Wednesday, 24 March 2010
Order of Business (Resumed).
As Independents we never see the full picture but we would have thought the Opposition would share Fianna Fáil's happiness with the new Cabinet. Fianna Fáil is very happy with its new Cabinet and Fine Gael and Labour must be very happy because it is such a bad Cabinet, they will easily win the next general election. I thought we would come to the House today and everybody would be happy because everybody got what they were looking for in the end.
The progress on the investigations at various levels is welcome. It is worth noting that without making any comment on the people involved. There was much debate on the issue here and people were asking if anything was happening. We were assured that was the case. We now see that at least something is happening and we hope it will come to a conclusion.
There is also the question of the increase in salaries in the bank. People are upset about that, and they have a right to be. Rather than people talking about how good or bad that is, I would like to have a breakdown of the way it was done. That can be simply done. If three people are working at 100 units of salary each, which is costing the enterprise 300 units of salary, and it can now get two people to do that for 220 units of salary, it is saving a huge amount of money even though it is giving a 10% increase to each of the two people. We must be sensible about this issue. If that is not the case, however, and money is being handed out money to people willy-nilly, we should be critical of it. The problem is we are not getting the information and there is too much coyness in the response from the bank authorities. I do not want to know the names of people but I want to see the process that was put in place, the savings that were achieved and the position before and after that. I also want to know the state of employment of these people because there was an indication at one point that these were permanent staff but there was an indication at another point that this would simply be for staff employed to do a particular job for a particular period of time. The point I am making is that salary negotiations tend to be complex and we must deal with those in a way that allows us to be informed.
I ask the Leader if we could get a briefing from a Minister on exactly how the bank went about this and what exactly happened. I am not asking any Minister to interfere. Members on both sides of the House are clear that we do not want ministerial interference but we want to ensure our Ministers and the Houses of the Oireachtas are fully informed of the methodology used to run the banks and determine wage increases, and the way we are being protected.
In the early 1980s one of the most bitter disputes in which I was ever involved in trade unionism was on the question of school entry to primary schools with the then Taoiseach, Garrett FitzGerald. We fought with each other but he is a man I hold in the highest regard. He is an iconic figure in Irish politics and he deserves better respect from all sides. I was never a member of his party but I would not take from him the huge contribution he has made to Irish politics.
I congratulate the people who were appointed to their new jobs yesterday, especially Deputy Seán Connick. I agree with Senator Twomey that the south east has been left without a senior Ministry and that that matter should be addressed.
In yesterday's reshuffle the word "employment" was not mentioned at all. I would like the Leader to tell Members who is now responsible for FÁS, enterprise and job creation. Who reports to whom and what is the accounting procedure? In terms of redundancies, who do we talk to because the lines of communication are fragmented now in this regard?
The Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney, should come to the House for a debate on the staff moratorium which is crippling the health services. The unemployment monitoring group for the HSE south region has not met yet in 2010. Not one nurse, midwife, ICU nurse, coronary care nurse or anyone working in a specialist interest area, including ward clerks and those involved in support services and portering services has been replaced if they are on sick leave, long-term sick leave, maternity leave or other leave. There are 120 vacancies in the public health nurse sector, which is in the primary care setting on which there is now a major focus. That leaves a major divide in that setting.
No posts have been provided for the cervical vaccination programme, which means that 30,000 young girls needing 90,000 vaccinations in April, September and November will have that programme administered by nurses who are not doing other jobs they are supposed to do such as elderly surveillance and childhood assessments. We are leaving gaps in our health services that cannot be accounted for because if a child is not having its developmental check-up at the appropriate age, that child's vital measurements will be missed leading to major problems later on in life. The Minister must give this issue her undivided attention.
I ask that the responsible Minister would come to the House for a review of the national spatial strategy, which set out a realistic vision for the future development of Ireland and was the outcome of extensive public discussion at the time. However, with unemployment levels rising in great numbers throughout the country it is timely to have a review of the spatial strategy, gateways, hubs and regions that are severely disadvantaged by huge job losses such as those in Dell, Waterford Glass and all the smaller businesses that are losing jobs by the day. We must have an urgent debate on that and an urgent review of the spatial strategy, particularly in regard to our own region.
I, too, would like to be associated with the welcome to the new members of Government and to wish them well on their new seals of office. I want to express confidence in their ability to help shape the future direction of the Government. In particular I welcome the appointment of my two party colleagues, Deputy Mary White and Deputy Ciarán Cuffe, to their respective offices. My party is proud to be playing an increased role in influencing the direction of the Government.
I wish to put on record the need for this House to debate the new structure of government in terms of responsibility for jobs, job creation and job training. I do not believe there is any confusion about this. The same responsibilities exist. Responsibility for industrial development and research remains with the new Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation. The job training aspect is the responsibility of the new Department of Education and Skills. How we deal with the unfortunate and large-scale problem of unemployment remains the responsibility of the Department of Social Protection. I am confident that the new focus, which has already resulted in a fall in unemployment in the last month-----
There is much I could say about the Cabinet reshuffle. I am hugely disappointed with the title "Department of Education and Skills". The word "upskilling" is a verb used in the context of training. This new Department title will be, internationally, viewed as a joke.
