leas-Chathaoirleach and all the staff of the Houses, the level of inconsistency and selectivity evident in rulings on the naming of individuals outside the Chamber needs to be addressed. I would welcome an open debate on the issue.
I concur with the views expressed by Senators Twomey and O'Toole. As one who is not given to naming individuals, I do not propose to do so now. As speakers, including Senator MacSharry, have noted, however, as democrats we should very much welcome people who are prepared to dedicate themselves to public service. Everyone, irrespective of his or her walk of life, has talents. It behoves Members not to denigrate the efforts of individuals in the public arena who are dedicated to public service and show themselves willing to have a shot at serving in public life in these Houses. On the contrary, Senators should welcome diverse talents. Given his experience as a Member of both Houses, I am sure the Leader, on mature reflection, will agree that it is essential for the good and health of our democracy that people are prepared to dedicate themselves to public service and public life and I ask him to respond. If a debate on the issue is necessary, so be it.
Yesterday, I referred to Sceilg Mhichíl, an outstanding and world famous heritage site which is the subject of some controversy. As Senators will be aware, a tragic death occurred on the island recently. At least three boats ply for hire from Portmagee, all of which are licensed by the Department of Transport to take passengers. Despite the danger involved in this activity at certain times of the year - the landing place on Sceilg Mhichíl is also very dangerous - I understand that no one is prohibited from landing on the island. The State must improve on the arrangements that are in place in this regard. It is ludicrous that both the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Office of Public Works have a role on the island. I plead with the Leader again to have the matter rectified.
Given that recessions are by definition temporary downturns, I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the economy, focusing on the apparent positive signs in world economies. I am cognisant that the European Central Bank is expected to reduce the lending rate to 1%, markets in the United States are strongly forward, the credit default market for Irish bonds has returned significantly, indicating confidence in Irish bonds, while the price of oil is increasing and consumer sentiment is improving. I contrast these trends with the views of economists. It is said that economics is the dismal science and, as others have noted, economists have successfully predicted 14 of the past three recessions. I recall that one prominent economist, an individual who has gained greater prominence in recent days, stated on the "Six One News" that the current recession is never-ending. We all know that the tide will come in again. For this reason, the debate on the economy should focus on jobs.
I wish to make a couple of positive points which will require me to mention names but only for the purposes of identifying specific cases in a positive manner. I very strongly welcome the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Louise O'Keeffe.
Ms O'Keeffe is a remarkable and courageous woman who was let down by the machinery of the State. The State and church engaged in a nasty form of evasion of their clear responsibility to this woman who had demonstrated that she had been abused. I welcome the decision by the Supreme Court to refuse to grant costs to the State as any other decision would have bankrupted Ms O'Keeffe. Yesterday was a very good day for democracy and for the rights of the individual. Senators on all sides spoke out about this case.
RTE, which has been the subject of criticism, broadcasts some wonderful, life-enhancing programmes. For example, its recent documentary about Chuck Feeney, a person of whom we can be extremely proud, was wonderfully positive. Mr. Feeney is a selfless, remarkable man who used the enormous wealth he had accrued throughout his business career to invest positively and anonymously in doing the things the Government should have done, including investing in third level education and infrastructure. The critical matter was that Mr. Feeney examined these projects carefully before-----
It would be impossible to refer to the example I am giving without mentioning the name of the individual in question. I do not do so in a critical sense.
I think I can refer to another Member of the House by name. I am very pleased my colleague on this side, Senator John Paul Phelan, raised the circumstances facing Protestant schools, an issue I briefly referred to the other day. I hesitate to raise this matter because I come from the Protestant community and I do not wish to be associated with-----
I understand that. I welcome the decision to select it for debate because it has a much more powerful effect if the issue is raised by somebody who is not a member of the Protestant community. This shows the value of the House.
I call for a debate on human rights in the international context, particularly in light of the appalling events in Afghanistan where more than 100 innocent civilians were blown to pieces by United States forces. This is the type of incident I and many of my colleagues, including on the Government side, objected to when the Israelis were implicated in similar activities in Gaza. It shows that even someone like President Obama finds turning around the ship of state a lengthy process.
Tragically, if the United States and the Soviet Union, as it was then known, had made a moral investment and showed concern for human rights 20, 30 or 40 years ago, they might have jointly intervened on behalf of the unfortunate people, particularly women, of Afghanistan.
I ask for a debate on human rights to take into account circumstances analogous to those in Gaza that are still occurring, even under the Obama administration, in Afghanistan where the great powers played out a game, at long distance and to the disadvantage of that country's people, which inspired the Taliban and resulted in the negative aspects of extreme, fanatical religious positions.
