Tuesday, 9 February 2010
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re Diseases of Animals Act, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of the Order of Business, and No. 2, Energy (Biofuel Obligation and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2010 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1, with spokespersons having 15 minutes, all other Senators ten minutes, and on which Senators may share time by agreement of the House.
Although a great deal of media attention is undoubtedly currently focused on the resignation of Mr. George Lee from politics, I agree with our party leader in his comment that the real challenges facing us involve helping those people who are struggling to pay mortgages, getting credit flowing to the businesses in need of it and dealing with ever-growing unemployment. When the Government presented NAMA to the people, it was meant to get credit flowing in the economy and the country. It was meant to get credit flowing to the hard-pressed householders and businesses struggling to keep people employed. We have now heard that all the time members of the Government said this, it was receiving advice at the same time from the IMF that establishing NAMA would not lead to a significant increase in lending by the banks, and this raises major questions about the Government. Were we being misled by the Minister for Finance in this House when he presented the NAMA legislation for debate? We were assured the agency would get credit flowing. The Irish Times has stated that in April last year, the Government was warned by the IMF that this would not happen. An article in that newspaper today indicates that the Government played fast and loose with the facts about NAMA and was desperate to sell the policy at any cost. We were told that NAMA was the only show in town and it was not a bailout for bankers. It was meant to be about getting credit flowing.
If the Government was warned that this was not the case and made statements to the opposite effect, it is time we had the Minister for Finance before the House again. We should have a response from the Leader to explain the discrepancy and the Government's current plan if we will not see credit flowing as a result of NAMA. What is the economic and job creation plan? We need the Minister in the House today to talk about job creation, employment and how to address the real issues raised by the comments from the IMF last April. I move an amendment to the Order of Business to discuss these issues.
As with Senator Fitzgerald, I will not raise the obvious issue either except to note it was a very expensive way to lose 15 stone from the weight of the parliamentary party for "Operation Transformation". We must look at one issue very carefully. I hesitate to disagree with Senator Fitzgerald, but it is not true to say the Government came in here and said credit would flow after NAMA. We debated it for a full hour on the night and the issue was raised time and again on these benches. I said repeatedly that it will not allow credit to flow. I pointed out the objective of NAMA in the Bill in respect of this issue and I made it clear the Minister could not insist on credit flowing. It was never going to happen. We said time and again from these benches that it would raise the tier one assets that were required.
There were reasons NAMA was good and reasons why there might be questions about it, but it is not fair to say this was a selling point. It was a selling point for the media and for many on that side of the House. Senator Fitzgerald is correct in so far as the other side of the House tried to indicate to us that it would lead to increased credit flow, and it might do so in the long term, but not in the short term, which was the real issue.
The respective positions of the trade union movement and the Government were raised here last week, and Senators asked why both sides could not sort things out. I do not know the answer to that question. I know there is a total loss of trust and confidence, and I think Senators on the other side of the House should ask that question in their parliamentary party meetings and not in here. Many of us made serious attempts to look at the Government's need to reduce spending by €3 billion, and to make many other changes. The Government was offered the opportunity to make €3 billion of savings on the basis that those savings would be taken immediately with pay cuts and would be there until such time as they could be maintained permanently, which would be done through a reduction of numbers in the public service by 15,000 to 20,000 through increased productivity, efficiency and a transformation in the public sector.
It was the best deal ever offered to the Government, but it walked away from it for reasons I or the trade unions do not understand. We are now seeing bushfires around the country, which are a reflection of people's anger. People ask me whether trade unions clearly want industrial action at this time, and the answer is clearly "No". It is total madness to be looking for industrial action, but people are attempting to express their anger in all sorts of weird ways. The Government should take a stand on this. Fine Gael is very clear as it thought it was a good deal and it decided that it would enter negotiations. It is a belt and braces job. The Government cannot lose as it gets its €3 billion forever if it does it this way, whereas now it is faced with a situation in which it must look for €3 billion for the following year in the next budget. The only way this could have been done was to change the public sector, reducing the numbers working there and getting associated savings. I would appreciate a debate on this and related matters, but I think they should be discussed internally in the first place.
I am tempted to ask the Leader when he thinks there might be a by-election held in the other House to fill the seat that was so quickly vacated in the last 24 hours in Dublin South. However, I should pass on that as it is a matter for the other House.
In the course of debates about NAMA, the Minister for Finance was keen to tell us how supportive the IMF was of the project. Why did he not inform the Houses that the IMF was of the solemn view that the NAMA project would not have any impact and would not lead to a significant increase in lending by Irish banks? There have been many references to the quality of the debate in these Houses, so why did he not give us that single, important piece of information?