I rise to seek an amendment to the Order of Business, namely, that the Minister for Health and Children be urgently requested to come to this House to discuss a serious situation at Galway University Hospital brought to my attention during the past few days. This hospital is experiencing serious and life threatening under-funding of €22 million. Most Members will be shocked to hear the following. Some €12 million of that €22 million is funding promised to Galway University Hospital for cancer drugs and 30 new staff following its designation as one of the cancer centres for the north and north west. To address this deficit, which the hospital is being asked to do, the hospital must cut €3 million allocated for aggressive treatment for end of life cancer patients.
This is a scandal. The Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney and Professors Keane and Drumm must answer for this. As a result of this 200 hip replacement operations will not be carried out, there will be a 50% cut in gynaecological services and a €500,000 cut in laboratory testing. This is resulting in serious risk to patient health. Galway University Hospital serves 1 million people, a critical mass, one quarter of the population of this country from Donegal to North Tipperary.
I am asking that the Minister for Health and Children be brought to book on this issue. The health of the Galway region and its people must not be put at risk. I have a file on this matter which was brought to my attention by a number of consultants who are extremely concerned about patient care. The Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney and Professors Keane and Drumm must be answerable in this regard.
I congratulate my former constituency colleague, Deputy Cuffe, on his appointment as Minister of State with responsibility for sustainability. I note he is already taking his job seriously and has made an adjustment to his bicycle to allow him accommodate his new driver.
On the passports issue, two letters in The Irish Times today offer suggestions, one from a councillor in the Labour Party who recommends that staff should provide the service and that people should cease paying the passport fee, which is all very well given it hits the Government. However, it also hits the country, which is an irresponsible attitude. The second letter relates to an individual who is trying to do business for the State and has been waiting three weeks for a passport for a business colleague to allow them travel abroad to get business for this State. We have seen lists of the people whose businesses and lives are being interrupted by the action at the Passport Office. The suggestion is made in the second letter that the service be privatised thus ensuring Irish citizens are guaranteed their constitutional right to a passport, a proposal worthy of consideration.
I am sure I am not the only person who is a little disappointed to note that once again the debate on women in politics has been moved, despite a promise it would be discussed here. I, like many other people, have done some work on this and I am keen to see reform in this area. I welcome the changes proposed by Fine Gael on this issue. However, debate on this issue is again being delayed. When will that debate take place in this House? Will the Leader give a guarantee that the goal posts will not be shifted again? Those of us who want to present real and radical reforms are simply being delayed.
I welcome the Cabinet reshuffle. I am glad Deputy Connick who was excellent on "Operation Transformation" has been appointed Minister of State. More important from my point of view as one of the people who campaigned against interference in so many of the organisations which support vulnerable people in society - I particularly deplore the manner in which the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform chose to treat equality issues - is the transfer of responsibility for equality issues to Deputy Pat Carey, a fine, honourable and decent man. I am glad the issue of equality has been separated from the Department of Justice and Law Reform.
I believe the Green Party, which supported us in this, has achieved a success in terms of our fight in this regard with Government. I welcome this development and I am, as a Member of this side of the House, happy to say that.
I am interested in human rights as are many Members. There are fine contributors on this issue on both sides of the House. For that reason, I am sure Members will be as interested as I in seeking a debate in which to include the very significant development concerning Google and its battle with the Chinese authorities.
It has shown great courage removing its operation from China. I hope it will be successful in transferring to Hong Kong. The significant issues in this regard are Tibet, human rights, Tiananmen Square and the Falun Gong. I learned yesterday in a meeting with Senator O'Toole and Dongxue Dai that the process of murdering people to harvest their organs is probably continuing within China, an issue we need to address.
I agree 100% with Senator O'Toole' s remarks with regard to the situation at Anglo Irish Bank. I honour Senator O'Toole for saying that he was not looking for a head on a plate and was not interested in names but wanted to know the process by which these decisions were arrived at. I heard part of the interview with Alan Dukes, namely, that there had been a 7.5% cull of staff at Anglo Irish Bank. People will ask about promotions taking place when there is a ban on recruitment.
I am looking for a debate on this issue and in particular on Anglo Irish Bank. I will say something on the matter today during the debate on the Finance Bill. However, this is one of the banks that were one of the principal causes of the financial disaster. People who are on the streets, have lost their homes, are unemployed and affected by the Passport Office strike and the chaos that reigns-----
I also offer my congratulations to the new Ministers, Deputies Carey and Killeen; the new Ministers of State, Deputies Connick, White and Cuffe and the new Chief Whip, Deputy Curran. It is particularly encouraging that Deputy Connick has been appointed, as he will give great inspiration to those who have had difficulties in life. He has risen above them and is now a Minister of State. It is a wonderful decision by the Government and the Taoiseach, in particular. Deputy Connick is doing a fantastic job in County Wexford and very talented. The appointment of the Tánaiste, Deputy Coughlan, as Minister for Education and Training will assist in the campaign to retain the vocational education-----
I am only person in the House who served in the Dáil with Garret FitzGerald and I found him to be a gentleman. I will say one thing about Deputy Varadkar. He is right about Garret FitzGerald having doubled the national debt; that is true. However, on the rest he is being unfair. It is inaccurate.
