Thursday, 5 November 2009
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on the education and training responses to the economic downturn, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and conclude not later than 1 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed seven minutes, on which Senators may share time and with the Minister to be called upon not later than 12.50 p.m. for concluding comments; and No. 2, Court and Court Officers Bill 2009 â Second Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 but not earlier than 1.30 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 12 minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed eight minutes and on which Senators may share time. The business of the House will be interrupted between 1 p.m. and 1.30 p.m.
Today marks the 25th anniversary of the radio programme, "Morning Ireland". It was great to hear David Hanly on the airwaves again on this morning's celebration programme. I pay tribute to "Morning Ireland" and the work it has done in public service broadcasting, keeping political debate alive and informing the public over 25 years. It is appropriate to pay tribute to a programme which has served democracy very well over a sustained period.
The stark news yesterday on the economic front was provided by the comments in the OECD report on the economic position of Ireland relative to other European countries. The Exchequer figures released this week show the tax take lags far behind projections and that the interest payment made in October was 107% higher than that paid 12 months previously. We face stark choices and considerable public unrest. For example, a march is planned for tomorrow.
The lack of decision making by the Government in the past 12 months has added significantly to public disquiet. The Government has not produced a competitiveness plan or announced any decisions on the recommendations made in the McCarthy report, for example, on reducing the number of quangos. This lack of serious decision making makes it difficult for members of the public to accept the decisions that will be needed in the budget.
On the issue of accountability of Ministers to this House, in recent days I have noted a welcome increase in the presence of Ministers in the Chamber. However, with regard to services for children and the information provided on such services, an issue I raised yesterday, it is clear that the comments made by the Minister of State with responsibility for children, Deputy Barry Andrews, on the provision of services were a fantasy. The report on the implementation of the Ryan report is a collection of words which is not backed by resources. The House must given serious consideration to this issue. Words do not mean anything; we need proper plans based on available resources. We must face the truth about what is being done in the area of children's services.
We must also face the truth in regard to the H1N1 pandemic. I praised the Department earlier this year when I saw the work it was doing in preparation for this epidemic. I said it was keeping people informed and that it was doing its very best, as far as I could see at the time. However, the information which has emerged in the past few days on preparations in this country for roll-out of the vaccine seems to be completely at odds with what we were told here. For example, we were told yesterday that it would take eight months for the vaccine to be made available to the entire population. We are also told general practitioners were only informed of the situation in August and September. What kind of leadership is that if we have to protect people from this epidemic? I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney, come to the House today to address these issues clearly and openly and give the detail which is necessary to reassure the public on this very serious threat.
To beat an old drum, I again make reference to the talks taking place in Government Buildings between the social partners, the Government and the various other groups involved. I made the point yesterday that, in terms of the way we were engaging with the matter, talk of strikes, actions, etc. was part of the essential choreography and stage direction of these events and that this was not the time to focus on such issues. We may need to examine them in a weeks' time. We should look to the future.
It is strange that today the newspapers are carrying pages and pages of articles on the OECD report. It is strange when one refers to the imbalance. The day before yesterday the European Union gave its prognosis for the European economy for 2010 and 2011. It stated the Irish economy would not grow next year, whereas the European economy would, and that the following year the Irish growth rate would be twice that of the European economy, at some 2% as against 1%. We need to examine such reports because we need to give hope to the people.
We need to see what we will happen in the future.
Senator Fitzgerald mentioned "Morning Ireland". I had a spring in my step after listening to the programme this morning; I can only put it down to the fact that there was no economist on it for a full two hours.
No; there was no economist wearing an economist's hat. I will come to Garret in a second. It is important to recognise that the trade unions, the Government, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and everybody else needs to be informed of the reality of the situation. That is happening.
I heard no one in the past two or three weeks argue about the fact that savings of â¬4 billion were needed. I want to focus on what former Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald said this morning. I have made the point many times in the past two weeks that the Government is discussing a format which, to boil it down to simplicity, will involve doing something over a three year period, with no increase in personal taxation but with the introduction of other taxes. The trade union movement, the social partners and groups such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and others have said this policy is too harsh and that we should implement changes over a six year period and increase taxes. It is interesting that there is always a third way. I have been saying this here for weeks on end. It is interesting that this morning Garret FitzGerald came out with a third way, which involves maintaining the three year period to implement changes and also introducing additional taxes. Such a view is contrary to Fianna FÃ¡il and Fine Gael policy but mirrors what the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, said in introducing the budget.
I put the proposal before the House. There are ways to move forward. We need to give the people hope for the future. We need to say to workers, trade unionists and others that if they have to take the pain which might include salary cuts, we can do it over a period of time and that we will do what Deputy Richard Bruton said yesterday, that is, benchmark our way out of it or, as the Taoiseach said earlier this week, allow for bridging until we achieve the necessary savings, as they cannot come quickly enough. It is a matter of focusing on the possible solutions and making them work.
I agree with other Senators. Yesterday's OECD report on the economy makes for interesting reading. The OECD is an organisation which three years ago stated house prices would level off or decline slightly. Last year it stated Irish banks were well capitalised and profitable. Therefore, we should not accept it as the oracle of all wisdom. Having said that, there are some very interesting points in the report which deserve further analysis and reflection. For instance, in the section on boosting competitiveness, it recognises the fact that education has produced great benefits for Irish society and suggests further investment is needed in pre-primary education and in-work training. The section on NAMA states temporary nationalisation of the banks should not be ruled out, a point my party has been making. In terms of participation in the labour force, the report notes we can increase female participation by removing a number of obstacles in the system.
