Tuesday, 12 October 2010
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding European directive on the right to information in criminal proceedings, to be referred to joint committee, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; and No. 2, statements on the future of the Common Agricultural Policy, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 and conclude not later than 7.10 p.m., if not previously concluded, on which spokespersons may speak for ten minutes and all other Senators for eight 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.
I wish to make a number of points about the taking of business in the House. I note once again that no legislation has been included in the Order Paper. I ask the Leader to explain what is happening and why there is no Government legislation available for the House to deal with in its work. A series of statements have been scheduled to be taken this week. Will the Leader clarify the position? What is causing the delay and why is there no legislation for the House to deal with? Will there be legislation available to it in the coming weeks?
The House is due to debate the Croke Park agreement tomorrow. Many are asking what has been happening and whether any progress has been made under the agreement. While I look forward with interest to hearing what the Minister has to say tomorrow, I ask that the Government circulate a briefing paper before the debate to give the House some indication on whether the work expected to be done has been done. Has the Department submitted what was expected from it? Have meetings taken place? The House needs some background information. There has been a curious silence about the agreement in the past few weeks and months.
My third point concerns the letter from the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, to the party leaders. Has he written the same letter to the Taoiseach? I ask the Leader to outline Fianna Fáil's response to the initiative the Minister has suggested. Does he expect support to be forthcoming from Fianna Fáil? Where does the initiative stand? We need to be given this information.
The Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, said on Bloomberg in the United States that the welfare and pensions bills might be targeted in December. While he was talking about the subject on television in the United States, many families here were concerned about the potential impact of cuts in welfare payments. I note the House has not debated that issue. It is very important that every Member is given the opportunity to express his or her views before the debate take place on the budget. How does the Leader intend to organise the debate on the budget? Last week I raised the question of whether the Government would change its traditional approach to the budget and be more open with the figures in this House, more open about targets and have a different type of discussion from the one we normally have. I am interested in hearing the response of the Leader to my questions.
Fáiltíodh le déanaí an straitéis 20 bliain don Ghaeilge. Tá an straitéis foilsithe agus ar fáil anois. Tá moladh ann gur chóir go mbeadh díospóireacht ar an straitéis sa Dáil agus sa Seanad. I ask the Leader to arrange, chomh luath agus is féidir, go mbeidh díospóireacht sa Teach seo ar an tuarascáil sin - b'fhéidir an tseachtain seo chugainn nó an tseachtain ina dhiadh. I would appreciate it. We were supposed to have a debate on the Irish language in the last session but we never had it.
Last Thursday I spoke on the matter of consensus. The Minister, Deputy Gormley, has rightly thrown the cat among the pigeons. Who is afraid of consensus? It seems that almost everyone is, including the main Government party. People are watching what happens on this issue. People want to know where we stand. This is not about national government but about people working together, which are quite different things. It is time for parties to tell us what they stand for and where they stand on issues. The invitation to engage with the figures on the budget realities is something every party should be happy to do without losing its definition or independence within that process. People are tired of political bickering and they want to see movement. The antidote to political bickering is political policy. Let us put it out there for a debate and engagement in order that people know the differences. The Taoiseach was overly lukewarm about this matter.
I am sure he did not like the way it was done but this is the reality of political life. He should grasp it, make it happen and take control of it. We need to stop the phoney war of popularity. It is not a populist beauty contest. The country and the economy are at stake and the populism that is rife at the moment will melt like snow in the desert after an election. People should examine what happened to Barack Obama and what is happening to David Cameron. They can make fine speeches before the election but the world changes afterwards. Based on my 25 years' experience in this House, the next Government will emerge from the election in a wave of popularity and within six months it will be the single most unpopular Government in the history of the State. It does not matter what the parties are. I would not rush into that reality. It is now time to engage to allow people to see where the world is at and do the business. I look forward to people working together on this issue.
I listened with interest to the RTE "Morning Ireland" programme, where we heard Mr. Amadeu Altafaj Tardio of the European Commission office express his views and the views of the Commission on the budget setting process. He said the European Commissioner would not interfere if we stuck to the agreed deficit reduction targets. He would leave the details to Ireland. That is very important. From recent conversations and discussions, it is clear there are different opinions and options for how we meet the target budget deficit reduction. This House can usefully debate these options. Today we heard some ideas from the ESRI about insurance levies, pension levies and amalgamation into one levy. We also heard discussions in recent days about corporation tax. We could have a useful debate in advance of the budget where all parties can express their views on what to do to meet the target reduction in the budget deficit.
