Tuesday, 16 November 2010
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re transfer of financial messaging data from the European Union to the USA, referral to joint committee, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business, and No. 2, Chemicals (Amendment) Bill 2010 — Second Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 and conclude not later than 6.45 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.
We are meeting on what is an extremely difficult day for Ireland. It is clear our biggest asset is the resilience of the people, as we saw last night in some of the contributions made on "The Frontline" programme. Nevertheless, even in spite of their resilience, many are very nervous and scared; they are worried about their pensions, deposits and the cutbacks to be made and are asking questions about what will happen at this time of crisis. While I have no doubt Irish people have the resilience to deal with what confronts us, it is clear that they need leadership, clarity and consistency, qualities that have not been evident in recent times. People do not believe they have been led well or that the policies adopted have worked. The figures have changed consistently and this has created considerable insecurity.
Ireland is on the brink today. It is extremely disturbing, as citizens and Members of the Oireachtas, to read in national and international newspapers headlines that Ireland must take the EU bailout or trigger a crisis, that Germany is pushing Ireland to accept help and so forth. This is the position we are in and we must move forward. While we do not know what will be the outcome of the discussions tonight in Brussels, we all want them to be successful. Members of the public want a new Government with a mandate to implement what will be extraordinary difficult decisions in the weeks and months ahead. I, therefore, ask the Leader to arrange a debate tomorrow on the outcome of the meetings tonight. The Seanad must discuss the issue if it is to have credibility. Senators could find out the outcome of the discussions and take the opportunity to express their views on it.
The Fine Gael Party will continue to take a responsible position in the weeks and months ahead, which will be a critical time for the country. We need the best thinking of Members across the party divide. My party is clear on what should be the way forward. However, the Government has not been consistent or clear and has not shown good leadership or authority in the past year. This is an extraordinarily difficult time. As I stated, our best asset is the resilience of the people, as they have shown time and again. The period ahead will demand greater resilience from each and every one of them.
Once again, taxpayers and the Government are facing into a black hole caused by the irresponsibility of the private sector and its leadership in the banks. It should not be forgotten what they have done to us because we must not come to rely again on those who got us into the mess in the first instance.
The Government has taken a responsible attitude towards the redemption of senior bonds and bondholders, stating throughout that these bonds are fully guaranteed and that it will pay them back in full. It has done so because it believes the alternative would cause extraordinary reputational damage to the country. It also takes the view that even a threat not to pay back these bonds would cause such damage to the country's reputation as to make any such move unaffordable. I have supported this view until now. The reason I no longer support it is that it has created a moral hazard because reckless, irresponsible and uncaring currency traders and bond marketeers around the world now have the best of both worlds.
They have been given a full guarantee by the State without facing any risk, while enjoying high interest rates. They are raising the stakes in the game ever higher. We must recognise that the game has changed in that respect and our response must differ.
Notwithstanding what one reads in Irish newspapers today, Senators should read what is being written in the international media, notably the Financial Times, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, because these newspapers take a different view of the issue facing us. They clearly state the problem is European rather than Irish in nature. The Government should take a similar view during the discussions in Brussels tonight. We do not want a European solution to an Irish problem but a European solution to a European problem. We know what will happen. Those in Brussels who spoke with certainty one year ago, when it was scandalous even to use the word "bailout", now seek to bully Ireland into accepting a bailout. We need to know exactly what is being done. I do not mind if Ireland accepts money if this needs to be done, but I am not convinced by those who have changed their views at various times in the past year. Under no circumstances should we work on the basis that we have to sort out an Irish problem. Were the Irish problem to be sorted, these international gamblers would start gambling on Portugal, then on Spain and so on. Whatever is done, it must be considered in that way and, therefore, one must confirm the view that new targets are needed. I looked back to ascertain whether this has ever arisen before, because there are no new problems in the world. I found that the International Monetary Fund had encountered this problem previously in emerging economies over many years. It was obliged to deal with it in a number of ways in cases where it decided it would be impossible for an economy to redeem fully, on the basis of changed circumstances, all of the bondholders 100%. In a solution that is close to the so-called bail-in solution about which people are talking, it developed a sovereign debt restructuring mechanism which effectively was to state that people who buy in may be obliged, if circumstances change, to take a hit to some extent at the end.
