Thursday, 17 December 2009
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re the reappointment of Ms Emily Logan by the President to be Ombudsman for Children, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, Appropriation Bill 2009 - all Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 and conclude within 60 minutes, on which spokespersons may speak for seven minutes and all other Senators for five minutes and Senators may share time, by agreement of the House; No. 3, earlier signature motion, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 2; and No. 4, Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (No. 2) Bill 2009 - Second Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 3 and conclude not later than 6 p.m., on which spokespersons may speak for 12 minutes and all other Senators for eight minutes and Senators may share time, by agreement of the House. Following the passing of the Forestry (Amendment) Bill 2009 by the Dáil, I intend to take all Stages of the Bill at the conclusion of No. 4, but not earlier than 5 p.m. Spokespersons may speak for seven minutes and all other Senators for five minutes. Senators may share time by agreement of the House. An earlier signature motion will be taken without debate. The business of the House will be interrupted from 1.15 p.m. to 2.30 p.m.
There is an extraordinary story on the front page of The Irish Times and throughout the media today. It describes how in the Circuit Criminal Court in County Kerry, about 50 people, "mostly middle aged and elderly men", queued to shake hands and sympathise with a man convicted of rape. Can the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform come to the House and explain how this could happen in a courtroom? In the same court, the judge criticised a character statement given by a local parish priest. Mr. Justice McDonagh said the convicted man's actions gave the lie to the character statement. The judge went on to describe how the victim showed remarkable dignity and noted that little or no remorse had been shown by the man convicted of rape, nor an apology offered to the victim.
There is an excellent article written by Patsy McGarry in the same edition of The Irish Times about the case involving Mervyn Rundle and Fr. Thomas Naughton, who was sentenced yesterday. When Mr. Rundle sought to tell somebody about his abuse, the priest who dealt with him said "lies, lies, lies".
We have just had a debate on the Murphy report and the Ryan report. These reports documented the refusal of the officer class within the church to believe allegations made against one of their own. We rightly condemned what had happened and we will probably see the resignation of a bishop today. However, given today's news in the media, we must ask ourselves how we support victims of crime. How are they dealt with by our criminal justice system? This follows on from a report from the Rape Crisis Network entitled "Rape and Justice in Ireland". It stated that a victim in court is treated with very little respect. A victim in the report described the court as "a very lonely kind of place". That woman yesterday must have found the courtroom "a very lonely kind of place". The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform must come in to discuss these critical issues in our courts system and how it is failing victims.
This report follows on from the two reports we had been discussing, where people were not believed. The attitudes within the church led to a situation where people were not believed and the victims suffered. Very serious issues arise following yesterday's court case. I ask the Leader to ensure the Minister or Minister of State attend the House and give us an opportunity to discuss the issues raised by this incident.
Following on from the scenes witnessed yesterday at the Copenhagen summit on climate change, it is extraordinary to see that so many thousands of people who wanted to be part of this UN conference ended up on the streets being dealt with in the way that we saw by the Danish police. It is about time that we found ways of involving those who care about this topic in a more appropriate way than we saw on the streets of Copenhagen. I hope we have good news from Copenhagen over the next few days.
As a Kerryman, it grieves me to say that I am equally embarrassed and nauseated by the reports in today's newspapers. I do not know the background to it, but I find it nauseating that a victim should be sent to Coventry and boycotted. While I can fully understand how neighbours would sympathise with anybody found guilty of a crime, as that is a natural instinct, I cannot understand how the victim could be left alone, frightened, boycotted and effectively left without any support. I do not know the background to the story, but it certainly reflects very poorly on us as a society. It is worrying in many respects because it sends us back to the old days when women were considered chattels.
We passed the Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Bill 2009 yesterday. I spoke trenchantly against it and voted against every part of it. I found it to be an utterly unacceptable Bill. However, the Minister offered her time all day yesterday. She answered all the questions, took it on the chin and defended an appalling Bill. That is the way the House should work and it is good to see Ministers doing their work. It does not take from how bad the Bill is, and it will never be forgotten.