I concur with the previous speaker's comments on the Supreme Court decision in the case of Ms Louise O'Keeffe. I warmly welcome the decision and congratulate Ms O'Keeffe on her success.
I support the view on human rights and on the situation which prevails in Afghanistan.
I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Barry Andrews, to come before the House in the next number of days, whenever it can be fitted into his schedule, to brief us on matters regarding inter-country adoption, the difficulties and issues he is being advised on and how he intends to address and overcome these. I ask for that to be accommodated as soon as we can fit it into our schedule and the Minister of State, Deputy Andrews can fit it into his.
I wish to raise my concern about the application of the public service recruitment embargo, particularly its application by the HSE and the impact on front line staff, which includes first responders and nursing staff. It is with regret I learn the INO is talking about strike action at its annual conference. I put it to the Leader that we all know these are challenging and difficult times, but we know by working together we can address these challenges and reach consensus and we know in today's society it is best to avoid industrial action. I ask that the mechanisms of the State are made available in the best interests of patient care and for the Leader keep the House advised and briefed on that matter.
I welcome the decision of our sister body in the Czech Republic, the Czech Senate or haute chambre, to approve the Lisbon treaty. It leaves Ireland as the odd man out in Europe regarding Lisbon. In connection with this, Mr. Lech Walesa was invited to speak at the recent conference of Libertas in Rome, and allegedly, according to The Irish Times and the Polish press, was paid €50,000 by Libertas. We were led to believe he was lending his support to that organisation. That subterfuge has been exposed by the Polish media. The case also shows something about the organisation and it has, in this instance, lost all credibility.
The son of Mr. Walesa, who is a candidate in the Polish elections, said his father disagrees with Libertas, its opinion and how it works, but he understood it exists. That is a complete denial and refutation of what we were led to believe, namely, that this was an endorsement of that organisation by Mr. Walesa, and the House should take note of that.
In being the odd man out in Europe on Lisbon, we are also the odd man out in Europe on the economy and it is interesting how time flies. It is one year since Deputy Brian Cowen became Taoiseach and this is one of the legacies of his stewardship over that year. Unemployment has doubled, we have the largest drop in GNP in Europe and we have doubled our national debt. One of the commitments of the Government and the Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen, who was the then Minister for Finance, before the last election was to make Ireland debt-free.
Yes, I have two questions for the Leader. I have mentioned issues of political corruption and competence. There is a serious question of political incompetence and we are paying the price for it.
The Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen, does not have a mandate from the country one year after his elevation to that position. He does not seem to have a mandate from his coalition partners, given the statements of the Minister, Eoin Ryan, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, and Senator Dan Boyle. It increasingly seems as if he does not have a mandate from his own party. At this juncture, and given the perilous state of our economy and that lack of mandate, is it not time for the Taoiseach and Government to consider, after the European and local elections, having a general election and making a clean sweep of the political process?
I ask the Leader to clarify if he has a coalition partner in the Green Party, in light of the statements made by the Minister, Deputy Gormley, the Minister, Eoin Ryan-----
I concur fully with the comments of Senator O'Toole regarding welcoming people into the political profession. Undoubtedly, while there is tremendous cynicism about politics across the country, most people who interact with politicians will acknowledge privately that most politicians are hardworking, genuine and earnest about what they do. We need people from all strata of society, walks of life and professions to enhance the collective debate and cross-fertilisation of ideas within these Houses. I welcome anybody coming into it.
There is a second issue which we, as politicians, need to confront, namely, partisanship within the media generally. We are living in a country which perhaps takes a greater interest in politics than do other countries. We have a tradition of that and, therefore, it is appropriate that people from all walks of life, including the media, have their own political views. However, some people in that profession channel and promote those views against the interest of the system in which we operate and perhaps abuse their position. I attended a conference three years ago in UCD regarding the Defamation Bill at which the media were extremely well represented. All the newspapers and other media outlets were there. The secretary of the NUJ, as I recall, said at the time he was concerned about the deterioration in the standard of media reporting, which followed the downward spiral in Britain.
I asked two weeks ago for a debate on this issue because undoubtedly there are elements within the Irish Independent group and RTE whose partisanship when reporting issues is totally blighted. We need to get to a situation where people, when looking at reporting, get it objectively. I have no difficulty with people in the media giving their own opinions once it is done under the banner of opinions or comment. They are entitled to do that, but when we are receiving reporting across the spectrum of the media, it should come across in an objective, rather than a subjective, way. This is not happening and is corrosive to the system. It is undermining good initiatives being taken and politics in general, not just the Government but all politicians who are getting it on the doorsteps. I know that from talking to people in the Opposition. We need to stand up as a group and challenge and take that on.
