Tuesday, 27 April 2010
Order of Business.
The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on women's participation in politics, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and adjourn not later than 6.15 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 12 minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed eight minutes and on which Senators may share time, by agreement of the House, and No. 2, statements on banking, to be taken, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders and by agreement of the House, at the conclusion of No. 1 but not before 6 p.m., with contributions of spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and on which Senators may share time, by agreement of the House, with the Minister to be called on ten minutes before the conclusion of the debate for closing comments. This is to allow spokespersons and those who contributed the last day to comment on the up-to-date position in banking.
In recent days there has been a debate on the issue of pensions and, in particular, the entitlements of politicians to pensions and the conditions under which one should keep a pension if one is engaging in public service or continuing as a politician. Today all Fine Gael ministerial pension holders have voluntarily agreed to give up their pensions. Fine Gael will publish amending legislation and ask the Government to accept it to ensure this happens with immediate effect. This is the correct approach. Many other issues arise from the discussion of pensions in recent days. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the matter.
I propose to raise two issues related to the National Asset Management Agency. We were informed when the NAMA legislation was being enacted that the new agency would deliver a social dividend. I ask for information on developments in the National Asset Management Agency and whether this matter is being considered. The issue of a social dividend will have be discussed, whether in connection with ghost housing estates we see around the country or land located in the middle of communities that has been transferred to NAMA. Many issues arise in this regard.
I also ask that the Minister come before the House to outline whether there have been developments in the scheme established to assist homeowners struggling with mortgage repayments. As many as 300,000 people may be in this position. The issue must be discussed in detail in the House in its own right.
I am concerned about recent information that has emerged on the women's prison in Mountjoy Prison. The details of the concerns raised by the resigning prison governor give rise to serious issues about developments in the prison. The prison was a model of its kind. The governor indicated there has been a severe deterioration and undue interference in the way the prison is run, which has been very damaging. This is another issue on which the House should have a debate and I ask the Leader to arrange such a debate as soon as possible.
Senator Fitzgerald raised an important issue concerning the women's prison. We must not take a simple approach to this issue, in which there is considerable interest, as there is also a legislative responsibility in the matter. We have created an imperative whereby people who do not pay their television or credit union bills are thrown into jail. What kind of a modern society are we running? While I would be pleased to have a debate on the prison service, we should examine legislation and ask the reason we have neglected to amend the legislation which allows and, in fact, demands that people are put in prison for minor indebtedness.
The issue Senator Fitzgerald raises about people in negative equity is similar. People who are experiencing negative equity may be forced to sell their homes in the next year or two and will need support. I make a distinction between those who cannot repay their mortgages, an issue raised by Senators MacSharry, McFadden and others in recent months, and those who must, for some reason, sell their homes. The latter group will find themselves paying off the difference between the sale price and the value of the mortgage for the rest of their lives.
Senator Fitzgerald also raised an issue related to pensions. In recent days, the media has made a great sport of chasing people around asking whether they will give back their pensions etc. While this serves as an excellent diversion and distraction, serious issues have arisen which need to be discussed. I would welcome a debate on what principles should govern pension entitlements and how pensions should be paid out. If changes are required, we should make them. No one, however, is engaging in the type of detailed examination of the issue required.
Deputy Leo Varadkar published legislation in recent days, the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Bill 2010, in which he realistically proposes to reduce by 10% all costs in which the Government has an input. These include the cost of electricity, gas, bus and train fares, airport charges, television licences, motorway tolls, college registration fees and State examination fees. Every single State supplier of resources and services to the State has been required to reduce fees and costs by 8% to 10% in the past two years. This Government has been remiss in not doing the same in those areas it controls and over which it has influence. This is far more important than taking shillings off some politicians.
There is a very attractive map in today's newspapers which shows how the new Dublin Bus network will look if the changes proposed by the company are implemented. I welcome the fact the company has addressed something as basic as bus routes across our capital city. It is based on the old tram system and many numbers on the buses hark back to an earlier age. Can we have a debate on public transport in our capital city? To what extent will this map, with all its high design production values, be represented by the service that Dublin Bus produces once these changes are implemented? If we go with these proposals, 90 buses will be taken out of the fleet in Dublin and 150 jobs will be lost.
I am prepared to accept, for the sake of argument, that a reduction in costs can lead to an improved service. This is always possible, but we should remind ourselves that Dublin Bus provides a very good service and has a very good record. The subsidy to Dublin Bus is relatively modest by international standards. We have a good service. No matter what happens to the routes and apart from having an opportunity to view the map, people want to know whether the service will improve. I ask the Leader to consider a debate on this issue.
