Wednesday, 4 November 2009
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2009 — Second Stage (resumed); No. 2, Criminal Procedure Bill 2009 — Committee Stage; and No. 32, Private Members' motion No. 36 re measures aimed at assisting those in financial difficulty. It is proposed that No. 1 shall resume at the conclusion of the Order of Business and conclude not later than 1.30 p.m., that spokespersons will speak for 20 minutes and all other Senators for 12 minutes, that Senators may share time by agreement of the House and that the Minister shall be called upon not later than 1.20 p.m. for concluding comments; that Committee Stage of No. 2 shall be taken at 2 p.m. and adjourned not later than 5 p.m.; and that No. 32 shall be taken at the conclusion of No. 2 and conclude not later than 7 p.m. The business of the House will be interrupted between 1.30 p.m. and 2 p.m.
Yesterday morning another family, the Ronan family in Kilkenny, experienced the terror and trauma of a so-called tiger kidnapping. Last week it was a family in Lucan. Now young children are being used as pawns in this horrific crime, which must be unbelievably disturbing and upsetting for the families involved. Why have the Government, the Garda and the banks not put in place the sort of security measures that would protect families and workers in the banks? Clearly, the incidence of such crimes is escalating, but this cannot be allowed to continue. It is a cause of serious concern and must be creating dreadful anxiety for bank officials who are afraid of being subjected to terror by these gangs. Are resources being given to the Garda to deal with the problem? Are subversive organisations involved? Do we have the resources in place to track down the perpetrators and deal with them effectively? This cannot be allowed to continue in the way we saw yesterday. Thank goodness nobody was hurt, but the psychological trauma experienced by the family and others within the last few weeks must be prevented. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform come to the House to address the issue. We are putting so much money into the banks and have considerable control over them. Surely this security issue can be dealt with in a more effective way. We must ensure no more families are subjected to this experience.
The Minister of State with responsibility for children has outlined the Government's recommendations which he said would address the issues raised in the Ryan report. One of the key issues was the availability of front-line staff to work with children at risk and in need of protection. It is, therefore, disturbing to read about the report from the HSE in The Irish Times today that the number of children in care who have a social worker has fallen by 7% this year. It makes a mockery of the recommendations made in the Ryan report if we do not have these services in place to deal with children in need of protection and care. I would like the Minister of State to come to the House for a realistic and honest discussion on how we can ensure the appalling abuses in this country over decades do not happen again and that the report is actually implemented, rather than simply left sitting there, as is the case. The report in The Irish Times this morning gives hard facts about the non-allocation of social workers and the reduction in services to children.
The question asked by a number of people recently is how we square the circle between the social partners and the Government.
The Taoiseach and Deputy Bruton made some interesting comments over the past 24 hours in terms of showing that solutions can always be found if people are committed. The Taoiseach has obviously convinced the people with whom he is negotiating that €4 billion has to be collected one way or another. It is also clear that introducing certain reforms will not allow us to collect the money required on time and that the social partners are demanding fairness. How does one square that circle?
The Taoiseach has come up with the idea of bridging finance. I have no inside knowledge of the negotiations but I interpret his proposal to mean that certain changes, such as pay cuts, can be introduced until such time as broader arrangements can be made on producing savings. Similarly, Deputy Bruton pointed out that pay restraints and other impositions could be implemented until certain benchmarks are achieved. I make these points to demonstrate that when people sit around a table, they can always find solutions. I do not say that the options presented by the Taoiseach or Deputy Bruton will work in the long term or receive the support of all parties.
I presume there are four sides to the table because the unemployed and the community and voluntary pillar should also be represented. Ordinary workers and trade unionists want certainty and honesty. Once they can see an end to the crisis, it will be easier to get their support. However, the leadership of the trade union movement needs to be able to explain how we can end the pain.
