Thursday, 12 November 2009
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re vacancy on the Seanad Agricultural Panel, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business, and No. 2, Courts and Court Officers Bill 2009 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1.
The House passed the NAMA Bill yesterday with the support of some Independent Members. My party remains deeply concerned about the implications of the legislation for every man, woman and child in the country because of the major impact the potential debt arising from it could have on people's experiences and the risk to the taxpayer. Therefore, we remain deeply concerned about aspects of the NAMA legislation.
I join everyone else in expressing delight at the release of Fr. Michael Sinnott who was held in captivity in the Philippines since 11 October. It was joyous to listen to his strong interview this morning on "Morning Ireland". It showed great strength and his willingness to continue the work he has been doing for many years. I hope his health holds up and that his tough ordeal will not prove too demanding on him.
We need further debates on some of aspects of the NAMA legislation on which we touched yesterday such as whether the NAMA model contains a social dividend, negative equity, the pressures on some families with mortgage arrears and the need for strong and tough Government action with lenders. An interesting discussion about social democracy and christian democracy also took place. The point is, however, that it is not about any theory of democracy but what practical action can be taken by the Government to help the 420,000 unemployed. In that regard, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment must attend the House for a useful debate on competitiveness and its attendant issues. The debate must include the move from welfare to work. The welfare system needs to be examined critically at this point because we cannot just leave people in the dole queues. We must discuss creative ways of moving from welfare to training and employment. It has gone beyond the time for such a debate. So much time was given to the NAMA legislation which was and will continue to be needed, but there must be a debate soon about tackling unemployment and restoring competitiveness to the economy. We must examine the detailed steps we need to take to make a difference to the lives of the 420,000 people in the dole queues.
There seems to be some confusion about access to live Seanad debates. On the Order of Business yesterday Senator Hanafin raised the importance of live-streaming. Perhaps he used the word incorrectly, but the Seanad is constantly available on live-stream at www.oireachtas.ie. He may have been referring to broadcasting, which is another matter. The debates are also available for listening at all times on the telephone number 01-6184001. Many Members are not aware of these facilities which were established by the Joint Administration Committee. It is important for those interested in an issue that they can listen to a debate on it without being here. Senator Hanafin's point, however, about broadcasting is crucial. Last Saturday the BBC announced it would make available coverage of all the United Kingdom assemblies and parliaments - the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the Northern Ireland Assembly, the House of Commons and the Lords -on separate channels on its website channels and some digital satellite facilities. The Joint Administration Committee, of which the Leader and I are members, have been exploring this issue for some time.
I agree with Senator Fitzgerald's points on NAMA. I supported the legislation in every division in the past three days as a vote of confidence and leap of faith. I hope it works; otherwise we will be in deep trouble. We must remember the model might not work. We must keep an eye on this.
During the course of the debate yesterday the issue of whether Oireachtas Members should be able to lobby NAMA when it was tendering, buying property, initiating court actions and other matters was raised. Few things keep me awake at night but this bothered me. I am not getting at an individual Member or trying to open up the debate again. In that regard, I assure Senator Leyden that I am not saying this in a personalised way. However, I would like a debate, with the Cathaoirleach's support, in the House on how lobbying should happen. Members have their genuinely held views. However, we need to know when lobbying undermines fair process and becomes a perversion of justice. My concern is that the world has moved on. What was acceptable ten years ago or last year is no longer so. We have learned this to our cost in many ways and changes must be made. What I learned from yesterday's debate was that we all needed to make that change. I do not want to hear the word "righteous" thrown back at me. It is not about that but fairness. It is about ensuring one person does not gain an advantage over someone else because he or she knows a Deputy, Senator or county councillor. At the same time, it must be recognised that Deputies, Senators and councillors are required to and should make representations on behalf of the areas and people they represent. It is about finding that balance in a fair, honest and open way. I call for a debate on the matter.
I also welcome the release of Fr. Michael Sinnott. It is nice to have good news coming so soon after the release of Sharon Commins.
Like Senator Fitzgerald, I express the concern on the Labour Party Bench about the enormous risk that NAMA poses. We had fundamental disagreements with the NAMA legislation, which is why we voted against it. At the same time, as Senator O'Toole said, we all hope for everyone's sake that it will work. In that context, I am glad the Minister for Finance expressed support for the Labour Party's proposal of a credit mediator, an independent ombudsman, to intervene in cases where viable businesses are refused credit by the banks.
Now that the challenge of the NAMA legislation is out of the way, will the Leader have a debate on the greatest challenge facing us all - that of climate change? It is vital that the Seanad debate this topic before the December summit in Copenhagen that will be so critical for the planet's future. The Government promised a Bill on climate change - I note the Deputy Leader is nodding - and I have also introduced a similar Bill to the House. Will we have a debate on my Bill or the Government's in advance of the Copenhagen talks?
