Tuesday, 11 May 2010
Order of Business
This is probably one of the few parliaments in Europe which is not discussing the eurozone rescue package today. While I am aware that legislation will be taken on Thursday of next week, the House needs to discuss the many issues which arise from the decisions taken at the weekend, not least the question of how Ireland will refocus on creating jobs. I was struck, as will have been others who watched "The Frontline" programme last night, by the discussion and debate on the number of reports the Government had commissioned on job creation. The last time I remember a Government commissioning so many reports they were on the health service. The result was the establishment of the Health Service Executive and we all know where that has ended up. I am concerned that we do not have evidence of the Government's intentions to introduce a jobs strategy and, therefore, call on the Leader to ensure we will have a debate on the matter as soon as possible. As the dole queues lengthen, we need to know what are the lessons being learned from the many reports the Government has commissioned, what is its plan of action and where it is. Notwithstanding bailouts at European level, unless the economy grows and jobs are created, we will not go anywhere. Job creation is the key task facing us and I ask that the House focus on the issue as soon as possible.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister for Health and Children outline to the House what precisely is being proposed with regard to cuts in accident and emergency services. This issue has created major anxiety because many patients are already waiting on trolleys for attention in accident and emergency departments. In addition, the plan announced by the Minister to eliminate waiting times in accident and emergency departments has clearly not worked. We need an update on her plan and the proposed cuts which will cause considerable hardship and concern. I have raised two critical issues which the House needs to address today.
With the anniversary of the publication of the Ryan report imminent, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin yesterday referred to dark forces in the church. If his statement implies that there is still denial about sexual abuse and cover-up, I ask him to make clear what precisely he means and about whom he is talking. Clear legal guidelines are in place on the action that must be taken if a person suspects that child sexual abuse is being covered up. I remember, for example, a debate in which Members discussed concerns that the Health Service Executive was not able to access information from various dioceses. In the context of the forthcoming anniversary of the publication of the Ryan report, the need for the utmost clarity and the clear procedures in place regarding knowledge anyone possesses about child sexual abuse, I hope we will have clarity from the archbishop in the days ahead.
If possible, I would like to see the Minister for Health and Children in the House today. Apart from the issue raised by Senator Fitzgerald, I would like to congratulate the Minister for dealing with the head shop issue, in which Members on all sides of the House have taken a keen and passionate interest. Her response is a simple and effective way of dealing with it. It may well be challenged in the courts, but it is a very good start. It is also appropriate to acknowledge the efforts made by Senator Wilson who raised the issue at the outset and pushed all of us to take action, sign letters, attend meetings and so on. I congratulate him and Ms Grainne Kenny who has done so much work on the issue and brought to our attention what was happening in eastern Europe. It is important to acknowledge that this step provide relief for many anxious parents and communities.
I support the point made by Senator Fitzgerald on the need to look again at the Ryan and Murphy reports. I was astonished at the extraordinary words of Archbishop Martin last night. That he is able to say there is still denial about the extent of child abuse within the church blows me away. I find it hard to come to terms with this after all we have read and seen. He has told us with great courage that he knows there are people within the church who would prefer if the truth about child abuse did not emerge. We can only conclude that we have not heard all of the story and that there are forces within the church who are determined to conceal the truth. That is astonishing and the archbishop deserves any support we can give him. He needs to bring the matter further. While we need to know more, we must acknowledge that what he has done is very important. I thought things could not get worse and that we had heard everything, but that there is still more we have not heard and that there are people who are determined to conceal the truth is more than I can accept. The archbishop should allow his words to seep through the structure of the church and society for the moment and let people change their ways, after which we deserve to hear the full facts about obstructionism or non-co-operation in the church or anything related to it. I am not simply talking about members of religious orders or the clergy. These are crimes that are being hidden and it is important that we get to the bottom of the matter and acknowledge the points made.
At the time the bank guarantee was provided in September 2008 the Minister for Finance said in this House that a compelling argument in favour of the Government's actions was that it would protect our economic sovereignty. In truth, our economic sovereignty and room for manoeuvre have been steadily eroded since. In a radio interview yesterday the Taoiseach was asked about the Government's budget strategy for next year. He said the Government had "received no formal or informal indication from anybody [in the European Commission] that a particular course of action would be expected of us". It is all about what the European Commission expects of Ireland. A Government has a greater role than simply carrying out the instructions of the European Commission, although I believe in the European project and pooling sovereignty in the greater interests of the people and people across Europe. However, I do not believe in our sovereignty being wrestled from us, which is essentially what has happened. By our own actions, inactions and policy failures in the past ten years, especially regarding the banks, we have greatly limited the economic independence of this country. I accept it is not peculiar to Ireland. A major debate is coming in Europe in the next few years about what level of economic independence any member states will have. The hand of the Irish Government and people will be very considerably weakened as a result of what has happened in recent years. All the debates about tax harmonisation and the economic independence this country has will all change radically in the coming years. It will be extremely difficult for this country to maintain any serious level of economic independence. I really regret the Taoiseach appears to be almost exhibiting a defeatist attitude towards this.
