Tuesday, 18 May 2010
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on the role of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business, on which spokespersons may speak for 15 minutes and all other Senators may speak for ten minutes and Senators may share time, by agreement of the House, with the Minister to be called upon ten minutes before the conclusion of the debate for closing comments and to take questions from spokespersons and leaders.
We meet on a day when there has been devastating news for families and individuals who will lose jobs following today's announcement by Pfizer that 800 jobs will be shed. This is devastating news for those involved. We had hoped the pharmaceutical industry would be a cornerstone of recovery, but the lesson of the devastating news today is that we need to focus on the issues relating to job creation. The Government needs to focus on job creation, look at competitiveness issues and ensure money is lent to businesses, as there are still huge issues to be resolved. These are the barriers and challenges we face. Today's news is shocking for the country and the economy.
I want to raise another issue on which leadership is required. It is one we discussed in the House previously, namely, the Government's leadership in dealing with the banks. While many people struggle to maintain their jobs, once again the banks are topping up pensions. It is now being done in a new way, through cash allowance top-ups. The Minister must come to the House to explain why this is continuing and the cap is being breached. This is a difficult time for people who are joining the dole queues and to see this type of activity in the banks is very disheartening. It fuels a sense of injustice and inequality at a time when everybody is struggling, with people working hard to try to keep their jobs and pay their mortgages. The Minister must come to the House to explain why this is happening and he has allowed it to happen under his stewardship at a time when the taxpayer is giving so much money to the banks. Surely these lessons should have been learned. We should not see this manoeuvre by the banks. I, therefore, propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that the Minister for Finance be invited to the Seanad to discuss this issue.
The matter I wish to raise is one I have brought to the Leader's attention previously. The lack of legislative business both last week and this week and for the foreseeable future is worrying for both Houses. I do not point the finger, however, at the Leader, as I am aware of how hard he works to have legislation introduced in this House. However, I do point it at the Government, as there is something wrong in that a raft of legislation has been promised. Last year we were promised that the companies consolidation Bill would be before the House last autumn; we were then told it would be before it this spring, but it has not arrived. The local government consolidation Bill is also long overdue and I do not know where is the Seanad reform Bill. An education patronage Bill and many other Bills have been promised.
When the Leader inquires about this matter, he will be told that the draftspeople are tied up with this, that or the other Department, but the reality is that there is a shortage of draftspeople. Legislation is more important than the Government embargo on recruiting staff. We should focus on the lack of legislation and demand that the Government ensure there are enough draftspeople to deal with pending legislation. We received a list of promised legislation and must deal with it. There will be two legislative measures before the House this week, one courtesy of these benches. There was only one Bill before the House last week. There is also little legislation before the Dáil. As that is not the way we should do our business, I ask the Leader to tackle the issue.
Last week and during the weekend the question of what the Government intended to do on the issue of old age pensions came to the fore. The matter has been handled disgracefully and unfairly, causing unnecessary pain, worry and hardship to those who depend on pensions. The Government should be clear about the issue. It should not have raised it in the public discussion, thus causing sleepless nights for persons who have made their contribution to their families, communities, society and the economy. They deserve better. If the Government intends to do something in this area, it should give a clear indication in order that people can prepare for it.
I would oppose reducing the pension, as would any right thinking person. I, therefore, ask the Leader to bring to the attention of the Government the fact that this course would not reflect the views of elected public representatives. If money must be saved, the Government found ways of doing it last year and can examine other ways this year. However, it is unfair that people who had no hand, act or part in causing the economic mess in which we find ourselves should be forced to bear the burden. The Leader should take this issue on board and ask the Government to give a clear commitment to old age pensioners that they need not worry about this issue for the next seven months.
-----to the middle of July, when the Houses will go into recess, there will be a torrent of legislation. Last year in July there were five or six Bills from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in a period of ten days. I do not blame the Leader, but it is an extraordinary way for the Government to run the business of both Houses. I am resisting the collapse into cynicism about which I spoke last week, but this has occurred for the last few years and I strongly suspect it will happen again this year, unless somebody can reassure us to the contrary.
With regard to the Honohan report being prepared on the banking system, can the Leader give an indication of the timetable for its production? It is interesting to note that last week the Taoiseach - to the extent that he did so, I welcome it - appeared to move from the narrative of "we are where we are" and made an attempt to recognise the significant contribution he himself and Governments of which he had been a member had made to the situation at which we had arrived, where we were close to the verge of bankruptcy. In order that we are clear on what I am saying, I merely refer to his contribution and role, as people get carried away by what they believe are exaggerated criticisms of the Taoiseach; I am not saying he was entirely responsible. He played a significant role, for which he must answered. I, therefore, want to know when the Honohan report will be published and whether we can have a debate on it in the House.
We should include in that debate the remarkable statement made last week by the Taoiseach's immediate predecessor, Deputy Bertie Ahern. It was truly remarkable, but it did not receive much attention. When talking about tax incentives, he agreed that they should have been got rid of much sooner. He went on to state, "there were always fierce pressures ... there was endless pressure to extend them." He stated the pressure had come from developers, the owners of sites, areas that had not seen development, community councils, politicians and civic society. That is an extraordinary statement that should be subject to scrutiny. When we talk about having debates about politicians and the noble profession of politics, as I believe it is, we also must look at the responsibilities of a Government and politicians in government. The people are entitled to expect more of a Taoiseach or Minister that, when he or she is put under pressure, whether it be "fierce pressure" or "endless pressure", by developers or the owners of sites, he or she will withstand it, when it is appropriate to do so. We need developers and builders and while I am prepared to accept and have no difficulty in accepting that they are perfectly entitled to meet Ministers, officially and formally, I expect more of Ministers, that they will not roll over and do the bidding of such individuals when they seek to apply pressure, whether it be "fierce pressure" or "endless pressure", which words are not mine but those of the former Taoiseach.
