Thursday, 7 October 2010
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on trading and investing in a smart economy, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and conclude not later than 2.30 p.m., if not previously concluded; on which spokespersons may speak for 15 minutes and all other Senators for 12 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 leaders or spokespersons.
At a time when front-line services are being hit daily in hospitals throughout the country, we find that hundreds of thousands of euro have been paid by the HSE for staff in the new children's hospital which is not due to open for a number of years. We know there has been wanton waste in the HSE and received a further reminder of this earlier in the week in the form of the skills spending scandal, a matter the Committee of Public Accounts is addressing today. However, it now seems it has extended to the HSE paying staff for jobs to be done in a hospital not yet open. The Leader of the Opposition, Deputy Kenny, asked the Taoiseach yesterday, in the light of the endless waste scandals emerging in the HSE, whether he would consider dismantling it. Following today's revelations, the case for doing so seems clear. This view has been regularly expressed by Members on both sides of the House.
Speaking of waste, the final bill for the e-voting machines appears to be €55 million. The misspending on the PPAR system in the HSE was described by the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, at the time in question as involving a very small amount. The time has come to rid the country of this waste and the wasters also. Wasters is the title of a well named book published recently.
On a related theme, namely, how we are spending our time, Members raised a number of points about numbers yesterday. There are only three Government Bills on the Order Paper. Six Seanad Bills are not being dealt with in the Dáil and there are 16 Private Members' Bills on the Seanad Order Paper. I make this point to see if the Leader will consider addressing it. If the Government cannot produce business, there are plenty of others who can. I ask the Leader to order the taking of some of the Private Members' Bills mentioned, if only to point out to the Government and the world at large that we can do our work.
Continuing on the theme of Senator Cummins's contribution, the Joint Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources dealt yesterday with the issue of 116000 telephone numbers, an issue I have raised many times in this House. It is to this number, which should be available throughout Europe, that one reports a missing child. Ireland has decided, thus far at least, not to put this number into operation. While that is bad enough, what I have to say next is something which could only happen in Ireland. We are transposing into legislation a European directive which requires Ireland, during the course of the next year, to promote an awareness of this number in the context of missing children, yet the number will not be in operation here. We have refused to put this number into operation but will be promoting an awareness of its existence in Ireland and all over Europe, which is extraordinary, appalling and outrageous. Europe should take a hand in this matter. We are all aware of the importance of these numbers. Approximately three quarters of all children who go missing are dead within the first day and, as such, time is very important. I ask that the Minister for Justice and Law Reform or Minister of State with responsibility for children come into this House and explain why Ireland has not done its work in this regard, why we are not operating this number and what is wrong with our arrangements that we cannot do this.
We need a discussion on the issue of consensus among the parties, although not the type of discussion we had here yesterday. Consensus does not mean everyone blindly agreeing to everything. The Opposition's job is to oppose, question and scrutinise.
The Opposition is being asked to make its approach known. I believe it is attempting to do this. The Government should acknowledge this and should be reaching across to the Opposition's points of view to ensure whatever is produced next month in terms of a four-year plan responds to and reflects what the Opposition had to say. It should also indicate what Opposition proposals have been taken on board in order that there can be a patriotic coming together to solve the mess we are in.
Yesterday, I called for a debate on No. 12 on the Order Paper, the Climate Protection Bill 2007. I asked that that Bill be debated in the context of the meeting of the Cabinet sub-committee on climate change and energy security which, I understand, was scheduled to take place at 2.30 p.m. yesterday and was cancelled, having last met a year ago in October 2009. There is no indication when the Cabinet sub-committee will next meet. I do not understand why, in a week when we have had no legislation to deal with in the Seanad, we cannot debate a Bill listed on the Order Paper.
I ask that the Order of Business be amended to allow a debate on No. 12. It is time, in this the second day of a two-day sitting, that we debated some legislation. There is all party consensus on this Bill. My colleague in the other House, Deputy Liz McManus, pointed out yesterday that a Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security report sets out a text for a climate change Bill. Deputy McManus proposes to put that legislation before the Dáil. There is cross-party agreement on the need for binding commitments in legislation on this and successive Governments to reduce carbon emissions year on year. We are obliged at international level to sign up to this type of binding commitment. I do not understand the reason we cannot have such a debate today or the reason we cannot reach some consensus on this matter at a time when the Government is seeking agreement from the Opposition on all manner of other issues on which it would be most inappropriate for us to agree. The climate protection legislation is something on which we all agree. Let us have that debate today.
