Tuesday, 9 March 2010
Order of Business.
The Order of Business is No. 1, the Energy (Biofuel Obligation and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2010 - Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business; and No. 2, the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill 2009 - Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1.
A number of weeks ago, there were requests from both sides of the House for a debate on women's participation in public life in Ireland following the very successful report in which Senator Bacik was involved. We asked for a debate this week given that yesterday was international women's day. I ask the Leader if that debate can take place as soon as possible. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to ensure we have that debate today because it is relevant.
Yesterday I got an e-mail, as I am sure many Members did, from a mother of two from Letterkenny who is also a businesswoman. She started her own business two years ago. I am sure many Members will have read the e-mail which made for very distressing reading. The woman states: "Today I write in total desolation and in desperation of any hope for me, my family and my business." She writes that when she sought to have a moratorium on her mortgage extended by her bank, she was refused and her food money now goes to Ulster Bank. She then describes being refused an overdraft from Allied Irish Banks and refers to a number of other banks in her e-mail. It is distressing to note that when the woman sought advice from the money advice and budgeting service the advice she was given - she may have been summarising - was to close her business and go on the dole. The sentiments expressed in this e-mail reflect the anger, despair and hopelessness felt by many people. The systematic failure of the Government to be accountable to citizens has given rise to a widespread sense of rage.
On child care, in May 2009 the Minister of State with responsibility for children announced the establishment of an independent review group to examine child deaths. Last night, he announced the establishment of a further review group. Where is the leadership, responsibility and accountability in government when life and death issues are treated in this manner? There is no accountability to the Houses for the death in care of 20 young people and the inadequacies in the foster care system.
A few months ago, when the House debated foster care, many Senators placed on record the inadequacies of the foster care system. Do such debates mean anything when information such as that published in The Sunday Business Post at the weekend emerges subsequently? The Minister should come to the House to state the position accurately and honestly.
The lack of responsibility to citizens is also evident the banking sector and we see it in today's disturbing statement by the Ombudsman, Ms Emily O'Reilly, on the report on the lost at sea scheme. The Ombudsman believes her work has been compromised. I call for an opportunity to debate her report in the House.
The Ombudsman indicated she believes these Houses are not able to do their work, as was clear from the decision to ignore the recommendations of her report. I could say much more about the widespread anger caused by Government lack of responsibility in these matters.
This morning, I circulated to the Cathaoirleach a proposal that the Order of Business be amended and that, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, the following motion be taken as No. 1 on today's business or, failing that, added to today's business: "That the Broadcasting Act 2009 (Section 33) Levy Order 2010 [S.I. No. 7 of 2010] be and is hereby annulled." The broadcasting industry and local radio stations are on their uppers, having lost 30% and in some cases in excess of 50% of income. Advertising has declined and jobs are being lost. Surely the House would not divide on this issue as I believe Senators on the Government side share my view on it. While I have no interest, one way or another, in this matter, it should be debated in the House.
I ask for the Leader's view on my amendment. The matter is urgent because the relevant order was signed on 22 January and will enter into force, unless annulled by either side, within 21 days. The 21-day period will elapse tomorrow night. I concede that we could discuss the issue tomorrow if a procedural difficulty arises with taking it today. I am not trying to be awkward. The introduction of the levy will result in further job losses and cutbacks in local radio stations. On that basis, I propose my amendment to the Order of Business.
I refer to the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1926 which prohibits licensed premises from opening on Good Friday. As public representatives and legislators, we must examine the reason pubs and restaurants cannot sell drink on Good Friday. Was this prohibition introduced in the interests of the State or to meet the needs of the churches? We need to know where we stand on this issues. Amending the legislation to allow licensed premises to open on Good Friday, especially in Limerick for the match between Munster and Leinster, would be a win-win scenario. I want to make clear what we would be doing in changing the legislation. I am not having a go at any church or believer, but if we were to change the legislation, the net effect would be that while churchgoers and believers could abstain from alcohol on Good Friday on the direction of their church, meanwhile atheists, agnostics, sceptics, heretics and others could imbibe should they wish to do so.
This is a serious matter. Everyone would be a winner and free will would prevail. The separation of church and State would be maintained and we would render unto Munster the things that are Munster's and to God the things that are God's.
As the Senator's first proposal amounts to a formal motion which was only tabled today and, therefore, does not comply with Standing Order 26 in terms notice, it is not in order as an amendment to the Order of Business. As Cathaoirleach, I am not prepared to accept it on such short notice. It will be circulated today and included in the Order Paper tomorrow.
I second Senator Fitzgerald's amendment to the Order of Business, calling for a debate today on women's participation in politics. The Leader promised us such a debate this week. As yesterday was International Women's Day, it would be timely to have such a debate this week. As the House is well aware, last October the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights produced a unanimous all-party report on improving women's participation in politics. The report contains a number of important recommendations and the committee has requested that both Houses of the Oireachtas debate it. I ask the Leader to ensure we will that have debate in this House. The Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, is committed to participating in it and anxious that it be held. It was promised for this week, in particular, because of International Women's Day. It will be an historic debate in that the issue has never been debated on the floor of either House of the Oireachtas. The committee will be debating the report tomorrow in recognition of International Women's Day, but it is a pity the Seanad is not doing so today.
I also support Senator O'Toole's call for a change in the law to allow licensed premises to open on Good Friday. It is an anomaly that we do not allow them to open on that day.