I call for a debate on mortgage arrears. I am increasingly concerned about this subject. In the revised programme for Government, it was one of the items the Green Party assured us was dealt with. The revised programme for Government was produced more than 12 months ago. The most recent figures from the Central Bank show 36,000 families more than 90 days in arrears with their mortgages. Approximately one in 20 mortgages is more than three months in arrears. It is a big issue, one that comes up all the time when one speaks to people at their front door. It is not just a financial issue; it is also an emotional one. People are worried about ending up on the street. We have seen no action being taken by the Government on the matter. I accept that recommendations were published as a result of the deliberations of a task force set up in February, but we need to see action at this stage. I, therefore, ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Finance to come to the House to tell us what he is going to do about the issue of mortgage arrears.
I concur with Senator O'Toole on the need for real consensus in the current political climate. To be fair to this House, there have been many contributions on the Order of Business in recent months predicated along similar lines. Part of the consensus would be that, regardless of the individual approaches adopted, there would be an acceptance that no policy option could be followed that would not be difficult or unpopular. Until there is such an acceptance, anyone involved in political life is not only fooling himself or herself but he or she is also fooling the people he or she claims to represent.
My party leader has proposed a Green Party initiative. The letter he has sent is on Green Party headed notepaper and was shown to the Taoiseach who has accepted the general principles. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is waiting for a reaction from the Opposition parties and I hope it will be positive. Without a positive reaction, we will have put into reverse the necessary measures that need to be taken in advance of the four year strategy, the budget in December and going back to the capital markets in January. If we do not have consensus on the issue, not only will the business of Government be made more difficult for the Government, it will also be made nearly impossible for any Government that would take office following a general election. I ask Members to consider this most strongly.
I request a debate in the presence of either the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government or the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources on the need for a review of safety procedures in the light of the ecological disaster in Hungary and how such an occurrence might be avoided in this country. There are a number of tailing ponds attached to mining facilities and a major aluminium plant, Aughinish Alumina, in Askeaton. The disaster in Hungary has concentrated a lot of minds. It would be helpful to know that the Government is considering matters critically to ensure such an event does not happen in this country.
No. 22 on the Order Paper is the Seanad Electoral (Panel Members) (Amendment) Bill 2008. Perhaps the Leader might give an indication as to when we will take the Bill which would only require a short period. As I understand the Minister is in favour of it, we could take Second Stage within an hour at some point.
Once again it appears Irish passports have been tampered with by agents of another country. That is an infringement of our sovereignty and could impair our relations with other friendly countries and endanger the lives of Irish citizens. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Martin, took minimal action against the Israeli Government early in the year following the abuse of Irish passports. He needs to take strong action against the Russian authorities to immediately restore the integrity of Irish passports. This is a very important issue, one that should not be treated lightly. I hope, therefore, the Minister will act swiftly and decisively.
The plight of cystic fibrosis sufferers has been highlighted in this House by several Members on a number of occasions. Anyone with a heart who listened to people with cystic fibrosis and their families on "Liveline" with Joe Duffy last week speak about the conditions they had to endure in this country could not but have been moved. We should hang our heads in shame, given the fact that hospital facilities and services have not been provided for persons who need single rooms with en-suite facilities. It is ridiculous to place patients with cystic fibrosis in wards and accident and emergency waiting rooms. Something must be done about the matter. I believe tenders will be opened this week. I hope hospital rooms will be provided sooner rather than later and that the promises made will at last be honoured.
I agree with Senator Cummins, as do Members on all sides of the House, that the integrity and credibility of Irish passports have been seriously eroded by Israeli and now Russian actions; it is terrible. At the time of the allegations involving the Israelis the Minister for Foreign Affairs requested a member of the Israeli diplomatic staff to return to Israel. In fairness, that was not was a minimal response.
I express concern at the ruling in the High Court that private Internet providers can continue to allow the illegal downloading of music which is having a detrimental effect on the music industry in general and jobs in Ireland. There is a perception that the big five record companies, all international companies, have been ripping off the consumer for many years. I do not want to be seen as an apologist for the music industry, but at the lower level I can give a specific example to highlight the impact of illegal downloading on Aslan, an Irish band. It has sold 6,000 copies of its current album, but there have been 22,000 illegal downloads. We are living in a technological age, in which increasingly members of the younger generation are asking why they should pay for a CD when they can go on-line and illegally download it. Why must we wait for a High Court judgment to be made before we introduce relevant legislation? This is not the first time it has happened in the copyright sector. I was a Member of the House when we had to introduce copyright legislation to protect software because Microsoft and other companies which are providing thousands of jobs in this country did not have confidence in the Government's ability to ensure there would not be pirating of their copyright material. We are in the exact same situation now and jobs are at stake. I ask the Leader to convey the concerns of the House to the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation and to ask him what plans he has to introduce legislation to rectify this anomaly.