On unemployment, key issues include the fact that it does not believe sufficient measures are being taken by the Government to encourage more people to leave the dole queues and return to work. We agree with this. Yesterday in the House my colleague, Senator Alex White, warned about the spectre of the loss of a generation of young people to emigration because of unemployment levels in the country. The OECD is correct in this respect and we need to see greater efforts being made. The announcement this morning that the special task force on job creation which was set up by the Taoiseach in January has met just once is pathetic. At a time when hundreds of thousands of our people are out of work it is not good enough. I ask the Leader to relate this to the Taoiseach and make sure a greater effort is made in the area of job creation.
We are in the midst of our daily economics debate as part of the Order of Business. There are regular requests for the opportunity to speak on economic matters. However, the debate needs to be properly framed. The selective quoting of reports to allow people to maintain their particular argument is not helpful to the wider debate. I welcome the OECD report and the EU report released the previous day which help in forming the wider picture. The OECD report outlines the nature of the fiscal problem we are facing and states it is being dealt with in the only way it can be - in the short and medium term. It will result in difficulties in our public services, a loss of public confidence, as well as public anger and disappointment at how we provide these services. To say it can be done differently over a longer time period does not serve the public interest. The debate we need to have has to be structured in that context. I look forward to next week's debate on the NAMA Bill when we can discuss the wider picture. If the House is to continue to be relevant, it has to maintain this debate and highlight its difficult nature over the next 18 months at least in the most honest context we can.
The public must have full confidence in the entire planning process in this country which depends on its integrity. I draw the attention of the House to the mission statement of An Bord PleanÃ¡la which states it carries out its work in an independent manner that embodies the public service ethos of integrity, impartiality and the desire to serve the public interest. I wish to raise a matter of grave concern to me and which should be of concern to others in the House. In a recent High Court case the behaviour of An Bord PleanÃ¡la in dealing with an appeal case in Kildare was found to be highly questionable and irregular. The court found that there were irregular procedures, that there was objective bias on behalf of An Bord PleanÃ¡la and that the decision making process was not impartial. The board's decisions were quashed, not on one occasion but two. I urge Members of the House to review both High Court judicial reviews in the case of Usk and District Residents Association Limited v An Bord PleanÃ¡la and Ors. In 2006 the High Court made recommendations to An Bord PleanÃ¡la which were blatantly ignored by the chairman and the board. It asked that they take legal advice to avoid a further judicial review. It is a very serious matter and I hope the Leader will take my query on board. It is estimated that more than â¬1.5 million of taxpayers' money was wasted in a second judicial review because the board ignored the first ruling. This leaves further questions to be answered. How many other similar cases have been dealt with by the board about which we will never know? What checks are made to ensure the board follows correct procedures? In the interests of integrity and on the basis of the evidence in this case, I call on the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, to set up an inquiry into how the board operates and to whom it is accountable.
Sometimes the debate on the Order of Business consists of soundbites on important national issues, such as the fiscal or banking position, and these can be unhelpful. I would like to see a full debate on the OECD report, which was quite interesting in its observations, the EU report and the previous IMF report. We should combine a number of those important reports and have a good, incisive debate in the House over quite a number of hours where people would have the opportunity to develop the points of view which they have.
The point which has emerged from all the reports is that while people may disagree with aspects of Government policy, the general thrust of what is being done is trying to correct the fiscal position over four to five years. That is a long period and extending it is not being advocated by any of those independent bodies or any independent economist. Unless we take appropriate action we will end up as we were in the 1980s when a generation of people had to emigrate and lost the realisation of their personal potential because of a lack of opportunities.
I ask for a debate on the issue of paedophilia. I know the issue has come up in the past with regard to institutional and clerical abuse but it is much wider in society. We have concentrated on a small minority with the problem. There are issues of awareness of risk and protection of children, and there are also issues surrounding what needs to be done to identify and treat people predisposed to paedophilia. We must have this debate in the interests of our children.
With regard to the points raised by Senator Coffey, we should have a debate on the matters relating to An Bord PleanÃ¡la. If the past couple of years have taught us anything, it is that we have not had sufficient political oversight and scrutiny of many of our public institutions. Where issues such as this arise, it is important for us to have a full debate, and where people are found to be deficient, pressure should be brought to bear to allow the necessary changes - including personnel changes - that would restore the integrity and effectiveness of those public bodies.
We should get down to it so I strongly support the Senator in this matter. Yesterday, in the debate on the Criminal Procedure Bill, I asked the Minister questions about the children's detention centre. I did not anticipate that the issue would explode today with the publication of a Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, report into the centre for severely disturbed children in Ballydowd. Will the Leader get the Minister into the House to answer questions about this? It is astonishing that â¬30 million was spent nine years ago and yet the infrastructure has deteriorated to such a state that it is uninhabitable by these children.