When he describes economic and budgetary policy, he talks about what is expected of us by the European Commission instead of taking a strong, robust and independent line, as Senator Fitzgerald has said, on job creation and the development of the economy, thereby coming across in a positive way, as the Opposition has, with actual proposals as to how we, as a sovereign Irish Government, could turn around the economy. It is lamentable that he is not doing that, particularly on the day when we have been informed that Ireland has the third highest unemployment rate in the OECD. While it is unlikely that the Leader will be able to arrange it, can we have the Taoiseach come to the House to explain why he has taken such a defeatist and negative attitude on the future of our country?
I ask the Leader for a debate on the outside influences affecting the country's economy, of which there are many. Sometimes in debates in this House and elsewhere we think of ourselves as a little island unaffected by everywhere else. There has just been a general election across the water in the United Kingdom which has a profound effect on what happens in this country. There are many other political instances and issues happening in other countries. The euro is collapsing as a result of what is happening in Greece. It is about time we acknowledged we are not completely in control of everything that happens in this country and that there are many outside influences.
I raise the issue of this wonderful volcano in Iceland, as I have done before. I previously called it the elephant in the living room but I think it is the volcano in the living room as we see pictures of it regularly. It is having a major impact on people travelling to and from this country and on travel in Europe in general. Over the weekend somebody suggested there was a volcano in Connemara. There was an enormous plume of smoke in Connemara where a hill was set on fire.
A large number of fires are occurring as a result of the very dry weather we are having and small gorse fires are getting completely out of control. There is also the possibility of people setting fires deliberately. We need to consider how these fires are dealt with because the emergency services in such instances are not adequate. I fear for the loss of life in the future if we do not look at how these are happening.
Nobody should be surprised by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin's statement last night. In this House I previously pointed out that the majority of child abuse occurs within the home by perpetrators known to the victim. When that happens, as I have seen myself, families can be split, with some supporting the victim and others supporting the perpetrator of the crime. We should not be surprised that Archbishop Diarmuid Martin is encountering within the church darker forces who are obstructing the changes he wants the church to make. We should have a debate in the House to offer support those bishops and others within the Catholic Church who want to bring in a new era of child protection within the church because the church still has a major role to play in our education and health systems. We should offer support to those leading lights in the church who want to see a new era in child protection in the Catholic Church. We should have a debate on that issue fairly soon to offer encouragement to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin in what he is trying to do.
I also ask the Leader for a debate on Government policy on Anglo Irish Bank because we are not sure whether it wants to keep it open, wind it down or close it. We should have an early debate on this issue because it costs taxpayers billions of euro every year.
I join Senator O'Toole in welcoming the decision of the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, to ban a large number of legal highs that were on sale in head shops until midnight yesterday. In particular, I welcome the fact that from now possession of such drugs and their supply for sale in such shops will be subject to a sanction of up to seven years imprisonment and-or a fine for unlawful possession and, on indictment, of life imprisonment for unlawful supply. As Senator O'Toole stated, this issue has been ongoing for far too long. Two years ago a small number of other Members of this House and I mentioned that head shops were opening throughout the country at an alarming rate. Every county and major town has witnessed their opening since. Therefore, I very much welcome the decision made by the Minister and pay tribute to colleagues on all sides of the House who pursued the issue vigorously. I call on them to keep pursuing it until such time as these shops are forced to close. Unfortunately, their owners will try to find a loophole to get around the ban announced today by the Minister.
The Leader of the Opposition, Senator Fitzgerald, has called on the Government to do something about job creation and, understandably, criticised the number of reports sought and task forces and committees set up during the years to tackle the issue. However, that is the way we will achieve it. We have the answer in that the way to achieve job creation is through the creation of competition. I am concerned that there is a belief that somehow or other we can solve the problem by protectionism. Fom the 1920s to the 1950s and into the 1960s we tried to create jobs by protecting ourselves from competition. From reading the newspapers, I note almost on a regular basis that there is a return to the same thinking, that if we are to solve the problem, we must protect existing jobs. The way to protect jobs is by making ourselves much more competitive. The draft planning guidelines published in the newspapers today suggest the opening of new stores and retail outlets should be restricted. I assume this restriction is being included to protect existing jobs, but that is not the way things happen. The way to create jobs is to create competition.
There is another criticism in the newspapers today concerning the fact that the leaving and junior certificate applied examinations papers are being printed in England. The reason is that because of European Union guidelines we cannot influence the process and give printing contracts to our friends in this country. The examination papers will be printed by whoever gives the best quote. The reason fewer people from the Republic go shopping in the North is that we have made adjustments to make ourselves more competitive. Unless we recognise the need to do this and become more competitive, we will not create jobs. Therefore, rather than trying to protect existing jobs, let us see what we can do to encourage competition.
Another interesting story concerns energy production. We read in the newspapers today that there are Americans who are willing to invest in wave energy projects in the west. This might be in competition with the Spirit of Ireland group which is trying to produce energy using hydro power, but let us encourage such competition because that is the way we will make ourselves more competitive.
