Thursday, 11 November 2010
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on the importance of protecting intellectual property rights, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and conclude not later than 1.30 p.m., if not previously concluded, on which spokespersons may speak for 15 minutes and all other Senators for ten minutes and Senators may share time, by agreement of the House, with the Minister to be called upon ten minutes before the conclusion of the debate for closing comments and to take questions from leaders or spokespersons; and No. 2, statements on the current overcrowding levels in Irish prisons (resumed), to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 and conclude not later than 2.30 p.m., on which Senators may speak for eight minutes, 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.
The words of Professor Patrick Honohan are listened to with great interest both in this country and abroad. At an Oireachtas committee meeting yesterday he made some telling remarks which are worthy of debate in this House. One of the most interesting remarks he made was about the difficulties encountered in finding a solution for householders in negative equity and struggling with huge personal debt. He is acknowledging something of which we are all aware. Finding a solution that people will believe is fair when householders are in negative equity and have huge personal debts and incomes are dropping will be very difficult. He remarked that it was wrong that large developers, the individuals who got us into the mess in the first place, seemed to be insulated - I am using his words - from the financial difficulties many others were experiencing. However, he also contradicted himself to a degree because he said wages were still too high and affecting competitiveness in the overall economy. When asked to comment on the banks, he made it clear that we should be pushing to sell all of our banks because it appeared the nationalisation of Allied Irish Banks would happen in the coming months because of the huge difficulties it was experiencing in raising funds. All of these issues warrant a proper debate in the House, especially when we consider what is happening in the bond markets, with interest rates exceeding a rate of well over 8% for ten year bonds and hitting 7.45% for three year bonds. We witnessed such erratic movement prior to experiencing other difficulties in our financial system in the past two years. If international investors are treating Ireland as a no-go zone, we should take the matter seriously. We should have a proper debate to discuss the reasons interest rates are increasing to these levels and the potential effect on the economy next year.
We should also have a debate in this House, with the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food present, to discuss what seemed to be an attempt to get rid of Ireland's sugar beet industry based on wrong information. It means the Government messed up on the sugar beet industry which was profitable and good for this country. It now seems we gave it away too easily. That warrants an urgent debate in the House.
I must mention the issue of passwords at Anglo Irish Bank. Perhaps the Minister could comment on whether these documents can be accessed only through the passwords of the individuals concerned. Would it be possible to bypass the passwords in some way, and can the necessary expertise be brought in to do this? Two years after we said we would deal with the financial mess that is Anglo Irish Bank, we are still running around the country looking for passwords, and this is making us a laughing stock across the world.
Over recent days I have sought from the Leader an indication of the Government's response to the motion that was passed in the House last week. I have given this some serious consideration and have spoken to graduates of DCU and the University of Limerick. Graduates of these institutions have been deprived of a Seanad vote for the past 30 years since the people's decision in the 1979 referendum. I have had a long series of discussions with my colleague, Senator Ivana Bacik, and it is my intention at this stage to seek the support of the courts in this matter. Senator Bacik and I have considered how we can make progress on this, but it is not unreasonable to state that these people are being deprived of their right to representation, clearly perverting the will of the people as indicated in 1979. I seek a declaration that this has been an unreasonable delay, and it is my intention to have this dealt with in the courts to push the Government into taking action, unless the Government decides to do so in light of our motion and the decision of the people.
The four-year plan has taken over all discussions at the moment. I ask the Leader to go directly to the Government and say that the four-year plan, as well as dealing with the obvious, should also strike optimistic and positive notes by indicating options for growth. My worry is that the Cabinet is so shell-shocked at the moment dealing with all the difficulties of national and international finances that its members are afraid to look outside the box. It is important that when the plan is published, we see things we can be hopeful about - optimism, encouragement, growth possibilities. One of these possibilities, which I propose the Leader would ask to be included in the four-year plan, is the metro north. The finances can be arranged so that it does not cost the Government anything in the near future.
This is important infrastructure and its construction will create up to 6,000 jobs, which will mean wages churning into the economy.