I also call for a debate on two other issues on which there is agreement. I ask that the Leader inform the House when the legislation to prohibit female genital mutilation will come to the House. Colleagues will recall that I had a Bill before this House on behalf of the Labour Party which was accepted in principle by the Minister and in respect of which she promised legislation would be brought before us. I note it is included in the priority list of the legislative programme. When will that debate take place? When is the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010, on which there was almost unanimous agreement in this House when the legislation was debated in June and July, likely to be in force? I have been approached in this regard by numerous people who are engaged and waiting to set a date for their nuptials.
I agree with Senator O'Toole that consensus is not the same as unanimous agreement. What we need to have agreement on, in terms of our economic situation, are headline figures and the areas in respect of which decisions must be made, without the specifics in capital, current and additional taxation measures over the next three to four years. It is important for international confidence that we seek that type of agreement. If there are difficulties for Opposition parties in acquiring information from Departments, these need to be overcome. Everyone must be fully involved in this process.
On the call for a debate on the climate change legislation or the Bill proposed by Senator Bacik, it would be in order to have such debate, especially given the Cancun discussions will take place in the coming months. The difficulty is not a political one. There are ongoing meetings of senior officials of various Departments on this legislation. The heads of the Bill have been largely agreed. There is one area of disagreement which appears to relate to who is responsible for what in departmental terms. I am confident this disagreement can be overcome within the next fortnight or so. The difficulty with debating alternative legislation is that not alone do we have Senator Bacik's Bill in this House, the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security is considering producing a second version of its Bill.
We have three potential Bills to debate before the Government presents the heads of the legislation it is fully intent on providing. This situation should be resolved within two weeks. If not, I would be prepared to support debate on the alternative legislation.
Hundreds of thousands of euro has been spent on the construction and staffing of a hospital which does not yet exist. I understand planning permission has not yet been sought. This is a huge waste of money. On the other hand, a new state-of-the-art hospital - I have only seen it from the outside - in Dingle, County Kerry, which has been in place for the past two years-----
The situation in Dingle is serious. Approximately €16 million has been spent on the construction of a new hospital. While this hospital has been in place for the past two years, patients currently located in the 19th century building have not yet been transferred to it. That is shocking waste. We now know that a number of Departments are lethargic in terms of what they should be doing in pursuance of the Croke Park agreement and cutting out waste.
I recently heard that an official in a Department, whom I will not name, told a body under the aegis of that Department that he was not interested in making savings, that he wanted something else, which is shocking. What type of crazy-----
I am pointing out what is going on in terms of waste and setting out how we can make savings. We are all aware of the scandal in this regard. We should be doing something to address this issue. If a debate is what is needed, let us have it.
I call for a debate on banking. The Joint Committee on Economic and Regulatory Affairs held an interesting two and half hour session yesterday with the Financial Regulator, Mr. Matthew Elderfield.
Last week I did not have an opportunity to acknowledge Senator Bradford's balanced and coherent contribution on the need for partnership in politics to find a way forward from the current crisis. As Senators may recall, during the first couple of months of the recession I regularly made the same point on the Order of Business. While my contributions on the issue are virtually ancient history, I have consistently pointed to the need for the House to reflect on the challenges and suffering people are enduring. It was interesting to note recently how the pendulum swung back and forth between the political parties. As I watched various current affairs programmes on television, it became clear that spokespersons were reflecting what they were hearing daily on the ground and I wondered whether it would be possible to bring together their views before they were diluted. If we do not park partisan politics for a period, we will send the wrong message abroad.