I support Senator O'Toole's remarks in support of the call by the Green Party for consensus. Like him, I deplore the Taoiseach's tepid response and that of the other parties. Professor Rónán Fanning suggested the appropriate response to our structural crisis, the greatest crisis the State has ever faced, would be to establish a cross-party forum along the lines of the New Ireland Forum of 1983-84. The merits of that idea are beyond argument. As we face the budget, the facts of life are that Minister for Finance has three choices: he can attack the productive private sector that generates all wealth and growth; he can attack the welfare class which is down and out, or he can look at the public sector, of which the pension liability alone stands at €108 billion, three times the cost of the bank guarantee. There are civil servants in receipt of a pension of €155,000, while the Taoiseach and Ministers are paid far above European norms. That is why we need a cross-party forum of some kind to take hard measures in the public sector, the elephant in the room. Common sense dictates we should not come down hard on the productive private sector. Common compassion dictates we should not come down hard on the welfare sector.
Common logic and arithmetic dictate we should look to the public sector to make savings. Marc Coleman pointed out that if we were to look to the public sector alone, neither the welfare sector nor the productive private sector would need to be touched. There are pension liabilities of €108 billion, huge salaries, hundreds of thousands of euro being spent on hospitals that have not been built, consultant reports on ramshackle wastage, all kinds of carry on and codology and it all comes back continually to the public sector. The managers are sitting and procrastinating and hoping for a change of Government instead of producing budget savings under the Croke Park deal. They have not done so; they have not got on with it. Common sense, common decency, common logic and common arithmetic dictate that we should look to the public sector and ourselves first. We have no right to impose any cut on any section of the community, unless we in the political class take at least a 20% cut.
Is mian liom aontú leis an Seanadóir O'Toole maidir le straitéis na Gaeilge. Tá an tuarascáil foilsithe agus tá sí ag Rialtas anois. Bheadh sé cabhrach í sin a phlé chomh luath agus is féidir. Given the interest of the Oireachtas in the Irish language, 80 Members attended the information seminar in Buswells Hotel last week organised by the Irish language organisations. This is a large number and indicates the significant level of interest in the Irish language.
A passport is the most valued and treasured document any citizen in any country can hold. When we travel abroad and produce our Irish passports, we invariably receive a warm response such is the status of the country and its passport. Anything that diminishes that status must be contested. A recent incident in which forged Irish passports were found in the possession of members of the Russian spy ring in America was notified to us by the FBI. It is an exceptionally worrying development which not only strikes at the root of our sovereignty, it might also place the lives of Irish people in jeopardy. We can take it for granted that wherever one travels with an Irish passport in the future, it will be examined more closely than was the case. The House expressed its abhorrence of the abuse of Irish passports by Israel, but the punishment meted out at the time was not strong enough. I hope the incident invoving the Russians will be highlighted and that there will be no repetition.
We are all interested in seeking consensus, but I wonder whether there is something phoney about it all. We all agree on the broad parameters and everyone has signed up to a debt figure of 3% of GDP by 2014. I have no doubt my party will respond positively to this initiative, but there is something suspicious, not least about the reaction of Fianna Fáil.
Perhaps the Leader might organise a debate on the matter in this House. In fairness, such a debate is often more objective and less partisan than in the Lower House. Perhaps the Leader might lead the debate. I throw out the idea for his consideration and have no doubt Fine Gael will be positive in its approach.
I will not ask for the old chestnut, a debate with the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, as the Leader has already promised to arrange such a debate. Will he arrange a debate with the Minister for Transport on the certificate of compliance with the code of safety for small vessels, a matter I discussed some time ago?
Currently, there are 63 trawlers, each employing approximately four crew, tied up around our coastline, from Ros an Mhíl to Kerry, Cork, Waterford and into Wexford. The situation is ludicrous. I ask for an urgent debate with the Minister for Transport, Deputy Noel Dempsey, because this is not a fisheries issue. In the first place, the marine survey office, which dictates the pace regarding certificates of compliance, is understaffed. If all the boats in question required certificates in the morning they would not be able to get them. Second, these boats are tied up now because the deadline was the last day of September. Third, approximately 200 families are concerned, around the coastline. Some of them land the fish we eat every day and that is available in our shops and restaurants. These are small vessels but they are being asked to comply with regulations that affect large sea-going vessels which can travel for weeks and months at sea. The boats which concern me are called day trippers and are 15 to 18 metres in length. It is a disgrace that these family owned vessels are now tied up at piers, whether in Union Hall, Baltimore, Schull, Castletownbere, Ros an Mhíl, Dingle, Kilmore Quay or wherever.
I urge the Minister responsible, Deputy Noel Dempsey, to come to the House and debate this issue. I see no reason a temporary licence could not be given to these vessels. They are family owned and are not going to go to sea with sons or other family members taking any risks. Most of these vessels are fully seaworthy and have complied with all kinds of codes of practice. This is an extra layer of bureaucracy. In many instances the owners have to get finance to comply with this code but the banks will not listen to or entertain them. When we are crying out for jobs it is ludicrous that some 200 families along our coastline are now idle. I feel very strongly about this issue because money was supplied under the Cawley report for decommissioning four or five years ago. There is money left over in the Department of Finance which should be utilised to help these small fishing vessel owners to go to sea, catch their fish and make a living. The day is not far short when we will have to depend on imports from Iceland and faraway places to provide the fish we take for granted.