Senator Coffey raised the question of planning and this is a case in which I took a great interest. We should be very grateful to The Irish Times for giving a full report of this case about planning, and it raises questions in this case as well. Apparently the planning authorities have allowed residential accommodation to develop which overlooks directly into the area and violates the privacy of these young people. There are insufficient staff and eight staff are involved in disciplinary procedures at the moment. Insufficient and inaccurate records are kept and some records have not been kept of serious incidents involving the children. Parents have not been informed and we do not know if the children will be moved.
As the Upper House, we have a duty to inquire about where these disturbed children will be sent and under what conditions they will be kept. Who is responsible for the bad management of this facility, in which â¬30 million of taxpayers' was invested nine years ago and, owing to lack of upkeep, it appears to be uninhabitable and bad for these already traumatised children? Will the Leader invite the Minister to the House to give Members answers on these important questions?
I raise the issue of the decision to be made shortly on the appointment of the first President of the European Council. The name of John Bruton, a former Taoiseach and leader of the Fine Gael Party, has been mentioned along with a number of others. He was one of the first people to be mentioned for the role. The reports in the newspapers today on the imminent gathering of the Heads of States and Governments to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall suggest that at this meeting, the issue of selection will be discussed. Unfortunately, the possibility of John Bruton's selection is looking a little more remote now.
I suggest that anybody in this House, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Taoiseach do their best as this is a critical time, with no decision having yet been made. The position seems to be very fluid and different names are being mentioned every couple of days. The former Taoiseach has experience from the position he held in Washington DC and as a member of the presidium which formulated the convention on the future of Europe. For all these reasons he is particularly well qualified to be considered for the position.
As we discuss our economic future in the Chamber this morning, having an Irish person in that position as first President of the European Council would be a good sign for Ireland. It would show our influence at the highest reaches of the European institutions. I suggest that the Leader asks the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Taoiseach and Deputy Kenny within the EPP to use their good offices to promote in the time remaining the candidacy of John Bruton.
The Eurobarometer results this morning from a survey after the Lisbon treaty referendum indicate that Irish people have once again displayed swing behaviour in their attitudes to the European Union. The results of the Eurobarometer survey suggest there was a last-minute swing towards supporting the Lisbon treaty, and people's concerns about the Irish economy seem to have fed into their willingness to support the treaty. There is a fundamental ambivalence about the direction of the European Union and pace of integration and the results of the Eurobarometer survey show this. We must help Irish people connect to a much greater extent with the European project and for that reason, the conversations we are having about our own reform mean we must look to a greater extent at covering European issues.
-----that some of the suggestions made arising from a special sub-committee of which I was a member last November and December would be looked at again as part of the process of Seanad reform. That involved a scrutiny reserve system of European legislation.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business from Senator Fitzgerald and support other speakers' call for a debate on the OECD report. Senator Boyle is correct in that we should have a debate about the report in its entirety and the Seanad is a good place to have it.
I will make two points on the matter. The biggest contribution our country can make in dealing with the crisis in our national finances is to create more jobs. The more of these we have, the more tax revenue will be created and the more confident people will be in spending the money they have in their bank accounts. The biggest contribution that can be made to closing the â¬4 billion gap this year, next year and the year after that is to get people back to work.
Senator Hannigan indicated that the national jobs council has only met once this year, which is more than pathetic - it is a disgrace.
It is the number one priority our country faces. This body was unveiled with great fanfare but has met only once this year.
I emphasise the point I made yesterday. Our country has a choice. We can maintain wages at the present level and have fewer jobs or we can decide that wages will decrease for a while, hang onto the jobs we have and create the platform to make more jobs in the future. The biggest contribution Government can make towards that is to offer a relentless focus on competitiveness, as Senator Fitzgerald noted. We must make things cheap in our country again to square that circle of falling wages. There must be cheaper professional and Government services and cheaper land and housing. That is how we will square this circle and get our country back to the prosperity it so desperately needs.
Senator Coffey has done a service to this House by his contribution regarding the planning code and its operation, transparency or otherwise. During the planning legislation debate I raised some of the same matters regarding An Bord PleanÃ¡la. I do not make specific criticisms but we have placed power in the hands of a very small number of people. That power impacts, not only on the environment but on individuals' rights and livelihoods and on communities and society in general. It is absolutely vital there should be transparency. The more I listen to people on the ground the more I realise a perception exists of considerable contradiction in some of the planning decisions handed down from time to time. This is not acceptable. Not only must we have a planning code which is beyond question in itself and its operation but it must also be clear to the public that decisions made are for the general good. This is particularly so in cases where legal judgments are handed down. It is imperative for anybody who has been involved in or at the receiving end of a legal judgment to ensure that what is required is implemented and the public is made aware of whatever action was taken. If we do not do this there will be no faith whatsoever in the code as it now applies.
During the Celtic tiger days there was enormous development in most areas. We have seen small villages develop beyond recognition. A way of life changed. We have seen the traditional values of planning that apply to Ireland not recognised. Some decisions that emerge are perhaps more appropriate to the planning code in Britain and other countries. We must discover behind this the number of planners who have been trained outside the country. There is nothing wrong with that. A number of non-nationals are involved and there is nothing wrong with that. However, what is important is that in addition to their academic training they should be made aware also of the traditional values of society and communities with regard to building and the expansion of communities. That also must be borne in mind.