I am sorry; I thought he was nodding in agreement. In 2010 it is no longer acceptable that we are holding to a quaint notion that Good Friday is a day on which alcohol cannot be consumed. I am not saying we should have drunkeness on the streets. However, as Senator O'Toole said, let those of us who do not believe Good Friday is a particularly special day choose to do what we want to do in pubs and clubs. In particular, given the match to be held in Munster on that date, it shows up the pointlessness of the provision. It is not so quaint when one looks at the bigger picture. On "Today with Pat Kenny" this morning the issue arose of trainee teachers having to learn how to teach religion. Religious education is a compulsory subject on the curriculm at our teacher training colleges, six of which are controlled by the Catholic Church, while one is a Church of Ireland establishment. The latter can give preference in its admission policies to Church of Ireland applicants. That is also anomalous in this day and age.
I seek a debate on initiatives to improve literacy and reading. I congratulate Dublin City Council and the organisers of the Dublin book festival which has just finished its three-day run at City Hall on Dame Street. The premises were transformed by book stalls, poetry and book readings and even a café. It was very welcome to see the event which attracted large numbers of people. It is the kind of intiative we should be supporting in this House because it is a way of engaging people in improving literacy levels and reading skills among children and adults alike.
I welcome the raising of the issue of the closure of pubs on Good Friday. It would be useful to have a debate on such issues, especially in light of a recent speech by the Minister of State, Deputy Martin Mansergh, in which he reflected on the type of model Ireland should adopt in its search for pluralism. He considered whether we should go for the complete 1789 separation of church and State or whether we should go for something that is more inclusive and respectful of different traditions while at the same time acknowledging the proper distinctions between church and State. I would shed no tears if there was a change in this law, yet I wonder whether we would lose something, particularly considering how Ash Wednesday is very successfully used by religious and non-religious alike to promote abstention from smoking and making an effort in that area. Something good can be achieved by drawing on the tradition of Good Friday. I know people with no particular religious faith who, for example, sometimes give up something for Lent in solidarity with a sick relative or for some such reason. We should not re-fight the culture wars over this issue. We should have a debate, but we should also be mindful of the value of traditions and their potential to contribute to people's lives.
I disagree with Senator Bacik. I support the Church of Ireland as a minority which seeks to ensure its particular tradition is reflected and that there is access to teacher training for members of its community. This access demonstrates a valuable respect for a minority in our society.
In the context of international women's day, I draw attention to a stirring article in The Economist entitled "Gendercide". Some 100 million women have gone missing in the world as a result of abortion or infanticide because of sex selection policies, especially in China and India. I am concerned that the women's movement has lost sight of this. I am concerned that its members are almost nervous to question the choice of killing a born or unborn female child lest they blaspheme at the altar of choice at which they are supposed to worship. I would like the Minister for Foreign Affairs to come to the House and inform us of what the Government is doing to raise this troubling issue in international fora. This is as important as any other human rights abuse in any other part of the world.
Would it be possible for the Leader to arrange an early debate on the retail sector? As everybody is no doubt aware, the retail sector, like many other sectors, is facing a crisis, nowhere more so than in the Border area where the sector is challenged by the different VAT rate in the North, a lower minimum wage and 25% of a differential in the currency exchange rate. In that debate I would like to call on the Government to introduce a scheme to directly offer subvention to retailers in the six Border counties on their commercial rates. We cannot reduce VAT rates specifically for the Border counties or compensate them for the currency differential or allow them pay a lower minimum wage, but we could provide tangible benefits to retailers to help them price themselves into the market. We could, for example, give them a 30% reduction in their commercial rates. This could be reimbursed to the local authorities in question through the local government fund by Government. This would not be a significant amount, but it would provide support to the retailers of the Border counties who are struggling. This would be particularly worthwhile in view of the tens of thousands of people employed in the sector. I call for this debate and ask the Leader to raise the issue with the senior Ministers. The situation in the Border counties is severe and I urge the Leader to call for innovative action such as that I have outlined in terms of subvention on commercial rates.
While on the subject of the retail sector, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge Senator Feargal Quinn and the series which begins today on RTE, "Retail Therapy", in which he gives of his expertise to try to help retailers in trouble throughout Ireland.
I reiterate that the situation is very severe in the Border counties and I ask that innovative action be taken such as that I have outlined regarding commercial rates.
It is appropriate today to wish the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Martin Cullen, well in his retirement from political life. I particularly wish him improved health. I was glad to be on hand when the door fell off his helicopter in flight last year.
The Minister has had his ups and downs. We revived him with tea on that occasion as he was shattered, which was understandable.
In Killarney we have the fine departmental office of the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism, and now that the Minister is retiring I will be taking a keen interest in the future of that office and how, perhaps, the Government proposes to break up the Department, as we have been hearing so much about.
I need not stress the importance of Killarney. The club in which we revived the Minister that day will, as the Leader knows, be hosting this year's Irish Open golf tournament at the end of July, to which everybody here is welcome, and more besides. We want to boost tourism, which has been suffering to such an extent. I look forward to hearing from the Leader with regard to the Government's plans for the future of the Department.
I support Senator O'Toole's comments on the levy order for radio broadcasters, which is a disaster and is threatening-----
I am concerned about the threat of job losses. I am looking at Senator Mooney, a man who knows better than most the importance of radio, particularly local radio. The Leader is aware of my interest, but we all share the same view on that. I look forward to hearing the Leader's comments.