I ask the Leader to provide such a debate, if it is possible. It will only take a couple of hours because I am sure there will not be many speakers. I can promise-----
I acknowledge the passing of the late, great Maurice Neligan, an outstanding cardiologist and wonderful heart surgeon. Many people are alive today because of his skill and his vocation. When he retired he continued to be an advocate for the sick and the vulnerable in his column in The Irish Times, often criticising the Minister for Health and Children and Government policy on health. His last article referred to the Vision for Change document. He asked whether we would continue merely to talk the talk or if we would ever walk the walk.
I am very concerned about the great number of people who suffer from depression, especially as our country goes down the tubes, leaving people utterly stressed. My concern is that we are going to turn a blind eye to these most vulnerable people. Last Sunday was Mental Health Day. Senator Maria Corrigan has called for a debate on Vision for Change for a long time and I ask the Leader for such a debate.
Mr.Maurice Neligan also spoke about the National Children's Hospital, stating that the site chosen for it was entirely unsuitable. I agree. This hospital is for every child in the country, not merely those from Dublin. Putting 16 floors into a squashed site on the Mater Hospital site is foolhardy. There will be a piecemeal carpark where people will have no room to park. The hospital should be built on one of the many sites available now because of NAMA. There should be a greenfield site for a proper state-of-the-art children's hospital. Instead of spending the money on a small site that will cost the earth, we should spend it wisely on a greenfield site that will be a proper place where children can get better. I ask for a proper debate in which we can discuss this. I am sure my colleagues agree. Mr. Maurice Neligan would have been against co-location and a plethora of other policies that the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney, has introduced. We should honour him for all his great work.
I welcome the constructive proposals from the leader of the Green Party, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, and the comments made by our colleague, Senator Dan Boyle, on the idea of consensus on the future budget. One saw that Senator Harris got a great reaction from the Visitors Gallery in this regard. I ask the Leader to arrange, perhaps, for all parties to discuss this matter in the Seanad. All the parties are represented in this House and could contribute to a debate on future budgets in the light of the four-year plan which is required.
It should be borne in mind that all parties have a responsibility. I have the manifestoes from the last general election which I believe are being shredded and are very difficult to find at this time. Nevertheless, I have them and while I do not intend to go back over them because they are history, it is useful to have them because I can quote the fact that the Fine Gael Party was going to spend, over the past four years, the €25 billion we invested in the National Pensions Reserve Fund.
Let us make amends and the parties should now come together. Could we have the opportunity prior to some of the Council of Europe meetings to hear some of the views being put forward in that forum? In this regard it is in order to compliment our colleague, Senator Rónán Mullen, for ensuring last week a motion was passed by the Assembly, contrary to the so-called McCaffrey resolution, which provided that no person, hospital or institution shall be coerced, held liable or discriminated against in any manner because of a refusal to perform, accommodate, assist or submit to an abortion. That was passed because we have sent four Members of this House to the Council of Europe. I support Senator Mullen in this regard. He can take the credit for putting forward that motion at the Assembly last Thursday. It would be very useful for us to have debates on what is coming through Council of Europe before the eight members from Ireland attend meetings in order that we might have some idea of what is being proposed.
I concur with Senator Leyden's congratulations to Senator Mullen. He was alone among Irish members in attending that session last week, or so I read in one of the despatches.
I support those colleagues who have called, once again, for some degree of consensus as the country faces the gravest challenge in a generation. Again, I record my suggestion of a fortnight ago that we should put in place some type of political truce to allow the time and space for an economic consensus to be arrived at among the parties in order that we might put through a budget and start on the road to economic recovery. I do not want this or any Government dependent on the beck and whim of a few maverick Deputies for whom constituency, not country, comes first. I hope that all the political parties would be willing to work together in the resolution of the grave crisis we have.
Along with some of my colleagues I attended the North-South parliamentary forum in Newcastle, County Down, and it certainly was something to reflect on when one saw members from all the political parties of every tradition and colour in Ireland, some of whom had fired shots at each other, now working together for the common good. Northern Ireland, the greatest problem in the history of this island, was solved when people were willing to put aside petty party differences and work together.
The same level of crisis exists with our economic future. In approximately five years' time we will be planning for the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising. Unless we get our economic act together, Ireland 2016 will not be an independent or sovereign republic. It will simply be a province of the IMF. We in this House and our colleagues in the Lower House must make a decision whether we shall put party politics before country. I know what the public wants and I hope we are up to the challenge. I hope there will be a constructive response to the recent beginnings of the debate on the need for consensus. "Consensus" should not be a negative or dangerous word in politics. It is the language of the courageous and the brave.
