Wednesday, 20 October 2010
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and the Council on the right to information in criminal proceedings, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, Seanad Electoral (Panel Members) (Amendment) Bill 2008 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 and conclude not later than 1 p.m., if not previously concluded, on which spokespersons may speak for eight minutes and all other Senators for five 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; No.3, statements on the Minister for Finance's announcement on banking of 30 September 2010, to be taken at 2 p.m. and conclude not later than 5 p.m., if not previously concluded, on which spokespersons may speak for 12 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 spokespersons or leaders; and No. 35, Private Members' business, motion No. 18 regarding assistance for small and medium-sized businesses, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 3 but not before 5 p.m. and conclude not later than 7 p.m. The business of the House shall be interrupted between 1 p.m and 2 p.m.
Today marks an unprecedented day for Irish politics. The leader of Fine Gael will meet the Taoiseach and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to review the crisis our country is in. This unprecedented day for our politics arrives during an unprecedented economic era. As this country's problems are so serious, today should not be a day for glib soundbites, or for spoofing about where our economy stands. It is a day for honesty and clarity. We need to create an environment in which the hope and confidence of our people can grow. I hope that as a result of the meeting, those on whom we depend for funding will have more confidence in where this country stands. The absence of hope is not just a problem in itself - it has also become part of the economic crisis we are in. At the end of 2006, approximately €77 billion was being saved by households and consumers in this country. As of the middle of this year, that figure has increased to approximately €85 billion because people have so little confidence for the future. If confidence was restored and half of that money was taken out of bank accounts and spent, it would give a greater stimulus to our economy than anything the State could do in the years to come.
The question of waste has been discussed in this House in recent times. We have learned today that UCD and the Higher Education Authority are in negotiations regarding the spending of €1.6 million that should not have been spent. Questions have been asked about the spending by the HSE of approximately €67 million on agencies. We are aware that the Taoiseach's special advisers cost the taxpayer €800,000 per annum. All of these matters have to be addressed. Expenditure of that nature is no longer appropriate to the era we are in. We need to state honestly that dealing with the manner in which public moneys are spent and wasted is not enough in itself, although it is an important start. Fairness demands that everybody should give according to his or her means. The environment we are in means everybody is likely to be asked to play his or her part.
During his election campaign, the President of the United States remarked that there is nothing false about hope. It is now apparent to many of us that there has been something false about the hope this Government has given us with regard to where the Irish economy has stood up to this point. I hope today marks the end of that. I hope the Taoiseach has the confidence to give clarity to the country regarding where things stand and what the future is likely to hold. Both sides need to be involved in the process of reaching out and achieving consensus. I hope the Government initiates such a process today.
I would like to speak about an issue that arose in the North in the last week. I refer to the question of apartheid in education, which I have been raising for many years. It has always been a problem in the democracy in which we live. Last week, Peter Robinson proposed the adoption of a ten-year plan whereby all the children in the North are educated together.
I am aware that the suggestion has received a cold reception from people in the nationalist community. It has not been accepted by the SDLP or Sinn Féin, where such people tend to lodge their votes. This proposal should be considered on an all-island basis. Some of us fought viciously against the provisions of the Equal Status Act and the Employment Equality Act that facilitate appalling discrimination against teachers and other workers in the name of religion. It is appalling to think in a democracy there is a suggestion that if children from different religious backgrounds are educated together, they will taint each other in some way, undermine each other's religious beliefs or upset the choices made in the parental home. We need to debate this across the whole island. We should consider what kind of society we are trying to achieve in this democracy. If we want people in the North and South to share, live and work together, but we will not allow them to be educated together, what are we trying to do? We need to examine clearly the appalling mismatch that exists in that regard. I do not mean to reject the concept of parental choice of religion. The point I am making is that various parental choices can be respected and accommodated in schools where children from different religious backgrounds are being taught under the same roof. It has been done before in our history and it can be done again. My comments should not be interpreted as anti-religious, but as an expression of my desire to bring people from different backgrounds together. Not only should we support the point made by Peter Robinson, but we should consider taking it on board down here.