I welcome the announcement by the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, of an allocation of €20 million for civic offices for Roscommon County Council in Roscommon town which will create 100 jobs during construction of the multistorey building. It is a great boost to the industry, as well as the staff, the county manager and all those who serve as councillors, as I did when I initiated the project many years ago, to see it coming to fruition. That is the advantage of having a Minister or a Minister of State. Having the Minister of State in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government ensured the project would be pushed forward. We will now have tremendous offices located in the town.
I can tell you one thing, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, new civic offices were built in Castlebar many years ago; it is about time we got our turn. As far as I know, it is the last county to receive new civic offices. It is a wonderful day for Roscommon town and the country that the Government can approve the spending of €20 million in difficult times. The old courthouse, now the headquarters of Roscommon County Council, will be reconverted to provide full courthouse facilities for the family court, as well as facilities for barristers, judges and the public. It is a great day for Roscommon town.
I have. First, I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Twomey. I fully agree Senator O'Toole. I join other Senators in congratulating all those appointed yesterday, particularly the Kerryman who is not representing County Kerry but a Dublin constituency.
Returning to what Senator O'Toole said, we must have an interest in what has happened in Anglo Irish Bank, now a nationalised State-owned bank, for which we have had to provide great support. Apart from the bank guarantee and the ongoing recapitalisation, we must note, as the Senator said, what has happened, for which we want a proper explanation because - even if it is the rate for the job in the 70 cases or whatever is the precise number involved - it is sending the wrong signal at a time when we are trying to achieve change and necessary readjustment. It is a bit rich for the Department to state the Minister has no responsibility. Of course, we have a responsibility and must have an interest. The Department must have an interest and perhaps exert more control, particularly through the appointment of public interest directors, a number of whom are in place in the various institutions. The State is obviously entitled to more by virtue of what has happened in the ongoing recapitalisation programme which is so necessary.
While I know it is not true in the case of Anglo Irish Bank, there is too much of an overhang from the risky lending that wrongly took place and which brought us to where we are. There are too many people still in position both at board and senior management level in the banks now that we have public interest directors. It is wrong and the Department and the Minister are not exercising the necessary control and influence in that regard.
I join colleagues in congratulating the new Ministers. We wish them well in the challenges that present at this testing time. I read with interest various comments made in the newspapers today. We will need to wait for at least six months to see how the new team is performing. We wish them well in their endeavours.
I support some of the comments made and calls for a debate, as last week I asked the Leader for a debate on banking officials' attitudes and actions. Today we read in the newspapers that the property market in Ireland is estimated to be the third worst performing market globally, albeit that predictions for 2010 are good, with residential properties expected to be the top performers, especially in the Dublin area. However, we have problems with property, banking officials and SME supports. We also have individual consumer difficulties and serious liquidity issues in the marketplace. One questions the way in which banking officials are addressing applications for funding. I read a motto on a 2010 calendar page which read: "A bank is a place that will lend you money if you can prove you don't need it." Many would agree with this, particularly SMEs and individuals who just cannot get their hands on cash or avail of any level of credit support. That is because of the attitude of the banks which claim to have no liquidity. If one talks about housing and repossessions, one is sent from one department to another. In the light of some of the ruthless and reckless decisions being taken by various officials, whether in nationalised, semi-nationalised or State institutions, I ask the Leader to arrange a debate that would be innovative in bringing Ministers or people with responsibilities to address the broader issues associated with finance, property and people's rights and entitlements. Such a debate is much needed and I ask the Leader to try to accommodate my request if at all possible.
I have listened to various contributions on the Cabinet reshuffle. I do not see a problem with the multidisciplinary approach that has been taken, with skills being associated with education. As somebody who works in the third level sector, that is appropriate. Asking glib questions such as, "Who is the Minister for jobs?", as we have heard in the media, does not get to the heart of what is needed. We talk about multidisciplinary approaches and joined-up thinking but if we intend to operate in a sophisticated way, it makes sense that different Departments will have responsibility for different aspects of an issue. The divvying out of skills training to the Department of Education and Skills is quite appropriate, with other matters being the responsibility of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation. The Taoiseach has been somewhat unimaginative given that he was appointed in an imaginative way when he was only 32 years old by the former Taoiseach, Mr. Albert Reynolds. He has shown little of that spirit, although that is not to criticise the quality of the Ministers currently in office.
I compliment the Leader on the times he has responded to requests for debates on specific issues, but there has been less delivery when we have sought debates about the bigger philosophical questions. Such debates could be a credit to the Seanad. What I have in mind is a debate about our political system, how it is working, the quality of political debate at present and whether it is fit for purpose. We could also have debates on the media. We have asked previously in the Seanad to debate such issues and have been given promises but no such debates have been scheduled. An example of the need for this debate is the kerfuffle about Deputy Leo Varadkar's comment about the former Taoiseach, Dr. Garret FitzGerald. It was interesting to watch his party criticise him. Somebody who thinks that Dr. Garret FitzGerald-----
It is relevant because we must be able to debate the way we talk about politics. My point is that a party has a problem with somebody criticising somebody from their own side but if he said the same about somebody from the other side, there would be no problem.