I welcome the words of Senator Bradford, especially coming from a member of the Fine Gael Party. This is something we need to consider on all sides of the House. It would be good to have a debate on the need for consensus. In this regard, I pay tribute to two brave men: Mr. Alan Dukes and Mr. John Hume. Mr. Dukes came up with the Tallaght strategy in the 1980s, when I was growing up, and should always be remembered for this major contribution to the country. It was a brave contribution and although it may not have garnered the thanks, politically, that some would have liked, it took us out of an economic tailspin. New thinking is called for. Therefore, the proposals coming from all sides of the House should be welcomed. Mr. Hume was always quoted as saying no one had anything to fear from agreement. That is what a consensus is: agreement by all parties. Senator Harris made an interesting comparison with the New Ireland Forum, a good model which should be examined as part of this debate. The one thing to be said about the forum is that it did include all parties. We should include not only members of the two Government parties and the two main Opposition parties but all Members of the House, including Sinn Féin and Independent Members. Consensus should mean consensus; it should not mean some are in and others are out. We need to band together to get the country back on track. Therefore, I would like to see such a debate.
As so often happens, I was moved by the stirring words of Senator Harris and agree with much of what he had to say. He spoke about arithmetic, common sense and compassion. Regrettably, this House has traditionally had little impact on budgetary matters; in fact, we are confined constitutionally in the changes we can make. Thus, I will try to concentrate on the third of the items mentioned - compassion. Once again, the most vulnerable elements of our society will be trampled on, to the encouraging cheers of the IMF and the ratings agencies - I can never understand why they have not been discredited. I ask my colleagues to join me and Senator Bacik and sign my motion condemning, for example, the 50 cent prescription charge which has been extended to the terminally ill and the homeless. How is that tolerable in what is described in the Constitution as a Christian country?
This House is the appropriate place in which to consider the detailed implications of some measures being considered such as the proposal to amalgamate PRSI, the health contribution and the income levy into one universal social charge. In this regard, an academic paper has just been published which demonstrates clearly that the net impact would be that the bottom 10% would suffer a drop of just over 2% in their incomes, while the highest 10% would gain almost 2%. That would not be appropriate. It is in this area that the House can have an impact and I hope that is what we will do. We have a responsibility to consider those who are suffering. I am sure every Member receives the e-mails I do about people who are under so much pressure that they wonder whether life is worth living at all. We must give such individuals a headline.
I express my frustration with the debate on the need for consensus which has been taking place for several weeks. Last Wednesday week I raised the possibility of our dealing with tangible proposals on a whole-House basis, in the belief those in this room and the other House could come up with solutions to the problems we were facing. Instead, the pantomime has continued with a call for a debate on consensus itself. We know the benefits of consensus. What is needed at this point are the tangibles. We have to break what has become and is perceived as the institutionalisation of the political class, which consists of the Members of both Houses. If we are to do that, and I agree with Senator Harris, then the efficiencies proposed in the Croke Park deal have to be achieved immediately, and not in the pedestrian way that is occurring at the moment. That must be led from the front by the Members of these Houses. If my salary today is around €60,000 and that is in line with an income level of 2007, then that is too much because our income levels are 2003 and 2004. While I, personally, have commitments in line with an income of that level, I will have to deal with that.
The reality is not enough money is coming in and we will have to contemplate pay cuts. Rather than do this in a superficial way by saying we should cut the number of Members and their salaries or abolish the Seanad, it must be done throughout the entire public service.
These are painful words for us all to contemplate because we all have mortgages and other financial commitments in line with income levels that are representative of a different time. Regrettably, times have changed and unless we want to go down with the IMF trying to pull us back up, it is time we faced up it quickly in this House and came up with solutions. Why did Fine Gael not specify the areas in which the €6 billion in cuts Deputy Varadkar wishes to make would take place? Had it done so, we on this side of the House could then have said which parts were good.
I do not want to be in a Punch and Judy show. I want to hear Senators proposing where cuts can be made and dispense with the pantomime that has gone on for two weeks. We know the benefits of consensus. Let us seize the day and start putting forward tangible proposals.
The pantomime to which Senator MacSharry refers has been perpetrated by the inflammatory remarks of Senator Harris . It ill behoves him to provoke people in the public sector. He is provoking and causing an unnecessary social war. The very party and the very person whom Senator Harris defended on "The Late Late Show" and with whom he nearly fell in love was one of the chief architects of where we are today.
I am seeking a debate on the role of the public sector. The remarks today are not about teachers. They are about the men and women who work here. They are about the nurses, guards, doctors and civil servants who work for our people. You are the type of person who wants to come in here and lampoon all these people. That is not consensus.
I will defend the integrity of the public sector worker who did not make a fortune in the boom, and if you want to protect this society and the country, go after those who can pay and who can afford to take the cut, and not the ordinary men and women who are struggling.