I ask that the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, come to the House at the earliest opportunity to outline the Government's approach to today's announcement by Pfizer that it proposes to lay off staff in Newbridge, Dublin and, most particularly, Cork, involving the loss of 785 jobs, or approximately 15% of the company's workforce of 5,000. While we should be grateful for the way in which the announcement has been made in that the lay-offs are to occur over a period of 18 months to five years which gives us an opportunity to find replacement industry and provide for retraining and in which perhaps they may even be an upturn in the international sector which would allow some of the jobs to be retained, there is an onus on the Minister to come before the House to outline the Government's plans. While I appreciate that he is deeply involved in the public announcement today, I ask that he avail of the earliest possible opportunity to come before the House.
Last Tuesday we witnessed a peaceful protest outside Leinster House which was hijacked by a number of thugs, many of them operating under the Socialist Workers Party banner. It is important that anyone who recognised anybody in the group should inform the Garda. Any Member of this House who knows anybody who was involved in attacking gardaí and members of staff has a duty to give that information to the Garda, as I have done. I viewed not only the footage carried on TV3 but also other footage not shown on our television screens in which sticks and banners were used to beat gardaí at the protest. It was far more vicious than what we had seen. The Leader should ask the Superintendent and the Captain of the Guard to ensure adequate protection will be afforded to members of staff and that there will be a sufficient number of gardaí to police such events in the future. I am totally in favour of a right to engage in peaceful protest; however, it is a disgrace that there are these hangers-on and thugs who latch onto those engaged in peaceful protests. It is something we must weed out.
I support Senator O'Toole's point about the shortage of legislation before the House this week. It is disgraceful. The Order Paper shows Bills listed but which are not before the House to be dealt with. The reason is a lack of Government will to have these Bills before the House to be debated properly rather than debated in the last weeks, as has been stated by Senator White. We all know this is what will happen. It is unacceptable for the House to be asked to rush legislation, as has been the case on numerous occasions. I hope the Leader will address this situation.
With regard to old age pensioners I agree with my comrade, Senator O'Toole. I have had a number of queries from many old age pensioners who are very worried and concerned. They are a very vulnerable section of society and they do not have anyone to speak up for them. We should have learned our lesson about tackling the aged. There are other sections of society such as the fat cats, so hands off old age pensioners. Fianna Fáil has always looked after the vulnerable in society and this is well known and recognised. I ask that the Minister come to the House to explain what this is about so that my confidence can be justified.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business. It is very important to have debates on the economy. If the Minister is able to come to the House - I hope he will be able to come - we should discuss the ratings agencies. I have been talking about this and so have other colleagues and it has now belatedly come to the attention of the European Union. Hedge funds are going to be addressed by the European Union, belatedly. At the weekend I heard the Director of Public Prosecutions, James Hamilton, saying we needed legislative change, in fact, possibly even constitutional change. It is pathetic that the House has no legislation to consider for the whole week. We just have statements-----
It is really disturbing. There may be a few little bits and pieces, some of which comes from the Independent benches. We are contributing legislatively this week at least as much, if not more, than the Government, and that is ludicrous.
I note Mr. Hamilton said we may need, in certain circumstances, to move white collar crime to non-jury courts with panels of expert judges because such cases could take a year and they contain very intricate matters. This is a worrying issue which needs to be addressed.
The Labour Party introduced a Bill in the other House so the work is already done and it is not a question of not having it drafted. That Bill should be put before the House to have it discussed. If the Government wishes, it can amend it.
I also raise a matter in which the "Liveline" programme, Joe Duffy's show, has caught up at last with the Oireachtas. More than a year ago I raised in the House the question of NCP, the buccaneering clampers who go around fair cities clamping people on private land. A series of people have had the same experience I have had, a kind of a honey trap set up by the clampers in association with the proprietors of the building, with no real legislative framework and under which they charge any amount they dream up. They claim they have an appeals authority but one is appealing to NCP and of course they are very unlikely to give one anything back. This is a matter of widespread concern to citizens and it is spreading now to institutions. The United Kingdom introduced legislation to curb it and so did Scotland, but we have done nothing even though I raised it at that time. There are many legislative gaps to be filled.
I refer to the RTE programme "Prime Time Investigates" shown last night. It was an excellent example of public service broadcasting at its best, thoroughly investigating its subject matter, well researched and professionally presented. The programme highlighted the serious issue of the illegal dumping of hundreds of thousands of worn tyres throughout the country. Those breaking the law often use subterfuge by suggesting to the people they collect tyres from that they will be recycled. In the Leader's constituency, there is a mountain of worn tyres just off the main street in Delvin.
The programme showed footage of a tyre fire in Campsey, County Derry, and the toxic fumes it caused. In England, people have been jailed for this sort of illegal dumping.
