Wednesday, 10 June 2009
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding European Commission proposals on Schengen evaluation; No. 2, Criminal Procedure Bill 2009 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage; No. 3, Nursing Homes Support Scheme Bill 2008 - Second Stage; and No. 35, motion 31 regarding human trafficking. Due to the unusual business taking place in the Dáil this week, No. 1 cannot be brought back from the committee today. No. 2 shall be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 and shall adjourn not later than 2 p.m. if not previously concluded. Spokespersons may speak for 12 minutes and all other Senators for eight minutes, and Senators may share time by agreement of the House. No. 3 shall be taken not earlier than 2 p.m. and shall adjourn at 5 p.m. if not previously concluded. Spokespersons may speak for 15 minutes and other Senators for eight minutes, and Senators may share time. No. 35, motion 31 shall be taken at 5 p.m. and shall conclude not later than 7 p.m. If not previously concluded, the proceedings on No. 3 shall resume following No. 35 and shall be brought to a conclusion today.
Yesterday I asked the Leader to accept a motion from Members on this side of the House to debate the results of the recent elections and the implications thereof for Government. Has he considered my request and, if so, will he indicate the decision he has reached on it?
Later today hundreds of people are due to march on the Dáil. They will do so as part of a march of solidarity with the victims of institutional abuse in this country. As a result of the Ryan report, it is clear that many thousands of people have been deeply scarred and hurt by their experiences while in institutional care. The House debated the Ryan report but not everyone who wished to make a contribution had an opportunity to do so. In that context, I ask the Leader to make further time available to allow us to continue our debate on the report. This is an extremely important matter, particularly in the context of how this House and the Dáil will deal with the findings of the report in the months and years ahead. There should be not just a one-off debate but, in light of the enormity of the report's findings and the range of issues it addresses, a series of debates. The Ryan report gives rise to many matters, not merely regarding the past but also in respect of the current state of child protection laws.
I wish to make a point that has not been brought to the fore to date. Many people who were abused in institutions emigrated. We have an obligation to reach out to the Irish communities in England, America and Australia, by means of the various hostels and the societies which work with people who were so scarred by what happened to them in this country. I ask the Leader to raise this matter with the Minister for Foreign Affairs because the time is right to do so. Every Irish embassy abroad should be given a copy of the report and should reach out, in the most appropriate way, to the people to whom I refer.
To return to current issues, there is a need for the House to address the protection of children. I previously referred to the 200 children who are being held in psychiatric hospitals - that is, adult mental health facilities - this year. This figure represents an increase on that which obtained last year. I also previously referred to the 20 children who died while in care in recent years and the fact that, to date, a report has not been published in respect of them. In the recently published Monageer report, the recommendations were blacked out. There are a number of very serious child protection issues that must be addressed in the House. In that context, I wish to ensure that time is made available before the end of the current term to discuss these issues, to which priority must be given. If the House engages in a debate in the coming weeks on the issues to which I refer, it will show solidarity with those who intend to take part in today's march.
I wish to raise a point of order. Earlier I asked the Leader how much time would be allocated in respect of No. 1 and he indicated that the latter is not being taken. I do not believe that is what he meant to say and I wish to get the record straight. I wish to make a contribution in respect of No. 1. I understand that No. 1 is a proposal to withdraw a previous motion. In other words, we are being asked to pass a motion to withdraw a previous one. Will the Leader clarify the position on that so that the House will be aware of what is taking place? When I put my question to the Leader, he indicated that the House would not be taking No. 1. However, I believe he meant that we are taking No. 1 and that this will, in effect, nullify something previously put to the House. Will the Leader clarify the position?
I cannot agree to No. 1 being taken without debate. On each occasion on which I am obliged to produce my passport, when arriving in Brussels or some other city, I wonder how long it will be before Ireland joins Europe. Britain and Ireland are part-time members of the European Union because they refuse to sign up to the Schengen Agreement. It is unacceptable that they so refuse and the sooner we decide to sign up to that agreement the better. The House should engage in a debate on this matter. Ireland is barely a member, a part-time member of the European Union. I have always been opposed to its opting out of the Schengen acquis and I am absolutely intent that we should engage in a debate on the matter. The position, as it stands, is outrageous. When Irish people arrive in the airports of other member states, they are shunted into the queue with non-European citizens. That is completely wrong and it causes difficulties for people at many levels.
We should not be obliged to queue with non-European citizens. Ireland should opt in to the Schengen acquis. In such circumstances, I am seeking to make a contribution on No. 1. The Houses have never debated this matter in spite of the fact that I have raised it on a number of occasions during the past 15 years. We have not opted in because the British have a liking for stationing fellows on borders and allowing them to stop people crossing those borders. I am not in favour of such behaviour. We should be able to engage in the free movement that exists between Belgium and France, Belgium and Germany etc. Even Switzerland, which is not part of the EU, is considering opting in to the Schengen acquis.