In addition, I ask the Government to accept the proposal from Siemens Ireland, which I mentioned to the Leader before, to install a water meter in every house in Ireland at its own expense. This would represent a free loan of €1.1 billion to the Government, which would be repaid when water charges came into operation some time in the future, and would create another 1,000 jobs. Another proposal I would like to see included in the four-year plan is one that was raised by my colleague Senator Cannon in the House recently. We could build on the idea he mentioned. The Government should go to Ryanair and Aer Lingus, buy a million airline tickets into Ireland and make them available to hoteliers, the tourism industry and communities that want to sell Ireland abroad. Organisations could offer free transport to Ireland. With regard to the cost to the Government, Ryanair and Aer Lingus are selling tickets for €7 at the moment, so it could get a million tickets for €7 million. These would be available to people who want to sell their towns, their hotels or their industries. I ask that such proposals be included in the four-year plan.
I see our economy and our borrowing requirements are once again the lead story in the Financial Times today. It is worth noting, in view of what the Taoiseach said yesterday, that it is not the Opposition spokespersons or anyone else who are putting the country on the front page of the Financial Times. That newspaper is simply reporting the facts and the true position which, unfortunately, is bad news. The Taoiseach cannot say, any more than his predecessor, that our problems are due to people talking down the economy. The facts are there and they must be addressed, as others have said.
I ask the Leader to consider organising a debate when we get through all the legislation going through the House at the moment. That joke was lost on him.
Perhaps the debate could be organised after the budget. It is something that would wait a few weeks. This summer, I went to the valley of the Somme and visited the grave of a granduncle of mine who was killed in the First World War. I am sure many people in this Chamber have a similar knowledge of people who were killed in that battle. We are reminded of it today more than any other day. We should have a debate in this House, and not simply about the First World War and the Irish participation in it, in view of the lead-up to the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising, an iconic and important occasion during which major sacrifices were made for the country and its future. We are reminded of that in many ways by the difficulties we are in as a nation and the question mark over our very survival as a State. The 1916 Rising is something we should commemorate appropriately, not simply with the standard public events but in a much more innovative and lasting way. As my party leader has pointed out, many things occurred during the period up to 1916, not least the formation of the party of which I am proud to be a member. Senator O'Toole spoke about things that could unite the country. Is there a narrative that would combine both these iconic events in our history? The anniversary of the Rising is six years away, which is not too far for us to start deciding on an appropriate way to commemorate these major events. I ask for a debate on this.
The use of the phrase "our very survival as a State" is part of the problem we have at the moment in political discourse. We need to pause for reflection. Yesterday evening, the website of The Guardian ran a story stating that a decision had already been made that the International Monetary Fund was to make decisions for this country as of today. Much of the information on international wire services pertains to decisions that have supposedly been made or are on the verge of being made. We need a debate in the House on the essence of democracy in this country, how we make decisions, who makes them and on whose behalf are they made. Regardless of the composition of the Government or the policies we independently decide upon and implement, we need to pause and decide whom we want to make those decisions. The last people we want making such decisions are speculators, people in front of computer screens, Cockney wide boys and people whose only concern is making a quick buck on the supposed strength of a currency of which we are a member. This goes beyond the governance of this country and the debate on policy. We are pawns in a war centred on the euro - a situation in which we last found ourselves in 1992 with the then European monetary system. I ask Members, when discussing topics in the House, to hold the debate on those terms.
The Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service will today release a report on macroeconomic policy and effective fiscal economic governance. Those are the terms on which we should be striving to make decisions in the future - strict fiscal rules and the powers of Parliament through the mandate of the people to make the economy secure for the future. I ask that such debates are held in this House immediately and regularly.
I join Senator O'Toole in asking for a debate on the Government's four-year plan. Senator Boyle made a good point, that we did not adhere to strict financial rules, and that is partly why we are in this mess. I ask that, as part of the debate on the four-year plan, the Government would introduce a stimulus plan which includes the construction of the metro north and the Cork docklands regeneration project. This is a project that could lift Cork and raise the capital of Ireland.
It is also important that the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Tánaiste come to the House to explain why we now have no sugar industry in this country. It is extraordinary that the European Union is now importing sugar when we have closed the Mallow and Carlow sugar beet factories. Was it out of pure greed, to look after friends of Fianna Fáil? Who gave the advice to the Government?
That decision was clearly wrong and the information was incorrect. We now have another example of a bad Government decision. It was bad Fianna Fáil-led Government policy that impacted on rural areas and the towns of Carlow and Mallow. It is important that the Minister, Deputy Smith, and the Tánaiste come to this House to explain the Government's policy.
