Wednesday, 5 May 2010
Order of Business.
I extend our deepest sympathy to the family and friends of the late Gerry Ryan who was an outstanding broadcaster and a man of the people.
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re implementation of new powers of national parliaments under the Lisbon treaty - extension of deadline - to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, Criminal Law (Insanity) Bill 2010 - Report Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 and adjourn not later than 5.30 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 36, Private Members' motion No. 16 re ministerial pensions, to be taken at 5.30 p.m. and conclude not later than 7.30 p.m.
I join the Leader in expressing sympathy to the family and friends of the late Gerry Ryan. It was a very sad loss for his family and many loyal fans. It is disappointing that the Taoiseach has decided not to support the Fine Gael motion on pensions to be discussed this evening. It was an opportunity-----
-----which is a very relevant matter to raise in this House. People are looking for fairness and equity, especially with regard to higher civil servants and those who earn less than €30,000. There are many issues where fairness and equity arise in political discussions in this forum and that was the point I was making.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to ask the Minister for Finance to come to the House to discuss the loan of €1.5 billion to Greece. It is crucial this House has an opportunity to discuss this important topic today as there are significant implications. Everyone outside the House can see the pressure on the euro and the deteriorating situation in Greece where three people have died in a fire today as a result of street protests in which a bank was fire-bombed. This is a very serious situation. There are threats to the stability of the euro which has significant implications for this country. It would be very appropriate to have a debate today on that issue. My amendment to the Order of Business would allow a discussion on the loan to Greece.
Following on from the point made by the Leader of the Opposition, I agree the House should discuss what is happening in Greece but perhaps from a different perspective. Like their counterparts in Greece, Irish workers are also extraordinarily angry and resentful and morale is low in both the public and private sectors. The Croke Park agreement is an attempt to deal with the situation in the public sector. We should look at what is happening. The global mismanagement of the economies of the world has found expression on the streets in Athens, with three people dead today. This is because people were not given a way of dealing with it. The need for the House to discuss the elements of the Croke Park agreement so that people can understand it has been raised in the House on many occasions by Senator MacSharry, Senator Buttimer and me. There is a great deal of misinformation and incorrect information about it. Many ordinary public sector workers believe they have no choice, that voting "No" is their best protection and that if they vote "Yes", changes will be imposed. We need to explain to them that what is involved in this agreement is change by negotiation, not imposed change. We need to show them that voting "No" offers no protection whatever but is simply a case of walking away from decisions that have to be made by Government without the input of the unions or others. There is a debate but I do not want to go into it now. Rather than allow things fall apart and find expression, I want Ministers to come to the House, bolster the agreement by showing their bona fides and their commitment to both the spirit and the letter of the agreement and to fight with it and for it.
I join others who have expressed their sympathy on the recent very sad death of Gerry Ryan. As somebody who spent some years working in the same building as him, I feel a really profound sense of sadness and loss at his passing. When we talk about people being frank and perhaps talking about things they would find difficult to deal with, Gay Byrne cracked the glass but it can truly be said that Gerry Ryan shattered the glass in that respect. He made an immense contribution to broadcasting and it is a very sad day to realise he has left us.
I support Senator Fitzgerald's call for a debate on the recent decision on Greece. It would be difficult to imagine that there are many other countries in the European Union not debating this issue today. I presume the governments of those countries in the eurozone that have been called upon to make a contribution to this so-called bailout would go back quickly to their parliaments to explain what has happened, give the details, set out the basis for the particular figures involved in the respective contributions, explain the pace and timescale involved and discuss the exposure of banks in Ireland and elsewhere to what has occurred in Greece. While I know the Minister for Finance briefed the Cabinet on the issue, he should also brief the Oireachtas. He has an opportunity to attend this and the other House to do so. It is not good enough for us to be told legislation will be brought to the Cabinet next week and will get to the Oireachtas some time thereafter. We are talking about an exposure of up to or even in excess of €1.3 billion.
Once again, this is an example of where more information and detail must be given for debate in the House. Last week, the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Martin Mansergh, attended a debate in this House in which he said many things. One of the most extraordinary things he said, which still echoes in my mind today concerned banking, when he congratulated "the honest and full disclosure by the Government and its agencies of the appalling mess within our banks". I wonder whether I am still living on the same planet as members of the Government who seem to want to persuade us it has made a full and honest disclosure. What disclosure? We should start with the Greek situation and I support the call for a debate this afternoon on the matter.
I agree the House needs an opportunity to have a debate at the earliest opportunity on events in Greece and their effect on the eurozone. While the House does not have a constitutional competence to make decisions on national expenditure, our views need to be heard and considered in this regard.
It is also important to take into account the news received today from the European Commission's review of the eurozone economy. Olli Rehn, the Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs, pointed out economic growth in Ireland is likely to be 3% in 2011, the second highest in the eurozone and twice the eurozone average. I am surprised none of the Opposition's speakers today mentioned this. This points out the Government has done some things right. The Commissioner also said the Government's policy decisions have been bold, creditable and have led us to our current position.