I am moving an amendment to the Order of Business to the effect that No. 1 should be taken with debate.
I appreciate the support I received yesterday when I raised the matter of Foinse. Ceapaim go bhfuil sé scannalach nach bhfuil tacaíocht ag teacht ón Rialtas chun acmhainní a chur ar fáil do Foinse. Tá sé thar a bheith tábhachtach do shaol intleachtúil na tíre, go mórmhór ó thaobh Gaeilgeóirí agus Gaeltachtaí de. Mar a dúirt an Seanadóir Ó Murchú inné, tá an nuachtán thar a bheith tábhachtach freisin ó thaobh forbairt foclóireachta, maidir le cúrsaí reatha, srl. Ní féidir linn aon dul chun cinn a dhéanamh muna bhfuil Foinse á fhoilsiú sa tír seo. I gcónaí, nuair atá brú airgid ar an Stát, is iad muintir na Gaeilge agus na Gaeltachta a fhulaingíonn i dtosach.
What is happening in respect of Foinse is disgraceful. Many fancy words are uttered in respect of the Irish language. I have often engaged in arguments with Senator Ó Murchú about approaches to and policy on the Irish language. It is utterly unacceptable not to have an Irish newspaper, particularly if attempts are being made to teach Irish or encourage people to use it in their daily lives. The Leader should raise this matter directly with the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, who is quick enough to argue with me about changing the name of my town and various of his other nonsensical proposals. This is a real issue and the Minister should become involved in dealing with it.
In light of the matters with which I was preoccupied in recent weeks, I did not have the opportunity to note in the House the sad news regarding the recent death of former Labour Senator, Mr. Dominic Murphy, who served here with great distinction for many years in the 1950s and 1960s. I would like to have it noted that I wanted to extend my deepest sympathy to Mr. Murphy's wife and his four children. Maybe steps can be taken to have that noted formally in the House.
I support the calls for us to return to the implications of the Ryan commission report. There is a need to debate this in greater depth and at some length. Many argued that it is time to revisit the deal done with the congregations and the wider question of the ownership by the congregations of a considerable amount of property, including most of our national schools. It seems this is a timely and important opportunity to reopen the question of ownership of our schools and the relevance of that fact in the context of what has been determined by Mr. Justice Ryan.
Can the Leader raise the following proposal with the Minister? The congregations will be required to make much more substantial reparation for what occurred than under the deal negotiated with them. One interim measure could be that the congregations could pay to the persons who came before the redress board and received awards and those who are awaiting hearings the 20% aggravated damages contemplated by the scheme. The maximum award is €300,000 but it was contemplated that persons could be awarded up to 20% of that award in aggravated damages. There is a precedent of aggravated damages being awarded in a number of compensation schemes. The hepatitis C compensation scheme is one with which I am familiar. I ask the Taoiseach to approach the congregations with the interim measure of awarding the 20% aggravated damages contemplated by the scheme to all those who received awards or those awaiting awards.
The Leader remembers that I raised the matter of the Go Safe programme and the installation of speed cameras nationally. I expressed concern that this aspect of Government policy was being dragged out. I spoke to the line Ministers in the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Transport. There is a turf war between the mandarins in these Departments. This important programme, geared towards safety on our roads and badly needed, is being stalled.
Another interest in the matter for me is that the company designated as the preferred operator of the scheme is based in Listowel, County Kerry. It employs over 100 people and anticipated taking on 60 additional staff to cater for the new programme. However, a worrying article appeared in the newspaper at the weekend, suggesting the company had a meeting of its creditors and was in serious difficulty. This is a classic example of various Departments not being joined up. Instead of creating 60 jobs, we may lose 100 jobs. As a matter of urgency I ask the Leader to take this up with the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Coughlan. This is absolute lunacy. Every job we can create is vital yet we are sitting on our hands and people will not put their hands up and accept responsibility. The Department of Transport will be caught for the budget of installing the cameras but the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform wants the fines that will accrue to go to its budget. This is silly thinking because it is all the one Government. I ask the Leader to take this up or else it will be a calamity nationally and for Kerry.
I appreciate the indulgence of the Cathaoirleach. Yesterday I wanted to congratulate everyone who had put names on a ballot paper, especially my colleagues Senators John Paul Phelan, Donohoe and O'Reilly, who put in tremendous campaigns. I have no doubt all will be back again, stronger and better.
Yesterday, I wanted to ask the Leader to clarify a matter raised by Senator Cummins before the election. I phoned the Leader two days before the election to ask him about asylum seeker units and reception centres. People in those centres have the right to be canvassed. They are allowed to cast their votes so they should be canvassed, which is their democratic right.
What upsets me is that they were disenfranchised from being canvassed by all political parties. I contacted the management company for asylum seeker units on Thursday and was told no politicians were allowed into these units to canvas the residents. My colleagues in Westmeath had also been in touch with the centre and had been told the same thing yet they managed to get in at weekends or during the evenings, when different management teams were on duty. I rang the Minister's office and got no reply, which is terrible. It is an outrage. I want the Minister to give us an answer in this House on how these people have been disenfranchised.
