Wednesday, 24 June 2009
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Nursing Homes Support Scheme Bill 2008 - Report Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to adjourn at 5 p.m., if not previously concluded; No. 35, Private Member's business, motion No. 33 regarding the dairy industry, to be taken at the conclusion of No.1 but not earlier than 5 p.m. and to conclude not later than 7 p.m. The debate on No. 1, if not previously concluded, shall resume at the conclusion of No. 35. The business of the House will be interrupted from 1.15 p.m to 2.15 p.m.
I raised concerns yesterday about the cutbacks affecting Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin. There is a danger that the hospital will fall behind international norms for the treatment of various illnesses affecting children because of the cutbacks, not the quality of the service provided or the commitment of the staff. The cutbacks mean there will be longer waiting lists which mean children will not be treated when they need to be. If the Government believes €20 million can be saved between the three children's hospitals, its members should meet representatives of the three hospitals to discuss where they believe the savings can be made. The board told the committee it had requested such a meeting and pointed out that the HSE had no structure for dealing with paediatric services. There is no senior person dealing with paediatric services, which is beyond belief. Yesterday Senator MacSharry raised concerns about how a query raised by him had been dealt with. It is unbelievable there is no structure for dealing with paediatric services in the HSE. The Minister is relying on a new hospital to meet the needs of children who need operations now. The health boards were put together to form the HSE and this is the level of response. It does not make one hopeful for the proposed children's hospital and how it might meet the needs of children.
There are reports in the newspapers on a meeting with the social partners which suggest they are being briefed on the pensions time bomb. The OECD report states Ireland is among the worst in the world for the losses suffered by pension funds. Once again we see a Government which has taken its eye off the ball and where a reliance on property has led to a dramatic problem with pensions. Why can the social partners be briefed on Government plans for protecting mortgages, an issue which has been raised by many Members, and the pensions time bomb but Members of this House cannot?
We have asked the Government for report after report on these issues and the Minister to attend the House to discuss them, but we have not been briefed. No wonder the public has lost faith in the Government. If we do not have briefings as elected Members of this House and the Dáil, how can the public have faith in the processes and the way the Government is running the country?
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business in order that we can have the much called for debate on the economy today and that we can be briefed on these issues when it is reported in the newspapers that the social partners are being briefed. We need to integrate our work with that of social partnership if it is to survive these difficult times, a matter against which there is a big question mark.
The point made by Senator Fitzgerald has been echoed on a number of occasions. Senator MacSharry and I have asked for a discussion on these issues to enable us to focus on them and obtain information. The Leader promised a monthly debate on the economy, then a weekly debate and on one famous day a bi-weekly debate. We have not had any debate on the economy but we must have one.
I do not necessarily agree with everything Senator Fitzgerald said. Fund managers must take some responsibility, having decided to invest assets in property as opposed to spreading them around, but it does not take from the point made by Senator Fitzgerald that we must deal with these issues. There is not just one crisis - banking; there are also the issues of unemployment and pensions, amiong others, that must be dealt with. This point must be reiterated.
People are beginning to see that social partnership is not an issue of principle but pragmatism. It is where one has people with different points of view, makes them listen to each other and gets them to hammer out some common objectives. For six months I have been saying it is not difficult to agree the common objectives of all parties and find a way through in that direction. This is the time for real leadership. I admire the courage of my colleagues in the trade union movement. Trade union members, like ordinary members of the population, do not have confidence in the Government. They are looking caustically and cynically at what is going on. They do not want another national agreement. Trade union leaders, like the leaders of IBEC and responsible political leaders, believe hard decisions must be taken for the good of the country in order that we can come together in the future. We must have that debate in order that Members of these Houses can buy into these issues, on which the Government must be brave and courageous. The idea that prevention is better than cure does not apply to good leadership. Leadership that manages to prevent disasters never receives credit. If we can prevent unemployment reaching 500,000, we will never receive credit for it, as it will always be pointed out that the unemployment figure was up to 450,000. Hard decisions must be taken, but there will be no positive political gain. However, it must still be done for the sake of local economies, small businesses and the protection of jobs everywhere.
I remind the Leader of my call for a debate on Iran. It is right to support supporters of Mr. Mousavi, but he is not the answer as the regime is wrong. Even with Mr. Mousavi as President, the regime would not be a whole lot better, although as a person he certainly is. The problem is that there is no democratic opposition supported by the western world. Democratic peaceful opposition is provided by the Mujahideen, a group which wants to change the regime and not allow the situation to morph into what happened in Afghanistan. This is likely to happen, even if Mr. Mousavi is the leader. There are issues to be discussed and we must learn from what has happened.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Fitzgerald. We called for debates on various aspects of the economy such as pensions, mortgages and unemployment. Given the current economic climate, there is a list of debates we could demand. However, on every occasion we asked for such a debate, we did not see the Minister for Finance in the House. He must come into the House and engage with Members in a constructive way on the economy. Can the Leader ensure the Minister will be present when he arranges the next debate? I say this with all due respect to the Ministers of State who attend, but the issue is far too serious for the senior Minister to ignore. There has been little co-operation between the Government and the Opposition on how we can get ourselves out of the mess in which we find ourselves. There were various soundings on pre-budget submissions but in words only. In practice, there is no genuine attempt by the Government to seek constructive proposals from the Opposition. In the media this morning we read that the Government is bringing the social partners with it every step of the way, yet it excludes the Opposition. That is unwise and the folly of the Government will be very clear in the not too distant future.