I raise a matter that was discussed on "Liveline" yesterday, on which I, as Labour Party spokesperson on consumer affairs, have been working for some time. It is November and with Christmas approaching people are considering gift possibilities. I do not include myself as I am very much a last-minute kind of person. Rather than choosing a gift people may decide to purchase gift vouchers for a friend, family member or colleague. In many cases such gift vouchers come with a latest date for redemption clause which is often as short as three to six months, most often the latter. There is no reason for an expiry date for gift vouchers. There is nothing perishable about them and they offer no risk to human health or well-being as they are usually made of paper or cardboard. Many jurisdictions have moved to change the law to outlaw such practices. There has been an amount of discussion about this over time, most recently on Joe Duffy's radio programme yesterday.
Coincidentally, on Tuesday I tabled a Consumer Protection (Gift Vouchers) Bill 2009 at my parliamentary party meeting for approval, which it received. It is listed as No. 22 on the Seanad Order Paper today. It is a short Bill, the net effect of which would be that all vouchers will remain valid for five years following its passing. It would be an offence to sell a gift voucher with an expiry date of less than five years. I propose an amendment to today's Order of Business to allow my Bill be raised and therefore I propose that No. 22 be taken before No. 1. I ask the Leader to accept that proposal.
I welcome the publication of the Health Information and Quality Authority's national children in care inspection report 2008. As spokesperson on children for this side of the House, I have raised the issue of children in care many times. Currently, there are 5,500 children in the care of the State of whom some 4,900 are in foster care. In a survey done in the Dublin south-west region the HIQA report indicated that two thirds of children in care have foster parents, both relatives and non-relatives, who have not been vetted with regard to acceptability of their qualifications and suitability for the job.
Our country has been traumatised already by the Ryan report. Some 30,000 people have been left physically and emotionally devastated as a result of cruelty while they were in the care of the State. In our attitude to this one would think Ireland was Haiti, a country I visited earlier this year. The foster carers of 4,900 children, whether relatives or non-relatives, are not being vetted or deemed appropriate. They get paid for the job they do. I do not cast aspersions on those who kindly foster children but it is wrong not to vet them for suitability. Senator Walsh raised the issue of child abuse and paedophilia. I believe we have not yet scratched the surface of that. I call for us to come back to this matter urgently and ensure the HSE carries out the regulations it is supposed to but does not.
I join Senator Coffey in asking the Leader for a debate on An Bord PleanÃ¡la. I have been involved with residents in many appeals against Cork City Council and County Council that went to An Bord PleanÃ¡la. Senator Coffey is right. We must have confidence in the planning process and when that process does not seem to be objective, seems biased or partial question marks pertain. I have serious reservations about the role of An Bord PleanÃ¡la. How can it be that if a Bord PleanÃ¡la inspector makes a ruling, be it yea or nay, the board of that body can overturn it? I cannot get an answer. Perhaps the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, might give the answer.
We must have full confidence in the planning process. Unfortunately, in many communities, urban and rural, confidence in An Bord PleanÃ¡la and the planning process per se is at an all-time low. It must be restored. We criticised councillors and councils for their role but they were accountable and answerable. An Bord PleanÃ¡la is not answerable to anybody and it should be. The House must invite the Minister to discuss this as a matter of urgency. If necessary, as Senator Bacik suggested, let us bring the officers of An Bord PleanÃ¡la to this Chamber. That would make us more relevant to ordinary people. Every week of the year each one of us receives representations regarding the planning process.
We need a debate on job creation. The presence of the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Coughlan, has been sadly lacking from this Chamber regarding discussion on job creation and retention. Hundreds of thousands of people are unemployed. People are starved of hope by the Government. They want to see a job policy. As Senator Donohoe stated, there is a National Jobs Council which is a folly and a complete joke. Perhaps we might put those two issues on the agenda over the coming weeks because they are of grave importance.
I share the calls for a rolling debate on the economy and job creation. I am conscious that, in the case of the latter, it is not a question of us not having a certain amount of knowledge. We went through all of this in the 1980s. We could have a structured debate system in which, in or around this time, we could discuss buying Irish products for Christmas and ask the media to be present so they could do something positive in reporting this Chamber. This would encourage people to buy Irish and let them know the benefits of doing so, including job retention and creation.
Now that the property market has come back significantly, it is time to change from our system of tax breaks. Section 23 reliefs, interest reliefs, section 48 seaside resort reliefs and living over the shop allowances should be transferred to job creation initiatives. We have systems in place to do so. As we have the template, we should reintroduce what we did in the 1980s to restart job creation.
It is approximately two years since the House, the political class and the public became aware that we were in the equivalent of a long war, an economic crisis of a magnitude not previously seen. The other night, I was watching Brendan Gleeson's powerful portrayal of Winston Churchill. Thankfully, the cringe factor of someone needing to apologise for an Irish actor playing Churchill was avoided.
I was first struck by the way Churchill brought Clement Attlee into the war cabinet. The Tories were not the toughest members of that cabinet. Rather, the three Labour Party members fought the war to a tough and final conclusion. I was also struck by the cabinet's bipartisan approach and the way in which the war was democratically debated by the House of Commons. A Labour-Tory Government did the difficult stuff and the Parliament was allowed a rolling debate on the war as it continued. We would do well to consider something similar.
