Thursday, 29 October 2009
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on the National Asset Management Agency business plan, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 4.15 p.m., on which spokespersons may speak for 15 minutes and all other Senators for ten minutes, and on which Senators may share time, and the Minister shall be called upon ten minutes prior the conclusion of the debate for closing comments and to take questions from spokespersons. The business of the House will be interrupted between 1.30 p.m. and 2.15 p.m.
I request the Deputy Leader of the House to arrange for an urgent debate early next week on the threatened industrial action by public sector unions, which will affect schools, hospitals and local authorities throughout the country. There is a serious need for us to debate this issue. A massive industrial crisis is about to happen across the public sector, which will have a huge knock-on effect on students, patients and those who require local authority services. People are very angry about the way the Government has handled this economy, but when one meets the rank and file members of many of these unions their anger is extremely palpable. Not ignoring the stark financial crisis we are currently in, I request the Deputy Leader to arrange for an urgent debate on this issue to facilitate the airing of the views of some members of the unions concerned and our views on the issues around these strikes and how they will affect people in the coming weeks. Such a debate is urgently required.
I also call for a debate on what the HSE is doing in regard to nursing home charges. It is basically saying that if one requires public nursing home care but does not manage to fulfil the criteria to qualify for the fair deal scheme, one could end up paying up to €3,000 per week to stay in a public nursing home. That amounts, basically, to bringing in a form of health apartheid, which is as bad as anything that existed prior to the fair deal scheme coming into play. The budget for the fair deal scheme will not allow for all patients to get access to public nursing homes. I call for an urgent debate on this and for all the facts and figures to be supplied by the HSE rather than it making them up as it goes along.
I request that the Minster for Health and Children comes to the House to debate the issue of medical doctors in our hospitals. We heard today that there was a doctor struck off by the Medical Council because he more or less made up his curriculum vitae and was working as a surgeon doctor in a hospital in this country. From my experience and from talking to others, we have highly trained consultants in this country but a question mark hangs over the experience and competence of many of the junior doctors working in hospitals across this country. It is a matter that is being ignored. It is not being dealt with by the medical colleges or the Department of Health and Children, and certainly not by the Minister for Health and Children. I ask that there be an urgent and proper debate on this issue because it is having a detrimental effect on patient care in many hospitals.
The acting leader of Fine Gael raised a valid point, that there should be a debate on this scenario of extraordinary industrial action by public service unions because there is, as he quite correctly put it, another point of view on this. It would be very helpful, even to the Government, to have this discussion for the simple reason that those working in the public sector, whether they be teachers, nurses, civil servants, gardaí or whoever, feel utterly demoralised at present. Whether they are right or wrong about it, they feel that they are being put upon, that they are taking the hit for something for which they were not responsible, that they were hit twice last year and they will be hit again this year, and they do not know what will happen next year. It is in that extraordinary climate of uncertainty that there will be no control of people's expectations. People will state that the game is not worth the candle. There is no doubt in my mind that if this matter is not debated, discussed and negotiated, there will be devastating action in the public sector. In speaking to public servants, the line I am getting back from them is what have they to lose in that they are being hit left, right and centre, and they are being demoralised and discouraged with no hope and no certainty for the future. These things can be given.
I stated here previously that with the proper approach to this the argumentation on both sides has extraordinary merit. It is only when people are confronted with the other point of view that they can be forced into taking compromise positions and then we get agreement on how to move forward. To that extent, I completely agree that we need to have a discussion on that.
I am utterly discouraged by the fragmentation of society, in particular, on public sector versus private sector lines, which is being fuelled by the media. I want those in this House to remember that what public servants are saying to each other, to others and to public representatives is that they did not cause all this, they were not in the banks, they were not the people who created all the present difficulties in Ireland, they were asked to pay the price last year, they are being asked to pay the price this year and the same will apply next year, they do not know when it will stop and there does not seem to be any balancing on the other side. There are people with wealth who walked away scot free, who have invested in large tracts of land, in industry and in initiatives in other countries who are reaping the benefit and they, the public servants and the taxpayer, are now paying for it. It flows into the discussion on NAMA.