I ask that the Leader arrange a debate on spiralling fuel prices. In May the average price of a litre of petrol was €1.08, it is now €1.16. It is almost up to €1.20 and beyond in some cases. This is crippling for motorists, particularly those living in rural areas. Bus Éireann has initiated a slate of cost cutting proposals which have affected many areas, not least west Cork. The Skibbereen to Baltimore service has been affected; the proposal effectively cuts islanders off from the mainland. With spiralling fuel prices, this leads me to call on the Government to take some action. Every time there is an increase in the price of fuel, the Government receives 33 cent on a litre of diesel and 44 cent on a litre of petrol. There is VAT of 21% on the overall cost. This is a revenue generating exercise for the Government which is doing very well out of this. I ask the appropriate Minister to debate the excise take of the Government and take some action to ease the pressure on motorists.
I join others in seeking a debate on the economy. We will have an opportunity to discuss the matter tomorrow when the Finance Bill is debated. I note the ringing praise of the IMF of Government policies, particularly the steps taken to stabilise the banking sector and the public finances. As Senator Donohoe and I agreed last week, the IMF points out that much more painful action must be taken in the budget. We must be tolerant and fair when the time comes.
I call for a debate on the potential introduction of an entrepreneurship education strategy. The matter is timely in the context of what Senator Harris said yesterday on the introduction of the Lemass award. In the past few weeks Dr. Thomas Cooney, research fellow on entrepreneurship at the Dublin Institute of Technology, and I, with members of the primary and secondary education sector, wrote a proposal in respect of an entrepreneurship education strategy for Ireland. We put forward a 12 point plan, introducing entrepreneurship education from primary school to third and fourth levels. This is not just to create a band of entrepreneurs to create employment in the years to come but also to develop attitudes and behaviour, particularly traits such as taking personal responsibility, creativity and leadership in all our young people. Many have talents which are not just academic. Academic success does not necessarily lead to business success. If we had an appropriate debate about the introduction of a number of measures, possibly including some of the 12 points we have come up with on an integrated entrepreneurship educational strategy, it could lay a foundation similar to that laid by Donogh O'Malley in the 1960s with the introduction of free secondary education, which led to the prosperity of the late 1980s and 1990s up until recent years. It could lay a base which could see a new breed of Irish people lead us into greater times of prosperity in the mid 2010s and into the 2020s.
I support Senator Frances Fitzgerald's call for an urgent debate on the economy, particularly in light of the admission yesterday by the trade unions that social partnership is failing in its current form. Repossessions of family homes are, meanwhile, increasing and last week in this House I called for an urgent debate with the relevant Minister on this issue. I would like such a discussion on how the current failings in the economy are affecting people's lives.
Hundreds of parents waiting for adoptions are still waiting and worried because of a rumour that Ireland has cancelled the bilateral agreement with Vietnam. We still do not know the answer to this question and have heard no truth about it in this House. I understand the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, is travelling next Sunday to Vietnam. Will the Leader facilitate an update and briefing on his return in this House? We initiated the adoption legislation here and we deserve to have that update on his return.
I thank the Senator for his time. The House may know that I am conducting an Oireachtas study on early school leaving and one of the target groups that we are looking at is the prison population. We interviewed two men and two women in their 20s, so it is not that long since they were in primary and secondary school. There were no surprises as illiteracy and sexual abuse were the causes, in the main, of their educational failure. This comes on the back of the Ryan report and the fact that a third of our kids in disadvantaged areas are still not learning to read and write.
I call on the Leader to facilitate a debate with the Ministers for Education and Science and Justice, Equality and Law Reform on the causes of crime and how they relate to illiteracy and child abuse.
At this stage there are many fishermen and fishermen organisations agitating and planning a campaign for a "No" vote for the Lisbon treaty referendum - which I personally regret - because of disenchantment with Europe. I raise the question of debating the fisheries, particularly with a view to the Common Fisheries Policy, which is currently being renegotiated. I can never understand why the fishing community, which has an important role to play in this country, has never been involved in social partnership talks. Farmers are involved but fishermen have been excluded, which is also a sore point. I can understand their current anxiety.
I ask the Leader to support a call for a debate on the electoral register. I have been struck off twice from the register, and I found out in January this year that I was not on the register for voting this year. I am not alone in this and many others have been affected. Notice should be served to such people as we have a constitutional right to vote; anybody being struck off should be given the requisite notice.
The electoral register is an absolute sham and arising from the debate on electoral reform, we must make the register much more accurate. In a survey in my small home town, some 85 people were on the register who should not have been, with one person having been dead for nine years. In this modern technological age, there should be a better system. The issue was raised in previous weeks and although it is not urgent and will not be required before summer, we need an open and frank debate on the matter.
I was struck off the register twice and in the 1980s it cost me a vote in three elections, which I was bitter about. The register should be much more accurate in this modern age of information technology achievements.
Figures were published today in Britain showing that numbers of organ donations have increased since changes to legislation were implemented two years ago. The reason I mention this and bring it to the attention of the Leader is because we have adjourned a debate on a motion put forward regarding presumed consent. The Minister accepted the point that she wanted more discussion and has been meeting people to that end in order to increase the number of organ donations here.