Regarding the Ryan report, Ms Christine Buckley was on radio this morning. It has been brought to my attention that 4,000 people with intellectual disabilities are still living in institutions. I can only describe them as human warehouses. We must show we are serious about respecting those who are more vulnerable by taking action and looking after them in our institutions. It is still going on and we have a responsibility.
Since 2006, when I launched A New Approach to Ageing and Ageism, I have drawn attention to the lack of human rights of older people and the archaic policies in our society. I draw the attention of Members to the newsletter of the Irish breast cancer campaign. I have referred to cutting off breast cancer screening at 64 years of age. The Europa Donna Ireland newsletter states:
BreastCheck stops at age 64 for women,despite the evidence that risk continues and increases for women as they age. Three quarters of breast cancers are found in women over 50 and while the cumulative risk of a woman developing breast cancer before the age of 50 is one in 48, before the age of 65 it is 1 in 16, and by 75 it is 1 in 11.
My all-Ireland active living award will be launched at the end of September. I will be working passionately North and South for the human rights of older people in our society. Most decisions in Departments are made by men because decision makers are male dominated. This is one of the main reasons women over 65 are not entitled to the wonderful, free breast screening programme we have. I want Members on both sides to become part of my anti-ageism campaign.
I ask the Leader to request the Minister for Finance to attend the House. The Minister has done very well in removing some of the top brass in the banks and he should be applauded for doing so. Some ten of the 12 covered institutions have lost either their chairman or chief executive, and the Minister has acted with great skill. Everybody in this House has been looking for a significant and dramatic change in the personnel at the top of the banks.
Although the Minister has removed these personnel, he seems to be replacing them all with the old guard. There was a chorus of applause, which will increase, at the appointment of Mr. Pat Molloy this morning as chairman of the Bank of Ireland. This is just more of the old guard coming back. What the Minister has done with Bank of Ireland is appoint a chief executive who is an insider and a chairman who is a Bank of Ireland lifer. It is no good saying we are introducing a new broom to an old bank when an old broom is being brought into an old bank.
This is sleight of hand and I do not know if it is because the Minister wants to move into a comfort zone where he will be applauded by the business community, IBEC and others. It is not what the banks need, as they need a new culture, a new group of people from outside the banks. The Minister approved the appointment of a chairman from inside AIB as well.
I am not naming anybody. A chairman was also appointed to Anglo Irish Bank from inside, which is not good enough. There is an appearance of change in the banks but we are getting the same people or former employees coming back into the same positions.
Nobody should be deceived by that. The Minister acted in a similar way in cases which I will not mention. There have been one or two good appointments as well and I will name somebody who I want to be positive about. Mr. Alan Dukes was appointed to the board of Anglo Irish Bank because he does not come with any baggage. There are others in this category.
Will the Minister come to the House and tell us his strategy? It is not good enough if we have the same old people on a directors' merry-go-round going back to the banks.
Bhí sé soiléir anseo inné go raibh an-díomá ar dhaoine go raibh baol ann don nuachtán lán-Ghaeilge, Foinse. Dhein mé roinnt fiosrúcháin maidir le seo agus de réir mar a thuigim, tagann an deontas do Foinse ó Fhoras na Gaeilge. Beidh cruinniú inniu idir Foras na Gaeilge agus Foinse. Socraíodh sin cúpla lá ó shoin. Tá súil agam go dtiocfaidh réiteach ar an scéal as an gcruinniú sin. Aontaím go hiomlán gur trua mór é go mbeadh baol ann don nuachtán, mar cruthaíonn nuachtán mar sin go bhfuil an Ghaeilge beo agus bríomhar agus in úsáid go laethúil.
Like others, I was very disappointed to hear yesterday that there was a danger that Foinse, the all-Irish newspaper, might not continue. It had a very professional approach to its work and in many ways there was a symbolism in it that the language was alive and well when a newspaper was being published on a weekly basis with current affairs and up-to-date information. I am reliably told there will be a meeting today between Foras na Gaeilge and representatives of Foinse. This meeting had been arranged a few days ago. The financial support for the newspaper comes from Foras na Gaeilge and I am hopeful there will be a meeting of minds today and that there will be a positive solution. All people interested in the Irish language would like to see an outcome that would ensure the continuance of that newspaper into the future.
I strongly agree with the sentiments and remarks of Senator McFadden in regard to what happened recently in the reception centres to which she referred. It is disgraceful that these good people are corralled, shepherded or herded and are not allowed to be visited or canvassed except by the chosen few. That is disgraceful in our democracy and should not be tolerated. It happened in many places that some of us are aware of and we could not gain entry. Are some of us dangerous? The Leader should take this up urgently in connection with what we spoke of yesterday regarding the electoral register.