While we are all upset about the position in which we find ourselves, constant references to the downturn and other negative factors are being picked up and reported abroad, which does not help our credit rating. What is the way forward? It may not be possible to find one honest broker to bring together the various interests, but the Seanad could assume this role. This Chamber has representatives from business, the trade unions, the professions and the academic world. Will the Leader agree, as an indication of leadership from the House, to have a full day discussion focused entirely on how we can achieve consensus in this matter? I do not expect to achieve unanimity among the parties. Such a discussion should take place immediately, rather than in three weeks' time. I am convinced the House is the only honest broker at this time. We need to listen to various views and find a solution to the current crisis.
I was a little surprised when I received the schedule of business for the week. Senators are extraordinarily frustrated at what is taking place in the House. When one receives a schedule indicating that the House will debate the economy on Wednesday and the smart economy on Thursday, one must ask whether the Seanad is being completely politically neutered. This is what is happening. Yesterday, on the Order of Business, we heard some constructive suggestions about what the House should debate. Senator O'Toole, for instance, referred to the Croke Park agreement. While I do not share his views on the agreement, it is a current issue which should be debated in the House because it is vital to what will take place outside. Instead, we chose to have statements on a general subject. Such a debate does not have any effect because no one takes a blind bit of notice of what Senators have to say on the economy in a general discussion. The House is becoming irrelevant.
I am glad the Leader raised this matter because he is responsible for the Order of Business. Why, in the name of God, did we not debate the issue of waste in the Health Service Executive or the position with regard to SIPTU yesterday? A good case can be made for debating the role of trade unions. Did the Leader know that partnership money was regularly provided for trade unions? I did not know that was the case. The position is that the House will not debate the issue because it is awkward for many Members. It is, however, the type of issue we should be debating.
More good work is being done in the committees, which are relevant and responding to immediate issues, than in this Chamber. Let us debate SIPTU, the HSE and the power of the trade unions, of which everyone is so scared. I pleaded for months and years for debates on FÁS, but the Leader would not listen. Why did he not hold such debates? The reason was that it was a politically sensitive issue.
I raise the issue in the context of economic debate. I hope the Leader will buy Senator Ross's book and wish the Senator well.
It has been brought to my attention that rural post offices are again under threat, particularly postmasters and postmistresses, primarily because Eircom has recently introduced a minimum payment of €20 for those paying bills at post offices. Moreover, O2 has unilaterally switched all of its customers to electronic billing systems, forcing those who wish to continue with the normal BillPay arrangements to revert to that system. These moves are an attack on the most vulnerable, particularly elderly persons who collect their social welfare payments at post offices and pay utility bills by instalments of €5, €10 or €15. While this issue may appear to be far removed from high economics, it relates to those who must watch every euro coming into their household, of whom there are many. Moreover, the measures taken by Eircom and O2 run completely contrary to Government policy and the sentiment of Members of both Houses who wish to protect and defend the vulnerable. Eircom has had a number of corporate owners and made millions of euro for an obscure international corporation to the detriment of the taxpayer. Its unilateral decision not only affects the income of rural postmasters but also attacks the vulnerable. The focus of my contribution is, however, on the need to protect those who are most vulnerable, as distinct from the wider issue of Eircom. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Social Protection to respond to the growing concern being expressed across the country about this matter?
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on a report in today's newspapers that an overtime bill of €1.74 million is being paid to clear the backlog at the Passport Office where staff went on strike causing major difficulty and upheaval for a large number of people. We now find that one of the consequences of clearing the backlog created by the strike was that the office paid an additional sum of €1.74 million in overtime payments. The country faces a real danger arising from our current difficulties and many of us believe the direction we have taken will lead us onto the rocks. When issues such as that reported in today's newspapers arise, Members have a duty to take a stance on them. We must say this is wrong, public money should not be spent in this manner and the losses incurred during the strike should not be doubled by paying overtime to address the backlog created by the strike. One of the extraordinary explanations given for the additional bill was that many of those who left the country for the millennium in 2000 had their passports renewed this year. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the matter.
On Senator Boyle's measured contribution on what consensus involves, a realistic goal for the political system would be to reach an agreement on the objectives the country should achieve in the years ahead. The Government should brief the Opposition on the current position. The Opposition should also be provided with information on the additional payments that may be required of the country in the coming years. As matters stand, those of us in opposition are being asked to agree to a plan, the contents of which we do not know. In addition, we do not know what strategy is to be employed or the extent of the difficulties the country faces. In such circumstances, we are being unreasonably blamed for not agreeing to a plan, on which we have no information.