I believe Dr. Garret FitzGerald has been much more successful in the time since he was Taoiseach than when he was Taoiseach. The problem with Deputy Varadkar's comments in the eyes of his party is that what he said is actually true in practice but did not work in theory, as Dr. FitzGerald himself would say-----
-----because it offended against the theory of loyalty to one's party at all costs. Loyalty to party at all costs has taken this Government down seriously bad roads on occasion, when there was a failure to criticise bad practice and bad decision making.
Yes. When can we hold a debate about how our political system is working and the quality of our political debate? There are thinking people on all sides of the House. We would be required to do a little more work to hold such a debate because Members could not simply ask head office for a few lines. We would actually have to apply our minds to the issues. We have the capacity to do that and we could bring forward serious suggestions about how to improve the quality of national life by improving the quality of our political discourse.
I support Senator Mullen's comments, which were eminently sensible. I will return to this issue. I also join Members who have complimented and congratulated the Deputies who were elevated to high office yesterday. Like Senator Twomey, I compliment my constituency colleague, Deputy Seán Connick. His business acumen and ability will be much in evidence in undertaking his new responsibilities. It is also good for the constituency to have a Minister.
Second, I seek a debate on the public service. I use the term "public service" loosely because I consider it something of misnomer. We owe a debt of gratitude to the CPSU. It has laid bare all the defects and weaknesses in the public sector. The people who are seeking passports have lost a considerable amount of money simply because those who are paid good salaries, with pensions one could not buy in the private sector, are not functioning or doing their job. People in the private sector who are losing their jobs and are now losing money because they cannot get a passport are being sacrificed in pursuit of self-interest. There has been talk over many years about public service reform. I believe what is required is way beyond that. Talk about reform is redundant. We must redesign the public service from top to bottom. In that regard I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Dara Calleary, on his appointment. He is a young man with tremendous ability who has been given an enormous task. I believe he has the aptitude and capability to do a good job. We should have a debate on that in the Seanad.
I agree with Senator Mullen that we tend to avoid some of the thorny issues by not scheduling debates. In that regard, I believe we should debate the global economy. I was very concerned following a two-hour debate with a prominent US economist last week.
I have. He said that the US economy will grow by 3% this year, but because the various stimulus packages in place will expire at the end of this year and there will be tax increases next year, he predicts that the US economy will shrink by 6% next year. We live in the global economy so that will have consequences for every country in the western world. I ask the Leader to move away from the straitjacket that sometimes constrains us and invite somebody with expertise in this area and in the employment area to the House so we can have good, informed debates on these issues. I have seen this House rise to challenges-----
-----on very technical, complicated issues in the recent past. We have the potential to make a valuable contribution in this regard. I ask the Leader and the Committee on Procedure and Privileges to be more innovative in the manner in which business is conducted in the House.
I second Senator Healy Eames's motion. If we are to have cancer treatment centres of excellence, it is essential they are given adequate resources. If they do not get such resources, it is a serious matter which we must debate.
I wish the new Cabinet well. I also wish my colleague in the south east, the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Connick, well. He was my colleague on the South-East Regional Authority and he will be an excellent Minister of State. It is only a pity he has not been appointed a Minister. Many people expected change for the better in the reshuffle. The new Ministers have a massive responsibility, as does the entire Cabinet, because they have the executive power to lead this country out of the current mess. Everybody will watch very closely how it does that. However, there is much confusion about the areas of responsibility. Employment and unemployment are the biggest issues facing this country but there does not appear to be clear or direct responsibility for those in any of the new Cabinet posts. The best example of this, as other Members have said, is responsibility for FÁS, the national agency for re-skilling, retraining and re-employment. There must be clarity about that so I support calls for a debate on the issue. The Leader should invite the relevant Minister to the House - none of us knows who it is - to debate it.
I am very disappointed that there is no senior Minister from the south east. We often hear about balanced regional development and the national spatial strategy. Waterford is a gateway city under that strategy. The former Minister, former Deputy Martin Cullen, is only gone five minutes and there are already proposals from the Government to downgrade emergency services off the south-east coast and to downgrade the Rosslare to Waterford and the Waterford to Limerick railway lines. These are serious infrastructure issues for the south east but because it now does not have a senior Minister, I fear for its future. I seek a debate on proper and balanced regional development and the role Ministers will play in that.
I endorse the points made by Senator Mullen. There have been calls in the House previously for debates on the perception of politics. We must have a debate on that issue. The professionalism of politics has been downgraded to the extent that we are considered to be nobodies in the world, regardless of one's political party. I have also on many occasions sought a debate on Irish society. It has changed terribly. We have seen the bashing of politicians and the clergy and now there is talk about people power and that the people, and nobody else, should run this country. The worry is how that is to be shaped in the future.
I congratulate those who have secured appointment to the Cabinet. It will lead to a new approach. Senator Coffey referred to the role of FÁS. It has gone into the Department of Education and Skills where I believe it should always have been.
All skills training and courses should be part of the education sector. I have always believed that. I would welcome a debate on that issue. The Leader should also arrange debates on the future of society and the future of politics in this country. We have a new Cabinet and it is to be hoped it will steer the country in the right direction.
Such a debate would be worthwhile and that is what the Seanad should do.