The long debates on NAMA are not helping confidence. A tripartisan approach to the economic crisis would be better for democracy. A cross-party group or committee could be set up to make the difficult decisions, such as on public sector pay, whether more people should be brought into the tax net and what will be done about social welfare. The Parliament could be allowed to act as watchdog on that cross-party support.
I am one of those who believes the truth sets people free. The public is always ahead of politicians. It knows how bad things are and is not interested in the gassy speculations of economists whose egos are deeply involved in selling books or predicting the future. One cannot predict the future. People know that all we can do is buckle down, as the British did during the Second World War. The Irish are ready to buckle down and do the difficult things and it is time the political class caught up with them and buckled down in the same way via a cross-party approach to the crisis.
Not only would Deputy Kenny, as vice president of the European People's Party, EPP, and Fine Gael, as a member of the EPP, support John Bruton as the next President of the European Commission, but we will do everything we can to support the case of Ireland and every Irish person in the European project as we have done since joining the EU. We will continue to give our support to the Government on behalf of everyone who is doing good work for this country in Europe.
Regarding the economy, the Government's approach to politics will not change dramatically, but it must learn that it cannot waffle its way out of a recession. The Government is long on talk, but short on action. This has been the case for the past two years. If the House is to hold debates, Ministers should attend to tell us what they have done to sort out this crisis. Using Private Members' motions, perhaps the Fianna FÃ¡il and Green parties could outline to the House the positive steps taken by the Government in recent years to remove us from the crisis that it walked us into during the past decade. Instead of debates on the seabed, which were admittedly useful, we could have serious debates on the economy through the Government parties' Private Members' time.
Yesterday and last week, I stated in the House that the Government's handling of the swine flu pandemic, a serious public health issue, was poor and that the HSE did not seem to have the crisis under control. I was ignored by the Government side and criticised by some of its Members who believe the HSE is doing a great job. However, I have a supporter, none other than the Minister for Health and Children who we want to bring to the House. She has clearly admitted that the swine flu pandemic is not under control. She referred to getting it under control in eight months time, but it will be all over by then. People will not need to be vaccinated next June because swine flu will have done its damage by then. It will peak in Ireland sometime around Christmas Day and early January, not next June. We have four to five weeks to get the pandemic under control. Otherwise, people will die, hospitals will be strained and swine flu will run rampant across society. I again ask the Leader for an urgent debate on swine flu and to arrange for the Minister to attend the House to explain to us and the people why she has failed to deal with this pandemic, even though we have known this crisis was coming since last June.
I second Senator Ryan's request to the Leader to take No. 22 first, the Bill on consumer protection and gift vouchers. It is long overdue, as research has shown that a majority of gift vouchers are never redeemed because of the time limits. This is an important principle.
I ask the Leader for a debate on women's participation in politics. Members will be aware that at 11.30 a.m. I will be launching the report of the Sub-Committee on Women's Participation in Politics, to which I am rapporteur and of which Senator McDonald is a member. Deputy Kenneally chaired the sub-committee. Our findings and recommendations have received overwhelming cross-party support and been adopted by the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights, which has already requested that the report's findings be debated in both Houses. I ask the Leader for an early date for that debate.
Regarding gender equality, I would like to add my voice to the request for a debate on the fallout from the Supreme Court ruling in the Portmarnock Golf Club case. There was strong dissent in the Supreme Court and Mr. Justice Nial Fennelly suggested that it was preposterous, unreasonable and implausible to claim that Portmarnock Golf Club was catering primarily for the needs of men rather than the purpose of playing golf. This sums up the objection that I and many others have to the ruling. The idea that the club was for men and not golf was the crux of the case. It is clearly incumbent on us as legislators to debate what needs to be done to ensure the principle of equality is vindicated and that clubs like Portmarnock will no longer be able to discriminate in this fashion. We need an urgent debate on how best to amend the legislation to resolve this issue.
Senator Harris referred to the House's protracted debate on NAMA. The criticism is misplaced. As the OECD survey of the economy shows, we have a chronic problem. The survey confirms all of our worst fears about the state of the economy. However, it highlights the Government's inaction on this crisis. The debate on the NAMA legislation was deemed "protracted", but it was only recently introduced in the DÃ¡il and will not be introduced in this House until next week. The debate on NAMA has not been protracted and it has helped to improve the Bill and show up particular shortfalls in the legislation. Statements about protracted debates on legislation are anti-democratic. The country has a problem, but we need proper parliamentary scrutiny of whatever legislation passes through the Houses.
I wish to refer to the matter of An Bord PleanÃ¡la as raised by Senator Coffey. A High Court judge, Mr. Justice Peter Kelly, upheld a judicial review of a decision by An Bord PleanÃ¡la and recommended that the matter be reheard by different members of the board. He specified this in order to avoid further judicial reviews of the case. That advice was not followed and it was on that point and others that Judge McMenamin found unfathomable the logic of the board in how it proceeded. Judge McMenamin's second decision against the board has not been appealed by it and yet the chairman of the board can criticise that decision. There is something fundamentally wrong with that attitude, in particular when the Judiciary has found the board to be in default. I support Senator Coffey's call for the board to get its house in order.