We should have a debate on the economy. It is simplistic for Senator Regan to put forward his views. One will not read in the media, for example, that there has been no property bubble in Germany and residential property there has-----
-----fallen in value by 3% in the last ten years, whereas we had a major increase in property values, as had Britain and other Western democracies. The German economy will shrink by 5% despite that. Will the Leader allow for a debate on the entire spectrum of the global economic downturn?
We must have an objective debate. We all must endeavour to support the initiatives being taken, which are the only initiatives that can arrest the downturn and position us to avail of the upturn when it comes. I call for such a debate as soon as possible.
I support Senator Callely's call for the Minister of State with responsibility for children, Deputy Barry Andrews, to come to the House to clarify the Government position on inter-country adoption. The amount of foot-dragging and indecisiveness on this issue is causing great concern and distress to families in this State and abroad. Urgent clarification is required.
Many local authorities are struggling to provide the services they are obliged to deliver. One might go so far as to say they have an unfunded mandate at the front line of communities. Will the Leader allow for a debate on local government reform, as has been called for in this House on many occasions? Candidates from all parties are currently knocking on doors throughout the State and are receiving varied receptions. There should be encouragement for those who are prepared to enter public life and public service. It is disappointing to see elements of the media and politicians themselves attempting to undermine or discourage them. This is not good for democracy and politics and is something from which we should all refrain. Fine Gael is delighted to have Mr. George Lee as its candidate in the Dublin South by-election. Such endeavours should be encouraged by Members on all sides of the House.
There is a strong need for local government reform so that we can restructure the services it provides and introduce new efficiencies. Attempts to improve local government in the past ten years have not been successful. This is evident in the numbers of front-life staff being let go on a daily basis in local authorities throughout the State while the layers of management remain in place. Increasingly, there is nobody to whom to delegate the important work that must be done, even though the expenditure involved remains substantial. I call for a debate on this issue with specific focus on the proposals for directly elected mayors. This is fine in principle and should be encouraged. However, I am concerned at the lack of detail provided. What powers will these mayors have and what will be their remit? How will they undertake their duties, either with or against the county or city executive? All these issues must be clarified. We have heard certain names being touted as potential candidates for these positions in various locations. Some of these names are a cause for alarm, such as that of the former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern. The latter has done enough damage to the economy and I would hate to see him do the same to Dublin city.
I hope the severity of the Leas-Chathaoirleach's ruling on the naming of persons outside the House does not extend to saluting great men and women. I ask the House to join me in saluting, on one of her visits to Ireland, the great Edna O'Brien who was last night presented with a lifetime achievement award by Seamus Heaney on behalf of the Irish Book Awards.
Everybody over the age of 40 is aware of her importance in the modernisation of Irish society. She lifted the lid on all types of dark and sexually suppressed areas of Irish life and returned us to the broad and earthy sexuality of pre-Famine Ireland. She is a work in progress, a beautiful woman and a beautiful writer. After some period of controversy, I hope the darling girl from Clare is now the darling girl of the whole country. I ask Members to join me in saluting Edna O'Brien.
When is it proposed to bring the Adoption Bill 2009 back before the House? Inter-country adoption has become a distressing issue for hundreds if not thousands of Irish families. Procrastination, bad governance and poor leadership on the part of the Government have brought us to this situation. When will it allay the fears of the many people who have adopted young children from abroad or wish to do so?
Will the Leader allow time for a debate on the economy? At a time when hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens are losing their jobs, we are debating the candidacy of George Lee. Mr. Lee merely reported on the recession; he did not create it.
We must have a debate on the Government's jobs creation policy, its vision for creating indigenous employment and how best we can get people off the unemployment register and back to work. Yesterday was the first occasion since her appointment that the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment came to the House.
Will the Leader agree to a debate on the broad issue of politics and democracy? For many people today, politicians are the lowest form of life in our society. This inaccurate perception is a consequence of bad decisions on the part of the Government and of its failure to implement the changes it promised to deliver. I will not name those concerned but at least seven people, including former RTE employees, former Independent Network News journalists and former political correspondents, are employed by the Government as spin doctors. We on this side of the House have never complained about these appointments - I will not name them out of respect for the Chair. The comments yesterday regarding Mr. Lee were disingenuous and scurrilous.