I support Senator Fitzgerald's call for a debate on social workers, particularly those dealing with children. The Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children with responsibility for children, Deputy Barry Andrews, should address the issue in this House. Like Senator Fitzgerald, I am a member of the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children. We hope to issue our final report shortly but we are at present struggling with the question of a constitutional referendum on children's rights. While I believe this would represent an important step forward, an even bigger step would be to allocate sufficient social workers to deal with the daily demands of the system. That should not have to await the report of any committee before being made a Government priority.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the specific and urgent issue of youth unemployment. The FÁS report which was published today confirms what many of us already suspected, namely, that men under the age of 24 are the worst affected by unemployment. We are facing the risk that the legacy of this recession will be a lost generation. Tens of thousands of young people will have little prospect of working in their own country. Emigration has already resumed and we are threatened with a recurrence of the events of the 1980s. I ask that the debate on youth unemployment be facilitated by proposals from the Government on how we will confront this scourge.
I wish to express my disappointment at the ruling by the Supreme Court on Portmarnock Golf Club's prohibition on women becoming full members. While I respect the right of that court to decide the law as it sees fit, it is disappointing in the 21st century that a golf club should be designated gentlemen only. The Supreme Court ruled that the club is entitled to an exemption under section 9 of the Equal Status Act 2000, which provides that a club established to meet the particular needs of one sex can discriminate on the grounds of gender. However, the need to play golf is not unique to males.
We are all aware of the important networking opportunities presented by golf courses and it is disappointing to see the continuation of this prohibition against women. More than 400 clubs have already opened their doors to women as full members and none has ground to a halt.
I support the call made by a previous speaker for the Minister of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to appear before the House. I ask that he address the concerns that the equality agenda is being undermined by budgetary cutbacks. Tomorrow morning, the Joint Committee on European Affairs, of which I am a member, will be addressed by a group which is lodging a complaint to the European Commission in this regard. Perhaps the Minister will outline for us the strategies he can implement to protect this country's equality and human rights so we do not emerge from the recession with a weakened infrastructure.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Fitzgerald and concur with Senator O'Toole in regard to the ongoing discussions between the social partners. A perception is being created in some quarters that failure is a creeping inevitability in these discussions. This House should send a clear message that failure is not an option. Our country stands on the brink and if agreement cannot be reached, decisions must be made that ensure a return to prosperity.
I note that voluntary or involuntary unemployment is being considered as an option for the public service, as opposed to measures that would reduce or freeze wages. This would be an appalling route, however. This House has on many occasions pointed to the importance of social solidarity and the need to pull together. How will we do that by keeping a reduced number in work on current or higher wages instead of a larger number on lower wages? That is the challenge we face.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on yesterday's Exchequer returns. The Taoiseach stated that one in ten people are now on the higher rate of income tax, as opposed to one in five previously, and that half of all earners do not pay income tax. How can that be the case given that the income levies apply to earnings below the average industrial wage? These points need to be clarified if we are to hold a debate based on facts.
On a day when the Sub-Committee on Women's Participation in Politics is meeting to consider ways to increase female involvement in parliamentary activities, I share Senator de Búrca's concerns about the areas from which women continue to be excluded. While I cannot beat the judges' knowledge of the law, at a time when we are trying to drive equality, I fail to understand how a golf club has been able to argue successfully that women are not equal to men in accessing membership. This issue which dates back to when I chaired the Joint Committee on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs is an ongoing battle.
Yesterday another family suffered violence at the hands of people with guns. It is irrelevant whether a weapon is brandished or discharged over someone's head. In a couple of weeks we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Children should have the right to grow up without having their home invaded by people carrying guns. The House should discuss human rights, including the rights of children. I note from my work on the Council of Europe that young people are seeking a convention on the rights of youth. We must ask why human rights conventions, including on the rights of the child, have failed and various sections of the population consider it necessary to have a separate convention to affirm their rights. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on this issue.
I also request a debate on my report on history teaching in areas of recent conflict. It is a basic right to know each other and have a full picture of activities taking place.