Since Members last met, the financial situation has deteriorated to the extent that this afternoon's meeting will see Ireland come under enormous pressure to accept a bailout not just for our sake but to save the euro currency as well. One need only look at this morning's newspaper headlines to learn how concerned is the rest of the Continent. The Financial Times reported on its front page that Ireland is edging nearer to a bailout. The International Herald Tribune reports that Dublin may require rescue to stem the crisis and The Daily Telegraph reports that Germany will push Ireland to accept help. It is clear that the rest of Europe has lost confidence in the Government and that it has run out of time. Its inaction is leading to countries such as Portugal and Spain becoming highly concerned about whether the cost of their debt will increase to a level they cannot withstand. When listening to our own Government, it is clear that it is at sixes and sevens on this issue and that its members are unclear in their own minds about what exactly will happen. The longer this goes on, the worse it will be for both Ireland and the rest of Europe. This is one card the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, retains in his hand to play. The important thing is that if, when the Minister attends the meeting today, he considers himself obliged to obliged to accept a bailout, he should do so on his own terms and should try to ensure Ireland retains economic sovereignty and its own independence during that process.
On a separate issue, I was fortunate yesterday to be able to attend the launch of a new scheme in County Meath called the Men's Shed. It is a place to which older man can go to do things such as woodwork or metalwork or simply to play cards with gentlemen of their own age. Its purpose is to try to combat loneliness and rural isolation and it is being launched by the Third Wave Foundation. It is an example, in these desperately hard times, of how much good remains in the country and of how much promise and hope there still exists when communities come together. This is the message that Members need to send today.
It undoubtedly is true that the present situation facing the country is very serious. On one level, all Members should offer whatever support they can to the Minister for Finance in the two meetings that are taking place in Brussels today, namely, the euro group meeting and the ECOFIN Ministers' meeting. The country has been coming under enormous pressure that has been fuelled by international press reports coming from sources that I do not believe have this country's interests at heart.
This must be acknowledged in the first instance. The quality of the reporting, including reporting things as happening that have not happened or predicting things that will happen but that have yet to happen, does little for the quality of the truth that is required to deal with the crisis in which we face ourselves. More importantly, on the issue of governance, if a use must made of the facility to a large degree, for whatever circumstances, this will affect not only the parties in government at present but also whatever parties will find themselves in government in the near future. The governance of our country and our economic sovereignty are the issues at stake. While undoubtedly there have been policy areas that have contributed to our worsening situation, we also are a victim of international politics as regards our membership of the euro currency and how, as Senator O'Toole noted, we are being speculated against as being a link on the chain and the perceived weakest link on the chain at present. It also is true that if such speculators get their way on having their double guarantee at present, they will move on to Portugal and Spain. There is an onus on us, as concerned citizens and public representatives of this country, to protect the country's interests but also to look at how we, collectively in the European Union, will deal with this issue. In recent days, I fear that individual politicians, institutions and even governments have been thinking more of self-interest and national interest than the wider economic situation in which we find ourselves and which we are supposed to share. If we, as a small country, are to be victims of that situation, we should all be concerned about that.
I ask that the debate in this House, including the debate tomorrow on the existing bank guarantee, be conducted in those terms. We wish the Minister for Finance well and hope the Cabinet, when it meets on Thursday next, has an appropriate set of circumstances for our economy and society in which the country can move forward.
We should welcome the release from house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi and wish her well on her journey in her country, leading her people to better and more democratic circumstances. We have talked about the Burmese situation many times and the suffering of that country offers a useful contrast to the challenges we face in this country.