People are waiting in hospitals for organs to be donated and presumed consent is part of the debate. The Minister agreed to a discussion on it over the few months since. Will the Leader ask the Minister to bring the matter to a conclusion and if she is to introduce her own legislation, will she do it as soon as possible because lives are at stake?
Senator Healy Eames referred earlier to being in Mountjoy yesterday. A decision in the courts last week indicated that non-payment of a debt should no longer end in imprisonment, and I accept this as a valid point in reducing the prison population. However, that may threaten family maintenance orders and I would like the Minister responsible to put our minds at rest in that regard. It seems that up to now it was possible to be put in jail if a person stopped paying family maintenance but if that is to be removed, there is a possibility that many will use this opportunity to avoid paying family maintenance. We should ensure this does not happen.
I support Senator O'Donovan in his remarks pertaining to the electoral register. I raised this matter yesterday and on a previous occasion. Senator O'Donovan referred to Bantry, where a number of people on the register had died. In Clonmore, the small area in which I live, up to recently there were three people on the register who have been dead a number of years. The electoral register process is an absolute and total failure and the best efforts of successive Governments have resulted in systemic failure. Senator O'Donovan might like to know that if people are to be removed from the register, they are entitled to written notification.
Today the chief executive officer of the Health Service Executive is visiting Mullingar regional hospital at my invitation, as I met him here some weeks ago. The House is aware that the hospital in Mullingar is one of the top three performing hospitals in the country. Professor Drumm will meet the leaders of all the sections of staff, including consultants, NCHDs, nursing, administrative and non-nursing staff. He will see at first hand how the staff in the hospital have attained that high degree of efficiency.
I hope the service which the staff of the hospital are giving, at a reduced allocation compared to other hospitals of similar size but which are not even on the same radar, will get the recognition it deserves in terms of specialties and allocation. I hope the consultant dermatologist vacancy will be filled and the second post which has been approved will be located in Mullingar. I fought hard for that consultancy but they could not find enough money and consequently the person who came left. All of a sudden, abracadabra, money was found for a second consultant.
Will the Leader have a debate on the HSE? I await with bated breath the outcome of Professor Drumm's visit to Mullingar.
I wish to mention an article in The Irish Times today with the headline "Arthur Cox appointed banking adviser without tender". The matter was raised in the House before. This firm is advising NAMA following a tender which was recently awarded. It is also advising the Minister for Finance, Bank of Ireland and developers on NAMA. I am not sure we have learned any lessons in regard to independence, avoiding conflicts of interest and having the same people carry out the same type of work and make decisions on our behalf.
There is a serious question mark over the Minister retaining this firm without any new public tender. It is wrong and is contrary to EU public procurement rules. Last September there was justification for engaging this firm on grounds of urgency and one can avoid the full rigours of EU public tendering requirements in such circumstances. However, to continue that contract with, or to award a new contract to, that company without a tender is completely in breach of EU law. I ask that the Minister for Finance address that issue on the next occasion he comes to the House.
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is attempting to restrict legally held firearms in the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous) Provisions Bill 2009 which is going through the Lower House currently and will come back to us. That will disrupt a sport in which no problems have arisen. Many people enjoy this sport and have procedures to safeguard their arms which are licensed.
The Minister for Defence cannot safeguard firearms in the custody of the State. Grenades and a gun have been stolen from Limerick Army barracks. It is unfortunate that such an incident can occur. Will the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform identify what other arms of this nature in the custody of the State have disappeared in this way?
The trade union movement has played a monumental role in the development of the economy, the creation of employment and, above all, in ensuring stability in industrial relations. We still have a significantly high level of employment but the challenge facing us is to ensure those jobs are protected and to create new jobs where possible.
We should acknowledge the courage shown by a number of trade union leaders in these difficult times. They have seen the benefits of social partnership. In better times when that process was being moved forward, we tended not to question the fact the social partners were in touch with Government because we saw the benefits of it. It is possibly more important now that that process continues. It is good to know the social partnership talks are still taking place. I hope they will be elevated to a new level and that there is the possibility of a new national agreement.
There is a greater understanding now of where we are and the opportunities which can exist in the future. When the first difficult decisions were made, there was much disappointment in the community ending in anger. We now know we have no choice but to make hard decisions. However, if those hard decisions do not lead to positive results, people will not be happy. The only chance we have to do that is through the social partners working with Government. If we do not have stability in industrial relations, it will undermine all our plans. There is no prospect of an investor taking an investment opportunity if there is not stability in the country in terms of industrial relations.
I join Senators in calling for a debate on small businesses and with Senator MacSharry's call for a debate on extending entrepreneurial skills because, as we have heard and agree, it is by growing our small businesses that we will see more employment and the country coming out of this recession.
The latest survey by the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association is worrying news. It shows that 80% of small businesses have suffered a fall in sales recently, four out of five expect to see a cut in the number of their employees and two out of three have said they are in danger of closure unless there is a change in the current economic climate.
Some sectors of the economy are particularly affected. I know of small architectural, engineering and town planning firms which are in serious difficulty because of the downturn in the construction sector. This morning's announcement that the Government will make some money available to support employment in the economy is welcome news. I would like a debate on how we can ensure employment is preserved in small businesses and, if possible, increased.