It would be extraordinarily helpful that people would be forced to listen to each other's point of view on this issue so that people would state from where they are coming and the Government would open the books showing where it is. At the end of the day, we must take up the cudgels on behalf of the economy, but let us do so in a way that brings people together rather than that fragments and forces them apart.
I ask the Deputy Leader about an issue which is close to his heart and with which he dealt on a number of occasions, that is, the name of my home town, Dingle - Daingean Uí Chuis. Tugadh geallúint do mhuintir an bhaile sin go mbeadh dul chun cinn déanta ag an Rialtas chun ainm cheart a thabhairt ar ais do mhuintir an bhaile, agus bhí súil acu go mbeadh sé sin déanta roimh deireadh na bliana seo. Is cuimhin liom a bheith ag caint leis an Acting Leader cúpla mí ó shin agus bhí sé sásta agus dóchasach go ndeanfaí sin. Will he put on record the current position? I was in Dingle at the weekend and people are very excited about the fact that nothing is happening. It is like the issue I discussed earlier in that people need to be kept informed and up to date on this, and perhaps it would be helpful if the Deputy Leader could deal with that this morning.
I support the call by Senator Twomey for the debate next week to which he referred. I already raised the issue, as others have, on the Order of Business of the lamentable failure of the Government to take meaningful steps to engage, particularly with the trade union movement, in the context of what is currently happening. I have two concerns. One is that it may be too late at this stage, that the Government has signalled that it has made up its mind on these issues and, as I mentioned yesterday, in the case of the Taoiseach, it is his way or the highway, and he has no interest in engaging.
My second concern, which I voice not out of disrespect to this Chamber, is that we will hold another debate or series of statements here next week and, while I support the call of Senator Twomey, I wonder sometimes whether those so-called debates achieve anything and whether we need to try to devise a means to invite into our process the people who are engaged in this struggle, the people who represent the 50 or 60 persons whom I have just cycled by in a dole queue less than half a mile from here. That is where the issue is, not, with all due respect to this institution and to ourselves, in here. We need to find a way of engaging much more meaningfully with what is happening in the real world.
In the context of the Deputy Leader's reported comments this morning on what he referred to as "the probability or likelihood of increased capitalisation of the banks" post the NAMA process, and reports this morning of the tightening of the lending criteria of the banks throughout Europe, including in Ireland, I ask one specific question, a question that has been asked repeatedly. Often when one here asks six or eight questions, one does not have much of an expectation of an answer and, therefore, I will ask only one question and I ask the Deputy Leader to address it. I want the answer delivered here rather than in my pigeonhole. The question, which everybody asks, is what basis does the Government have for assuming, or even believing, that the banks will change their lending strategy when the NAMA process has been put through the Houses of the Oireachtas and when the additional capitalisation occurs. As far as I can see, there is no reason for the Government to believe that this will definitely occur. It seems a hope on the part of the Government that this will occur rather than any reasonable expectation that it will occur.
I break my own rule to ask a second question, which is what steps does the Government propose to take, over and above those it is taking in capitalising the banks further, to ensure that the banks will start lending again to businesses and households.
I agree with the three previous speakers who requested that we have an urgent debate on the forthcoming possibility of strikes and similar difficulties across the public services. Senator Alex White made an interesting point to the Deputy Leader, that it would be a useful exercise if we could use this Chamber to hear directly from and speak directly to the various interested parties. During the course of the previous Seanad we had such a facility with members of the European Parliament and it worked very effectively. It would be timely for us to engage directly in this House with the various employer representatives, union representatives etc., not only to listen to these people but to engage with them and put forward our views, alternative or otherwise.
