Tuesday, 23 February 2010
Order of Business
It is with great pleasure that I, as Leader of the House, welcome Senator Mark Dearey to the membership of the Government side of the House. Mark is a married man. He is married to Laura, has one daughter and, I understand, another baby is on the way. He is a family man, a retailer in Clanbrassil Street in Dundalk, a businessman coming to join the ranks of the Oireachtas, a publican and a music promoter.
He is a member of Louth County Council and a member of Dundalk Town Council. He has been heavily involved in many local issues and has made a remarkable contribution in his own local area. I wholeheartedly welcome him here today, as leader of the Fianna Fáil group and as Leader of Seanad Éireann. I wish him well in his political career and look forward to working along with him for the remaining two and half years of the lifetime of this Seanad.
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re draft directive on interpretation and translation in criminal procedures - referred to committee, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, motion re Disease of Animals Act - back from committee, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 1; and No. 3, George Mitchell Scholarship Fund (Amendment) Bill 2010 - all Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2, on which spokespersons may speak for 12 minutes, all other Senators for seven minutes, on which Senators may share time by agreement of the House, and the Minister to be called upon to make closing comments at the conclusion of Second Stage.
I welcome Senator Mark Dearey to the House and congratulate him on his appointment. It is an honour to be appointed to this House. I congratulate him on that. He arrives at an eventful time in politics and perhaps an eventful and challenging day for the Green Party. I congratulate Senator Dearey on his appointment to this House.
A serious issue has arisen today in regard to a Minister of the Government. It is reported that a Minister of State tried to influence the Garda to stop a prosecution and that the said Minister of State, Deputy Sargent, sent a series of letters to the force telling it that it would be wholly inappropriate at this point to prosecute one of his constituents. Apparently, a series of letters were sent to the Garda by the Minister of State. I would very much like to hear the Minister of State make a statement on these facts because very serious questions arise in relation to some of the information which has been published so far. A Minister cannot interfere during the course of a criminal investigation to have a summons dropped. This is not an acceptable standard. Will the Leader clarify if the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, and the Taoiseach will have another meeting today to discuss this matter which raises serious questions about the relationship between the legal process, politics and a Minister's behaviour? I note there has not been a tweet out of Senator Dan Boyle on it.
I raise a most serious issue facing the country, the lack of credit for small businesses. It is choking businesses up and down the country. I am sure every Senator has been approached by people running small businesses who are desperate to obtain credit, who have had overdrafts slashed and are finding it very difficult to survive. If we are to encourage and support businesses at this critical time, credit will have to flow again and we will have to find a mechanism to allow this to happen. It appears the Government's banking strategy is unravelling. It is time, therefore, for a Minister to come to the House to discuss banking policy. We have witnessed some unexpected events in the past few days which were different from what the Government had expected, specifically as regards the bank dividend. Land values are plummeting and there have been extraordinary falls in valuations. All of this has implications for NAMA and the write-down, as well as for the taxpayer. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate as soon as possible on the Government's approach to banking and the actions it intends to take to ensure the flow of credit.
I extend congratulations from these benches to Senator Dearey. It is important that people put their names forward for public representation at a time when politics is not really the dish of the week for most. I thank Senator Dearey for so doing. I welcome him and wish him well. His appointment raises an issue about methods of election and nomination but it seems to have been ignored by the Government parties. As the Green Party has an input, I ask the Senator to speak to his party leader in order to advance the issue. I am very impressed by the despatch at which the Government dealt with the filling of the vacancy. I presume we can look forward to witnessing an equally enthusiastic approach to the Donegal South-West and Dublin South by-elections.
County Louth is very well represented in the Seanad. We look forward to all the delegates from the county telling us how we should do business and make an input. I congratulate the Senator and wish him well.
The issue raised by Senator Fitzgerald about the banks is a very important one. I support, in general, the Government's banking policy, although it is not handling the issue well and is misleading time and again. I have had to explain Government policy on a number of occasions when people did not understand what was going on. Senator Fitzgerald is right that there was an unexpected development over the weekend when, instead of getting €250 million, the Government received shares from Bank of Ireland. In itself, that is not bad but, given the discussion on the availability of credit, we should note there has been a positive spin-off which should be welcomed by all parties. Bank of Ireland now has an extra €250 million to deal with normal banking activities which brings us closer to the point where credit will be extended to small and medium businesses and people seeking mortgages. There is a positive side which should be welcomed but I did not hear Government representatives say this over the weekend. There are issues that we must all consider, including the recapitalisation of the bank in the next month or year. That is part of the process and not a big deal.