I agree with the comments of Senator Ross in that wonderful public interest appointments have been made to banks. I agree with the man named by the Senator and others. In the case of one very important institution, as the Senator has noted, an insider chief executive has been appointed and a lifer will be appointed as chairman. I strongly support the Senator's request that we have the Minister for Finance before the House soon for a debate on this. The last thing we need is any continuation of the bad banking practices of the past. As the Senator indicated, we need a total break from that and a new culture. We thought we were going in that direction but now one must ask if there is slippage. I look forward to hearing the Leader's remarks on that matter.
In the past I raised matters relating to the provision of health and social services, airing certain doubts regarding the ability of the HSE in the delivery and provision of such services. I ask the Leader to get us some kind of briefing document in regard to the expenditure of approximately €20 billion on health and social services. We should also have a breakdown of front line staff compared with administration and management. People have brought to my attention a number of occasions where there appears to be managers, secretaries and various administration personnel put in place but when the front line provision of service is sought, we are told there is a reduction in the number of hours provided for home help, for example, or the availability of a physiotherapist etc.
One must question the basis of these decisions and before we do so we should get some kind of a briefing or breakdown on the total budget and staffing at administration, management and front line levels. The Leader has not come back to me although I have asked him about the medical card issue and if he could get clarity on what is happening. My understanding is that medical cards were to be brought under one roof and existing staff were being redeployed. I could not figure out the savings involved.
As I mentioned last week, it has been brought to my attention that more agency staff are being brought in to man this new centre for the processing and administration of the medical card section, with front line HSE staff being redeployed. I do not see where there is a saving in this or where a benefit accrues. Will the Leader advise on this?
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate relating to the awarding of contracts from Departments for services operated by ferries from our islands. I refer in particular to the removal of transfer of undertakings (protection of employment), TUPE, legislation for one of those clauses. This refers to transfer of undertakings, which guarantees that if a contract is awarded again, the terms and conditions of the workers are held as they were before.
In one instance that clause was removed and this allowed a ferry operator owning a new contract to sack or demote workers and reduce wages. There is now a stand-off in west Cork as the operator further proposes to reduce wages and refuses to enter into any form of discussion with the trade union.
Will the Leader arrange for the relevant Minister to come to this House and debate the awarding of contracts for ferry services? The Minister should also explain why, in this particular instance, a clause which guaranteed workers' rights was removed.
In west Cork, we had a similar canvassing experience to that of Senators Coghlan and McFadden during the recent elections. When we went to a lodge for asylum seekers which had people on the electoral register, we were informed we could not canvass there even when other candidates had. A sign about canvassing was put up in a window in the lodge but after some exchanges it was removed and we were able to canvass.
A more serious issue I want to raise, however, is the length of time taken to process asylum applications. The political exploitation is only a small part of the overall exploitation of these people cooped up in these centres. It is not good for their physical or mental health to be cooped up for nearly two years seeing no administrative end to their plight, let alone a political one.
Members referred to the Go Safe road safety campaign. While I support the general principle, I have called before for it not to be implemented until such time there is a comprehensive review of speed limits throughout the country. In most areas, speed limits are pitched at an unrealistically low level.
Gardaí should not be taking the soft target of catching motorists with speed checks in areas where the speed limits are incorrect. I have raised this with the Garda inspectorate, which agrees. Such actions by gardaí bring the system into disrepute.
Billions of euro have been invested in upgrading our road network to international standards. Much good work, which I commend, has been done in many areas but, unfortunately, the speed limits are still artificially low. For example, the N11, a high quality dual carriageway which is up to motorway standard, has a speed limit of 100 km/h. When it is quite safe to drive at 120 km/h on this road one will find gardaí operating speed checks on it. The economy is not getting the benefit of the investment made in the road network. Competitiveness is a major issue for the economy. We are not taking action in this one area where we could and should. Will the Leader invite the relevant Minister to debate this issue in the House?
I want to raise a minor issue concerning the recent local elections but an important one for those concerned. Anyone who canvassed in urban areas recently would have been astounded at the disenfranchisement of many people living and working in towns. Many cannot vote in their town council elections simply because the town's electoral boundaries were set when the town was much smaller. There is a need to address this issue. It gives rise to much frustration and annoyance among those who do not have a right to vote for the council that most affects them and in which they are most interested. Will the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government attend the House to debate this issue?
I am saddened by the news that Foinse could go to ground. Will the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, intervene to save the newspaper? It is a newspaper for all Irish-speaking people and the Gaeltachtaí, and it is based in Carraroe in the Minister's constituency. The money he could direct into the newspaper would be better spent than the money going into the translation of reports into Irish, many of which are never read and could easily be posted on the Internet.
Yesterday, I asked the Leader to come back with news on the adoption agreement with Vietnam which I hope he has today.