I wish to advise colleagues that Sunday next, 10 October, is World Mental Health Day, the objective of which is to create greater public awareness and understanding of mental health and mental illness issues. Despite the fact that people are prepared to discuss the issues of suicide and self-harm to a much greater degree, there remains a high level of ignorance and sharp criticism and intolerance of those who suffer from mental illness. When addressing a conference on suicide in Sligo on Monday last, Professor Keith Hawton, professor of psychiatry at Oxford University and also director of the centre for suicide research there, stated hospital staff tended to view patients who presented in accident and emergency departments following incidents of self-harm in a poor light. He also stated minor intervention could assist in preventing repeated self-harm and suicide. Training and knowledge are critical in understanding human beings and the pressure under which they operate. There has been an increase in the levels of suicide and self-harm in the past two years. Much of the increase is due to the economic recession.
I draw attention to an article by Councillor John O'Shea - the youngest member of Cork County Council - which appeared in The Corkman newspaper, in which he indicates that he attended an ASIST course at IRD Duhallow and states his commitment is to cater for the needs of the communities in Leharn and Lombardstown, County Cork. He also states the course took the form of a two-day workshop which focused on applied suicide intervention measures which educated him in how to interact and connect with people who may be feeling suicidal, invite them to explore and discuss their feelings and, with their consent, increase their immediate safety by offering the necessary resources and support. In conjunction with the level of alcohol consumption and the economic recession, this is one of the most important issues the country faces. I want all Members to look out for their friends and people they know and talk to them to discover if they are depressed or lonely. One should not be afraid to ask a person if he or she is depressed or feeling suicidal. I recently found myself in the position of being able to provide assistance for someone in trouble. This is a critical issue.
I second Senator Bacik's amendment to the Order of Business. With regard to the debate on the economy, there is a series of ironies which depend on context. It is extraordinary that today we are hearing more about the enormous waste within the HSE. We must place this matter in context by reflecting on the fact that the HSE proposes to charge the terminally ill, the unemployed and the homeless 50 cent for every prescription item. I demand that pressure be exerted on the HSE and the Government to have this charge withdrawn.
It is also extraordinary that not only has the Fitch credit ratings agency downgraded Ireland's sovereign debt but also that it has begun to tell the Opposition what it should do. A couple of years ago it informed us that we should get rid of the Government. It is time someone put manners on these ratings agencies. We should approach our neighbours in Europe and suggest the activities of such agencies be scrutinised and, ultimately, that they should be replaced by a fully independent international ratings agency.
During yesterday's debate on the economy which, as one of my colleagues noted, was ignored I pointed out that estimates indicated that the net flow of income from the Corrib gas field during its lifetime would be €500 billion. That amount is some ten times greater than our exposure to the banks. We are letting Shell get away with not paying one cent, while we are being given the privilege of being allowed to buy our own oil and gas at market rates. We must renegotiate with Shell in the name of the people. The Prime Minister of Russia, Vladimir Putin, did so. Why should we suffer when this vast resource is available to us? I am informed that the contents of the Corrib field represent only the beginning of what is to be found.
I reiterate the call I made yesterday in respect of the National Pensions Reserve Fund and the need for legislation to be introduced. There is only one minor legal hitch which prevents our own pension funds from benefiting from the exorbitant rates being charged. Why should the rest of the world benefit from the impoverishment of our country? There is a need to consider the legislative steps that might be taken in this regard. I am trying to be of assistance by suggesting the legislation which needs to be introduced. In that context, legislation relating to the release of census data must be brought forward. This House, in passing the Statistics Act 1993, amended the position in order that census figures could be released after 75 years. In 1961 the then Minister for Justice, Charles Haughey, arranged for the data from the 1911 census to be released after only 50 years. That information is now available on the Internet. This is an extremely positive development because the registration of births only commenced in 1864. People who were aged over 62 years in 1926 -when the first census following independence was taken were born prior to the introduction of civil registration. Therefore, there are no records relating to their births. If we were to publish the 1926 statistics - almost 75 years have passed and, as stated, Mr. Haughey released the 1911 statistics in 1961 - we would be given the first snapshot of society in this country after 1916. Imagine the benefits that would flow from the tourism, to which this fantastic resource would give rise. Fáilte Ireland could enjoy massive benefits. I have been asked by the Irish Genealogical Society to introduce a short Bill which would only contain a few lines of text in order to repeat what was done in 1961. There is no reason the 1926 census figures cannot be made available. The House could easily facilitate a Bill such as that to which I refer. I am of the view the Government would be receptive to this suggestion which would be good for the country.