The Leader should take special note of my next point. There has been an argument across the House between the Government and Opposition sides about the extension of credit. In the course of the passage of the NAMA legislation there was a major argument when the Government rejected a proposal from Fine Gael that the Minister be given the power to force the banks to extend credit. I made it clear at that stage that this could not be done. I also made it clear here last week that the Minister of Finance, in spite of being accused of saying that he would force the banks to extend credit following the development of NAMA, never actually said that. However, he has led people to believe it, and he did it again yesterday morning on "Morning Ireland", when he stated there would be legislative measures to ensure credit was extended to businesses that needed it. That is magic speak and double talk. He is letting people hear what they expect to hear, but it is not what he said at all. One minute later on the programme, he said that the new legislation next month would ensure that credit could be extended to small and medium enterprises. People again hear that this is something new.
We do not need legislation to allow credit to be extended. The ability to do that is in place at the moment. It would be much more honest if people were told exactly what the situation is and when, where and how credit will be extended.
I join with others in welcoming Senator Mark Dearey to the House and I wish him well. The benches opposite are changing Members with dizzying frequency at the moment, and I think Senator Dearey, who I do not know but of whom I know, will add considerably to the business and work of this House. I wish him well in that regard.
I do not want to say too much about the developments this morning in respect of the Minister of State, Deputy Sargent, because Senator Fitzgerald already raised the issue. However, if what was reported turns out to be the case and it is necessary or inevitable that the Minister of State would have to resign, I appeal to him to do it in a dignified manner, as would be consistent with the man-----
It is spectacular to suggest that public discourse and public trust in the institutions of the State, including the Government, would not be relevant to the Parliament. I am not seeking to stir it at all. In fact I am looking for the opposite, so that we do not have the sort of spectacle we had last week, where a resignation had to be dragged from a Minister, where people were sent on radio and television saying that he had done no wrong but then seemed to change their minds.
It is a matter for the public. If it is not a matter for this House, then what is a matter for this House?
I ask the Leader for a debate on the banks. Senator O'Toole seems to be in a better position to explain Government policy than the Government. He is right to say there is double speak and double think on this issue of credit. The principal basis upon which NAMA was advocated by the Minister for Finance, put through these Houses and supported by Members on the Government side was that it would lead to the availability of credit to small businesses. Every time anybody on the Government side says anything about NAMA, they claim that it is necessary so that credit can be provided to business. It is not leading to the provision of credit to business at all. We now have a policy that is not clear and is in a mess, and when the Labour Party was told a year ago that our position on nationalisation was ideologically based, the Minister is now doing precisely what we said he ought to have done in the first place. Let us have that debate on the banks as soon as we can.
I welcome my friend and colleague, Senator Mark Dearey, to this House. He has been a member of Louth County Council and of Dundalk Town Council for five years before that. Along with his colleagues in County Louth, he helped deliver the best Green Party performance in the previous local elections which were otherwise quite poor and difficult for our party. He has shown himself to be a person who is able to connect and represent people in his local community. He will be an asset to the House, as he has a background in running a successful business, the Spirit Store in Dundalk, which background will inform many of the debates in the House regularly called for on the Order of Business, particularly on the difficulties facing small business. I look forward to hearing his contributions on these subjects.
As has been pointed out, this is a day which has consequences for other friends and colleagues of ours. It also happens to be Senator Dearey's daughter's birthday and I hope when this day is remembered, it will be for the best personal and family reasons.
On the other issues raised, particularly as they reflect on the other House, a statement will be made after the Order of Business in the other House which will help to inform the situation. We must avoid the instant politics that some in the media expect from representatives.
I ask other Members to do the same. I know the individual involved is a decent and honourable man and will react accordingly.
On the wider issue, I would also welcome a further debate on banking. Those of us who are also members of the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly were fortunate enough to hear a presentation by the Governor of the Cenral Bank, Professor Patrick Honohan. If other Members had direct access to that presentation, it would give them confidence that the right strategy is being pursued by people of ability and competence and that it will see us through to the long-term goal.
We have heard from Senators Fitzgerald, White, O'Toole and Boyle. The most urgent need in restoring faith in the economy is to restore faith in the banking system. The lack of credit is at the heart of this. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to allow us to have a debate on banking today. It is urgent because, no matter what is being said, the opposite is happening. There is a form of creeping nationalisation which is totally at variance with the Government's promises. The State, by stealth or otherwise, is increasing its shareholding in the two major banks. I am aware this has to do with the Commission's ruling on state aid but the question is when will Brussels speak definitively on the matter. The plans of the banks were laid before the Commission in December and the ECB president, Mr. Jean-Claude Trichet-----
He has stressed the need for an urgent response to the plans mentioned. I want to hear from the Leader who is the conduit between the Government and the House about that response and the Commission's plans. The Commission must get off its butt and give an answer to the banks and the Government in order that we can get on with saving the banking system and boosting the economy. For that reason, I propose the amendment to the Order of Business that the debate be taken today.