I largely agree with Senator Fitzgerald's call for a debate on the subjects she raised, especially the resignation by the governor of the Dóchas Centre. I also agree with the point raised by Senator O'Toole about the imprisonment of people for certain types of offences. I would like to think that we have already stopped imprisonment for the non-payment of a television fine in the Broadcasting Act 2009, while the Fines Bill 2009 will come before the Seanad and address some of those issues. It is clear in 2010 that there are still too many petty and technical offences that require imprisonment. A debate on the issue in the House would be useful.
A progress report debate on the credit review group would also be useful. The group was established in February and it has a brief to report in the quickest possible time. There is an ongoing agreement between the financial institutions and the Irish Bankers' Federation on repossessions, and this is helping the situation.
We must talk about the need for legislation for public service pensions, including those of politicians. The idea of a group collectively making a voluntary decision is a concept that is strange to me, but I do not care if it is the right decision. We need to reflect on the level of public concern that exists about the idea of ongoing payments to members of the public service who receive pensions for previous employment at the same time.
I agree with Senator White's call for a debate on public transport, but it should be wider. While Dublin Bus has its issues to consider, the metropolitan Dublin area is also served by the DART, Luas and commuter rail, but the other major urban centres - Cork, Waterford, Limerick and Galway - have bus-only services, so they should be included in such a debate.
I support Senator Fitzgerald's call for a debate on pension entitlements. I hope sitting TDs and Senators in receipt of the ministerial pension relinquish it in the national interest. As actions speak louder than words, it is about time we started to show leadership in both Houses of the Oireachtas. It is welcome that Ireland's European Commissioner has relinquished her pension. She is on quite a salary in her current position. I have heard the call from the union leader, Mr. Jack O'Connor, who was exerting pressure from the trade union perspective. While I do not have a problem with this, union leaders should look at their own membership, including those who continue work after retirement, including teachers and nurses. Retired Civil Service workers in receipt of pensions are taking up employment and preventing young graduates from doing so and gaining experience. We should review all of these aspects and have a full debate on pension entitlements.
One of the scourges of modern Irish society is heroin. I ask the Leader to make provision for an early debate on the impact and consequences of heroin usage. Many families face huge debts owing to those unfortunate enough to be addicted to heroin. This is one of the biggest challenges facing young people in society.
I compliment the Irish Independent on publishing a fine supplement on the 1916 Rising today. It is indicative of a growing interest in this period of our history. In addition, we are preparing a comprehensive programme to mark the centenary of the Rising in six years' time. In that context, I refer again to the building at 16 Moore Street where the 1916 leaders made their final stand. I am worried that it will not be preserved or restored, as it should be, in memory of the great men and women of 1916. I understand planning permission has been obtained for a particular development. Government intervention is now required because as we work towards marking the centenary all of these issues will take centre stage. A particular 1916 leader has been forgotten. I am referring to Tom Clarke, the first signatory of the 1916 Proclamation. It is important that we find a major project to be named after him. I suggest Dublin Airport would be ideal for this purpose. One must bear in mind that in America there are JFK and O'Hare airports, while in France there is Charles de Gaulle Airport. There are many similar examples throughout the world. The Government should be asked to consider honouring the memory of Tom Clarke by naming Dublin Airport after him. I have no doubt this proposal would be met by much goodwill. Since we restarted the national commemoration of the events of 1916, there has been a growing interest, not just among people of a certain age but also among young people.
Perhaps the Leader could take up these two issues on my behalf.
I share the concern of my colleagues about the resignation of the governor of Mountjoy Women's Prison, Ms Kathleen McMahon, who is a remarkable woman who has done wonderful work. Senator O'Toole referred to prison overcrowding and the fact that people were put in jail for not having a television licence. Two years ago I tabled an amendment to a Bill in this House to deal with that matter but it was rejected by the Government. Why does it not act on proposals made on an all-party basis in this House in order to avoid such difficulties? I was surprised a little that in her resignation statement the governor had linked lesbianism with bullying and drug addiction. That is regrettable. I was glad that she acknowledged subsequently that she did not know much about the subject, but it is not very flattering. One could just as easily link heterosexuality with bullying and drug addiction.
Will the Leader indicate support for the application of Mr. Peter Matthews, a distinguished and accurate commentator on the economy, to be admitted as an expert witness to give evidence on least-cost solutions to the financial crisis? Mr. Matthews has written to the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service.
I call for a discussion on the Frontline report published today. The report was conducted by a very distinguished barrister, Mr. Brian Barrington, who, at my suggestion, briefed Members previously on the immigration Bill. He is a reputable man and a significant authority. In the Frontline report, Shell to Sea - the Corrib situation, he and some other international panels have determined that Mr. Willie Corduff was seriously assaulted, that the investigation by the Garda was not thorough and was completely unsatisfactory and that the recommendation of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, that there should be a review of police policy and practice in the area and that people from the local area should be moved to other areas because of the difficulty, was not followed through. This issue is so important that I intend to table a motion on the Order Paper seeking to have a debate on it, but I would like all-party support, at least for the discussion. Not everybody may agree with my views on it. I anticipate a refusal after my distinguished colleagues to my right and left speak - into the valley of death he strode - but we should have this discussion.