That is the point I am making. Following the remarks made by Senators MacSharry and Harris, we are now creating a gargantuan divide in our society, which is something we should not do. It ill behoves us. If we want consensus, we must bring people with us. Ní neart go chur le chéile.
I will try to come down after all that to say that I agree we need economic consensus. I agree with the idea of a cross-party forum. There is room for vision and change. The public want it. We are here to reflect the public's thinking at this stage. To get our country back, we need that cross-party discussion to tease out how best we can improve our economic position. Otherwise we will not be doing so and will have outsiders coming in to tell us what to do. I agree with the many speakers who say we must come together on the issue.
Another serious issue that needs to be discussed in the Chamber is sham marriages. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister dealing with EU legislation to come to the House to discuss how we can improve the EU directive on the matter. A number of very vulnerable young women from poorer EU members states are lured to this country for money and to avail of better opportunities and find themselves in sham marriages. There is something wrong, given that there are more sham marriages in this country and the United Kingdom than elsewhere. Is there any way we can tackle the problem? The Garda is doing what it can to tackle it. Registrars are also trying to do so but do not have the powers they need. I, therefore, ask the Leader to arrange a debate to tease out the issue as to why this country seems to have so many vulnerable young women from poorer EU member states who find themselves in this position. We have a duty to protect them.
I know it suits Government Members to seek consensus now. For the first time in my eight years in the Houses I have started to hear the word being uttered. Perhaps the issue is worthy of debate because the need for consensus in Northern Ireland was put to the people in a referendum. For the people to buy into something, they need to feel part of it, but the Government does not have their confidence. The Government insults the electorate by asking it to become part of government by consensus. HOwever, consensus is being sought in making certain sacrifices. Perhaps the Government should bring forward a budget and call a general election on its four-year budget plan in order that the people could decide. If the current incumbents, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party, were to lose the election and not be part of the next Government, they could then offer their support to that Government for the following four years to implement the plan. In the way they talk about consensus Government Members are insulting the intelligence of the electorate and being driven by a narrow agenda being pushed by a minority. The Government needs to step back and look at what it is doing. We do not have and have never had that type of government. When Mr. Alan Dukes did it, he did it in very specific circumstances at the beginning of the life of a Government.
He did not do so in the dying days of a Government which had been completely and utterly discredited. The problems are not just those caused by the Governments in power before 2007, as many have been generated by the Government in office since 2007. If Government Members want to have a debate, they should try to be factual and realistic about it. Consensus will not work at this point. If they want that option, the best thing to do would be to call a general election and offer their support to achieve consensus afterwards.
Regarding Senator Twomey and expressing no confidence, I do not know which side of the fence he was on regarding Deputy Kenny, a man who barely has the confidence of half of his parliamentary party and, based on the opinion polls, approximately 25% of the population.
When it comes to my learned colleagues in the Opposition, we are discussing the issue of the need for consensus and how they all espouse the concept that the interests of the country are pre-eminent. Seán Lemass said the party is important but the country is pre-eminent. Deputy Enda Kenny is quoted in recent days saying they would not support an all-party strategy because it would not be in the best interests of Fine Gael. What do my Fine Gael colleagues think about that?
It has been interesting to hear this debate and to hear Senator Norris say this House has little impact on budgetary matters. This House has the impact it deserves. If we are to impact on budgetary matters it will be because we earned that respect, interest and the notice we get.
When a family runs short of money because its income is not as big as its outgoings or when a business finds its income is not as big as its outgoings it cuts its costs. Senator Harris reminded us earlier how we can do that. In Britain yesterday, Sir Philip Green published savings to the British public sector and he said they were massive. He had been given the job in August and reported in early October with those figures. He was following what Colm McCarthy did for us here last year when he said we can save billions - not millions - in costs and then outlined the tough measures families and businesses would have to take to save those costs. We have not grasped that. We have not said we will do that and get over this problem much more quickly than otherwise. What we do not want to do is allow this problem drag out to the extent that we do not manage to save our economy as well. We need growth. We need to get on top of the problem. We can do so. We had two different debates last week on the economy and in those attention was given to some of the areas we can work on but we must identify those and take the cuts and the difficult decisions. We must not damage the economy in the future. We have it in our own hands. We do not have to rely on anybody else to tell us what to do. We can do it ourselves.
To return to the point made by Senator Norris, those of us in this House must earn respect, interest and notification but we must work hard at it.
It was in this House that I learned about the candidate for the Louisiana state governorship who, having won the election, was asked by one of the people who reported on it how he managed to get elected. He said his philosophy was: don't tax you, don't tax me, tax the guy behind the tree. In a perfect world no one would need to be taxed but by the very next election that governor was out of office because he had misled the people.
It is impossible for us as elected representatives not to put forward concrete proposals. I commend those in this House who put forward proposals that are positive, make sense and are not ladened with phrases like those of Private Frazer in "Dad's Army" who said, "We are doomed" but with positive suggestions as to how we can deal with our crisis.