I also welcome Senator Dearey to the House and wish him well in the years ahead. I am sure we will benefit greatly from his contributions.
I also support the calls made for a debate on banking, particularly on the availability of credit.
It was announced in Paris last week that the world rally championship would not return to Ireland in 2011. This was to be the largest sports event to take place in Ireland next year. When rounds of the world rally championship were held here in 2007 and 2009, they contributed over €100 million to the economy, attracted 600,000 visitors and were watched by 800 million people across the globe. That kind of promotion cannot be bought; neither can it be produced by the diplomatic corps, IDA Ireland or anybody else. In the light of the decision of the governing body of world motor sport not to hold a round of the championship here, a task force comprising representatives of the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Arts, Sport and Tourism, Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland should be set up and chaired by a reprentative of the Tánaiste's office. If it were a business which produced revenue or promotional opportunities of the type to which I refer, we would be jumping up and down about its being moved elsewhere. I urge the Leader to arrange a debate on the matter. As part of such a debate, we could focus on sports tourism and what it has brought to the country and what it could bring here in the future. We could also discuss the tragedy of last week's decision to exclude Ireland as a host nation for one of the rounds of the world rally championship. I am seeking a debate on the matter because the main reason for our exclusion from the 2011 calendar is personality differences and bickering between those involved in Fáilte Ireland and Motorsport Ireland. It is inexcusable that such differences can have such detrimental effects on the economy.
I also welcome Senator Dearey. As one who began his career as a retailer in Dundalk, it is great to have another retailer from that part of the wee county in the House.
There are occasions when we continually request particular debates on the Order of Business. This is one such occasion. The issue of banking certainly requires attention and we must not wait until the introduction of the Finance Bill to debate it. I hope the Leader will be in a position to indicate when the Bill will be brought before the House. In the meantime, there is a need for a debate on banking. Like Senator Boyle, I met the new Governor of the Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland, Professor Patrick Honohan, yesterday and I must state I am impressed by him. Regardless of the different views of banking, once a decision has been made we must support it.
I support Senator O'Toole's comments on loans. Regardless of whether we part own any of the banks, I do not want the Government to instruct them to give money to certain small businesses. Of course, we want credit to be extended to small and medium-sized enterprises. On the other hand, we do not want people to direct that money be given to such enterprises or any other business. Allowing such behaviour to occur would bring about the end of banking and also the making of sensible business decisions. The question of the extension of credit must be considered in a different way. Let us ensure the banks in which we have a stake are run on a commercial basis.
In December I raised the topic of America's insistence that 100% container scanning be introduced from July 2012. The introduction of the necessary equipment will give rise to major costs because the US authorities have indicated that from July 2012 any container entering that jurisdiction will first have to be scanned at its port of origin. Such equipment will not be put in place at US ports to scan items for export. This will have a major effect on international trade and prove to be a major disadvantage to countries in Europe and others. I understand the need for the United States to introduce the relevant security measures. In that context, this matter will probably be resolved at European rather than national level. I, therefore, urge the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Mary Coughlan, to discover what we must do to ensure Irish jobs will be protected.
I also welcome Senator Dearey and look forward to working with him. It is great that his family are present to share in this lovely occasion.
I endorse the points made by previous speakers on the need for the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to come before the House at some stage. However, it is not possible for us to snap our fingers and state he must come before us this afternoon. That is what the amendment is about and it does not make sense. We would ask the Leader to try to bring the Minister in as soon as he can possible make it, but to snap one's fingers and state he must attend this afternoon does not carry weight.
I endorse all the points made on why credit is not being given. I do not understand why we cannot get credit moving again. It is a simple question to which I do not know the answer.
Perhaps the Minister will come to the House and give simple answers to the question. Another issue which is very interesting is the ESRI study of family formation over a 20-year period from 1986 to 2006. It examined the correlation between low educational attainment and high rates of pregnancy. It also examined the non-standard families that exist today. This study provides us with another opportunity to examine the future of society and how best to move it forward, which I have raised on many occasions. I do not call for a debate because we have much more important issues at present, but I would like the Leader to include it on his agenda at some stage when he finds an opportunity to do so.
I propose an amendment to today's Order of Business to invite the Minister for Education and Science to the House to discuss the escalating crisis in our schools which threatens to bring them to a halt. Is the Government concerned about the news that teaching unions have directed their members from 8 March not to carry out middle management duties of teachers not replaced as a result of the moratorium? Let us consider what will be affected if teachers stop carrying out these duties. This involves year heads who supervise hundreds of students, teachers who arrange transition year and leaving certificate applied programmes, and teachers who set exams and manage timetables. This type of action, if it is not headed off now, will bring our schools to a halt. This is very bad news for education.