Will the Leader invite the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, to the House to debate this matte? He appeared on last night's programme. I have every sympathy for him as he introduced measures two years ago to allow the industry to be self-regulating. It plainly has failed as he said last night.
This is a serious issue because it affects towns and villages throughout the country. If any of those tyre mountains were to go on fire, the resultant toxic fumes alone, apart from other collateral damage, could have a serious effect on people's lives and health. Coillte has to deal with the illegal dumping of worn tyres on its properties, the removal of which costs the taxpayer €750,000 a year. This is an important issue which requires legislation. Will the Leader ask the Minister to attend the House to outline his proposals for dealing with the matter?
I regret the job cuts announced today by the pharmaceutical company, Pfizer, which already employs 5,000 people in the country. This sector is seen as fundamentally important to our export performance and maintaining a strong manufacturing base. I also regret the closure of its plant in Dún Laoghaire which is important to the area. It reflects the lack of direction in the Government's key economic proposals concerning enterprise, controlling the public finances and restoring credibility to economic policy which are needed to encourage and attract foreign investment.
Another protest on Leinster House this evening has been well announced by the media. We had the criminality of last week's protest in which, as Senator Cummins earlier stated, gardaí were attacked. There is an indulgence by the media of the extreme elements, such as the Socialist Workers and others, in these groupings.
There are groups which are legitimately protesting but are hijacked by an extreme element which has a political philosophy contrary to what most people believe in. In essence, it is about State ownership of all means of production, raising taxes and rejecting the democratic system in which governments are changed in elections and not otherwise. It is important, therefore, people do not indulge these extreme elements and identify the philosophy they purport to advance in protests outside Leinster House and elsewhere.
I support the call for a debate on job creation at a suitable time. I congratulate the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, on his speedy response to today's announcement by Pfizer of 270 job losses at its Kildare plant over the next 18 months and a further 500 jobs at risk at its Cork plant.
We should not lose sight of the fact that Pfizer continues to employ in excess of 4,200 people in Ireland and that there are thousands of other people involved and employed in the pharmaceutical industry, which is very strong in Ireland and which, it is to be hoped, will continue to grow. We should not lose sight of the fact that this has come about because of a merger with Wyeth, which, it is also to be hoped, will strengthen the company and facilitate greater job opportunities in the future.
I refer to the doom and gloom from the Opposition. We are conscious that the euro is under pressure and that there are problems in Greece related to the financial markets, but we should call on the Leader to pass on our heartiest congratulations to the National Treasury Management Agency, NTMA, on yet another success in the sale of Government bonds and raising in excess of €1.5 billion at this difficult time. Heartiest congratulations should be passed on.
Will the Leader seek clarification on the utterances of the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, in respect of social welfare pensions? His remarks have created fear and anxiety among older people, who I often refer to as having given a full, measured contribution towards what we inherited in this country. I am totally opposed to any cuts in respect of social welfare pensions. This should be relayed to the Minister.
Some time ago, I called on the Leader to arrange a debate on the Irish diaspora and funding for Irish diaspora services. I am concerned because such a debate has not been held yet. I refer to how this is impacting locally. Recently, I heard at least one third of Irish sexual abuse survivors are now living in the UK. The services they receive have been impacted because of the lack of a decision by the Government in respect of ongoing funding. They were expecting to hear about funding for this year in early January. It is now the middle of the year and they have only been given interim funding for a few months. This is putting their position in jeopardy in terms of recruitment of staff and the commissioning of services for these especially vulnerable people. I call on the Leader to arrange that debate and, as soon as possible, to impress upon the Minister the need to come to a conclusion in respect of that review and to ensure funding is put in place for these services.
Like several of my colleagues on all sides of the House, I am not disposed to any interference to with the old age pension. At issue are the people who built this State. It is not a good thing that they should even be put under the remotest threat of having their old age pensions interfered with in the winter of their years. They contributed to those pensions and worked many years to pay their contributions. Now, in the winter of their years they should be allowed to enjoy their pensions.
Some time ago, I spoke in the House of the high performance of Midland Regional Hospital, Mullingar. This was clearly indicated by the casemix money. Some time ago in this House, I indicated that I had invited the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, to visit the hospital and this will take place on 21 June. The hospital in Mullingar is new. It is very important that hospitals are duly rewarded for the services they deliver. Contrary to what has been said openly by many, that is to say, Mullingar is to lose services, I believe Mullingar hospital should be rewarded for its high performance levels and should get additional services. I look forward to the Minister's visit along with Senators Cassidy and McFadden, who are also from the county, and my colleagues from County Longford and the other House.
I have raised on many occasions in this House the question of our fish stocks. There is still strong evidence to suggest illegal fishing is continuing ad nauseam on our rivers and lakes. I ask the Minister responsible for inland fisheries, Deputy Eamon Ryan, to come to the House to debate this matter and let us hear his proposals to eliminate this practice. Our fish stocks, both coarse and game, are the reason so many people come to this country which is deemed to be a fishing mecca. We should not lose the basic resource which is what our fish stocks are.
I support my colleagues, led by Senator O'Toole, who demanded that we receive urgent clarification from the appropriate Minister of the pension issue. A significant number of elderly people are frightened by the declaration that their pensions may be affected. It is important that the Minister for Social Protection come to the House at the earliest opportunity to clarify the position. The Leader's backbench colleagues are saying there should be no attack on the old age pension. We need to hear from the Minister now rather than next November that this is the position. It is wrong that elderly people should suffer months of fear owing to the Minister's statement last week. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to come here as soon as possible.