I also call for a debate on mental health. Yesterday we had an excellent seminar in the AV room with Shine and BodyWhys. I will be hosting a seminar next Wednesday at the same venue with a talk by Professor Harry Kennedy, Central Mental Hospital, on mental health in prisons. I ask all colleagues to attend.
Will the Leader have a debate on the conduct of debates in the House? Since I was elected two years ago, I have been impressed by the civility of the debating style across the Chamber, the fact that we do all have strong disagreements with each other but that we express our views with respect for others. I hope I have always been respectful in my debates. Unfortunately, yesterday, however, I think there was a lowering of standards in the House with a very personalised attack on me by a Member on the opposite side.
The Member in question represented certain views of mine and expressed doubt about my opposition to the death penalty. I have a long track record both as a criminal justice and human rights lawyer. I will not take abuse nor accept misrepresentation of my views from the other side of the House, particularly not from fundamentalists and bigots with brass necks. I will be taking up the matter with the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.
I support the call for a debate on climate change in advance of the Copenhagen summit. The recent report of the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security would be a good basis for such a debate and help to inform the Government when drafting the legislation.
I also support Senator O'Toole's call for a debate on the nature of lobbying. The review of the programme for Government promises to introduce legislation to register lobbyists. As we are entering into what we hope will be a new era, who knows who and its effects should be put aside in public life. While we are changing the nature of political life, there is a concern that in less open and accountable situations there are people bending ears and tapping shoulders for personal advantage and for those for whom they work. We must rid that culture from our society because we suffered from it politically and socially in the past. I would welcome such a debate.
As the death notices on our debate on NAMA are finally posted I agree with other Senators that there is an air of uncertainty about the legislation passed yesterday but there is greater certainty about it in the way it has been improved by the debate in this House than any of the alternatives which I believe would have invoked a greater cost and carried a heavier risk for the Irish people. We can all work together to make sure the Bill passed by this House will be the best legislation possible.
I join with Senator O'Toole and Senator Boyle in asking the Leader for a debate on lobbying. If we have learned anything it is that the golden circle that pertained in Irish society can no longer rule and can no longer have access to power. The lobbying that went on in the Galway tent must be a practice from a bygone era that can never be allowed to happen here again. I call on the Leader, and on Senator Boyle, to come into this House before Christmas to put the commitment in the programme for Government into action. Let us have a register of lobbyists. Let us make politics and the way we do business open and transparent where people can have confidence, with access to power not based upon who one is but what is best for the country and the communities we serve.
In the interests of the body politic I ask the Leader to revisit the question of the Seanad by-elections. I ask him, in an ecumenical gesture, to offer one of the places to a non-party candidate or to a member from the North and let this House be what it is, namely, a House representative of a wider section of Irish society.
I am asking the Leader, who professes to have the ear of the Taoiseach, to go to the Taoiseach and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, who proposes to be in favour of Seanad reform and have a different style of politics-----
I welcome the release of Fr. Michael Sinnott. It is a cause of great rejoicing for his family, the entire country and all people who are committed to helping those who are less fortunate than ourselves.
Listening to the radio interview this morning one could not but be struck by the sheer generosity of spirit Fr. Michael Sinnott displayed. He is an example to us all, even in our current difficulties, because it is evident now what one person can do by being selfless and at the same time lift the spirits of other people. In many ways Fr. Michael epitomises all that is best in the church. When we think of the work the Church did, not just in Ireland but throughout the world, in helping the oppressed people, many of the priests, nuns and brothers did so at the risk of great danger to themselves. In many ways the kidnapping of Fr. Michael Sinnott underlines the danger to which they have exposed themselves. If those people were not available to do that work, a situation might arise where dictators could ride roughshod over the rights of people yet he stood up many times against the military and was prepared to state what he felt was right, both on humanity terms but also from a Christian point of view.
It should be stated that kidnapping someone to advance any cause must be one of the most heinous crimes, yet Fr. Michael Sinnott made no reference whatever to that this morning. He did not exaggerate in any way the terrible deprivation he suffered for those weeks. All he stated, and we could all take hope from this, is that he wanted to go back and continue the work he was doing. That is from a man who is 79 years of age in ill-health who has gone through this kidnapping ordeal. What problems have we in this country compared to that? There is a message for us all in that regard, namely, to be a little more selfless in dealing with people and to have more tenacity in helping those who are less well off than ourselves while endeavouring to bring some kind of united approach to ensure vulnerable people will not suffer more than they have suffered already.