I agree with what Senator Boyle has said about levelling with the people and being honest with them about our very serious financial situation. I join Senator Fitzgerald in asking the Leader to arrange a debate as soon as the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, comes back from Brussels. In the past 48 hours Minister after Minister has denied that any talks were ongoing. I fail to understand why the Government is still dealing with this matter in a clandestine and hoodwinking manner and not levelling with the people. The people are terrified and are worried about their deposits and how they will be able to survive. If the Government were to level with the people and tell them the truth, and it is about the truth, we would be able to move on. There will be support from this side of the House for doing the right thing.
I also raise the issue of the single farm payment and the digitisation of maps. Many people have contacted me with regard to delays in the single farm payment. Is it that there is no money to pay farmers or is it that the inability to organise the digitising of maps is being used as an excuse? I ask for a very strong debate with the Minister, Deputy Brendan Smith, on this matter. Farmers are at the end of their tether trying to make ends meet.
I agree with speakers who say the financial situation has deteriorated greatly and I wish the Minister for Finance every success in his negotiations this afternoon. I read an article by one of the leading journalists in The Irish Times today and I was impressed by his approach. He said the international media are not accurately communicating the Irish position and indicated areas we could be talking about positively. He mentioned the information technology industry and the fine people who work in it and who could give leadership. He also referred to tourism. While that industry is languishing at present, nevertheless there are opportunities to re-invent and re-market the tourism industry.
These industries are driven by people with vision, energy and imagination. I would like this Chamber to talk about those issues. There are many fine people working on the ground but we hear so much negativity from some of the international and Irish media that we never get a chance to do anything positive. We are coming across as such negative people, it is no wonder the public at large are disengaged from us and feel very vulnerable at present. We should talk about our IT industry and those industries based on agriculture and food. These are areas where much positive thinking is going on. We should have debates on these issues in this Chamber.
There is room for discussion of the issue of students dropping out of third level institutions. With regard to the study being reported on, perhaps we should debate why the institutes of technology seem to have a higher dropout rate at the end of first year than other third level institutions. This Chamber could entertain a great debate on this issue.
As always, it is very interesting to hear what my colleague, Senator O'Toole, has to say. He says he has now changed his mind on matters such as the bank guarantee. I am in exactly the same position I was in. I disagree with the Senator in that the problem is not just a European one but also an American one. Global circumstances need to be considered. I hope the contagion will not be allowed to spread from the economy into society. We have an obligation to the citizens of Europe which needs to be protected rather than the interests of the gamblers, financial speculators and financial institutions. We should not allow these values to be removed from us.
I agree with what Senator Ormonde said. I read the same article as her. I remember when a former editor of The Irish Times, Mr. Douglas Gageby, was the head of the Irish News Agency. Part of its job was to contact the opinion formers and correct misinterpretations. There is a serious situation, but there is a lot of positive information that should be circulated. Mistakes should be corrected.
Will the Leader contact the Minister for Foreign Affairs to ask him to take up with the Israeli authorities the case of Mr. Shawan Jabarin who was a student in Galway in the Irish Centre for Human Rights? He is to be awarded a distinguished graduate honour at its tenth anniversary celebrations, at which I will be the master of ceremonies. The centre has asked me to take up the matter. Mr. Jabarin is committed to a policy of non-violence and a civic leader among the Palestinian people. He has been arrested, imprisoned and tortured, but he still continues with his work. He is banned because of his involvement with the Palestinian human rights organisation Al-Haq. The ban has been upheld by the Israeli courts and is all of a piece with a matter raised previously in the House, namely, the case of a young female student who was not allowed to continue her education in Bethlehem University, a university with strong contacts with University College Dublin. Since Mr. Jabarin was Amnesty International's first international prisoner of conscience from the Palestinian people, we should do what we can to ensure he will be permitted to travel here to receive the award he richly deserves.
In the history of every country but none more than Ireland there are defining moments that decide its future welfare and character. We have often touched on defining moments in debates. We have reached a defining moment in that Ireland is at a crossroads and we must make a decision on which road we are to take.