Last weekend I was delighted to hear the Vatican plans to respond to the Ryan report. This House can make a difference if it ensures the report does not go off the agenda by having a rolling debate to monitor the implementation of its recommendations. The Children First guidelines must also be put on a statutory basis so that children are protected and that what happened in the past will never happen again.
Will the Leader arrange an urgent debate with the Minister of State with special responsibility for children and youth affairs, Deputy Barry Andrews, on next year's preschool scheme?
I am sure many Members are getting e-mails that it is already under threat. Up to 81,000 places are needed for next year. The cap of €64.50 per child per week the Minister of State has put on the fee is unworkable. No preschool provider can produce places at such a cost. All the providers are seeking is the possibility for the parents to top up the fee. There are serious quality issues as well but we are serious about the quality of education. This is one of the best schemes the Government has ever proposed. Evidence shows there is more of a return from preschool education in the long term than anything else but only if it is of quality and is workable.
I second Senator O'Toole's proposal to debate the Schengen Agreement motion today. I am not sure why we are not debating the motion or why it is proposed not to have that debate. Last year I wrote an article for The Irish Times on this matter and I received much comment stating it was ridiculous Ireland was the only country out of the EU 27 that decided to join Britain's travel arrangement. I accept part of the reason for this was because Northern Ireland may present a problem. However, one needs photo ID to travel from Northern Ireland to England, Scotland and Wales. We should debate this issue and should not allow it to go past without debating it.
I seldom disagree with Senator Ross but I believe the new appointee to the chairmanship of Bank of Ireland is an ideal choice. He left the day-to-day running of the bank 12 years ago and, therefore, was not involved in the period when it was tainted by property development. He is the right sort of person to have at the bank - professional and, even more so, 71 years of age. I am delighted there is no age discrimination in this case.
Will the Leader draw to the attention of the relevant Minister the suggestion yesterday from the UK Environment Secretary that supermarkets do away with best-before and display-until labels? Up to 1 billion people go to bed hungry every night when every year in the UK up to 6 million tonnes of potatoes, 4 million apples and 1 million loaves and slices of ham are thrown out. This is because people misunderstand the difference between use-by, best-before and display-until labels. These are used by supermarkets for stock control. It does not mean one cannot eat these foods. Serious consideration should be given to doing away with these labels. With people starving across the world, we should not be wasting the amount of food we do.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Social and Family Affairs to clarify the status of the back to school allowance scheme? I have been inundated with questions from parents about when the application forms will be available and whether the allowance will be paid in time.
Recently, the transfer of a severely ill patient from Clonmel hospital to the Mater Hospital in Dublin could not go ahead, not because a bed was unavailable but because the hospital was depending on a pool of ambulances serving all Dublin hospitals. Therefore, a patient who no longer required the high-dependency bed in the centre of excellence could not be moved to allow this severely ill patient to avail of the bed. Surely it is not too much to ask that a hospital designated as a centre of excellence would have its own dedicated ambulance service. When the Minister for Health and Children addresses this issue, perhaps she could also address the issue of an ambulance service for Carrick-on-Suir.
I thank Senators O'Toole and Quinn for supporting my call for a debate on the Schengen Agreement. I raised this matter last week and as the Leader agreed there would be a debate, perhaps he can confirm when the debate on Schengen will take place. The reality is that it involves passport-free passage between member states. One justification for having this restriction and for Ireland not being part of Schengen was that we had a common travel area with the United Kingdom. Since it effectively has ended, it is time to have such a debate and for the House to lead on this issue.
The problem is that this issue forms part of an overall area that is called freedom, security and justice within the European Union and the Government has been most reluctant and recalcitrant in co-operating with the rest of Europe on such issues. This also is reflected in our opt-out from criminal law and police co-operation, which has been introduced in the Lisbon treaty. As one of the biggest selling points of Europe is the need to co-operate in tackling crime, drugs, human trafficking etc., it would be an idea to get rid of this opt-out. According to the former Senator Maurice Hayes, who then chaired the Forum on Europe, this proposal was the biggest selling point of the Lisbon treaty. However, the Government chose to introduce an opt-out. We should get rid of it, which would increase the ability to sell the Lisbon treaty.
Six months after the nationalisation of Anglo Irish Bank, which Fine Gael opposed, a business plan is being drawn up with the Minister for Finance, his officials and the Financial Regulator. After six months that is wonderful. There is a commitment of funding and possible funding required of the Government of up to €7.5 billion. More impairments are expected on loans in the wake of the establishment of the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, and it has been suggested it would be more expensive to close the bank than to continue on. Members are owed clarification by the Minister for Finance in this House regarding what is going on and on the depth of the contribution and funding to this zombie bank that is required of the Government.
Having missed the opportunity yesterday to congratulate my county colleague, Alan Kelly, on his election to the European Parliament, I do so today. I also share the concerns expressed by Senator Quinn regarding the waste of food because people do not understand the context of the stamping of food. If anything can be done by supermarkets to educate the public in this regard, it would be useful.