I, too, support the call for a debate on the issue of pensions. The question of whether pension payments should be made to sitting Members of the Oireachtas has arisen time and again over the past 12 months. The issue was highlighted in the media at the weekend. I never saw anything like it. The media were like vultures after a kill in their pursuit of the Commissioner who was in the country to perform her duties, which was a disgrace. A discussion on the issue would be worthwhile and should be held in this forum, but we should be wary of going too far. Any change will filter down to all public servants, including those in the teaching profession, many of whom after retirement are re-employed for the correction of leaving certificate papers. Should such experienced teachers be deprived of this income just because they have their pensions and should not take up other work? It is important we have a debate on the subject as there are many issues to be considered.
In light of the resignation of the governor of the female prison at Mountjoy, I would welcome a debate on Mountjoy, which is an affront to civil society as it is overcrowded, male dominated and a dumping ground for people who have not paid their debts. We must consider alternative arrangements. The Fines Bill is still on the agenda. The issue concerns where we put people who commit less serious offences and who may be socially inadequate. They should not be dumped in with serious and dangerous criminals. We need a debate that will consider community services and how best we can move forward. Perhaps we should produce a paper and set up a sub-committee to look at an alternative approach for these people.
I welcome the debate scheduled for this afternoon on women's participation in politics and thank the Leader for at last acceding to the request from me and many other Members for such a debate. I am delighted the debate will take place today and look forward to debating, in particular, the recommendations of our sub-committee's report on women's participation. I am aware the former Minister, Niamh Bhreathnach, is in the Visitors Gallery and I welcome her and the many others with an interest in this topic.
I echo the concern of Senator Fitzgerald and others about the resignation of governor Kathleen McMahon. In that context, I call for a debate on conditions in prison. I and others have been calling for that debate for some time. We need to debate the serious criticisms the former governor of the Dóchas Centre has made of the women's prison and conditions there. I have been in the Dóchas Centre many times. It was built just over ten years ago as a model prison. It was a flagship prison in terms of rehabilitative prisons, but we now see chronic overcrowding in it to the extent that spaces designed for one occupant now have bunk beds installed, which is one of the major problems the governor identified. Perhaps more serious is the fact that many women in the prison are such low risk offenders that they should not have been sent to prison in the first place. Senator Norris and others spoke about women who were sent there for non-payment of fines. It is outrageous that in 2010 we are still sending women to prison, many of whom have young children, for these matters. We need a serious debate on conditions in prison and the use of imprisonment for women. We need to look at reports such as the Corston report in England which recommended that the use of imprisonment for women should be completely overhauled and that prison should be reserved both for women and young offenders as a sanction of last resort to be used only for high risk violent offenders.
I also seek a debate on the proposal to merge the National Archives and the Irish Manuscripts Commission with the National Library. I have raised this matter before and it is of serious concern. At a recent conference in Trinity College on the National Archives many experts expressed serious concern about the decision.
I welcome recent developments in the Bank of Ireland. Given that the placement was three times oversubscribed, it shows that there is some confidence in the institution. It also shows there is confidence in the role of the State in the continuing rehabilitation of the financial system. This is positive and augurs well for the other institutions as they seek to get their act together in the coming weeks.
I join Senator Fitzgerald in calling for a debate on the supports available to the many struggling families who are falling into arrears. While the measures taken to date by the regulator and others, including the moratorium, are welcome and have kept the threat of repossession at bay for a period, the numbers struggling with arrears are increasing in a major way. I ask the Leader to contact the Department of Finance to ascertain when the expert group will report and what measures it proposes to introduce. While the number of repossessions has subsided somewhat, they will re-emerge substantially when the moratorium comes to an end.
Last week I brought the attention of the House to my attempts to receive some information from the HSE which had taken 14 months and ultimately needed the help of the Information Commissioner, Ms Emily O'Reilly. In that context, I ask for a debate on the HSE which has been in existence for six years following the introduction of the Health Act 2004. We must concede that as an arm's length organisation, it has not worked in the way we would like. It is responsible for and has control of more than 50% of the tax take, yet our level of representative access, influence or involvement is effectively nil. It seems the HSE is in a position to prevent the public from adjudicating on its policy and performance by systematically hiding information through a culture of secrecy and the obstruction the provision of information, as I have experienced first hand in the past 14 months. I am not simply talking about the cancer report for the north west. There have been reports on children in care, among others, in recent months. It is time the Legislature had some input into and element of control over public policy on health and a very large proportion of the budget as a whole.