I join other Senators in welcoming the Taoiseach's attempt to engage the Opposition party leaders in talks on the extent of the financial crisis and the economic recession. The Opposition is right to approach the talks with caution. The failed economic policies of the Taoiseach and his Government colleagues, who have been in power for over 13 years, have brought about the crisis we are in. We have to be careful in how we deal with the Taoiseach's request for the Opposition to help him to solve this crisis, while he and his colleagues remain in office. Having said that, it is important for the Opposition leaders to engage with the Government in this regard.
I ask the Leader for a debate on prisons in the context of the economic crisis. Senator Cummins and I have been calling for such a debate for some time. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, in Britain will make a speech today about the spending cuts he intends to introduce. The UK Ministry of Justice will be among the hardest hit departments in that country. I understand that Mr. Osborne will propose a fall-off in prison places and a reduction in spending on prisons in order to cut costs. We can learn from that here because our prison places are extremely costly. Many people are serving time in prison for the non-payment of fines and minor offences even though cheaper options which are better for the rehabilitation of offenders are available to us. The recent disturbances in Mountjoy Prison may have taught us that we need to reconsider the issue of prison reform and the possibility of cutting the costs associated with our prison system a progressive way. I would welcome a debate on this issue, particularly as we need to know what is happening with Thornton Hall, which is currently no more than a road and a wall. Will the construction of this white elephant of a prison go ahead? If so, at what immense cost to the Exchequer will it be built?
I join Senator O'Toole in calling for a debate on education, with particular reference to the need for more multidenominational school places to be made available at primary and secondary levels. We have campaigned on this issue for a long time. I remind the House that the wishes of parents are not being respected in many ways. Under the Constitution, parents have the right to ensure their children do not attend a school with a religious ethos that is against their conscience and lawful preference. Given that over 90% of our primary schools are Catholic-run, we should face the fact that many parents are being forced to send their children to schools with an ethos with which they do not agree. We should have a debate on the reality of school provision and on the need to consider other models, such as the transformation of patronage model.
I welcome today's meeting of the party leaders, at which the four-year budgetary strategy will be considered with particular reference to the forthcoming budget. I agree with Senator Donohoe that we should avoid comments about the "hand of history upon our shoulders". Today's talks will focus on what could be agreed, rather than trying to reach agreement. It is important that we all try to encourage those talks in where they might lead. When consensus is reached, it will be important to keep matters in their proper perspective. I accept that this is a serious situation and that policy mistakes have been made. I do not think the general atmosphere among the public is helped by pretending that an air of hopelessness exists. If we make the right and the difficult decisions, we can get out of this situation in a relatively short time and quite well. That is the political challenge which lies ahead of us.
Senator Bacik referred to the exercise taking place in the United Kingdom today where, proportionately, it will propose cuts higher than those we have put in place. When we think of ourselves as some type of economic island, we should also acknowledge that these decisions are being made in other jurisdictions.
I agree with Senator O'Toole on the need for a wide-ranging debate on education and how it is structured, particularly in the budgetary context in that it is the area which will need most protection in the decisions that must be made. The betterment of our society and the strength of our economy depends on making such decisions in the coming months.
I join with Senator Bacik in calling for a series of debates on the economy in the run up to the budget. In welcoming the talks today, I wish the leaders of Fine Gael and the Labour Party well in their task of getting the truth from the Taoiseach and the Department of Finance because today must be about truth. Will we get the truth from the Government about the State's finances? Can the people have confidence-----
With respect to the Cathaoirleach, I ask the Leader to address that question. I ask that question given that we have now discovered the Minister for Finance has been wrong on each occasion. The Department of Finance knew the financial position last June. Why has it taken until now to get information?
I believe Senator Harris found the road to Damascus on this morning's "Morning Ireland" radio programme and has been converted to the need to look after people. It is time we had a debate on the political class and how it can show leadership. I have no difficulty taking the lead, as Fine Gael has done, by taking a pay cut and by looking at the trappings of power for Ministers and Ministers of State and at everything relating to the political class. Let us have a real debate on how the political class, led in the main by the Members opposite, has failed the people. I challenge the Leader to arrange a debate on the political class.