It is appropriate that we refer today to the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. In fact, there is a commemoration today in Glasnevin Cemetery. This country has reached a stage of maturity where people can recognise what happened at that difficult time and the number of people who sacrificed their lives for a cause about which they were very sincere.
I support Senator Boyle's comments about the international media and the undermining of this country, its economy and the eurozone. I received a call yesterday from a counsellor of an investor in New York who has invested €1.6 million in Roscommon. He was worried because he had heard the statement by Mr. Mark Grant, managing director of Southwest Securities, on Bloomberg TV. It was a dangerous and damaging statement about this country which was broadcast around the world. There are two points I wish to make about this. First, I met the Minister last night and was reassured that under the eligible liability guarantee scheme, all deposits were guaranteed up to next year and beyond. In the circumstances, I believe the Minister should make a state of the nation address under section 31(2) of the Broadcasting Authority Act 1960. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources could issue a directive to RTE to allow the Minister to make such a statement which would be carried worldwide. The situation is so grave-----
This is a matter of national importance, not something about which we can be flippant. We must counteract the statements being made by the international media and the person to do it is either the Taoiseach or the Minister for Finance. He can allay the fears of this investor in New York, a genuine Irishman who has invested money in Roscommon but who is concerned. I am allaying his fears today and was in touch with the counsellor this morning. However, I am anxious that the Minister should do this.
In addition, the Government Information Services should have a round-the-clock service monitoring what is happening. Frankly, I do not believe the Government Information Services is doing its job.
I support what Senator Boyle said. It would be very useful to have a regular debate on the economy, for which I have been calling for some time. It would be a statutory item held at least every week. Apart from everything else, it would mean we could have these ideas discussed in a relatively unhurried manner rather than absorbing the Order of Business every day. It is the principal thing item discussed; nothing else is placed on the agenda. Of course, it is worrying. Few of us thought we would see the interest rate on bonds going above 9% and apparently it is still climbing.
I agree with some of Senator Leyden's comments. I heard some of the broadcast from New York and some of the comments made were factually inaccurate such as that the State would run out of money within one month. That is simply not the case, but it will cause concern in the market. We must be as open as possible and use these economic debates. I have been in contact for a number of years with Mr. Peter Mathews who has an almost obsessional interest, as we all have probably, in the economy. His figures have consistently been right. In a telephone conversation with him this morning he told me that in September alone €55 billion was redeemed by the banks in bonds, in a fairly surreptitious movement, with loans from the ECB. There was no discussion of this in either House of the Oireachtas. I raised the matter a couple of weeks ago when Anglo Irish Bank redeemed €7.9 billion. I believe every penny put into Anglo Irish Bank is a complete waste time. However, I agree with Senator Boyle that it is important to have reasoned debate on a regular basis on the economy. We might come up with some ideas. Senator O'Toole has had a number of extremely useful ideas, particularly about the relevance of the metro north project. If it is costed on a basis where we find value, it might well turn out to be sustainable. These are the issues we should be discussing in such debates in order that other issues can be addressed during the valuable time made available on the Order of Business.
The issue I wish to raise relates to something we have been discussing for months, the negative perception of the economy on the front pages of international newspapers and the visit of Commissioner Olli Rehn this week. Yesterday, courtesy of Senator Butler, representatives of Spirit of Ireland met a cross-party group of Members. They pointed out that in 2015 there would be a shortage of energy supplies across Europe and the world. Ireland has natural resources of wind and wave energy and is well placed to supply not only our own energy needs but much of Europe's. It is a clean, natural, cheap and sustainable energy supply that will attract global investment to this country if we develop it. It will supply many countries in Europe as they decommission their nuclear power plants and close their coal pits. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on this proposal. We should invite the Minister, ask why international economic observers do not recognise that Ireland will be the centre for the provision of energy supplies for all of Europe in years to come and ask him how we can progress this. It is a win-win for the country and investment here. We can be central to the supply of an important resource to the Continent and possibly beyond.
There was an excellent documentary on RTE on Tuesday night about exceptional children. We should have a debate on the matter. We regularly talk about investing in research and trying to develop our highly skilled labour force. According to the documentary, there are many highly intelligent children coming through the system, but unless their parents are wealthy enough to send them to specialist schools, they will not get the chance to reach their potential. The matter is worthy of debate. I urge the Minister for Education and Skills and the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation to work together on it.