Of course, he did not give us that information because it did not suit his purposes to tell us. It is a dereliction of duty to these Houses not to tell us what the IMF has said just because it does not suit the Government's case, especially since the Government is so quick to invoke the IMF in its support. That is wrong. Why is a freedom of information request by a newspaper required to extract what the IMF thinks on these matters? The following statement also had to be extracted by way of a freedom of information request and it will surprise colleagues to hear who the author is:
This legislation does not guarantee that credit required by the economy will be provided. This is a life-support measure for the banking system, ie, a bailout for the banking system and primarily for AIB and Bank of Ireland.
Deputy Seán Fleming, Chairman of an Oireachtas committee, made that statement but it had to be extracted by way of a freedom of information request. We must have all the information available to us when we have a debate in these Houses. There is no point in the Government selecting the information that suits. If it wants to tell us the IMF is in favour of something, let it give us all of the information coming from the IMF and not be selective for its own purposes. I respectfully disagree with Senator O'Toole in what he said, not with the substance because I have done so on other occasions — I do not have time to debate whether NAMA will lead to credit flowing — but he is incorrect when he says the Government side did not make as a central part of its case that NAMA would restore lending to the economy and small businesses in particular
The case was made as recently as yesterday by the Minister for Finance when he said the purchasing of bad loans by NAMA would increase to ensure the banks could get back to lending. That was the case being made and there is an attempt being made to resile from that position.
On 9 May 2009 I stated:
I am asking the Leader if he can invite the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to come to this House to draw up protocols and procedures for those in senior positions in RTE whose salaries are paid for by taxpayers' money. I pay my licence fee, but I am not doing so for George Lee to contest the by-election in Dublin South.
I ask the Minister to come to the House to draw up protocols to prevent Joe Duffy, Marian Finucane, Charlie Bird or Miriam O'Callaghan from running for the Dáil on the basis of their high profiles on television. A television licence costs €160. The amount raised comes to €195 million a year. I hope Senator Alex White has taken leave of absence from RTE because he will be a candidate.
I do not know how to follow those comments. I wish George Lee well in the future. His contribution to politics was brief but it illustrated the hard work done by politicians and the lonely existence many of us experience in politics. That should highlight how difficult a life in politics can be. It is no easy ticket for anyone who gets involved. We should have a good discussion about this issue and perhaps we might receive publicity for the hard work we do.
There is a need for the Minister for Finance and the Taoiseach to come to the House. Speaking on the day of publication of the NAMA legislation last September, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, said NAMA would strengthen and improve the funding position of the banks in order that they could lend to viable businesses and households. This means it would get credit flowing. The Taoiseach said the Government's objective in restructuring the banks was to provide access to credit for Irish businesses at a critical time. When both individuals were making these statements, they clearly had evidence to the contrary, that it would not get credit flowing or that there were concerns about whether it would get credit flowing. When we had the discussion in this House it was very much implied that the purpose in the taxpayer taking responsibility for €47 billion worth of junk bonds was to get credit flowing to the rest of the economy. There are also concerns that billions will be required to be poured into the banks in the coming months. We must ask ourselves what is the basis of Government policy as serious concerns about the financial policy of the Government have a knock-on effect not just on those of us currently working but also on our children and grandchildren who will have to pay back this €47 billion and who will own two defunct banks. There is a serious need for the Minister for Finance and the Taoiseach to make statements to both this House and the Lower House to clarify what they knew and the reason they withheld this information from us.
This would be a very good time to have a debate on the food and drinks industry in the light of the recent announcement by the Minister of State, Deputy Trevor Sargent, of the third round of horticultural grants — this sector has been hard pressed owing to weather conditions and everything else — whereby young farmers can receive support up to a figure of 50% on eligible investment. This is greatly to be welcomed. Today Bord Bia organised an event at Croke Park to launch 166 new Irish food and drink products. This important business conference is being attended by more than 300 foreign buyers and can only benefit the food and drinks industry. This House could play its part by highlighting the good work being carried out. On a day when many Members of the House are feeling gloomy, especially those on the other side, I would like to cheer Members up with some good news. This could be the subject of a useful debate at this time.
Last week I mentioned that I was of the view that people in this country were beginning to rend and savage each other in a very unattractive way. In that context, I referred to the attention being given to the issue of travelling spouses. What I said was repeated on a radio programme and there was some support for my views. One of the correspondents asked how I knew what the public felt. I know because I have had nothing but congratulations from ordinary members of the public in Dublin and elsewhere in the country. I was down the country at the weekend. I received one telephone call from a very pleasant woman, a retired civil servant. She said she was feeling the pinch and that her medical card had been removed. She also said the only pleasure she had was in seeing others taken down a bit.