I concur with my colleagues who have expressed concern about the antics of some of those who marched on Leinster House last week. All of us believe in the right to engage in peaceful protest, even though many of the leaders of last week's so-called protest do not appear to support the concept of peaceful protest in countries such as Cuba, North Korea and Venezuela. They seem to have a very limited view of what democracy and the right to protest are about. If jobs and the economy are the issues, the debate needs to take place in this House, not on the streets. For better or worse, we are the democratically elected representatives of the people. The focus of attention must be on the words and deeds of politicians, not on marches on the street. I smile when I see a group claiming to march behind a right to work banner. The records of some of those involved show that they have never created a job and never will. I wonder how many of them even believe in the concept of work. That is who we are dealing with, in many cases. They are extreme elements who want to take down the Government and the democratic system. We must resist them. I agree with my colleague, Senator Cummins, who has suggested those of us who can identify the people who attacked our staff and gardaí last week should report them and have them brought to justice.
I will continue from where Senator Bradford left off. I have been reading the posters of Éirígí and I am not sure if the organisation starts from the same point as other participants in the protest. I am interested in its participation and what its goal is for the island of Ireland. In response to bomb scares in County Donegal, I asked that the nearest available bomb squad be called to minimise the disruption caused. A strong letter was subsequently published in Irish News on how unpatriotic I was. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on republicanism, the current situation in the North, the Border counties and beyond. Yesterday in Lurgan the Enterprise service was disrupted. This is a cross-Border train service which is funded by the British and Irish Governments and the European Union and links the Republic with the North. A suspect wheelie-bin was placed close to the train. When the PSNI, the democratically accepted police force in the North, arrived to deal with the situation, officers were faced by a barrage of pipe bombs and petrol bombs. It is clear that we have been democratically elected to take the flak and drive a new vision for Ireland. I would like to think we could debate the perspectives of others to discover what sort of republic they are looking for and their tolerance level in accepting democracy. I refer not only to the North but to the island of Ireland as a whole.
I ask the Leader to update me on the legislation dealing with sunbeds. As I said last week, the North has moved to ban their use by those aged under 18 years and regulate their use by others. We were to do the same. Has there been progress in this regard?
I agree with Senator Mooney on the "Prime Time" programme on the issue of worn tyres. There are still issues to be addressed regarding waste water management and the fact that many waste water and sewerage schemes are not being progressed. I call for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to be invited to the House to discuss non-compliance with EU directives. Such a debate would be very useful.
Approximately two years ago I brought a whistleblower, Mr. Eugene McErlean, to the Joint Committee on Economic and Regulatory Affairs. It was a risk. At the committee he convinced everybody on all sides, including the bank involved, AIB, not only of his credibility and truthfulness but also of the need to introduce legislation to protect whistleblowers. Even a senior executive in AIB, whom I will not name and who was not a favourite of Mr. McErlean when he worked at the bank, gave him a clean bill of health, as a man of great honesty, and acknowledged that what had happened had been an injustice. One might have thought the result would be that all of the parties would get together to say a whistleblower's charter or Bill should be introduced in the Oireachtas, but quite the opposite happened. For action to be taken, why does it take the Director of Public Prosecutions, from outside the Houses, to make an appeal on national television on Sunday night for the introduction of a whistleblower's charter and state he does not understand why one has not yet been introduced? There were good reasons for this statement besides emotional ones. The Director of Public Prosecutions was saying simply that he would find it difficult or harder - this is decoded - to secure convictions in any cases of white collar crime if he did not have the necessary tools and protection for the witnesses who would or should be whistleblowers. The message being sent to employees in the banks, semi-State bodies and other organisations is that Ireland is an unfriendly zone for whistleblowers, about which there is no doubt. There is no excuse for the failure to introduce a charter or legislation. In another AIB case Mr. Tony Spollen lost his job for whistleblowing. The two high profile cases to which I refer are a source of shame and nothing has been done. We are not going to get the people that we need to come forward unless we accept the legislation we need. We are to have in the House today statements on two issues that could be dealt with at any time, despite the fact that the Director of Public Prosecutions is pleading with us to give him the weapons he needs to allow him to take prosecutions leading to convictions. If the Leader wants to make Ireland a whistleblower-friendly zone, he should allow the introduction today of the necessary legislation which, after all, was introduced in the other House by Deputy Rabbitte. Let us get it through.
I join other Senators in expressing concern about the rumours circulating about the old age pension. Any cut to it could not be tolerated by anybody with an interest in social justice. As someone in the paid employ of the State, I would be happy to pay more by way of taxation or otherwise to ensure the relative security of the elderly and children. I hope the Minister will clarify the position as a matter of urgency.
I welcome cautiously yesterday's announcement by Bank of Ireland that it was to place on the market its art collection which I believe is valuable and donate the proceeds to charity. I call on the other financial institutions which have received substantial support from the State, including Allied Irish Banks which has a very valuable art collection, not to place their collections on the market for private benefactors to buy but to donate them to the State. They should be given to the substantial number of galleries throughout the country and put on display to enhance tourism for the benefit of the people. There is no gallery more deserving than the reopened Model Arts and Niland Gallery in Sligo which houses the wonderful and world renowned Niland collection of Jack Yeats's paintings. Some €7 million in funding, much of it from the State, was allocated for the redevelopment of this wonderful piece of infrastructure. I hope the banks will do the appropriate thing on this occasion.