In spite of the fact that we spent €500 million on a new road at Kilcullen connecting two major motorway systems, there was a story in this morning's newspapers that following the intervention of local Fianna Fáil TDs, the Minister for Transport decided to defer the opening of a vital piece of motorway, which would get rid of a dangerous piece of single lane road. Representations were made by these politicians on behalf of local traders. I did not believe this, but it is reported today in The Irish Times. The Minister is quoted as saying that following representations from local Fianna Fáil TDs, the road is not opening. Can we all share the embarrassment of this? I ask the Minister to change that decision. The National Roads Authority has stated the road is finished and ready to open on Monday.
We have fought for this road for many years. There will be a huge amount of traffic on it in the week before Christmas. We are putting people onto a dangerous road for no reason other than because of "Ballymagash" type representations on behalf of a few local traders. It is unacceptable and I call on the Minister to change his mind and make sure the motorway opens for Christmas week so that motorists going to and from that area can do so safely.
I welcome the two new Senators to the House and I hope they have many happy years here. This morning's reports from Copenhagen are not optimistic on the chances of reaching a deal. I was there a few days ago and one thing that struck me was the sheer number of ordinary citizens in attendance who were trying to make their voices heard. While we all have a role to play and while individual actions are important, we need to work together on this at a national and international level. The message we need to see coming from the conference is that a deal has been reached. It is in all our interests that some sort of accommodation is made at Copenhagen to ensure climate change is tackled and put at the top of the international agenda. We wish those taking part the best in their efforts in the next few days.
I would also like to raise the issue of the reported delay to the opening of this €300 million bypass. If reports are to be believed, the officials in the NRA are happy with this road. They think it is safe and are ready to open it. Why is it not opening? The road it bypasses is particularly dangerous and there have been many accidents on it. If it is true that representations were made to delay the opening so a few local retailers would not see a downturn in business during the run up to Christmas, then that is very bad news indeed. We cannot put the interests of a few individuals in front of the common good. We spent €300 million on this road, and if this is public policy, I dread to think what the Minister will do next. Will he close the M1 or the new terminal at Dublin Airport to prevent people from leaving the country?
This is not the way to proceed. We are all aware that there are job losses in communities across the country, but this is not how to save jobs. This Minister for Transport has an excellent record on road safety and he should be rightly proud of the lives that have been saved through his actions. I am disappointed to see this road being delayed and I impress on the Leader to make those points to the Minister. We need to see that road open next week to make it easy for people to travel up and down the country in the lead up to Christmas.
No. 1 on the Order of Business is a motion on the reappointment of Ms Emily Logan as Ombudsman for Children. The motion is being taken without debate. The House has a considerable amount of pressing business to complete as we approach the end of the session. There is unanimity that the Office of the Ombudsman for Children is doing a good job. It would be worthwhile to hold a debate on the role of the office, given the issues surrounding child welfare. I ask the Leader to consider arranging such a debate.
While it appears discussions in Copenhagen may not reach a conclusion this week, we all hope some progress will be made. It would be in the interests of the House to review any agreement reached in the Danish capital in a debate early next year.
I share the concern raised by the leader of the Opposition, Senator Fitzgerald, about reports on a court case in County Kerry. On a day when we finally see individuals take responsibility for actions in the Catholic Church, we can no longer tolerate double standards and the mixed signals being sent about how we deal with the crimes of sexual abuse and rape. The House should record its concern about this matter. Legislative changes are needed to ensure the behaviour to which Senator Fitzgerald referred is not permitted or accepted.