I call for a debate on a subject that could overshadow many of the themes we are discussing today. I refer to events in Greece on Friday, when a small member state of the European Union announced to the international markets that it believed it would not be able to meet its expenditure and asked member states to support it in an act of solidarity. That event will change the path and choices countries such as ours will have to face. It puts on the table the fact that another country which occupies roughly the same space in the league table of European economies is experiencing profound difficulty in keeping the lights on at night. That is a subject that needs to be discussed in this House, given that this country will be asked to make a contribution of approximately €450 million to support Greece. While that is the right thing to do, we need to explain why and the profound implications of what is happening in Greece and could happen here.
I refer to the pensions debate. Some colleagues spoke about overcrowding in the Dóchas Centre, the women's prison, which is located around the corner from where I live. I must contrast the attitude of the State regarding the prisoners there to its attitude towards Mr. Michael Fingleton, the former chairmen of Irish Nationwide.
Over the weekend, in a letter that was published in a national newspaper, he said he was harassed into volunteering to repay money. This is the man who led the organisation, for which he received a €1 million bonus, that the taxpayer must now support to the tune of €2.5 billion. That represents the unacceptable face of capitalism in this State and the Government must take a much tougher line than it has up to now.
Although I had not intended to refer to the issue, I welcome the comments made by Senator Donohoe and hope the Leader will take them on board. In light of the lies the former Greek Government told the European Union about the requirements for entering the euro zone, for which they are now reaping the whirlwind, some economic commentators are suggesting the figures for Ireland might be questionable. I do not think the commentator in question was trying to set an agenda but it would be horrendous if the international bond markets had any whiff of anything untoward in the statistics provided by this country in the last 20 years to EUROSTAT. Senator Donohoe was right to raise this issue and it should be debated to offer an opportunity to the Minister for Finance to state unequivocally that the country has an international reputation for probity. The international bond markets and commentators have welcomed the harsh but necessary decisions that were taken to turn the economy round.
The travails of the Quinn Insurance Group have been raised in the House on many occasions, particularly by Senators from Cavan. This morning representatives of 150 companies circled the M50 and came up the quays. Many of the vox pops on radio suggested the Government should intervene in the decisions of the regulator. I have a deal of sympathy with those people but we either have independent regulation or we do not. I have the greatest of sympathy with those workers in Cavan who are wondering if they will have jobs next Friday, when the administrators make their decision. As a public representative from County Leitrim, where there is a significant number of workers from the Quinn Insurance Group, I feel helpless. How must the workers in Cavan feel? There must be something that can be done to shift the regulator and to accelerate his decision to at least open the northern market for Quinn Insurance if he is not prepared to extend it into the British market. I make this plea as a representative in the Oireachtas, that the regulator will make a decision promptly so those workers in Cavan do not have to spend the weekend worrying whether they will be able to pay their mortgages or put food on their tables.
I also welcome the developments at Bank of Ireland in the last day or so. We need clarification of that in light of the increased State stakeholding from 16% to 36.5%. Is it intended to appoint further public interest directors? Perhaps some others might be removed because of conflicts of interest.
I welcome the capital requirement situation and the paying back to the State, buying out of the warrant entitlements under the preference shareholding. There have, however, been significant other developments and we have heard nothing about them yet. That is why I welcome that this is a fresh debate on banking instead of a resumption of statements because there are new developments every week, if not daily.
The European Commission has ruled on the curtailment of some of the powers of NAMA, particularly in regard to vesting orders, where other third parties or non-participating institutions are involved. Equally, the context they envisage regarding Revenue might constitute a further infringement of citizens' rights. In addition, no one seems certain about developments in regard to Anglo Irish Bank - at least I cannot obtain hard information on them. However, there is a curtailment. We urgently need clarification in the interests of transparency. We need to be reassured that it is the least expensive option. There are changes-----
I support what Senator Bacik said about a debate on women in politics. Obviously, there is a need to have all sectors of society reflected in politics and making an input in the formulation of policy. However, there is a dearth of business people, male and female, in both Houses, whose absence, unfortunately, has contributed to certain policies that might have been better thought out if that shortcoming had been addressed. We should actively look at this.
Last week we spoke about the Irish Thalidomide Association and the great injustice suffered by those affected as a consequence of the failure of the State, as well as the German corporation involved in the manufacture of the drug. I compliment Senator Mary White and Deputy Ó Fearghaíl on taking the initiative to bring representatives of the association to the Oireachtas and tabling a motion for discussion by the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party tonight. The motion will be endorsed fully by Fianna Fáil which, if it stands for anything, stands for supporting those who find themselves in this unfortunate position. In the interim the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, will meet the association. She is a tremendously caring person with a good social awareness and conscience. I know she will respond positively and adequately to the concerns of the people concerned which were not addressed properly by the State.