I return to a matter I raised yesterday, namely, the Corrib gas field. After I spoke yesterday, my colleague, Senator Hanafin, indicated he supported my call for a debate on the issue but argued that Shell to Sea was not correct and so forth. We also heard from another Senator on the Government benches that dangerous dissident elements were involved. The report of the planning board is very clear. An Bord Pleanála has found that up to half of Shell's proposed route for a gas pipeline in County Mayo is unacceptable, the houses affected are in the hazard range of the pipeline should a failure occur and Ireland has not adopted proper health and safety risk thresholds. I ask for a full debate on this issue. While I fully accept that this enormous resource is extremely valuable to the people, particularly at this time, it is they, rather than a discredited multinational corporation, who should have it.
With regard to the ruling in the Supreme Court, it is important to note there were two fine dissenting judgments. This happened to me also and I was ultimately vindicated in the European Court of Justice. It is absurd that a purpose of a club is defined in the majority verdict as the wishes of the people. The purpose of the club is to play golf, as the two dissenting judges made perfectly clear. I expect this matter to be examined again.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Defence to come before the House to explain the reason the Irish Army has been ordering defence equipment from a company which manufactured equipment used in the Gaza war which has been the subject of a war crimes complaint?
I commend Senator O'Toole on his remarks today and yesterday on the current pay negotiations. If we have learned anything in the past ten years, it is that partnership works and no one has all the wisdom or answers. It is ridiculous for the Government and congress to demonise each other. I am confident that if they work together and reach an agreement in the coming days, it will help us along the road to the recovery, to which we all aspire.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, to the House for a debate on the future of local government. The Minister clearly has views on the issue, given that the revised programme for Government envisages the establishment of a new tier of local government. While this is all well and good and I commend the Minister on being creative and progressive, as always, the downside is that an air of uncertainty is creeping into councils, particularly town councils, the future of which is very much in doubt. My colleague, Senator Glynn, raised this matter recently. This air of uncertainty has spread to other councils and bodies associated with councils such as vocational education committees. Uncertainty does not make for best practice. I am relaying to the Leader concerns expressed to me not only by elected members from around the country but also management and senior staff in councils. We must tease out this issue and let the man see the monkey. There is no better place than the Seanad to have a debate before certain drastic decisions are taken.
We hear much about the relevance of the Seanad. Despite the fact that thousands of children and adults have contracted swine flu and tens of thousands of those deemed to be at risk are being vaccinated against the condition, a debate on the issue has been pulled because three Ministers, none of whom is responsible for the Health Service Executive, are unable to make themselves available to the House. This pandemic is of a scale not experienced since the foundation of the State. The House makes itself irrelevant when it refuses to discuss major issues of public health.
It is 12 years since a Fianna Fáil-led Government initiated its policy of zero tolerance on crime. Subversive activity and home-grown organised crime are increasing and foreign criminal gangs are establishing themselves. I call on the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come before the House to discuss rampant crime in certain parts of the country. The Government is abandoning many communities to crime and its effects.
The Health Service Executive is playing a blinder on the public airwaves, whether on radio or television, with regard to swine flu. We have heard Dr. Tony Holohan discussing the issue on numerous occasions. Rather than having a debate in the Seanad which, as we have noted time and again, does not receive much media coverage, the debate is taking place in the media. The issue is in our faces — where it should be — because the HSE is doing a good job.
I concur with previous speakers' comments on the terrible crime committed yesterday against the Ronan family, one of whom works in the Bank of Ireland in Kilkenny. Tiger robberies are a new type of crime which appear to take place once or twice a week. They are among the most appalling crimes because they involve young children. While I support the call by the leader of the Opposition for the Minister to come before the House, I note from listening to the radio on my way here this morning that he is meeting representatives of the Irish Bank Officials Association and the Garda Commissioner today. I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister to come before the House as soon as possible. Senators referred to the psychological impact on the poor Ronan family of opening one's door at 6.15 a.m. and finding oneself pushed into one's house by men with guns. This must be a terrible experience and I do not know how anyone would survive it. These crimes have a dreadful effect on bank officials going about their daily business. When they come home from work to enjoy their recreational time, they do not know what will happen to them in the safety of their own homes.