I raise the delay in opening a section of the M9 from Carlow to Kilcullen. Those of us who use this road, as I do regularly, are held up for half an hour as we travel through Castledermot. The Minister for Transport has instructed the National Roads Authority not to open this new section of road. While local business people who want a spur provided from the motorway into the locality have a case, that is a separate matter. The issue is the volume of traffic travelling through Castledermot and the fact that the NRA has stated the bypass is ready. When Members make representations to the Minister on roads and motorways, they are informed he has no responsibility for the matter which is the responsibility of the NRA. The Minister's instruction to the NRA not to open the bypass until January flies in the face of his refusal to respond to Members' inquiries. We are fobbed off with the excuse that matters pertaining to roads are not his responsibility. He must come before the House to explain his actions in delaying the opening of this bypass. The delay could put lives at risk. As the House will sit today and tomorrow, I expect the Leader to ensure the Minister will come before us to explain his actions. On the one hand, the Minister responds to awkward questions by stating the relevant issue is a matter for the NRA, while, on the other, he issues an instruction to the authority not to open a road. This matter must be dealt with at the earliest opportunity. A second section of the motorway to Knocktopher has also been delayed until February and people in the south east will suffer as a result. The Minister must inform the House of the exact position.
The House frequently hears about the victims of crime. That a person in County Kerry could be treated in the manner described makes it imperative for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to take action to address the issue.
I ask the Leader to outline the changes proposed to the running of the House in the new year in the light of the new responsibilities of the Seanad under the Lisbon treaty which has been accepted in all its parts and enjoys the full protection of our law and the Constitution. With that in mind, will the Leader also indicate that it is impossible for a unicameral parliament to undertake the work necessary to oversee European Union and all domestic legislation? In other words, two Chambers of Parliament are necessary, given the responsibilities of the House. If the proposal to abolish the Seanad had been made by my party, I would have made the same statement. We have a responsibility to ensure members of the public are made aware that the Seanad must discharge a new responsibility over and above its usual responsibilities.
I agree with my colleagues about the extraordinary situation concerning the opening of a section of road and political interference in the matter. I raised the question of political gimcrackery a couple of weeks ago. This matter gives rise to issues of safety and cost. The decision seems absurd.
I refer to a matter I raised some time ago on the Adjournment and at the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, namely, the involvement of the United Nations in a camp at Osterode near Mitrovica in Kosovo. A decade or more ago the United Nations dumped Roma refugees on the most heavily polluted site in the world. High concentrations of metals such as lead and mercury have been discovered in the children living on the campsite. There is a serious danger to pregnant women, children have died and the United Nations has been told that unless the camp is immediately evacuated, more people will die. This tragedy is unfolding before our eyes. I have raised the matter with the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, and the United Nations Commission for Human Rights, but nothing has been done. I ask that Seanad Éireann urgently protest about the matter to the United Nations.
As parliamentarians, we should all be concerned that in the past week the Turkish Government, using the constitutional court, has closed down an important democratic political party representing the country's Kurdish minority. Turkey is still negotiating entry into the European Union. It is extraordinary behaviour on its part that it should use the constitutional court to limit the main party representing the democratic interests of the largest minority in the county. A protest should be made to the Turkish ambassador about the matter.
I concur with Senator Cummins on the opening of the M9 at the Castledermot junction. I, too, travel the road and at this time of year it takes an hour to pass through the town. If the Minister is unable to come before the House today or tomorrow, he should issue a statement on the matter. I do not understand how the National Roads Authority works. On several occasions, at local authority level, the authority has interfered on issues and taken a pass the buck approach.
Given that the House has a full agenda for today and tomorrow, perhaps the Minister will issue a statement on the reason the bypass cannot be opened, even temporarily, over the Christmas break.
I support Senator Hanafin's view on the reform of the Seanad to deal with European business. Despite passing the Lisbon treaty several months ago, the House has had few opportunities to discuss EU directives and the workings of the institutions, including the European Parliament. With a new Commission set to commence work in February, the House should use the opportunity to have a full debate on decisions, directives and developments in the European Union. While information was available to members of the public during the debate on the Lisbon treaty, this is no longer the case because the Oireachtas no longer discusses European Union issues. The House should have regular debates in the new year on the activities of the European Parliament and the role and functions of the Commission.