It would be worthwhile having a debate on the RTE Authority and the relevant legislation. We should bear in mind that section 18 of the Broadcasting Authority Act 1960 states: "It shall be the duty of the Authority to secure that, when it broadcasts any information, news or feature which relates to matters of public controversy or is the subject of current public debate, the information, news or feature is presented objectively and impartially and without any expression of the Authority's own views".
As Members will be aware, we spend €190 million in television licence fees and we give €55 million per year from the social welfare budget to the RTE Authority. The director general, the chairman and the board of the RTE Authority should review the presentation of programmes. Deep concern has been expressed. It is in the national interest that RTE complies with the 1960 legislation and that we ensure impartiality and fair play in the presentation of facts and politics at this crucial stage.
I welcome the moderate and balanced tones of Senator Donohoe on behalf of Fine Gael. I also welcome his partial conversion to socialism because he said that in these circumstances, everyone should contribute according to his or her means. The old socialist maxim is from each according to his ability, to each according to his need. We need to bear the needs of the people in mind as well as the needs of the economy.
I again raise the subject of taxi drivers. I believe there have been 30 suicides in the past year among this group of people, which is very worrying. It is particularly worrying when we learn that the Taxi Regulator told an Oireachtas committee yesterday that she has a surplus of €20 million in her account while at the same time she is pursuing a policy where taxi drivers are compelled to get rid of their cars when they are nine years old, even though they have passed the national car test with flying colours. That means the national car test is rendered redundant. She also mentioned that the market would regulate this. We learned something about markets recently and the fact that they are suspended in the interests of the large people and that they crucify the small people. We must start to consider the human element in our society.
I spoke at a most interesting meeting in Athlone some months ago organised by the National Irish Safety Organisation. When doing research, I learned that the two most vulnerable sectors in terms of accidents are construction and farming. The number of accidents are completely disproportionate compared to other sectors. There were two tragic farm accidents yesterday. The head of the State organisation very sensibly called for farmers to conduct safety audits in their farms. I hope the Leader will urge the farming organisations to continue to act as responsibly as they have been and to try to ensue we avoid as many as possible of these very sad incidents by instituting safety audits on farms. It is very difficult because farmers are so familiar with the practices but they need to look at them with a fresh eye and be aware of the dangers to which they and their families may be exposed.
We are all talking doom and gloom and it might be time we took a positive look at some of what is happening. When I became a Member of this House 30 years ago, 800,000 people were in employment in this country. There are now 1.8 million people employed. We should debate how we can come up with ideas which will help to create further employment. Employment is needed as much as anything else. Naturally, people who are dependent on social welfare feel neglected and left out. It is imperative we hold a debate as soon as possible on how employment can be created and that we allow everyone to throw his or her sixpence into the pot to see what comes from it.
I support what Senator Norris said in regard to the Taxi Regulator who has taken a decision to ban cars more than nine years old. Any vehicle which passes the national car test and the public service vehicle test should be entitled to be used. We should ask the Minister to go to the Taxi Regulator to see what can be done to reverse this decision. It is wrong that people will be forced out of business because their vehicles are too old. As far as the general population is concerned, age cannot be used as a mechanism to discriminate against someone, so it should be the same when it comes to cars. People should be entitled to use these cars as long as they meet all the safety standards.
We are approximately four weeks away from the first anniversary of the horrendous flooding which affected this country last November. As we approach that time, we should pause to reflect on how we reacted as a nation and on our state of preparedness in case a similar flooding incident occurs this year or in subsequent years.
It is also important that we pause to reflect on how we reacted to the plight of many families throughout the country as a result of the flooding. Not long after the flooding occurred last year, the Government put in place a €10 million hardship fund, which was most welcome. It has transpired that only 10% of the €10 million was actually allocated to families, primarily for two reasons - first, most families were able to secure compensation through their insurance and, second, the conditions attaching to that scheme were fairly restrictive in nature. Households in Galway received the largest share of that fund, with 337 people being compensated to the tune of almost €400,000.