On an indirectly related IBOA issue, a large non-Irish bank operating in Ireland is now changing the contracts of workers who have been there ten, 20 or 30 years. In these economic times, when everybody is trying to do what is right, this bank is asking workers to take a cut in salary which is having an impact on pensions. I will give the information to the Leader and ask him to write to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan to find out if anything can possibly be done.
I agree with Senator Fitzgerald and ask that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, come to the House as a matter of extreme urgency. We have seen an increase in what are called tiger kidnappings but the reality is that families are being traumatised. I compliment Larry Broderick of the IBOA who spoke on the radio this morning and was clear, cogent and made a very good case on behalf of the IBOA. What land is the Minister, Deputy Ahern, living in when he refers to adhering to protocols? I want to put a straight question to the Leader, man to man. What would the Minister, Deputy Ahern, or any of us do if our wife and three children had a gun put to our heads and shots fired over our heads at 6.15 in the morning? We certainly——
——would not follow protocols and think about the money in the bank. We would do as we were asked to do.
I received phone calls this morning from friends of mine who work in banks and who are genuinely concerned about their safety and that of their families. They are ordinary people who are going from A to B every day and now suddenly have to think about their safety. The trauma of the three children and the Ronan family cannot be glossed over. When the Minister, Deputy Ahern, goes on national radio and talks about following protocols, he is living in a fantasy world. We are discussing the lives of people, not money. It is wrong that any individual such as a bank manager or whoever can walk into a bank, have access to hundreds of thousands of euro and walk out the door with it. The place for debate is here and this Chamber is where the Minister, Deputy Ahern, is accountable to the Members elected on behalf of the people. I, like Senator Fitzgerald, would like that debate today as a matter of urgency.
On the issue of social partnership, I agree with Senator O'Toole. A solution can always be found and at this moment in time our determination and confidence in a solution will be our ability to find one. We must focus on that and be confident that there is a solution. In recent weeks I and other Members of the House — Senators O'Toole and Bradford mentioned it — have inquired as to the possibility of bringing some of the social partners into this House to address us so we could play our part in seeking a solution. It would involve issues with the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. Perhaps the matter could be raised and discussed because it is important that we play an active role in helping to find a solution.
What does not help to seek a solution is how aspects of the media are pitching the public and private sectors against one another. I mention in particular the programme "The Frontline" which is despicable in its approach to how it debates with people. It is pure political points scoring and is very dangerous. People throughout this country are extremely angry and fearful about the future. The focus of all of us, especially the media and the political institutions, should be on giving, as Senator O'Toole said, some certainty, confidence and absolute determination that we will get a solution to these problems.
Yesterday I spoke of our need to deplore collectively the effects a strike or protest action would have, particularly if such action was in favour of sectoral interests, and the effects that would have on the most vulnerable members of our society. There will be a motion on tomorrow's Order Paper on which I will ask for a debate and which request I will push to a vote if necessary. Perhaps when the Leader and others have had a chance to see the motion we might be able to take a more collective approach to the issue.
I sympathise with what Senator de Búrca and others said on the decision regarding the golf club. It is worth reflecting on the fact that the equality agenda can sometimes be perverted to the point of intolerance. In that regard, I was especially heartened to see that politicians on the left and the right wings of Italian public life were united in deploring the rather strange decision of the European Court of Human Rights to ban the display of crucifixes in school classrooms on the basis they contravene something called educational pluralism. This is an example of equality, which is a perfectly good concept and one which should inform our public culture, being used and manipulated in way which is oppressive of a much-cherished tradition across a society.
Italy was once rather cynically described as a place where communists prayed and cardinals did not. I do not know if that was true. The European Court of Human Rights may have picked the wrong target in Italy. This highlights the importance of the Irish Constitution because the European Convention on Human Rights is incorporated at sub-constitutional level. We have the protections of our guarantees of religious freedom and genuine educational pluralism where different groups of all faiths and none are funded by the State.
It is also worth noting that people, of which I was one, were correct to seek guarantees in the Lisbon treaty on social and ethical issues because in the context of the incorporation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the coming together of the European Union and the European Court of Human Right's jurisprudence, it was very important that the European treaties be informed by a clarification which would respect what the Irish Constitution has to say about education and other matters. In that regard, the politicians who negotiated those clarifications on behalf of Ireland are to be very much commended.