I join other speakers in demanding that the Minister for Transport come before the House. To clarify the matter for Senator Ormonde, the Minister has made a statement. His decision to defer the opening of the stretch of road in question must be addressed because it constitutes naked political interference in the work of the National Roads Authority. As Senator Cummins said, when one seeks a debate on the Adjournment one is told the NRA is not the responsibility of the Minister. Who is in charge of the NRA and who is accountable for the roads of this country? This is political interference of the worst kind. I challenge the Leader and the Deputy Leader to stand up and to condone what has happened.
I sympathise with the traders because the policies of Fianna Fáil brought them into the mess they are in. The Government should not ask the Irish people to bail out the friends of Fianna Fáil because this is the recurring nightmare. Fianna Fáil bails out its friends again.
This has been delayed because of flooding on the line but we need to see the western rail corridor open at the earliest possible time. The Minister can talk about this while he is in the Chamber.
I ask the Leader to ask my party colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, to attend the House to debate the mayorship of Dublin. This is an important position. I would like the Minister to update us on the situation-----
One very important development in education in the past 13 years has been the leaving cert applied. I was chairman of the committee of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment that established it 13 or 14 years ago. Since then, thousands of students have passed through the leaving cert applied. It is a full leaving cert but it measures the talents and intelligence of people not measured by the traditional leaving cert. Instead of sitting in an exam and writing what one knows, it measures ability to communicate by speaking and many other talents and intelligence on that basis. It has been very successful and is particularly suitable for people in retail, catering, hotels and hospitality.
In recent weeks, due to a change in administration, Fáilte Ireland has now arranged for the next courses in hospitality training to be handled by the institutes of technology, which do not recognise the leaving cert applied. This must be resolved. It is the perfect examination and certificate for those who are going into hospitality, retail and many other areas. On that basis, the Minister for Education and Science must get to work immediately with the institutes of technology and their association to change this arrangement. The arrangement has worked well and it is not the fault of Fáilte Ireland, which recognises the ability. The problem is the change in arrangements.
When asked about salaries in semi-State companies the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, said that the Government should not interfere in these companies. It seems very likely in this case but I would like him to come to the House to tell us whether he has interfered. Senator Ó Brolcháin mentioned ministerial interference and then referred to divine interference. I was sure he was going to ask God to come in here to make an excuse or explain what happened.
On many occasions I have raised the issue of road safety, particularly with a view to our motorway network and the lack of service stations on it. I have focused on the M9, to which we referred today. I am disappointed that it seems there has been political interference. Has there been interference with the decision of the NRA and Kildare County Council to open the M9, which was due to open next week? If it is the case, it smacks of cronyism and this must be a matter of concern to everyone here. I arranged a cross-party petition on behalf of traders seeking a slip road for road users in the absence of a service station. I am disappointed to find that local Deputies got involved in this opening, which was due early next week.
Those in the south east have been waiting for years for this stretch of road and the Government must be commended for investing in it. Why go and ruin it all with such cronyism and interference when the road is due to open? It is not good enough. It is Fianna Fáil's answer to local problems they are having because the slip road and junction cannot be achieved. This is not how we should do business. It is very disappointing from a road safety viewpoint. I support Senators' call for the Minister to come into the House and make a statement on the matter. We need transparency on this decision. I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister to discuss road safety in general because it is an important matter.
I support the comments made by Senator Quinn regarding the leaving cert applied. Everything he said was correct. We should have a debate on that matter because those who take the leaving cert applied are steering in a direction that is not necessarily academic. Therefore, there must be an avenue for them to access the institutions.