Not everyone did badly during the Depression in the 1930s. A total of 25% had no cushion. They did terribly badly but those who had work did very well because there was significant deflation. If one had an income one could buy much more with one's money.
In terms of people with public sector pensions, and I am thinking particularly about those at the top end who are on significant sums and who, even with a 10% cut, would not notice any difference in their net income because of deflation, surely that is an area we should examine.
Consensus should be an area where bridges can be built and common themes found. It is disappointing to hear from the Government side nothing but divisiveness and personal attacks, which does nothing for building bridges and consensus. If we are genuine about this, there has to be a real engagement from the major party in Government - that is how it will be judged. It is only two short years since I heard the Taoiseach say "We will do it our way and no other way". That kind of language must be left to one side if we are talking of building consensus. Let us see genuine and constructive themes being built. I am sure we can properly debate the issue at that stage.
I agree with speakers who called for the protection of the integrity of the Irish passport. It is wrong to see passports being passed around by criminals as if they are Christmas cards. The Irish passport is a valued and internationally recognised entitlement of Irish citizens. It behoves the Minister for Foreign Affairs and all citizens of this country to protect its integrity. I ask the Leader to pass on those sentiments to the relevant Minister and Department.
I have called on a number of occasions for an updated debate on the state of our housing sector. Thousands of people are still on local authority housing lists while thousands of private houses have been built, resulting in an overhang in the Irish property market. Over the summer period, an instruction was issued by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to local authorities that they would no longer build houses. This is a major shift in policy for social housing and it is important that it is properly analysed by the Oireachtas. The "one size fits all" approach will not fit every local authority. While there is an overhang in much of the commuter belt around Dublin and in Dublin itself, there is still a need for local authorities to build houses to meet housing lists and social demand. I want to know the position of the local authority in regard to the provision of social housing. I ask the Leader to provide an opportunity at an early stage to debate the housing sector and the position of those on housing lists.
Consensus politics worked for our country in the late 1980s but I do not believe it will work now. It will not work now because things are so much more serious for our country than in the 1980s. We have a banking system that is under catastrophic pressure, a higher rate of unemployment and our main export markets, on which we are so dependent, are not showing the flickers of life we need. The politics that got our country through the 1980s and 1990s and into this century will not work now, and we need to change it. We have to set aside the tribes of which we are all members. While I am very proud to be a member of my particular tribe, we have to look above that and reflect the massive difficulty our country is in. I do not believe a consensus will work because it is not strong enough; we need agreement.
We need agreement on two issues, first, that our sovereignty is under threat if we cannot deal with this issue ourselves and, second, that we cannot afford to borrow on the financial markets at present. We will go back in the new year to look for money, having eaten into our reserves for three months in the hope the interest rates will come down. I do not believe the consensus form of agreement that may have worked in the past will be strong enough for our country to be secure in the future.
At this stage, I ask all parties to do three things. First, we must acknowledge the progress that has been made, given the two main Opposition parties stated they want to deliver a 3% rate of borrowing by 2014. That is some place to start, so let us try to work backwards from that. Second, I suggest all parties in Opposition have a responsibility to publish detailed plans about how we would handle this situation. That is our responsibility, and I hope and believe my party will rise to that challenge. Third, I ask the Government to acknowledge what has been done. If an Opposition party spells out what it would do differently, that should be acknowledged. If there is a good idea, for the sake of our country the Government should take it, and for the sake of our political system, it should acknowledge it. If that happens, in the interests of all of us, it will create the new environment which is vital for our country to be secure.
Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Hannigan, Boyle, Harris, Coghlan, Mooney, Leyden, Bradford, Ó Brolcháin, Norris, MacSharry, Bradford, Ormonde, Twomey, Daly, Quinn, Hanafin, Coffey and Donohoe expressed their serious concerns regarding the economy. I very much look forward to the first debate on the Croke Park agreement which I have ordered for tomorrow. I met the leaders of the groups in the House today and we are strongly of the view that we will have debate on this issue once a month, and the Minister is very forthcoming and co-operative in this area. The first of the statements will take place in the House tomorrow following the Order of Business and I look forward to as many colleagues as possible participating.
The challenges facing the Government, which have been expressed in the House today by all colleagues, are formidable. We are all agreed that the figure is a minimum of €3 million. Some strong views have been expressed today and there is a total commitment by the Irish men and women elected to represent the people of Ireland in the Upper House, Seanad Éireann. It is very uplifting to hear the determination and common sense that have been expressed here by colleagues on all sides of the House. The proposal put before us by the Minister, Deputy Gormley, must be welcomed. I know everyone wants us to put the country before party and before person. As was said by Senator MacSharry, a young and dynamic Senator who wants to make his contribution, as we all do, and by those who have been here for quite a while and are extremely experienced, including those who were here when the last massive downturn happened in 1983-87, we all know what has to be done and we are all prepared to do it. Whoever participates, all parties have the responsibility, not just the Government, because it is a worldwide problem.