I call for a debate on the separation of powers. In the previous Dáil, as Chairman of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution, I publicly and strongly put forward the suggestion that any interference or contact by Oireachtas Members with members of the Garda Síochána in particular should be outlawed. At that stage there was no cross-party support for such a move. It is an issue that should be debated in the House. A precedent has developed over the years whereby the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has been approached on the mitigation of fines and such matters. I call for the outlawing once and for all of this type of approach by e-mail, correspondence or phone call. I feel very strongly about this matter.
I re-iterate to the Leader my plea to him for a debate on the fishing industry. He promised it to me last year but we are now in 2010. I hope it can be dealt with, especially as we will have a European review of the Common Fisheries Policy that has critical implications for the Irish fishing industry. In this regard, a side issue of sea fishing is that of aquaculture and mariculture. Almost 20 years ago the fishing industry, the Department and people involved in fish farming had an aspiration for a certain level of tonnage, whether it be farmed salmon, trout, mussels, clams or abalone. The strategy has fallen short of what was envisaged in the early 1990s. There should be a debate on the issue because countries such as Chile, Norway, France and the Netherlands are leaving us behind. There is great potential for job creation in this industry because there are lots of bays and the oceans are extensive. The matter should be viewed as an opportunity to create environmentally friendly jobs that would benefit the island of Ireland. We have failed thus far to exploit the natural potential of the seas.
I join others in welcoming Senator Dearey to the Chamber. I have known the Senator for some and fought the good fight with him against the incinerator in County Meath. I can attest, therefore, to his many strengths. I have also enjoyed partaking of some refreshments in the Spirit Store and would recommend the establishment to everybody.
In regard to SR Technics, I return to an issue debated last week. The Taoiseach stated in the other House that a competition had been held for the lease of hangar 6. I searched the newspapers and as I could not find a report on any such competition, I would like the Leader to ask the Taoiseach to indicate when the competition was advertised, what were the selection criteria and who carried out the evaluation.
I join other Senators in calling for a debate on banking. I am particularly conscious of the calls made today to focus on the lack of credit. While Opposition Members have rightly focused on this issue, they are incorrect to question whether it is a good idea for the banks to retain €250 million rather than give bank shares to the Government. That sum of money could allow lending of €2.5 billion in each of the two banks in question. We have also heard complaints about the claim that credit will flow as a result of NAMA. Credit will flow by virtue of the toxic loans being taken from the banks.
I second Senator Coghlan's amendment to the Order of Business to discuss the banking crisis. I was given to understand by the Leader that we would have held a debate several weeks ago on the banking crisis and NAMA, in particular. The issues are now so acute and urgent that a debate is required today.
I understand from Senator Boyle that the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Trevor Sargent, is to make a statement in the other House later today. This is a serious issue and I hope it will be resolved. All of the issues with we have been dealing for several weeks do not concern personalities but the system of justice and its administration. Any interference in that system, particularly by Members of the Oireachtas, is entirely inappropriate.
A further statement is required from the Taoiseach in the light of a report on the Dublin Docklands Development Authority which points out that, as Minister for Finance, he had responsibility for increasing the cap on borrowing which allowed the authority to enter into the disastrous deal on the Glass Bottle site leaving it with a deficit of €213 million. The then Taoiseach in waiting held a private meeting with Mr. Seán Fitzpatrick and the directors of Anglo Irish Bank. This was not included in the public engagements list. In September 2008 he expressed a particular view on the bank guarantee and whether the aforementioned bank should be considered as being of systemic importance and in the same category as the other banks. He should make a statement setting out what is and was his relationship with Mr. Fitzpatrick. At this remove that relationship looks somewhat suspect-----
I welcome Senator Mark Dearey to this House and congratulate him on being appointed by the Taoiseach, Deputy Brian Cowen. It is a great honour. It is the easiest election he ever fought. I welcome his wife, Laura, his daughter, and all his family, friends and supporters who are here. It is a great honour to serve in this House and in the Oireachtas. Senator Dearey is following a tremendous record. Six Members of the Oireachtas are from County Louth. The latest ones, Senators James Carroll and Mark Dearey-----
Questions to the Leader. I am very concerned about the difference in the price of diesel and petrol throughout the country. In the past few hours I carried out a survey in County Cavan where the price of petrol is 126.9 c per litre and 118.9 c per litre for diesel at a Maxol station. I understand from my colleague, Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill, that in Donegal the price is 110.9 c for diesel and 118.9 c for petrol. There is a big difference. On the way to Dublin from Cavan today the price of petrol at the Maxol station in Clonee was 128.9 c and 119.9 c for diesel. Topaz prices were 127.9 c and 119.7 c.