That leads to my second point. We need to have a balanced debate on the media. I refer to a very interesting article in The Irish Times on foot of another issue I raised — the treatment of the Lillis murder trial. It is stated in the article that the Constitution dictates that justice must be done in public, as is the case. It also states the unappealing aspect is that it facilitates the unappealing human instinct to wallow in the sins and misery of others. However, limits could be set because justice is administered in public in a courtroom, not on the street. I think people have a right to have their privacy protected. There is a very weak argument in favour of journalists being allowed to take photographs wherever they please of witnesses who are innocent people and not up on a charge; it states custom and practice dictate that photographs will be taken of most witnesses. The reference to custom and practice amounts to a very weak argument to be set against the constitutional rights of the citizen and respect for his or her good name and privacy. I suggest the privacy of innocent people and witnesses, in particular, should continue to be protected. I have no problem with the Garda giving mugshots of convicted criminals to the press — that is fine — but it is a very bad day when the press are attacking the Garda. I strongly support what the Garda did and will continue to support the force. I call on the people to stand up and stop this rending of each other and this disgraceful invasion of a person's right to a private life.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on NAMA. One does not have to be an economist, a banker or an IMF director to know that if one takes the bad non-performing loans from the banks, there will be money in the residue for lending. It is self-evident. That is what the whole purpose of the exercise was.
Changes are taking place internationally. The Basel requirement makes it more difficult and leads to a higher reserve ratio but that does not mean there will be no lending. I was fortunate enough to undertake a rapporteur report for the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service. The report made it clear that in Japan the failure to take action had led to the development of zombie banks which were unable to lend for 15 years. The action we took was right and appropriate at the time.
I also ask the Leader to arrange a debate on jobs.
Given that a great deal of money is being saved in this country, rather than being spent on consumer products, perhaps it is time for us to discuss the introduction of a national development bond. The Government should issue such a bond with a view to undertaking necessary and useful works such as the development of roads and other infrastructure to ensure we will be in the right position for the upturn which is expected at the end of this year.
I ask the Leader when we will have live television coverage of our debates. Many of the guests I have brought to this building have met Senators for whom they would not vote if they had 1,000 votes. When such people are asked whom they have met, they are pleased to have met Senators with whom they might not necessarily agree such as Senator Norris or some of the other Independent Senators. The standard of debate in this House is very high. Our message should be going out on the national media.
The cut of €27 million in the transport budget last year is having a knock-on effect on the ordinary poor people of the midlands. I raise this issue because the bus service in Athlone and its environs is being cut by half. Eleven of the 21 drivers in Athlone will lose their jobs. Bus Éireann has stated there is a reduction in the number of services provided. I challenge members of the Government parties, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party, to come to Athlone to prove that the numbers have dropped. That is not the case. Old people use these services to get to mass or go to the doctor. Young people use them to go to college or do their shopping, etc. They should be asked how valuable these services are for them. It is another example of the insidious and negative gnawing away at the poor and honest people of Ireland, some of whom will be affected by the loss of these services. I understand why I could not raise this matter on the Adjournment. It is a matter for the Minister for Transport. I want the Minister to come to this House to defend his appalling record.
Senator Fitzgerald is right to say there are more important stories than the George Lee story. I ask the Leader to organise a debate on mental health services. I have asked for such a debate on several occasions. The George Lee story was captured by the media all day yesterday. Perhaps one eighth of that time could have been devoted to mental health issues such as obesity, eating disorders and, in particular, the stigma attached to mental illness. Other Senators spoke passionately about this matter on the Order of Business previously when we looked for a debate on the subject. It would be an achievement if the media were to devote one eighth of its time to the stigma attached to mental illness. Last Sunday week Marian Finucane interviewed the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy John Moloney, who spoke about his mental health. People who called the show described the Minister of State as brave which is the wrong word to use as it will ensure the stigma will continue. It is about time legislators made a conscious and forceful effort to try to remove the stigma associated with mental illness. This would loosen the chains that tie down hundreds of thousands of people, especially those in the workforce who are afraid to tell anyone about their mental health or that they have been treated for a mental illness.
Some of my colleagues commented on George Lee's resignation from the other House. It will be a shame if his decision results in an increase in cynicism about politics. It is a shame he did not give politics longer than eight months. If a week is a long time in politics, eight months is a short time in which to make an impact. The question that must be asked is why he chose this course of action at this time.
I echo the calls of other Senators for a debate on the National Asset Management Agency in the light of news reports on the International Monetary Fund's view of the agency. On the night the House debated the National Asset Management Agency Bill in the presence of the Minister for Finance Senators considered amendments and went through the legislation section by section. Colleagues will recall that I tabled an amendment aimed at introducing a mechanism along the lines of the French independent ombudsman or mediator. Under the French system, small businesses refused credit by banks on unreasonable and unjustifiable grounds can appeal to an independent mechanism to have the decision overturned. I was reminded of this by news reports on the IMF's view of NAMA and a newspaper report yesterday on a small bakery business in Dublin city centre which was refused credit by a major bank on what appear to be most unreasonable grounds. This is the type of real human story which should give impetus to calls for the Minister for Finance to come to the House to explain the reason he indicated the establishment of the National Asset Management Agency would result in an increase in credit when the IMF clearly took a different view. Even with the enactment of the legislation and with plans under way for the transfer of assets, small businesses are still being unreasonably refused credit and we still do not have the independent mechanism of an ombudsman or a mediator which I urged the Minister to adopt in my amendment.