I support Senator O'Toole's call that the Minister of State with responsibility for children come before the House to discuss the operation of the 116000 number, the established EU common number relating to missing children. The great advantage of the freedom of travel Europe offers has ironically presented a real danger to children who go missing. The established common helpline number for missing children ensures there is practical support available for such children, regardless of the country in which they find themselves. If something happens to a child, he or she can use the 116000 number to make immediate contact. Some 11 EU countries have put the number into operation, but all member states, including Ireland, have signed up to its introduction. At a bizarre meeting of the Joint Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources representatives of the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and ComReg indicated that they had done their bit to ensure the number was up and running but that it was not, in fact, operational. Members who attended the meeting could not identify with whom the responsibility for making it operational lay. We did establish that from next year Ireland would promote the number and introduce legislation placing a legal imperative on the authorities here to do so. However, the number will not be operational. There cannot be a situation where there is a common helpline number for the 27 member states of the European Union but where people must guess the countries in which it is in operation. We cannot promote a number that is not operational. Not only would this be a waste of money, it would also be the source of real danger for children who go missing. I ask that the Minister of State come before us to discuss the matter.
I support Senator Mary White's comments on World Mental Health Day. The Senator referred to some of the programmes operated in this area, particularly the ASIST programme. I do not wish to over-simplify matters, but as the Senator was talking, I was struck by the fact - particularly in the context of the times in which we live - no one really knew what were the personal circumstances of others they might meet. We will never know the value of a kind word or smile.
I also support Senator Mary White's comments on World Mental Health Day. The position on suicide is becoming extremely serious. Historically, this issue has been associated with bullying in schools etc. In recent years and as a result of the economic recession, many more people took their own lives because they could not see a way out. Most Members will have experience of this problem as a result of meeting people who have nowhere left to go to and who are not sure how they can negotiate the current crisis and who either visit their clinics or contact them by telephone. There must be awareness of any facilities or resources available for people suffering from depression, and we must spread the word and be vigilant in helping people reach out in this respect.
I second the proposal made by my colleague, Senator Ivana Bacik, for taking the climate change legislation today. I have heard the Deputy Leader's words but I am sure he will forgive me as my experience of his words lead me to take this promise with a grain of salt.
He promised before that we would have legislation for a Dublin mayoral election and we have been promised reform of the Seanad but nothing has happened. I prefer to hear the comments from the Leader's own mouth before I take the Government at its word on the matter. We will be pushing the issue of climate change to a vote.
On the lack of legislation and debate this week, meaning we did not sit on Tuesday, there are issues I would like to see raised and I know we have cross-party agreement on the need for a debate on our diaspora. Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú and others have spoken about it and called for a debate, specifically as it relates to facilities and resources made available to our diaspora. Will the Leader arrange in this session - even within the next four weeks - to have a debate on the Irish diaspora?
I join Senator O'Toole in asking that we have a debate on what the Government means by consensus politics and what is planned for the upcoming budget. To me, a consensus is not having Fianna Fáil dictating with the rest of us following and jumping to its tune. A consensus is a process involving meaningful interaction between the three parties. Fine Gael proposed an alternative budget last year, as well as an alternative to NAMA and bank recapitalisation. The Government did not accept one suggestion from Fine Gael, whether it related to job creation, the environment or legislation in this House. As Senator O'Toole rightly mentioned, consensus is a two-way street.