In that regard I listened this week and watched on television an interview with the previous leader of the British miners, a man who appears to live in cloud cuckoo land, who spoke with pride of his role, not only in bringing the British mining industry to a halt but almost shutting down the British economy-----
-----and destroying the miners' union. He advised the Irish trade union movement to act in a similar fashion, but I certainly hope it will not do so. We have reached a critical juncture in the lifetime of this nation. We are all aware of the economic picture before us and the considerable challenges we face, and co-operation rather than confrontation must be the way forward. I am deeply concerned about the possibility of a national day of protest or action, or whatever it may be called. It would not just devastate the economy for a day, it would certainly lose jobs and carve a broader division between all sectors of society. It is very irresponsible of anybody to believe that a day of action and national strikes will help solve the problem. It will simply add to the problem, as we have seen worldwide in recent decades. Common sense is certainly required. The economic formula will be very tough but we must get real and recognise the scale of the problem. As Senator O'Toole said, dialogue must be at the core of the solution.
This House could be very much part of the listening process. Within the Standing Orders and with the co-operation of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges for this House, we can validly use this House as a forum for listening, debating and putting forward ideas and solutions. In the very near future, the Leader and his colleagues need to put a mechanism in place so that we can use this House to be part of the economic debate, not just making statements but making actual suggestions, listening to ideas and, it is to be hoped, bringing forward partial solutions.
I ask the Leader for a debate on a serious matter, namely, the operation of the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004. That may sound technical but it is the Act under which the commission of investigation into the archdiocese of Dublin and allegations of child sexual abuse in that diocese had been established. The commission is chaired by Judge Yvonne Murphy and was established in 2006. Its terms of reference are to examine the allegations that have been made, or a sample of them, and to examine also the response of both the church and State authorities to those allegations. The reason I emphasise "State" is because I am very concerned about the process in the 2004 Act by which the Minister may effectively delay or bring about a delay in the publication of reports from commissions of investigation.
We know the report from the Dublin diocesan inquiry is ready and that its publication is anxiously awaited by survivors and victims of abuse. However, we know also that the Minister has been to the High Court under section 38 of the Act to seek directions, as he is entitled to do, and we know that the High Court has already ordered that one chapter of the report should be deleted in its entirety and other changes be made.
I am conscious the matter is before the court and none of us knows the findings of the report. I am simply asking the Deputy Leader for a debate. Reading the section, it strikes me that it does not provide for any person who is a survivor of abuse or for anyone representing the commission of investigation itself to make any representation to the court where the Minister seeks directions from the court. Interestingly, only the Minister, the Attorney General, the Director of Public Prosecutions and a person who is a defendant in criminal proceedings, as may be relevant, may be represented before the court. The hearing is in private yet this commission is, and other future commissions will be, inquiring into the response of the State authorities and the State is seeking direction from the court.
The result of the direction has been, as we know already, the delay of the report and some deletions from it.
I support the call by Senators Twomey, O'Toole and Bradford for a debate with senior Ministers in regard to the pending strike or day of action which will disrupt the entire economy. The public service feels very alienated at present. We in this House do not realise how serious is the feeling abroad, especially among gardaí, soldiers, nurses, teachers, fire brigade officers and others of the Frontline Alliance and other public servants. Their basic point is that they did not create the problem. Those who created the problem got golden handshakes when they should have got handcuffs. That is the situation. A windfall tax should be brought in for those who ripped off the State - the bankers and developers who got away with millions of euro. Instead, the public service must carry the can and pick up the pieces. We are all picking up the pieces in that regard. I ask the Deputy Leader to convey to the Leader that this debate would be timely and worthwhile. It might be possible, as Senator Bradford said, to bring people from the public service to the House.
I ask the Deputy Leader to call on the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, to initiate an immediate investigation into the circumstances surrounding competition on the Dublin to Galway bus route. The official nominee, GoBus, has the franchise for this route but Citylink has come in illegally to operate on the route, which is undermining the legal service provided by GoBus. Citylink is owned by a global company called ComfortDelGro whereas GoBus is owned by small local firm in Galway. The fines are €63.49 and €6.35 per day if a company breaks the law. The Minister should introduce immediate legislation and the buses which are illegally on this route should be seized.