Ireland is certainly not Greece. The deaths there today are regrettable and we can only hope the situation does not further deteriorate. The public sector in Greece comprises a far higher proportion of its economy than Ireland's. Practices have evolved in Greece, such as public sector workers paid 14 months' salary a year, that would never have occurred here. When fellow member states of the eurozone and the International Monetary Fund state corrections need to be made, we have a responsibility to say how they can be made as well as offering whatever financial assistance is necessary to make the corrections work. A debate in this context would be very important.
I second Senator Frances Fitzgerald's call for a debate on Greece and the euro. The Spanish Prime Minister, Mr. Zapatero, said that talk about Spain needing a bailout is utter madness, yet the money markets in New York claim both Spain and Portugal are endangered species. The fundamental problems with the euro and how it works across the eurozone have also been pointed out. Some strong countries in the eurozone want to keep the cost of money down while Ireland, Spain, Greece and Portugal need a fundamental change to European monetary policy to get out of this mess. It is a little simplistic for Senator Boyle to claim Ireland is actually getting out its economic mess and absolutely flying it. One only has to look around-----
We are not quite getting there yet. There is an urgent need for the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance to lay out Ireland's policy on the euro and the crisis in Greece. This is an evolving problem about which I have a sense the Government is not sure where it is going. We at least need to know its thinking on the issue.
I welcome yesterday's introduction of the national solidarity bond. It is a positive development and it would be remiss of the House not to acknowledge it was first suggested some years ago by Senator Terry Leyden. All too often the good work and suggestions that come from this House are not acknowledged. There is a good deal of criticism these days of the Houses of the Oireachtas and public servants. It is important, therefore, that we should acknowledge when something positive happens that is initiated in this House. In that regard, well done to Senator Leyden.
-----and something that will be useful in coming years in building a fund for the capital investment programme and will give a worthwhile return to those in a unique position to invest money at this time. It is a positive step. It is important to acknowledge such steps, as there is plenty of negative news.
It is also important that we acknowledge the announcement that finally the Internal Market Commissioner is to investigate the ratings agencies, including Standard & Poor's which last week suddenly downgraded the ratings of Greece and Spain. That is another suggestion which was first made in this House. Senator Norris mentioned it. While I will not be supporting the amendment, I support the call for the Minister for Finance to come to the House when it is convenient for him to do so, although I hope it will be sooner rather than later, to allow us to discuss Ireland's support for Greece. The figure is not €1.5 billion but €1.312 billion, to be precise. The Minister has been specific in saying this measure will not cost the State. It will be done on a profit basis at best or, at a minimum, a repayment basis.
I would welcome such a debate.
Following on from calls made in previous weeks for a debate on the Health Service Executive and, in particular, the Health Act 2004, the Act has failed and requires to be repealed or at least amended to provide for representative influence on policy and in the workings of the executive which, as I said last week, now accounts for in excess of 50% of the tax take of the country. It can do as it sees fit in an independent way because when the public wishes to adjudicate on policy or its performance, it seems it can systematically hide the information from it. Despite the Freedom of Information Act, we depend on the good offices of the Ombudsman, Ms Emily O'Reilly, to have the information made available to the public. Overall, while there is much good work being done in the HSE by the many fine professionals working within it, its structure has failed. It requires public representative influence which the public expects. I seek a debate on the issue as a matter of urgency.
I have already had an opportunity to pay tribute to the late wonderful broadcaster, Gerry Ryan. Therefore, it would be inappropriate for me to say anything more at this stage, apart from this. I was in a taxi yesterday and the taxi driver said he was disgusted because he had just passed the Ryan household in Clontarf and saw banks of photographers outside. In the house there was a grieving widow and the children had appealed for privacy. I ask the Leader to impart some knowledge to the House on when the legislation on privacy promised by the Government will be introduced.
I again refer to the fact the Legislature has significantly failed to uphold the rights of citizens by legislation, in this case the rights of unmarried fathers to guardianship of their children. Two years ago there was a decision in a case in the High Court which recognised the existence of a de facto family but last December the Supreme Court stated there was no recognition of the existene of a de facto family in Irish law or under the Constitution which only protected what it described as the marital family. Last week a father lost his case for guardianship, despite the fact that his partner had removed his children to England without his consent, because he had not raised the issue by applying for guardianship in the courts. A significant editorial in The Irish Times stated:
A father who spent many years devotedly caring for his children could find that, unless he had obtained guardianship through agreement with his partner or through a court order, he had no rights when the relationship broke up. The fact that one in three children is born outside marriage in Ireland underlies the potential scale of the problem.
The Law Reform Commission's provisional report has recommended that unless it is against the best interests of the child, the right of an unmarried father to guardianship should be recognised in law. We are in dereliction of our duty by not examining this issue and passing the appropriate legislation. I pay tribute to Mr. John Waters who has campaigned ceaselessly on this issue in the column of the newspaper for which he writes.