I agree with the points raised about amending the Intoxicating Liquor Act in order to bring it into line with today's thinking. Of course we must be aware of Good Friday. As someone who grew up with the values of Good Friday, I feel it is possible to accommodate both points of view, maintaining the values of Good Friday while allowing pubs to open for large events such as the planned rugby match, as well as hotels in the area. I echo the points raised in this regard.
Also mentioned was the issue of women's participation in politics. I agree that we should have had that discussion before. Ideally, we should have it this week, but I realise it will not be possible to snap our fingers and get the Minister in at short notice to have it today. I listened to a radio discussion the other day on the points raised and, while I may not be agreeable to the list system or the quota system, having jumped many hurdles on my own and never got a leg up in any sense of the word-----
I would certainly not want to go down the road of the quota system.
The issue of grade inflation in schools and universities was mentioned last week. In view of the planned meetings of the education unions around Easter, perhaps that would be a good time to discuss more fundamental issues. Why do young people entering third level institutions not have a more rounded education? They may have engaged in rote learning, obtained their points and achieved success. I ask that this be kept on the agenda. We should have a discussion on curricular reform and other fundamental issues in education. We do not need to discuss grade inflation; that comes afterwards. The issue is the roundedness of young people and how they move from A to B to C.
I too received the letter Senator Fitzgerald received from the woman in Letterkenny. I replied to it straight away because of the note of despair in it. I am not surprised that people feel like this on a day, for example, when one of the main banks reported losses of €3 billion but rewarded its directors, apparently proportionately, with bonuses of €3 million. One person honourably refused to take it.
With regard to the controversy regarding Good Friday, I am sorry this has happened and I call into question the decision of the rugby authorities. It is outrageous to schedule such a match on Good Friday. I am old enough to remember when Sunday was a day that was reverenced in this country. Now it is the largest commercial day because we are lackeys of the British multinationals.
That is not just a religious position, although I take a religious position. It is good for people to have a day of rest. Sunday in Dublin was a beautiful day and I know that many employees of stores in Dublin and across the country are forced to work. I certainly do not join this populist rush to say we should open pubs and desecrate Good Friday. I have one other point. I am very concerned at receiving material from the Ombudsman, Ms Emily O'Reilly, indicating that she asked that her special report on the lost at sea scheme be referred to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. That was defeated in a Dáil vote along party lines, which was an astonishing subversion of democracy. I am not prejudging the issue, although it seems that certain applicants did not get the compensation that many feel they should. That issue is not for us to decide but what concerns us is the decision not to refer the report to the appropriate committee for decision.
Like previous speakers, I wish to raise with the Leader the question of the Intoxicating Liquor Act. I am very much in favour of keeping the status quo. I am quite mindful that we have pluralism in this country but notwithstanding that, when in Rome we do as the Romans do. If we went to the UK or Denmark and there was a jubilee for the monarch, we would show respect for that. It is not too much to ask that we would show respect for Good Friday and request that the match between Munster and Leinster be put on a different day. That is not to ask too much and it would show respect for the day and responsibility in the use of alcohol and liquor. There are only two such days in the year. I respectfully suggest it is essential for us to show respect and responsibility in the consumption of alcohol.
I have two questions for the Leader. The former Minister for Defence, Deputy Willie O'Dea, got €100,000 in disappointment money when he resigned his Cabinet post. I was struck yesterday in seeing six mothers on International Women's Day who wanted me to highlight a particular case. They are flood victims and are disappointed not to have yet received one penny in aid. I am looking for the Leader's help on this as both he and I know about the humanitarian aid being made available for flood victims. None of them has received any insurance money.
These people are being discouraged in applying for humanitarian aid because they have been told it will be means-tested and people will not qualify. That is fundamentally unfair as these people did not cause the floods. They are now paying two electricity and heating bills and I ask the Leader to intervene personally and speak to the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Hanafin, and see that these people get their fair share of humanitarian aid as a matter of urgency. These people are feeling let down by the Government.
There is a crisis in child protection in this country. Why are children dying in care from non-natural causes? What is going on in the country? These children have been failed once by their parents and families and they are now being failed by the State. Children are disappearing from care and there is no national outrage. It does not make sense. The Minister of State with responsibility for children, Deputy Barry Andrews, must come in to explain to the House the deficiencies and problems in care. Is it a problem with staff? The fundamental issue is that 14 children have died of non-natural causes so what is the problem and what is going on?
As a vintner I can reflect on the Intoxicating Liquor Act. To take Senator Bacik's argument to its natural conclusion, it seems we should also be open on Christmas Day. I, for one, would not like to ask my staff to come in on Christmas Day. We must modulate the argument and the discussion should not take place in the context of a sporting event. The confluence of sport and alcohol is most unfortunate in this case.
It is a debate we should have but not in terms of maximising the value of a sporting event. I agree with Senator Norris as it would be disruptive to a day I enjoy as quiet and meditative. That is my choice. I am of the view that the event in question will impinge on that choice. It is worth engaging in a debate on this matter. However, it is most unfortunate that it will take place in the context of a sporting event. As a vintner, I understand the pressure on people to meet targets and make their businesses work.