I again raise the issue of the bilateral adoption agreement with Vietnam. I asked the Leader yesterday for the report of the Minister of State on his meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister of Vietnam. I eventually received the report, for which I am very grateful. However, what I and the constituent who has been in regular contact with me were seeking is clear direction. She wonders how and when the bilateral agreement with Vietnam will be concluded and whether there is a timeframe. She is one of those who had her application and fees in before the deadline in May. She has been waiting since then, which is heartbreaking for her and her family as she understood she was one of those who would be able to adopt.
I respect the Minister of State's point that children's interests must be paramount and that we must have a proper agreement in conjunction with the Hague Convention. However, it seems to be going on for a long time. While the Minister of State referred to meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister last Friday, I would like to know the outcome of the meeting. I understand this was a trade mission but I would like to know whether there are any further developments. I urge the Minister of State to try to speed up the process and to get a proper agreement as soon as possible.
I support the calls for a debate on next week's action. However, if NAMA is to be dealt with in the House next week, it is a very important vehicle to ensure we get our banking system back on track, which is vital. If that is not being dealt with in the House next week, I would certainly support a discussion of the issue of next week's action.
It is rich when one sees somebody like Arthur Scargill coming over here to advise the unions at this time, having closed 170 pits in the UK, kept his members out for 12 months and then have them go back to work after that time without any increase in wages. I hope the unions in this country have the good common sense not to listen to somebody like Arthur Scargill. It is important I put this on the record of the House.
We can all blame each other as to who is responsible for the dilemma we are now in. The reality is very simple. Everybody took part in it, whether one is at the low end-----
This indebtedness runs right through the system. Until we clear that, the economy will not improve. If we do not try to get out of this by working under partnership and with the unions and everyone else who is involved, it will not work.
I hold no brief for Arthur Scargill but the coal board and the Tory Government unilaterally started closing mines and the miners' strike was in response to that.
I ask the Leader to consider extending the ten minutes allotted for questions on NAMA, subject to there being enough questions. It is not sufficient for such a serious matter as NAMA because it only allows for two questions and replies if they are to be in any way comprehensive.
Can the Leader give a specific date for the introduction of the civil partnership Bill? Will it be introduced in this House? Is it correct that certain conservative religious interests have hired the services of a public relations firm? A fair amount of misinformation is being spread about such as the claim that photographers will, for the first time, be prosecuted if they do not take photographs of same-sex weddings. That claim is absolute rubbish. It is not in the Bill but has been in equality legislation for years though no photographer has been prosecuted. It is a complete red herring. I ask the people who raise such matters whether they would have the same reservations about mixed-religion weddings or mixed-race weddings. To engage in this disgusting spin is an appalling backward step.
Following Senator Regan's comments yesterday about the crime statistics, gardaí actually do a pretty good job. Coincidentally, I was in the city centre yesterday, in North Great George's Street, and a neighbour and city council worker alerted the police to the fact that a stolen computer was being carried through the street, at the same time as a person had a purse snatched. Gardaí were at the scene within a minute and they apprehended the people involved. It was fantastic. I am a voluntary member of the central policing committee and the Garda does a good job. That said, the statistics for certain crimes are rising. I call on the Leader to ask the Minister about this matter. Is it not astonishing that, in this context, there is a proposal to close a major inner city police station, that on Fitzgibbon Street, and move the personnel to Mountjoy Garda station?
Could we hold a debate on that matter in the context of a wider debate on Dublin? I heard a defence of the bus gate this morning-----
I am in the middle of a sentence. We are told there is plenty of car parking for people crossing the city. Will somebody wake up and realise an increasing number of people live in the city? We want gardaí and we want to be able to drive our motor cars as necessary.