I echo the remarks of Senator Lábhrás Ó Murchú. It is fantastic news that Fr. Sinnott has been released. As Senator Ó Murchú said, the heroic example shown by people like that should never be forgotten in this country. He is operating in a part of the world where people continue to suffer for their faith, and the conscientious expression of their faith. That is a daily reality for people in several parts of Asia. It is something that may be of more historical interest in Ireland but in the coming weeks we will be discussing freedom of conscience for people with particular religious and ethical views and I hope we will remember the importance of recognising people's freedom of conscience and their right to their deepest held convictions. It is precisely because of his deeply held convictions that a man like Michael Sinnott has given up his life to do the work he is doing for the betterment of humanity.
I would like a discussion to take place on courtesy in the House. Senator Bacik did Senator Walsh a disservice in suggesting that he was calling her credentials on capital punishment-----
I do not want to get involved in that now. I will not let that develop. I hope to try to control the House as best I can and I will not let people get involved in that across the floor. If that develops here, regardless of who starts, I will ask them to leave this House very quickly.
I was not about to criticise Senator Bacik or anybody. I merely intended to say that a certain leeway must be given to people in the House. To even imply that somebody might have a brass neck is not much of an insult. Some people in politics might even take it as a compliment.
There was much discussion yesterday about solidarity and Ireland's need to give witness. That was in the context of criticising other regimes about capital punishment, abortion and so on. A report about asylum seekers was published yesterday in The Irish Times which mentioned dozens of asylum seekers having difficulties with conditions in an accommodation centre in Sligo, with a child regularly getting a urinary tract infection and so on. There is a challenge in the way we deal with immigration but we must never lose sight of a fundamental principle that everybody in this country is entitled to respect for their human dignity and whatever systems we have in place to deal with people who are applying for asylum, we must always treat them with the dignity worthy of human beings. We must not lose sight of that, and it is an issue on which we should have a debate.
It is my hope to protect the rights of all Members in this House in terms of anyone making remarks to them across the floor or through me. Members should realise that and not go down that road. That will do nothing for this House. I want that practice to stop immediately.
I welcome the release of Fr. Michael Sinnott. He is a national hero and I hope he will be recognised as such when he returns home to Ireland in due course. I compliment the Minister, Deputy Micheál Martin, the staff in the Department of Foreign Affairs and all those associated with his release. The work that is done to address these issues, which is done silently and with great dignity, is a wonderful tribute to our services abroad.
I am sorry I kept Senator Joe O'Toole awake all night last night.
In light of the point made by Senator O'Toole and what I stated here yesterday, over which I stand, on the right of public representatives to make contact with organisations, I request the Leader in due course when NAMA is fully established to seek to have regular debates in the House on the workings of NAMA to enable us to make our case to it through the Minister.
In fairness, Miriam Lord was clear in her article and has sent a clarification to RTE. I did not predict civil unrest. I ask RTE to provide for clarification as quickly as possible. I do not mind what I say being attributed to me but I do not like having something attributed to me when I did not say it.
There are 420,000 people unemployed. Yesterday I was told by the Union of Students in Ireland that in Cork there were students sleeping in cars, that in Tipperary there were students being evicted and that in Waterford IT there were 7,000 students to one counsellor. The reason for this is that grants are not being paid. Worse still - this is the bad news - I have been asking the Leader for weeks when will the Students Support Bill 2008 be brought before the House in order that there can be a framework for funding third level students.
I have three questions for the Leader on education matters.
I thank the Cathaoirleach. Will the three teacher training colleges, St. Patrick's College, Marino College and Mary Immaculate College, be offering places on postgraduate courses this year? Normally, places would be advertised at this time and the colleges would be receiving many queries. Usually, they offer 400 places nationally with students starting the postgraduate course in primary education from February. The Minister for Education and Science must bear in mind that there were 78,000 births last year and that many teachers are retiring owing to the cuts made in the classroom and their fears about the retirement packages on offer. It may be folly not to offer the places mentioned.
I note that yesterday the National Economic and Social forum launched a useful report on child literacy and social inclusion. Its main recommendation is that literacy should be a national priority from the cradle to the grave. I completely agree and call for a debate on the issue in the House.
I congratulate all involved in the release of Fr. Michael Sinnott. At this time we should recognise, not only Fr. Sinnott and the Trojan work he has done but also the work of all missionaries, both religious and lay people, around the world. There have been a number of persons kidnapped and released in the recent past who have done tremendous work.
I support the idea of holding a debate on mental health and would like the concept behind music therapy to be incorporated in that debate because it is still an issue that one can obtain qualifications in Ireland but they are not recognised. It is pertinent in dealing with the issue of mental health as well as in a number of other medical conditions.