I will not make an issue of it. I simply wish to say what I feel about it. I thank my colleague Senator Marc MacSharry for his kind comments on my campaign for the solidarity bond, which is very worthwhile. I have stated before that we should all contribute to this bond as far as possible. If I had shares in Goldman Sachs I would take them out and put them into the bond. It would be more in the national interest if I could do that because it would be a good investment.
I am asking the Leader if he would consider having a discussion regarding the proposal by the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, in respect of the closure of head shops, which is absolutely vital. That would be more important to have on the agenda tonight than this old issue regarding pensions, in which they have no interest whatsoever. The Fine Gael Members had no problem with the former Taoiseach, John Bruton, when as ambassador to Europe-----
In any event, it impacts on the currency which is of such vital importance to every member of the eurozone. It is important that we hear from the Minister in regard to the situation and that we hold a debate, as Senator Fitzgerald has called for.
We are all aware that our tourism industry is in a very fragile state and in need of every assistance and help it can get. I refer to the volcanic eruption and the floating plumes and we are aware of what they are doing. They are preventing so many people from visiting our shores. Sadly, one thing we had been doing in the south west, a very worthwhile project, has been set back. Protected birds of prey, the white-tailed eagles, are threatened now. We have had 55 in all, ten of which have been poisoned recently with the laying of illegal substances, including laced meat baits. This is most unfortunate. Our farming community is very supportive of this very worthwhile project but sadly some individuals have taken it upon themselves to try to wipe out these magnificent, majestic birds, which so many people have already come to see. Two of the birds recently poisoned have been here since 2007 and approaching breeding stage. This is most unfortunate for the future of the project. Norway has been very good to us, allowing us 20 fledglings per annum.
I call for a debate on the situation in Greece, especially in light of the fact we have a contrast between the cities of Dublin and Athens. One has the highest deficit in its budget in the EU zone. The other does not have a deficit as high, yet there is widespread anger, the IMF has been called in and there are riots on the streets. The way we have managed our economy, like the responsibility that now rests with union members as regards the Croke Park agreement, cannot be overstated. On this day, when we remember the selfless sacrifice of the men of 1916, we are called on again to be responsible, to do what is right for this nation and to ensure the stability of the finances of this nation. When one loses financial control, one loses part of one's sovereignty. Economic commentators are saying that Goldman Sachs was behind the hedge funds that hid the amount of debt that Greece currently holds. We need to reflect on the record of Goldman Sachs in selling sub-prime loans and betting against the consequences of sub-prime lending, which has recently come to light. Is it the case that those who gave loans to Greece are now betting against the euro? It is time for a cross-national supervisory body to be established to ensure systemic risk, including sovereign debt, is managed properly.
I am pleased we will have a debate on ministerial pensions. As I recall it, such pensions were introduced at a time when Members of the Oireachtas were not particularly well paid. It was suggested that when Ministers went out of office, their pensions should be paid early so that they would not be lost to politics. There is no doubt that Oireachtas pay has improved. If it was wrong for these pensions to be paid yesterday, last week, last month, last year or five years ago, why is it only now, when the media are concentrating on this issue, that the Opposition is raising it?
I attended a conference on the international day of the midwife in the Coombe Hospital this morning. I congratulate all midwives who work everywhere in all disciplines, 365 days a year, in the community, in midwifery-led units and in nursing homes. I congratulate them on the fine work they are doing, especially in these difficult times. The embargo is having an absolutely detrimental effect on the service and care given to women who have had babies. It is leading to early discharges from hospital and is making follow-up care very difficult. I ask the Leader to think about having a debate in this House on the effect the embargo is having on front-line services. Women who are having babies are most in need of such services. They may need different types of care. Some of them might need more high-dependency care than others. Follow-up care is required for the safe delivery of the children of our nation.
I commiserate with the Ryan family on the passing of Gerry Ryan.
I acknowledge Senator Coghlan's contribution. I also call for a debate on the use of poisoned meat to poison eagles. That would be a very important debate from a wildlife point of view.
I support the calls for a debate on Greece. It is interesting that we have, at last, moved away from a debate on the Irish economy to a debate on the Greek economy. The extraordinary circumstances in Greece show that the Irish economy is not in the same state of disrepair as the Greek economy and thank God for that. Negative comments on the Irish economy are unfortunate. I hope we do not go down the same road as Greece. We have to fight together to ensure that does not happen.
I call for a debate on an interesting piece in the Irish Independent last Monday about the zoning of housing in this country. It is incredible that zoning has been approved for the construction of more than 1 million houses in this country at a time when the need for housing is much lower. We may have to dezone much of that land. It is an important matter. People often refer to the contribution the banks made to the collapse of the economy but few public representatives, either in the Oireachtas or at local authority level, have referred to the huge difficulties caused by the mad rezoning involving both planners and county councillors during the Celtic tiger years which has led to an unfortunate scenario regarding land values.