As Fianna Fáil's Seanad spokesperson on older people, I enthusiastically welcomed the Government's recent fair deal initiative which will go a long way to ease the burden on families paying for nursing home care. I also welcome the development of a quality monitoring regime, introduced under the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA. The registration and inspection of nursing homes have been transferred from the HSE to HIQA as from 1 July. The annual licensing fee in nursing homes, set out in regulations of the Department of Health and Children, is set at €190 per client per bed. I have received many representations on this issue and there has been much press coverage. Can the Leader clarify if this is, in effect, a Government levy to finance the registration and inspection of all nursing homes? Have nursing homes been charged with the responsibility of collecting this annual levy and transferring the payment to the Health Information and Quality Authority? Is it the intention that this cost be passed on to the client?
The community support scheme is for community and voluntary groups to help elderly people with the provision of alarm systems, locks and other security devices to make their homes safer. The scheme was closed after last year's budget and we were told it was under review. The scheme was opened again on 1 October and I made inquiries on behalf of people last week only to be told it was closed again on 21 October. The scheme was only open for three weeks. We had statements from Fianna Fáil Deputies and others about the reopening of the scheme but now we find it has closed after only three weeks. Are the words from the Government side about the protection of the elderly in their own homes merely lip service?
I ask that an investigation be carried out and that the Minister come into this House to explain why the scheme has been closed after only three weeks.
PDFORRA is the representative association for the Army. These people, along with the Garda Síochána, provide security for the State. They put their lives at risk on security and peacekeeping duties abroad. The association gave a voluntary undertaking to the Minister that its members would not be involved in the 24-7 Alliance protests. However, the officers of PDFORRA were hauled in by the Minister in front of the Chief of Staff and officials from the Department of Defence and threatened that they would be put back in uniform and the association disbanded if they took part in any discussions with the 24-7 Alliance. We have been discussing social partnership but this is a fine example of social partnership from a Minister who has completely lost the run of himself. The association represents people of whom hundreds are on family income supplement and are probably the lowest paid in the public service. We have heard about protecting the livelihoods of people in the public service but it is only lip service. The lowest paid public servants cannot put up with any more cuts to their salary because many of them are already on family income supplement. It cannot be tolerated.
This morning the Minister for Health and Children welcomed the first bi-annual report of the HSE corporate plan 2008-11. She said such a report was helpful because it indicated performance trends in the health sector. The Minister also said it provided another example of the benefit of having health boards together in one national organisation. As I have said publicly in past discussions on the progress made in the provision of health services by the HSE, I disagree with the Minister on that point. Going from 14 health boards to one national organisation was not correct as it did not provide the necessary service at regional level and the service is failing in a number of areas. I understand there are moves afoot to regionalise the HSE in which the provision of adequate services can be ensured.
I look forward to developments in this area but I would like the Leader to answer a few questions. What will happen in this process? What procedures will be followed? What will be the follow-up? I particularly refer to people in the care of the HSE who have falls in a day care centre, community centre or any institutional setting, whether acute or long-stay. I raise this point because it has been brought to my attention that two people have had serious falls in high-dependency HSE settings and I am not happy at the manner in which the families were informed of the falls. We should get a clear picture concerning this matter.
We are aware of a number of investigations into alleged wrongdoing and malpractice within the banking sector. I would like to know what progress has been made regarding these investigations and if prosecutions are likely to follow.
If I were a hotelier and refused to serve alcohol to someone because they were of a different sexual orientation from myself, it would make me a bigot and, as things stand, I would deserve to be targeted by equal status legislation. However, if I were a photographer and felt in conscience that I did not want to be involved in providing a service at, for example, a reception after a civil partnership ceremony, I think I would have a right to disassociate myself from it. I do not think my conscience should be coerced in a manner like that. Senator Norris, who is not here now, does not seem to realise that-----
-----there is that difference in the proposed Bill. It proposes to amend the equal status legislation in a way that could be coercive of people's consciences. In a genuinely liberal society we will allow people to go their own way according to their consciences. I am concerned that, as it stands, the civil partnership legislation contains possibly one of the biggest attacks on freedom of conscience since the establishment of this State.