I support Senator O'Toole who sought a debate on the reduction of prices. There is a need for wages to be reduced further in both the public and private sectors, as we are still uncompetitive, although there has been a correction. A corollary of this, however, is that prices must be pressurised and brought down. I was amused to hear some speakers from other parties talk about the pensions issue.
I join Senator Ó Murchú in calling for a debate on the commemoration of the 1916 Rising. I was fortunate enough to spend some hours today with the grandson of James Connolly and the great-niece of Joseph Plunkett as they made history come alive in the streets around the GPO. These streets that withstood the bombardment of guns in 1916 are now under threat from developers. I seek a debate on how, as a nation, we should move to protect this historic area which is part of our culture. I would like the debate to be widened to consider other ways of commemorating not alone the 1916 Rising but also the period up to 1922, including events at Ballykinler camp. We might include the comments made by Senator Fitzgerald who spoke about the social dividend in the context of NAMA. There might be properties we could take over and use in commemorating the 1916 Rising. I ask that the debate take place as soon as possible.
The Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Hanafin, read the theme of the Proclamation in a stateswomanlike and exemplary manner, quoting the phrase, "We cherish all the children of the nation equally".
At this time, representatives of the Irish Thalidomide Association are meeting with the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney. I hope she has the vision and strength to compensate adequately for the negligence of our State. Some 10,000 people across the world were born with deformities arising from the use of thalidomide; in Ireland there are 32 survivors. I want to see the Minister send a spiritual signal, making an apology on behalf of our State and providing for financial compensation. I want to draw attention to a woman called Dr. Frances Kelsey, an inspector in the US Food and Drug Administration, who had the guts to refuse the pharmaceutical companies permission to have thalidomide on sale in that country. She said not enough research had been done on it.
There was a photograph in the Irish Independent yesterday of Mrs. Mary Cowen attending the Fianna Fáil commemoration at Arbour Hill. That newspaper's editors should make up their minds as to whether it is a serious newspaper or a tabloid. It attempted to portray Mrs. Mary Cowen in a derogatory manner.
We should collectively commemorate and celebrate the bravery of the people who fought and died for Ireland. We should not allow it to be the preserve of any particular party. The debate should happen now so we can properly prepare to celebrate the events of 1916 as a collective nation.
I ask the Leader for a debate on the future of politics. I asked for such a debate in this House a number of months ago. The events of this week have led to one thing, which is the conclusion that the Government has been in power for too long, lost touch with reality and needs to be changed.
My position is quite clear. A pension is for retirement and should not augment a salary. When will the Government show leadership on the issue? When will the Leader set a date for a debate on the future of politics because the biggest fear I have is that we will make politics the preserve of the rich and we will go back to part-time politics like we had in the 1950s and 1960s, which is bad for democracy.
I support the calls for a debate on the celebrations of the events of 1916. I draw to the attention of the House that the centenary in 2016 clashes with proposals for the construction of one of the country's biggest transport infrastructure initiatives at the event's location. For this reason, it is all the more important that we make a joint effort to ensure we have planned well for what we would all like to be a fantastic celebration and event. I am referring to the metro. It is my understanding that it will be a big black hole in O'Connell Street for a number of years while the work is ongoing.
This is why I am somewhat concerned about the number of years it will take and where we are today.
Will the Leader accommodate a debate on the food supply chain? Irish producers and processors are, as we know, internationally renowned for the high quality of their produce. The gross output of the agrifood business is worth in excess of €25 billion. With the required supports, it will contribute significantly to Ireland's economic recovery, but there is a need to debate a number of related matters, such as CAP reform, viable family farm incomes, the farmers' share of retail prices, retail practices and the issues of food labelling and information to customers, particularly in respect of dietary and nutritional needs. Ireland's reputation for quality food production is a great strength of our agrifood sector, but we should support the sector and build our image as a sustainable food-producing island. Therefore, I would like us to put a focus on and stepped approach to a debate on the matter.
Some months ago, I called for a debate on the last report of the Inspector of Prisons and Places of Detention. To my knowledge, we have not debated it. Senator Bacik asked for a similar debate. We could discuss the questions of overcrowding in prisons, especially Mountjoy Prison, the current Thornton Hall situation and the resignation of the governor of the Dóchas Centre, the women's prison. On my way up this morning, I listened to the head of the Prison Service, Mr. Purcell, on the radio. He was convincing and forthright in his opinions on this issue. They must be listened to.
I have no problem with Senator Norris in terms of discussing the recent report on the Corrib gas field, but I reject totally the suggestion that the Garda report was less than thorough. As I have stated in the House previously, the abuse and blackguarding that the Garda has put up with in respect of the issue in recent years have been disgraceful.
Last weekend, the HSE published two summaries of a lengthy report on its handling of the tragic deaths of a young boy aged 17 years and a young girl aged 18 years. Will the Leader please allow a debate on the issue of abuse of children in the HSE's care? It has been there for the past few months, but it cannot be allowed to go off the agenda.