I admire Bank of Ireland for the leadership it has shown in the context of using the valuable assets to which I refer for the benefit of the public. I am of the opinion, however, that banks should donate the artworks they own to the State. As already stated, there is a network of art galleries in which these works of art might be displayed for the benefit of the public. This would assist in enhancing our most valuable asset, namely, our culture and heritage tourism.
I join previous speakers in condemning the Minister for Social Protection. In flying a flag last week, the Minister has intimidated and scared people. If the Members opposite are so concerned about social justice, they should not just talk about it but rather they should vote with those on this side of the House. Social justice does not involve scaring people, issuing soundbites or balancing the books, it involves protecting and caring for those who are most vulnerable. The latter is something the Government has not done and it proved itself incapable of doing so again last week.
A total of 800 job losses were announced this morning. Some 330 of these relate to County Cork, where I live. That is a massive number. In that context, we should again consider the overall position with regard to unemployment, the rate of which currently stands at 13% or some 430,000 of our fellow citizens. As Senator Fitzgerald stated, two to three, four to five or ten to 20 people employed by small and medium enterprises have been made unemployed each day for the past three years under the Government's failed economic policy. Where is the Government's job creation policy? Where is the plan to get us out of the economic mess in which we find ourselves?
The Government has not displayed any vision in the context of creating jobs. Fine Gael has outlined in its NewERA document how it would create 100,000 new jobs. The Government has not provided a job creation plan, it has no vision and it cannot provide people with hope. There are young children in the Gallery who have been saddled with a debt of €400 billion as a result of the recapitalisation of the banks. When will the relevant Minister come before the House and provide information on the Government's plans for job creation, give people hope and allow ours to become a working society again?
I welcome the comments that have been made in respect of the fracas, or riot, that took place last week. I commend Senator Cummins for his courage and his convictions. The Senator is prepared to stand up and be counted. The Garda Síochána should be extremely proud to have a man of his calibre in the House.
Criminal charges are being prepared in respect of what happened last week. I accept that Fintan O'Toole is a democrat and did not intentionally seek to incite a riot.
However, no two people see the world in the same way. Everyone has his or her own particular take on life and I firmly believe that all of us who seek to maintain our democratic freedoms have a responsibility to exercise caution in our utterances. Following Fintan O'Toole's communications with me by e-mail and on radio in recent days, I accept-----
No, I am not accepting what the Senator said as a personal statement on the Order of Business. As already stated, there is a well established procedure which deals with the making of such statements. People should show respect to the House and should inform the Chair if they wish to make such statements.
Senator Leyden cannot make such statements on the Order of Business. If the Senator wishes to withdraw the statement he made on the Order of Business last week, there is a well-established procedure under which he may do so. He should have at least notified me with regard to what he proposed to do.
On a point of order, the House has a Standing Order to deal with personal statements. I am not getting involved in the issue but the Cathaoirleach is completely right on this. If somebody wishes to correct the record etc. there is a way of doing so and it is written into Standing Orders. I accept Senator Leyden's good intentions but the Cathaoirleach is correct. That is the way it is supposed to be done.
A great deal has been said about the protest outside Leinster House last Tuesday. I was not on it but I heard many people afterwards who said they went on it intending to participate in a peaceful protest and they were dismayed by the actions of a small number who engaged in violence. That needs to be put the record as people bandy around accusations about individuals. All the speakers had intended that the protest would be utterly peaceful and it was most unfortunate for all of democratic society that it should have descended into violence. However, only a small number was involved and that must be recognised.
I support those who called for a debate on job creation and who expressed concern and dismay at Pfizer's announcement. Many of us are closely associated with people who supply or work in the pharmaceutical industry and it is of great concern that high end, high skilled and well paid jobs are at risk. As a matter of urgency, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation needs to come to the House to outline his plan to ensure job opportunities are created for workers in this highly skilled well paid sector. It is a worry if jobs are being lost in that sector because Ireland has been in the vanguard for many years and it is export-led. We need to ensure the many thousands of jobs in that sector remain here.
I seek a debate on the protection of children and, in particular, on the role of the Catholic Church in the provision of education to children in light of a number of developments. First, Archbishop Martin made a brave speech last week in which he referred to forces working against disclosure and in favour of cover up within the church, which is a concern. The second is the unfortunate decision of Cardinal Seán Brady not to resign. That undermines the efforts by many within and outside the church to ensure greater transparency and accountability regarding those engaged in child sexual abuse in the past. I very much welcome the report of the national board for safeguarding children and the efforts being made by many in the church to ensure abuse never again happens or is covered up. However, we need a debate on the protection of our children in institutions and schools that remain under the control of the Catholic Church and on the future of the church's role in the education system.