I agree with Senator O'Toole. He has a very wise head. He has personal experience of national partnerships and played a very crucial role in this area in the 1980s. RTE and TV3 would be well served if they allocated some time in their schedules in the next few weeks to bringing forward experts and economists. Last night we were briefed by the economists Alan Ahearne and Jim O'Leary who were excellent, and Colm McCarthy, who explained the situation. It was a worthwhile exercise. RTE and others could bring David McWilliams on board and try to give an idea of who else he was speaking to. He disclosed certain confidentialities——-
——-which I was appalled by. It would be a good opportunity for RTE to play an important role in terms of information, as it did in the Lisbon treaty. Now is the time to devote time to explaining how serious the situation is. It is grave and there is no doubt about it.
I congratulate our colleague, Senator Ross, in launching his book, The Bankers. I was surprised his colleague from Trinity College did not congratulate him.
I thought I did that yesterday. I thank the Cathaoirleach and it was very much appreciated.
Like other Senators here this morning, I too am heartened by the voice of experience, namely, Senator O'Toole. He is talking with great experience. There is nothing which cannot be achieved through dialogue. If one gets people into one room, around one table and, if necessary, keep them there for a long time, a solution can be found. As Senator O'Toole said, there are routes to a solution. I like the bridging and equally——
We will come to that anon. This morning two good voices were on the radio, namely, Deputies Richard Bruton and Billy Kelleher. There was a large measure of agreement. Senator O'Toole is correct. Everybody now knows we have to save €4 billion. Senator MacSharry mentioned it. I thought we already agreed that this House would play a useful part, even if it was a small part, and make a good contribution by having an interplay here with the social partners. That is the issue I raise with the Leader.
The media should step back and let the social partners and politicians work this out in some way. The media are creating so much doom and gloom that it is depressing those in the world outside. The media have a responsibility to step back for a while until we see if we can get back some order to the finances.
With regard to the Supreme Court ruling on the discrimination case involving Portmarnock golf club, the phrase that got to me was that this was a gentleman's club. That would beg the question of what we mean by a gentleman in today's thinking. It was a distasteful conclusion and I would like the Leader to perhaps bring the relevant Minister to the House to see if we can update that legislation.
Yesterday the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin, used this House to make a very important statement on Northern Ireland. He said it was worth noting that most of the challenges facing North and South do not divide along Nationalist and Unionist lines. It was good to know that RTE at least recognised the Minister's use of this House this morning on the radio, as we do not always get the credit for some of the work that goes on here.
In regard to the challenges facing the economy, Senator O'Toole has received many comments about his contribution today. He spoke about the need for certainty, and although nobody could disagree with him on that, it is not always easy to achieve it. There are two other pertinent words. The need for honesty is very important, as is patriotism. For too long and too often we have said that somebody else should suffer pain and take the challenge. We want somebody else to do something, and not just with the economy. We have got into the habit of expecting somebody else to do things.
I was disappointed in the letter from congress because it called for five actions but only from the Government. Perhaps the congress will also call for other action as well. I am concerned that we may fudge the issue if we delay the required action so we must call for honesty. We achieved success in the few years after 1987 because we took the required steps and solved the problem quickly at that stage. We should not delay or fudge the matter. We should by all means look for certainty but we must also look for honesty and patriotism. That is what we must achieve ourselves rather than expect somebody else to achieve it for us.
We have achieved independence and there is a system of government where people go to great lengths to elect representatives but we find the media are sovereign. That is not as it is meant to be. The media are dictating the pace and setting the agendas but they are trying to wash their hands of the responsibility from subsequent actions.
We are in a very difficult position and we need responsibility from our media. INN, an independent news provider, used to give news to local radio stations but there are now two radio stations providing the news. The realistic term for them is "Newstalk Fine Gael" and "What the Opposition is saying Today FM". Unfortunately, the news is not balanced and the regulator must look at the issue.