As we celebrate Science Week, I draw the Leader's attention to the fact that there has been a rise of 8% in the number taking up science subjects, which shows the success of the Government strategy. It is important that we promote the idea that science has multiple applications in respect of job opportunities and that when students finish the junior certificate and move towards the leaving certificate they should be confident in putting all their eggs in one basket by opting for biology, chemistry and physics, rather than biology, one of the language courses and one of the art subjects on offer to keep their options open. We have a role to play in saying there are many job opportunities in the science field and I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to come before the House to discuss the matter. On the development of websites, there is an interactive website in Britain which shows, for example, that while many want to be a beautician, somebody must produce the make-up required. There are opportunities that people sometimes do not see. The television programme "Crime Scene Investigation" and the CSI exposition in the Ambassador Theatre are doing as much as Science Week and the Young Scientist competition. We must keep that focus to provide the entrepreneurs of the future. I, therefore, ask for a debate on the matter that would link in with the debate held on Thursday last on skills needs.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business as announced by the Leader, that No. 1 be taken with debate. Nothing could better illustrate the need for Seanad reform that this farce of an election. The people ought to know that the entire electorate to fill this importance vacancy consists of 226 persons. Councillors are not even involved in this election. It is ludicrous. Let us have a debate on the matter.
I am involved in the committee under the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley. It is perfectly clear that what is being targeted is the university seats. The people should know that in the Trinity College constituency there are 55,000 electors and that in the NUI constituency there are over 100,000. These are real constituencies. Let us have Senate reform and not be hypocritical about it. That is a rotten borough, about which there is no doubt whatever. The proof of the pudding is that the newspapers are full of who will get it. It has all been rigged by the Government. It is a reproach to democracy.
I welcome the release of that remarkable man, Fr. Sinnott, but let us not be hypocritical. From the Government benches, my good friend and colleague, Senator Ó Murchú, said something very important. He stated kidnapping was about the worst human crime and a travesty of all decency. There is a Nigerian man whose wife was murdered, whose two children were kidnapped and murdered and who himself has been threatened with kidnapping by the gang involved, yet he will be deported back to Nigeria on Saturday next, 14 November. Let every Member of the House who has spoken about Fr. Sinnott and stated this business of kidnapping is appalling write this day to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, to ask that this deportation order be rescinded and the case be reopened and looked at. This man has the support of his community, parish and everybody who knows him. He is a decent man who, this minute, is living in terror of his life, that the will be sent back to Nigeria, kidnapped and murdered.
I welcome the release of Fr. Sinnott and join Senator Leyden, whose speech was cut all too short, in looking for a debate on how we should commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising.
I ask the Leader to bring the Minister into the House to discuss the bureaucracy which prevents job creation by excessive Government regulation and unnecessary red tape. A recent report I commissioned on Valentia Island shows that on an island with a population of 600 persons the creation of 72 full-time jobs has been prevented because of excessive Government bureaucracy. In the case of a marina which has yet to be completed, the foreshore licence application is taking an inordinate amount of time to process. While I welcome the publication by the Government of the Foreshore Bill, we must get it into this House as soon as possible. Foreshores from Donegal to Kerry could be utilised better. In one case in Killybegs at present, a licence is taking over four years to be processed.
In a boatyard in Valentia, 20 jobs await the withdrawal of a planning objection by two people who do not even live on the island. They come there for four weeks a year, yet they are objecting to the creation of 20 badly needed jobs on the island. Even the Government procurement processes and criteria for tendering Government jobs is such-----
I ask the Leader how he got on with the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, yesterday in regard to the vaccination programme and the volunteers who wished to be involved in the programme. I also point out that it would be no harm if Members in this House trained as first responders in the event of somebody suffering a cardiac arrest. It should be noted that the defibrillator is inside the door in the visitor's room in the main hall.
I would like to be associated with remarks concerning Fr. Sinnott. We have seen something very positive this morning and I have no doubt the Department of Foreign Affairs and everybody who lobbied and worked on his behalf are to be congratulated on a successful outcome.
I asked previously for a debate on carbon tax prior to the budget. I hope we will be able to do this in the context of any debate we have with regard to climate change and what is to happen down the road.
On the question of lobbyists, we are all lobbyists. If we are to have regulations with regard to lobbyists, it will have a detrimental effect on politics across the board. I am not suggesting lobbyists should be allowed to go way beyond normal lobbying. However, once one is elected as a public representative, one is a lobbyist, and let nobody say that is not the case because it genuinely is. We have to look at the matter in that context.
I was very worried to hear Senator Healy Eames' point that students were sleeping in cars in Cork, which is a terrible situation if it is true. I would ask our colleague, Senator Buttimer, to investigate it over the weekend and report back to us on Tuesday.
I say that for one simple reason. Who owns these cars? Do the students own them? Are they getting cars before accommodation? We have to be realists on this. I have no doubt Senator Buttimer will be able to report to us on Tuesday as to whether it is true or false.
I share the delight at the release of Fr. Sinnott and congratulate everyone involved in helping to bring it about. It is wonderful for his family and for the Columbans. One hopes they can get on with the very good and useful work they are doing in so many far-flung places, especially in the Philippines, in a more peaceful way.