I was impressed by Senator Fitzgerald who expressed her clear belief the Irish nation would have the resilience to overcome the challenges faced. Senator Hannigan made a very good point in referring to the good in the community. We are all aware of this and know how strong it is and how cohesive it is as an influence. However, having read the various reports emerging, I note there is now a suggestion there is a divisive element, even within Europe, and that there are certain states focusing on and targeting Ireland in a way that suits them best rather than the Irish nation. That being the case, we need to unite as a people and return to the policy of old Sinn Féin, "Ourselves alone".
If we are to depend totally on a cohesive voice emerging in Europe, we will find it will not emerge at this stage. That is why we are receiving different reports on a 24-hour basis, which reports are contradicted subsequently.
It is obvious that forces which do not have the best interests of Ireland at heart are currently at work. This House and the Dáil have an opportunity to provide the leadership to which reference has been made in order to ensure that incorrect, misleading or divisive messages do not emanate from Ireland.
This is a worrying time. We wish the Minister for Finance well today. However, it is clear that all the financial solutions the Government has brought forward have failed. The Government has allowed the banks to destabilise our country and they are now destabilising the eurozone as well. All of the Government's denials regarding a bailout are probably going to be found to be incorrect. I wish to put a number of basic questions to the Leader and the Minister for Finance. I support and second the amendment tabled by Senator Fitzgerald to the effect that a debate on this matter should be held in the House tomorrow.
Go mo leithscéal, it was a request. Will Ireland's low rate of corporation tax be at risk regardless of whether it decides to opt for a bailout? Being obliged to change the corporation tax rate could be a condition either way. What will be the position with regard to people's savings? At the weekend I was approached by many individuals who are concerned by reports which indicate that the terms of engagement in the event of a bailout could mean that their savings will be frozen.
The time for honesty has come. We can handle the truth. This is a great country and we are a great people. However, we have not been dealt a fair hand by the Government. We must stand together and there is a need for clarity and fairness. People must not be left in the dark. In the event of a bailout, which would essentially mean the State would be in default, what would be the status of the bank guarantee?
The second issue I wish to raise——
One of the core principles of the Green Party's philosophy revolves around the concept of living within limits and in a sustainable manner. This means that, in the context of business, transport and production, we must recognise that there are environmental limits which apply. The Green Party also believes that economics also involves respecting limits. While it may have been the intention that the Stability and Growth Pact should provide such limits, it is clear that this pact has been dealt with in a quite casual way since the establishment of the euro. Many countries were allowed to stray outside the terms of the Stability and Growth Pact. In the case of Ireland, adherence to the limits to which I refer has contributed to creating the awful situation in which we find ourselves.
It is terrible to see how Ireland is being described in the international media at present. Not all of the criticism being levelled at the country is without foundation. However, as pointed out on Time magazine's website this lunchtime, some of this criticism is the result of a campaign of bullying. We must recognise that there are limits which must be respected. The latter comes instinctively to someone such as me, particularly as I am associated with a party which builds its ideas around the concept of sustainability. We must restore a level of sanity and build on our natural advantages.
One of the advantages, which was not promoted as well as could have been the case in some of the more positive articles I have read in recent days, is our ability to become self-sufficient from the point of view of energy. Ireland could reach a position where it would be able to export nine times the amount of energy it needs. Senator Butler referred to one company in this regard in recent days. However, this project is far bigger and encompasses a much broader agenda than merely concentrating on the efforts of a single company.
If we can focus on the positive concept to which I refer, we will create the basis on which to build an extremely sustainable country which would not be obliged to overreach itself and which could find the wherewithal to survive into the future from within its own resources. It should be a core part of any debate on the future shape of the economy.
I join others in urging the Leader to arrange the debate tomorrow when we have the outcome of the euro group and ECOFIN meetings. There is not a problem, as we understand it and as we think we know it, with the country. It is fully funded until the middle of next year. This problem, against which Ireland has been speculated, concerns our banks because they lack investor confidence. It is because the European Central Bank is simply uncomfortable with our banks' dependance on it. I wish those meetings very well. While "bailout" is perhaps a misnomer, whatever it is, I would advise the Minister to take it because the Government has been unable to provide certainty on our financial stability. That is where the Government has failed utterly.