However, a number of families are still out of their homes a year later and these are the ones on whom we should reflect. They are unlikely ever to be able to return to their homes for two reasons: first, they cannot get insurance to reinsure their homes if they were to be in a position to rebuild or refurbish them, and second, they cannot get a mortgage from any institution that would allow them the funds to carry out that refurbishment or rebuilding. This is a very small group of people throughout the country and a fraction of the €8 million that remains in that fund could allow them to rebuild in a different location that would not be prone to flooding. As we approach that anniversary, it is important that we should reflect upon that small minority - I would argue at most 20 or 30 families throughout the country - who need the support of the State in being able to set their families and themselves on a new road and allow them to move on from the crisis that affected them a year ago. Everybody else has moved on but they have not had that opportunity.
Last week on the Order of Business I raised an issue relating to illegal downloading of music on the Internet which followed on a court case which the major international record companies had lost that had been taken the previous day. I asked the Leader what possible legislation could be introduced to address this gap, and I am repeating the request. I have had quite a significant amount of response to the comments I made last week, specifically from persons who state that the figures quoted in my report, and also the figures quoted in the court case to defend the record companies' position, are inaccurate, and I was asked by a number of those who emailed me to correct the record. Having investigated this further - I recommend to the House that those who are interested log on to taint.org - there is no doubt that the figures that have been quoted to support the court case, which was subsequently lost, are not accurate. It related to the group Aslan. I do not want to delay the House on this other than to correct the record in that I put the figures as I had received them in good faith and such has been the response to the comments I made in the House last week that I feel obliged to correct the record and state that there is no doubt but that the figures that have been used are, at best, suspect.
It would be important if the Leader could have the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, come to the House to give some indication of his proposals because the music industry is currently lobbying in this House and in the other House to have legislation changed to benefit it. However, there is a wider view that illegal downloading will continue irrespective of what happens, the record companies are now on the defensive and there are other alternatives that could be brought forward such as licensing those who wish to download. In that context, I would be interested in the Leader's response.
I find myself in troubling agreement with both Senators Bacik and O'Toole on some of their comments on the question of education and religious ethos. They are both correct when they seek to vindicate the right of parents to access schools for their children which reflect their vision of life, their values and their ethos. In particular, I welcome Senator O'Toole's explicit support for the idea that State-run primary schools could provide for religious education for different traditions separately within the schools. That will be part of the welcome new compromise in the future. We should envision a future together where education is accessible to people in a way that reflects their values if that is their wish, if they want a school run by a particular religious organisation or institution, and that it would be State funded, but that people who do not want such an education would also have their choice respected by the State. That is a question not of apartheid but of respect for diversity. I support the idea of proximity as well, and particularly in the Northern context. It would be important, while respecting people's right to an education within their traditional values and to have schooling that fully reflects that, to ensure there is plenty of mixing between people and that people are accessing each other and benefiting from experiencing each other's traditions as well. That can be achieved if there is goodwill on all sides.
I compliment Senator Mary White on her comments on the BreastCheck scheme and the fact it is being denied to women over 64. This was mentioned in the Joint Committee on Health and Children yesterday. It is really scandalous that women over 64 are seven times more likely to get breast cancer and yet they are excluded from the programme which provides free mammograms to women aged 50 to 64. Often we talk about discrimination in this House and how unjust it is.
I support the calls for a debate on education. The education system, particularly at primary and second level, urgently needs protection. As I have heard others such as Senator Ross state in this House previously, there has never been that much fat there. We are now approaching a budget where that is under threat again. We are told it is one of the biggest Departments and we must look seriously at how we will protect the education system.