I share the concerns regarding NAMA. We had reservations about it. If it passes, then, in the national interest, we very much hope it will work. However, we still have grave doubts, as has been said this morning. There is so much to flow from it once its signed off on in Brussels, if it gets through the constitutional challenge which some are talking about. People have rights and there is a huge worry about the transfer of so many performing loans from every town and city in the country, with very worthwhile enterprises going into it against their wishes. Rights are involved here. While I do not know what will happen with regard to a constitutional challenge, the success of NAMA will depend on the detailed business plan which cannot be put in place until the legislation is through. I call for a debate on this issue.
As some comments have inadvertently sparked off a commentary on lobbying, I would also welcome a debate on that issue. I accept what has been said by many Senators.
Yesterday, the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs heard a presentation by the Irish Farmers Association and An Bord Bia. The Irish farmers representative, Mr. Henry Burns, who is the chairman of the sheep producers in Ireland, told us yesterday that farm incomes fell by 13% in 2008 because of low prices for milk, beef and grain, and by a further 20% this year, which is frightening. The majority of people are not aware that farm incomes have fallen by that level this year. We must do something about it.
Agriculture and the export-dependent agrifood sector are among our most important industries. Some 270,000 people are employed in the agrifood industry, which accounts for 66% of our indigenous exports. As I said yesterday at the committee meeting, the multinationals and high-tech sectors are far sexier and more glamorous. However, if we do not sustain, maintain and develop our indigenous industries and our natural advantages, as well as our reputation as trustworthy producers and our worldwide renown for beautiful land that is suitable for agricultural products, we would be very foolish.
Last year, the food and drinks industry sold more than €8 billion worth of agrifood products to 170 markets around the world, which is a tremendous achievement, ably supported by An Bord Bia. To come to the crunch, the IFA and the Irish Exporters Association are calling for the introduction of an export-based, short-term, State-supported credit insurance scheme to supplement the capacity of the existing commercial market. Not only are indigenous food and drinks companies suffering from lack of credit, but the insurance companies are not covering their costs or protecting them. If goods are going to 170 markets, there will be dubious importers. I want the Government on a short-term basis of three to six months to introduce this export-based credit insurance scheme urgently. Our competitor Governments in the EU have done this. Why the hell cannot we do it?
I second Senator Norris' call for a debate, even if it just one hour long, on the election in the Seanad. It appears Senator Buttimer and others have points to make and it would be worthwhile to have a one-hour debate.
I also add my word to the expressions of support on the release of Fr. Michael Sinnott. There is little doubt the lack of hatred and venom and the pure Christian spirit in his words are such that it is a reminder to all of us of what he is doing in the Philippines and the work he is undertaking there.
Yesterday, a judge in the United States issued instructions to both Visa and MasterCard to refund those who had been overcharged because of their excessive charges in recent years. I am mentioning this because a substantial sum of money is to be issued. The same decision was made in Europe last year, but it only applied to cross-border transactions. While other credit cards are also involved, Visa and MasterCard in particular have been found to be making excessive charges. Every consumer who has used a credit card has had to pay that extra cost to retailers. It is now in the hands of each of the 27 EU member states to change the law so that we can have the same situation, which would mean a reduction in the cost of using credit cards. We should do that, but it is up to each individual state to do so. I urge the Leader to contact the Minister for Finance to put it high on the agenda.
I join those who have welcomed the release of Fr. Michael Sinnott. As many people will be aware, he is from Barntown in County Wexford and I am sure that his family and his parishioners will be rejoicing today over his release. Fr. Sinnott has championed social justice and displayed great Christian values in his life-long missionary work in the Philippines. This has been recognised by many in the media. He is a fine example of the work undertaken by missionaries. In that regard, I ask the Leader to arrange for a debate on the contribution our missionaries have made abroad, and in particular the reputation they have gained for Ireland in other countries.
A few years ago, I attended a reception in the Irish embassy in New Delhi. On that occasion, I met many Indian nationals who paid glowing tributes to the Christian Brothers, in particular, who had given them an education. The most prominent film star in India regularly attributes his success to the fact that he got an education through the selfless sacrifice of those who dedicated their lives to the service of others. It should be recognised as a very positive story.
I agree with Senators Leyden and Daly who sought a debate on 1916, including what might be done with the General Post Office. The proposal to transfer the Abbey Theatre to the GPO premises has been discussed. It is imperative that whatever happens in that regard, there should be an historical interpretative centre there. Tourists who visit Kilmainham Gaol get a feeling for this country's history. That venue is not only educational but is also a great tourist attraction.