I strongly support the remarks of Senators O'Toole and Wilson on the announcement of the Minister for Health and Children on head shops. We have the dubious honour in Mullingar of having two such shops, one of which is brazen enough to advertise that it can advise people on how to grow their own products. Such brazenness is unrivalled. I welcome, in particular, the sanctions proposed by the Minister. I hope everybody involved — private citizens, the Garda and all other agencies — will co-operate to put head shops where they belong, namely, out of business.
In the past I called on many occasions for a debate on type 1 and type 2 diabetes. I succeeded after two years in getting a debate for an hour and a quarter. It is time to have this debate again and I hope the Leader will give more time to the subject on this occasion. Types 1 and 2 diabetes have dire effects on the health services. Any physician or GP will indicate type 2 diabetes is among those diseases which are most on the rise. A good debate in this House for a realistic period be of benefit. We are whistling past the graveyard on this issue on both sides of the House.
I support the proposal made by Senator Frances Fitzgerald and I second the amendment to the Order of Business to have the debate on the Brussels package, which is timely and appropriate. Allied to that is the question that has been raised by Senator Twomey regarding Anglo Irish Bank. We know there were 101 questions from the Commission regarding Anglo's plans, which were submitted some time ago, and we have read that the final questions are to be answered this week. The Commission will rule on what will happen.
The important point could be that the good bank element, if it is agreed and signed off, could become the nucleus of a third force, which is so necessary in banking and from the banking perspective in this country. I have raised the issues of vesting orders and the powers granted to NAMA under the National Asset Management Agency Bill, which both Houses approved. In response to a query from our learned colleague, Senator Cummins, the Minister for Finance has now stated that "section 204(3) of the NAMA Act will be amended to reflect the commitment regarding tax information when the next legislative opportunity arises". It should be noted that the commitment relates to NAMA getting information from the Revenue Commissioners and does not disturb the power or reverse it.
Questions have been raised by Senator Cummins, myself and others, and perhaps there are other flaws which may not be so tiny. We do not know. In conjunction with Senator Fitzgerald's comments, the Leader could take such issues on. I encourage him to do so.
It is disappointing to hear from no less a person than Archbishop Diarmuid Martin that there is a lingering denial of child abuse because of a prevailing culture of secrecy. In line with all other Senators we should be supportive of the archbishop and other bishops, together with the good forces out there trying to get matters right.
I commend the Government and the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney, and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, on the speedy action in the closure of head shops. I welcome the fact that the head shop in Roscommon, called High Times, has closed, according to the Joe Duffy radio show. I commend Jacqui Snype, who headed the campaign, and the people in Roscommon who protested regularly outside that shop. It is a great relief to all concerned. Senator O'Toole was very fair and Senator Wilson has been involved in the campaign from the start. We in the House have supported him in those issues and we deserve credit for taking on the issue and the Leader deserves it for arranging a debate in this regard.
Will the Leader consider a debate on the role of the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland and the sector in general?
Last night, we were given doom and gloom. At 8.30 p.m., it was about business. At 9.35 p.m., the "Aftershock" programme was shown. Between 10.35 p.m. and 11.40 p.m., Pat Kenny was on air.
I agree with my colleagues who welcomed the massive intervention of the EU in the form of its financial rescue package. The position is serious. If one considers the figures in terms of public debt expressed as a percentage of GDP, Greece is No. 1 at 124.9% and Ireland is No. 4. However, if one examines other figures, such as the budget deficit expressed as a percentage of GDP, Ireland unfortunately has the lead position at twice the European average. It is a worrying situation.
We should also consider having another general economic debate. The Leader has promised the House rolling debates. There is an inevitable logic to a degree of centralisation, harmony and political concentration within Europe. This is the lesson of history. It occurred with Prussia where a customs union preceded political and financial union.
I hope we will find an opportunity to take No. 15 of the non-Government motions on the Order Paper in the name of myself, Senator O'Toole and the Fine Gael Party regarding the rating agencies. It is open to the Labour Party, the Green Party and Fianna Fáil to sign up to our motion, as we all agree on this matter.
Archbishop Ryan is a courageous and decent man.
I beg the House's pardon. Archbishop Martin is a courageous and decent man. It is difficult to hear him say he is disheartened and that there are forces within the church. We know there are forces from yesterday's newspapers, according to which Cardinal Schönborn of Vienna stated that one of the principal officers of the church, perhaps Cardinal Sodano, had inhibited the inquiry into Cardinal Groer of Vienna and the molestation of young priests in an academy in Vienna. This was shocking. Archbishop Martin is right and decent people in the church deserve support.