I ask the Leader for a debate because to serve the public well, I believe the Seanad should be the forum in which each political party lays out its stall in respect of dealing with the deficit of €20 billion, by outlining the cuts and taxes it proposes and what it would do to ensure the correction of Ireland's fiscal and financial state. In other words, I seek a two-day debate in which each political party would lay out its stall once and for all.
First, I am glad that Senators O'Toole and Ó Murchú again referred to Foinse. Yesterday, I stressed its importance to the intellectual life of this country. The word "foinse" means "source" and that newspaper has been, is and must be a source of important debate. It is vital that current affairs are discussed through the medium of Irish in the broadcasting and print media. This is an important feature of the cultural life of this country and the Government must see it in this way.
Just as important is the issue of money to be spent on services for children with disabilities and mental health problems. It was reported yesterday that more than €100 million that was reserved for such spending has not been spent. The Leader should bring the Minister before the House to assure Members that the unspent €100 million of funds for suicide prevention programmes, services for children with mental health problems and disability assessments for children of school-going age will not be allocated elsewhere but will be committed to such areas.
I thank Senator Healy Eames for her comments on the Ryan report. I am on record as stating that I hope the religious orders will be generous. I also have warned against attempts, on the back of the Ryan commission report, to open up debates on issues such as education and who specifically runs it. As I have stated, so doing runs the risk of being perceived as being manipulative and cynical and would be irresponsible. Moreover, it is important for people to check their facts. For example, Deputy Ruairí Quinn stated that 1,000 schools were run by religious orders when in reality only a few hundred are so run.
It is generally agreed across the House that one of the main challenges facing the economy is the restoration of competitiveness. It is important to reprioritise and refocus attention on this area because the viability of many businesses, large and small, depends on our level of competitiveness.
In this context I refer to energy, an issue I have raised previously. The cost and sourcing of energy in Ireland must become a priority and Government investment must be refocused in this regard. While the Government is ready, and probably is obliged, to invest in the banks to keep them viable in the context of the banking crisis, it should invest in renewable sources. I call for a debate on energy and the sustainable use of energy in society. Our focus in this regard should be on electricity, oil and gas and the question of our resources. This is an island and Members already have spoken about the Spirit of Ireland project. Such projects are needed in Ireland and perhaps the Leader would provide for a debate in this regard. Our sustainable future, competitiveness in business and society in general, whether in schools or homes, depends on how viable and sustainable we are with regard to energy.
I thank colleagues for their good wishes expressed yesterday and today on the election. I believe I speak for all Members who ran for election when I state it was a very positive experience. It was important to hear people's concerns directly expressed on doorsteps and the anger at the current Government is palpable.
One concern to emerge from the election pertains to disenfranchisement and Senators McFadden and McCarthy have referred to this issue. However, various issues were brought to my attention regarding voters who were denied the right to vote in particular elections despite being legally entitled to so do. Returning officers in different polling stations were not aware of relevant electoral law and so on and this is a serious issue that requires further review.
I certainly will raise it again. I echo comments made by colleagues on the Ryan report and the need for further debate on it. It was an issue on which many people expressed their views strongly and in very emotional terms. It was a real issue underlying the elections.
Moreover, issues arise from the Ryan report which is not a report about history. In response to Senator Mullen, Deputy Ruairí Quinn was quite correct to look at the issue of education more broadly because it would be irresponsible of Members not to consider the broader context in which the Ryan report's findings and recommendations are made.
Members should consider who controls our schools. At present, both national and secondary schools are still controlled predominately by the churches and by the Catholic church in particular and there is no issue in this regard.
Survivors of abuse, with whom I wish to express solidarity on their march today, may be highly dismayed to see reports in today's newspapers to the effect that the De La Salle Brothers have just launched an investment fund in Dublin. Christian Brothers Investment Services Inc. is a New York-based investment company that also is setting up in Ireland. There are real questions to be asked on whether it is appropriate for religious orders that have escaped their fair share of liability and that have been indemnified by the State to launch an investment fund for themselves or for their supporters in Dublin.
I express my sympathy to the families of the three Trinity graduates who died tragically in the recent aeroplane crash. As Members debate the Aviation (Preclearance) Bill, all think of airline safety and must think of the families and friends of those Trinity graduates.
I wish to raise the issue of Foinse and welcome Senator Ó Murchú's announcement that a meeting is to be held today. It is important that the newspaper should continue. While the Minister comes into this House to pontificate about what he does for the Irish language, it would be a travesty were a newspaper that is required as a source of education and information to be lost.