The main reason I stand is to tell the Leader we heard an inspirational address this morning by former Taoiseach, Mr. John Bruton, at a business breakfast in the city. He spoke with great hope about now being such a good time to invest in Ireland and it was really good to hear that message of hope. I say to Fianna Fáil, the Greens and the few Independents that while they are still in Government they have the privilege of doing something positive and implementing solutions. Here is the reality that I believe they must address. Yesterday we heard that adjustments of up to €15 billion are needed between now and 2014. This morning we learn in The Irish Time that citizens will have to pay €6 billion just to finance the bank bailout by 2014 and Mr. John Bruton stated that personal borrowing in this country is 200% of GDP. Those are tough facts but how can we reconcile the fact this crisis was not of ordinary citizens' making and expect them to fund the national debt when they are in all likelihood putting their own homes and families at risk? I have asked repeatedly where are the solutions to protect the family home, and so has Senator MacSharry. I need to see those solutions. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Finance to tell us how people will be protected until we get out of this mess.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on multiculturalism, immigration, integration and allied subjects. Senator Norris's mention of taxi drivers makes that all the more acute because the other side of taxi drivers is having to listen to them about racial minorities in Ireland. In recent weeks, we have heard much talk about Irish people not doing jobs and Pilipino nurses being employed instead of Irish nurses - all the kind of neo-racial stuff one gets when jobs are under pressure.
This is a good time for us to have this kind of debate for two reasons. First, the Seanad is the right place to have this debate. The Seanad can in a calm mood debate all aspects of multiculturalism without any heat and with a great deal of light because everyone here has specialist knowledge on it. It could form the basis of a proper Government policy on the matter, not a quango-led policy, an equality agency policy or some special interest left-wing or right-wing group's policy, but a State policy. The business of cherishing all the children of the nation equally has a reciprocal obligation attached to it, that is, for the children of the nation to cherish the nation too. It cuts both ways. It is not only a one-way process and those who are the children of the nation, such as immigrant groups and other groups, have obligations to the State and to society.
Let us not practise the British habit of letting them all at it. Mr. Micheal Collins, the working-class writer from Southwark, wrote a book, "The Likes of Us", in which he stated, basically, that the British state dumped the multicultural problem on the Irish white working class and other sections of the British white working class while they lived in Islington and did BBC programmes about how there should be multiculturalism. We do not want that approach to be taken here. We cannot dump immigrants on working class communities and then rear up because they resent or resist it. This is not racism but class indifference shown by the upper classes. If we are to have a policy of multiculturalism, let it lay equally on every class, rather than having the white working classes of Britain and Ireland bearing the brunt of a policy that results in Polish and Nigerian workers and Muslims arriving in working class communities, while the rest of the population make trendy programmes about immigrants. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on multiculturalism in a period of calm as opposed to heat.
I wish the party leaders well in today's talks. I hope a suitable, independent means of verifying the figures can be found when that issue is addressed. I also heard the powerful speech made by Mr. John Bruton, a former Taoiseach and European Union ambassador to Washington. He spoke eloquently and powerfully about our abilities and capabilities. We can move forward in hope and manage our way out of the current crisis with proper planning, but the difficulty is that there has been widespread mismanagement. As Mr. Bruton pointed out, the Civil Service completely lacks co-ordination. Departments do not communicate with each other and many civil servants are too willing to fight turf wars over their own patch, as if it their Department was their personal fiefdom. They forget that, like us, they are servants of the State.
Waste must be eliminated, beginning in every Department. Ministers take a hands-off approach and do not even sit in at management committee meetings in their Departments. That is crazy and anyone who adopted that position in the private sector would not survive. Having failed to give such a commitment yesterday, will the Leader give a promise today that he will arrange a debate on the budgetary position, the four year plan and allied matters immediately the talks between the party leaders, in which we all have a vested interest and which we all hope will bear fruit, reach finality?
I ask the Leader to arrange to have the Minister for Justice and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, come before the House to debate how to engage with vulnerable adults in the justice system? Myriad issues need to be addressed, including how to deal with adults with an intellectual disability or mental health issues who make allegations of abuse. In recent years tremendous supports have been introduced for children to engage and interact with the justice system, but supports have not been introduced for adults with an intellectual disability or mental health challenges to similarly engage. This could be done through the provision of specialised training for gardaí or the provision of support when giving evidence. It is essential that the mental capacity Bill is advanced.