Will the Leader draw to the Government's attention the fact that Adams' auctioneers just down the road from here will, at 5 p.m. on 18 May, hold an auction of important documents relating to the Famine? On Sunday, Murrisk in County Mayo will hold a commemoration of the Famine, one of the most devastating events in this country's history. The documents originated in a solicitor's office and I am unsure as to who will gain from them. Some of them are rather expensive. They are a moving record of the tragedy. One document from Mount Blakeney in County Limerick states: "The potatoes are beginning to look very bad". I am glad to see that a Church of Ireland clergyman appealed on behalf of an evicted tenant, but many other members of the clergy did not behave so well. This record should be in the possession of the State. I hope the letter from Sabrina Purcell, whose grandparents were touched by the Famine, will be acted upon by the owners of these letters and that they will be given to the people. I am also hoping the Government may be in a position to purchase at least some of them.
I agree, in some respects, with Senator Fitzgerald that a debate is necessary on the implications of the measures to protect Economic and Monetary Union which were announced at the weekend. One of the assurances provided during the second referendum campaign on the Lisbon treaty was that it would not pave the way for European Union interference in Ireland's tax affairs. Another such assurance was related to our fiscal independence. It was these assurances that many of us who are currently Members of the House highlighted for the people during the referendum campaign. If there is to be a measure of fiscal union in order to protect monetary union, the logical conclusion one must reach is that another referendum will be required.
A wide-ranging debate is commencing on the decisions taken by EU Finance Ministers at the weekend. This matter must be addressed by the House at an early stage, but I do not necessarily believe we should discuss it today.
I agree with Senator Quinn on the issue of competitiveness. All of the innovation reports and stand-alone initiatives in the world will not do any good unless the cost of doing business is brought back into sync with general costs in the jurisdictions our near neighbours and direct competitors. However, Ireland is becoming more competitive again. We no longer have a currency, per se, to devalue and need to find value within the economy. That is beginning to happen. I live in the Border region and I am aware, for example, that retail prices have fallen by approximately 8%. This is due, in part, to some of the measures one of the large supermarket interests has taken in its supply chain. However, there are also other factors involved. Prices in the North have gradually been creeping upwards, particularly in towns such as Newry where there has been over-trading. That competitiveness is beginning to return is evident from both footfall and retail figures in the town in which I reside. I must be careful, however, not to overstate the position in this regard. We must continue to restore competitiveness. Our work in this regard must proceed until the country is once again in a fit state to compete.
When I consider the extent of the measures adopted by the European Union in solidarity with certain member states, including Ireland, all I can say is, "Thank God for the Lisbon treaty". The solidarity clause contained in Article 122 of the treaty states the Union can provide financial assistance for member states that are in difficulty as a result of exceptional occurrences. It is upon this essential provision that the package announced at the weekend is based.
International markets do not respect borders or the sovereignty of member states. The European Union has done more to protect the sovereignty of this country than could any measure we might ourselves take. There is not a loss of sovereignty in playing the game in respect of the management of our budget, the public finances and the economy. In 2001, when Mr. McCreevy was Minister for Finance, Ireland was the first member state to break the Union's guidelines in respect of its finances. Despite a reprimand from Brussels to the effect that we were spending too much and that the public finances were getting out of order, the then Minister for Finance confirmed that he intended to continue spending. That was the point at which we lost our way. It was when we considered that we knew best and could, as a result of our high growth rates, go it alone, but we now know the folly of the position we adopted at the time. The former Minister for Finance indicated that he would ignore the Union's censure on the grounds that inflation was already coming down and that the measures he had taken the previous December were necessary in order to maintain social partnership. All we need to do is to play the game and recognise the economic reality, namely, that we must co-ordinate our economic policies with those of other member states. We must also adopt honest, transparent and consistent policies. It was announced in the budget that policy on public service pensions would be reformed. On Friday last, however, we did a U-turn and changed our position in this regard. I do not know whether there is a saving to be made in making such a change, but we must be consistent in the policies we adopt. We must explain our position more fully to the European Union if we hope to avail of the support available.
I welcome the meeting yesterday between the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport and representatives of the tourism industry to address the adverse impact of the volcanic ash on this country and its potential continuing adverse impact on the tourism industry. In this light, I repeat that it would be timely and useful for the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport to be invited into the House to discuss tourism strategy, as she now has read herself into her brief and has met the various sectors in the tourism industry, as well as Fáilte Ireland's strategy for the future.
While I agree with the sentiments that have been expressed on the other side of the House and especially by Senator Alex White on the implications of the agreement between the eurozone members last weekend, I must robustly reject his allegations that the Taoiseach is not defending the sovereignty of this country. This is not the first time the Labour Party has attempted to smear the Taoiseach in respect of his national priorities and his patriotism. He is as good a patriot as anyone in this House.
I will forgive the Cathaoirleach this time. I wish to note my agreement with Senator Fitzgerald and other Members who have called for a debate on banking and on the recent announcements in respect of Greece and the safety net being put in place by the eurozone's members for other future eventualities. I completely and utterly disagree with Senator Dearey as Members should be having this discussion today. While I note the Leader indicated that banking legislation is coming before the House next week, significant developments took place over the weekend and when one considers what is scheduled for the Seanad this week, there is no excuse for not having a discussion on banking and on what has been agreed.