I raise the issue of scare-mongering and the danger that we will have a nanny State. My attention was drawn to three reports in recent times. One concerns chickens and states they are dangerous to eat because of disease. However, it has always been such and the reports states that if they are cooked, everything will be okay. Another report states obesity is terrible and that one should not eat chocolate, but if one takes exercise, it is okay. A report from the European Union states one in ten items of children's clothing is very dangerous because it contains cords or drawstrings with which children may choke themselves, but it is okay if one is aware of this. Senator O'Toole has reminded us that some years ago when a dog savaged a young child, legislation was passed which stated all dogs should be muzzled. It was an immediate reaction. I have a concern that when we pass legislation, as we have done, and examine reports produced proposing legislation, we should take into account the fact that we are independent and rational people who can make decisions of their own. A good friend of mine loves to have an ice cream cone but is aware that if he has one, he has to walk 5 km if he wants to avoid becoming obese. It is a reminder that we need to maintain balance and make sure that when we make proposals, we take into account the fact that we have a rational, sensible population which can react to such matters in a moderate way.
The Anglo-Irish Agreement marked the commencement of the peace process and was a tremendous achievement. However, I do not think he was the greatest Taoiseach. He would have been a brilliant professor of economics in a university and was a man of integrity. I will forever recognise his contribution to the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
The Minister of State, Deputy Connick, single-handedly drove the car scrappage scheme at the parliamentary party and it was a tremendous achievement. As a man with business skills, he knew how to do it. He pursued the issue at the parliamentary party and the Taoiseach gave him recognition. My colleagues on the other side of the House from the south east should not be too worried. He will not be parochial and think about County Wexford; he will also think about County Waterford.
The two most urgent issues are employment and public sector reform. I call on the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, Deputy O'Keeffe, to come to House within the next two or three weeks to spell out his strategy for maintaining jobs and the creation of employment. The Minister of State, Deputy Calleary, should address the crying need for public sector reform. The go-slow is an embarrassment. I did not agree that the bonus paid to senior civil servants should be withdrawn; it was the wrong decision. However, that is no excuse for younger and lower grade staff in the civil and public service to go on strike. The fact that they have gone on strike will affect them for the rest of their lives. Leadership is required in the trade unions in order to get people back to work, negotiate and give example to young people starting on the ladder in the civil and public service that negotiation and discussion, not strikes, are the way to proceed.
The last time the trade unions were in Government Buildings to show leadership and negotiate a resolution on the unsustainable pay cuts for those in the public sector and private industry they were thrown out at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. Leadership on the issue should be shown from the top down; it begins with the Taoiseach.
I raise the issue, an exclusive on "Prime Time" last night, of the increased salaries of some in Anglo Irish Bank. It is beyond comprehension that the Government would allow Anglo Irish Bank, of all banks, to increase the salaries of staff at a time when cleaners, local authority workers, gardaí, nurses and teachers are paying through the nose for the mess into which the Government got us in the first place.
On the abolition of the Seanad, I repeat a call I made a number of months ago. The Seanad is a soft touch for some cynics in the media. It is always castigated as a House which is not worthwhile having. There is, however, a huge case for reform, on which there are many reports. While I support reform, I will oppose, from this side of the House, any populist political approach to abolish the Seanad. My view has been consistent. Any Member who believes the Seanad should be abolished should resign his or her seat.
I wholeheartedly back the sentiments expressed by Senator McCarthy. There are 60 Senators in the House and it annoyed me greatly to hear the Leader of the Opposition, Senator Fitzgerald, after the party conference, say she supported the abolition of the House. I call on her to resign her seat and put her money where her mouth is.
I support other Senators in their call for a debate on the media and, in particular, what has happened in the past 24 hours. I have spoken at length to the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport, Deputy Hanafin, about her new portfolio. She is absolutely delighted. I heard her on three occasions in three media outlets, from the time she met the Taoiseach yesterday morning to receiving her seal of office, describe the challenge which lay ahead for her and say how thrilled she was with her portfolio. No matter what language she uses, RTE and others still come out and say it is a demotion. The Minister has said she is thrilled about it, is looking forward to what is a great challenge, particularly in the areas of tourism and job creation.
I support Senators White and Walsh in their calls for a debate on public sector reform. It is terrible to see what is happening in front of our eyes today and what has been happening in recent days on Molesworth Street. There are rights and wrongs on both sides but there are no winners. Talks have to be started. Talks are taking place at the Labour Court-----
-----and at a very senior level.
I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Calleary, who faces a great challenge. It speaks loudly of the commitment of the Government and, in particular, the Taoiseach that he has given the Minister of State responsibility for public service reform in his Department. I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister of State to come to the Seanad at his earliest possible convenience.
On the call for a debate on the role of politics, the media and the reshuffle yesterday, I call for a debate on the report of the innovation task force which was released last week. It is very important that it be debated in the House. It was all about rewarding loyalty in the past as opposed to having a vision for the future. It is already apparent to everyone that it was an opportunity wasted, as opposed to an opportunity taken.
If this Taoiseach is not capable of producing the Departments or the people that are capable of giving hope to this country and driving innovation, we should be debating a report that was produced last week which lays out how this could be done.