I ask for a debate on the elimination of waste in our public bodies. It is appalling that yesterday and this morning the HSE has been embroiled in further controversy on the waste of taxpayers' money. I applaud SIPTU for the role it took when it put money into an account, which it did not have to do. Equally, it is time to consider in detail the number of quangos and their cost to the economy and taxpayers. How many are useful or serve a purpose, and how many can we do without? Do we need any of them? They were primarily set up by the former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, to patronise his friends and supporters, but he is now gone and we live in a different economic world. We should have a debate on whether we can get rid of quangos.
I do not doubt the ability of Fine Gael or other Opposition parties to provide effective opposition over the years. What is on offer this time is different, historic and new. I recommend that Deputy Noonan, the deputy finance spokesman in the Dáil, Deputy English, Senator Twomey and others take the opportunity to go to the Department of Finance each week over the next few weeks with proposals and have them costed. That was never offered before. We can then see what aspects of the proposals can be integrated into the plan.
There should be no interest in beating each other up any more about one manifesto being better than the next. It is a genuinely historic offer that must be taken up. That has been the theme throughout the Houses over recent weeks so we should move on with it. People will have the opportunity to air electoral politics in due course.
We must be mature and serious about embracing this opportunity. I ask in this context for a debate on the issue of employment so that we can feed into the process. Over recent days we have seen IBEC, the Union of Students in Ireland and Social Justice Ireland come up with a number of proposals for extensive internship programmes. In particular, Social Justice Ireland, which is Fr. Seán Healy's organisation, cast its mind back to a pilot programme done by a coalition Government between 1994 and 1998 whereby the long-term unemployed could get part-time employment and were paid the hourly rate for it. They worked the number of hours equal to the social welfare rate of the day with a little top-up. Social Justice Ireland believes up to 100,000 part-time jobs could be created in this regard, which would be worthwhile. With the IBEC and USI proposals for an internship programme, it could form a fantastic solution for very difficult times.
I also ask for a debate on how best to invest the National Pensions Reserve Fund. I would like to explore the possibility of investing €4 billion of this with the State effectively taking equity in the small and medium enterprises sector. That would provide a good stimulus to that end of the economy, which it requires, and the businesses could be given the opportunity to buy the equity back over three to five years. These are the kinds of ideas, whether unfounded or not, I put forward. I would like to hear from the Opposition parties to see whether their ideas can form part of the plan for the next four years.
The citizens have been asked to take many cuts and tighten their belts and I wonder if there is something which can be done to extend an example here. Senator Buttimer referred to the number of quangos that exist and an bord snip nua pointed out the very large number of those which exist. A Minister told me that by the time-----
I thank the Leader. An bord snip nua proposed a number of cuts and pointed out the number of quangos that exist. A Minister told me that whenever members of one of those many hundreds of quangos want to see him, a public relations officer invariably would be appointed. Do we still have sound problems?
I suggest that if we are asking citizens to accept cuts, some should take place in the Dáil and Seanad. While we cannot reduce the number of Senators without a referendum, Article 16 of the Constitution states there should be not less than one Deputy for every 30,000 in the population and not more than one Deputy for every 20,000 in the population. These can be fixed by law and not the Constitution. Over the years we have always gone for the largest number of Deputies. I have not been able to work out the sums but if we decided to have a number of Deputies closer to one for every 30,000 people rather than 20,000, there would be a dramatic reduction in the number of Deputies. I suggest that is something we should consider in these Houses immediately. I am sure the Government would approve such a move to reduce the number of Deputies.
In the light of what happened in Hungary this week, will the Leader ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to attend the House for a debate on tailing pond storage? Toxic waste from a tailing pond has now entered a tributary of the River Danube. Looking at the amount and colour of the toxic sludge on television reports, the environmental damage and the number of deaths caused, we need to check the tailing ponds attached to mining developments in this country. A similar accident would have a devastating effect on our ecology. I do not know how the authorities in Hungary will be able to stop the sludge reaching the Danube, one of the most beautiful rivers in Europe, and deal with the long-term effects on the area's environment.
I support the calls made earlier in the week for a debate on the recent bombing in Derry. Having achieved peace in the North that we all hope will be a lasting one, we must be clear in asking anyone with information on the bombing to come forward in order that the criminals involved can be brought to justice. There is no justification, no possible rational argument, nothing that underpins the bombing, except violence for the sake of violence. I call for a debate on the ongoing threat posed by the Real IRA.