Over the weekend I attended two commemorations. The first was at Dublin Castle where the 83 members of the Garda who have given their lives doing their duty since the foundation of the State were honoured. The memorial is a garden of remembrance, which is well worth visiting. I congratulate everybody involved, including An Taoiseach who presided over the events of the day, the Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy and Chief Superintendent Colm Rooney who put so much work into it. The following day I attended a commemoration in Murrisk, County Mayo. I was delighted that two other Members attended, namely Senators McFadden and Norris. It was also a poignant commemoration and I again congratulate everybody involved, especially the people of Murrisk who put in so much work. It was a beautiful day in a scenic location at the foot of Croagh Patrick. Will the Leader arrange a minute's silence to commemorate the brave people who died during the Famine or who had to emigrate and the brave gardaí who gave their lives to preserve the State?
The institutions of this State protected its citizens in times gone by when it was under far more serious threat as compared to what happened outside the gates of Leinster House last Tuesday night. What gives individuals such as that legitimacy, however, and an acceptance for a wider audience is the perception that we, as Members of the Oireachtas, are doing nothing. To follow up on what Senator Shane Ross said, there is a need for us to be seen to be tackling white collar crime and to be challenging individuals who seem, as many people believe, to be getting away with murder as regards how the economy was destroyed.
From that viewpoint, the Leader should endeavour to get whistleblowing legislation such as that being sought by the Director of Public Prosecutions through this House as quickly as possible and not be prevaricating and just having statements in the House as regards what happened last Tuesday. The Seanad should be seen to be doing something real for the people. Otherwise, what happened last Tuesday will gain broader acceptance among a certain percentage of the population.
I want to reiterate what my Wexford colleague has just stated as regards whistleblower legislation, which is long overdue. What the DPP stated last week as regards whistleblower legislation and the need for the position to be reviewed as regards juries in cases of white collar crime, shows that there is certain frustration within State prosecution agencies in dealing with that type of crime, and such legislation is needed. The frustration is evident on the streets and people need to see heads rolling as regards white collar crime. We need to act immediately in this regard. Funnily enough, if we were to have a highlighted debate on this in the House within the next couple of weeks, it could act as a catalyst towards the introduction of appropriate legislation as soon as possible.
I also want to support calls for the HSE to give a proper form of explanation in the case of Daniel McAnaspie. I am not sure another public inquiry will do very much apart from telling us that this particular child fell through the cracks in the HSE's services. There certainly are cracks in the executive that need to be looked at. How many more such children will be neglected by the HSE before this matter is dealt with? We need to deal with this urgently. All the indications are that our systems are not correct. I have dealt with the District Court situation vis-À-vis children in care, fighting the HSE etc. in times gone by, and I can assure the House it is a very frustrating process. Only God can help the child in the centre of such a situation because the system is so unwieldy, time consuming etc. and does not appear to be child centred.
We urgently need to look at this matter and I am not sure that another report on a shelf will do any good. We need action in this area and it needs to be dealt with forthwith. I ask the Leader for a debate on that.
It was good to hear such consensus in the House in the matter of pensions. The Taoiseach is on record as saying he believes in Cabinet Government. That is a good thing, because there is far too much of the presidential style in western European politics, and it is good to have Cabinet Government. This presupposes, however, that the Ministers appointed do not suffer from "political Asperger's" and do not run off the reservation, for example, when asked whether they will touch old age pensions and replying they would not rule this out. That is political insanity, apart from the intrinsic badness of it.
The Minister should be called to account in both Houses of the Oireachtas and say he is very sorry for having said that. It was the equivalent of turning up at some old person's house at night, wearing a balaclava, and saying he would like to have a chat about old age pensions. I am glad that every side of the House is agreed this is wrong. If pensions are to be touched, to do it honourable, as Senator Twomey said, and have any public credibility, it is necessary to start with politicians and then go on to all the retired civil servants who now earn more because of benchmarking than when they were actually working. Then it is a question of looking at people who use Ireland as a tax haven. However, one does not make a broad lunatic statement to the effect that one is going to look at old age pensions, and terrorise every member of the population who is elderly and fragile.
This arises from the constant hunting around by civil servants for vulnerable or new sections to make up the deficit. It is time we were adults. We have to deal with the deficit. The most progressive, honourable and fair way to do this is through income tax. There should be income tax increases to deal with the deficit, property taxes, rates and progressive taxation and an end to the targeting of vulnerable sections of the population.
The retail and wholesale trade represents 14% of all employment in Ireland. It is a valuable sector. There have been a couple of articles in the newspapers this week about a Forfás report which stated that goods - fashion goods as well as grocery goods - are being sourced to a large extent from British suppliers and that European suppliers regard Ireland as a subset of the United Kingdom. This is likely to have serious effects on Irish suppliers.
This week, the Minister appointed John Travers, a good man, to be in charge of the development of a code of conduct for the grocery trade in Ireland which will deal with relationships between retailers and suppliers. This only applies and can only apply to Irish suppliers. Those in Britain are not affected by it. This will put more pressure on Irish suppliers in the years ahead.
There is a danger in that we think we can pass laws and regulations that apply to Ireland only. We forget we are part of Europe. We must think carefully before introducing regulations and setting up codes of practice which will only apply to Ireland. This will affect only Irish suppliers and will place them at a disadvantage by encouraging retailers to go abroad. Let us consider this again. We must remember we are part of Europe and cannot do everything ourselves. As part of Europe, we must look abroad.
Although I am not generally in favour of government by Twitter, I was glad to read what Senator Boyle had to say about the possibility of cutting the State pension. It is hard to believe the debate has taken this turn when we consider the worry such a vague comment could cause to our older citizens. I do not think the Minister meant to cause such anxiety, but it is important, because of the contribution of our older citizens to society, that we are given clarification that a cut is not coming down the tracks.