This has been symptomatic of what the Government has done with regard to the banking crisis from the outset. It put forward its proposals without engaging in meaningful discussion on the available alternatives. I happen to agree that Ireland's support for Greece in this particular situation is necessary, as the potential cost to the Irish Exchequer for not supporting Greece and for that country to default would be much higher than what is being put into Greece. However, such a debate certainly should be held in the Seanad.
It is not good enough that for the past month, Members have been specifically seeking a debate on the position regarding Greece, which simply has not happened. If Members wish to make Seanad Éireann relevant, surely they should be discussing the major issue of the day, which for the last couple of weeks——
Moreover, the House also has not had a debate in recent weeks on Anglo Irish Bank. Senator Coghlan raised an important point, which is that the European Commission reverted to the Government with 101 questions pertaining to its proposals in respect of Anglo Irish Bank. Members also should have a discussion on this issue as soon as possible.
I believe Senator Coghlan made a mistake previously when he seconded an amendment to the Order of Business that had not been proposed, namely, to have a discussion on accident and emergency facilities in regional hospitals nationwide. I second that particular amendment. Proposals have been drawn up by the HSE that appear to have been put on the shelf in recent weeks. It is apparent that the heads of many of the sections within the HSE are familiar with the proposals with regard to the closure of accident and emergency facilities nationwide but politically, for some reason, they have been shelved and there should be a full discussion in this regard at the earliest opportunity.
I share the sentiments expressed by those Senators who spoke in support of Archbishop Martin of Dublin, in particular of his suggestion that certain elements are still reacting inappropriately, to say the least, to the crisis that has struck the church over its handling of child sexual abuse. The situation has not changed. Canon Law is at one with the State law. There is no dichotomy; they are ad idem. This crime is regarded as a heinous crime in both State law and Canon Law. There is no doubt that everybody in the State must comply with the State law and the people who are responsible under Canon Law must comply with Canon Law and State law. That is quite clear and that cannot change.
I thank the Leader for the amount of time he has given and continues to give to facilitate debate on the banking situation and the outside influences in the economy, and I support the calls for debate in this respect. I am conscious that the model of banking that existed in this part of the world, in particular the City of London and on Wall Street, was one that did not work and that gave us the severe crisis that now exists in the financial services area. Hedge funds in the mercantile exchange have now put a €15 billion bet again Greek debt. That is a serious matter, which requires legislation to deal with the abuse of the financial system by certain sectors in the financial services area. I am conscious of the seriousness of abuse in this area. The Great Depression was caused by an excess of credit, which led to many severe consequences throughout Europe and helped the spread of extremism in politics, including the rise of fascism.
Given that Members mentioned the Easter Rising on the Order of Business last week, it is appropriate to mention the 65th anniversary of the Second World War, which took place last week, and pay tribute to those allies who fought against the cancerous tumour of fascism.
I welcome the immediate banning of substances sold in head shops and compliment Senator Wilson other Senators who were very much to the fore in the campaign to ban them, Grainne Kenny in particular, who has been a champion in this respect, and RTE's "Liveline" programme, despite Senator Leyden's misgivings about it, which has very much led the charge to ban these products.
The decision to ban head shop products is but one step on the journey. It is unfortunate we still lag behind other countries in tackling the issue of head shops. I ask the Leader to provide time for a debate on head shops, especially on measures that can be taken to pre-empt the arrival of new products on the shelves of head shops. We must never allow the drugs trade to go underground or drug lords to prosper in our society. Today the Government has listened to the will of the people and to the requests of those on the Opposition benches.
I request a debate on the role of the church and that of the State. Archbishop Martin, in what he said, unleashed the need for yet another debate on this matter. As somebody who is a beacon of hope and a great leader of his flock and of us all, he deserves to be listened to, but if there are dark and evil forces within civic society or within religious life, they must rooted out and we must never allow evil to prosper. As Senator Hanafin rightly said, Canon Law and civil law are now equal and the rule of the law of the land is the law that we must all follow. It is important that we have a very long debate on this matter.
I congratulate the Minister, Deputy Harney, on the great sanction she has introduced. I also congratulate Senator Wilson, as others have done, on raising the matter in question 18 months ago in the House. As one who participated in that debate, I recall the Minister, Deputy Harney, saying she would not speak first because she wanted to listen to the views of Senators. She took them on board and I congratulate her on doing that. I note that Senator Wilson said this issue could go off the agenda but we must not allow that to happen.
I have asked that another matter, that of child abuse, should be kept on the agenda forever. I stand with other Senators in supporting Archbishop Diarmuid Martin in this respect. I was heartened by the fact that he was disheartened and discouraged. He stated that since taking office he had never felt as disheartened in terms of the unwillingness of some sections of the church to address the issue. I agree with Senator O'Toole who said there was a cover-up in this regard. During the debate on the Murphy report there was not one Senator who sang from a different hymn sheet from that with which we all came into the House. It would be worthwhile for us to debate the issue again. The church is troubled and divided. The cover-up by some sections of the church will destroy rather than protect it. I agree with others who said we must support good men like Archbishop Martin, Bishop Walsh and other clerics. I was not surprised to hear the Archbishop say what he said. The public is aware that the reaction of the church has not been as good as we would have expected. If we can bring the good sections of the church with us, we will not alone save the church but will also give peace and comfort to those who were abused and ensure it will never happen again.