I wish to address a specific proposal to the Leader. At 11 a.m. today will he call for the suspension of Standing Orders to allow one minute of silence to commemorate the Irish people and all those who died in World War One? It would be a suitable gesture. From the inception of the State this House has had a reputation for taking particularly pluralist and broad-minded stances on a range of issues. The Seanad was an attempt to embrace and encompass all of the cultural and identity strands of the nation Given its history and the reason for its existence, it would be very appropriate for this Chamber to specifically honour the victims of World War One. The Seanad should be the Chamber in which we extend recognition to the Irish men and women - it was mainly men - who went to fight in that war. Regardless of how we look retrospectively at what they did, they went for the best of reasons. Some of them went as a result of economic hardship, others out of a belief it would achieve Home Rule, while others went because of a range of other idealistic beliefs such as the defence of small nations. The Seanad can be big for once and make history by being the first elected body to make a big stand. I ask the Leader to propose the suspension of Standing Orders for one minute of silence, given that the war ended during the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918.
I agreed with the call made by Senator O'Toole last week for a debate on the separation of powers. He made that call in the light of the decision made to hold the by-election in County Donegal. We have since had several examples of political grandstanding - there was an example this morning and another last week involving a political party - in looking for the intrusion of the courts in the political arena. This is highly dangerous and, in many ways, contrasts with the almost Jesuitical approach politicians take to the separation of powers. We need to debate the issue. I was amazed last year when the Government decided that judges who were paid far more excessively than judges in other-----
A debate on the issue of the separation of powers is urgently required before we end up with the courts and politics in the mire together to no one's advantage.
Yesterday and today I listened to various Members extend sympathy with regard to those who lost their lives in World War One. Unfortunately, many of them lost their lives because of British military incompetence. This was a shame and should be condemned when we sympathise with the families and relatives of those who lost their lives during that war. Yesterday Members extolled the vision of Mr. John Redmond who was from my county, but I wonder how the Members concerned feel today now that they realise the leadership of their party is trying to hatch a deal with Sinn Féin in the by-election in County Donegal. That seems to be a contradiction and I wonder whether they are aware of and recognise this. In other words, they are putting politics and party interests before everything else.
I like Senator Reilly's suggestion and think we should adhere to it. Therefore, I intend to stay silent for one minute and invite colleagues to stand with me if the Leader will not suspend Standing Orders. That would be a way of recognising the many lives lost-----
We are on the Order of Business and taking questions to the Leader. I had no prior notice of this proposition and I doubt the Leader had prior notice either. Notice of such an important matter should have been given in advance and we could then have provided for it.
Following on what Senator O'Toole said, I have a question on Seanad reform. There is a serious issue with regard to the vote lost by the Government last week on which I would like to hear the Leader's response. As I mentioned yesterday, Judge Curran's judgment in the case brought by Senator Doherty put a legal framework on the concept of democracy. It also gave us a clear precedent on the need for representation in a democracy. There is an issue for graduates of UL, DCU and the institutes of technology who have not been afforded the right to representation in the Seanad as envisaged in the referendum held in 1979. There is a serious legal matter to be decided in that regard.
I call for a debate on the report issued today on the heroin problem in Ireland. The report of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction is very worrying. It indicates that Ireland has the worst rate of heroin addiction in Europe and the longest waiting times for treatment. We need a debate on the matter and on how best to deal with the problem.
I suggest that for the future we should have a policy of having a minute's silence during the eleventh hour of the eleventh day. We should all support this proposal.
I support the proposal made by Senator Keaveney for a debate on the Spirit of Ireland proposals on wind energy. Its presentation was one of the most impressive I had ever attended and I compliment Senator Butler on making it possible.