We can get over it, we have the confidence and we can build again. I hope for the sake of the country and the financial institutions that the Minister accepts whatever is proffered and which will be agreed, as I understand it, among colleagues. There are many questions with which we are bedevilled and we cannot advance further until that happens. There is no mention of a third force in banking. We do not even know what is happening with Irish Life and Permanent, which, thankfully, is not involved as the others are in dependence on the State and which is still independent of taxpayers' involvement through the Minister. Credibility is involved. We need clarity, as has been stated by so many, and we need certainty. We will not have that certainty until we get over the meeting today. That is why I wish it well and hope the Leader will arrange that debate tomorrow.
We all are disgusted by some of the negative publicity, much of it unfounded, that has been cast on this country by the international media over recent weeks. It should be remembered that we are playing against a different agenda. Certain of the stronger European countries believe Ireland is probably the weakest link in the chain of the financial position of the euro.
We must be clear on something in this regard. If we are to save our banking institutions and get a functioning banking system in this country, we must get money made available in our economy at the same rate as it is being made available by the ECB to the stronger member states within the EU. There is not much sense in us paying the penalties that are killing our economy. We joined the euro to have the same interest rates as they have in Germany. Where are we today? We have been kicked out so far by the EU and the ECB that it is time we decided that we should either go on our own——
I came in today hoping I would hear serious criticism of the Government's policy over recent days and all I get is the green flag being wrapped around by everyone, especially by the Labour Party, and talk about economic sovereignty. James Connolly stated that if one took down the Union Jack from Dublin Castle and put up the green flag, it would make no difference.
What is this blustering talk of economic sovereignty from the Taoiseach and from the Minister for Finance over recent days about? I come from people like peasant people who had to shoot the odd landlord to ensure the rents were kept calm in an area. The squeaky wheel got the grease they knew.
What is this stuff about sovereignty? The facts are simple. The Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, gave the banks a bailout on the best information he had. He acted like a patriot, I think his information was flawed, he probably got the nod from the ECB and he did his duty. So far, so good. It was wrong, it is now subsequent, the facts have changed and we realise that bailout may have been a mistake. No fault on him. He was acting on the best information he had.
Now we know what we need to do. The sovereign debt and Ireland's economy are fine. The banks are the problem due to the bank debt. What we need to do is go to Europe and say to the ECB that it gave us low interest rates, loaned us money, helped us to create a property bubble and now this is reality time. What we want it to do now is take away the bank debt. The ECB has zillions of euro; it has €1.3 trillion and this is a Mickey Mouse debt for it. Take the bank debt off our backs and allow sovereign Ireland to go on trading and creating employment for its people. What we need is straight talk from the Taoiseach and from Deputy Brian Lenihan. We need them to get in and get squeaky wheel with Europe, and get tough with Europe and state they are there to mind our people; not the green flag or something called sovereignty but the real people of Ireland. Look after them now.
I was very interested to hear the previous speaker. I will not follow it, I will try to keep calm. I was also interested to hear the comments of Senator Ó Murchú who spoke about the old catch cry of Sinn Féin, which was "sinn féin amháin". This is the spirit that perhaps we need to look at. We need to look at the national spirit. We cannot have it both ways. If we are going to stand together we have to stand together. We cannot stand both together and apart; it is not possible. I very much endorse the views of Senator Mark Dearey. I believe that in six months our children will still have hot dinners and will still be able——
They will still have shelter and housing. We can get through this crisis and it is important that we all believe this. We have to have a way through it, and the way Senator Dearey spoke about was looking at the Green Party agenda and the things we can do. It is quite clear that the Green Party new deal is something that will get not only Ireland but also Europe and the world out of the economic difficulties they are in. It is easy to state this is only an Irish crisis but it is not only an Irish crisis, it is an Irish crisis brought on by people across the water and by the world economy.
I begin by reiterating the request for a debate tomorrow and for the Minister to come to the House. I wish the Minister well today in Brussels. This is about Ireland and about our people. As Senator Harris stated, it is not about a flag or sovereignty; it is about us as people. There must be no capitulation by us as people. We must stand for what we believe in, which is the Irish people and the Irish nation. The Minister has been wrong at every single turn. He has been wrong with every figure he has given. He has been wrong regarding the bank recapitalisation. He has been wrong and he has misled the Irish people and with him has the Government. Let us call a spade a spade.