I support what my colleagues said about Anglo Irish Bank. We need to have a debate on what happened yesterday. We need to understand whether the decision made marked a return to the excess and waste seen in the bank in the past which led to an enormous failure or if it is about trying to put it on a sustainable path. It beggars belief, when virtually everyone else in the public service in particular, of which Anglo Irish Bank is now part, has experienced pay cuts, that a small number within the institution which was nearly single-handedly responsible for the disaster the country faces are receiving a wage increase.
I ask the Leader for a debate on dissident republican violence. A man was murdered in my home town on Sunday evening while visiting a friend. There is talk that it may have been an internecine attack. Be that as it may, we know what such attacks lead to when people involved in the drugs war start to attack each other. Innocents are caught up in it, which is precisely what will happen if we do not begin to take this threat more seriously. A few weeks ago the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform described the threat to the State as being greater than at any time since the Anglo-Irish agreement was signed. I am surprised that the reports in this regard did not result in more security analysis by the media because this is warranted. It is imperative that we do not sleepwalk into a situation where we will find ourselves having to deal on a regular basis with dissident republican violence. It is truly shocking that a man was shot dead on a doorstep. It was the first gun murder in Dundalk since 2000. This occurrence has the potential to haunt a new generation of young people in the way it haunted my childhood. It is an appalling background against which to grow up. With all my being, I do not want to see a return to it and, therefore, ask the Leader to consider the contribution the Seanad might make in that regard. Perhaps we might invite the Minister to come the House to give us his assessment of the threat posed. We cannot return to the bad old days.
Yesterday I raised an issue about the Ombudsman, Ms Emily O'Reilly's report on the lost at sea scheme conceived by Deputy Frank Fahey when Minister. The Leader said the report would be debated in committee but that the Fine Gael Party wanted it to be debated in the Dáil. He also said he would have no difficulty in allocating time for such a debate. Deputy Creed, speaking for the party in the Dáil, on 17 September 2009, said: "Given the Ombudsman request that both Houses of the Oireachtas should consider the matter, will the Taoiseach introduce a proposal to debate the issue in the House early in the new year and to refer to the matter onwards to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for further investigation?" In the light of that clarification, given the serious issue of maladministration raised by the report, it is important that the matter be debated in committee. The Ombudsman should have an opportunity to attend and presenting her report, as well as the former Minister and officials of the Department. That is what the committee is for. There are important constitutional issues about the role of the Ombudsman and whether the House is to ignore and disrespect her findings.
I want to raise one other matter, namely, the statement made in the Dáil yesterday about the former Taoiseach, Garret FitzGerald. I dissociate myself-----
I want to make a political point which I address to the Leader. Does he not agree that Dr. FitzGerald transformed the political culture in this country and the way we viewed our relations with Northern Ireland and Great Britain in terms of reciprocity in voting rights-----
I ask the Leader to allow us to look at the way the Committee on Procedure and Privileges allows us to do our business. Last year we took radical steps to ensure the public finances and the banks were returned to a stable position and the full focus of the Government was on jobs. It is important, as mentioned by Senator Walsh, that the Seanad should now focus exclusively on jobs this year and, if necessary, Standing Orders should be changed to allow an innovative approach to be taken to allow people such as the Irish Commissioner, as well as other EU Commissioners, to address the Seanad on where we are going and how we can get there.
I join in congratulating the new members of the Cabinet and the Ministers of State. They have been placed in a unique position in Irish politics because they will be the last Fianna Fáil and Green Party appointees to the Government for a generation. I hope they will enjoy their service for the couple of years they have left in office.
I shall repeat my question in order that the Leader will hear it properly. When will the Minister for Finance come to the House specifically to deal with the issue of Anglo Irish Bank and the decision made by its board to reward members of the staff with a pay increase? It is not solely about the pay increase but about the process used in arriving at it. As Senators O'Toole and Donohoe said, is it about rewarding good work or is it a matter of returning to the old gravy train? This morning the people are not concerned about Dr. Garret FitzGerald, the Cabinet reshuffle or the Green Party looking after its own, rather they are concerned about the fact that they are under pressure to repay mortgages, unemployment and the fact that their children do not have a future. They do not care about the bubble here but about the direction their lives are taking. They want but have not seen leadership from the Government. They are sick and tired-----
I am not requesting a debate on Seanad Éireann – we have had that. We have also had a report on the possible reform of Seanad Éireann. While all of those issues are important, an opportunity is presented today to the Leader and the House to do something profound and radical for the House. I recommend to the Leader that, immediately following the Easter recess, he would make a direct request to the Taoiseach that each and every Minister or Minister of State, day in and day out for a two-hour period, would come to this House to outline exactly what the portfolio is and what vision each Minister and Minister of State has-----
The reason I suggest this is that we have quite a fragmented situation in the House, not just on the Order of Business but also in the general debates. I would go further and suggest that each of those debates should be broadcast live on TG4. When the Oireachtas committee dealing with the Irish language was discussing the draft 20-year strategy, it was covered live and in full by TG4 and had an exceptionally large viewership.
I make these profound and radical proposals, first, because I believe it would be welcomed by the Taoiseach, second, because it would be welcomed by all Members of the House, and, third, because this is the ideal House for it because, apart from a few small interruptions, partisanship is sidelined here and personalities do not play a major role, as in the Dáil.