We should also have a debate on general education within the secondary and tertiary level. The vocational schools played an important function in equipping people for various trades within the workforce but they have been gradually changing and now replicate other second level institutions. I wonder whether this is the right direction. I do not claim to be a specialist in education but we could have a useful discussion so that those with more expert opinions could put forward their views. The future of the economy will be built on our approach to education. Everyone recognises that.
I am very familiar with the road to which Senators refer. I have a choice of three roads when driving to Dublin. I can come via the regional roads through Tullow and Blessington, I can take the coast road or I can use the M9.
I have heard people in my party talk passionately about the services along those roads. I am impressed by the Minister for Transport and the manner in which he has progressed the infrastructure, particularly in respect of the road network that is essential to our economy. I am sure there is some good reason for what is happening. I support the call for the Minister to come in and explain the position.
The annoyance and anger of Members in regard to this road is understandable because of the custom and practice of Ministers not answering for the National Roads Authority. I join in the call for the Minister to come in and clarify the position beyond doubt.
Like Senator O'Toole, as a Kerryman, I was absolutely astounded to read a front page article in today's edition of The Irish Times. I know it is only a newspaper account but knowing the journalist who wrote the story I have no doubt about its accuracy. The victim was treated in a very lonely fashion. As Senator Fitzgerald said, the issue is how could it occur in a courthouse. One has to assume that the court was not in session.
I am coming to them. We know that the church has been harsh in instances in the past that involved people who reported untoward events. We have all condemned that and, thankfully, it has taken its own action but the hurt has been huge. The point arising from the various incidents across society is that whistleblowers who, in the national interest, report matters need to be protected when they report an illegality. This is something on which more action is needed and I look forward to hearing it.
I join with Senator Quinn and Senator Walsh in calling on the Ministers for Education and Science and Arts, Sport and Tourism to re-examine the situation in regard to the Fáilte Ireland courses that have been switched to institutes of technology and for which the leaving certificate applied does not meet the minimum entry requirements. This is an outrage and it should be reviewed immediately.
As Senator Quinn said, thousands of people in Ireland have availed of the leaving certificate applied qualification. That qualification has enabled them to join the Garda and the Army and to participate in courses which would not have been possible without that qualification. That qualification suits people, particularly those heading into the catering schools and colleges throughout the country. I ask the Ministers for Education and Science and Arts, Sport and Tourism to review the reason such courses have to take place in institutes of technology. There are hundreds of schools and colleges which are quite capable of conducting these courses. That situation should be looked at. As Senator O'Reilly will be aware, a world famous chef who operates in the western part of the county from which I come, was not admitted to a CERT course a number of years ago and had to go to Fermanagh college to do a course. That speaks for itself. I call on the Minister to review the position in regard to the Fáilte Ireland course.
We are debating the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (No. 2) Bill today and tomorrow. This is one of the measures the Government has chosen to introduce to get the public finances back in order. The one major issue which will come back for debate in this House and the Lower House is NAMA. I have the raised the issue previously as to when the Government will formally notify the NAMA scheme to the European Commission. On that occasion the Leader indicated that the House would be kept fully informed of that matter. Since the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (No. 2) Bill will be debated in the afternoon I ask that the Minister who is speaking to that Bill would clarify this issue because the NAMA scheme is more serious than any single budget? It is important to know at this juncture where we are at in respect of this scheme, whether it has been notified to the European Commission and the expected outcome of the examination and scrutiny by the European Commission. I would be relying on the European Commission to make fundamental changes to that scheme to minimise the cost to the taxpayer and the State.
In regard to the incident in the court in Tralee and the judgment of Judge Donagh MacDonagh in terms of the sexual offence and the sentence handed down, we have had many debates in this House about improving the position of victims of crime. We have had a report in recent weeks indicating a low level of reporting of sexual offences, particularly rape, and more particularly, the low level of prosecutions and convictions for that invidious crime. In this case - we do not have all the facts - the lady in question is quoted as saying:
I feel as if people are judging me the whole time. I've been asked by people I know if I am sorry for bringing Dan Foley to court.