I again ask for a debate on the treatment of unaccompanied minors in care. Mr. Philip Garland, the new assistant national director for children and families in the Health Service Executive, made an important point yesterday when he criticised the past policy of the HSE towards such children and suggested the policy towards them may even be regarded as racist. He also accepted that the hostel accommodation provided for such children was inadequate. Having raised this issue previously, I ask for an urgent debate on the matter. More than 500 unaccompanied children have gone missing from HSE care in the past ten years, which is a national disgrace.
Will the Leader indicate what progress has been made on my request for a structured debate on matters relating to the economy and the country's financial position? Will he arrange a debate on the Health Service Executive's service plan for 2010 which was launched the other day with an allocation of more than €14 billion? I note the HSE intends to deliver its services through a combination of continued reform through measures such as minimising the length of stay in hospital and providing alternatives for those admitted to hospital through accident and emergency units.
I read with interest the aspect of the service plan on older people and note additional home help hours and home care packages will be provided. In the light of demographic changes, these additional hours and the decision to allocate only €97 million to the fair deal scheme suggest there is a vacuum in an area of great importance to older people, namely, safe and effective rehabilitation and intermediate care beds. These services which gear people up for a return to the community appear to be missing from the plan. I, therefore, ask for a debate on the issue.
I second Senator Fitzgerald's amendment to the Order of Business to include a discussion on NAMA. Last week, I spoke about Ministers lying and it is very serious that these Houses were misled on this €54 billion project by the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance. It is summed up in the financial pages of The Irish Times today in the article headlined "Nowhere for Cowen to hide on IMF advice on Nama". The IMF raised the issue of getting credit flowing, which is the fundamental objective of NAMA and of the guidelines from the European Union on the treatment of toxic loans and impaired assets. The Government knew this but, as The Irish Times states, "kept on putting forward the argument. Both the Minister for Finance and Taoiseach are on record in this regard." The article also states that the Government has known since April of last year that there were serious doubts about this.
The Government killed debate on NAMA by suggesting it was the only game in town and no alternatives were provided. My party provided an alternative which was worthy of debate and consideration in light of the information we know now. However, the Taoiseach and the Minister did not just mislead these Houses on the IMF report, they misled the Houses on European Central Bank approval of NAMA, which was highly qualified on the pricing of assets and burden sharing. We were also misled on European Commission approval of NAMA, which was presented as a formality at all stages but we now know that at present the Commission is examining the notification of the NAMA scheme issued in December. Is there any sanction for the Taoiseach or the Minister for Finance for misleading the Houses or for any parliamentarian for misleading the Houses of the Oireachtas?
The resignation yesterday of George Lee made me think about what is the essence and definition of a politician. Do we require letters after our names? This seems to be the projection as a result of this. George Lee felt he was so highly qualified that his talent was not used, and he used the word "talent".
What about those very fine politicians who do not have letters after their names? Do they not have talent? The Seanad could debate the politician's role in making a contribution, no matter what it is, in either House of the Oireachtas. We should discuss people's personalities as well as their having or not having qualifications. Everyone elected to these Houses is very well qualified to take on any issue because, God knows, fighting to get elected to these Houses is the best qualification one could have. This proves the point again that catapulting does not work. Everyone should serve their apprenticeship and those who do are the best politicians. All of these points could be brought into a broad debate on this issue.
I also wish to raise the issue of private cosmetic clinics which have mushroomed throughout Ireland. Recently, complaints have been made about questionable practices in many of these clinics. There is a total lack of regulation and proposals to regulate these clinics.
People come from abroad who are not properly trained to carry out these operations. The Minister, Deputy Harney, when she has an opportunity, should come to the House to discuss this very important issue. I call for regulation and licensing of such clinics.
Senator O'Toole called for a debate on the actions taken to avoid strike action because of the cuts in the budget.
A newspaper article last week stated: "The Health Service Executive (HSE) has said that it is 'seriously concerned' that industrial action in the radiotherapy services, which forms part of the campaign currently under way across the public service, has the potential to compromise patient safety." Irrespective of the industrial action being planned or the purpose thereof, it must not target the weakest in our community or permit those who are undergoing cancer treatment to be hindered or put in any form of danger. If we are to take industrial action, although I hope we are not and I support Senator O'Toole's belief that we have to find a way of avoiding it, let us consider what has happened in the country in recent weeks. The European Central Bank and the IMF have expressed serious concerns about Greece, Spain and Portugal but Ireland is not included in this list because of the steps we have taken. We should not throw away our advantage.