The Irish people today are absolutely punch drunk. They are afraid, worried, concerned and they want to see leadership. Sadly, it is not coming from our elected Government. It is lacking and missing and this is the reality. The Irish people will rally to the cause if they are given the truth. The Government has lied at every opportunity, including as recently as last Sunday on radio. If it was as simple as abolishing State cars, abolishing the Seanad or bringing captains of industry into government it would be so easy, but it is not. It requires reinventing and reforming government and this is best served by changing the people at the Cabinet table and by changing policies. Above all, we must give the Irish people hope. We must give them an opportunity to dream of tomorrow and that tomorrow will be better than today. This can be done by us in this House and in the Dáil but it requires the Government to be honest. Tell the people the truth, not lies.
I join with others in calling for an early debate to discuss the prospective implications of tonight's meeting of the ECOFIN Ministers. Amidst the international media and market driven uncertainty, some facts remain exactly the same: the deficit is €19 billion, the budget will be on 7 December and irrespective of what is stated in the House today or what goes on in Brussels this evening the sun will come up for the Irish people tomorrow morning. As many Members on the other side of the House have stated, it is time that people are absolutely resilient and confident in their own ability to ensure that whatever needs to be done will be done. There is no question the level of uncertainty of recent times has been intolerable for all to contemplate and put up with. However, the energies of this and the other House must be focused on the contents of the upcoming budget. Rather than playing our part in maintaining and prolonging the international market and media-driven uncertainty, let us provide the leadership about which all Members have spoken and for which we all yearn and begin talking about how we, as representatives of the people, will ensure this House will play its part in making savings of €6 billion to meet the 3% target. It remains to be seen whether the liquidity crisis within the banking community and the international crisis for the euro will be dealt with tonight by a series of funds being made available to Ireland or whether they will be dealt with by means of an international fund to be made available to banks throughout the eurozone. The facts that remain in the control of the Members of these Houses have not changed, despite the irrational moves of the international markets as described in the recent weeks by the head of the Central Bank. Rather than play a part in the frenzy throughout the day, let us focus on the things we can control.
On a more light-hearted note, it would be remiss of the Houses of the Oireachtas not to extend congratulations to Sligo Rovers and Shamrock Rovers for a fantastic display of soccer for the people to see. I am sure the Leader will send a message to Sligo Rovers.
I have listened with great interest to the contributions made from all sides of the House on what is a grave day in the country's history. We need to be clear, however, that victimhood is not a path to survival. I have heard some speakers blame the European Union and the media for what has happened, while others have blamed the private sector. None of these groupings has been elected to govern and lead the country; that is our responsibility. It is a privilege to do so if one is in government and our job if in opposition. It must be acknowledged that political choices made at home have caused this disaster, but it is also the case that political choices made at home can lead the country out of the crisis. It can still be done. Despite the gravity of the situation, in some ways, the truth is mundane. If a deal is done tonight or tomorrow morning, Ireland will be given time to sort out its difficulties. A solution will not be delivered today, rather the country will be given time. Those charged with delivering the solution are not the speculators, the media or the European Union and we should stop blaming these groups. We should grow up and accept that we are the people who will provide the solutions, rather than looking to others to do it for us.
I endorse Senator Marc MacSharry's comments. The issue to be dealt with is the upcoming budget and four-year plan. Senator Donohoe asked us not to blame others. Last week I raised the issue of the scarcity of energy resources across Europe by 2015. Ireland has a significant opportunity to provide wind and wave energy, yet this point was not reported in the media, not even on "Oireachtas Report". It is very important that the media help us to spread the message that Ireland is not a basket case, that it has a lot of potential. The four-year plan will show our potential to be a leader in the provision of cheap and environmentally friendly energy supplies from sustainable resources.