I support most, if not all, of what Senator MacSharry said in respect of retailing. There is a need for a review of the burden local government financing places on the business sector. I am of the view that this burden must be spread. The relevant Minister is giving active consideration to this matter, in the context of the various options that ought to be available, and should be supported in that regard. The current system is unsustainable. That system has led to appalling planning decisions being made, particularly as development levies have driven decisions to grant permissions. The consequences of the latter can be seen in the context of the massive amounts of retail space that is available but unused on the boundaries of our towns.
I encourage landlords to shoulder some of the burden by examining the possibility of accepting turnover-related rents. Landlords could join retailers in risk-sharing and encourage the revival of town centres simply by entering into new arrangements based on turnover-related rents. I appeal to them to give consideration to this proposal. The other alternative is that they will obtain absolutely nothing from the system under which they currently operate.
I support the calls for a debate on local radio. I raised this matter with the Leader two weeks ago and he indicated at that point that he would be willing to allocate time for a debate on it. What is happening has the potential to put one or two local radio stations out of business in the coming months. The Minister should be brought before the House immediately in order that we might engage in a debate on this issue.
Ministers should stop publishing the findings of reviews. If any further reviews are carried out, it will be an indication of the failure of Government policy. I provide health care to some of the most unfortunate people and I am aware that some of the children in respect of which questions have arisen could not have been saved, regardless of any action that might have been taken. In addition, in some cases no attempt was made to save these children. There is no need for another review to be held behind closed doors. There is a need for Members to discuss, openly and frankly, what can be done to protect children who are currently in care.
Many good issues are raised on the Order of Business. Unfortunately, however, it seems that they are given 90 seconds of air time in the Chamber and this is as far as matters go. I ask the Leader to try to schedule some of the very important debates that are requested by Members - whether they relate to children, radio stations or the economy - in a way that would allow everyone to contribute in the interests of bringing about positive outcomes.
I join other Members in requesting a debate on the impact of the Intoxicating Liquor Act, particularly in light of the controversy that has arisen. To a large extent, I agree with Senator Dearey that it is unfortunate that the need for this debate has arisen in the context of alcohol being available for a sporting occasion. The country is currently experiencing the most adverse impact as a result of the abuse of alcohol, which is a drug, particularly by young people. Alcohol abuse is a fact of life. Two issues arise in respect of this matter. The first of these, in respect of which I stand open to correction, is that alcohol will be available at Thomond Park - which has a licence and which is, therefore, in a position to serve drink - during the match that is due to take place there on Good Friday. There is a difficulty in that publicans in Limerick are aware that, at a time of severe economic difficulty, over 25,000 people will be coming into their city for the match. These individuals, naturally and rightly, see the match as an opportunity to boost business but they will not be able to do so because they are prohibited from serving alcohol on their premises on the day in question.
The second issue that arises is that Setanta Sports took a commercial decision to switch the game from Easter Saturday to Good Friday.
This decision has nothing to do with alcohol, the Intoxicating Liquor Act or Munster Rugby, rather it is to do with money. It is similar to a decision taken by another group outside this country in respect of the recent soccer friendly between the Republic of Ireland and Brazil, which led to this country's economy losing millions of euro.
We must place matters in perspective. There are certain mores which one must respect. Over 90% of the people of this country subscribe to being Christian. If one visits any of the Muslim countries and if one begins to engage in an argument or a debate on alcohol, one would soon be told where to go. This has nothing to do with tolerance or intolerance; it has to do with reflecting the majority view - in fact the overwhelming majority view as even those who are agnostic accept that Good Friday has a special meaning for the Christian belief. To consider that we would have a debate on changing the liquor laws to facilitate drink on Good Friday because of a sporting event, notwithstanding the economic impact it would have on Limerick and I sympathise with them-----
Irrespective of where we stood on the invasion of Iraq, and I supported it, we must all agree it was very moving to see Iraq go to the polls yesterday and in particular to see the range of women candidates, from the most secular to the most committed Islamic. That is the peg on which I propose to ask the Leader to consider a debate on the nature of Irish identity and the Irish Republic and what it is to be Irish.
I am an atheist. I believe in a civic republicanism. I do not believe we can impose any religion on anybody else but at the same time I am realistic enough to recognise that in the rush to secularise the country, which is being pushed on the back of the current embarrassments of the Catholic Church with regard to child abuse, we are in danger of making the same ahistorical mistake as other generations. I am old enough to remember when one could not get served in Irish in Dingle nor be answered in Irish in a shop. I remember when the Irish language and Irish music were despised and that changed. I remember when everyone said there would be no peace in Northern Ireland and there is a kind of a peace there. We cannot predict the future. We cannot predict in a country that is littered with the ruins of Christianity how future generations might like to respect and value Christianity. Senator Norris has an unerring feel for the pulse of the public. There is something odd about having a rugby match on Good Friday in a country where every corner churchyard, village and town is impregnated with Christian symbolism. It just feels wrong. In the rush to secularism we should be careful to tolerate all views and tolerance does not mean permitting; it means permitting while disapproving.
This House should acknowledge what I would regard as a very important show of independence, sovereignty and compassion by the Irish Government. I refer to the courage displayed by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin, in bringing the plight of the people of Gaza to the very heart of Europe in recent days.
He went there and briefed his colleagues afterwards. It is important to remember that very often it is stated that small countries follow on the coat tails of the big powers. Ireland has proved once again that this is not true regarding this country. It is particularly significant that the Minister for Foreign Affairs of this Republic was the first such Minister to set foot in Gaza since Israel levelled that particular territory and massacred 1,400 people, most of them women and children. If the rest of the countries do not speak up then it is important that our voice be heard wherever the opportunity arises.