I support Senator Fitzgerald's call for a debate on the situation in Greece. I called for such a debate on the Order of Business every day last week. On Thursday we called a division on an amendment to the Order of Business. A number of months ago the Leader facilitated the Seanad in being the first House of the Oireachtas to debate the situation in Greece in the light of what could happen there and the effect it could have on us. It is imperative that we have such a debate before the proposed legislation is introduced in the House. I concur with Senator O'Toole on the Croke Park deal - public service agreement 2010 to 2014, the second sentence of which stresses that our objectives as a country would be met "by working together". What is happening in Athens is the extreme alternative to that approach. It is imperative that we do not allow the vote on the Croke Park agreement to turn out like the one in the first Lisbon treaty referendum when some made their decision on the basis of information they did not have or because of a desire to give the Government a good kicking. I hope they are not the reasons people will vote against this arrangement. It is in the national interest that it be passed. If so, it will be a further sign that this country is different from Greece. I, therefore, reiterate my call to the Leader to organise a debate on the matter as soon as possible.
Today I listened to the chairman of NAMA comment on the agency's dealings with the first phase of developers. He talked about the many ill-conceived and ill-designed structures such as office blocks and hotels that were surplus to requirements. I seek a debate on the role of Irish culture in revitalising the country. I am talking about the physical fabric of the country, not our writers or musicians. This is a discussion the community at large wants. In particular, we should revisit the planning guidelines which involve the way planners do their business and the question of whether architects pay enough attention to the design, appearance and character of an entire region, which is important. We must also take into account our heritage. We all visit many other European cities and the first thing we look at is the built heritage. I would not like anyone coming here to look at our heritage in regard to the built environment because there is nothing but derelict sites to be seen. We need to examine this issue because many people will want to visit Ireland to examine our built environment. It is part of our culture and we need to preserve and conserve it. There is, therefore, a role for planners and architects. This is 2010, not 2003, when we were in the middle of the economic boom. Different concepts are emerging which from time to time we will need to revisit in the Chamber.
People on low incomes in the private and public sectors have experienced further cuts in income in recent months and many now qualify for family income supplement. However, it takes up to ten weeks for them to receive their entitlements. The Leader will agree that it is totally unacceptable that people who are striving to provide for their families should have to wait to up ten weeks to receive their entitlements. Last week I mentioned that many members of the Defence Forces qualified for family income supplement. They do not qualify for overtime payments like many others in the public service. Surely we should strive to ensure they can secure their entitlements in a timely fashion. I ask the Leader to make representations to the Minister, Deputy Hanafin, on that matter to ensure people get their proper entitlements in a timely fashion.
It is touching to witness the number of Senators who have called for a debate on Greece. I dare say there are lessons for us in terms of what is happening in Greece but I would have thought we have sufficient difficulties within our own economy for us to concentrate on those initially. I accept that how the Greek situation plays out may well have implications for us through its negative effect on the eurozone.
As I understand it, we will gain a premium on the €1.3 billion in terms of the interest between the rate at which we can borrow it and the rate at which it will be loaned to Greece.
I seek a debate on competitiveness within the Irish economy. The issue that has arisen in recent weeks has illustrated how the Government, especially the Minister for Finance has approached the difficult banking and fiscal position. However, much more needs to be done on the fiscal side. We must set about significantly dismantling the growth in employment in the public sector which increased by 150,000 in the decade up to 2008. Restoring competitiveness in the economy is an essential issue. In that regard we should examine the regulatory authorities and in particular the impositions we put on small business with the various joint labour force agreements which were spawned by the partnership system.
I would also like us to examine infrastructure. We have invested heavily in road infrastructure, the evidence for which is to be seen all over the country to the benefit of everyone. I would like to see a similar concentration on broadband where there has been a dearth of investment. That is the next area on which we must concentrate.
We must examine the public service system. We will have difficulty affording wages and salaries in the public sector which are well in excess of the private sector. The public sector pension scheme could not be afforded by people in the private sector. It just would not be available as the terms would be so high that people could not afford them.
Job security is a feature of the public sector that does not exist in the private sector. We need to align the public sector and private sector systems in the interest of the competitiveness of the country and all who work in the economy.
I support the call for a debate on Greece. There are many issues we could discuss. One fact that caught my eye was the report that 75% of applications for asylum in this country have been rejected. It would be timely for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to the House to give us an update on the operation of our asylum laws and for us debate whether that is an appropriate percentage in light of the circumstances. It is interesting to note that Greece is much worse than we are; that it rejected 14,185 out of 14,350 applications for asylum in 2009, which provides an interesting angle on our solidarity with Greece and the question of its solidarity with people. Greece has certainly not been spending the money on asylum seekers. Senator O'Toole likes the occasional reference to scripture. I am reminded again of the parable in Matthew 18 of the ungrateful-----
-----debtor. The person who had his own debt forgiven showed very little compassion himself towards others. That is an interesting side light on the Greek debate.