I join in the welcome to Senator Dearey. I also express my sorrow at what I understand is the imminent resignation of Deputy Trevor Sargent as Minister of State. I have known him for many years. I know him to be an honourable, decent, hard-working man. I am not sure of the circumstances but I expect there is some element of mistake as well as perhaps some error of judgment. I do not know, but I regret his leaving Government, which will be weakened.
I join the calls for a debate on the economy and banking. I do not agree with my friend, Senator O'Toole, that the issue of shares by Bank of Ireland rather than paying the debt is no big deal. It is certainly a big deal for the shareholders whose holdings will be further diluted. I agree with Senator Quinn who seemed to indicate that it would be a disastrous mistake to allow a Government to direct the exchange of credit to specific companies. There is no surer guarantee of corruption and the accusation of corruption. We should include in this debate a general debate on the economy.
Over a number of years I have raised the dangerous business of allowing upward-only rent reviews. We had it in Grafton Street and we have just had an astonishing case in Cork where a successful business, The Carphone Warehouse, was subjected to an increase from €39,000 to €205,000. Talk about garrotting the goose that lays the golden egg. That is absolute insanity in the middle of a financial difficulty. We need to expose this kind of idiotic attempt at profiteering by certain institutions in the State.
I welcome my friend and colleague, Senator Mark Dearey, to the Chamber. Today is a baptism of fire for him. He is a man of great integrity and he will prove to be a great Senator over the next two and a half years. The Green Party nominees will not change during that time. I wish his daughter, Stella, a happy birthday today and I also welcome his family, friends and colleagues to the Visitors Gallery.
Senators Fitzgerald and Alex White seem to find it more important to raise the constituency representations of Deputy Sargent than to call for a banking inquiry.
I call for a debate on the arts. We are in a deep recession and circumstances are difficult for many people. I attended an interesting debate on the arts last night. It is important that we place a high priority on them. During recessions, arts very much come to the fore and it is important that people be allowed to express themselves in an artistic fashion.
I have asked Members on numerous occasions not to bring mobile telephones into the Chamber and leave them turned on. I will have to seek permission from the Committee on Procedures and Privileges for a blanket ban on them in the Chamber.
Déanaim comhghairdeas leis an Seanadóir nua, Mark Dearey. I wish him and his family well on his appointment.
When it is it proposed to have a debate on job creation? Does the Leader agree on the basis of the remarks made by Professor Honohan that he will be judged on whether credit flows to business, job creation and the jailing of bankers who acted illegally and who are held to account for their actions? That will be the measure of the man, the banking profession and the Government.
It is about time we had a Government that acted with authority. When will the Dublin Docklands Development Authority report be published? Are the Taoiseach and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government at odds with one another?
When will the Government take action on accountability and standards in office? Senator Boyle can make smart comments and use Twitter.
It is my pleasure to welcome our new colleague, his wife, family and friends. Having been born in Dundalk it is great to acknowledge that four Members were born in County Louth, which is 7% of the Seanad's membership. We are entrepreneurial and feisty and we have a tremendous and distinctive work ethic.
The major challenge we face in the economy is to get the more than 400,000 people unemployed back into the workforce and to ensure the stability of companies that are wavering in terms of survival. We need the smart economy agenda. This phrase is bandied about and people do not understand what it means. The smart economy agenda is about increasing productivity throughout the economy and about being open to new ideas and new and better ways of doing things. We must continue to invest in research and development. This, coupled with revitalising Irish entrepreneurship, will be the cornerstone of the next wave of economic development. Tragically, the body responsible for promoting science and innovation, Science Foundation Ireland, has had its budget for 2010 cut by 9%. This constitutes a reduction of 25% on the original planned 2010 allocation under the strategy for science, technology and innovation. Since the establishment of Science Foundation Ireland in 2003, the pool of talent in the higher education institutes has increased considerably. While there are 2,500 quality scientists and engineers within the third level system, owing to the changes in the budget for 2010 we will see a significant reduction in these numbers. Science Foundation Ireland estimates that 400 to 500 researchers will be lost by the end of the year.
He is a man who comes from a part of the country which was dominated for years by my great political hero, Brendan McGahan, the man who stopped Slab Murphy from taking a lot of money from The Sunday Times because of the honesty of his evidence. I welcome Senator Dearey and hope he will make a hard-headed contribution to what is frequently a highly romantic and misty-eyed House.
Those who take the high moral ground are giving many hostages to fortune. There is no cut and dried position in respect of representations to Ministers for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. There has been a long and admittedly bad political culture of making such representations but one cannot make up morality as one goes along.