It amazes me when one sees what is happening in the United Kingdom, where all of the various strategies the British Government is endeavouring to achieve are practically the same as those that have come forward from our Government in the past 12 to 18 months. We must be doing something right. At the end of the day, it is action that is needed. We will all support the Government. Whatever time is needed in the House, I have no difficulty whatsoever listening to the ideas of individual Members and responding positively in regard to how Seanad Éireann can make a difference at this very difficult time in our country's history.
Senator Hannigan referred to mortgage arrears and the 36,000 families who are over three months in arrears. This issue can be brought to the Minister's attention when he is in the House tomorrow. I have no difficulty having the Minister for Finance come to the House to update us at any time before budget day.
Senator Boyle raised the issue of safety procedures in regard to the experience of the unfortunate people in Hungary and called for the Ministers for Health and Children and the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to come to the House. I have no difficulty with this taking place.
Senator Cummins referred to No. 22 on the Order Paper, which concerns a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Seanad Electoral (Panel Members) Act 1947 in regard to registration in respect of the Administrative Panel. I have no difficulty in supporting this proposal. As Leader of the House and leader of Fianna Fáil in the House, I fully support it and will find how it can be discussed at the earliest time. It involves a short amendment to the Bill and I have no difficulty giving it our fullest support.
Senators Cummins, Mooney, Ó Murchú and Coffey outlined the serious breaches that have allegedly taken place involving Russian citizens in regard to Irish passports. I fully agree that the protection of the integrity of our passport is vital. It is what we have been respected and acknowledged for all over the world. I fully support the calls and will pass them on to the Minister following the Order of Business.
Senator Mooney raised the issue of intellectual property rights and the High Court decision yesterday. I was in touch with the industry today. I will discuss this issue with the Senator following the Order of Business and I intend to lobby Government as strongly as possible. The protections that exist for the Germans and the French can easily be duplicated in this country by amending the legislation as required. The eminent judge made a strong remark in this regard in his summing up. Anything that will interfere with intellectual property rights is important given the many thousands of people employed in this country by multinationals, so we cannot be other than 100% ethical in this regard. If a short Bill is necessary, I will make the Seanad available for initiating the legislation in order that it can proceed to being approved speedily by both Houses. It is urgently needed. I fully agree with Senator Mooney's comments today.
Senator O'Donovan asked that the Minister for Transport be invited to the House to discuss the problems for small vessels which he highlighted, the regulations that are in place and the 200 families that are seriously affected. I will see what I can do to speed this up and will refer back to the Senator on the matter.
Senator McFadden expressed her condolences to the wife and family of the late Mr. Maurice Neligan. He was a wonderful person and I wish to be associated with the Senator's comments. I knew Maurice Neligan personally and am proud to state that for many years I assisted on the first Sunday in May each year in fund-raising for his heart foundation. What a wonderful man he was and what a massive contribution he made to Ireland and our medical sector. I extend our condolences to his wife and family.
Senator McFadden also raised the issue of the new national children's hospital to be located at the Mater Hospital site. I welcome the announcement today of the provision of €650 million for it. The planning application has been made and work is due to start next year. It is due to be completed by 2015. A total of 400 single rooms of the highest standard will be available for sick children in this new magnificent setting. I welcome the good news in the positive announcement today about the hospital. I have been listening to debate on this issue for almost 15 years in the Seanad and Members on all sides of the House have been anxious to have this state-of-the-art facility available for children.
Senator Leyden and Senator Bradford spoke about Senator Mullen's achievement in the European Parliament last week in having his motion passed. I join them in their comments.
Senator Ormonde asked that the Minister be invited to the House to discuss the new guidelines announced in recent days regarding sham marriages. I have no difficulty with this taking place.
Senator Daly requested that the Minister for Finance be invited to the House to give Members an update on corporation tax. My understanding is that there will be no change in that tax. The Minister will be in the House tomorrow to discuss the Croke Park agreement. The corporation tax of 12.5% is sacrosanct as far as we are concerned. It is fundamental to giving us a serious advantage in terms of securing jobs in this country from multinationals. This is an island nation and we must have some advantage. This is one advantage on which our position is "hands off". The Minister will be in the House tomorrow and Senator Daly can avail of the opportunity to have him confirm that.
Senator Quinn spoke about business. We are all familiar with the Senator's many achievements. He quite correctly pointed out that when overheads are too high, something must be done. Business is not about turnover, but about overheads. Savings must be secured. I fully agree with the Senator regarding the difference we can make. That said, we must work hard and earn a reputation for the Upper House.
Senator Coffey raised the issue of housing, the up-to-date position in the roll-out of housing stock and the latest position with regard to local authorities. He sought a debate in the presence of the Minister. I have no difficulty with such a debate taking place.