In addition to a debate on asylum it would also be timely for us to look at the extent to which our measures to combat trafficking are working. I accept we have administrative, protective measures for victims of human trafficking but the reality is that only a handful of victims of trafficking have had access to the recovery and reflection period and the six months temporary residence permits. No cases have been brought to court under the human trafficking legislation. I made the point in the House previously that the British have introduced a much tighter law on the purchase of sexual services from persons who are trafficked. It is not a defence under the British law to show that one did not know the person was a controlled person. I am asking for a debate on the need to tidy up Irish law, to harmonise it with that of Britain so we do not have the appalling spectacle of people coming south of the Border to avail of the sexual services of persons who are victims of human trafficking. I ask the Leader to request the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to the Seanad to debate that matter with us as soon as possible.
It is with interest that I have listened to the last speaker, and I support some of his comments as regards abuses in human trafficking. On the other hand, I very much support the work of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Garda National Immigration Bureau on what they have done where there were blatant abuses in relation to people coming to Ireland to seek asylum. I gather applications are now being fast-tracked and the Department is now up to speed in this regard. I understand that in the past there were some blatant abuses. That is not to say Ireland has not played its role in accommodating people seeking asylum, particularly under the European refugee programme, where this country has been to the fore.
I concur with my colleague, Senator Walsh, on the need for a debate on competitiveness. Indeed, I would add job creation and support Senator Walsh's remarks as regards the importance of restoring our competitiveness and addressing the issues impinging on it such as the various labour laws and regulations which heretofore we were able to carry during the Celtic tiger area. However, at this time, perhaps, they may be causing difficulties in ensuring we are able to compete at the level we need to.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the HSE service plan, given the current crazy industrial difficulties between the frontline managers and the executive management as regards service provision and the budgetary impact of same, and the likely impact on service delivery later in the year.
I do not know why there is such opposition to a debate on the Greek bailout and the situation in Greece. The debate should be welcomed because this clearly is a new financial crisis and we have lessons to learn from it. Potentially it has very serious implications for this country.
I want to draw the House's attention to an article in The Irish Times yesterday, "State cuts fund to help enterprises by €22 million". It refers to the enterprise stabilisation fund and I want to ask the Leader if the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation could explain to the Seanad whether we have an enterprise policy. This fund was announced in April 2009 and it was considered a sign of the Government's commitment to helping companies survive the downturn. The article says there is no record to show the reduction to the fund was ever formally announced. That is par for the course, because the Enterprise Ireland budget has been reduced this year by 40%, with no formal announcement of that fact. In fact, one of the main elements of that budget, which is designed to assist investment in sustaining companies, has been reduced from more than €80 million to €25 million. We have had many announcements about the new initiative to support companies to locate people overseas, which is €10 million, but the 40% reduction in the budget must be addressed. The whole idea was to help companies to maintain jobs and yet the budget of Enterprise Ireland has been gutted and we can see this enterprise stabilisation fund has been quietly shelved and reduced considerably.
I ask for this debate in the context of the policy of the Government on enterprise. I have a situation in my constituency where local business people set up an enterprise, a bus service from Dalkey, the Patton Flyer, to Dublin Airport. It was refused a licence for more than three years by the Government. The licence was awarded to a non-Irish operator. I just do not understand where this Government is going in relation to promoting jobs, because all the indications are that it is going in different directions. It announces initiatives, but it is not fulfilling commitments.
I welcome the news that there has been reasonable growth in the retail business - at least 1% - in the first quarter of this year. This is the first time we have seen signs that we are coming out of recession. In addition, exports are up by 2.5%, which is encouraging. It is good to see the economy growing in that direction. The car industry has seen a major increase in sales, with more than 50,000 new registrations in the first quarter of this year, which is more than the number of cars sold across the industry in the whole of 2009. That is extremely encouraging. It is also encouraging to see this morning the report that the economy is expected to grow by 3% next year. These are items of good news such as Senator Quinn referred to which should be mentioned in the House.
We can learn a lot from the Greek economy. People cannot retire at 55 years if the economy is to keep going, nor can there be 1.6 million people employed in the public sector, as is the case in Greece. What was happening was total madness. Our economy was in a similar crisis and we had to put matters right. It is important-----
It is important to recognise that the Government has taken the right decisions on the economy on many occasions in the last two years. It has been difficult, but we are now seeing the results of these difficult decisions which Greece is refusing to take even now when it is being bailed out by the rest of the European Union. We should consider why it has defaulted in the way it has.
Since we last met we have seen the loss of 900 positions from the Quinn Group in the north east. Our own MEP, Nessa Childers, is attempting to determine whether there is EU funding that could be used to help in this regard. I compliment the Minister on his swift action in allocating €1 million from the labour activation fund towards the creation of jobs for those Quinn Group employees who are unfortunate enough to be losing their jobs. This announcement has been welcomed by all parties. The appointment of the former chief executive of Enterprise Ireland to the inter-agency team is to be welcomed and, it is to be hoped, will help a bad situation to become somewhat better.
More needs to be done in helping people who have been made redundant, particularly with regard to retraining. For post-leaving certificate courses, there is a cap of about 35,000 on the number of places available. It needs to be increased. We must also consider how these places are allocated across the country. In places such as Dunboyne - just beside Blanchardstown where many Quinn Group employees will lose their jobs - there has been an increase in the number of applicants for post-leaving certificate courses, from 500 last year to 800 this year. People will be turned away because there are insufficient places available. I, therefore, ask for a debate on the issue of retraining and how we deal with PLC course allocations.