Until there is in place a proper code of conduct, it is wrong that a fine Minister of State such as Deputy Trevor Sargent should be obliged to resign today on this issue, if he is to resign. I wish him well, as he has been a very good Minister of State and this kind of moral finger-wagging is very dangerous. The great Soviet dissident, Joseph Brodsky, told the politically correct girls of Brown University to keep that index finger in one's pocket because some day it would become a bullet in one's own head.
First, I join in the congratulations and good wishes extended to Senator Dearey. His business experience will be a valuable addition in the real challenges Members face on economic issues. Senator Mary White has correctly pointed out that the focus should be on the 470,000 people who are unemployed and depending on these Houses to pursue policies that will provide some hope and confidence for the future. In that regard, I refer to the posturing in seeking an amendment to the Order of Business to have immediate debates on various issues. I would support a debate on banking which should take place at an opportune time as it is important. It is not simply the liquidity of the banks that will yield the necessary credit for small businesses. It has much to do with confidence within the banks which has been as affected, as have consumers and business people. This is a serious issue and the problem will continue until Ireland has addressed and turned away from the recession.
I regret the announcement by or diktat from the teachers' union to cease co-operation. On a personal level, students face highly difficult, challenging and stressful times during examination periods. They must get points to secure their futures in university. They must then worry about whether they will get jobs. Teachers who are among the highest paid in the OECD area and union officials on handsome six-figure sums should have some regard and not use students as pawns in the pursuit of blatant self-interest.
I support my colleagues in asking for an urgent debate on the banking economy. I also support Senator Walsh's comments in this regard. It is imperative that we have a debate soon. NAMA was sold to the country and this House on three different levels. First, it was to get credit flowing. We have seen that this is not the case. Second, it was to reduce the need of the State to take ownership and a role in our banks. Over the weekend, we saw that this was not the case either. Third, we heard much about the concept of long-term economic value and why it was important to the economy and the banks. On Friday, we saw a response to the concept of long-term economic value when a piece of property valued at €31 million by those involved with it was assigned a value by the commercial courts of €600,000.
Where does this fit in with the concept of NAMA and the discussion on how it will operate? In the House, I argued that NAMA would be a creature of bubble economics and a slave to the vested interests that brought our country to the brink.
Is mian liom freisin fáilte faoi leith a chur roimh an Seanadóir nua, a bhean chéile agus a chlann. Tá mé cinnte, ón méid atá cloiste agam, go mbeidh an Seanadóir Dearey in ann seirbhís speisialta a thabhairt don Teach seo. Go raibh rath Dé ar a shaothar.
Last week, I discussed the issue of the false passports used in a high profile murder case. I understand from the media that the Minister for Foreign Affairs has met the Israeli ambassador. Will the Leader check with the Minister as to the outcome of that meeting? Various newspaper reports suggest that the ambassador stated he had no information whatsoever regarding the case. Some of the names on the passports are now seemingly in the public domain. One in particular is a fairly high profile businessman. At the very least, an unfriendly act is involved. It could also be a dangerous situation in the context of security and protection of Irish citizens. That the Minister believed it necessary to meet the Israeli ambassador suggests a connection is perceived in the case. If it is true that Mossad was involved in this murder-----
Last week, both sides of the House welcomed the agreement reached between the parties in Northern Ireland on policing and justice matters. During that and many other debates in the House, I expressed a concern about the threat of so-called dissident republicans to the State. Last night, a 250 lb bomb, purportedly set by dissident republicans, exploded in Newry. They are a severe threat to the State and to peace on this island. I call for every possible resource on both sides of the Border to be put in place to eliminate these people and take them out of society before another bomb kills or maims people. The last thing we need is a return to this type of violence. We should do everything possible to co-operate with the police force in Northern Ireland, as I am sure we are doing, to ensure these types of bombs are not exploded again.
We have had floods, frost and snow, leaving many roads in an appalling state. The Minister for Transport asked that local authorities provide an estimate of the cost of repairing roads. When they had done so, the Minister announced that no further money would be made available. This is typical of the arrogance of the Minister and the Government with regard to local authorities and the people. The Minister should come to the House to explain why additional funding is not to be made available to fix the roads, which are in such an appalling state.
I welcome Senator Mark Deary to the House. This is a proud day for his family, friends and supporters and a triumph of their combined efforts over many years. Protocol precludes me from singing "Happy Birthday to You" to Senator Deary's daughter, Stella, but I wish her a happy birthday.