In the near future, the Leader should arrange for a debate on freedom of speech, which is essential, but especially in the Houses of the Oireachtas. We all saw what happened when free speech was inhibited and prevented, particularly in socialism in the Soviet bloc countries and the fall-out from that.
I want to pick up on a theme that Senator Fitzgerald mentioned in her contribution, when she called for a debate on competitiveness and particularly on the interaction between our welfare system and how people work. There is an excellent analysis in The Irish Times today that merits discussion here. It compares the income for a married couple working in the PAYE sector with two children versus that of someone on social welfare. The income of a family working in the PAYE sector earning €35,000 - once tax is deducted and all the benefits are added - moves up to €36,078. An equivalent family on social welfare, with two children and neither parent working, will have a gross income of €40,261. There is difference between them of over €4,000. One of the things we learned when emerging from the last recession was the creation of so-called poverty traps. In that case, there was no incentive for those on social welfare to work.
I fear that, owing to what is happening with income tax and decisions that have been made concerning the social welfare system, there is growing evidence that the same situation could currently exist.
I want to make two practical suggestions to the Leader in this regard, the first of which adds a valuable dimension to the discussion taking place about the reduction of the minimum wage. If any such reduction takes place it would further widen the difference between those who are working and the unemployed. Second, there is a discussion on widening tax bands and increasing tax rates for low to middle incomes. However, given the engagement between that and the social welfare system, the incentive to work and earn more would be reduced. This is an important issue and if time were devoted to debating it here, it would be time well spent.
In light of the recent excellent work by this Chamber on NAMA, I ask the Leader to note a fact that was not mentioned as much as it should have been that the rate we have received from the European Central Bank to buy the toxic assets is 1.5%. It fundamentally amounts to a Marshall plan for Ireland from Europe.
If our banks went to raise that money in Europe, they would have to repay a multiple of that rate. The total cost of the impaired loans will be covered by the 8% we are receiving as a coupon from the banks for the €7 billion we have already given to them.
The Leader should consider a debate as the United Kingdom has indicated it will extend its nuclear capacity, in particular along the west coast. That puts the Irish east coast, including Dublin, in a nuclear zone. We have a real interest in this development. We should request that any new reactors will be state-of-art ones. In other words, if there is a shutdown of the cooler it will not mean that a meltdown will occur. In new reactors, the irradiated material is encased in a steel sphere, which is a much safer method of dealing with such material. It will put our nation at less risk.
I note that Senator Walsh agreed with what Senator Bacik said. I agree with what Senator Walsh said about the need for a debate on the contribution made by Irish people overseas. I have seen at first hand the great work that has been done by some inspiring priests in places such as Malawi. I would like to extend that debate to encompass the young Irish volunteers who spend years working to help people in the developing world. I have met many of them. We should have a debate on the impact of Irish people overseas and how they are helping to make the world a better place.
I agree with Senator Mary White's call for a debate on exports. We had a fascinating meeting yesterday at the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs concerning that issue. Representatives from An Bord Bia and the Irish Farmers Association attended that committee meeting. The devaluation of sterling by 30% has clearly had a hard impact on Irish producers and exporters in particular. I am seeking a debate on export-led growth. With food production and consumption set to double by 2030, there is a real opportunity for Irish producers, but only if we take it. However, the proposed amalgamation of An Bord Bia into the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, as well as cuts in overseas enterprise programmes and embassies could have an impact on our ability to deliver growth. I ask the Leader to arrange for a debate on those issues.
I join others in welcoming the release of Fr. Michael Sinnott who is from the neighbouring parish of mine in County Wexford. No doubt his family are rejoicing this morning, as are the parishioners of Barntown and the Columban Fathers. I also wish to join in the request for a debate on the work of Irish missionary priests and volunteers overseas.
I have been asking since I became a Senator for a debate on domestic violence. Policy in this area is in need of reform. I will ask for this debate every week until the Leader allows it. Issues such as domestic violence which affect women are ignored. I assume Senator Bacik has asked for a debate on women in politics on foot of her recent report.
I join her in calling for that debate to be put on the agenda some day soon so we can air our views. On the day of the debate, perhaps some of our male colleagues will join us and not leave it to the female Members. When the issue is put to the parties and when we seek candidate quotas, as suggested in the report, some, but not all, of the men will say they cannot find the women and do not know where they are. I ask that the male Senators join in the debate.
The budget is approaching and it is very important that we debate certain issues prior to it. It is very important to note the effect the budget will have on employers. The Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment announced this week the extension of the employment subsidy scheme. We should consider this prior to the budget and determine how it could help keep people in employment. Perhaps we could discuss this prior to the budget.
I heard the calls for a debate on mental health and ask that it be allowed. In this regard, we need to consider the phenomenon of general practitioners giving medication to people with mental health issues. Their doing so is not appropriate and this needs to be dealt with in the debate.