I have been struck by other speakers' contributions and share the collective view expressed on all sides that we must find a way forward. Optimism and hope are vital. This is not a time for political point-scoring. People are feeling low and have reached the end of their tether. When we are low, our resilience and capacity to cope are reduced. It has never been more necessary for the people to be resilient or have a strong capacity to cope. While the Seanad has a responsibility to play its role in promoting this, as a public service broadcaster funded by the State, RTE must also discharge its responsibility to strengthen people's resilience and capacity to cope. Every week I hear stories of suicide and distress. If supports were in place, we could make a difference in that regard.
I support calls for debates on employment, as I am particularly cognisant that the House could play a unique role in this regard. We see today that the United Kingdom is taking the route we took two years ago, proving again that the downturn is largely global and affects all countries, not only Ireland.
There are circumstances in which taxation becomes so regressive that it does not make sense. I have in mind the VAT rate applied to wind turbines that could be built on farms. The rate charged could be set aside, as such turbines are not economic over the ten year life cycle, whereas banks would lend for a shorter term if the price was right. The ESB also offers a guaranteed price for wind generated power. Wind turbines have a value for the construction industry, produce income and offer import substitution vis-À-vis oil. Wind power offers a win-win scenario for everyone concerned. We need to examine issues such as this.
While I support Senators who yesterday condemned the abuse of the Irish passport, there is a distinction between the two cases that have arisen. In one instance, we believe Irish passports were used by the Israelis in an assassination, while in the second it appears an Irish passport was used by spies. It amuses me that the spy with the Irish passport was named Murphy and had a Russian accent. One would have thought this would be a giveaway. There is a distinction, however, between the uses to which Irish passports were put in both cases. In one case, a person was assassinated which was not the case in the second.
I share Senator Healy Eames's concern for the protection of the family home. The expert group on mortgage arrears and personal debt, chaired by Mr. Hugh Cooney, is engaged in its final deliberations on the matter and I hope its recommendations will be available in the coming weeks. Given that the group was established by Members more than two years ago, I hope its final report will adequately address the issue of protecting the family home. While I do not suggest we should pay bills for people, we should respect their dignity, give them time and provide innovative ways to allow them to deal with the problems they face in the knowledge that they will not lose their homes.
I also welcome today's historic meeting between the party leaders. The purpose of the meeting is not to seek national government or agreement on all issues but to try to establish consensus on the length and breadth of the difficulties facing us and decide on the basic, fundamental remedies required, while reserving the right to disagree on a number of the tangible measures that will be taken. In that regard, I appeal again to the Leader to arrange debates on taxation, social welfare, health and education in the coming weeks. These are the four areas to which most expenditure is allocated and in which savings will clearly have to be made. I challenge Senators to participate in these debates without engaging in a blame game, focusing on the past or arguing about who blew the benefits of the boom and other perceptions. We should focus solely on producing ideas on where savings can be made. This approach would not absolve anyone from the blame they are perceived to have for things done poorly in the past. It challenges us instead to propose the tangible measures for which we yearn in order that the House will be taken seriously and to ensure our innovative ideas form part of public policy. I ask the Leader to make arrangements to hold the four debates I seek in the coming weeks. I challenge Senators to produce real solutions, ideas and savings in an open-minded and determined manner, rather than engaging in the rhetoric to which we have all become accustomed in recent years.
The Jack & Jill Children's Foundation does excellent work in helping sick children to stay at home with their families. I understand more than 300 children are being helped in this manner. The foundation is seeking funding of €1.3 million from the Government to help it continue this excellent work. If it does receive the money, it will not be able to continue this work and many of the sick children it helps will have to go into full-time care, resulting in costs to the State of multiples of the €1.3 million the foundation seeks. Given the current focus on achieving savings and eliminating waste, we would cut off our nose to spite our face if we chose not to give the foundation the money it requires to continue its excellent work and save the State so much money. For this reason, I urge the Leader to make representations to the Minister for Health and Children. Even leaving aside the children, which one should not do as they should be one's first priority, if one considers the issue from a book-keeping perspective, one will conclude the foundation should be given the money it is seeking.