There is a real issue about whether people are being listened to. I do not know who is hiring PR companies, but I am concerned that people are being watched for any sign that they might seek to express their views. I did not hear Senator Norris comment on the reports I have heard that the gay and lesbian equality network has for some time enjoyed a grant of approximately €100,000 a year from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform so that it could assist the Department in shaping legislation in particular ways. I have a concern about that. There has been an inequality of bargaining power around certain issues. In a genuinely liberal society we will always legislate in favour of people's consciences. We will not tolerate inappropriate comparisons with mixed racial or mixed religious marriages where people have conscience problems about particular arrangements in society. It is one thing to legislate for new things, but it is another thing to force everybody to go along with it in their own lives and professional activities in violation of their consciences. I appeal for a genuine liberalism in that matter.
I had things to say today about other topics, which I will reserve for next week, including the worrying reports of strikes. I plead, however, for a courteous and civil debate over the coming weeks and months on this civil partnership legislation, with no name calling.
That is the new position created by the Lisbon treaty. I note his role in transforming the economy during the Fine Gael-Labour Government, from 1994 to 1997, when growth rates increased on average by 8.7%. It was the real Celtic tiger period. In addition, he was President of the European Council in 1996 and was also involved in the convention on the future of Europe.
Yesterday in the other House, the Minister for Finance stated that the protracted debate on the NAMA legislation could delay the transfer of loans to the agency. The timing of the debate, both in the Dáil and the Seanad, on the NAMA Bill is in the hands of the Government, particularly the Minister for Finance. In that statement, he is denigrating public debate in the Oireachtas and, by implication, suggesting that in some way constructive debate is negative. When sands are shifting, bank share prices are falling and the assumptions underlying the legislation are being called into question, this is a diversionary tactic by the Minister for Finance and is unworthy of him.
Like Senator Regan, I am a Meath man. I am delighted to see the former Taoiseach, John Bruton, putting his name forward for the post of President of the European Council. His candidacy deserves serious consideration by this country and I hope the Government will consider supporting his candidacy.
As regards the Minister for Finance's comments yesterday about a protracted debate on the NAMA legislation, it is clear that after six months the Government does not have its ducks in a row. This week, the introduction of a special purpose vehicle was first mentioned. The Deputy Leader of the House has said that any delays to the legislation could lead to further interventions for our banks, but it is very important to get the legislation right. I do not think the debate is in any way protracted. We have been waiting six months for it and if an extra week or two are required, we will have to make that time available. Rushed legislation is bad legislation and this matter is too important to get wrong. If time is needed, let us make it available. This week, the House sat for only two days. If the Dáil or Seanad needs to meet over the weekend, let us do so. The debate should not be rushed, however, because if we get it wrong it will end up costing future generations huge amounts of money. We must get it right so let us take our time. Yesterday's share price falls were not due to a few days' delay on NAMA, but to more fundamental issues.
In light of the impending appointment of a new European Commissioner, what steps is the Government taking to ensure that we will get the right person? May we have a debate in this House on that appointment?
I ask the acting leader to endorse the candidacy of John Bruton for the position of President of the European Council. What steps is he taking to ensure that the Government will support an Irish candidate as opposed to a British candidate such as Tony Blair? We should make that important distinction. Like Senators Regan and Hannigan, I support an Irishman for the post. John Bruton is an extremely capable and competent candidate who has demonstrated his abilities as Taoiseach and EU ambassador to the United States.
I listened with amusement to Senators Leyden and Butler regarding social partnership. As I said yesterday the fragmentation between public and private workers has partly been caused by the media, but has been further accentuated by the Government in the last two budgets, and by the bad economic policies pursued by Fianna Fáil, primarily, over the past decade.
My last sentence is that in the context of social partnership, worthwhile suggestions have been made this morning to the effect that we should invite IBEC and the ICTU to this Chamber, where we can have a meaningful discussion on it, rather than a debate.
Does the Deputy Leader know when the NAMA legislation will come before the Seanad?
I add my voice to the calls by Senators Twomey and O'Toole. We all know that dialogue is the only way out of any dispute and I do not believe these days of protest will serve anybody's interest. However, like colleagues on all sides of the House, I believe people deserve to be listened to. The suggestion by Senator Bradford is wonderful, to the effect that we invite the leaders of the various important groups and segments of society in these difficult times to the Seanad and listen to them. Perhaps this House will be willing to engage with them in a meaningful manner, and at least point the way to partial solutions. The Seanad's work in that regard could be very helpful.