The Minister stated it quite clearly; the conditions existing in Gaza are absolutely horrific and inhumane. It is amazing how silent people can become. The same countries were very quick on other occasions to speak out and become involved in war-mongering to push their ideas. We must ask why we are so silent when we see the misfortunate people of Gaza suffering. We must ask Israel, a friendly country and - I accept what Senator Harris stated on the previous occasion - a democracy, to allow building materials into Gaza and enable the misfortunate people there who suffer day in and day out to rebuild their territory and have some opportunity of a humane existence. If we do not do so we should stay silent for all time on human rights issues.
I agree with Senator O'Toole. I ask the Leader whether, before the close of business tomorrow evening, we can reach agreement across the House on the broadcast levy, as proposed by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, which will have potentially devastating effects on local radio, in particular. There is no need for the House to divide on the issue. Members on both sides are on the same page when it comes to the levy. We should have that discussion before the close of business tomorrow evening.
I agree also with Senator Fitzgerald and others who have referred the Ombudsman's comments carried in the media today on the lost at sea scheme and how the issue was handled in both Houses of the Oireachtas. I ask the Leader for his view on how we might progress the issue because of the serious disparity that has emerged between Ms Emily O'Reilly and the Government parties.
I join Senators Norris and Fitzgerald in raising the case of the businesswoman from County Donegal who e-mailed us yesterday about the plight of her family business which she set up a couple of years ago. She has been advised she would be better off closing it because of the entitlements she would receive if she were in receipt of social welfare, as opposed to keeping it open. That is a shocking statement on the current situation in the country.
When will we have the debate on banking which the Leader has been promising us for one month? It is especially required, given the recent report on what has been going on in AIB and the annual report that has just been published. We should have the debate as soon as possible. What is the point in calling on the Order of Business for a debate if we cannot have one? I do not know what the Leader is hiding or why we cannot have the discussion sought. There are a number of office holders in the Department of Finance.
It should be possible to get one of them to come to the House as soon as possible for a discussion on banking.
I agree with Senators, in particular Senator Mooney, who have spoken about pub opening hours on Good Friday. In this instance, it seems the campaign is being driven by the rugby authorities and a particular television company. As someone who enjoys a drink, I believe pubs should be closed on more than just two days in the year, for which a strong case is to be made. Religion should be left out of the argument.
I ask the Leader to organise a debate on the rush to secularism, to which Senator Harris referred. We had a curious case in County Kerry over the weekend in which a statue was moved. It was put up on the day the Second World War broke out, 3 September 1939, yet it cannot survive the machinations of the Health and Safety Authority which indicated that it was a threat to health and safety.
I was given many reasons as to why the statue had been removed, of which health and safety was one. Another was that it might give offence. We are now rushing to remove all religious symbols from hospitals, Garda stations, Leinster House and other places without any policy being formulated. Are we removing everything? Are we going to use health and safety as an excuse to remove religious symbols without being clear on what we are doing and why we are doing it? I ask the Leader to organise a debate, not only on the issue of opening on Good Friday for the match but on the broader issue of whether we want to remove all religious symbols from State buildings. If that is the policy and decision of the Government, so be it, but let a decision be taken, rather than use health and safety as an excuse to remove a calendar in Limerick one week and a statue in County Kerry in another.
I join other speakers in asking the Leader for a debate on the Intoxicating Liquor Act. I hope the judge who will deal with the case will not interpret the legislation in such a way as to give permission to pubs to open on Good Friday. It is important to tackle the invasion of secularism and through it, money, that has become the god in Ireland. It is imperative to maintain the values that have been given to us. At a time when the church has not shown leadership, it is incumbent on the civic authorities to do so and to stand up for that in which they believe. As a practising Christian, I believe that Good Friday is a day to which we should hold firm and there should not be a change in this regard at all. I join with Senator Norris in suggesting a reversion to the position whereby Sunday becomes a day of rest and leisure-----
-----on which one can attend matches, look after those matters that are of God or take a day of rest.
That said, I ask the Leader for a debate on the role of the Ombudsman and through such a debate, on the role of Parliament. I commend the bravery today of the Ombudsman, Ms Emily O'Reilly, who was dead right.
Parliament no longer is accountable and Ministers no longer are either responsible or accountable. When will there be accountability and responsibility in this House? For example, Members should consider the vulgarity of Allied Irish Banks today in respect of the money it paid to its executives and directors at a time when citizens are bailing out banks. It is wrong, vulgar and sends the wrong message. When will Members have a debate on banking? Second, I seek a debate on social partnership as this country is on the verge of collapse. Industrial relations have not gone through the roof but have collapsed and no longer exist. It is incumbent on the Government to show leadership and such a debate should be held in the House before the Easter recess.
Finally, the Minister of State with responsibility for children, Deputy Barry Andrews, sits at the Cabinet table.