Yesterday I listened with interest to Senators express their views. There was a certain concern about the negativity from various quarters, in particular the media. I refer to the view expressed on the national airwaves. I cannot understand why RTE always feels it must have balance.
We should remain positive given the very difficult and challenging times ahead. Senator Harris said this is not necessarily a party political issue and that it warrants unity of purpose, which I wholeheartedly support. We must not underestimate, challenge or overstate our difficulties. What we must do together is address these issues. We must remain positive in respect of the challenges we face.
I would also like to compliment our national broadcaster-----
-----in particular in regard to its programme on the Berlin Wall which Tony Connolly presented last night. He gave a particular perspective on the Hungarian issue which warrants acknowledgement.
I refer to Senator Regan's comments on what Senator Harris said. This country recognised it faced serious difficulties in 2007 and in 2008 we recognised there was a need to resolve them.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that before No. 1, we take No. 34, motion No. 26. This motion, which was seconded by Senator Quinn, calls for a debate on the proposed day of action and the proposed strike. From time to time as we meet different groups, we speak about the needs of the most vulnerable members of society. We cannot have it both ways. We cannot have sectoral interests insist their rights and privileges are not interfered with while at the same time hope that the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and other groups doing important work in our society are not frustrated at budget time. This is a time for unity and solidarity and for letting the Government govern and legislators debate the merits of various proposals. Strikes will force the hand in favour of particular sectoral interests to the detriment of vulnerable members of society. I hope the Leader will accept this amendment to the Order of Business.
Senator Harris spoke about the need for a bipartisan and a tri-partisan approach. We could achieve a quadra-partisan approach with the Government, Fine Gael, the Labour Party and, I hope, the Independents supporting this motion.
I support what Senators Harris and Mullen said and, to some extent, what Senator Regan said. Last night I tabled a motion in Private Members' time in regard to indebtedness and called for cross-party support. The motion was very broad and covered many areas. I hasten to add it was the most non-political motion ever placed on the Order Paper. There were very few Fianna FÃ¡il Senators present for the debate.
It is very relevant. The motion, which was very serious, was treated with disdain. Senator Boyle wanted it put on the record that the revised programme for Government wanted to regulate those trying to get money from unfortunate people and said there must be legislation to regulate these people. He then left the House.
I feel very strongly about this because there must be cross-party support for getting people back to work and for job creation.
The Government amendment to my motion stated how fantastic the Government was and what a great job it had done and yet the country is going down the tubes. I feel very strongly about the way this House is run. The Minister of State responded by saying that Fine Gael supported the Government amendment, which I found insulting.
We must find ways to help unfortunate people achieve resolutions for their debts without having to go to court. I made a very straightforward request but not one Senator opposite or the Minister of State took it up.
I also spoke about the penalties people must endure if they try to get out of fixed rate mortgages but no Senator picked up that point. Senator Ryan has raised that issue on numerous occasions. This is what Senator Harris spoke about. We need collective responsibility in this House for the people who are losing their jobs.
A number of Senators referred to "Morning Ireland" celebrating its 25th anniversary. I took three messages from that programme. The first was how bad things were in 1984 and yet we got out of it. The second was in regard to some of those who criticise some of the established offices in this State, including the Seanad and the Office of the President, which is often thought not useful.
I thought our President played a blinder today and used words which established confidence and were positive. She said she was taking a pay cut and was doing something. She said that under the Constitution her expenses could not be reduced but that she would not spend all the money allocated. The example she set was one of which we should be very proud. It was a reminder of the strength of that office. She established hope, and the word "hope" was used by Senator O'Toole today.
We must do more than hope. We must work together to avoid confrontation which is why I support Senator Mullen's amendment to the Order of Business. We should debate No. 34, motion No. 26, and discourage confrontation and encourage working together to achieve what we must achieve. I support the call for a debate on that motion before No. 1.
I support Senator Boyle's comments that we are having our daily dose of economic debate and analysis. It is time we moved on from analysis to a prescribed solution. Unfortunately, all of us seem unwilling to begin to address the economic reality. Nothing is more removed from the economic reality than the proposed day of action and the proposed strike. Therefore, I very much support Senator Mullen's call that we urgently debate No. 34, motion 26, so Senators can outline their views on the grave damage which would be inflicted on this country by so-called days of action and strikes. Most of us have been alive and in politics long enough to know that this economic lunacy which was prescribed in the 1970s and 1980s in both Ireland and Britain created no solutions but rather economic ruin. We do not want to visit it on the people again. We must talk in blunt terms and move beyond the glib debate to start discussing economic truths and reality.
It is almost two years since Senator Harris became the first Member of the Oireachtas to analyse the problems of public sector reform. This was not an attack by the Senator or anyone else on public servants but was simply a method of outlining the economic crisis and indicating that the public sector needed to be reformed urgently. The public sector is funded by taxpayers, by every citizen of the State. It has gone over the top with regard to expenses and we need to start prescribing solutions.
I refer to Senator Hannigan's comments about the national jobs council not having held meetings. I concede my ignorance in that I have never heard of the council. The Cabinet and the Government should act as a national jobs council; therefore, I am not concerned whether the council has met, as it is another body, another quango. The Cabinet and the political system need to be our national jobs council. The House needs to be proactive in this regard.