I call for a debate on education, which would be timely. The teaching of English to foreign students is making a fine contribution to the country. We could certainly increase the number of foreign students coming here as it is worth approximately €800 million to the country. For example, Britain and New Zealand have increased the number of foreign students going to those countries to learn English. This is worth €8.5 billion to Britain and €4 billion to New Zealand, a country similar to Ireland. This area should be developed immediately. It would also benefit other sectors of the community. Will the Minister for Education and Science come to the House to discuss this matter?
It appears we are very strict when it comes to allowing people come to this country, which I understand. However, we have a much tighter visa system than the UK and it is time we looked at how we assess these people who want to come here to learn English. This is the way forward in terms of upskilling people in the education system.
Last week the Leader undertook to brief the House yesterday on the remaining legislative programme. I understand he may have given a briefing to the group leaders. We all know how important our economic recovery is but, sadly, the Government is currently impeding that possibility by continuing to procrastinate in regard to NAMA. I believe it has received a legal framework and advice. Did it sign off on it yesterday? Is the publication date for the legislation still set for 4 July? I do not know what the Leader told the leaders. However, we all know the markets abhor uncertainty so the Government should arrange for that legislation to be processed through both houses in July rather than wait until September.
I support the call for a debate on the economy. I have raised the two issues of concern facing the country, namely, matters relating to the economy and to finance and banking. I asked the Leader to discuss this matter with the other leaders and agree a schedule in order that we could have a regular debate to ensure we at up to date on these issues.
Senator MacSharry put forward proposals on the repossession of houses and yesterday I raised the matter of money available to small and medium sized enterprises. These important issues, along with the economy, should be on our agenda on a regular basis. I also want to raise the proposed reduction of fees to pharmacists. This morning I received a communication from a pharmacist stating:
I presume you know about the savage cuts in our sector to be imposed from the 1st of July next. While I am prepared to accept a percentage of cuts like many others at this time, it seems grossly unfair that while other health care professionals, e.g. GPs, optometrists, dentists, etc, get an 8% reduction in their fees, community pharmacists get up to four to five times this percentage of cuts. I feel this is...vindictive in light of the recent court ruling against the HSE. The Minister for Health [and Children] formed her own review body that made recommendations which were then subsequently ignored. I believe that says it all...
I strongly urge you and all your colleagues...to reverse this penal decision before the whole community pharmacy service is forced to collapse.
I have a problem with the HSE and have said so on many occasions. It has made many errors. I believe the one administrative authority that should manage our health and social services-----
It would be much more convincing, however, if occasionally it was criticism of the main Government parties rather than the satellite ones which routinely get attacked from that side of the House.
While I support the calls for a debate on Iran, it is important it is treated sensitively. The Iranian authorities are manipulating the situation, claiming that the whole series of demonstrations are being inspired and manipulated from outside, particularly by Britain and America. We need to be careful of that.
I compliment Senator Regan raising the issue concerning Arthur Cox. I have spoken about it in the past and I believe we are not aware of the seriousness of conflicts of interest. Arthur Cox is a large legal firm, the largest dealing with this particular area and may be the reason why the Government wishes to chose it. However, there are radically different interests involved in estimating the size of debt, the values of property and those between the Bank of Ireland and the Government on behalf of the people.
I call for a debate on planning. Inspired by the Irish Georgian Society, I recently objected to a planning application for a development at Donaghcumper Demesne which will comprise the classic estate of Castletown, County Kildare. The appeal was rejected and I received a notice which intimidatingly pointed out that I may appeal the decision but it would cost me. It presented a scale of fees, the first of which is between €4,500 and €9,000. That principally applies to a developer but it is deliberately intended to intimidate. The very lowest at which I could appeal this decision is €200. This is deliberately intended to intimidate and prevent citizens from asserting their rights.
In light of widespread rumours around the House, will the Leader confirm that the Government intends to publish the civil unions Bill this Friday? If so, will he give a timetable for its hearing in the House?
Many Members will welcome the fact that people will no longer go to prison for the non-payment of small amounts to financial institutions, as pointed out earlier by Senator Quinn. In its own way, this will lead to financial institutions looking for further security, making it more difficult to get loans. This may not be a bad development in cases where people might have difficulties.
However, as pointed out earlier there can be anomalies. Will the Leader request clarification from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on these? Where maintenance is due to families, it is often in lieu of other payments the State would give. In many cases it is the only source of income. It is vital to ensure the threat of prison remains for non-payment of maintenance.
I also support the calls for a debate on the economy. I welcome the Government's announcement of a €250 million job retention programme, particularly in light of the IMF's report this morning on the economy.
We spoke in the House of a soft landing with 70,000 jobs to go in the construction industry but that the economy was well-placed for it. What happened, however, in the international sphere undermined the Irish economy. It was prudent management of the economy that prevented the IMF from coming in to manage it for us. The records will show the Government saved the economy.
My apologies a Chathaoirligh.
I support Senator Fitzgerald's call for a debate on the role of the Oireachtas. Questions to Ministers about the National Roads Authority, the Road Safety Authority, the Health and Safety Authority and the Health Service Executive are often replied with claims the Minister has no official responsibility for the body in question or they are diverted down a cul-de-sac from which no answer emerges. It is time to get over this Dublin Castle mentality and bring the power of the people back to the Houses of the people. No matter how many noble sentiments Government Members express about social partnership, I have no personal desire to be ruled by Dublin Castle. Social partnership discussions should be held in both Houses, not behind closed doors in Dublin Castle. Instead, the Government has neutered this Parliament.