We have established the European Commission must be notified of the NAMA project. Whether it takes two or six months before it approves or attaches conditions to the project remains to be seen. Will we know what is notified to the European Commission? The Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, ditched the business plan which we were led to believe underpinned the project and provided the financial detail. It is important that we know what is being said to the Commission and that our version in the Houses is not different.
The Government must also give notification of its restructuring plan for the banks. This is a legitimate issue for discussion in the House because it would allow us to ascertain the substance, and not just the form, of the legislation.
I join other Senators in congratulating all those involved in securing the release of Fr. Michael Sinnott. The good works done by missionaries in many of the countries in which they operate have a profound effect on the goodwill towards this country. This is true from both tourism and business perspectives. The entrée it gives to Irish people, be it in Mexico, India, the Middle East or any of the countries in which I have done business, is pronounced. The effect and impact of the missionaries' work over the years is evident today. The country is indebted to them and it is very important that we recognise that.
A serious issue arises from statements made by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, in respect of pensions and possible measures to be introduced in the December budget, namely, the retirement of an extraordinary number of senior members of the Garda Síochána. Seven hundred and eight members of the force have retired so far this year by comparison with 243 last year. This is a really ham-fisted way to go about our business. We have passed all the legislation the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform says is required to tackle gangland crime, yet we are forcing out the most qualified, able and experienced members of the Garda at the highest level. This will inhibit our efforts to control gangland and other serious forms of crime.
I join other Senators in congratulating those who secured the release of Fr. Michael Sinnott. I concur with those who commented on the work of our missionaries overseas, and the work of those in Ireland who support those missionaries.
I support Senator Mary White's call for a debate on export-led growth. This is crucial and a number of days should be identified for holding such a debate.
With regard to the importance of cherishing the young and the benefits that accrue therefrom, I draw the attention of the House to the Focus on Fostering week of the Irish Foster Care Association. The initiative seeks to raise public awareness of fostering and stress its importance. Will the Leader ensure that an appropriate committee of the House will review the relevant criteria to ensure more people will qualify for fostering and adoption?
In the debate on NAMA, which took place over recent days, a great case was made for the need to do something for hard-pressed people in negative equity who are in trouble with their mortgages. The Government is seeking to make cuts of €4 billion in the budget and perhaps cuts of €1 billion to the capital programme. At the same time we are making provision for the payment of fees of €2.5 billion to those working for NAMA. I gave a breakdown of these fees yesterday. A senior adviser is paid €3,000 per day and a junior adviser is paid €800 per day.
I ask that we have a debate, next week if possible, on the fees to be charged in respect of NAMA. First Active was taken over at minimal cost. There could be up to 100 people in Irish Nationwide at present earning the fees to which I refer, some on €3,000 per day and more on €800. Can one imagine the cost of this in respect of a company that will be taken over or wound up in the very near future? The €2.5 billion to be paid in fees could be used much better to address the needs of the hard-pressed people in negative equity.
Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Bacik, Ó Murchú, Mullen, Leyden, Keaveney, Norris, Daly, Ellis, Coghlan, Walsh, Hannigan, Hanafin, McDonald, Regan, Callely and Burke all welcomed the great news that Fr. Michael Sinnott has returned after having been in captivity. Many people all around the world were praying for his safe return. Thanks be to God he has returned after 32 days in captivity. It was a joy to listen to him on the radio this morning and note he was so strong after having been in captivity for such a long time.
As I often said on the Order of Business, it is only when we visit foreign countries on trade missions promoting our country and its produce that we realise the massive contribution our missionaries have made. The title "island of saints and scholars" is not a one-liner in a poem or song; it was a hard-earned over hundreds of years by men and women who went all over the world giving of themselves as missionaries. The ultimate sacrifice is to give one's life for the cause of humanity.
I congratulate everyone concerned in the release of Fr. Michael Sinnott, including the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin. Everyone in his Department has been exemplary once again. Ms Sharon Commins and her family had nothing but praise for them on her release.
The National Asset Management Agency Bill, which was passed in the House, was debated over the past three days. There were more than 40 hours of debate and the contributions of colleagues on all sides of the House were outstanding. I was delighted with these great contributions and the tone of the debate. Senators made an incredible contribution with regard to the amendments tabled and accepted. I have been informed there may be an additional amendment on NAMA coming from the Dáil and I may need to make an amendment to the Order of Business that the House be recalled at approximately 4 p.m. to deal with this matter. I will know in approximately one hour how the Seanad amendments are progressing in the Dáil. I have only just received notice from the Government Whip in this regard.
On Members' inquiries yesterday and on other occasions in regard to pre-budget statements, I propose this item be taken in the House on Tuesday, 1 December 2009. Provision is being made for an all day debate to allow Members to make contributions that may assist the Minister and Government in respect of the serious challenge they face.