I seek an urgent debate on the reprioritisation of the budgetary allocations. The most human reaction to an entity, be it a country, community or family, experiencing difficult economic circumstances is to protect the most vulnerable by building around them a shield to protect them from the biting winds of recession. However, we appear to have done the opposite. We are allowing those winds to damage and hurt the most vulnerable in society, in particular, children with special needs.
Last night I met two parents of two young children, one a year and a half old and the other two years old, with severe disabilities and special needs. The two women concerned are doing the best they can for their children. They tell me that every support upon which they have been relying is slowly being taken from them, leaving them with nothing other than the support of family and friends in meeting the difficult challenges facing them. What judgment call or system of morality is guiding the decisions being made that allows the people concerned to suffer in that manner? For example, it was recently decided that it was appropriate to spend €4.5 million on the construction of a vulgar mansion, twice the size of the house of the Canadian Prime Minister, for our ambassador in Canada, yet we do not deem it appropriate to spend that amount of money on the most vulnerable in society. I am convinced there remains an enormous amount of waste within the budgetary allocations. For this reason, there is a need for a forensic analysis, perhaps expanding on the very good work done by Mr. Colm McCarthy, to identify the areas in which there is such waste. In doing so, there should be no sacred cows. I include in this our overseas development aid package which appears to be protected from such a forensic analysis.
The rise in the number of healthy older people in Ireland and around the globe constitutes a major social and scientific advance, perhaps the most significant in the past century. In 1900 average life expectancy for a woman was 49 years. Today it is 81.6 years, an increase of 32.6 years, a phenomenal social and scientific advance that is constantly ignored. Older and Bolder, an organisation which represents eight non-governmental organisations in the ageism sector, invited gerontologist Professor Desmond O'Neill to prepare a paper on work and ageing in the context of its analysis of the national pensions framework. Yesterday, in Buswells Hotel, Professor O'Neill launched his document, Ageing, the Demographic Dividend and Work. Professor O'Neill found that it is increasingly clear that older workers represent an important resource for industry, public services and the economy but the framework for developing workplaces and policies supportive of working later in life in Ireland leaves much room for improvement. Older and Bolder——
In my capacity as spokesperson for older people in the Seanad — everyone knows I produced a policy document on a new approach to ageing and ageism — I call for an urgent debate on the issue of mandatory retirement. It is archaic and out of date. I succeeded in having included in the programme for Government in 2007 that people would have a choice about when they retired. Older and Bolder also supports this. In March, Professor O'Neill, a titan in the work on ageing and enhancing the lives of older people on this island, received an All Ireland Inspirational Life Award, which I am driving North and South.
I want to echo some of the comments made by colleagues on Archbishop Diarmuid Martin's very fine speech, which I read in full and which I encourage people to read. It deserves a very wide readership as he touches on many highly important issues. I welcome the interventions of Senators Twomey and Fitzgerald asking him to go further and to clarify some of what he stated on people in denial who do not want the full truth of this terrible story to come out. Let us be clear that any denial of what is true or any minimising of what is evil is contrary not only to Christianity itself but to good citizenship. I would like to see Archbishop Diarmuid Martin go further and engage in robust debate with those he feels are in denial. That culture of openness and honest discussion is precisely what we need. I have stated previously that the church should not be afraid of a diocesan-wide inquiry. The truth will set us free. Yes, there will be need to criticise aspects of what the media do and there will be occasional distortions. There will also be people who will disagree with Archbishop Martin; he is not without his critics. However, if there is open debate then the quality of arguments on all sides can be tested. Archbishop Martin has done us all a real service in his very fine speech and clear analysis. I urge him in his work of leadership to stay the course and keep up the good work.
I also want to mention briefly the comments by the Minister for Education and Skills about the possibility of those failing higher level maths, scoring a grade E or lower in the leaving certificate, being accepted into universities. Surely it is not beyond the bounds of possibility to come up with a leaving certificate maths paper whereby someone failing honours would not pass the pass paper either. Alternatively, people should be given an opportunity to sit another maths exam if they fail so they can meet whatever matriculation or college entry requirements are in place. However, the idea of accepting E grades is a race to the bottom.
I commend the Senators who congratulated the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, on her decision to ban certain legal substances. I go along with that and I hope that ultimately the premises selling them will be closed down because that is the wish of the majority of people in the country.
Some time ago, I raised the issue of private cosmetic clinics. I am not calling for a debate on this issue but surgeons fly into the country to perform operations and then fly out again after them. There is no follow-up. The Minister has spoken about regulating how these clinics operate. I am not calling for a debate but will the Leader convey the concern of the public about how these clinics operate? It is important we keep that on the agenda.