As regards lending and so on, we know the banks fuelled the greed and perhaps they are the primary cause of where we are at. However, unless the Minister for Finance exercises his power to issue directives on lending and the amounts that should be made available to get the economy moving again as regards working capital for the very productive sectors, I do not believe we will make progress. The banks will continue to build their capital bases and recapitalise, pending perhaps rights issues that they might wish to aim for. In that connection it is important the Houses of the Oireachtas progress the NAMA legislation, hopefully with some meaningful Seanad amendments that we can table as speedily as possible.
Senator Twomey raised the question of impending public sector disputes as regards decisions likely to be made on public finances. In this he was supported by Senators Joe O'Toole, Alex White, Paul Bradford, Terry Leyden, Larry Butler and Paul Coghlan. All in this House want to ensure such disputes do not occur. Whatever efforts can be made to bring about further dialogue should be initiated. Part of that dialogue should address the nature of the financial situation in which the country finds itself. While approaches differ as to how we might solve our fiscal difficulties, Ireland is borrowing between €400 million and €500 million every week. It is clear that our ability to borrow that money and the confidence of those whom we are borrowing from depends on us taking decisive and resolute action on 9 December. That action must involve all the actors in our society, in identifying the nature of the problem and appreciating the difficulty of the decisions that have to be made. I hope all involved in the public sector unions and those they are advising take that into account, while it is the responsibility of Government to ensure the debate is properly led.
Senator Twomey raised the question of nursing home charges and the unfair application, as he sees it, of the recently introduced fair deal. These are points that need to be brought out in a debate, and questions will be raised with the Minister to see how this may be addressed in the Seanad. The question of a fair deal was also raised by Senator Mary White, as regards registration fees with HIQA. These questions may be submitted together and a response reported to the House on whether a debate may be structured along those lines.
Senator Twomey also raised the matter of medical qualifications and said serious questions were being raised in this regard at junior doctor level in particular. This is a serious question and demands an appropriate response. In the first instance, given the technical nature of what is involved we need an appropriate response from the Department of Health and Children and the HSE. I shall undertake to ensure the Senator and the House are supplied with that information.
Senator Joe O'Toole asked about Dingle, Daingean Uí Chúis. My understanding is that the situation remains the same. A local government Bill will include in its provisions an ability to undertake local referendums, part of which will be the ability of the voters in any given area to decide the name of their locality. The hope is that the local government Bill will directly follow publication of the White Paper on local government at the end of this year. If there is any delay on that, I shall keep the Senator informed.
Senator Alex White asked about the NAMA lending process, paying inordinate attention to various quotations from today's newspapers.
It is a central question. Whatever model is chosen, the effect has to be to restore liquidity and get money moving in the economy again. Even after NAMA, it has to be admitted that the capital reserves of the financial institutions and the ratios between deposits and what they are lending will probably still not be adequate. An ongoing job needs to be done to get that money flowing. It is being constantly said that Government cannot direct lending. However, it is possible in the legislation coming before this House to have that lending specified in proportional terms. The money needs to go to small businesses to keep the economy running on an even keel. I hope the debate we will have on the legislation will inform that.
Senator Bacik asked about a debate on the Commissions of Investigations Act 2004 and referred to a particular section in the light of possible delays in the publication of special commission of investigation reports. Ideally, all of us want an early debate on such reports. I have no reason to believe that within Government there is any intention of delaying publication of the report on child sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Dublin, given the recently publication of the Ryan report. This is of a piece in an ongoing debate we need to have in this country and I hope the report is published as quickly as possible. I am aware there are legal situations as regards ongoing court cases and the naming of individuals that have delayed it to date. I shall undertake, however, to ask the appropriate Minister and if there are other factors I shall inform the House as to when the report might be available.