I appeal to the Leader to take motion No. 34. We will be remiss in our duty as elected Members of the Oireachtas if we are not willing to speak clearly on so-called days of action and national strikes. I call them days of ruination.
I endorse everything Senator Bradford said and support the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senators Mullen and Quinn.
The House has a serious responsibility which we continuously funk, which is to make immediate decisions on matters which are relevant. We are always discussing and condemning after the event. We have an opportunity to give a certain amount of leadership and express a view that what will happen tomorrow will send a very serious message, particularly if there is an escalation and further strikes. We have a big problem with our credit rating. I do not know whether people realise this but Ireland's credit rating was downgraded again yesterday. International investors will see our credit rating going down one day and protests on the streets the next. This will damage our reputation and the economy. We have an opportunity in the House to stand up and say we do not wish this to happen and at least test whether this is a House of influence. If the Government funk discussion of this motion today, it will continue the public perception that this is not a particularly relevant body. This is an emergency and we cannot just sit back. We should be taking action and giving leadership. We should be warning that this action will damage Ireland, as will another day of protest. Anyone who doubts this need only wait because if we continue to indulge this irresponsible behaviour on the part of trade unions, we will have the International Monetary Fund coming in. This is a much closer reality than people here are prepared to acknowledge. We are very close to it. If we do not take a stand, if we do not show the world we are prepared to stand up to the unions, then, God help us, we will have an international body take over. If that is what we want, then we should not debate the motion but if we want to show we are in charge, let the House debate it today.
I support Senator Coffey's case on An Bord PleanÃ¡la. I have raised the issue of An Bord PleanÃ¡la on several occasions in the House and asked why inspectors' decisions have been overturned without any reasons being given.
It is stated in the Irish Independent today, "For God's sake, somebody do something". On previous occasions I have asked for a debate on tourism because such a debate is needed. It is a sector in which jobs can be created. Other governments, including the Spanish Government, have taken action. I ask for a debate on what can be done in 2010.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for his indulgence. I will be supporting tomorrow's national protest at Government decisions. We did not stand up to the banks or the corporate capitalist monsters who brought us to the brink of economic collapse, yet we stand up to the garda, the nurse, the teacher and the worker who is now paying a pension levy, an income levy and a health levy to fund our way out of the recession. We will stand up to them but will not stand up to the people who caused the economy to collapse.
I refer to the headline in the Irish Examiner this week which caught my attention: "Judge orders repossession of record number of homes". In another case of a young couple in County Cavan the headline reads, "They hound us. They want â¬1,300 a month". This is a young family with three children and in whcih one parent has become unemployed. They are unable to repay the mortgage at the same level but have had to tell their children they will be unable to buy toys this Christmas, yet we have this nonsense. A motion has been tabled with the date Friday, 4 November. Tomorrow is not 4 November and there is not a scheduled day of strike action on 24 November. When our learned colleagues are tabling motions for discussion in the House, they should at least be accurate in their attempts to muzzle the trade unions and workers and to subvert democracy.
I did not intend to speak this morning on the Order of Business until I heard Senator Hanafin make the same hypocritical and cynical call for patriotism which his colleagues have been making for the past few months. It started with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, during his Budget Statement who was followed by the TÃ¡naiste, Deputy Mary Coughlan, last week. They have been calling on hard-pressed families to voluntarily subject themselves to a higher tax regime by not travelling to the North to buy groceries. The Government was elected to govern. The mistakes made in the past six months have not been made by families but rather by a Government which imposed a VAT rate and acknowledged in March that this was a significant mistake. It has refused to address the very high costs associated with doing business. We now have the third highest energy costs in Europe. I ask the Government to cease from asking the people to rectify its mistakes and to begin to do what it was elected to do, that is, to govern.
Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Hannigan, Boyle, Walsh, O'Donovan, Twomey, Regan, Callely, Quinn, Bradford and Ross expressed various views and concerns on the Order of Business. I join Senators in congratulating "Morning Ireland" on 25 years of excellent broadcasting. I congratulate, in particular, those pioneers David Hanley and David Davin-Power who helped to launch the programme. I also congratulate TomÃ¡s Sabhaois, Tom Savage, who reviewed the newspapers every morning and, as David Hanley said this morning, made a significant contribution. I congratulate all those currently involved in the programme. It was refreshing to hear the Taoiseach and former Taoiseach Dr. Garret FitzGerald discuss the problems that have had to be faced in the past 25 years. They have both advised that the current crisis must be addressed immediately. When asked what he would have done differently, Dr. FitzGerald replied he would have taken action earlier. I remember the time when David Hanley interviewed me about what action we planned to take on insurance reform. The people came in behind us on what could be done to lower the high insurance premiums being charged at the time.
I refer to the points raised about the OECD, McCarthy and Commission on Taxation reports. They can all be raised in the House next week when we will sit for 55 hours over three days to deal with the NAMA Bill.
With regard to the swine flu epidemic, the Minister for Health and Children is about to finalise a date on which she will come to the House. She will be out of the country next week. I understand there will be a press release placed in our pigeon holes after the Order of Business this morning on a briefing for Members on the up-to-date position next Tuesday.