I am no bleeding-heart liberal but the idea of jailing people because they do not pay a fine or maintenance payments is backward and stupid. If we are not capable of coming up with another mechanism of ensuring such payments, we are a pretty foolish lot supporting the idea of debtors' prisons continuing in the 21st century. We must explore other means of getting these payments. Most of those concerned have direct payments from either an employer or the State. There are means of securing payments through these rather than this nonsensical notion of throwing people into prison.
I support my colleagues on the role of prisons and people being imprisoned for non-payment of debts. On Monday I visited St. Patrick's Institution, the prison for young boys aged between 15 and 21 years. Up to 60 children, aged between 16 and 17 years, are in prison there. How we re-integrate people who were in prison into society must be debated in the House. Last week, I attended a wonderful conference in Dublin Castle on re-imagining the role of prison in society, particularly with traditional forms of penalising people and a 60% recidivism rate.
I was, however, impressed by the changes brought about at St. Patrick's Institution. Thanks to Mr. Justice Dermot Kinlen, who valiantly stuck his neck out to challenge the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael McDowell, there is a more enlightened approach to the treatment of young people in prison.
I spoke to 30 young people there who are being taught trades such as carpentry, as well as art, computers and music. Each person to whom I spoke had brilliant social skills. They were able to communicate with me much better than can many of their contemporaries who come from well-off families. These were children of gang members from Limerick and Ballymun. On an individual basis, I was very impressed with the governor, Mr. Sean Quigley, and the director of operations-----
-----Mr. Willie Connolly. I call for a serious debate on the role of prisons in society. My final point is that St. Patrick's Institution, in which young people are imprisoned, will be moved in two years' time to Lusk. It will be a detention centre at which there will be a real focus on rehabilitation.
I support Senator Mary White's call for a debate on prisons, which is long overdue. The work of the Irish Penal Reform Trust to which she referred has been important in generating debate on prisons and on the need to ensure alternatives to custody. It must be stressed that there are other ways-----
Prison is not the appropriate method. St. Patrick's Institution, which Senator Mary White mentioned, has been recommended for closure for more than 20 years. It is recognised internationally as being an inhumane institution in which there is almost no prospect of rehabilitation for its inmates, who tend to go on from there to the adult Mountjoy Prison. While on this subject, I have visited Mountjoy Prison many times and have raised the issue of the appalling conditions there many times. It is utterly inhumane that in 2009, adults still are slopping out in their own overcrowded cells, which were designed for one person.
I ask the Leader for a debate on this issue as a matter of urgency, especially in light of recent reports to the effect that the move to Thornton Hall apparently may not go ahead or will be delayed, in which case people will be living in such dreadful conditions in Mountjoy Prison for much longer than was anticipated. I also seek a debate on the need for additional prison places at Thornton Hall. While the conditions there will be better, this will represent an unfortunate step in that it will greatly increase the number of prison places available at a time when Members should be debating the need to lock up so many people in institutions in which there is so little prospect of rehabilitation.
I also renew the call I made yesterday for a debate on Iran. All Members should be deeply concerned about the brutal oppression of peaceful demonstrations. Clearly, it is not up to any Member to support a particular politician in Iran. However, all Members should be concerned about the manner in which the regime is putting down demonstrations.
I refer in particular to the dreadfully distressing pictures that are widespread on the Internet, of a young woman, Neda Soltani, who apparently was shot point-blank by government forces as she simply stood on the sidelines of a demonstration. The Iranian ambassador should be called in and the Minister for Foreign Affairs should express his concern.
I support those who have called for a debate on the economy. The imminent publication of the report by the IMF may provide Members with a platform on which to base such a debate. There are three strands to the economic situation in which we find ourselves. One is the banking crisis, obviously, and it will be very difficult, even despite the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, to get credit flowing in the short to medium term. Moreover, this probably will be the experience globally. Second, the fiscal issue constitutes a major challenge to the Government. While this reflects what is happening in many other countries, it is much more acute in Ireland because of the disparity between income and expenditure. Such a debate must focus on public sector pay as there is no way to correct the public finances without addressing serious issues and reductions in that regard. Moreover, it will mean, however unpalatable it might be, considering how scarce resources are applied within the social welfare system in order that they are targeted at those who are most in need.
A third element, which appears to be playing out in the debate among the social partners at present, pertains to the injection of a stimulus package to try to protect and preserve jobs within the economy and to try to provide an impetus to returning to some form of growth in the short term if possible. I suggest that given resources are so scarce, one way of acquiring the €1 billion that is being sought would be to suspend the benchmarking awards, from which all Members have benefited, for a period of three years. Were benchmarking suspended across the public sector, the moneys saved could be applied and one might secure a buy-in from many people within the public sector to participate in this regard. Such a stimulus package is needed because a recent report showed that the growth rate in China, where there has been a massive injection of funds in an effort to stimulate the economy, will be between 6% and 8% this year. Moreover, predictions have been made that the United States may see an upturn on foot of its stimulus package. However, Europe, which has not followed that line, may lag behind somewhat. A debate in this regard would be useful.