This morning we attended a poignant commemoration of the events of 1916, during which the Bishop of Down and Connor, Bishop Treanor, spoke eloquently about mistrust. That is the reason for the anarchy in Greece: trust has broken down. In Ireland there is an issue with trust in State agencies, the church and the health service. People do not trust anymore. This is borne out by a survey in The Irish Times to which the bishop referred this morning which revealed, shockingly, that many people had no faith in either the Government or the church. My colleagues in the House have called many times for a debate on politics. Two weeks ago, Senator Bradford spoke about morality, decency and the difference between right and wrong. We need a debate on honour in politics. We must do the right thing by our people if we do not want to go down the slippery slope to the anarchy that has erupted on the streets of Greece.
I join Senator Fitzgerald and others in asking the Leader to arrange a debate on the bailout of Greece and its potential impact on Ireland and the euro. Senator Donohoe reminded us that he raised this issue on a number of occasions last week, when we really should have been holding a debate in anticipation of what happened over the weekend. I hope we have that debate as soon as possible.
I support Senator MacSharry's repeated call for a debate on the operations of the HSE. I would like such a debate to focus in particular on the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, and the use of the standards it sets to close supported care homes in Kilkenny. These standards were originally drawn up because of abuse in nursing homes but supported care homes are not nursing homes. People are moved from supported care homes to nursing homes when they require a certain level of care. It is a disgrace that supported care homes, most of which are charitable operations, may be closed because of standards which were never intended for them in the first place. This is symptomatic of what has happened in the HSE over recent years. We have handed power to unaccountable bodies and we cannot get answers to straightforward questions.
I also seek a debate on the national car test and the long delays in testing across the country. People face two-month delays in some car test centres. If their cars do not pass the test, they cannot be taxed and can, therefore, be seized by the Garda. The test is administered by a private company but is not good enough to allow this situation to continue.
Senator Ó Brolcháin's statement on the issue of zoned land reflects the deliberate confusion practised by Green Party Members who would have us believe that the we have difficulties with housing supply because of zoned land. If the entire country was zoned, that would not mean another house could be built. We have an over-supply of houses because of corruption at the highest levels of Government and banking. Lax lending measures have landed the country in its present mess. It has nothing to do with the amount of land zoned throughout the country.
I support Senator McFadden's comments on today's 1916 commemoration ceremony. I have attended it on several occasions but found this year's event to be particularly moving because of the remarks of the Bishop of Down and Connor, the Rev. Noel Treanor. Every time he mentioned "education" he also mentioned "research". The success we enjoyed in the economy was due to a number of factors, of which research was one but it played an important part. Unfortunately, it no longer appears to be at the leading edge of education. We discuss second and third level but we should also be speaking about fourth level education because that is what gave us our advantage.
In Britain and Denmark, a home testing kit has been developed in the fight against bowel cancer. This is a useful development and one we should seriously consider. The Minister for Health and Children has stated that she intends to introduce a scheme but it will be limited to hospitals and begin in 2012. I urge her to investigate what is being done in other countries at a much lower cost. They have a system for getting things done, mainly for those who are open to the dangers of this disease. I gather the success rate for treating bowel cancer is approximately 90% if it is caught early enough. We could do something about this disease with a comparatively limited amount of investment.
I agree with colleagues who have commented on the need to support the Croke Park deal. One or two mentioned the disaster that befell the country as a result of the vote in the first Lisbon treaty referendum. The Seanad agreed after that vote that there had been insufficient public knowledge and a total lack of political leadership. Unfortunately, we are going down the same route on the Croke Park agreement and politicians are refusing to lead. It is bizarre for any group of politicians to say they do not have an opinion or do not wish to appeal to workers and trade unionists one way or another. We in this House have a duty to hold a proper debate and make our own decision and recommendation. While we have had numerous debates on the Croke Park deal on the Order of Business, we need a substantive debate, today rather than tomorrow. I ask the Leader to arrange that debate in order that we, as elected members of the Oireachtas, can discuss and analyse the deal and present to those who will take part in the crucial vote the many reasons they should support it.
The concept of a national solidarity bond is good; the initial idea came from the trade union movement. However, from the sketchy details I have seen, it appears there will be a very modest return for those willing to invest. I suggest that, as part of the ongoing development of the concept, we try to tie it in-----
-----with the debate needed on pensions. We should give people an incentive to take out the bond by improving their pension entitlements. The pensions industry is in crisis and we need a new way forward. It is possible to deal with the crisis and the need for a national solidarity bond in one system, which I suggest we consider.