I seek a debate on the world economic environment because in reading today's edition of the Financial Times it struck me that the British Government was seeking cuts of £83 billion or approximately €94 billion. It is seeking to cut approximately €1,600 per person in its next budget, whereas the Government here is seeking to cut approximately €1,000 per person in its budget, which is considerably less. However, Members will be aware of the situation in Greece and many other countries and it would be foolish of us to believe either in this Chamber or Ireland that the world economic climate does not affect us. This is a small open economy that is greatly affected by events in other countries, particularly our nearest neighbour, Britain. It is important, therefore, that Members have a proper debate on what is happening in other countries because it will greatly affect the figures in Ireland. We cannot afford to bury our heads in the sand and state everything will depend on what happens in this country. I urge the Leader to arrange a proper debate on the world economy.
Senators Donohoe, O'Toole, Bacik, Boyle, Healy Eames, Coghlan, Corrigan and MacSharry expressed serious concerns and outlined various proposals to the House. I also wish the four party leaders who are meeting in the national interest well. While the meeting is unprecedented, as the Taoiseach stated, it is not politics as usual. We certainly face a serious challenge, but, like the Deputy Leader, Senator Boyle, I am confident that if everyone does the right thing, Ireland can come out of the recession much quicker than people seem to think. Although we find ourselves in a very serious position, reports last night on Sky Television and the BBC on how the United Kingdom Government must address and tackle the difficulties in which it finds itself confirm this is a worldwide problem. Ultimately, we are all trying to do the right thing for our economies.
Senators Healy Eames and MacSharry raised the issue of family home protection. As they stated, Members wish to ensure wives and husbands are protected in respect of the family home.
I heard Members praise the former Taoiseach, Mr. John Bruton, who was my local Deputy. I often thought it was a big mistake on the part of Fine Gael to treat him in the manner in which he was treated. I fully share the sentiments expressed by Members. He has been an excellent public representative and has a lot of talent and ability, but this is what happens when one is not appreciated in one's party from time to time.
Senators O'Toole, Bacik, Boyle, Mullen and Healy Eames called for a wide-ranging debate on education. I will have no difficulty in allowing time for such a debate and have listened to the views expressed by Members on the issue. However, one must not ignore the enormous contribution made by the Catholic Church, both in Ireland and throughout the world, in educating the down and out and the poorest of the poor. I often referred to Ireland as being the island of saints and scholars on my travels, particularly as Chairman of the Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business. Irish missionaries have worked hard for generations to earn for Ireland the respect of the world for what they have done in bringing the faith and education to millions of people.
Senator Bacik again called for a debate on prisons. As I indicated yesterday on the Order of Business and in previous weeks, Members will be able to contribute to such a debate.
As for Senator Buttimer's comments about a debate on the economy, I have already made such a commitment, including on Members' first day back after the recess. Debates on the economy, banking and various financial issues take place every week in the House.
On Senator Leyden's call for a debate on RTE, most of us involved in public life have always appreciated, recognised and acknowledged the tremendous work done by RTE on radio and television during the years, as well as the magnificent individuals who work for it as broadcasters. However, I must support the comments made by Senator Leyden and other colleagues who are at a loss when it comes to the issues of the licence fee and the need for balance. The director general and chairman of the RTE authority might wish to consider the terms of reference attached to RTE's licence on the need for balance. It is unfair on taxpayers who pay the licence fee to be subject to the negative opinion being broadcast; there should also be good news from time to time. I have complimented RTE and always stood behind it. I had my own sponsored programme for four years and made my contribution to the station in other fields, as Senator Mooney knows at first hand. That said, it is never the wrong time to say the right thing as Members and public representatives who are privileged to be here for a short time. RTE have a responsibility to bring the people with it at this difficult time. There are excellent people at the station at chief executive, chairman and board member level of the authority. Everyone in RTE wants to do the right thing and the issue is with the few who are in the business of seeking good TAM ratings. Ultimately, however, one must seek to uplift the people. There is a responsibility in this regard. I will, therefore, facilitate a debate in the House on the matter in response to Senator Leyden's request.