A few weeks ago, all Members asked for a debate on standards in the media. It would be apt at this time when all of us in public life are affected by the media and its coverage of political events. I am spurred into making this call by the way in which political journalism has degenerated into personal attacks and avoided any political discussions or issues. This goes across the board to all parties.
In the Sunday Independent, I read an article entitled, "The Great Debate". We saw pictures of the three main leaders. It was nothing short of disgraceful. The three leaders were attacked in a personal and highly unpleasant manner, but none was targeted as crassly as was An Taoiseach. Phrases like "burly butcher" and "face vaguely resembling a bulldog"-----
I welcome the requests for a debate on pension entitlements. I also welcome the decision on the part of former Ministers and Ministers of State to relinquish their pensions. However, if they think this is going to go down well with the public, they should realise that their action came far too late. The Minister for Finance should write to Mr. Joe Duffy and some of his colleagues in RTE to commend them on the work they are doing. RTE has saved taxpayers a fortune - hundreds of thousands of euro - by asking the difficult questions people in my party and others have been posing for many years. Such questions were avoided by politicians from all parties who were of the view that it was right that they should continue to draw ministerial pensions while continuing to be Members of the Oireachtas.
I would welcome a debate on this issue. I accept that those to whom I refer are entitled, under law, to draw the pensions to which I refer. However, it is morally corrupt for them to continue to do so while they preach to us about tightening our belts and while we make decisions, defend decisions or put counter-decisions against other issues.
On a separate issue, a number of requests have been made for a debate on the 1916 rising. I would welcome a continual debate on that matter, but not merely on what happened 94 years ago this week as the GPO was being shelled. We should consider not merely the events that took place but also how we are living up to the dream outlined in the 1916 Proclamation. We must also consider how we might bring forward plans to re-unite this country and provide to people the entitlements and rights that were prescribed in the Proclamation.
Those who took part in the 1916 Rising were men and women of action. It is important that we should follow their example and take action. As legislators, we need to act. A major development company which owns many properties and which is about to be taken over by NAMA has been granted permission to do what the British Army was unable to do, namely, demolish the area surrounding the GPO, including No. 16 Moore St. There is a way in which we can protect this structure and we need to take decisive action and follow this way.
I wish to seek a debate on the economy. I am particularly conscious of the fact the markets reflect the realities that obtain. Earlier this year, the markets recovered somewhat before falling back. What is happening in the markets at present is a sustained recovery. In light of this and the fact that all boats will rise with the tide that will result from such a recovery, it is time the House debated this issue in full. To quote Shakespeare, "When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions." That is what happened to the economy in this country. Ireland's economy is the third most vulnerable to what happens in the world market. We are literally like a cork on the ocean. When the world market turns, however, we will do particularly well. I ask that we focus on the economy and on what we should be doing to prepare for the international upturn.
I also seek a debate on pensions. There is no doubt that there should be balance and equity. However, I wonder about the motives of those who refer to this matter when members of their party are claiming pensions from Westminster, the proceedings of which they do not even bother to attend.
I wish to raise a matter I encounter almost every day as I make my way to this House from my home. I take a route which brings me onto O'Connell Street via Cathal Brugha Street and as I turn left onto O'Connell Street, a taxi rank is located on my right hand side. I constantly find that taxi drivers have stopped there with hazard lights flashing, thereby blocking traffic on the street and forcing regular motorists to break the law and to enter the bus lane. Senator Norris lives in the area and may verify this but it appears as though a two-tier system of queueing is in place, whereby one taxi from the middle pulls out and allows out another taxi, which has been stopped, to get into that line. It appears as though some drivers are not considered to be part of the club and I believe that bullying is taking place there on behalf of that club. The effect on the main street of our capital city is disgraceful and is forcing ordinary motorists to break the law. I do not know how this can be allowed to continue.
I have raised the matter with the Garda Síochána and with Dublin City Council, which may be in a position to put in place some barriers to prevent this practice from taking place. However, Dublin City Council has refused to do so and has stated this is a matter for the Garda Síochána. The Garda has stated that it cannot take action because it does not have sufficient resources. I call on the Leader to bring this matter to the attention of the Minister for Transport, who may raise it with the taxi regulator, and with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, in order that he can bring it to the attention of the Garda to ascertain whether something can be done in this regard. This is taking place on the main street of our capital city and is a disgrace.
I call on the Leader for a debate on a slightly different subject, namely, the conservation of our environment. While Members have many debates on the economy and on the human impact on the country, no matter what is happening with regard to our economy, we have a fantastic natural environment and are very lucky people. Before the existing banks ever were invented, we had banks of the rivers. Moreover, we have beautiful coastlines and fantastic landscapes. However, we must ensure the human impact thereon is not invasive and does not destroy such fantastic habitats. Consequently, it would be timely to have a debate on the conservation of Ireland's environment because while we get worked up about all sorts of things, most Members can agree on the necessity for such conservation. I acknowledge there are differences of opinion on the economic impact on our environment but such a debate should take place as soon as possible.