Senator Alex White made a significant contribution to our discussion when he suggested we should consider how we use the remaining preparatory years leading up to the centenary of the 1916 Rising. What makes his contribution more significant is that we are in the midst of an economic crisis which threatens to swamp and overawe us as a nation. The two issues are not mutually exclusive. We must look back at what the leaders of the 1916 Rising wanted to achieve and consider the great sacrifices they made. I compliment TG4 on the excellent series it produced on them. I am convinced, as I have been saying since the beginning of the recession, that unless we bring positivity and patriotism into the debate on the economic crisis, we will not overcome our difficulties. Senator O'Toole made a good point about the four-year plan when he said it should include a stimulus package. I am convinced the Government has deeply integrated such a package into the plan. I suggest the same must be done in the budget, as there is a feeling doomsday is 7 December. For several months the Leader and I have been fine-tuning a number of proposals which, if accepted, would have a major impact in tackling unemployment. We have researched the issues, consulted and presented our proposals to the Government and I hope they will have an outing in the budget. That is the route we must take. We must be positive and come forward with and test proposals.
I support the remarks made by Senators Twomey and Boyle. I understood the Leader had already committed to having regular debates on the economy and the difficulties facing us. With regard to our largest bank, Allied Irish Banks, I understood it was a sine qua non that the stock market quotation would remain in place. However, there are persistent rumours that the bank has been overrun and we know it will be 92% to 95% State-owned. Is there now a suggestion in Government quarters that it will be nationalised completely? That would be a retrograde step, particularly following on what the Governor of the Central Bank had to say yesterday in his address to the Joint Committee on Economic and Regulatory Affairs when he responded positively to my question. Civil servants are not equipped to run banks. They are not into risk assessment, enterprise and allied matters. The Governor stated the sooner we got out of the situation in which we found ourselves, the better. However, we must bear with it because it will take some time to do this. I seek an assurance from the Leader on this question, in so far as he is able to give one. It is important, as Senator Twomey suggested, that the Minister for Finance come to the House to debate this and related issues. As the Governor said yesterday, we need some strong banking forces. The Government has abandoned the so-called third banking force idea. It is important and a national concern that we have two or three strong banks. Will the Leader give a commitment to have the Minister for Finance attend the House for statements on this matter?
I wish to add my support to the point made earlier by Senator Reilly. We are coming to the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. It is important the House recognises this. Commemorating the First World War dead is a matter for which we have to be big enough to accept as an important part of our history and heritage.
I support the calls for the debate on the massive potential in exporting renewable energy as discussed by Spirit of Ireland in its presentation to Members yesterday. We need, however, to be careful about tying ourselves too closely with one particular company or project. The debate on the export of renewable energy should also include State-built interconnectors and overall Government policy.
I agree with Senator O'Toole that we need to think outside the box in a big way. We got behind the Ardnacrusha hydroelectric project in the past which made a huge difference to the country. We need to send a signal to the world that we will think big like that again.
Spirit of Ireland also raised energy storage, a point not referred to earlier, which needs to be examined carefully. It is a key factor specific to wind-generated energy. People do not seem to understand there is planning permission for 15 GW of wind-generated energy.
I move an amendment to the Order of Business to request a debate either later this morning or in the afternoon on yesterday's European Court of Auditors report on the closure of the Irish sugar industry.
The court deemed the decision taken in 2006 by the European Commission, in conjunction with the Government, was based on erroneous figures. The tragedy is that an industry was shut down, hundreds of jobs lost, the tillage industry greatly disadvantaged and Ireland and Europe became sugar importers. I recall raising this matter in the House on many occasions in 2005 and 2006. Unfortunately, it now appears what we thought then was correct, namely, that the then Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Mary Coughlan, sleepwalked into closing this industry.
At the time the growers, workers and farm leaders recognised this viable industry had a viable future in the viable Mallow factory. We are now at a tragic loss as a result of the Government, and the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills, having been complicit with the European Commission in accepting false figures which led to the shutdown of the industry.
The report from the European Court of Auditors raises a matter of grave importance deserving of a debate today. We must tell the Government and the European Commission that there is a moral obligation to work with the appropriate stakeholders to see if a sugar industry can be re-introduced into Ireland.
Some of my colleagues have spoken about a jobs growth strategy. The Government of W.T. Cosgrave in the late 1920s, when there was neither industry nor money in this country, had a vision of setting up a sugar industry which it brought into reality. We can surely think and work along the same lines in this more modern era. It needs, however, political courage and the debate must begin somewhere.