I call for a debate on waste in public bodies. Many examples in the HSE, FÁS and CIE have emerged in the last while. The whole system needs to be shaken up.
When we speak about Seanad reform, the debates that do not take place or the legislation that is not brought before the House, it is very easy to blame the Leader. I am not sure where the blame lies, but all I know is that I do not want to feel like a jobsworth coming here every week just for the sake of it. I would rather not come than come to do nothing. It is a serious issue, one which we need to put to the other House. We need to have controversial debates here in order that we will be listened to, whether by statements or otherwise. Why not have a debate next week on waste in the public sector?
Last week I noticed that County Wexford Vocational Education Committee had been allowed to place an advertisement in the newspapers to run the school in Gorey when the people's choice, an Educate Together school, did not have a cent to spend. The vocational education committees need to be examined in a debate on waste.
Yesterday it was brought to my attention that Allied Irish Banks was subcontracting solicitors from large firms who were being paid double what solicitors in the bank were being paid. Why is this allowed to happen? What are we doing about professionals' fees in such cases when we know how much NAMA will cost? What is the due diligence process in the case of the banks and NAMA? If these questions are not asked in the other House, Senators should ask them here. A debate on professionals' fees in the case of NAMA should take place here next week. Is it okay for the chairman of NAMA to admit professionals will be paid €16 million when this could be billed to the banks? It is nothing short of a disgrace. We need to have a debate on the issue and the Seanad to be a little more radical. If we do not become more radical, we will, as the old adage goes, become redundant.
Senators Cummins, O'Toole, Bacik, Boyle, Coghlan, Norris, Buttimer and McDonald expressed their concerns about costs in the HSE, banking and other areas. I will have no difficulty in requesting the Minister for Health and Children to update the House on HSE spending and the alleged waste of moneys highlighted in the media for several weeks and all other matters pertaining to her portfolio.
As the Deputy Leader outlined to the House in responding to Senator Bacik's query about climate change legislation, we expect the Government's Bill to be ready in the next two weeks. As soon as it is, I will make an approach to have it initiated in this House.
Senators O'Toole, Corrigan and McDonald raised the issue of the telephone helpline to report missing children. I support all of the sentiments expressed and will convey the Senators' views to the Minister.
I will make inquires, as requested by Senator Bacik, as to when the Civil Partnership Bill will come into law and come back to her directly on it.
Senators Coghlan and McDonald called for a debate on banking charges and professional fees being charged for NAMA. I will have no difficulty in having another debate on banking.
Yesterday the House debated the national economy and today it will debate the smart economy. It takes four to five days to have a Minister's diary made available to arrange a debate in the House. In all the years I have been Leader of the House I cannot ever recall refusing a request for a debate on any aspect of government expenditure. Senator Ross made his personal views on the issue known. As I said on the Order of Business yesterday, a debate, urgently required, on the Common Agricultural Policy will be held next Tuesday.
On Wednesday the House will debate the Croke Park agreement. The debate on the national economy was wide-ranging and everyone was able to discuss issues concerning their various portfolios. That is why I included it in the agenda for the first week of the session. Debates will centre on each individual portfolio, starting with the Common Agricultural Policy on Tuesday and the Croke Park agreement on Wednesday. I know of the level of interest in the latter topic and expect the debate to roll over to the following week. If any colleague wants to have a debate on any portfolio, I will have no difficulty in endeavouring to have it take place.
I watched yesterday's committee's proceedings on "Oireachtas Report" last night, during which Senator Ross raised his point on waste in CIE. There is no problem if he wants to have the issue he raised at the committee debated in the House. I do not stifle debate, rather I encourage it. I encourage all colleagues to participate in debates.
Senators Ó Murchú and Hannigan outlined the need for partnership in politics, reiterating the remarks made by Senators Bradford and MacSharry last week. Senator Ó Murchú has vast experience and makes a large contribution to debates in this House. He is one Senator whom everyone loves to hear addressing the House. I will do everything I possibly can to broaden the proposals he made this morning, as well as Senator Hannigan's on the Irish Diaspora.