I was delighted to hear the comments by Members on both sides on the speech by Archbishop Martin, who must be supported. Perhaps we should have a debate on the role of the church and the State in education because they are all connected. That would be a welcome discussion which would include child protection because there are still people who are in denial.
I support what Senator Mullen said in regard to the mathematics paper. Now more than ever we must have a debate on that issue because many students are making up their minds whether they will take the honours or the pass paper. I know it will be not introduced this year but the debate should start now on our plans for, and the decisions to be made, in 2012.
On 27 April I asked the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, if it was intended to amend the NAMA legislation in view of the European Commission's proposals. He indicated there was no such intention. I also asked him a number of other questions on that occasion which he was unable to answer but I thank him for coming back to me today with answers to those questions.
In one of the answers, the Minister for Finance indicated that it will be necessary to amend the NAMA legislation and that he intends to do so at the earliest possible opportunity or, to quote him, at "the next legislative opportunity" as soon as it arises. When will that opportunity arise and when will we have that amendment to the NAMA legislation?
I thank the Minister for Health and Children for banning these substances in head shops. A third head shop opened in Waterford recently. I understand that a number of them will close today because of the Minister's announcement. I hope that will continue and that these substances will not be introduced under any other guise. There should be a requirement that all substances should be passed by the Irish Medicines Board and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland before they are allowed to be sold.
I join with Senator Fitzgerald in calling for the Minister for Health and Children to come to the House today to discuss issues concerning us in regard to accident and emergency services and health in general. Will the Leader co-operate with this House and order a debate on the relevance of politics in society? I raise this issue in the context of the HSE and how it, without any influence from politicians, has carte blanche to close accident and emergency departments and nursing homes, as it did in Athlone last Thursday——
——and without a Health Information and Quality Authority report even being published. Is the Minister even relevant to the HSE? What relevance do politicians have to the HSE? I urge the Leader to arrange such a debate.
As one of the people who first raised in the House the issue of head shops, I congratulate the parents who were so brave in highlighting their personal plight. Along with the drugs awareness groups and Grainne Kenny, these people should be commended. The Minister had the gumption to listen to them.
Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Alex White, Quinn, Dearey, Regan, John Paul Phelan and McFadden expressed serious concerns about health issues. In regard to the high standards of care, I can state first-hand that the care a family member of mine experienced in Mullingar hospital over the past two weeks was of the highest standard and I compliment all those concerned.
Senator McFadden raised the relevance of politicians and the Minister to the HSE. This is an urgent matter which must be dealt with. I will look at the diary of the House in the coming days and will come back to it at the earliest possible time. I certainly agree to such a debate because there are issues, concerns, understandings and misunderstandings in every county and it is time the situation was clarified and that the Minister came to the House to do so for all Members who are the representatives of the people. We are not faceless representatives; we are public representatives representing the people and the taxpayers. I will give a commitment that such a debate will take place.
I refer to the call for a debate on the Brussels package and the eurozone decisions. I welcome the upturn in the markets yesterday which reassured the world in regard to how the European Union conducts itself. Ireland is being looked at as a shining example in terms of how it dealt courageously with the difficulties the Government faced and how the trade union movement and a number of members of the Opposition supported the call in the national interest. In these very difficult two weeks, members of trade unions are making up their minds about the Croke Park deal and are putting the country before their families and political affiliations. The people can feel proud of the undertakings of those in authority representing the trade union movement. I look forward to them helping the people and the Government in the serious decisions they must make in regard to the challenges that lie ahead for our country over the next two or three years.
Senators Wilson, O'Toole, Glynn, Leyden, Buttimer, Feeney, Ormonde, McFadden and Cummins raised the issue of head shops and congratulated Senator Wilson on his steadfast determination that this House would be to the fore in raising the plague of head shops. I join colleagues and thank Senator Wilson and all Members who raised this issue. I also thank the Minister, Deputy Harney, for bringing the issue to Brussels and for getting such an early decision in this regard. I understand that this morning the Minister for Justice and Law Reform brought details of a Bill on this matter to Cabinet. Legislation will be brought before the House for its consideration at the earliest time.
Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Twomey, Coghlan, Norris, Hanafin, Buttimer, Feeney, Mullen and Ormonde called for further consideration of the Ryan and Murphy reports in the House. I refer to the views of Bishop Willie Walsh, which I heard today, and the statements Archbishop Martin made yesterday in regard to the serious concerns he has that not enough is being done. We want to support him in every way we can. If crimes are being hidden, as Senator O'Toole said, no one can condone that. As Senator Hanafin said, everyone must comply with the laws of the State. I will review the situation with the leaders every week. If time is required to debate this issue, I will be very supportive.
Senators Alex White, Ó Brolcháin, John Paul Phelan and Mooney raised the issue of the bank guarantee. On Thursday, 20 May the House will have a day long debate on legislation related to the situation in Greece which will be debated in the Dáil on Wednesday week. The Minister will be present for the debate in the House, at which time Senators may raise concerns and issues related to the European Union. I have listened to the views of colleagues on EU protection for Irish sovereignty, the Lisbon treaty and other issues. These matters can be discussed during the debate.