Almost every year for the 16 years I have been in the Seanad, I have made the point that we should have an extra hour of daylight in the evening. I was delighted that, even if I have not been heeded in this House, the British Prime Minister, Mr. Gordon Brown, has been listening to somebody like me. He is now giving serious consideration to the proposal that Britain should add an extra hour of daylight year round. We could do this by joining central European time. We would have an extra hour in the evening year round and, while I acknowledge the concomitant loss of an hour in the morning would not be pleasant in mid-winter, it would bring huge benefits in terms of road traffic safety, tourism and other areas. I have said in the past that we should be willing to leave the nursery even if nanny does not come with us. The argument against change has been that we do not want a time difference between Dublin and Belfast but perhaps we should act alongside the British to join central European time.
I agree with Senator Norris. It was very important that the Garda defended its action in assisting a witness in a recent court case to uphold her privacy. Some sections of the media got particularly animated about that as if in some way a right was being taken from them. The position is clear. The witness was a co-operative witness and at the same time that witness had been paraded through sections of the media for a long time before the trial. The witness was entitled to privacy and to her rights.
If that action had not been taken, can one imagine the media crush outside the court? That misfortunate person has lost her privacy anyway for a long time to come. We should have a debate in this House. I was glad to hear the Garda say it may not be the last time this will happen. This was an exceptional case, but the Garda also said that it was possible in future that the same would apply. We should help the Garda and the judicial system by showing we, as legislators, want to debate this issue and see if it can be expanded further. The Garda was right to come out and defend its decision in the manner in which it did.
I am sure the Leader is concerned about the all too frequent overcharging by banks. I am glad the Financial Regulator has said it is urgently reviewing how to strengthen enforcement against the banks. Every few months we learn of incidents of overcharging. This could be combined with a debate requested by Senator Fitzgerald and others regarding NAMA, as we are entitled to hear the differences between NAMA then and now. Senator Regan has often referred to the fact that NAMA is not in its final format as it has yet to be sanctioned by the Commission. We can go nowhere without that sanction. As I understood it, the original purpose of NAMA was to restore proper capital ratios to the banks, which was necessary as a first step in so-called tier 1, as laid down in the Basel requirements. However, we now know a further step is required. We will need further recapitalisation following the injection of €54 billion which will nearly restore equilibrium to the system. We cannot get the economy going or get credit flowing unless the banks are stabilised. We must realise we are not even up to the plate. We have not even taken the first step. A debate such as the one sought is vital. The Government will have to be much more assertive in ensuring the necessary capital flows to businesses throughout the land to regenerate the economy. We are not there yet. Can we please have the Minister in the House to give us that necessary update on where we stand vis-À-vis the Commission and what he sees happening in the future?
I support the call by Senator O'Sullivan for a debate on the food industry and horticulture. The way he put it was fantastic. He is talking about having a positive debate on something which is important to everyone. There are so many things going on around us. Everyone is talking about certain things such as George Lee and NAMA, as well as other dreadful things.
It is important for us to have debates in the House on positive issues such as food and water. We will have a debate on biofuels later this afternoon. If we dwell on the positives, we will not become self-obsessed or obsessed by the media. We should be leading the people by having debates on important and positive issues.
Two debates are going ahead today, one on NAMA, while the other is an attempt, not to discuss the George Lee issue, to discuss the serious issues that arise in regard to politics and political life. On a personal level, the George Lee issue is the equivalent of that of the mayfly. It is like a butterfly in the sun but there are deeper issues. I call on the Leader to find a way to extend the deliberations on the Constitution to examine the issues that arise in political life. What has been really worrying in recent days is how the discourse on the George Lee issue has become a general rejection of the notion that there should be no apprenticeship in politics. That is only one point in a bigger debate on political life. There is a cadet grade in some branches of life, namely, the police and the Army. Even in the Army one puts in two years hard training under NCOs. It is important to say this today. I have heard a great deal in the media about how Fine Gael muzzled and stifled George Lee and how the political parties all muzzle and stifle the lost leaders, the geniuses and those who would dazzle us if they were allowed to do so, but the truth is that the apprenticeship served in politics is important preparation in terms of character.
It teaches people how to deal with the public. Politics is about the rule of states and peoples. It starts with people. It is not an abstract issue. I accept there is a delusion among college students and certain of the younger sections of the political correspondents, not the old guard, that all one has to do is assemble people with first class honours degrees, involve them in politics and the country will be a land flowing with milk and honey. That is not how the real world works.