I have two questions. Will the Leader apologise to the House for the remarks that were made yesterday? Second, will he allow a debate at the earliest opportunity on the role of alcohol in Irish society? I understand the Leader will this month celebrate his 50th anniversary as a pioneer. That is a tremendous achievement for which he deserves great credit. Alcohol is the most widely used and most harmful drug in our society. A debate is required as a matter of urgency.
It is a universal issue which applies not merely to one race of people. Human rights denied or abused diminishes all of humanity.
The slaughter of innocents in Afghanistan cries out for justice. However, instead of justice for the survivors, the incident will be filed under some type of military term and that will be the end of it. Even though our voice is not always heard, if we do not speak up, we are party, to some extent, to what is happening. Anybody who saw the television pictures and heard the shocking story of the entire family, including four or five children, that was wiped out cannot but be shocked. These people were merely sheltering from the bombing raid.
Events in Afghanistan have gone off the radar in recent times. Were it not for those courageous journalists and camera men who are prepared to go into war zones, we might never have heard about what happened there. Those who dropped the bombs may have been well intentioned in so far as their policies are concerned, but such an approach is counter-productive. This event will serve to feed terrorism by providing propaganda to the Taliban and others who are engaged in terrorist activity. Above all, however, it has devastated an entire community. The Secretary of State, Ms Hillary Clinton, seemed genuinely shocked when acknowledging that a mistake was made. That is certainly different from what we got from the previous Administration. She seemed to be attempting to put down a marker that such incidents are unacceptable.
The people of Afghanistan will not know that a debate on their situation is taking place in this House. However, such a debate may contribute to an awareness of this issue and to the eventual attainment of justice for these unfortunate people.
Last evening, while canvassing for Senator Paschal Donohoe in Dublin Central, I came across a number of people who have serious difficulties with their mortgages. I encountered the same anger of which Senator Walsh spoke. Considering that we have bailed out these banks, I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on fixed-rate mortgages. One lady, who has lost her job, told me it would cost her €11,000 in penalties to change from a fixed rate mortgage. This is a crime.
In my constituency, which is also the Leader's constituency, a small business owner told me that since the bail out of the banks his bank charges have increased. What is going on? People are put to the pin of their collars trying to make ends meet. The Government has the power to impose levies on banks to discourage them from ripping off our people, especially with regard to fixed-rate mortgages.
I agree with the Senators who called for debate on the economy. However, I would like to see a three-way debate on the economy. A full day should be given to this matter and the Minister for Finance, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, and the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources could come to the House in turn.
We had a very good debate on the motion on energy tabled by the Independent Senators yesterday. Energy could be the cornerstone of an improved economy. The debate I call for would require the attendance of the Minister for Finance, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. It would tie the strands of power and job creation together.
A new company was featured on Pat Kenny's radio programme today. This company has found that Ireland is very rich in energy, which we should exploit over the next three to five years. We could be self-sufficient in energy and even export it. This could take us out of the situation in which we find ourselves.
I ask the Leader to consider a three-way debate on the economy. I know it will be difficult to arrange for three Ministers to come to the House on a single day. The three Ministers could attend for separate sessions in the morning, afternoon and evening. I support the call for a debate on the economy because I consider it to be urgent.
Senators Twomey, O'Toole, Hannigan, MacSharry, Coghlan and Walsh welcomed all candidates in the forthcoming elections. People who stop their lives for five, ten or 20 years to make themselves available to the people are to be congratulated for their courage and commitment. We wish all candidates well in the forthcoming elections, including the long-standing former Senator, Paschal Mooney, who is standing for election to the European Parliament. He is extremely experienced.
We look forward to debating issues on the doorsteps with the electorate. They will decide. Every country has been touched by the ravages of the current downturn. We are no different. We are an open and small economy and are probably worst hit in that regard. We are also the economy which can come back the quickest. I look forward to the rebound starting in the United States. We are very fortunate that Mr. Barack Obama became President of the United States when the world was looking for someone to give hope. What he has done in his first 100 days is a shining example to us legislators who want to do what we can on behalf of our people.
Senator Hannigan referred to the likelihood of the European Central Bank cutting the rate by 0.25% today. That is to be welcomed as a help to hard-pressed mortgage payers who are looking forward to it. Since last October, interest rates have been reduced by 3.25%. This is unprecedented in the history of the European Central Bank. It is the one great helping hand to economies throughout the world and those giving employment. Interest rates have substantially reduced from the bad old days of the 1980s when our colleagues on the other side of the House were in power and we paid interest rates of 18% and 19%. The present downturn is the worst since the 1930s, but in terms of banking and interest rates we are on a horse of a different colour.