I thank all Members who attended yesterday's presentation by Spirit of Ireland which provided an update on its energy supply capacity and how it could help make the country self-sufficient in energy. The number of industries that would spin-off from energy self-sufficiency would be enormous. All parties in the Houses are in agreement on this. Every Member who spoke yesterday after the presentation fully supported the move towards energy self-sufficiency. This could be one of the largest projects undertaken in this country and is needed now. I agree with the call by Senators Ó Murchú and Keaveney for a debate on this matter. Self-sufficiency should be to the forefront of this Government's and future Governments' energy policies. We all need to put on the green jersey and do this job for this country. If we can become energy self-sufficient, in ten years €60 billion in fuel imports would be saved, an impressive figure. We could do an awful lot in health and education with that money as well as the revenue earned from exporting energy.
I would like the provision of double-glazed windows and electrical rewiring for older houses to be added to the insulation and retrofit grant scheme in the budget. In many older houses, there have been fires due to the state of the wiring. Such a move would create an extra 6,000 jobs in that particular industry.
I second Senator Bradford's amendment to the Order of Business. Earlier in the week the Ombudsman said she did not have faith in the Government's ability to look after our elderly. The European Court of Auditors report showed the Government managed to sleepwalk its way into the closure of an industry. In every responsibility the Government has been meant to discharge, it has been unable to do so. For these reasons, the report should be debated today and a response given to the points raised by Senator Bradford.
I agree with Senator Alex White's comments on the Order of Business except for his point that the survival of our State is at stake. I do not believe that is the case.
The future of our economy is under much pressure. Our State, its institutions and its citizens who want to support them will still exist, regardless of what happens to the economy. How they will be conducted and their responsibilities may change but the passport we are all proud to carry will still be there, will still have value and honour attached to it, like the State's institutions.
It is desperately important in these times that no one makes comments that in any way add to the pressure and perception of where we are.
Decisions were made at home that handed power to the financial markets which they are now using to beat us. If the decisions had not been made between 2002 and 2007 to spend and borrow at unbelievable rates, these people would not have the power that they are now wielding. It is the Government's fault.
I draw the attention of the House to a speech made by Mr. Seán O'Driscoll from Drimoleague in west Cork at a conference of other Irish chief executives. He was stinging in his criticism of politicians but also of business leaders who took their eye off the ball. Mr. O'Driscoll said that our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents built up this country, and he asked if we would be the generation that falls down on the job.
I admire Senator Alex White but I heard his negative talk about the country's position and I was shocked by his extreme emotionalism. I visited Haiti last year and was in Malawi earlier this year. The contrast in the standard of living here compared with the past and what is happening elsewhere is stark. Mr. O'Driscoll is chief executive of Glen Dimplex which employs 12,000 people, 2,000 of whom work in Ireland. He boldly said that we should honour the 1916 Rising and Proclamation by reducing our costs and restoring the country's competitiveness. The cost of doing business on this side of the Border is 35% higher than in the North. How in God's name can companies keep going in those conditions?
Mr. O'Driscoll draws an analogy with the GAA, which he says is the spirit of our country. I totally agree with that. He stated the "pride, passion, vision, talent ... sense of urgency [and] winning" by the GAA and our sporting teams should be what is driving us forward. We must have a spirit of hope. It is our responsibility as politicians to inspire hope in our people rather than seeing them being knocked every day. People are gripped by fear owing to this total nonsense. We will get out of this situation.
As the recession deepens and we find ourselves in greater economic difficulty, there is a growing sense of populist belief that we should have business people running the country. The chief executive of one of the major Irish airlines is constantly talking about the terms and conditions of working people, including the minimum wage. If that is the vista facing us in terms of the management of our economy, then I would much prefer the status quo, bad and all as it is.
People who have the right to dictate are those elected to public office. At the end of the day they are sovereign, not business people who are using the economic recession to drive down terms and conditions.
I agree with Senator Bradford's point. Reform of the sugar beet industry was debated at length in this House in 2005 to 2006 period. The then Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Mary Coughlan, assured this House that due to the prevailing situation this was the only exit and that there would be compensation. Thanks to the report of the EU Court of Auditors, we now discover that the Commission was working on old figures. That beggars belief. Some 240 jobs were involved in sugar beet production in north Cork, as Senator Bradford can attest. There were also other jobs in other parts of rural Ireland, not least in west Cork, that were dependent on the sugar beet industry. What has happened here is a gargantuan political disaster. It is ridiculous in the extreme and, on that basis, I will support the amendment to the Order of Business. I ask the Leader to invite the Tánaiste, not the current Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Brendan Smith, to the House to explain this disaster for jobs in rural Ireland.