Senator Mooney called for a debate on rural post offices with the Minister for Social Protection. I will have no difficulty in arranging such a debate in the near future.
Senator Donohoe raised the matter of the clearing of the backlog created by the strike in the Passport Office at a cost of €1.74 million in overtime payments. The Passport Office is self-financing and makes a substantial profit. I accept the Senator's point about the excuse made that many of those who left the country for the millennium in 2000 had to have their passports renewed this year. Extra staff, however, had to be taken on to deal with the backlog in order that constituents and customers could obtain passports to leave the country. The Passport Office is one of the public offices making a substantial contribution to the Exchequer.
Senators Mary White and Hannigan raised the fact that next Sunday is World Mental Health Day. I again compliment Senator Mary White on bringing this to the attention of the House. I also compliment the youngest councillor in Cork, Councillor O'Shea. As Senator White said, there will be a convention in Duhallow on these important issues. She also referred to the difficulties being experienced by many families because of suicide. We will do anything we can to help and assist. This House has no difficulty in having the Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, come back here as he has done on many occasions. He has been completely supportive of this House since he became a Minister of State.
Senator Norris expressed his strong views on the need to re-negotiate with Shell, in particular with regard to what is happening off the west coast, to see if the Exchequer can benefit further. While it is something we must consider for the future, I do not know whether we can do anything retrospectively. I will pass the views of the Senator on to the Minister. The Senator also proposed that the 1926 census figures be made available. As we all know, in particular those of us in the tourism sector, and I have a vested interest in this area, it is a huge tourist attraction. The interest of families coming to Ireland to meet their cousins, relatives and friends, and the excitement that generates, is unbelievable. There is huge potential in that idea, from a tourism point of view. I would have no difficulty in making this an all-party motion. We can discuss this in the House in the next two to three weeks.
Senators Buttimer, Quinn and McDonald called for a debate on the role of quangos. Senator Quinn called for a debate on the 30,000 threshold for membership of Dáil Éireann. We can discuss that in the future.
Senator MacSharry called for a debate on employment, in particular on internships, and the suggestions of the Social Justice Ireland group. Father Sean Healy made a proposal which Senator Ó Murchú and I have been working on with the Minister for the past two months. We hope to have something at a very advanced stage on which the Minister can make a major announcement soon. This is the possibility of creating 100,000 jobs for people to return to work within 12 months. It is something we owe to the younger generation to give them hope to get out of bed in the morning and have something to do in the day during this very difficult time. Senator MacSharry referred to how best the National Pensions Reserve Fund can be put to good use. He also outlined his proposals for a pilot scheme to see how SMEs can assist in this area.
Senator Hanafin referred to the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Ryan, and the difficulties being experienced by the people of Hungary with toxic waste. He referred in particular to the scenes we have seen on our television screens which showed the devastating effect it is having on the environment in that country. It shows what can happen. It is something worthwhile and on which we should have a debate in the House.
Senator Hanafin also called for a debate on Northern Ireland and the difficulties being experienced there, in particular the bomb in Derry the other night. It is alarming and those of us who are going to Newcastle later today to meet our counterparts in the Northern Ireland Assembly will discuss and deliberate on that. I have no difficulty in having the matter discussed in the House.
The Seanad Divided:
For the motion: 18 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Ciarán Cannon, Paul Coghlan, Maurice Cummins, Paschal Donohoe, Dominic Hannigan, Fidelma Healy Eames, Michael McCarthy, David Norris, Joe O'Toole, John Paul Phelan, Feargal Quinn, Eugene Regan, Shane Ross, Brendan Ryan)
Against the motion: 26 (Dan Boyle, Martin Brady, Larry Butler, James Carroll, John Carty, Donie Cassidy, Maria Corrigan, Mark Daly, Mark Dearey, John Ellis, Geraldine Feeney, Camillus Glynn, John Gerard Hanafin, Marc MacSharry, Lisa McDonald, Paschal Mooney, Francis O'Brien, Denis O'Donovan, Fiona O'Malley, Niall Ó Brolcháin, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Ann Ormonde, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ivana Bacik and Dominic Hannigan; Níl, Senators Niall Ó Brolcháin and Diarmuid Wilson
Amendment declared lost