As it is men's day once again today, I also seek a debate on the subject of women in politics. However, those women who are in politics find it extremely difficult to get items on the agenda. While I have sought a debate on domestic violence for quite some time, it has not taken place. Similarly, a debate on the wider issues pertaining to education also has not taken place. Rather than paying lip-service to the idea of women in politics, those women who are in politics should be listened to and those people they represent should be honoured by addressing those issues they seek to have addressed. I call on the Leader to do such a thing because Members have been waiting for a debate on domestic violence in particular for a long time. For some reason, the importance of this issue does not appear to register. Consequently, I call on the Leader to make it a priority to deal with some of the issues Members, not necessarily women, have raised. I refer to domestic violence because it is an issue about which I have sought a debate from the Leader, as have other colleagues, but which has not happened. It is time to listen to the women who are in politics.
I consider myself to be a good, true Republican and as such, I believe in the separation of church and state. I have listened to and respect people who have faith. While it is a tremendous thing to have a strong faith, it is another matter for the church to rule the state as such, which is part of the problem we have had in this country. As for the subject to which Senator Daly referred, rather than moving calendars and statues, one must remember the ethos that operated within many hospitals in particular-----
I support Senator O'Toole's contribution in respect of the controversial statutory instrument that places an unfair financial burden on many independent radio stations nationwide. Were this proposal to go ahead, it would be absolutely insane. A Labour Party proposal was made at the Joint Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources last week, which even was supported by some on the Government side, which called for the annulment of the aforementioned statutory instrument. This would be the sensible thing to do. In the current climate, we must be conscious of and examine seriously any Government proposal that could result in job losses.
I wish to raise the issue of the annual report of AIB, which was published just before lunch. As I told the House last week, the bank got €3.5 billion in taxpayers' money. Last year, it paid its top executives €3.6 million. The ex-chief executive officer's salary was nearly €900,000, the managing director received €833,000 and the former chairman picked up €203,000 for his endeavours at the bank. This is shameful. When we eventually have a debate on banking, will the Leader bring the Taoiseach to the House? This is Government policy. Unfortunately, the obsession is not with job creation or protection. Rather, a morbid obsession with the banks has seen €3.5 billion of taxpayers' money being given to a bank that pays the sums mentioned to its top executives. It is disgraceful and despicable. Many people are losing their jobs while the banks are throwing people out onto the streets. Those who have jobs are not guaranteed job security in the current climate. We need an element of reality. We need the Government to stand up to banks. I would welcome the debate whenever it is held. I urge the Leader to arrange for it with due haste.
I also wish to state my disgust with the fact that we are not having a debate on women's participation in politics today. We are in a position to have a debate on the Irish language tomorrow despite yesterday being international women's day. To some, this might not be as great an issue, but one should consider our child protection services, which are in crisis.
Consider issues like anorexia, an issue that my good colleague, Senator Feeney, has been raising since the beginning of this Seanad, and domestic violence. The Minister of State with responsibility for children is not a full Minister despite the fact he should be. During the reshuffle, which, please God, will be soon, I call on the Taoiseach to consider creating a full Ministry for children. The area badly needs one. Given the suffering, stress, hardship and significant issues with which the Minister of State must deal, his should be a full Ministry. This matter is worthy of debate.
These might not even be issues if we had more women in politics. This is the bottom line. Our country has a cultural problem in voting for and supporting women. There are more women in politics in Dublin than there are down the country, for example. This matter must be debated. It might seem like a sop, the lip-service to women to which my colleague, Senator O'Malley, referred, but it is not. When the report on symphysiotomies is published by the Department of Health and Children, for example, it must be debated. We have a huge cultural problem in dealing with the rights of women and children. Had we more women in politics, there would be no issue. We badly need a debate.
Regarding the review of the Intoxicating Liquor Act, I hope we will not amend it. I do not have a strong view on it, I am not particularly religious and I do not like rugby. However, shame on us if this Legislature is willing and able to amend the law and ignore all the other laws that badly need amending. I would have a serious problem with supporting the call.
Drinking in the home is causing significant levels of domestic violence. I have been asking for a debate on this issue since joining the Seanad in 2007, but there has been none yet. The Leader promised a debate on women's participation in politics.
The way one judges a society is how it looks after its underprivileged and those who are unable to look after themselves. Reading the headlines that hit today's newspapers to the effect that the unions are taking action against schools, welfare offices and hospitals is a reminder that if we are discussing leadership, to which Senator Buttimer referred, it must come from the unions. It is not acceptable to aim to hurt schools, hospitals and welfare offices in pursuit of any particular claim.
I join other Senators in calling for a debate on the Intoxicating Liquor Act. When I was growing up, we talked about the leisure society, but it now appears we are working longer hours than ever. My colleague, Senator Dearey, has told me about a good retail principle: "Sell as much as possible in as small a space as possible in as little time as possible". That is a good principle. We should also look at the question of Sunday trading. I would like to see Sunday as a day of rest, which is what I grew up with. Having one day of rest in a week is a good principle. Things can work in both directions.
It is important to have a debate on the media, for which many Senators have called. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources is committed to dealing with the local radio issue which has arisen as a result of the fall in advertising revenue and the introduction of the levy. There is huge pressure on local radio stations and the last thing we want to see is them going out of business. I believe the Romanian Senate has called for a debate on the content of the media. It was proposed that there was far too much bad news in the media and that there should be a quota for good and bad news. The proposal was unanimously passed.
I am trying to listen to all of the women in the Chamber. It is important that we debate the question of domestic violence which is not simply one for women. The feminisation of society is also important. Men must take on these issues. It is crucial that we all address these issues and have a proper debate on them.
I support Senator Buttimer and ask the Leader to ask the Taoiseach to resume the talks on social partnership. Aggression is building and people are upset and annoyed. I know the Government will do everything in its power to resume the talks.