Last Friday we had a surreal experience in a local hotel in Cavan. In one room a lovely young couple were celebrating their marriage, while in another hundreds of young people were being told they were going to lose their jobs with Quinn Insurance Limited. It was a dark day for County Cavan and the whole region. Some 900 jobs are at stake around the country, of which 226 are in Cavan town. For every job lost, there will be three indirectly associated job losses. I ask the Leader to arrange a long debate very soon on the issue, as it is the most pressing matter confronting the Seanad. My party leader, Deputy Kenny, met the workers yesterday. The scenes and the workers' personal testimonies were harrowing. They want subsidisation of jobs in the short term and the immediate reopening of commercial business.
They want the business to be sold in such a way that jobs will be kept in the area. They also want the Government to activate the globalisation fund and more places to be available in the local college of further studies. While I welcome the initiatives mentioned by my colleague, Senator Dominic Hannigan, I want to put the issues I have mentioned regarding the workers on the agenda. I ask the Leader who is from the region and knows what I am talking about to allocate a great deal of time for a full debate with the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation and possibly the Minister for Finance. I am aware of nothing that has greater implications for the country.
I ask the Leader for a debate on foreign policy issues, given the recent reports of atrocities in Chad following the withdrawal of the Irish Defence Forces. Amnesty International has raised the issue which the House needs to debate.
I also ask the Leader for a debate on the situation in Sri Lanka which has not received the same level of media attention. A permanent people's tribunal was held in Trinity College over three days in January which produced some important findings about the committing of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the Sri Lankan Government's security forces and aligned paramilitary groups. The tribunal found that the international community had neglected its duty to promote peace in the region. It recommended the appointment of a United Nations special rapporteur for Sri Lanka to investigate and identify responsibility for human rights violations, violations of humanitarian law and war crimes committed by all parties in the conflict. There has been little focus on Sri Lanka, but it has serious ongoing security issues, in respect of which there are serious concerns about the complicity of the Sri Lankan Government and security forces.
Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, White, Twomey, MacSharry, Coghlan, Hannigan, Ó Brolcháin, O'Donohoe, Walsh, Mullen, Regan, John Paul Phelan and Bradford called for the Minister for Finance to come to the House to discuss the Government's €1.312 billion loan to Greece. The Minister will be in the House all day on Thursday of next week to discuss the proposal before us. Legislation is imminent and will be taken in the House in the next two weeks. We will leave the matter until it is clear on which day the legislation will be brought before us. It is possible that the date will be two weeks from today. The matter is urgent and I will allow the longest possible time on Second Stage for all Senators to make their views known to the House.
By agreement, I propose that we debate the Croke Park agreement on Thursday of next week. I endeavoured to ensure the debate would be held tomorrow, but the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, will be in the Dáil deputising for the Minister for Finance and, therefore, will not be available. Thursday, 13 May is the first available date.
Senator Coghlan called for an urgent debate on tourism. I have agreed that a debate will take place and will endeavour to hold it in the next few weeks. It will relate, in particular, to the closure of our airports and the difficulties experienced by aircraft due to the ash coming from Iceland. It is a difficult time for anyone who is involved in tourism or exports and dependent on air transport. We need a lot of luck on our side. The situation is unprecedented in most of our lifetimes.
Senator Prendergast referred to International Day for Midwives. I acknowledge the great work that has been done for generations and support anything we can do to help, including holding a debate in the House.
Senators Coghlan, Ó Brolcháin and Bradford referred to the poisoning of wildlife, which is most regrettable. I support the Senators' condemnation of what has taken place.
I note the concerns raised about the zoning of land, which involves a large acreage. The reality is that not all of this land is for sale. That is a dilemma for planners and local authority members. Often less than 5% of the land zoned is for sale. In accordance with the democratic rights of every person who is a landowner, only those portions of land for sale should be zoned, but that is the greatest fortune-telling trick one could hope to imagine, particularly for local authorities.
Senators MacSharry, Callely and Quinn called for a debate on the HSE, with a focus on the matters they outlined to the House. Senator Quinn spoke about bowel cancer and the 90% success rate of treatment. I will pass on the Senator's strong views. I gave a commitment in the House a few weeks ago to hold a lengthy debate on the up-to-date position with services and the service plan from the HSE, as well as the many issues that have been raised by colleagues on the Order of Business over recent weeks.
I will refer back to Senator Norris about the timing of the Privacy Bill as well as the family law guardianship Bill. The Senator pointed out that one in three children are born outside wedlock and mentioned what a champion John Waters is on these matters.
Senator Leyden asked for an urgent debate on head shops. I hope I will be able tomorrow to outline for the House the Government's up-to-date position on this issue and on pending legislation in that regard.
Senator Ormonde spoke about NAMA and the role of society in the future. She spoke in particular about Georgian and other heritage buildings and assets such as castles, beautiful gardens and so forth. I have no difficulty with arranging for a debate on this.
I have said previously I believe the House should be given an outline, perhaps every quarter, of the up-to-date position with the progress of NAMA. Perhaps this could take place when the Minister comes to the House next week.
Senator Cummins asked that the Minister be invited to the House to discuss people on low incomes having to wait up to ten weeks for their entitlements. This is unacceptable, especially for people who have lost their jobs, are rearing big families and have no other income. It is appalling and we should do everything we can about it. I will ask the Minister to come to the House to let us know what progress is taking place in this regard, particularly as the rise in unemployment levels is slowing down compared with last year.