It seems that none of our gentlemen colleagues feels it worthwhile to speak about equality and I am very disappointed in the level of support we have received in the House.
With regard to swine flu, I heard Senator Feeney's comments but cannot agree with them. The HSE created much spin on the national airwaves but in the midlands, doctors in the Athlone area still have not received the vaccine. People are going to general practitioners' surgeries but they are unable to get the vaccine. The HSE is speaking the speak but not walking the walk.
I visited a school on Monday and the youngsters asked me to raise the issue of the change in the junior certificate Irish paper. The teachers were notified last week of the change in the type and form of the paper. The junior certificate children whom I spoke to asked if it was fair that they had been studying the curriculum up to then but were landed with a bombshell that the paper would be changed for their exam. The school in question was in the Leader's constituency so perhaps he will help us reply to those youngsters.
We all know we are entering a difficult couple of weeks with some tough decisions to be made in the national interest. I welcome the comments and commitment of the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Mary Hanafin, to ensure appropriate supports will be in place for the vulnerable and less well-off in our society.
Will the Leader obtain from the Minister's office the position and difficulties she is experiencing in meeting certain claims by claimants throughout the country? I understand there are difficulties relating to staff and union procedures and I would like clarity on the matter. We know there is a fair amount of pressure on the money advice and budgeting service, MABS, and I would welcome some indication of any additional supports put in place for that.
In the Leader's absence last Thursday, I raised a matter that has been raised again by Senator Marc MacSharry today and Senator Jerry Buttimer yesterday. It runs along the lines suggested by Senator Joe O'Toole that we would use in the immediate future this House as a forum for a genuine economic debate and presentation, where social partners and people concerned with the economic development of this country could make a presentation and engage in dialogue with us. They would bring forward their ideas, listen to our concerns and engage in meaningful discussion.
If we want this very important House of the Oireachtas to be relevant, we must deal with subjects of concern to the people. No subject is more important or urgent than the immediate economic crisis facing the country. We have discussions almost daily on the subject, especially on the Order of Business, but we must move beyond talking to ourselves. We must engage with and listen to the people concerned who may have different analyses but each in their own way has a worthy contribution.
We must bring these people together and the Chamber of Seanad Éireann, in whatever form can be determined, is an ideal vehicle for economic debate. It is an urgent matter and I asked for the debate to be put in place last Thursday. There is little point in having such a discussion next January. It is a bit of a challenge for the Leader but I know he respects the House and recognises the role that can be played by the House in turning this country around. Within the next fortnight we must use this House to engage in immediate, urgent and expansive dialogue on the economic choices facing the country. I look forward to the Leader taking the initiative and making this House relevant.
In view of the fact that the Lisbon treaty has been dealt with once and for all and that all future legislation is to be referred to the national parliaments, this House could, as a starting point, create a major role for itself by having all proposed EU legislation debated in this Chamber. For too long we have heard that no meaningful work is done in the House. This is the sort of work that might well answer the public in this regard as well as provide proper scrutiny of all EU legislation other than in sub-committee.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for his indulgence and for understanding the rare occasion when strong views need to be expressed in the House.
We have an economic crisis in the country and every speaker today has touched on it. It is important union heads do not make it worse by promoting strikes and that they show real leadership at this time. I offer one fact to bear this out. The Union of Students of Ireland, USI, contacted me to say that 50 students per week are dropping out of college at present because of the delay in grants payments. Members know, as do I, that local authorities have no money. In UCD a dozen students per day visit the welfare office and at this time of year there are more than 200 new applications for student assistance. Parents can no longer afford to bail out students and students are choosing to live at home and drop out of college. This is an educational crisis in the making. The Government has not helped because the Student Support Bill was stalled in the other House on Second Stage 18 months ago. It is incumbent upon us to put education on a sound financial footing. I ask the Leader to give a timeframe for this Bill in the House. Otherwise we will all suffer the folly of letting education suffer in our country.
We can say many things, good and bad, about the HSE. Within the past week, I was in the accident and emergency department with my family and spent €559 between doctors, pharmacies, diagnostics and two accident and emergency department charges, the latter at the exorbitant cost of €100 each.