Senator Leyden talked about the possibility of a windfall tax on those within the financial services industry who have walked away to date following practices which, at the very least, have been incompetent and possibly corrupt. Questions have also been asked by Senator Callely on what action is being taken. My understanding is that the Director of Corporate Enforcement is engaged in ongoing investigations as regards two financial institutions and a number of individuals, and is in the course of preparing a case that will come before the courts. I do not believe it is in order to refer to either the institutions or the individuals concerned. However, to reiterate a call made by all public representatives, unless responsibility is taken for the actions that have brought about economic collapse, it will be very difficult for the people to accept the type of actions we need to correct the economy.
Senator Leyden also raised the question of competition on the Dublin-Galway route. A public transport Bill was recently initiated in this House and is about to go before the other House. I suspect there is potential for further amendments, which will bring it back to the Seanad for conclusion and I suggest any report on amendments made in the Dáil could be an opportunity to raise finally this issue with the Minister.
Senator McFadden raised the issue of Vietnamese adoptions. She raised this on a previous Order of Business. Information has been supplied on the current situation. There are further questions about a timeline for that. I believe the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children is sincere in his attempt to bring about an early conclusion to this. The Hague Convention is being followed to ensure all the t's are crossed and the i's dotted. If I get more precise information I will ensure the Senator is also given that information.
Senators Norris and Mullen raised the issue of the civil partnership Bill. In the first instance the newly agreed programme for Government has given an undertaking that this Bill will be introduced by the end of this year to secure an early passage. I understand it will be introduced into the other House. I have not been informed otherwise. Discussion of the issue of conscience and the application of the Equal Status Act are best left for the debate when it happens. There is a common cliché that a camera never lies. I happen to believe a camera does not have a conscience either. We will have that debate when the Bill comes to the House. There is a demand for the Bill to be treated with appropriate seriousness and to pass it into the Statute Book as quickly as possible.
Senator Norris also mentioned the closure of Fitzgibbon Street Garda station. In the first instance this is an operational matter for the Garda Síochána and the Garda Commissioner. As someone who fairly regularly attends games in Croke Park and knows how material can go missing quite quickly, I know it would be unfortunate for many people who attend games at Croke Park if Fitzgibbon Street Garda station was not available. However, that is an operational decision.
The Senator also asked about the bus gate at College Green which is a matter of concern for Dublin city traders. As a transport initiative it is working very successfully and bus users are moving in and out of Dublin city quite quickly. If there are concerns over business in the city, the businesses should consider the people who are getting in and out of Dublin city more quickly and in larger numbers. I hope that will be the direction of the debate in future.
Senator Cummins mentioned that the community support scheme was briefly opened on 1 October and now seems to have been closed again. I suspect that has been a funding issue and that the funding was expended in that quick time period. However, I will undertake to get that information to him as quickly as possible.
The Senator also asked how the Minister for Defence is interacting with PDFORRA on possible public sector disputes over the budgetary situation. PDFORRA and the Garda representative organisations are in a different situation from other public sector representative bodies and I suspect that is the principle being applied here. However, his views will be made known.
Senator Regan spoke about the former Taoiseach, Mr. John Bruton, being in the frame for possible appointment to the position of President of the European Council, which is to be decided at a future meeting of the Council. For the purpose of the record, the House should express its pride and satisfaction at the job Mr. Bruton has done in Washington as the European Union ambassador to the United States. I do not believe this House has a particular influence as to who the next President of the European Council should be-----
Senator Coghlan asked about the banks, which I neglected to mention when talking about the National Asset Management Agency Bill. The timing of the Bill is dependent on what happens in the other House. The Second Stage debate in the other House was one of the longest on any Bill in recent memory. In fact there was criticism from some Opposition Members that it was being unnecessarily delayed at the time. However, it was necessary to have that Second Stage debate. It is necessary to have whatever length of time it takes to complete Committee and Report Stages of the Bill in the other House, as will be the case here. That said it is difficult to see the Bill being before us next week, but the hope is that the Bill would come in the quickest possible time.