The fact is that she is victimised not only in terms of the crime but there is a question about the culture that can give rise to this situation. It is the same type of culture that gives rise to the issues we have to deal with in the Murphy report, etc., where there is a lack of regard for the victim of crime and-----
As the world awaits a positive outcome from Copenhagen, I draw attention to a matter which is the specific responsibility of the Government. The figures from the Environmental Protection Agency published this week show a marginal fall in greenhouse gas emissions of the order of 0.3%. Despite the downturn in building and construction and in the commercial area there was a fall of only 4.4%. The fall in agriculture is almost 1%.
I ask the Leader to draw to the attention of the Government the fact that there is an increase of 8.7% in greenhouse gas emissions from the residential sector because of the cold weather and the use of solid fuels. Perhaps we could have a debate on this matter in the new year. It is vital that the insulation programme be well resourced and maintained and extended to social housing and, particularly, to housing for the elderly. It should become a national policy to insulate to the maximum degree and to incentivise even more than at present the insulation of houses. The only area in which there is an increase in greenhouse gas emissions is in the residential sector. If that area was corrected we could keep our greenhouse gas emissions within target. I know this is an issue to which the Leader will respond.
I formally support the issue raised by Senator Quinn and my colleague, Senator Wilson, in respect of the integrity and maintenance of the leaving certificate applied. Senator Wilson, in identifying our most distinguished international chef in west Cavan, has brought an important matter to the attention of the House.
I support the comments of Senators Quinn and Wilson in regard to the value of the leaving certificate applied. It is a programme I have studied and worked with, and I see it as an underrated programme in our sector. It is particularly useful for students who have a practical bent. It also has quite a higher order critical thinking element, which needs to be explored.
I have three requests for the Leader for the new year, three priorities he has previously committed in the House to keeping on a rolling agenda but which have perhaps slipped off the agenda. The first is the flooding crisis. At present, I am having an average of three meetings a week on the flooding crisis. The people affected are still displaced from their homes. A report out yesterday showed the Government has only paid out €500,000 of the €10 million. Where is the money? There is a bigger issue here, namely, the prevention of flooding in the future. I ask the Leader to keep that commitment on the agenda.
The second is the threat of home repossessions. When I saw the hurt caused to people who were put out of their homes by flooding, I saw something that was bigger than a death for some families. Can one imagine what it must be like for people who are now looking down the barrel of a gun at losing their home? We must keep that on the agenda, as Senator MacSharry said. Bearing in mind people's levels of indebtedness, it is critical and urgent.
Third, there is the issue of child abuse. The House has not done its duty in this regard. The Ryan report and the implementation plan remain undebated, as is the case with the Murphy report. If we do this country one service, it will be to put the child protection guidelines on a statutory footing so professionals or anyone who suspects child abuse is enabled to report it safely with a view to intervention.
In recent years there have been amazing developments in the field of biomedicine. Two miles from my front door in County Wexford is a company that is heavily involved in the storage of biological tissue for some of our major hospitals. It is currently developing links with international companies for the biological treatment of serious illnesses within our health care system. It is also developing the cryo-storage of umbilical cord blood, which is very important for the future treatment of cancers and will have a European-wide impact in the field of biomedicine.
Why is the Government closing the bio-ethics organisation that is so important in regulating the ethics of what is happening in the field of biomedicine? It costs €300,000 a year but when one considers the important role it would play, not just in the future of medicine but for the technological development of this country in the area of exports and high technology that we are supposed to be moving into, it is worrying that the Government sees fit to close the organisation responsible for the ethical development of these treatments. This is a retrograde step which should be stopped immediately.
Following from the comments of Senator Healy Eames, I am conscious this House has spoken in regard to the Ryan report and the Murphy report. However, the suggestion she makes with regard to a specific debate on the implementation report is very useful. In that context and given that this is the month when the new Children First guidelines are scheduled to be produced by the Minister, perhaps when we return in the new year the Leader could arrange for the Minster of State to come before the House with a very specific remit around the new Children First guidelines and the implementation report that his Department has prepared.