I echo Senator Quinn's call for a debate on the use and waste of food. I do not blame consumers for the volumes of food that are thrown out of supermarkets. I blame the supermarkets because they are guilty of misrepresentation regarding labelling. Consumers cannot be blamed if they are not properly educated by food labels. We should have a real debate on that.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Finance to come to the House. Senator Ross is absolutely correct. We claim we want a change in the culture of the banking profession, in the interests of restoring confidence and trust, but that will not happen if we do no more than reshuffle the old heads in the banks. While I accept that some good appointments have been made, the replacement of the old guard with a slightly newer guard does not instil confidence. We have not heard the Minister's opinions on the direction in which banking is going. Senator Ross is right to point out what Allied Irish Banks, Bank of Ireland and Anglo Irish Bank have done. If we are to have more of the same, the banking profession needs to show all of us more transparency and more honesty. What is the Government's strategy for the banks? This morning, Senator Regan made the good point that it has taken Anglo Irish Bank six months to produce a business plan. It is important for us to have a debate on the banks. More importantly, we should have the rolling debate on the economy that was promised by the Leader. Some 400,000 people are unemployed and that number is rising. More and more people are looking for help to keep their small enterprises in business. More houses are being repossessed. What is the Government saying? The Taoiseach has said he will stay and fight. It should be a question of giving people leadership as they face their challenges, rather than a question of self-preservation on the part of those on the Government side.
On behalf of the House, I join Senator Alex White in expressing sympathy and sending condolences to the wife and family of former Senator Dominick F. Murphy, who died recently. In due course, with the approval of Mr. Murphy's family and the leader of the Labour Party, I will make available the usual opportunity for Members to pay their full respects to the hard work and dedication of the former Senator. I certainly want to be associated with the remarks that have been made today.
Senator O'Toole spoke about No. 1, motion regarding EU Commission proposals on Schengen evaluation. I understand the original motion was due to be discussed by a joint committee yesterday, 9 June 2009. That motion was intended to allow Ireland to opt into the initial negotiations before the relevant deadline, which is midnight today, 10 June 2009. Due to this week's unusual Dáil business, it was not possible to refer that motion to the Dáil today. It was scheduled to come back from the committee to both Houses today, which is the last sitting day before the deadline. That was not possible, however. The original motion has become irrelevant because it was based on the expected decision of the committee to allow Ireland to opt into the negotiations before midnight today, 10 June 2009. As such a decision was not made, there is no point in discussing the agreement to opt into the negotiations. It should be emphasised that the possibility of adopting the measure remains available to Ireland. As I said earlier, I would not have a problem with providing for a discussion on this matter. Senator Regan is quite correct in that regard. I have outlined the instructions I am following at the present time. I will consult the leaders after the Order of Business. I would not have a difficulty with this issue being debated by the House. As Senator O'Toole has quite correctly said, Senators on all sides of the House are strongly of the view that Irish people should not be classified as second-class citizens, in any shape or form, when they travel to other countries. If this House can do anything to help those of us who are proud to be Irish, it will do so. We can be a trusted nation and a trusted people. I will provide for whatever amount of time is needed to allow colleagues to make their views known to the Minister.
Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Alex White and Bacik expressed strong views about the Ryan report. I am proud that this House discussed the Ryan report as soon as it became available. Outstanding contributions were made by many Senators during the debate, which took place on Wednesday, 27 May last. I understand that many other Senators would like to make their views known to the House. I will examine the schedule of sittings between now and 10 July to see when that can be done. It is clear from the schedule for today and the rest of this week that a huge amount of legislation is being dealt with in this House. Every minute of our time this week is being spent discussing legislation. Like all my colleagues in this House, I am pleased that two Bills are being initiated in the House this week. The primary objective of our membership of the House is to update, amend and pass legislation. I will endeavour to find time for a further discussion on the Ryan report before 10 July. I understand that one or two other reports will be submitted for our consideration before the end of the year. I assure Members that this House will not be found wanting when it comes to providing an adequate amount of time for contributions to debates on all such reports. I will make proposals, for the approval of the House, on all matters pertaining to these areas.
Senators O'Toole, Healy Eames, Ó Murchú and Mullen expressed strong views about the publication of an Irish language newspaper. I am glad that Senator Ó Murchú has informed the House that an urgent meeting on this matter is taking place today. We will await the outcome of the meeting and wish those who are deliberating on the issue well. I hope the newspaper can continue to be a strong voice for those interested in the Irish language, including people in Gaeltacht areas and people who want to learn the language.
Senators O'Sullivan and Walsh spoke about various road safety measures, including the Go Safe programme. Before the recent elections, Senator O'Sullivan correctly reminded the House that a company in Listowel with which he is familiar is providing a great opportunity for an additional 60 jobs to be created. It goes without saying that the road safety measures represent the essence of what we are all trying to achieve. The Road Safety Authority has shown an outstanding commitment to saving lives. I worked closely with its chairman, Gay Byrne, and its chief executive for four and a half years when I was Chairman of the Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business. The then Ministers for Transport, Education and Science and Justice, Equality and Law Reform and their senior officials worked hard to bring about the huge amount of change that has taken place. Hundreds of lives are being saved on our roads each year as a consequence of the deliberations of such people, which led to the introduction of new measures. The joint committee system of the Oireachtas played a huge part in that. When Senator Ellis was Chairman of the Joint Committee on Transport in the last Dáil, I worked with him in my capacity as a committee Chairman to transmit the views of the Road Safety Authority and everyone concerned to the Government. We helped to improve road safety significantly over the past five to seven years.