I want to raise the forthcoming postal services Bill that the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, is proposing to bring before this House. A number of us have received representations from postal workers because some 10,000 jobs are at stake in this sector. An Post provides an excellent and efficient service with a next-day delivery rate of nearly 90%. We have suffered in the past owing to privatisation and market liberalisation. The universal service order is in place and is being looked after by An Post. I am concerned that rural areas will suffer if this market is opened up. The EU's recycle 16 directive should be put in place in order that social considerations would be taken into account when this Bill is being formulated. We should ensure postal services in rural Ireland are looked after in order that those services, which we appreciate but take for granted, will remain. I ask the Leader to revert to the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, on that matter. We should have consensus in this House in supporting our postal workers and the excellent postal service.
I support Senator Bradford's amendment to the Order of Business. This side of the House begged the then Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food not to dismantle the sugar industry at that time. What happened subsequently was disgraceful.
I am heartened by Senator Ó Murchú's statement that he and the Leader will bring forward proposals to the Minister for Finance on job creation. Fine Gael has made several proposals concerning job creation, yet the Government has not listened or taken on board a single proposal. This House has had several debates on the economy, but neither Senator Ó Murchú nor the Leader have brought forward in any of those debates any of the proposals they purport to have. If they were to do so, the Opposition could debate and evaluate their proposals. I hope that when the next economic debate occurs in the House, they will bring forward those proposals.
I also wish to raise with the Leader the looming crisis in local government financing. Many local authorities will be having budgetary debates in the coming week, some of whom are facing financial ruin. We have not seen the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in this House for a long time. Consequently, the Leader should ask him to attend the House as a mater of urgency. There is a shortfall in every single area concerning the funding of local democracy and, therefore, an urgent debate is required on that subject.
I support Senator O'Toole comments on Seanad reform. He is absolutely right to say it is unacceptable that the graduates of colleges, other than those of the NUI and Trinity, are not eligible to vote in Seanad elections. We need to examine a wider reform in this regard. Under our Constitution, it is possible to bring forward legislation governing the way in which the vocational panels are elected as well. We must grasp the nettle in this respect. It is embarrassing, especially when it comes to the university seats, to canvass people whose degrees are as good as anyone else's but who cannot vote because of an antiquated system. It is to the Government's discredit that there has been no movement on this.
It is becoming the fashion for Senators to have recourse to the courts or various tribunals, and that can only be a good thing. Some of my more junior colleagues in the Law Library will be glad of any business coming their way, especially from the more well-heeled Senators. I encourage that.
I saw John Giles receiving well-deserved tributes on "The Late Late Show" last Friday evening. A number of his family and friends from England were there, some of whom were wearing the poppy. There was no difference between them. They were all friends and had the same cultural experiences and backgrounds. I felt glad that they were there and were so attired. I would not wear a poppy myself unless I had a particularly thick pin-striped suit to go with it. That is not out of any hostility towards what the poppy represents.
Yes. Does the Leader agree we should be able to get to a stage in Ireland where we can talk about remembering the fallen of the First World War? Pope John Paul II said war was always a defeat for humanity, and it is, but sometimes people go to war for pure and honourable motives, which is true of the thousands of Irishmen who fought in the First World War. It should be possible to remember them without feeling the need to mention immediately the men and women of 1916. It should be possible to honour them in their own right. That said, I do not think it is appropriate to engage in gestures that do not resonate with our traditions, such as adjourning this House. That is not a necessary response and takes symbolism to another extreme.
Senators Twomey, O'Toole, Alex White, Boyle, Buttimer, Norris, Keaveney, Ó Murchú, Coghlan and Donohoe referred to the pressing matters exercising the minds of everyone in the country. We will have a very busy number of weeks up to the Christmas recess, with a major amount of legislation to be debated and discussed.
It is not politics as usual and that is why it has been the case until now. I wish to correct the record in respect of Senator Burke's comments on job creation and what the current Government and Fianna Fáil-led Governments have been doing since 1997. We created 600,000 jobs since 1997. Some 1.8 million people are working today despite the major global downturn in every country in the world at present.