It might also be useful for the Leader to organise additional time for this House to debate the newly agreed proposed wording from the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children.
At some stage in the new year, can we arrange a debate on the HSE? I have an ongoing issue in terms of the centralisation of the administration of the over 70s medical card, which is appalling. A constituent of mine in July of this year furnished details to the HSE in Finglas in order that his application for a medical card could be processed. We are now in December and it still has not been resolved. Both he and I have had huge difficulty in trying to contact somebody in the HSE in Finglas and speak directly with them in regard to this matter. It is a disgrace that a service that was working very well in an administrative area has now been taken to Finglas and clearly does not work. I would appreciate if the Leader could arrange a debate on that topic in the new year.
I support Senators Quinn, Wilson, O'Reilly and the others who spoke in favour of the value of the applied leaving certificate. I have a daughter who completed this course and know that it proved invaluable. The criteria that are being applied, as outlined by Senator Quinn, which debar those who have completed this course from entering the appropriate institutions for those who wish to enter the catering business as a career, are nothing short of ludicrous. I ask that this matter be reviewed. This course has great relevance, has proved its worth and will stand the test of time.
Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Hannigan, Boyle, Cummins, Coghlan and Regan outlined their serious concerns regarding the court case in Kerry. The articles in the newspapers this morning dealt with various strong expressions regarding support for the victims of crime. I have no difficulty in having a debate to help assist the victims of crime. The most hurtful thing of all, apart from the acts that violate the victims, is that they were not believed and, in fact, that they were verbally abused. Anything we can do to improve that situation and help the victims of crime, we will do.
I have already committed that the Ryan report will go for further consultation and discussion, and I can allow time for the Murphy report to be dealt with, as colleagues have requested today.
I send our best wishes to the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, who was hospitalised yesterday and who had intended to be in the House this morning to take the Bill. I certainly want to see him back to full health in the very near future, please God. We send him our best wishes from the Seanad.
Senators Fitzgerald, Hannigan, Boyle and O'Reilly raised the issue of the world climate change conference taking place in Copenhagen last week and this week. All the world leaders, including the Taoiseach, are arriving there today to participate this evening and for the remainder of the conference. We hope progress will be made. The issue is a serious challenge to the world. I hope, as Senator Boyle said, that we will be able to review and debate progress. It is my intention that we will have an opportunity for Senators to express their views on the conference, with the Minister present, in our first weeks back after Christmas.
I join with Senator O'Toole in regard to his comments on the Minister, Deputy Mary Hanafin's, total commitment to the House in being here for almost the entire debate on a very difficult social welfare Bill.
Senators O'Toole, Hannigan, Cummins, Norris, Ormonde, Buttimer, Quinn, Coffey, Walsh and Coghlan all expressed their view regarding the imminent opening of the magnificent new M9 road, which has been awaited for a long time. As I said in the House yesterday, the Minister, Deputy Martin Cullen, played a major part in having the funding put in place so this could happen. I will certainly pass on the strong views of the Senators to the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, who we have to congratulate in regard to all he has done for road safety and all the major investment that has taken place, which has resulted in a transformation. As someone who used to drive about 65,000 miles a year for 18 years in my other employment before I came to the House, what a change there has been in the infrastructure of the roads system. In my memory, no road was ever opened in the week after Christmas, but the road in question will be opened in January or early February and we look forward to it being open. I will pass on the strong views of colleagues from the south east to the Minister after the Order of Business.
Senator Boyle called for a debate on the position of Ombudsman for Children. His call is timely. I commend the reappointment of Ms Emily Logan who has done tremendous work and is doing the State a huge service.