I support the call by Senator Feeney for a debate on mental health. I would warmly welcome such a debate which would not pertain to a particular category. I have dealt with nurses, doctors, counsellors, farmers, lawyers and teachers. Anyone anywhere can suffer from mental illness and that is what makes it all the more important. I never could see why a stigma should be associated with it but that is the reality. Under the old health board system, there were regular visiting committees for residents in long-stay institutions. They have ceased since the advent of the HSE and I strongly disagree with this. The committees comprised professionals and councillors from the various areas and they provided contact with the outside world for residents. I regret that they have ceased because the people concerned are not being served well in their absence. Will the Leader also include the recent report from the Inspector of Mental Hospitals in the debate? It poses more questions than it answers and I would like to air my views on the report because it does not reflect the situation as it should be reflected.
We had a useful debate for a few hours on head shops. There are two such shops in Mullingar. Every day I meet people who express concern about these outlets and the potential harm they may cause to young people. I was told by a taxi driver recently that two 13 year old boys were seen exiting one of the head shops late at night.
There are approximately six minutes left officially and seven Members are indicating. I ask them to be brief. Members will have to edit what they have to say. They are running over the two minutes allowed and I will have to cut them off more quickly.
Yesterday the nation was shocked, as was I, by George Lee's quick exit from politics but it was no less a shock than that felt by the 175 people who lost their jobs in Boston Scientific, Galway, yesterday. The company is a wonderful employer with more than 3,000 workers but another 175 people have been hurt, their homes are under threat and they will have huge money worries, given the personal indebtedness we all face. In addition, it is feared the banks will become aggressive once their bad loans have been off-loaded to NAMA. This is why I support Senator Fitzgerald and others who called for the Minister for Finance to come to the House to address and to evaluate how well the Government's economic plan is progressing.
How is it serving the country? Please tell me because I do not see it. People in Galway are saying politicians should forget about imposing a 30 kph speed limit in Dublin, for example, and they should get on with fixing the country. What is the Government doing about the real issues? Can the Leader bring the Minster for Finance to the House to give, as Senator Coghlan called for, an interim report on where our country is going? Money is the greatest concern of people in Galway and, in particular, how they will meet their debts and, above all, their mortgage repayments when their jobs are threatened. Let us look at that as a real issue today.
I wish to raise the plight of a number of small and medium-sized businesses. I accept all businesses are under pressure but a number are experiencing difficulty being paid. This is not the result of a lack of credit from banks. These businesses are victims of opportunism on the part of other businesses. There are some businesses that have money to pay but are taking advantage of the economic climate and holding out on payment for as long as they can. The result is that a number of businesses are finding it hard to survive and are in danger of closing and their employees — whether five or 15 — will lose their jobs.
Another practice that is taking place is the setting up of shelf companies by companies that seek to undertake work. The work is contracted out to other operators under the shelf company, but when the job is done the shelf company states it has no assets and cannot pay the subcontractor, which has supplied and paid for labour and materials. The parent company that obtained the work reaps the benefit of the materials and labour, but nobody has paid for it. A number of companies have reported this to me and are in danger of closing as a result of such practices. It is immoral, it is thievery and gangsterism but, unfortunately, it is not illegal. I ask the Leader to consult with the Minister and seek changes to the relevant legislation to cater for people who have bills that are larger that those dealt with in the small claims court but not as large as those dealt with in the commercial courts, i.e. with less than €1 million outstanding. In addition, the practice of setting up shelf companies to subcontract work should be outlawed.
An important debate which we need as a matter of urgency is on the availability of credit. Does the Leader have any understanding of the number of people who are being hounded by banks — and by the Revenue Commissioners, on behalf of the Government — seeking payment? There is also a need for a debate on mental health. The number of people who are under pressure is frightening. I will not go into details, but those two debates are imperative.
I begin by following on the last point made by Senator Buttimer. I endorse the words of Senator Feeney earlier about the interview with the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Moloney, on the "Marian Finucane" show. It was an excellent interview and will bring great solace and comfort to many families and individuals across the land. I salute the Minister of State for this, as should the House.
I refer in passing to the words spoken by Senators Norris and Ó Murchú about the Lillis trial. It is my conviction that woman should not have been brought out and exposed to ghoulish voyeurism. The Garda was right to protect her and her privacy as far as possible. It is a disgrace that her picture was run in the newspapers to the degree it was. It is the worst and most sinister form of journalism.
I will raise briefly a matter about which I intended to speak at more length. In light of the fact that 437,000 people, or 13 in every hundred, are unemployed, I ask the Leader for a debate on green energy as a method of job creation, for which we should set aside a day. I wish to focus on the entire spectrum of possibilities for job creation in the area of green energy, but most particularly on micro-generation. Small wind turbines could be set up on farms and on-site at businesses across the country, and this should be supported. Communities could come together, as the co-operative movement did in the past, and have a community generator. Rivers and streams could also be used to drive turbines and create energy as the mills of old did. I ask the Leader for a debate in the House on green energy, micro-generation and the Fine Gael proposition to establish an economic recovery agency to create 100,000 jobs in the area of green energy.