At the outset, I wish to ask three specific questions which the Leader might address in his reply. First, I echo Senator Norris by asking whether the civil union Bill will be published this week and whether the Leader has a timeline for it. Second, in his response to the Order of Business, the Leader should tell Members which Government and which Minister established the HSE.
I am confused by Senator Callely's contribution as to who was responsible for its creation. The Leader should respond because Senator Callely should have stated that given the rationalisation or, as the HSE put it, the reconfiguration, which really means cutting services, a debate on health is required.
While I respect of the ruling of the Chair and am not being in any way disrespectful, I have attempted unsuccessfully to raise matters on the Adjournment regarding the National Roads Authority, NRA, as did Senator McFadden this morning. Who is responsible for the NRA? As Senator Twomey asked earlier, what recourse do Members have to question the NRA, to examine the roads programme or to consider the cuts it has introduced thereto? Parts of Ireland are grinding to a halt from traffic gridlock because the NRA has either put on hold or abandoned roads building programmes. I refer specifically to the Bandon road and the Sarsfield Road roundabout in Cork city. A debate on this subject at the Leader's earliest convenience would be welcome.
Finally, I seek a debate on social partnership. I am a fan of social partnership which is needed now more than ever, given the recession. The Government should take on board Senator Fitzgerald's views and include both Houses in the new type of social partnership. I appeal to both employers and unions to put aside vested interests and to take on board the views expressed yesterday by Dr. Whitaker, namely, that a job saved is better than a job lost. A debate on social partnership is urgently needed.
Ba mhaith liom iarraidh ar an Cheannaire díospóireacht a reachtáil maidir le todhchaí na Gaeilge, go háirithe maidir leis an nuachtán Foinse, agus na himpleachtaí a bhaineann le todhchaí an nuachtáin sin. Ag trácht ar an am deireanach a thóg mé an cheist seo, gabhaim leithscéal leis an Chathaoirleach toisc nár éist mé leis an rialú a thóg sé ar an lá sin. Níor thuig mé go bhfuil rialú úr ann ó thaobh dhá nóiméad cainte.
Ba mhaith liom fosta go n-úsáidfí an Ceannaire oifig s'aige leis na seirbhísí uilig a tharraingt le chéile. I refer to the flash flooding which took place in my own village and townland yesterday in Gweedore. I dropped the boys up to the crèche yesterday in their shorts, t-shirts and sandals but by the time I reached Dublin, serious flash flooding had taken place. People still are trapped in their houses this morning, bridges have collapsed, churches and youth clubs have been completely submerged and businesses have been severely damaged. As one tries to deal with the aftermath of such an event, one problem is that one is obliged to contact the Departments of Transport, the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
Unfortunately, this is not a new phenomenon, as this has happened repeatedly and has become all too common and frequent in recent years. A multi-agency response in this regard is required. It should be established on a permanent basis to react if such an incident happens. This was not the fault of any politician and I do not blame the Government for it. However, people should be able to telephone an agency to report that an issue has arisen. One should be able to state that bridges must be built, youth clubs must be restored, the fire brigade must be deployed and additional money must be made available to the local authority and that the Department of Finance must become involved. One should be able to report that farms have been wrecked and flooded to a one-stop shop that exists to deal with such natural disasters. I appeal to the Leader to engage with the relevant Departments. He should use his offices to bring this about. Urgent action is needed to help the people of Gaoth Dobhair. I am sure there will be many similar events in the years to come. It is sad to listen to the stories of people who are trapped in their houses and do not know what is happening. If they were given information to the effect that there would be a rapid response, that would give them some comfort.
I am not happy that the Cathaoirleach has sent me a letter to the effect that a road project in County Westmeath is the responsibility of the NRA rather than the Minister for Transport. Like some of my colleagues, I am not sure who is really making the decisions in this area. Last Friday the Leader and I attended a meeting at which this matter was discussed. As we listened to the discussion, we learned that the NRA had refused to meet Westmeath County Council to discuss the road project. It is outrageous that we do not know to whom bodies such as the NRA and the HSE are answerable. How can we get things done when we do not know who is responsible? As some Members are aware, work on the bypass in question will be ready to proceed as soon as €800,000 has been provided to finish it. That money was allocated, but we do not know what happened afterwards. What is the story?
I am glad Senator Glynn finished his remarks about Mullingar Regional Hospital by saying he was waiting with bated breath for Professor Drumm to come to Mullingar. He is right to be waiting with bated breath, considering the way the professor and his HSE colleagues have done everything in their power to downgrade the colposcopy, sexual assault and dermatology units at the hospital. The HSE is constantly trying to withdraw services from it. If I were Senator Glynn, I would not be as upbeat about the matter. I would be imploring the Minister, Deputy Harney, to take action. The Government which has been in power for many years should ensure there are no further downgrades. I will conclude by reminding Senator Glynn that the dermatologist he mentioned did not stay at the hospital because there were no backup services, no registrar, no facilities and no resources to support her.
Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, McCarthy and Buttimer expressed serious concerns about the HSE and I fully agree with much of what they said. I will have no difficulty in submitting a request to the Minister for Health and Children to update the House on all health services, if possible before the summer recess.
Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, MacSharry, Healy Eames, Callely, Twomey and Walsh outlined their opinions on pension funds, social partnership and the economy. I agree with everyone who spoke in favour of social partnership. The social partners, in tandem with the Government and everyone concerned, gave us both phases of the Celtic tiger. They brought about the successful economy and the wonderful country we have today. The global challenges we face have been frequently mentioned. One of these challenges is presented by the fear of the unknown. If things are not happening in America or other western countries, Ireland is at a considerable disadvantage as a country that exports between 85% and 90% of all its produce.
We need to bear all of that in mind. I welcome this morning's announcement that €250 million will be provided for job retention measures. Given that the IMF report is imminent, this an ideal time to have a debate on these matters and I hope we will have an opportunity to do so before the summer recess. The Minister for Finance will be in the House tomorrow. I remind Senators that he was here on 28 May. I look forward to hearing my colleagues' contributions tomorrow when we will have a long day of important business. The legislation we will be considering is important because a sum of €4 billion is at stake. When the Financial Measures (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2009 is presented to the House tomorrow, I am sure Members will avail of the opportunity to tease out their concerns about the current state of the economy. I commend the Taoiseach and the leaders of the unions, the farming organisations and IBEC. I agree with Senator O'Donovan that the fishermen should not be left out, as they represent an area of industry with huge potential.
Perhaps the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party will discuss how progress can be made in that regard. There is a huge responsibility on everyone, particularly the leaders I have mentioned, to make progress with social partnership. I will allow the longest possible time for a debate on the matter. I will also consider Senator Hanafin's proposal that the various parties should have an opportunity to give the nation the benefit of the wisdom of their latest policies as we fight the challenges with which we are confronted. I have already informed Senators that the House will sit until 10 July. Perhaps we will have to sit for one or two days the following week to allow time for these urgent and serious issues to be debated in the House, a matter I am considering.
I fully agree with Senators O'Toole, Norris and Bacik who have called for a debate on Iran. It is appalling that a 26 year old woman lost her life, unfortunately, in front of the cameras. We all saw the footage on our television screens. I will have no difficulty in setting time aside for a debate on the matter.
I will pass on Senator McCarthy's views on the increase in fuel prices to the Minister. He is aware that such prices are controlled by global forces.
Senators MacSharry and Hannigan brought our attention to the report on the need to encourage entrepreneurship. One of our colleagues has been closely involved in that process. However, everyone should be involved in generating and incentivising innovation, creativity and intellectual property. In the last ten or 11 years Ireland has been a shining example to the world in this regard. It is now time to reflect on the issue in order that new ideas can be fostered. We need to meet the challenges being posed by countries such as Singapore which are looking for the same business as Ireland. We can refer to issues such as upskilling during our debate on the economy. Perhaps more than one Minister will be present for the discussion. It may be possible for three Ministers - the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Education and Science - to contribute to the debate. Such a debate is necessary if we are really serious about making a contribution before the summer recess.
I assure Senator Healy Eames that I intend to invite the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, to the House to update Senators on the efforts he is making to resolve the issue with Vietnam that she mentioned. However, I do not want anyone to form the impression that a preconceived deal is imminent. The Minister of State intends to spend a week in Vietnam as part of his genuine efforts to do whatever is humanly possible to address the issue that is the reason for his visit. I intend to ask him to come to the House before the summer recess, if possible, to update Members on the matter.
Senator Healy Eames and others spoke about the study of early school leavers that is taking place. It is very welcome and I am keen to be kept up to date on the matter. When it has been completed, I will allow time for it to be discussed in the House.
Senator O'Donovan spoke about the serious challenges facing the fishing industry. A serious job needs to be done by everyone concerned, including the social partners, during the discussions on the Common Fisheries Policy. I have every confidence in the fishing industry and have already given a commitment to provide time for a debate on it in the House, if possible before the summer recess.
Senators O'Donovan and Glynn called for an urgent debate on the condition of the electoral register. Yesterday I gave Senator Glynn a commitment to discuss the issue after the summer recess. I have often said the men and women of the postal service would be the best people to compile the register, as they are the first people in every parish and street in the country to know when someone moves to a new address. They know who is living in every house. I think we should consider asking them to compile the register on a pilot basis.
I am speaking on the basis of my considerable experience in this area in my former place of work.
Senator Quinn spoke about organ donation which I am delighted to hear is on the increase in other countries. I urge Senators to do everything they can to address and discuss the matter. Perhaps I will raise the issue at next Tuesday's meeting of party leaders. I am aware that every Member of the House supports organ donation.
Senators Quinn, Hanafin and Twomey raised the issue of the threat of a jail sentence for the non-payment of debts and for the non-payment of family maintenance, payments which are necessary and urgently required by the families concerned. Regardless of the difficulty involved and while we do not believe that sending a person to prison is the answer to everything, there must be fear in terms of the threat of the application of the law. We must do whatever we can to retain that fear to make people accountable, particularly in respect of the maintenance payments. We must protect and support women who are single-handedly rearing families.