Senators Walsh and Callely sought an urgent debate on competitiveness. Senator Walsh spoke in particular about the regulatory authorities and job creation in this regard. Such a debate would be very timely. The Senator also spoke about broadband. The availability of broadband was a dilemma in many rural areas but with the arrival of satellite broadband, on which the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation gave a briefing in Mullingar two weeks ago, there is nowhere in Ireland that it cannot reach at the strength of 3.6 Mbps.
-----we received. The example of Achill Island was given. There was a serious difficulty with employment on the island and satellite broadband saved the day. If the Senator wishes to bring a specific part of the country to my attention, I will furnish him with the details. Colleagues might be pleasantly surprised by what is happening in this area.
Senators Mullen and Callely asked for a debate on issues surrounding trafficking. I will refer back to the Senators later today on the matter.
Senators Regan and Hannigan asked that the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation be invited to the House to discuss the stabilisation fund. They urged that the Minister do everything he can with regard to that fund. The Minister led a very successful trade mission to America recently. He will have no difficulty coming to the House and updating Members on his portfolio.
Senator Butler updated the House with the information that exports are up 2.5% while the motor industry has seen sales of 55,000 in the first four months of this year. This is equal to the total number of sales for last year. In addition, the EU projects the economy to grow by 3% next year. This is very welcome news. The Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner also said that Ireland had taken bold and creditable steps to pull its economy around and that the measures were paying off now. I thank Senator Butler for bringing this good news to the attention of the House. We certainly welcome it.
Senator McFadden raised the issue of training and upskilling. I could not agree more with the Senator and I look forward to FÁS playing its part in that regard. This morning Senators, under the leadership of the Cathaoirleach, attended Arbour Hill for the commemoration of the men and women who died in 1916 and heard the wonderful homily given by Bishop Treanor. Not only did he say that trust is important but also that hope is important. Irish people have had hope in abundance for generations. Just because we have had two very bad years we should not overlook the ten magnificent and unprecedented years before that. Things are starting to stabilise now and, it is to be hoped, credit will become available from the autumn. If the banks do not provide it, the Government has a duty to act. We are giving them the money because we want them to lend. If they do not lend, the banks know what will happen to them. Regardless of whether one is a member of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Labour Party, Sinn Féin or an Independent, we must ensure-----
The Senator has enormous experience in this area on both sides of the fence. We are not talking from both sides of our mouths on this side of the House; we are talking straight. Unless there is credit in the system, the return of our economy will not happen. I would like to read that on the back page of the Sunday Independent next Sunday. It would be refreshing if this was led by Seanad Éireann and by one of our own.
Senator Phelan called for support for home care, carers and the other issues he brought to my attention. I agree with his request regarding car testing and with everything he said on the issue.
Senator O'Reilly asked for a debate about the workers at Quinn Insurance Limited and opening commercial business for the company. We certainly welcome the business that was opened to the company last week and that a commercial division will be opened in the near future. I look forward to Quinn Insurance Limited returning to a time of opportunity and being on a level playing field with all the other insurance companies and brokers, which it richly deserves. Over the years Quinn Insurance Limited played a major role in reducing the cost of insurance premia for everybody in Ireland. There is the issue of the workers but there is also the serious issue of keeping competitive pricing in the market. I outlined in the House last week how I was being overcharged by 80% on my home policy. That is what will happen; there will be 80%, 100% and 150% increases in insurance premia if we do not have the competitive Mr. Quinn, his family and the Quinn Group in the market.
They have transformed the insurance industry in terms of being competitive and efficient. The company's efficiency was its great success when dealing with those who were unfortunate enough to suffer accidents.
Senator Bacik called for a debate on foreign affairs and foreign policy, especially with regard to Sri Lanka. I will invite the Minister to the House to discuss this.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 24 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Ciarán Cannon, Paul Coghlan, Maurice Cummins, Pearse Doherty, Paschal Donohoe, Frances Fitzgerald, Dominic Hannigan, Fidelma Healy Eames, Nicky McFadden, Rónán Mullen, Joe O'Reilly, Joe O'Toole, John Paul Phelan, Phil Prendergast, Feargal Quinn, Eugene Regan, Shane Ross, Brendan Ryan, Liam Twomey, Alex White)
Against the motion: 30 (Dan Boyle, Martin Brady, Larry Butler, Ivor Callely, James Carroll, John Carty, Donie Cassidy, Maria Corrigan, Mark Daly, Mark Dearey, John Ellis, Geraldine Feeney, Camillus Glynn, John Gerard Hanafin, Cecilia Keaveney, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Lisa McDonald, Paschal Mooney, Francis O'Brien, Denis O'Donovan, Fiona O'Malley, Niall Ó Brolcháin, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Ann Ormonde, Kieran Phelan, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, Maurice Cummins and Joe O'Reilly; Níl, Diarmuid Wilson and Niall Ó Brolcháin.
Amendment declared lost