I support the comments of Senator Ross about whistleblower legislation. At the Council of Europe recently I had the pleasure of meeting John Devitt from Transparency International, along with Eugene McErlean. It seems clear that a piecemeal approach, in which there is some measure of protection for whistleblowers in certain areas, is not the way to go. There needs to be a clear standard. I am not sure I like the term "whistleblower" and I know Senator Keaveney also has concerns about the word. We should be thinking, rather, about public interest defender legislation. We do need such regulation. We have seen where light-touch regulation has taken this country and it has not been pretty. Let us have the legislation. It is a pity the Director of Public Prosecutions rather than the Houses is leading the debate. We have the collective calibre to make the necessary proposals. It would be good to have a listening ear from the Government and some measure of activity in terms of addressing this problem, which is long overdue.
With regard to the protest that took place last Tuesday, I understand perfectly what Senator Leyden said and I commend him on saying it. He understands the bona fides of the individual involved but remains critical of the loose use of language and concerned about where it might lead.
There is a lesson for all of us. Not everyone on the left is anti-democratic, as we know, but some on the left like to use legitimate grievances as cover for pursuing other agendas. In that regard, I respectfully urge my colleague Senator Bacik not to use the tragic and traumatic issue of abuse as a cover for a different agenda in the education debate.
Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Alex White, Boyle, Norris, Regan, Buttimer and Bacik expressed their serious concerns about the announcement by Pfizer of a reduction in the number employed in their facilities over the next 18 months to five years. We must first compliment Pfizer on its consolidation with Wyeth which will make it a stronger, better and more competitive organisation. The contribution made by Pfizer has been enormous in Kildare, Dún Laoghaire and Cork, and we must not lose sight of the fact that, in five years' time, it will still employ 4,250 people.
I remind colleagues, some of whom were at committee meetings at the time, that after the Order of Business last Thursday I mentioned the announcement of 2,000 new jobs by the Minister, as conveyed to me by Senator Butler, our spokesperson in this area. The fact that job creation is still taking place is to be welcomed. I remind the House, in the interest of accuracy, that more than 400,000 jobs have been created since 1997. Back in 1987, 900,000 people were at work; now, 1.7 million people are at work. I would not like it to be thought that an inaccuracy had been stated in the Upper House without correction.
All matters pertaining to banking can be mentioned when the Minister is present for the Euro Area Loan Facility Bill, which will be discussed in the House all day on Thursday. It is urgent that this Bill be passed on Thursday, along with the earlier signature motion, and I thank the party leaders for their assistance in this regard.
Sixteen Bills have been ordered for this term, three of which have been published: the education (patronage) Bill, the Competition (Amendment) Bill, the environmental Liability Bill, the local government (office of the Dublin mayor and regional authority) Bill, which will establish the position of lord mayor and a regional authority for Dublin, the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill, the biological weapons Bill, the health (miscellaneous provisions) Bill, the Nurses and Midwives Bill, the prescription charges Bill, which is associated with the budget, as we know, the civil law (miscellaneous provisions) Bill, the criminal justice (defence of life and property) Bill, the criminal justice (legal aid) Bill, the mental capacity Bill and the social welfare (miscellaneous provisions) Bill. Thus, a considerable amount of legislation will come to both Houses for our consideration.
I fully support the calls that are made on the Order of Business from time to time to address urgent matters in the area of broadcasting. Over recent weeks, many colleagues have called for a debate such as we are having on the Broadcasting Authority, especially with regard to the issue of balance. The national broadcaster in particular has a serious question to answer in this regard. I will be saying more on this in my contribution later. There is an obligation on the national broadcaster to provide balance, but one would question this at times when listening to radio and watching television.
I compliment RTE on all its achievements and I have been fully supportive of it over the years. As a former Fianna Fáil spokesperson on communications in the House, and having had my own radio programme for more than four years, I am very proud of its achievements. At the moment, however, when the country needs a responsible attitude and people need to be helped and encouraged, the lack of balance in some programmes baffles me.
Senators O'Toole and Alex White asked about legislation to come to the House. I have outlined the list. In addition, Senators O'Toole, Brady, Callely, Bradford, Buttimer, Harris and Mullen expressed concerns about old age pensioners. In 1997 the old age pension was €97 per week; today it is €230. Well done to the Government that did this over the past 13 years. Having put that on the record of the House, I must mention concerns I have heard in my local area, as have all Senators. The majority of those on old age pensions have paid their PRSI and are entitled to receive their pensions. The small amounts of savings they had invested through the years on the instructions of those in the financial institutions, for whom they had respect, have dwindled. In some cases people have lost 90% of their savings. They have nothing. I am talking about money to pay for tea, butter, bread and sugar. Those of us in de Valera's party will not stand behind anything that will change what we are so proud of, especially our achievements in the past 13 years since 1997 of increasing the old age pension to €230. I have said enough in that regard. I compliment the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, Dev's grandson, for all he has done for Ireland and for rural Ireland in particular. He is the only person born in Dublin 4 who represents a rural constituency. He sits at the Cabinet table and has worked very hard on behalf of his constituents and the people.