Senators Hanafin and Ormonde spoke about Seanad reform. I have given a commitment that we will have on the agenda an update on the North-South ministerial meetings once a month and legislation and proposed changes to legislation coming from the European Union. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has given a commitment in this regard. He has been in the House already and we have started the process. Keeping this issue centre stage will be part of the monthly agenda for the leaders' meetings. As colleagues have correctly pointed out, the Seanad can take a lead role in assisting and helping the Government and Departments and bringing to the attention of the people the issues and decisions being taken in their interests at EU level.
Senator Norris commented on the role played by the United Nations in Kosovo and the dangers to children and women. I will pass on his strong views to the Minister after the Order of Business, views we fully support regarding the Turkish Government's decision. We all agree with him. I heard him on radio this morning expressing strong views regarding the relocation of the Abbey Theatre to O'Connell Street, on which I congratulate him. Any Irish person worth his or her salt would have to be proud of his expressions on the issue.
Senator Ó Brolcháin raised the matter of the western rail link. I will have no difficulty in having it debated in the House at the very earliest possible time after the recess. He also asked for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to come to the House to update it on his proposed plans for the new position of directly elected mayor of Dublin. I will have no difficulty in allowing such a debate to take place.
Senators Quinn, Walsh, Wilson, O'Reilly, Healy-Eames and Glynn all expressed their views, especially those who have first-hand experience, on the huge success of the applied leaving certificate. If it is not broken, it should not be fixed. As a member of the Irish Hotels Federation, I will do everything I can to have the proposal corrected. I am sure Fáilte Ireland wants to do the right thing and while the institutes of technology certainly can play a part, the others have also been making a huge contribution. Hospitality has been our trademark as a nation. It is like our music, it is a world brand. Irish peope are known throughout the world for their céad míle fáilte and they have made their mark everywhere they had to emigrate to during the years. Certainly, we want to be able to help and assist. As Senator Wilson said from personal experience, who better than Senator Feargal Quinn to speak with authority on this issue? I certainly will have an urgent debate on it and will have the Minister present in the first two or three weeks following our return.
Senator Regan raised issues related to NAMA which he asked the Minister to clarify today. I will endeavour to do this, but as the Minister for Finance is not available, the Minister of State at the Department of Finance will be here when we can try to tease out the issues about which the Senator inquired.
Senator Healy-Eames will be well aware that yesterday I gave a commitment in the House that we would keep the flooding issue to the fore to see how we could correct it and how the funding, particularly from the European Union, would be used to help and assist a major national plan to deal with the issues that had emerged in the Shannon basis and for the people of Cork city. Major funding will be needed and we will not be able to do it without the help and assistance of our colleagues in the European Union.
We had the MacSharry report proposals on home repossessions and will keep the issue to the fore every month in the coming year because we must assist those who have been good payers, playing their part and, through no fault of their own, have lost their jobs and now find themselves in a difficult position.
We have discussed and debated the Murphy and Ryan reports and given a commitment that the issue will be discussed in the House very often when requested and we think there is a need to do so. I have no difficulty in again making that commitment.
Senator Twomey asked about biomedicines and the challenges facing this industry for a cost of €300,000. I will pass on his strong views to the Minister after the Order of Business.
Senator Corrigan asked about the new Children First guidelines and the Constitution. The Joint Committee on the Constitution has agreed a wording on the proposed constitutional rights of the child. That is to be welcomed. I will have no difficulty in debating the matter in the House after the recess.
Senator McCarthy brought up an issue, in respect of which we all are experiencing extreme difficulty. Moving the applications unit for the over 70s to Finglas at the time was seen as a cost saving exercise, but there is the simple issue of answering the telephone. When someone over 70 years of age wants to have his or her medical card application discussed, he or she cannot even get an answer on the telephone. That is completely unacceptable and we must send the strongest possible protest from Seanad Éireann to the Minister for Health and Children about this lack of service. We will have the Minister present in the House after the recess and this is one issue on which we can certainly make our strong views known to her.