Like other female Senators, I am annoyed. I noted the debate on the participation of women in politics in my diary for this week and went to the trouble of preparing for it. Any subject with a feministic ring to it is put at the end of the agenda. I have been calling for a debate on anorexia nervosa and bulimia for the past two and a half years but it has not been held. Neither has the debate on domestic violence. We would like to see both subjects debated. It is about time women Senators stuck together and let this be known. Female Members on the Government side will not be voting in favour of Senator Fitzgerald's amendment but we will voice our concerns.
I was delighted to read in The Irish Times that Bishop Willie Walsh of Killaloe had expressed the view that the Pope should meet victims of clerical abuse. I say, "Well done, Bishop Willie Walsh". I hope we will have many more debates on child protection, particularly the protection of children who have been abused.
In the past 18 months I have called for a structured debate on the difficult economic and financial position in which the country finds itself. I ask the leaders of parties and groups in the Seanad to agree to a meaningful and structured debate on the challenges facing the country. The calling for debates on various subjects has become a charade, with little progress being made. A structured debate on the economy and our financial difficulties would be meaningful. I ask for a structured debate on NAMA on an intermittent basis in order that its success, or otherwise, can be followed.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the supports and services available to older people. A raft of supports and services are available to them but they are somewhat disjointed. We need joined-up services and supports.
I defend the Minister of State with responsibility for children, Deputy Barry Andrews, who has been an outstanding Minister of State since he was given this responsibility. As little as eight years ago children had hardly any rights. The Minister of State has done much to place children's rights before us. It is only fair to mention what he has done.
I support Senator Quinn in what he says about the irresponsibility of public sector unions. It is disgraceful that they can close unemployment offices, while people who are struggling to make a living are denied services. Unions are laying down conditions for discussions with the Government. Those who are threatening to pull the plug on schools and other services should have their wages stopped, as they are not doing their jobs. I call on the Taoiseach to take this matter seriously. If workers in the public service need to be sacked, that should be done.
Senators Fitzgerald, Bacik, Mullen, Twomey, John Paul Phelan, O'Malley, McCarthy, McDonald and Feeney called for a debate on women's participation in politics and, in most cases, expressed their disappointment that the debate had been postponed. I had agreed that it would take place today. It had been a pleasure to do so and I was looking forward to the debate immensely. Many colleagues had prepared for it and were delighted to have the opportunity to speak on the subject. However, on Thursday last I received a request from the Minister of State with responsibility for equality issues, Deputy Moloney, who is in New York and asked that the debate be postponed. I tried to arrange to have another Minister come to the House but the Minister of State said he very much wished to be present for the debate and to update the Seanad on the world conference on women's affairs, which he is attending in New York. I agreed to his request and the debate will take place in the week after St. Patrick's Day. I apologise to colleagues. I was fully committed to arranging for the debate to take place today. I look forward to it with bated breath, to say the least, and to hearing the contributions of all Members on the question of encouraging women to participate in public life. I fully support the proposal and have done so from the very first day Senators McDonald and Corrigan raised the matter in the House.
Many Senators referred to the difficulties being experienced in the banking sector. In the next full sitting week, the week following St. Patrick's Day, the Finance Bill will be debated for three full days on the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. I will allow the longest time possible to spokespersons and other Members who wish to speak on anything which concerns them, including NAMA and all the challenges facing the Minister for Finance. This has been requested by the leaders of the various groups.
I share Senator Fitzgerald's views on children in care and the unbelievable story carried in one of last Sunday's newspapers. I have no difficulty asking the Minister of State with responsibility for children to come to the House. He attends Cabinet and heads up his own office. This has been a huge step forward by the Government, which we all welcome. We look forward to assisting him in any shape or form because the challenges facing him are enormous. They are greater than anyone realised when the office was set up, and I wish him well in his deliberations.
With regard to Senators who called for a debate on the O'Reilly report, I will consult the leaders following the Order of Business to see how we might enhance and progress this proposal.
Many colleagues are concerned about the Broadcasting Act 2009. One of the main reasons I stood for election as a Member of the Oireachtas was to regulate local radio because it was unlicensed at the time. Senator Mooney is a broadcaster all his life and many other colleagues will recall the huge success of unlicensed radio in the past. A broadcasting Bill came before the Oireachtas for consideration in 1989 to regulate local radio and given the contribution it makes to communities, we should do everything we can to ensure local radio stations remain viable.
One section in the Act sets how to calculate the broadcasting levy. This is applied to the BAI budget for the relevant year and applied on a pro rata basis to each broadcaster's net turnover. It is extremely important that it is there and any surplus in levy income can be refunded to the industry. I have no difficulty in trying to assist colleagues. I spoke to the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources briefly about this yesterday. He is doing everything he can and he fully understands the industry has suffered a massive reduction of 30% in advertising revenue, as is the case in all other sectors. We will do everything we can to support them and I will discuss further with colleagues how we can assist the request that has been made.