I join Senator Callely in asking the Leader for a debate on the food supply chain and on agriculture in general. The Government made a commitment a number of months ago to the introduction of a statutory code of practice for the activities of the large multiples with regard to suppliers. The Leader should indicate when he expects this statutory code of practice to come into play and should state when a facilitator will be appointed to draw up such a code of practice. Although the former European Commissioner, Mr. David Byrne, was appointed initially, he withdrew and no one has been appointed to the position subsequently. I ask that someone be appointed to that position as a matter of urgency and that the Leader should highlight this issue outside this House.
In addition, I join those colleagues who have sought a debate on how Members can best commemorate the 1916 Rising. I agree with Senator Buttimer's comment that it is not the preserve of any particular group of individuals as people from all current political parties and those who are not from political parties are represented in the stream of Irish opinion that was part of the 1916 Rising, to which I also happen to subscribe. However, I also ask the Leader to facilitate a full debate in this House on the Irishmen who fought in the First World War. I refer to the denigrated bunch of people who joined the British Army or perhaps the ANZAC forces, many of whom lost their lives. Moreover, many of them returned home and fought subsequently in the War of Independence. In many respects, they are a group of people who are written out of Irish history completely.
I join other Members in seeking a debate on the commemoration of the 1916 Rising. I congratulate Senator Buttimer, who was the only Member of Fine Gael to support the Oireachtas attempt to prevent An Bord Pleanála from granting permission for the development of what can only be described as the most vulgar post-Celtic tiger monument on O'Connell Street, which would see the demolition of some of the building at No.16 Moore Street.
I also agree with Senator Ó Murchú's call to name Dublin Airport after Tom Clarke. Moreover, attempts are under way at present, in which Senator Ó Murchú has been involved for many years, regarding the repatriation of the remains of Thomas Kent from Cork Prison. As next Wednesday marks the official national commemoration in Arbour Hill, which is being led by the President, I call on all Members to attend and perhaps it also would be an appropriate date for the debate on the centenary and the proper commemoration of the 1916 Rising.
Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Alex White, Boyle, Coffey, Ormonde, MacSharry, Donohoe, Mooney, Coghlan, Cummins, Hanafin and Doherty all raised the issue of pensions. I certainly welcome what Máire Geoghegan-Quinn has done and I certainly wish her well. There are reports from across Europe that Ireland has one of the best Commissioners representing the European Union and this country. She is a person of great ability and I look forward to Members working with her in the best interests of Europe and Ireland. I also acknowledge the presence in the Visitors Gallery of the former Minister for Education, Councillor Niamh Bhreathnach. I am looking forward to the women's debate on politics and it is timely that it is taking place this week, which is the 94th anniversary of the 1916 Rising. I also look forward to the participation of many colleagues in the House and if additional time is needed, I have left time in order that this debate can be rolled over.
As for the up-to-date position in respect of NAMA and the social dividend in particular, Members will be aware the Minister will be in the House later today to participate in statements on banking and I have left time available at the end of that debate for a question and answer session on the very points Members have brought to the attention of the House. As for the credit review group and Senator Norris's point regarding the appearance of Mr. Peter Mathews, it is a matter for the Chairman and members of the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service as to whether a person should be invited to attend. I certainly will pass on the Senator's strong views in this regard on the conclusion of the Order of Business.
Senators Fitzgerald, Boyle, O'Toole, Norris, Ormonde and Bacik also called for an urgent debate on prisons, standards therein, the women's prison, conditions in Mountjoy and overcrowding. As the Fines Bill will be debated in the House all tomorrow afternoon, I strongly suggest that Members should then bring their views to the Minister, who will be present, on the kind of society we have-----
-----and, as Senator O'Toole has noted, on what Members are legislating for.
Senators Alex White and Boyle raised the issue of the new Dublin Bus routes and spoke of the good service Dublin Bus has delivered, which it is proposing to tweak and make even more efficient. I wish it every success in doing that. As the Deputy Leader, Senator Boyle, said, a debate on public transport in general and on all the challenges in this area might be useful. I have no difficulty in arranging such a debate.