Senators O'Toole and Boyle referred to the partnership talks. I agree with all the sentiments expressed and will pass on their views to the Minister. Senators Coffey, Walsh, Ã MurchÃº, Buttimer, Regan and Burke referred to the plight of An Bord PleanÃ¡la. The word "trust" has been used here this morning. There have been some excellent contributions on this topic and of course we will have a debate on the fall out and aspects of the court decision as soon as possible before the Christmas recess. Senators Walsh and Norris called for a debate on paedophilia and I have no difficulty leaving aside time for this. Senators Norris and Mary White referred to the children's detention centre and I will pass the strong views of the Senators to the Minister. Senators de BÃºrca and Twomey referred to the possible appointment of John Bruton. He would be an excellent choice. He has served this country well and he has served Europe well in Washington and we all join in wishing him well. It will not be for the want of trying on the part of the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Everyone well connected in Europe will do everything they can to have John Bruton seriously considered and, hopefully, appointed. He would be an excellent person to represent Europe anywhere in the world and we could be very proud of him as the person in that role.
Senator Ryan proposed an amendment to the Order of Business. I accept the amendment to No. 22 and I agree to take the matter after the Order of Business. Senators Buttimer and Hanafin referred to job creation and the matter can be covered next week in the NAMA debate. Senators Harris, Regan and Callely expressed various strong views which they outlined and placed before the House for consideration. The matters to which they referred can be taken before the debate on NAMA next week. I will hold a pre-budget debate and I will endeavour to get time and to arrange this with the leaders at our weekly meetings. All of these issues can be made known to the Ministers, including the Minister for Finance, in the House in the coming two weeks.
Senator Bacik referred to the report on women's participation in politics. I congratulate her and everyone involved. The more women we can get involved in politics, the better it will be for society. Senator Mullen referred to No. 34, motion No. 26, and called for a debate on this matter. The NAMA debate will be before the House next week and the following week we will have the budget. We will afford every opportunity to debate the matter, although I did not know this was coming about here today.
I stress to the Independent Members the need to bring such matters to the attention of their leader, Senator O'Toole, who discusses business with me every Tuesday. We must have some order in this regard. The leaders' meeting every Tuesday works very well. I trust every Senator believes they have a say and an input on the Order of Business every week. As Leader of the House I have done everything possible every day on the Order of Business to facilitate every Member, including Senator Mullen.
I refer to Senator Burke's comments. I gave a commitment that I would hold a debate on tourism. This will take place before Christmas because it is one of the planks on which we can create jobs. Tourism is creating jobs and keeping them going at present.
There are three amendments to the Order of Business and I will deal with them in the order in which they were proposed. Senator Frances Fitzgerald has proposed amendment No. 1 to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Minister for Health and Children on the H1N1 influenza vaccine be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 22 (Paul Bradford, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Ciarán Cannon, Paudie Coffey, Paul Coghlan, Maurice Cummins, Paschal Donohoe, Frances Fitzgerald, Dominic Hannigan, Michael McCarthy, Nicky McFadden, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, Joe O'Reilly, Joe O'Toole, John Paul Phelan, Feargal Quinn, Eugene Regan, Shane Ross, Brendan Ryan, Liam Twomey)
Against the motion: 26 (Dan Boyle, Martin Brady, Larry Butler, Ivor Callely, John Carty, Donie Cassidy, Maria Corrigan, Mark Daly, Déirdre de Búrca, Camillus Glynn, John Gerard Hanafin, Eoghan Harris, Cecilia Keaveney, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Lisa McDonald, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Francis O'Brien, 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.
Senator Ryan has proposed amendment No. 2 to the Order of Business: "That No. 22 be taken before No. 1." The Leader has indicated he is prepared to accept this amendment. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed.
Senator Mullen has proposed amendment No. 3 to the Order of Business: "That No. 34, motion No. 26, be taken before No. 1." Is the amendment being pressed?
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 19 (Paul Bradford, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Ciarán Cannon, Paudie Coffey, Paul Coghlan, Maurice Cummins, Paschal Donohoe, Frances Fitzgerald, Eoghan Harris, Nicky McFadden, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, Joe O'Reilly, John Paul Phelan, Feargal Quinn, Eugene Regan, Shane Ross, Liam Twomey)
Against the motion: 29 (Dan Boyle, Martin Brady, Larry Butler, Ivor Callely, John Carty, Donie Cassidy, Maria Corrigan, Mark Daly, Déirdre de Búrca, Camillus Glynn, John Gerard Hanafin, Dominic Hannigan, Cecilia Keaveney, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Michael McCarthy, Lisa McDonald, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Francis O'Brien, Fiona O'Malley, Ned O'Sullivan, Joe O'Toole, Ann Ormonde, Kieran Phelan, Brendan Ryan, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Rónán Mullen and Shane Ross; Níl, Senators Diarmuid Wilson and Déirdre de Búrca.
Amendment declared lost.
I wish to propose an amendment to the Order of Business because it has gone so late and the Minister will have only 40 minutes in the House. I propose that statements on education and training responses to the economic downturn will conclude at 1.30 p.m. instead of 1 p.m., that the Minister will be called to make concluding comments at 1.20 p.m., that we will have a sos from 1.30 p.m. to 2 p.m., and that No.2, the Courts and Court Officers Bill - Second Stage will be taken at 2 p.m.