This is the experience of people day in, day out, regarding both cost and waiting list points of view. We spent six to eight hours waiting. One 93 year old woman spent 27 hours on a trolley with no argument taking place about her care or why she was not being well treated.
Senators Fitzgerald, Donohoe, Keaveney, Twomey, Feeney and Buttimer all expressed the shock and horror of Members at what happened to Adrian Ronan, his wife and family and the horrific ordeal they experienced over the past 36 hours. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, or a Minister of State will be in the House this afternoon on Committee Stage of the Criminal Procedure Bill and I am sure colleagues can find ways to highlight their serious concern with him. The Garda Síochána is doing everything it can. This is an entirely new dimension in these activities taking place in this country and we wish the Garda, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and everybody connected well in their endeavour. There are special units within the Garda to deal with this and they are having success.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin, was in the House yesterday for a very enlightening debate. I am sorry there was not enough time for the very many Members who wished to speak. We will have another debate in the near future on Northern Ireland, the Good Friday Agreement and all issues relating to North-South relations. The Minister is totally committed to coming to the House on an ongoing basis for such debates and said so yesterday in the Chamber. The challenges now being faced by the Garda and the banking fraternity possibly result from organisation splinter groups getting involved in these activities. When the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is present on Committee Stage today, that would be an opportune time for Senators to offer an angle or make points.
I wish to be associated with Senator Leyden's good wishes to Senator Shane Ross in his endeavour. I congratulate Senator Ross on bringing so many and various matters to our attention last night in his publication.
Senators Fitzgerald, Alex White and Keaveney called on the Minister of State with responsibility for children, Deputy Barry Andrews, to come to the House for a debate on the abuse of children, funding for children's issues and the challenges facing the Minister of State in his departmental portfolio. The Minister of State has agreed to come to the House for this debate but as Members will know, the NAMA legislation is being debated over three days next week so the earliest possible time will be during the following week.
Senators O'Toole, Donohoe, O'Sullivan, MacSharry, Leyden, Coghlan, Ormonde, Quinn and Healy Eames expressed views on the challenges of the forthcoming budget and the successful role social partnership has played in our country since 1987. As Senator Feargal Quinn noted, honesty, integrity and patriotism are needed. I agree with those sentiments and see some light in that all parties agree that raising €4 billion in the budget is necessary. It is just a matter of how that will be done. The leadership of the trade unions have a responsibility, as do the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance and everyone concerned, to ensure this takes place. We have achieved a very great deal in recent years and we are known as a generation that meets challenges head on. This is probably the most serious challenge we have faced in recent times. We have seen it all before in the 1970s and 1980s and we are a resilient people. I know we will come through this and can see light at the end of the tunnel. This budget must start the fight back and the way forward for our economy for the future.
I welcome the statements made in the Chamber, led by Senator O'Toole. I look forward to our having not only one but at least two pre-budget debates. This day five weeks is the day of the Budget Statement and I shall discuss with the leaders of the various parties and groups how we can have the debates take place in the House when the NAMA legislation is out of the way.
Senator Alex White spoke about young men and youth unemployment. This is very timely, especially with regard to statistics on the challenges facing young men under 24 years of age. I agree to a debate on this matter and will endeavour to have it take place as a matter of urgency within the next three weeks.
Senators de Búrca and McFadden and very many other Senators expressed their views regarding the decision of the courts on golf clubs and courses. Senators will not want to confuse golf courses with golf clubs. They are two different things and those of us who know a lot about this know this to be true.
That is very obvious. Senator Donohoe spoke on the Exchequer returns. It is an alarming fact that 48% of people do not pay any income tax. It is a fact also that 4% pay 50% of all income tax.
Senator Norris spoke on the Corrib gas field and An Bord Pleanála. I understand that clarification has been sought from Shell by An Bord Pleanála with regard to this. I may be incorrect and I will bow to the Senator's experience in this regard, but I will have the matter clarified for tomorrow's Order of Business.