Listening to Senator Harris was interesting. A few Ministers have left their mark during the century since this State was formed, such as Donogh O'Malley in respect of education. A neighbour of mine, former Deputy Joseph Blowick, was leader of Clann na Talmhan and the Minister for Lands. He set up the forestry system despite only having national school education. In those times, Ministers were in charge, but the free education introduced by Donogh O'Malley has led to Departments and the Civil Service running the country. This is a part of our current problem.
I raised with the Leader the issue of regional planning guidelines. Will he arrange for a debate in the House? Since those involved in putting regional planning guidelines together are the electorate of the majority of Senators, holding a debate on the matter would be important. It affects county development plans and regional authorities. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is very much in favour of the latter and they will have a significant effect on local authorities, particularly in terms of how their county development plans will be varied after the regional plans are agreed. I ask for an urgent debate on this issue.
I wish to comment on the George Lee matter, as I support Senator Harris's remarks. This situation sends out a bad message about the need for perseverance. If there is one quality that we all need as we deal with our challenges, it is perseverance.
Tá an-bhrón orm go bhfuil cosc ar chraoladh an aifreann ach uair amháin sa mhí ar Raidió na Gaeltachta. It is disappointing Raidió na Gaeltachta has taken the decision to reduce the broadcasting of masses to one per month. It will affect fishermen, people in nursing homes and the sick at home and I sincerely hope that it can be reversed. Financial reasons are being given, but the broadcasting of a mass on radio is not a Broadway production.
During the past 24 hours, much has been stated about the profession of politics. From my perspective, it is a fine, honourable profession. It was a man with Tipperary connections and who occupied the White House in the 1980s who stated that politics was the second oldest profession in the world and bore a strong resemblance to the oldest profession. That to one side——
Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Alex White, Twomey, O'Sullivan, Hanafin, Feeney, Bacik, Regan, Ormonde, Quinn, Harris, Healy Eames, Corrigan, Buttimer and McCarthy were concerned by the events of the past 24 hours. As Leader of the House, I wish George Lee, his wife and their family every success for the future. He tried, did not like it and left.
The question of helping people in terms of mortgage repayments has been outlined to the House today, as have many matters that relate to NAMA. Credit flow for small businesses is an urgent issue. The Finance Bill will be before the House in two weeks' time, but will be on Second Stage in the Dáil today and tomorrow. The Minister will deal with the Bill in the Lower House. It is to be hoped he will attend this House during the last week in February. I will allow additional time to discuss all matters pertaining to NAMA, small business and mortgages, as I stated during an Order of Business debate last week, so as that colleagues can make their views on the Bill known to the Minister during these difficult times.
Last Thursday two weeks ago, we held a long debate on job creation with the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. I was disappointed that it concluded 30 minutes ahead of the allocated time. If more time is needed in the near future, I will endeavour to have the Tánaiste return to the House to discuss the up-to-date position of this serious challenge. The House wants to be updated regularly in this regard and I agree with colleagues' requests.
Senators O'Toole and Quinn referred to the challenge presented by the €4 billion in last year's budget and the €3 billion in each of the budgets for this year and next year. They also discussed the Government, trade unions and social partners getting together again. I understand there is a willingness on all sides that this should occur. If a debate is required, I hope we could have it soon in order that we can plan for what is necessary in the next three budgets.
Senator Alex White inquired as to when by-elections will be held in Donegal and Dublin. As he knows, these are matters for the Taoiseach. I once again wish the Senator well.
Senator Leyden referred to his statements of 9 May 2009 regarding RTE and the drawing up of protocols. I will pass his strong opinions on to the Minister after the Order of Business.
Senators O'Sullivan and Ó Brolcháin called for a debate on the food and drink industry. They also wished the more than 160 products launched in Croke Park today well. This timely launch speaks volumes about the Irish food and drink industry. I strongly suggest that the Green Party avail of the Private Members' time it is due soon to hold this debate.
Senators Norris, Ó Murchú, O'Reilly and Mullen expressed strong opinions on the events of the Lillis case, especially that of the Garda Síochána protecting witnesses in order that they can help in court cases. I support fully the sentiments expressed by colleagues and we should hold a debate on the media's responsibility in this regard. I would have no difficulty in setting time aside.
Senator Hanafin called for a debate on live broadcasting of Seanad proceedings. This matter is before the Joint Administration Committee. I congratulate its new chairman, Deputy Edward O'Keeffe, and wish him well. RTE will appear before the committee at our meeting on Wednesday next week as the first of the three television broadcasters. We will pursue the possibility of live broadcasting of one hour of Seanad Éireann's Order of Business. I will update the House on the committee's deliberations as they continue.