Senators Cummins, Regan, Bradford, Keaveney, Leyden and Bacik fully supported peaceful protests coming to the House, as we have all witnessed during our time here, all of which were very well organised. What we cannot condone are the vicious attacks that took place and the extreme elements that participated in them. I saw everything that took place here last week. I would say I am only one of two Oireachtas Members who saw everything that took place last week. Thirty to 40 people broke away from the end of the line of decent people who came here to protest. They came around Setanta Building, marched up Dawson Street with their flags and presented themselves to the Garda Síochána in a rugby tackle fashion in that some of them put their heads down and the boys and girls behind them shoved the gardaí who, with the ushers, were protecting the Houses of the Parliament.
I compliment the Captain of the Guard, the Superintendent of the Houses and the Commissioner. They can be proud of their staff for the way they performed their duty to protect the House from those who wish to come in for no reason other than to try to achieve notoriety in many cases. They were not coming through and I congratulated everyone who helped in that regard. We cannot condone that sort of demonstration or activity. It is not in the best interests of Ireland, our families or our communities. It is something we see happen in other nations on our television screens. I congratulated the leadership of the trade union movement on the Order of Business and all organisations for the responsible way in which they are leading our country at this time in this difficult global downturn which is affecting us. We are no different from any other open economy in the world.
Senator Norris raised the issue of clampers. I will pass on the Senator's strong views to the Minister after the Order of Business and see what I can do about it.
Senator Mooney fully supported the views expressed in the "Prime Time Investigates" programme last night. I remind the Senator that it is not a rural problem. It is an all-Ireland problem because I would say many of the tyres came from the bigger towns and cities throughout the country.
Senator Hannigan called for funding to be put in place for the Irish diaspora. Senator Mooney has constantly raised this issue in the House. I fully agree with the Senator's sentiments and I will do whatever I can in this area.
Senator Glynn raised the issue of the high performance by the Midland Regional Hospital, Mullingar, and said that the high performers should be rewarded. I fully agree with the Senator's sentiments. As one who worked very hard as a TD to have funding put in place for the shelled out building and to get the extra €5 million for the refurbishment of level O, the Minister's visit on 21 June is something to which we are looking forward. I thank the Senator for his help in having the Minister attend on 21 June and I look forward to being present with him and other colleagues to acknowledge the achievements of this Government in terms of the €21 million that has been spent on Mullingar hospital.
Senator Glynn also raised the issue of the fish stock levels and expressed his serious concerns about the lake county in particular. I fully support him and have no difficulty in having a debate in the House on that issue to find out the up-to-date position on it.
Senator Keaveney called for a debate on Northern Ireland and on republicanism. I have no difficulty in examining if we can have that take place before the end of this term, with the Taoiseach present to update the House on matters including the challenges with the new Government in the United Kingdom and how we can progress in regard to North-South issues and everything to do with the success of the Good Friday Agreement.
Senator MacSharry made a worthwhile proposal to the House for the consideration of everyone in regard to the banks' art collections. He congratulated the Bank of Ireland on its initiative and called on all other banks to turn in their valuable assets, especially those in regard to culture and heritage and their archive material of huge value. It would be appropriate at this difficult time if they were to donate those to the State.
Senator Bacik raised the issue of the protection of children. I remind the House and Senator Bacik that the Minister will be in the House tomorrow and the debate on the report is being taken from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Senator Keaveney called for a debate on sun beds. I have already given a commitment that this debate will take place. Senator Keaveney also called for a debate on waste water management. That is a timely call and I have no difficulty in the House debating that issue soon.
Senators Ross, Twomey, McDonald and Mullen called for legislation on whistleblowers. They mentioned the Director of Public Prosecutions charter on whistleblowers and cases of white collar crime. I remind the House that the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill 2008 is due in June and it will cover protection of persons reporting suspected corruption offences in good faith. That Bill will before the House for our consideration in June.
Senator Quinn informed the House, in regard to the retail trade, that 14% of those employed in our country are employed in the retail trade. He referred to the code of conduct that has been put in place for the grocery trade and the difficulties Irish suppliers will experience in terms of competition from those who are not obliged to adhere to the new code of conduct. I chaired the grocery inquiry from 2004 to 2007 and I can say it was the most difficult work I did as Chairman of the Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business. We all felt at that time that we should have held tight in regard to the grocery order. The findings of that committee inquiry were never more true than they are today. I will discuss with Senator Quinn after the Order of Business how we can help the industry because it needs a great deal of help at present.
Senator McDonald called on the Health Service Executive to produce an up-to-date report on the tragic death of the poor young man whose body was found in County Meath, Daniel McAnaspie, in terms of what happened to him. The Senator asked that both Houses of the Oireachtas would be informed by the HSE and for the Minister to come to the House to update us on when the HSE will conclude its inquiries into this terrible tragedy.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 23 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Ciarán Cannon, Maurice Cummins, Pearse Doherty, Paschal Donohoe, Frances Fitzgerald, Dominic Hannigan, Eoghan Harris, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, 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: 27 (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, Cecilia Keaveney, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Lisa McDonald, Paschal Mooney, Niall Ó Brolcháin, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Francis O'Brien, Denis O'Donovan, Fiona O'Malley, Ned O'Sullivan, Kieran Phelan, Jim Walsh, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Bradford and Maurice Cummins; Níl, Senators Niall Ó Brolcháin and Diarmuid Wilson
Amendment declared lost