I ask the Leader to bring the Minister for Foreign Affairs to the House to speak about the ongoing saga of the use of Irish passports by Mossad, or by those who perpetrated the murder in Dubai. Today, we learned that the address given on the hotel bill was that of a former Taoiseach's brother. Of course, that information was released with a purpose. They want us to know how good they are. The information had to be supplied from Ireland and considerable research was required to get the address. Someone in Ireland must be complicit in passing on that information. I ask the Leader to ask the Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Justice, Equality and Law Reform to begin a Garda investigation into how the address of the brother of a former Taoiseach came into the hands of those who perpetrated a murder in Dubai. The message they are sending us is that they can kill anyone wherever, whenever and however they want.
While Ireland has not been silent on issues relating to Gaza and the West Bank, Europe has. It has been silent on the invasion of Gaza and on the failure to enforce the human rights element of the Euro-Med agreement. Israel is allowed to do whatever it wants with regard to human rights in Israel and Gaza. I ask the Leader that the Ministers for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Foreign Affairs be brought to the House to debate the most serious issue of the use of the address of a brother of a former Taoiseach. An embassy in Ireland must have supplied that information. This is a most serious issue.
I thank Senators for their kind words and warm welcome. I am surprised to see how many Members I have already met in various guises. I was in Senator Quinn's shop as a young boy with my mother and I served Senator Hannigan a libation. This has been a curious hour.
I thank the Leader for his welcome and I thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for allowing me to say these few words. As Senators will have gathered, this is the second most momentous 23 February I have experienced. I will say no more. Enough has been said. I thank my wife and members of the Louth Green Party constituency group who are here. This is proud day for me and I know they are proud of what our group has achieved locally. Last June, in a very bad local election, we secured four seats across the local authorities in Louth. I am confident that as I move to this Chamber the business of the county will be well looked after. I will not be taking my eye off any of it.
I have one or two regrets. One is that I will miss tomorrow evening's joint meeting of Dundalk Town Council and Newry and Mourne District Council. There cannot have been a more important meeting of those bodies for many a year, following the car bomb in Newry yesterday. Whatever means we have to provide political momentum in the Border region and throughout the North should be used. I hope the meeting will provide further momentum to the political process in the North.
Senators will forgive me if I do not deal head-on with the issues raised today. I thank the Taoiseach for his nomination, bearing Senator O'Toole's comments in mind, and I thank you again, a Chathaoirligh.
I thank Senator Boyle for his hand-holding. This has been a difficult day but he has found the time to introduce me to the mechanisms and workings of the House.
I welcome former Senator and Deputy Seamus Cullimore and his group to the Visitors Gallery. It is nice to see him still active in public life.
Senators Frances Fitzgerald, Joe O'Toole, Alex White, Dan Boyle, Paul Coghlan, Marc McSharry, Feargal Quinn, Ann Ormonde, John Hanafin, Eugene Regan, David Norris, Niall Ó Brolcháin, Jerry Buttimer, Mary White, Jim Walsh, Paschal Donohoe, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Maurice Cummins and Mark Daly all called for an urgent debate on the lack of credit, particularly for small businesses, and the possibility of setting up a friendly bank. In the 1970s and 1980s we had the Agricultural Credit Corporation for the farming community and the Industrial Credit Corporation for the business community. We are in a different situation today.
Because the Finance Bill is being debated in the Dáil it is difficult to have a Minister come to the Seanad this evening or tomorrow. However, it is with urgency that the request has been made and colleagues on all sides of the House agree with it. I will review the situation and come back to the House tomorrow morning, as a matter of urgency on this matter. Senators have my solemn word and commitment in that regard. I cannot deliver a Minister for Finance today when the Finance Bill is being debated in the Dáil and it is urgent that he be present in the House. The country faces no greater challenge than the 800,000 small and medium enterprises which are clinging on by their nails in their attempt to keep people employed. We understand the seriousness of this situation, particularly those of us who are from the business world and on a day when a business man takes his seat in Seanad Éireann.
I will endeavour to have this debate take place at the earliest opportunity and within a matter of days rather than a week. I cannot do so when the Finance Bill is being debated in the Dáil. I will come back to the House tomorrow morning with a firm date for an entire day's debate on how we can get credit flowing for small businesses.
I am responding to the genuine sincerity with which the request was made. Politics is the art of the possible. This debate will take place when it is humanly possible and within the next number of days. I will allow an all-day debate on the topic. In many years, I have never seen family businesses and small and medium sized enterprises facing such challenges as they do at present.
I refer to the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly which various Members representing their parties attended in County Cavan. It was an outstanding success and I congratulate Deputy Niall Blaney, who is one of the co-chairs, on the 40th anniversary of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly which started 20 years ago. It was an incredible experience to be there and to see how the North of Ireland has been transformed and how peace on the island of Ireland has been achieved. Of course, we were all sick to hear about the bomb last night. As the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Garda Commissioner, Fachtna Murphy, said the determination exists among the political class, the PSNI and the Garda Síochána. A small number of people are keeping the violence going. Please God, it will not be too long before it ceases completely.