I can have the ESRI report and job creation included in the debate on the economy which has been called for and to which I will allude in a moment.
Senator Marc MacSharry referred to the Standing Order regarding the naming of individuals outside the House. I assure Senator MacSharry that I will bring his concerns to the attention of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges at our next sitting. Between now and next week, I will consider his request for a debate on this issue. Senators may make written submissions to the CPP. If they feel this Standing Order should be revisited, we can consider that.
Senator Coghlan raised the difficulties experienced at the world famous heritage attraction in the kingdom of Kerry. I fully support his call for the provision of an iron rail for the safety of tourists. It would not take away from the historical importance of the site and should be considered.
Senators Hanafin, Buttimer, Walsh and Butler called for a debate on the economy. Senator Butler called for a three-way debate with the Minister for Finance, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, and the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. This is a very good idea. It would not be possible in the next two weeks during which the Finance Bill will be debated in the Dáil, or on 26 and 27 May when it will be debated in this House. During the debate on the Finance Bill, colleagues will have ample opportunity to express their views on the economy. Leaders of the groups could then decide on a programme for June, when we return after the elections, and consider the proposal for a three-way debate.
Senators Norris and Callely offered their congratulations regarding yesterday's Supreme Court decision. Everyone was very pleased that this courageous person was given the decision by the court yesterday.
I refer to the outstanding television documentary on Chuck Feeney who played a significant part with the Government and particularly the Department of Education and Science in the substantial investment made to the city of Limerick and all the educational universities and institutes throughout the country. The former Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, a former constituency colleague, was particularly very friendly with him and he had Mr. Feeney's 100% confidence. I refer also to the former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, and Ed Walsh in the University of Limerick in respect of what they have achieved and what has been achieved by this man's generosity, which I hope is never forgotten by the generations to come in Ireland, particularly at such a difficult time in fundraising or getting funds. In this regard Mr. Feeney made a massive contribution from his life's wealth to the underprivileged and the future generations of the world.
Senators Norris and Ó Murchú requested a debate on human rights issues, particularly in Afghanistan, to which I can accede. Senator Ó Murchú called for justice for those unfortunate people and I have no difficulty in allocating time for a debate in this area.
Senators Callely, Coffey and Buttimer expressed concerns and called for the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Barry Andrews, to come to the House. Senator Callely has been very forceful on this matter for a considerable period. I am pleased to inform the House that the Minister of State, Deputy Andrews, will return to the House with the Adoption Bill next Wednesday. Colleagues will be looking forward to making their contribution for those anxiously awaiting the decision in this area.
Senator Regan spoke of developments in the Czech Republic and its support for the Lisbon treaty. We are the only country that has not supported it. The development in the Czech Republic is another step in the right direction and, hopefully, later on or at the end of this year the Irish people will have a chance to review the situation to see how we can support it also.
I offer our congratulations on the Taoiseach being appointed to office one year ago today. I offer my congratulations on behalf of the House to the Taoiseach and wish him well in the coming years. It has been a most difficult year for the Taoiseach. No one could say he got a honeymoon time in office. It could not have been a more difficult time. If I were to take advice from anyone who had experience of a downturn, who better than our colleagues on the opposite side of the House, including Senator Regan, to give that advice?
Senator Coffey referred to local government reform and made an urgent request to which I can accede today. I understand that local government reform is being reviewed and examined at present along with the issue of directly elected mayors. I can think of no one better to represent the people of Dublin, should he show the sign, than the great Bertie Ahern.
Senator Harris has enhanced the House by his membership. I fully agree with his remarks and salute Edna O'Brien. The Senator pointed out to the House the great work that is in progress and the wonderful contribution she has made.
Senator Buttimer called for a debate on alcohol and related problems. Such a debate should take place here once every year. I am pleased to inform the House that next Friday in Castlepollard at 8 p.m. I will be the recipient of the gold pin. Long may it continue.
My colleague from Westmeath, Senator McFadden, called for a debate on fixed rate mortgages. This is something we should have over the next few weeks and I will endeavour to have the debate take place. It is urgent and pressing. It is a difficult matter but those who have lost their jobs are caught in a very difficult situation. Given that we, as legislators, are doing so much to help out and assist the financial institutions in the national interest we must see what we can do to address the difficultly in which many people seem to have got caught up.