Senator McFadden called for a debate on the Minister for Transport's budget in respect of the issues outlined. The success of a rural bus link in her constituency must be recognised. I will make the request and determine how to arrange the debate.
Senators Feeney, Glynn, Buttimer and O'Reilly called for a debate on mental health. I have outlined to the House that this debate will be held during the next two weeks. I have complimented the Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, on his Trojan work in his portfolio. I agree with Senator Glynn concerning long-stay institutions and the visiting committees, which used to be the order of the day. Indeed, Senator McFadden's father was on a committee with us all. We did good work on behalf of the Midland Health Board and other health boards.
Senator Bacik discussed the treatment of unaccompanied minors under the care of the HSE. Last week, I stated that we would debate this matter.
Senator Callely called for a debate on the economy. This can take place during the debate on the Finance Bill in the last week in February. The Senator has always championed the causes of older people, including the provision of home care packages, the fair deal scheme and safeguards to ensure their effective care. I will have no difficulty in arranging a debate on all of the serious proposals he made.
Senators Ormonde, Harris and Burke raised the issue of guidelines for those involved in public life, the training necessary and the experience required. This is most important for anyone being considered for promotion to serve as a public representative. I fully share their sentiments. We have heard words of wisdom from Senators, including those in the Independent ranks, who have served their country and parties. We should discuss this matter once every year, as it would be greatly help new and younger Members of the Dáil and Seanad.
Senator Quinn raised an old chestnut of his. He called for a provision to ensure an extra hour of daylight in the evening. To the best of my recollection, this was tried previously but the arrangement was reversed quickly because at the time a large number of students were waiting at bus stops from 7 a.m. and it was dark up to 9 a.m. The view was that while it would be okay for secondary school students aged 14, 15 or 16 years to have to wait in the dark at bus stops in rural Ireland, there was a safety concern about primary school students having to wait in the dark at bus stops from 8.30 a.m. onwards and so the provision was reversed. However, I will have no difficulty in allowing the issue to be reconsidered. We will check to see why the original provision was reversed.
It is never the wrong time to do the right thing. We should seriously consider Senator Quinn's proposal.
Senator Coghlan called for a debate on overcharging by the banks. This issue could be dealt with during the debate on the Finance Bill. I will discuss with the leaders next week the time to be allowed for each Senator to make a contribution on the Bill to enable them to include all of the issues they want to address.
Senator Glynn highlighted the dangers posed by head shops. I know Ministers are taking this issue very seriously and I hope they will deal with it speedily. We have discussed the issue in the House during the past two weeks. I fully support the Senator's call that it be brought to a speedy conclusion and dealt with in legislation in the next few weeks.
Senator Healy Eames has informed the House that 175 jobs are to go at Boston Scientific. The company currently employs 3,000 workers and is a wonderful employer. I hope those who will lose their jobs will be retrained and that there will be jobs for them in the future.
Senator O'Reilly called for a debate on green energy opportunities, including the development of wind and river turbines. Such a debate would be worthwhile. The Senator might talk to his leader about bringing forward a motion on the matter the next time Fine Gael has an opportunity to avail of Private Members' time. Consideration of this matter would be worthwhile.
Senator Burke called for a debate on regional planning guidelines and the upgrading of the regional authorities. We can have a debate on this matter.
Senator Mullen abhors the fact that Raidió na Gaeltachta is to stop broadcasting Sunday mass. With this change, we have hit a new low in broadcasting in Ireland. This is shameful and appalling. As we were all taught at school, the most important hour of the week is the hour spent in church on a Sunday. Considering that the station broadcasts for 167 hours, it has hit a really low pitch in deciding that it will not broadcast Sunday mass. This will impact on those who are not able to move from their homes and for whom Sunday mass is part and parcel of their lives. It is probably the most important hour in their week's activities.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 22 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Paul Coghlan, Maurice Cummins, Paschal Donohoe, Frances Fitzgerald, Dominic Hannigan, Fidelma Healy Eames, Michael McCarthy, Nicky McFadden, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, Joe O'Reilly, Joe O'Toole, John Paul Phelan, Feargal Quinn, Eugene Regan, Shane Ross, Liam Twomey, Alex White)
Against the motion: 26 (Dan Boyle, Martin Brady, Larry Butler, Ivor Callely, James Carroll, John Carty, Donie Cassidy, Maria Corrigan, Mark Daly, Geraldine Feeney, Camillus Glynn, John Gerard Hanafin, Eoghan Harris, Cecilia Keaveney, Terry Leyden, Paschal Mooney, Niall Ó Brolcháin, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Francis O'Brien, Denis O'Donovan, Fiona O'Malley, Ned O'Sullivan, Ann Ormonde, Kieran Phelan, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Maurice Cummins and Joe O'Reilly; Níl, Senators Camillus Glynn and Diarmuid Wilson.
Amendment declared lost.