I say to all those involved in the 20th anniversary celebrations, which took place in County Cavan yesterday, that one was proud to be Irish and doubly proud to be a Member of the Houses of the Oireachtas, whether the Dáil or the Seanad. I wholeheartedly congratulate everyone involved, including the clerk, Paul Kelly, and his staff, who did so much to fly the flag of Ireland among our counterparts from the British Isles, whether England, Wales, Scotland, the Isle Man or Jersey. It was a proud day to be Irish.
Senator MacSharry referred to the difficulties being experienced as a result of the huge loss of the world rally championship. I will bring this to the attention of the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism immediately after the Order of Business to see what can done at this late stage.
Senator Quinn referred 100% container scanning which may be coming in from July of next year in the US. This is a serious issue and I will bring it to the attention of the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.
Senator Ormonde referred to the ESRI study on family formation and called for a debate at an opportune time. I will arrange for this to take place.
Senators Healy Eames and Walsh called for an urgent debate on education and the challenges as a result of the decision taken on middle management duties. I will bear in mind the Senators' views, especially those of Senator Walsh in regard to students. Last week the Minister for Education and Science announced a massive allocation of almost €600 million for 52 new school projects. I have no difficulty in agreeing to the request for a debate.
Senator O'Donovan referred to the separation of powers,which we will have to discuss as a matter of urgency. He also called for a debate on the fishing industry. A debate was to take place the week Senator Peter Callanan died. I will definitely arrange such a debate because, as Senator O'Donovan said, there is huge potential for job creation in the mariculture and fishing industry.
Senator Hannigan referred to SR Technics. I will endeavour to get the information requested and I will come back to the Senator directly.
Senators Regan and Buttimer called for an update on the Dublin Docklands Development Authority report. I understand the report is with the Attorney General and I will endeavour to find out how it is progressing. Everyone wants it published at the earliest opportunity once the Attorney General has given his advice.
Senator Leyden referred to the differences in petrol prices in County Cavan which he saw on his way to the House today. We have noted them. Senator Ó Brolcháin called for a debate on the arts.
Senators Buttimer and Mary White called for a debate on job creation. That can be included in the debate on credit for small and medium-sized businesses.
Senators Ó Murchú and Daly expressed their disappointment, shock and horror at the abuse of Irish passports. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Martin, is doing everything he possibly can to try to find out the truth. It is an extremely difficult case but we fully support him in his endeavours.
Senator Cummins referred to the €411 million allocated to county councils for roads. As the county managers have said, they are prioritising roads badly affected by the inclement weather since last November. I have no difficulty arranging for the Minister to come to the House to discuss all aspects of his portfolio but roads in particular.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 20 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Paul Coghlan, Maurice Cummins, Paschal Donohoe, Frances Fitzgerald, Dominic Hannigan, Fidelma Healy Eames, Nicky McFadden, David Norris, Joe O'Reilly, Joe O'Toole, John Paul Phelan, Phil Prendergast, Feargal Quinn, Eugene Regan, Shane Ross, Alex White)
Against the motion: 31 (Dan Boyle, Martin Brady, Larry Butler, Ivor Callely, James Carroll, John Carty, Donie Cassidy, Maria Corrigan, Mark Daly, Fidelma Healy Eames, John Ellis, Geraldine Feeney, Camillus Glynn, John Gerard Hanafin, Eoghan Harris, Cecilia Keaveney, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Lisa McDonald, 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, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Maurice Cummins; Níl, Senators Camillus Glynn and Diarmuid Wilson.
Question declared lost.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 19 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Paul Coghlan, Maurice Cummins, Paschal Donohoe, Frances Fitzgerald, Dominic Hannigan, Fidelma Healy Eames, Nicky McFadden, David Norris, Joe O'Reilly, Joe O'Toole, John Paul Phelan, Phil Prendergast, Eugene Regan, Shane Ross, Alex White)
Against the motion: 32 (Dan Boyle, Martin Brady, Larry Butler, Ivor Callely, James Carroll, John Carty, Donie Cassidy, Maria Corrigan, Mark Daly, Mark Dearey, John Ellis, Geraldine Feeney, Camillus Glynn, John Gerard Hanafin, Eoghan Harris, Cecilia Keaveney, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Lisa McDonald, 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, Feargal Quinn, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Maurice Cummins and Fidelma Healy Eames; Níl, Senators Camillus Glynn and Diarmuid Wilson.
Amendment declared lost.