I will clarify the matter ahead of tomorrow's Order of Business.
Regarding the Army, the Minister for Defence will introduce a Bill in the House, business that I needed to defer until two weeks' time because we are taking the NAMA legislation next week. We can congratulate the Army on the excellent work that it has done for generations.
Senator O'Sullivan outlined an important issue and called for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to debate in the House the future of local government and the challenges it faces, especially in terms of town and county councils and their hard-working and dedicated members. Most of us who have been local authority members know that hard work and dedication are required. We will make the fullest amount of time available at the earliest opportunity to discuss the future of local authorities with the Minister.
Senators Twomey, Feeney, Callely and Healy Eames expressed their serious concerns regarding swine flu. As I informed the House yesterday, the Minister for Health and Children is not available this week. I want her to attend the House to update it on this matter. I spoke to her private secretary just before this morning's Order of Business and I am endeavouring to arrange the earliest possible date for that discussion. I share the Senators' concerns. When Senator Twomey speaks about health, I take his comments as sacrosanct and act upon them.
As I usually do, I will revert to Senator McFadden regarding her issue as soon as possible.
Senators have referred to the question of some employers changing their employees' contracts. This is a new dimension and challenge that the House must discuss in the context of our debate on the economy.
Senator Mullen mentioned European law and the issue of crucifixes in schools. As he correctly pointed out, the protocols inserted in the Lisbon treaty by the Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and their officials and the Constitution protect us. Concerning Senator Quinn's point, I have already mentioned the visit by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Martin, to the House yesterday.
Senator Hanafin and others referred to balance in the media and a need to be responsible, especially at this difficult time. People are losing their jobs and financial pressure is the order of the day morning, noon and night for many families. The media has a serious responsibility not to increase the difficulties of the 500,000 unemployed people by running programmes that will annoy them and only worsen their situation. The media only want to know about bad news. On the Order of Business, I have often asked which radio or television station would give us 30 minutes of good news every day. We could enjoy life for those 30 minutes and then switch off.
Senator Bradford asked for a debate on social partnership. The committee deals with this matter and will have its final meeting on Seanad reform with the Minister at 4 p.m. We can discuss the issue to determine how to proceed.
Senator Ellis suggested that we debate the proposed EU legislation. Following the signing of the treaty by all 27 member states——
——each member state has two full months in which to make its views known to the Commissioner in charge of this portfolio. The Seanad can play an important role in that we can be the central chamber for scrutinising EU legislation with the Minister present.
I do not normally leap up with a point of order, but I wish to clarify something. Will the Leader address my specific proposal? I understand that we have within our power the authority and ability to use this important Chamber of the Oireachtas to engage in debate and dialogue on the current economic crisis——
——the President of the European Commission and the EU ambassador to the United States of America. At this grave point in the country's history, this House in particular has an obligation to respond politically. Will the Leader use his powers and engage with the Cathaoirleach and the appropriate body of the House to put in place the mechanism for urgent and immediate debate and dialogue with the social partners?
I have covered Senator Ellis's proposal on the Chamber being used for the scrutiny of EU legislation. We could make considerable progress and make the Seanad relevant to all EU legislation.
Senator Healy Eames asked for a debate on the challenges facing students. She stated that 50 students drop out every month from——
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 25 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Ciarán Cannon, Paul Coghlan, Maurice Cummins, Pearse Doherty, Paschal Donohoe, Frances Fitzgerald, Dominic Hannigan, Fidelma Healy Eames, Nicky McFadden, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, Joe O'Reilly, Joe O'Toole, John Paul Phelan, Phil Prendergast, Feargal Quinn, Eugene Regan, Shane Ross, Brendan Ryan, Liam Twomey, Alex White)
Against the motion: 28 (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, Cecilia Keaveney, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Lisa McDonald, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Francis O'Brien, Denis O'Donovan, Fiona O'Malley, Ned O'Sullivan, Ann Ormonde, Kieran Phelan, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Maurice Cummins and Liam Twomey; Níl, Senators Diarmuid Wilson and Déirdre de Búrca.
Amendment declared lost.