Senator Mooney expressed strong concerns regarding the jobs of the 5,500 people employed by the Quinn Group in Ireland. No one has done more to create jobs in Ireland than Seán Quinn and his family, a view with which I am sure we all agree. Senator Wilson has tabled a matter on this issue on the Adjournment this evening at which time we will get the up to date position on it. I congratulate Senators Mooney and Wilson who have been very supportive of everything that has been happening in our area in terms of what we, as parliamentarians, can do to assure workers that efforts are being made in this respect. I would like to think the Government and everyone concerned here will do everything they possibly can to assist matters and the re-opening of the company's Northern Ireland market might be the next step. We want to bring this matter to a successful conclusion. We support the great effort and work that is being done in an area which was a wilderness until Seán Quinn started his endeavours 37 years ago.
Senator Coffey called for a debate on the terrible effect heroin usage is having on our society. I have no difficulty setting aside time for such a debate.
Senators Ó Murchú, Hannigan, Mary White, Buttimer, Callely, Doherty, John Paul Phelan and Daly spoke about the centenary celebrations of 1916. Senator Ó Murchú put forward his strong proposal as to how we should celebrate the centenary of 1916. I acknowledge the great efforts of the Irish Independent in its supplement on the events of 1916. I was at the commemoration in Arbour Hill last Sunday morning with the Taoiseach, just one day before 24 April. I was proud to be there as the Leader of Seanad Éireann, as a Senator and as an Irish man. If one does not know from where one comes, one will not know where one is going. The wonderful book published by the Office of Public Works on the final hours and final days outlined by those four reverend gentlemen is a must for everyone to read to understand what our forefathers, men and women, did to give us the country that we have today. I will pass on the views of Senator Ó Murchú to the Minister concerned and to the Government on the renaming of Dublin Airport. I look forward very much to the Abbey Theatre being relocated to the GPO in time for 1916 centenary celebrations in 2016.
On the proposal regarding the First World War, many of us had a grand parent or grand uncle who fought in that war. The commemoration of those people could also be included in the celebrations. As Senator Daly suggested, the President will lead the commemoration in Arbour Hill next Wednesday morning and I will check if it will be possible to have a debate on this matter next Wednesday evening or late that night.
Senator MacSharry called again for a debate on the HSE and its prevention of informing members of the public of matters of which they are entitled to be informed. I have given a commitment that such a debate will take place as soon as possible.
Senators Walsh and Mary White expressed strong views regarding the 32 survivors following the use of the thalidomide drug and the hope that when the Minister receives members of the deputation today that they will receive a positive and sincere response that we all know they people so richly deserve.
Senator Buttimer called for a debate on the role of politics in our country and I have no difficulty in arranging such a debate.
Senators Callely and John Paul Phelan called for a debate on the food supply chain which, as Senator Callely correctly pointed out, is worth €25 billion to the country every year. In terms of CAP reform, the retail sector and food labelling, I gave a commitment to the House last week that I will arrange for an all-day debate, with the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in attendance, in the very near future, on the importance of agriculture and food and the challenges facing this sector in the next five years.
Senators Norris and Cummins raised the Shell to Sea issue and Senator Norris expressed one viewpoint regarding the people involved while Senator Cummins expressed strong support for the Garda report and the endeavours and hard work being carried out by the Garda Síochána. I fully support Senator Cummins's acknowledgment of that, as I am sure would all other Members.
There he is - God speaking to God.
Senator Bacik requested a debate on the National Archives on which I have no difficulty.
Senator MacSharry called for a debate on developments in banking in Ireland and welcomed the announcement by the Bank of Ireland yesterday. We will have statements later this evening on banking. All spokespersons and other Members should avail of the opportunity to ascertain and tease out the up to date position on all the different things happening in the banking area.
Senator Geraldine Feeney called for a debate on the abuse of children in the HSE's care. It is a timely call for such a debate. We have had many debates on this issue in the Seanad and I have no difficulty in allowing time for such a debate.
I will give priority to Senator Feeney's second call for a debate on standards in the media, the press council and the decency, or, should I say, the lack of decency of standards in the media. I will give this request priority for a debate in the forthcoming weeks. I will allow the longest possible time because the balance in the media has very much shifted to a dictatorship. We used to have a newspaper one time that reported the truth of the news and we had decent reporters, as pol corrs, in this House at that time. One knew when one read their articles that they were factual and true. Every night we can see on a certain television channel at 11 p.m. a one-sided view on issues. One would swear there was no one on the Government side most of the time. If one looks back and checks who the people on this show represented at election time-----
It is the big 3. We all can see it on a nightly basis. We, as legislators in the Dáil and the Seanad have a duty to act when something incorrect is happening. A huge effort is being made to get our finances back on track and restore the country to the 7% growth we had for ten years. I do not believe we will see growth restored to that level but a massive effort in that respect is being made by the Government.
Senator Ryan outlined his experience of activities taking place at taxi ranks. I will pass on his strong views to both the Minister for Justice and Law Reform and the Minister for Transport and come back to him directly on this matter.
Senator Ó Brolcháin called for a debate on the environment and spoke of the huge asset that is our coastline. I have no difficulty in having a debate on this matter.