Senator Glynn pointed out that the CEO of the HSE will visit Mullingar regional hospital today and speak to the staff in all sections there. I commend Senator Glynn on arranging this visit. I wish the CEO well on his visit to one of the top three performing hospitals in the country. I am proud and privileged that it is located in our area. Senators McFadden and Glynn come from the same area. The Cathaoirleach and Senator Glynn both served as chairmen of the former Midland Health Board and I was a member of it for 18 years. It is wonderful to have such a successful hospital in the midlands region. The Minister, Deputy Harney, has said on the record of this House that she would reward those hospitals that produce returns in terms of standards of care and exercise financial responsibility in the handling of their budgets, as Mullingar regional hospital has done.
When walking into Mullingar hospital to visit a patient one feels delighted and proud that it is one of the best hospitals in the country. I compliment and commend all staff from the administrator down, including consultants and nurses, on the commonsense attitude that has been taken in the hospital. We are watching with baited breath to see how the Minister will reward Mullingar hospital. As one, if not the only one, who on being elected a TD played a leading role in having a shelled out building developed to accommodate the hospital that is in place today, fully occupied-----
I know what is happening in Mullingar. The Senator may know what is happening in parts of Athlone, but I can tell her what is definitively happening in Mullingar. I am not part of the whingeing brigade that comes out of County Westmeath; I am and have always been part of the positive element.
I have given credit where it is due to every political party on the Order of Business of this House, but the facts speak for themselves. I reiterate the extending of congratulations to Mullingar regional hospital on being one of the top three preforming hospitals in the country.
I will pass the strong views of Senators Regan and Norris on to the Minister concerned in regard to tendering.
On the issue of the illegally held firearms and the ammunition missing from the Army barracks in Limerick, this can be addressed when the Bill due to be debated will be taken in the House. Such stealing of arms is alarming to say the least.
Senator Ó Murchú spoke of the high level of employment with some 1.7 million people in employment at this time of serious economic difficulties prevailing worldwide. It is a magnificent achievement. Some 600,000 more people are in employment than were in employment in 1977 or in the period from 1983 to 1987. That is an incredible achievement and it must be commended.
I would not like to see the Senator in the queue. I know he is moving on to a higher place. We will do everything we can to assist those who need upskilling and encouragement to gain employment in the future. We will have a debate on all issues related to employment. When we have a debate on the economy, this matter can be discussed, as I said earlier.
Senator Buttimer called for a debate on education and opportunities, particularly for those who wish to come to this country to learn English. Given the skilled teachers in this country, there is a great opportunity for such learning. I do not see why those who want to come to this country from Japan, China or elsewhere in the world-----
I will outline to the House on the Order of Business next Tuesday the approximately 11 Bills to be considered before the summer recess.
I wish Senator Coghlan well, I hope he is okay. We all like the Senator and he is great friend to us all. We wish him well.
Senator Callely raised the proposed reduction in fees to pharmacists. I have expressed my concern about this here yesterday. This matter can be debated with the Minister when we have a debate on the HSE. I will pass the Senator's strong views on to the Minister.
Senators Norris and Buttimer called for a debate on planning fees and I have no difficulty in setting time aside for such a debate.
It is hoped that the civil union Bill will be published at the end of this week. I am endeavouring to ensure it will be taken as a matter of urgency along with the other legislation to which I referred.
I will outline to the House next Tuesday the timeframe for taking the various Bills. I indicated to the leader of the groups after the Order of Business last Thursday our work schedule from now until the summer recess. I will present the definitive list to the leaders of the groups before the Order of Business next Tuesday and then to the House on the Order of Business. That concludes my responses to the Order of Business.
My apologies, I forget to read page seven of my responses. As I said, Senator Hanafin had replied to the matter of an independent audit from the parties.
Senators Mary White and Bacik called for a debate on prisons and I have no difficulty in arranging for this to take place. Senators Buttimer and McFadden called for a debate on the NRA. I can definitely agree to have a debate on that. To be helpful to my colleague, Senator McFadden, I will arrange for Senators Glynn, McFadden and myself to meet the NRA on the works in respect of the Rathconnell-Turin road, which is only a few miles away from Senator McFadden's residence in the county.
I fully agree with the sentiments Senator Doherty expressed regarding the plight of the poor people affected by the flash flooding in Gweedore and the surrounding area of Donegal yesterday. Our hearts go out to them, particularly to those businesses which were expecting two good months of business during the peak of the tourism season. It is a difficult time for anyone in a business but it is devastating for this to happen to those business people in the county. I hope we can do everything possible to assist them. The suggestion that an agency should be set up is a good idea. We will see what we can do to progress that.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 23 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Ciarán Cannon, Paudie Coffey, Paul Coghlan, Maurice Cummins, Pearse Doherty, Frances Fitzgerald, Dominic Hannigan, Fidelma Healy Eames, Michael McCarthy, Nicky McFadden, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, Joe O'Toole, John Paul Phelan, Feargal Quinn, Eugene Regan, Shane Ross, Brendan Ryan, Liam Twomey)
Against the motion: 24 (Dan Boyle, Martin Brady, Larry Butler, Ivor Callely, John Carty, Donie Cassidy, Maria Corrigan, Mark Daly, Déirdre de Búrca, John Ellis, Geraldine Feeney, Camillus Glynn, John Gerard Hanafin, Marc MacSharry, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Francis O'Brien, Denis O'Donovan, Fiona O'Malley, Ann Ormonde, Kieran Phelan, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Maurice Cummins and Eugene Regan; Níl, Senators Déirdre de Búrca and Diarmuid Wilson.
Amendment declared lost.