There is huge experience, expertise and exposure in the House. I am not being patronising when I say the Leader has done a great job in the past. I believe there is an opportunity for this House to make one huge, central impact on the challenges which face this country. If the Leader succeeds in going straight to the Taoiseach and requesting this opportunity, it will be good for this House, good for the Oireachtas in general and good for democracy.
Senators Twomey, O'Toole, Prendergast, Boyle, O'Malley, Norris, Coghlan, Callely, Mullen, Walsh, Coffey, Ormonde, Mary White and Hanafin congratulated the new Cabinet. I want to put on record my appreciation as Leader of the House to the former Chief Whip and new Minister for Defence, Deputy Pat Carey, for his courtesy and all his help in regard to the matters pertaining to Government since he became Chief Whip.
My apologies. I also congratulate the new Minister for Defence, Deputy Tony Killeen, on his promotion and for representing the Banner county, surrounding areas and the people of Tipperary, Limerick and the wider region.
I wholeheartedly congratulate our two Green colleagues, Deputies Mary White and Ciarán Cuffe, and wish them well in their portfolios. I also congratulate Deputy Seán Connick. He is a champion of champions and I wish him well. As a fellow Leinster man, I look forward to his coming to the House and doing everything he possibly can. As one who has come from the business world and knows the difficulties, he has a huge amount to offer.
I also wish the six new Ministers well on the change in their portfolios, although I recognise some of them have a very difficult task ahead. As soon as they have read into their briefs, it is my intention, as Senator Ó Murchú said, that we would have an opportunity to do something really special. With the permission of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and the help and assistance of the Cathaoirleach and Leas-Chathaoirleach, we will attempt to do something imaginative in regard to enhancing the Seanad and assisting the Ministers in their new portfolios.
I wish the new Chief Whip, Deputy John Curran, well. I will be working with him on a daily basis and our first meeting is tomorrow morning at the legislation committee, which is one of the most important committee meetings in the House and takes place every second week. I look forward to working under his stewardship in the coming two years.
The difficulties and challenges that face the new Cabinet are extremely grave, to say the least. I know colleagues on all sides of this House, once the Order of Business is finished, will get together to find good ideas and use their professionalism from other walks of life to make the proposals that can help and enhance the work of the Ministers in the new Cabinet.
Senators O'Toole, Norris, Coghlan, Callely, McCarthy and Buttimer called for an urgent debate on the up-to-date situation at Anglo Irish Bank. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, is in the Ante Room waiting to address the House on Second Stage of the Finance Bill. I have allowed 20 minutes for spokespersons and 15 minutes for all other Senators. This is one area where the Minister can update the House.
I listened with great interest to the incoming chairman of Anglo Irish Bank, Mr. Alan Dukes, speaking on radio this morning, and I was very impressed. Mr. Dukes has been on both sides of the divide and has been accountable on a day-to-day basis as the incoming chairman, and I wish him well. He pointed out that there are now over 200 fewer staff at the bank and that the extra responsibilities being taken on by those getting extra remuneration is an essential element at this time. I note he has the full blessing of the Minister for Finance in this regard. Mr. Dukes said he hopes, as we all do, that the bank will be in a position in the not too distant future to make credit available again, particularly for small and medium sized businesses.
I spoke with Mr. Dukes yesterday in regard to this issue. We are of one mind, as are all Members of this House. He sees a huge opportunity for the bank in this regard, perhaps on the same scale as the old ICC bank, which played such an important role during the downturn of the 1970s and 1980s.
He certainly does.
I look forward to the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, coming to the House today. I wish the House well in its deliberations. We have left all day and all evening available for Second Stage of the Finance Bill.
Senators Prendergast, Healy Eames and Coffey called on the Minister for Health and Children to come to the House to give an update on the situation in regard to her portfolio. Not only that, but I will bring to the Minister's attention what Senators said today regarding the alleged shortage of funding for the Galway cancer centre of excellence and the situation for patients dealing with cancer at that centre. The situation is unacceptable and Senators on all sides of the House must tease out the matter to find how we can address it and ensure this does not continue to be the case.
Senators Boyle and Mary White called for a debate on the programme for Government and unemployment, with the main focus being on employment and the effort to create jobs. I have no difficulty allowing time for this following the Easter recess.
Senator O'Malley was a strong voice on the passports issue. I welcome the progress that took place when the unions met yesterday evening, following which they made the announcement that anyone who urgently needs a passport, which will be determined on a day-to-day basis, will be looked after. As I said in the House yesterday, if the talks could be given a chance and a timeframe put on them, everyone in Ireland would support both sides in trying to get an agreement on this issue.
Senator O'Malley also commented on the debate on women in politics. I remind Senators that this is the first House to acknowledge this issue and it will be the first House in which such a debate takes place. While the Finance Bill took precedence this week, during international women's week the Minister had expressed a desire to come to the House for this important debate. It will take place on Thursday afternoon next week and I look forward to the participation of all colleagues in the House. Senator Norris welcomed the Google position on China and expressed his strong views on human rights with which we all agree. Senator Feargal Quinn referred to dangerous comments and scaremongering in general just to catch a headline in the media. I fully agree with those sentiments. I will seek to have them included in a future debate. Senator Leyden wholeheartedly welcomed the hard work of the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, in getting funding of €20 million for the new civic offices in Roscommon. This is great news for the people of our neighbouring County Roscommon. This will provide 100 construction jobs and is to be welcomed. It is lovely to see this progress in Roscommon.