Senators Norris, Ellis and Harris referred to the serious plight of the owners of taxis over nine years old. Most Members will be aware that decent cars are good for 15 years. Therefore, the proposal made does not make sense. I will send a strong message to the Minister urging him to contact the taxi regulator on the matter, particularly at this difficult time when, as many Members are aware from their weekly clinics, it is not easy to obtain funds or finance to purchase another car.
I agree fully with Senator Norris who called for safety audits to be carried out on farms. Such a measure is essential and crucial because, unfortunately, many people are involved in fatal accidents on farms. I understand 23 people have lost their lives on farms this year.
On Senator Ellis's call for a debate on employment with Enterprise Ireland and the IDA, I compliment Enterprise Ireland on organising its conference in Croke Park today and the opportunities it is trying to create. I will have no difficulty with Members debating this issue also.
Senator Cannon raised the issue of flooding and referred to the plight of people living along the River Shannon and, in particular, the dreadful experience endured by the people of County Cork last year. In respect of those families whom it might be necessary to relocate, €8 million in funds is available. I will convey the Senator's strong views in this regard to the Minister.
Senator Mooney raised the issue of the illegal downloading of music and the fallout from the recent court case. I understand a legislative amendment to the Act is needed, for which the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation is responsible. The industry is fighting to ensure its survival and I hope the Minister will address the matter in the coming days. If he does not do so, the House will have debate its merits. To command the respect of the industry, we must take the position adopted by our near neighbours, the United Kingdom and France. However, this is not happening and a serious problem has emerged, as a result of which the multinationals which are large employers will be obliged to consider their position in Ireland. Irish songwriters, artists, publishers and record companies are all working with their backs to the wall and not being given the tools they need. I support fully the legislative position adopted in the United Kingdom and France and believe the Minister should address the issue as a matter of urgency.
Senator Mullen called for the provision of a BreastCheck service for women aged over 64 years. I fully support him in this regard and will have no difficulty in arranging a debate on the issue which Senator Mary White has been championing in the House for many years.
Senator Harris called for a debate on multiculturalism. This proposal is very worthwhile and I will endeavour to have this debate take place.
Senator Corrigan asked for a debate on the vulnerable under the care of the Department of Justice and Law Reform, and I have no difficulty in having that debate. Senator Hanafin called for a debate on employment opportunities, particularly in relation to wind turbines, farming and other areas. I understand that instead of these products being manufactured elsewhere in Europe, they are being manufactured in Galway. Demand this year and the anticipated number of units to be manufactured was 60, but by the end of June the company had manufactured and erected 80 units. I wish it well. The way forward is to cut our dependence on oil for energy, and I fully support the call by Senator Hanafin. I also note his references to the misuse of passports.
Senator MacSharry called for a debate on "the big four", namely, taxation, social welfare, health and education. I have had this in mind, and I respond positively that this will take place over the coming weeks.
Senator Cummins outlined the great work the Jack & Jill Children's Foundation is doing and the difficulty it is experiencing - he mentioned a figure of €1.3 million. The problem is that many children it is looking after will have to go into long-term care, which will cost the State much more. I compliment the Jack & Jill Children's Foundation and the personnel who are doing their utmost and I will do anything I can and will make representations after the Order of Business to the Minister to see what I can do to help in that regard.
Senator Ó Brolcháin called for a debate on the world economy. I have no difficulty in having this take place.
I heard the interview this morning on "Morning Ireland" with Senator Harris. I listened with great attention to him. I place on record that Senators have taken a 10% cut already in our wages. That was not pointed out this morning. The presenter said we were on a salary of €70,000, but we are no such thing. As we all know we have taken a 10% cut as the Taoiseach requested and we did it in the national interest.