Senator Mooney welcomed the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport's meeting with representatives of the tourism industry yesterday. He also noted the serious challenges facing the sector and the opportunities arising from the current difficulties with air travel. Given that our constituents must holiday somewhere, there is no better time to support the domestic tourism industry. I will liaise with the Minister to find a suitable time for a lengthy debate on how we can address the problems being experienced in this, one of the most difficult years for a long time.
Senators Twomey, Coghlan and John Paul Phelan called for a further debate on Anglo Irish Bank. I do not have a difficulty with holding such a debate. Senator Coghlan who raised the issue of a good bank will be aware that in 1934 the late great Seán Lemass who later became Taoiseach established ICC Bank which became the backbone of small and medium enterprises. I hope progress can be made in this area again, possibly using an arm of Anglo Irish Bank. Its incoming chairman, former Minister for Finance, Mr. Alan Dukes, is disposed to this proposal.
I fully concur with the sentiments expressed on the challenges facing small and medium-sized enterprises on an hourly rather than daily basis. I have never seen anything like the current position on the availability of funding from the banks. Money must be made available and if the banks are not prepared to do so, the Government has a duty to ensure access to funding.
Senator Glynn called for a full debate on types 1 and 2 diabetes. It was unfortunate that the previous debate was short. This was due to the need to take pressing legislation. I will not have a difficulty in allowing the longest possible time for such a debate.
Senator Leyden called for a debate on the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland and the need for balance in the national broadcaster. I have agreed to provide time for such a debate. The national broadcaster has a duty under the Broadcasting Acts to ensure balance. To the vast majority this does not appear to be the case, which is a great shame. Ireland and its people have achieved a great deal. This should be recognised. I, therefore, call on the national broadcaster to show balance because it is destroying confidence among those who are providing employment. All of those involved in the broadcasting sector have a responsibility to guide people through this difficult time, rather than taking a whingeing attitude, as they are doing. They must accept their responsibility in this regard and exercise it in the best interests of the people and Ireland plc.
Senator Norris referred to motion No. 15 which calls for the establishment of a special committee of the Seanad to examine the origins, backgrounds and policies of the international rating agencies, with particular reference to their impact on the State. I will examine the issue later and revert to the House tomorrow. The Senator also indicated that the State should be interested in acquiring certain items to be sold at auction.
Senator Hanafin expressed serious concerns about outside influences on the economy, in particular hedge funds. The company to which he referred spent a vast sum on a gamble. The Senator also referred to major abuses in financial services. The House can show its worth by debating the issue. I will see what I can do to provide time for such a debate.
Senator Cannon asked that the Minister for Health and Children come before the House to discuss children with disabilities, the challenges facing their parents, especially those on low incomes, and other matters. He speaks on the basis of his experience of the representations made by his constituents. I have agreed to have the Minister come to the House for a lengthy debate and the matters he raises may be discussed at that point.
Senator Mary White referred to the compulsory retirement age in the public service and noted that older people had much to contribute in terms of their energy and experience. The Government will examine the matter which can be debated in the House in the future.
Senators Mullen and Ormonde referred to the leaving certificate examination and the assistance that could be provided for students who were making up their minds on whether to take honours or pass papers. Their proposal to have the Minister for Education and Skills come before the House to discuss the matter is worthwhile and I will try to arrange such a debate. Senator Ormonde also raised concerns about consultants. I will convey her views to the Minister.
Senator Cummins referred to the legislation on the National Asset Management Agency. All legislation passed by the Oireachtas must be amended from time to time. This is especially true of the NAMA legislation because it relates to an area of high risk. I look forward to assisting the Government in ensuring NAMA proceeds in the most efficient and effective manner possible.
Senator McFadden called for a debate on the relevance of politics, with particular emphasis on the role of the Health Service Executive. I will not a have a difficulty in arranging such a debate.
Senator Fitzgerald has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Minister for Health and Children on her proposals to address the cuts in accident and emergency services throughout the country be held today." Is the amendment being pressed?
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 21 (Ivana Bacik, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Ciarán Cannon, Paudie Coffey, Paul Coghlan, Maurice Cummins, Frances Fitzgerald, Dominic Hannigan, Fidelma Healy Eames, Nicky McFadden, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, Joe O'Toole, John Paul Phelan, Phil Prendergast, Feargal Quinn, Shane Ross, Brendan Ryan, Liam Twomey, Alex White)
Against the motion: 28 (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, Terry Leyden, Lisa McDonald, Paschal Mooney, Niall Ó Brolcháin, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Francis O'Brien, Fiona O'Malley, Ned O'Sullivan, Ann Ormonde, Kieran Phelan, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ciaran Cannon and Maurice Cummins; Níl, Senators Niall Ó Brolcháin and Diarmuid Wilson.
Amendment declared lost