I hope all matters regarding banks, bond markets, home owners in difficulty with mortgages, passwords at Anglo Irish bank, the major offer by Siemens that may create 1,000 jobs, as referred to by Senator O'Toole, and metro north, which may create 4,000 to 6,000 jobs, will all be included in the stimulus package in the budget. I have given an assurance to the House that as soon as the detail of the masterplan for four budgets is available, we will have at least one all-day sitting with the Ministers present in the House. The four budgets are strategic in respect of the recovery plan for our country. I am waiting because there is a deluge of legislation for consideration and next week there are two or three Bills, including the postal Bill, on which we will deliberate. I will liaise with the leaders of various parties and groups in the House to see how we can arrange this for the consideration of Members at the appropriate time over the next few weeks.
Senators Mullen, Ó Brolcháin, Ó Murchú, Alex White, Leyden, O'Reilly, Walsh and Bacik mentioned the ways we can honour the men and women of the First World War and also the men and women who gave their lives in 1916 for the freedom of our country. These proposals, some of which I support, should go to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges where they can be discussed, deliberated upon and debated. I have no difficulty in this taking place.
Senators O'Toole, Bacik and Mullen commented on the motion passed last week about graduates having the right to vote in Seanad elections. It is one of the high priorities of Fianna Fáil in the House that this would take place. From the point of view of the university panel, it is crucial we increase the turnout of the vote from 30% on one panel and 34% on the other panel.
There is no one on an ego trip, particularly in a time of recession. I fully support the will of the people 30 years ago which decided this should take place. A motion was passed in this House last Wednesday week that it should take place. It is a top priority for me, as Leader of this House, to deal with this, but we must understand that it is not politics as usual at this time. In January, I will go to the Government to see how we can have movement on the proposal. I give that commitment today.
Senator O'Toole made many good proposals on tourism. In recent weeks we had a tremendous debate on tourism with the Minister present. Many good proposals were brought to the Minister's attention and I hope many of them will be included in the budget proposals. Senators Boyle and Leyden referred to a debate on democracy and I have no difficulty with that. Senator Boyle also brought a number of issues to the attention of the House and I will pass these on to the Minister after the Order of Business.
Senators Leyden and Norris referred to the Government Information Service. There is a serious challenge with the attention of the world media on everything taking place in Ireland's economy. I will pass on the views of the Senators after the Order of Business.
Senators Keaveney, Ó Murchú, Ó Brolcháin and Butler referred to the outstanding submissions made by the Spirit of Ireland people. This represents a window of opportunity, as Senator Butler said, where the country can make €60 billion in savings in energy costs in the next ten years through new energy such as wind power and wave power. Geographically, Ireland could be the energy country of Europe. It is exciting and uplifting good news in these difficult times. I will do everything I can in order that it can be centre stage on the floor of the Seanad for a debate in the future. I have no difficulty supporting the call.
Senator Keaveney referred to children with exceptional talents who have been getting a fair chance to achieve their potential. I fully support Senator Keaveney in her call. Senator McFadden referred to the postal Bill, which will be in the House next week.
Senator Burke called for a debate on financing local authorities. I agree with him on this point because local authorities face major challenges. Every local authority faces a massive financial challenge because it is difficult to collect rates. The retail sector has had its back to the walls for the past two years and a debate on this will take place before Christmas.
The Seanad Divided:
For the motion: 21 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Ciarán Cannon, Paul Coghlan, Maurice Cummins, Paschal Donohoe, Frances Fitzgerald, Dominic Hannigan, Michael McCarthy, Nicky McFadden, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, Joe O'Reilly, Joe O'Toole, Feargal Quinn, Shane Ross, Brendan Ryan, Liam Twomey, Alex White)
Against the motion: 26 (Martin Brady, Larry Butler, James Carroll, John Carty, Donie Cassidy, Maria Corrigan, Mark Daly, Mark Dearey, John Ellis, Geraldine Feeney, Camillus Glynn, Cecilia Keaveney, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Lisa McDonald, Paschal Mooney, Niall Ó Brolcháin, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Francis O'Brien, Denis O'Donovan, Fiona O'Malley, Ned O'Sullivan, Ann Ormonde, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Bradford and Paschal Donohoe; Níl, Senators Niall Ó Brolcháin and Diarmuid Wilson.
Amendment declared lost