Senators Fitzgerald, Daly and others called for a debate on competitiveness and job creation and stated we must do all we can to ensure existing jobs are supported. This issue is dealt with by Senator Daly in his report on job creation. Second Stage of the Foreshore Bill will be taken in the House next Wednesday. This matter is being treated with the urgency requested by Senator Daly this morning.
Senator O'Toole correctly pointed out that the proceedings of the House can be accessed on www.oireachtas.ie and by telephone on 6184001. I support his comments in regard to the BBC's coverage of the UK Parliaments. This is an issue the Joint Administration Committee is anxious to address. The proceedings of this House during the past three days are an absolute credit to every elected Member of this House and, in particular, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, and his ministerial colleagues who assisted him in allowing Members of this House to tease out their concerns in regard to the NAMA Bill, section by section and line by line.
Senators O'Toole, Boyle, Buttimer and Ellis called for a debate on lobbyists. I have no difficulty in allowing time for such a debate. Senators Bacik, Boyle, Mullen, Keaveney and McDonald called for a debate on climate change prior to the budget. I ask Members to debate the proposals being mooted in regard to special taxes in this area during pre-budget statements. There are only five weeks remaining to the Christmas recess and we have quite a lot of legislation to deal with. Members will be aware legislation takes precedence and this House will deal with legislation every day it meets with the exception of Tuesday, 1 December, which has been set aside for pre-budget statements.
Senators McDonald and Bacik called for a debate on mental health. I have already given a commitment to allow time for such a debate. The Senators also called for a debate on the conduct of debate in the Oireachtas. I have no difficulty in allowing time for such a debate at the earliest possible opportunity. Senator Buttimer expressed his strong views in regard to the elections. I understand there are conventions starting around the country tonight and I wish everyone well. Democracy is the essence of freedom of speech and allowing everyone to take part.
As one who could not get elected with 7,555 votes and for whom there was no seat, I can speak from a position of strength.
Senator Mullen called for a debate on the issue of asylum seekers and brought to the attention of the House a report dealing with the dignity of the human being. I agree with the Senator and have no difficulty allowing time for a debate on the matter. Senator Leyden rose to make a correction to the record of the House. I am pleased he did so because I know he did not utter the comments credited to him in the media this morning. The journalist, whom is of high repute, has clarified the matter.
Senators Daly, Norris and Walsh asked about the proposed celebrations in regard to the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising and the proposal to move the Abbey Theatre to the GPO, now provided for in the programme for Government. I believe this is one of the most appropriate ways of celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising and I look forward to it. I support the call from Senators Norris, Daly and Walsh for a discussion on appropriate ways of honouring the men and women who gave us the freedom of speech which allows us to participate in the national interest.
Senator Healy Eames again raised matters of serious concern to her. Senator Ellis has called on Senator Buttimer to assist Senator Healy Eames in regard to the serious experiences outlined by her this morning. Perhaps Senator Buttimer will update the House on this matter next Tuesday.
Senator Keaveney spoke of the serious concerns being expressed by many captains of industry who are vital major employers such as in Intel in regard to science graduates. A debate on this issue would provide us with an opportunity to discuss skills needs into the future. This is a debate which should take place as soon as possible.
Senator Norris asked when it is proposed to take item 1 on the Order Paper. I have no difficulty, if the House is sitting later, in providing time for statements on that matter. If no amendments from the Dáil come before the House later I propose that statements on item 1 be taken for one hour following completion of the legislation before the House, perhaps, from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. I am awaiting from the Minister for Health and Children the information which Senator Prendergast requested of me yesterday.
Senator Mary White, in particular, and Senators Callely and Hannigan referred to the importance of exports and export credit insurance. I will pass on her strong views to the Minister.
Senator Quinn spoke about the high cost of Visa and MasterCard and suggested that we bring legislation before the House so that can be debated. I will convey his views to the Minister for Finance.
Senator Walsh called for a debate on freedom of speech. I have already committed to a debate on that matter in the near future. Senator Hanafin sought a debate on the proposed new nuclear plants in the United Kingdom. I have no difficulty in setting aside time for such a debate to take place.
Senator MacDonald called for a debate on domestic violence. Where time is available I have no problem in that debate taking place. I have also agreed to have a debate on women in politics, which we all fully support. I have no difficulty in setting time aside for that debate.
Could I seek clarification from the Leader? He gave a rather interesting indication that he might take No. 1 at a particular stage. Would it be possible to make a definite commitment to take statements for 45 minutes or an hour at the conclusion of the Bill?
I am mindful that colleagues are in the House for such a long time this week and that many of them have to travel 150 miles and 200 miles to go home later this evening. I can have the discussion on some other day but I wish to move No. 1 today. I guarantee that we will have an hour of statements on the matter in the next week, if not this afternoon from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.