Senator Walsh asked for a debate on the global economy.Senators Mullen, Walsh, Ormonde, Quinn and Feeney, called for a debate on the media and political standards and how our political system is working. This would be a very worthwhile debate. We should also include a debate on the Press Council and standards in the press.
Senators Walsh, Mary White and Feeney asked for a debate on public service reform. They also congratulated our new Minister of State with responsibility for this area, Deputy Dara Calleary. I congratulate him and wish him well. As Senator Feeney said, the Taoiseach has taken this major decision whereby the new Minister of State will be assisting the Taoiseach and taking responsibility for public sector reform within the Department of the Taoiseach. I congratulate the Taoiseach on this proposal.
Senators McCarthy, Feeney and Ó Murchú asked for a debate on Seanad reform. In reply to Senator Donohoe who stated that no reform has taken place, I ask him to note that it is now the practice to have a question and answer session at the end of deliberations when a Minister is in the House. I plan to extend this and I am receiving good co-operation from Ministers and Ministers of State.
I remind the House that no Bill has been guillotined under my leadership. I was Leader of the House from 1997 to 2002 and from 2007 to date-----
-----with the exception of one occasion when the Leader had to act as Leader and I make no apology for that. As I stated quite correctly on "The Late Late Show", in the previous year 1,201 amendments were made to Bills. There has been a lot of change happening in Seanad Éireann and we are not getting credit for it. As Senator Ó Murchú said, when we get live broadcasting of the Order of Business for one hour a week on a pilot basis and Senators act in a responsible way, then the people will see the great worth of the Seanad-----
-----and of colleagues on all sides of the House. This proposal is at an advanced stage under the auspices of the Joint Administration Committee of the Houses. I know that all colleagues want to see this House retained because no one wants to see a Dáil of a dictatorship with a slender majority having the power to eliminate the President, the power to do away with a judge or the power to eliminate the tax concessions given to us by the European Parliament. Who wants to appoint a dictator? Who wants to appoint someone from any political party who will not discuss-----
Senator Dearey outlined the terrible murders which took place in his home town of Dundalk. He spoke about the violence of various organisations. We do not want to see a return of such violence and we will do everything possible to assist Senator Dearey in his request for a debate on this issue as a matter of urgency.
Senator Regan referred to the report of the Ombudsman. As I said yesterday, it is my understanding that Fine Gael wanted to have the matter discussed in the Dáil and this took place. Some colleagues may not be aware that this House also debated and discussed this matter at 2.30 p.m. on Thursday, 18 February.
Senator Hanafin asked for a debate on the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and Standing Orders of the House in order to have a focus for change. I will be pleased to bring forward to the committee any good ideas or proposals from Members. I know the leaders of all groupings in the House would be pleased if colleagues put forward good ideas in order to enhance this House. My door is open in this regard.
A number of amendments to the Order of Business have been proposed. Senator Twomey has proposed the following amendment: "That a debate with the Taoiseach on the actions being taken by the public service unions be taken today." Is amendment being pressed?
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 20 (Jerry Buttimer, Ciarán Cannon, Paudie Coffey, Paul Coghlan, Maurice Cummins, Pearse Doherty, Paschal Donohoe, Frances Fitzgerald, Dominic Hannigan, Fidelma Healy Eames, Michael McCarthy, Nicky McFadden, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, Joe O'Reilly, Joe O'Toole, Phil Prendergast, Eugene Regan, Brendan Ryan, Liam Twomey)
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, John Gerard Hanafin, Cecilia Keaveney, 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, Feargal Quinn, Shane Ross, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Maurice Cummins; Níl, Senators Niall Ó Brolcháin and Diarmuid Wilson
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 18 (Jerry Buttimer, Ciarán Cannon, Paudie Coffey, Paul Coghlan, Maurice Cummins, Pearse Doherty, Paschal Donohoe, Frances Fitzgerald, Dominic Hannigan, Fidelma Healy Eames, Michael McCarthy, Nicky McFadden, Rónán Mullen, Joe O'Reilly, Phil Prendergast, Eugene Regan, Brendan Ryan, Liam Twomey)
Against the motion: 34 (Dan Boyle, Martin Brady, Larry Butler, Ivor Callely, James Carroll, John Carty, Donie Cassidy, Maria Corrigan, Mark Daly, Mark Dearey, John Ellis, Geraldine Feeney, John Gerard Hanafin, Cecilia Keaveney, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Lisa McDonald, Paschal Mooney, David Norris, Niall Ó Brolcháin, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Francis O'Brien, Denis O'Donovan, Fiona O'Malley, Ned O'Sullivan, Joe O'Toole, Ann Ormonde, Kieran Phelan, Feargal Quinn, Shane Ross, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Maurice Cummins; Níl, Senators Niall Ó Brolcháin and Diarmuid Wilson.