Senators expressed serious concern about the Good Friday issue. Senator Mooney put this in a nutshell. It is unfortunate that the sporting event is taking place but there are 363 days in the year, other than Good Friday and Christmas Day, for all sporting organisations or anyone else no matter what is his or her religious belief. I fully support leaving Good Friday as a day of abstinence. I like to think I represent the majority of people on the island of Ireland. I understand the minority viewpoint but, as a Christian, I fully support Good Friday, which is a special family day. Nothing, including the television rights of a foreign television station, should interfere with our way of celebrating the crucifixion of the good Lord on Good Friday. That should not be allowed. I fully support every colleague who uttered his or her beliefs and genuine concern about this. Hands off Good Friday and Christmas Day. We have 363 days to sell liquor and make profit after that. I hope it will stay that way.
Many colleagues called for a debate on literacy but I have already agreed to a debate on education. The future of our country depends on education.
Senators MacSharry and Dearey called for an urgent debate on the retail sector. This is of huge importance for the future. As Senator Dearey said, turnover is related to rent and everything should be done to keep retail outlets open because they employ people and have been giving a service for two and three generations. There are people in family businesses going back 70 or 80 years and for the first time the family name may not be over their doors in three months because of the difficulties they are in. No one seems to care in some cases. Senator MacSharry pointed out that a 30% reduction in local authority rates, especially in the Border counties, is not an unreasonable request. In 2001 all rates were to be reviewed but, nine years later, only two local authorities have reviewed them and they were reduced by 30%. This request should be examined immediately by the Government and I will pass it on to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government following the Order of Business.
I join Senator Coghlan in wishing the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Martin Cullen, well and I hope he makes a speedy recovery. He has been an incredible and tremendous performer. He came to the House many times. I recall the 1997 budget when Deputy Cullen was a Minister of State. I, as Leader, gave Independent Members an opportunity to discuss a budget for the first time. The debate began at 6 p.m. just as the Labour Party was making its contribution in the Dáil. The Minister came into the House with few briefing notes to make his contribution. Those of us who were present could see the huge potential he had. I wish him all the luck in the world. He has made a meaningful contribution through his membership of both Houses and I wish him well in the future.
I also share Senator Coghlan's concerns about the office of the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism in Killarney. Senator Healy Eames raised the issue of flood victims. She feels strongly about this and I suggest she raises this on the Adjournment. I will do everything I can to assist the Senator in her quest.
Senators Harris and Daly commented on Iraqis going to the polls. I share Senator Harris's delight that this day has happened and that many women candidates participated in the election. He referred to what it means to be Irish, the importance of the family and the family's role in our society. I fully agree with all the issues regarding the family.
Senator Ó Murchú congratulated the Minister for Foreign Affairs regarding the plight of the people of Gaza. He was the first EU Minister for foreign affairs to visit there since the Israeli invasion and to witness the dreadful situation in which the people find themselves. A total of 1,400 people have lost their lives. I agree with Members that we must stand up to this aggression and we must support the people of Gaza. If human rights are to mean anything, Ireland, as a small nation, must stand tall on this issue and use its influence to bring this issue to the attention of the EU or larger nations.
Senators Buttimer and Feeney called on the social partners to return to the negotiating table. A good suggestion was made that the Taoiseach should participate and allow talks to proceed on the basis of co-operation which we have seen since 1987. Ireland has been a leader in what can be achieved when there is a consensus on all sides and it has never been more needed that it is now. I look forward to the day the Taoiseach and the social partners get around the table again in the coming weeks to take Ireland into the 21st century, which is what we all want to see.
Senators O'Malley, Feeney and McDonald called for a debate on domestic violence. I will make this a priority and I will come back to the House tomorrow with a date for this.
Senators Quinn and Butler referred to the obligation on the unions and they raised serious concerns about the unions' announcement regarding schools, hospitals and social welfare offices. I fully support their call.
Senator Feeney congratulated Bishop Willie Walsh who called on the Holy Father to apologise to the victims of clerical abuse. I join the Senator in expressing thanks to the bishop for his utterances. I heard the radio interview and I support the wish that the Holy Father would avail of the opportunity and do what Bishop Walsh has quite correctly called for.
Senator Callely called for a debate on NAMA and on the challenges facing our country. The Finance Bill will be taken in this House the week after St. Patrick's Day at which time all these issues can be discussed. The Cabinet reshuffle will also take place around that time. I will examine the position then with colleagues to arrange when debates will take place on the progress of NAMA and credit availability as well as on all the challenges facing the country. I can assure Members this Leader will not be found wanting in allocating time on a fortnightly or three weekly basis in terms of reviewing the position and assisting the Minister for Finance of the day with our proposals and views.
Senator Callely also called for a debate on the issue of support and services for older people, for which I agreed to make time available a few weeks ago.
Senator Fitzgerald has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business that statements on the participation of women in public life and on the second report of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights be taken today. Is the amendment being pressed.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 22 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Ciarán Cannon, Paudie Coffey, Paul Coghlan, Maurice Cummins, Frances Fitzgerald, Eoghan Harris, Fidelma Healy Eames, Michael McCarthy, Nicky McFadden, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, Joe O'Toole, John Paul Phelan, Feargal Quinn, Shane Ross, Brendan Ryan, Liam Twomey, Alex White)
Against the motion: 27 (Martin Brady, Larry Butler, Ivor Callely, James Carroll, Donie Cassidy, Maria Corrigan, Mark Daly, Mark Dearey, John Ellis, Geraldine Feeney, Camillus Glynn, John Gerard Hanafin, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Lisa McDonald, 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, Jim Walsh, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, Ivana Bacik and Frances Fitzgerald; Níl, Niall Ó Brolcháin and Diarmuid Wilson