Senator Mary White reminded the House of her strong support for the rights of older people. She suggested that BreastCheck services might not be available to people over the age of 64. The Senator has championed the rights of such people. It is good that people are living to a much greater age as a result of advances in medicine, health care and standards of living. Most people look after themselves better than they did some years ago. Good eating habits have been developed, for example. I agree with Senator White that in the past, men used to make most of the legislative decisions that affected women. The Minister for Health and Children has been exemplary in her championing of the cause of everyone living on the island of Ireland, regardless of whether they are male or female. I understand that Senator White is working closely with the Minister, Deputy Harney, in all of these areas. I thank her for bringing this issue to the attention of the House this morning. It is a priority for the House to do anything it can to relieve the plight of older people. We are all heading there one day. I certainly will have no difficulty in allowing the longest possible time in which to discuss the matter and assist Senator Mary White in her further deliberations. I thank her for the great documents she brings to the attention of the public, the media and every legislator in this area.
Senators Ross, Coghlan, Quinn, Regan and Buttimer all called for the Minister for Finance to update Members on the developments affecting the banking sector. I have no difficulty in making a commitment to the House that this will happen before 10 July. I note Senator Ross's views on the various appointments. As Senator Quinn has quite correctly pointed out, the new appointment of the 71 year old, one of the most experienced people in banking-----
We must have a mix. We cannot only have politicians as directors of banks or organisations. We are not bankers; our task is to amend legislation. It is welcoming to see former Tánaiste, Dick Spring, and former Minister for Finance, Alan Dukes, in their current positions. It is a mix and perhaps the good Senator himself - Senator Ross - might be seriously considered in this regard. I would really like to see-----
I have no difficulty whatsoever in allocating whatever time is necessary to continue our deliberations on the financial difficulties and the challenges being experienced by a very good Minister for Finance at present. It is the view of the majority of Members that we should do anything we can in the House to assist the Government in this regard.
Senator Callely called for a debate on the HSE and made a very good proposal on the breakdown in percentage terms of the allocation of staff to services, especially in respect of staff in administration and at the front line in hospitals, be they nursing staff or consultants. He asked that the debate encompass every medical challenge faced by the HSE. I have no difficulty in inviting the Minister to the House to discuss the difficulties emerging in regard to what would seem to be the high percentage of staff now employed in administration. In an era of computerisation there should be a greater opportunity to prioritise financial assistance for front-line staff, including nursing staff, rather than administrative staff. I have no difficulty in allocating time for this debate.
Senator McFadden quite correctly alluded to Senator Cummins who brought to my attention the question of whether asylum seeker accommodation centres should be accessible to every canvasser during an election campaign. I passed this view on to the Minister and am awaiting clarification from him on the issue.
Senator McCarthy referred to the awarding of contracts to ferry operators, workers' rights and all the challenges in this area. I will pass on his views to the Department today, try to ascertain the up-to-date position and revert directly to the Senator on his query.
Senator Jim Walsh pointed out the urgent need for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to review the local town boundaries in regard to elections to town councils. The population of Ireland has increased by more than a million and certain towns in respect of which there are local elections may have doubled in population since the boundaries were drawn.
Senator Healy Eames referred to the bilateral adoption agreement with Vietnam. I have a lengthy response from the Minister of State on this and will pass it on to the Senator directly after the Order of Business.
Senators Hanafin and Buttimer but especially Senator Quinn updated the House on the waste of food and referred to best-before dates and other indicators on food packaging. We certainly could debate this in the House and I have no difficulty in allocating time for it
Senator Prendergast referred to patient transfer and the ambulance service for Carrick-on-Suir. I will certainly pass on the Senator's strong views to the Minister. Perhaps her point, which was certainly heartfelt, could be raised on the Adjournment.
With regard to Senator Bacik's remarks, we all want to express our condolences to the families of the three young doctors and the two employees of Aer Lingus who perished in the Air France flight tragedy. It is unbelievable, appalling and heartbreaking. I pass on our condolences, best wishes and sympathies to the families of the young people who lost their lives so tragically.
Senator Hanafin asked that each party present in the House its policy for economic recovery. This is a very worthwhile proposal and I certainly will consider it. The opportunity should be given to each party leader and party member in the House to make his or her proposals for a plan for economic recovery. Some very good opportunities and proposals could come from that and it would let the public know the Opposition's plans for the next three years.
I am just concluding and I thank the Cathaoirleach for reminding me.
I agree fully with the points made by Senator Mullen. Senator Coffey called for a debate on restoring competitiveness. I agree fully with his sentiments on the cost of gas, electricity and energy in general, and on the opportunity to create sustainable energy using wind and wave power.