I ask for a debate next week, if possible, on another matter. I refer to a report of the Rape Crisis Centre which states 50% of those who report cases of abuse have been assaulted at home or by a person known to them. While there have been many sad reports on institutional abuse, it is important that we also address the issue of abuse other than in institutions. We must encourage people to come forward to avail of services which I note are integrated and co-ordinated North and South. This co-ordination was underscored by the Minister for Justice and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, and by the Minister for Justice for Northern Ireland, Mr. David Ford, MLA, when he appeared before the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement last Thursday.
I call for a debate on domestic violence. It is one thing to have economic pressures exerted from the outside but another to be subjected to forms of violence within the home, including financial and economic violence. It is a worthy topic to put on our agenda for next week.
I intended to speak on the banking crisis and the economy but Senator Donohoe anticipated my remarks. There is a terrible sense of fear among the public. Last night I attended a political meeting at which questions were raised about the safety of bank deposits. People are concerned about their children's future and keeping a roof over their heads. As previous speakers have noted, the people are resilient but there are actions which that need to be taken. I agree with Senator MacSharry that certain matters are within our control. Despite the terrible miasma that has come over commentators who claim it is the fault of the European Union, the media or someone else, we can take positive measures to address the situation.
The reality is that the European Union will be instrumental in helping us resolve our difficulties. As Senator Harris pointed out, now is not the time to wrap the green flag around us. While the slogan "ourselves alone" was meaningful a long time ago, we are a different country now. We need help and support from friends in all parts of the world, on the continent of Europe in particular.
Senator McFadden raised a number of questions about the single farm payment which is threatened with a significant reduction in the review of the Common Agricultural Policy. I do not make my appeal solely on behalf of farmers, even though I have been contacted by a significant number of farmers who face financial difficulties because they have not received payments, but also in the interest of rural businesses which depend on the income generated by the payment. Last week I was contacted by a school friend who set up a business several years ago. He has had to take out five figure overdraft to pay his preliminary tax bill because the majority of farmers in the area have not yet received their single farm payments. He was lucky to get an overdraft even though his business is successful. The other people who work in rural Ireland are also coming under pressure because of delayed payments. These delays can arise on flimsy grounds. One farmer in my area was denied a payment for six months because he wrote "barley" instead of "spring barley" on one part of his application form. That is bureaucratic nonsense and I ask the Government to ensure payments are made at the earliest opportunity.
Scarcely a week goes by when we do not hear about a young man being killed in a road accident. It is time this House held a serious debate on this matter because clearly something is amiss. I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, to debate the matter with us so that we can hear proposals and views from all sides of the House on how we might tackle this crisis. I ask the Leader to put this matter at the top of his agenda.
I concur with Senator Donohoe regarding the approach which is now necessary. This House has been debating the country's economic plight effectively, albeit perhaps without conclusion, over recent months and these debates must continue. I look forward to the Leader attempting to initiate a fuller debate during the week. As I have said previously, the politics of the blame game are now totally irrelevant. The blame game provides short-term satisfaction, but it does not supply long-term solutions. The Irish public has made up its mind about the dreadful mistakes made by the Government. All of us must work together to provide hope for the economic future of this country. I reiterate that as a society, we must develop as much consensus as possible to ensure a financial framework can be put in place in the December budget that will allow this country at least to begin the process of recovery.
I am concerned by the tone of what some people have said about the EU. This is not the time for a "little Irelander" approach to politics or to Ireland's place and role in Europe. While we may have some difficulties with certain European decision-making, it should be borne in mind that Ireland, as a free and independent country, would not have enjoyed the economic success of the past 25 or 30 years without the support of the EU. We must work with Europe to try to work our way out of our current economic plight. The Oireachtas needs to be given sufficient time and space to debate the economic options we face. Solutions can and will be found. They have been found previously. We need to debate the options we face in advance of the December budget with the Minister for Finance and the other Ministers who are responsible for economic matters. We have a duty to try to instil and demonstrate confidence. We need a more substantive debate at the earliest opportunity.
We all wish the Minister for Finance the very best at the ECOFIN meeting. While we acknowledge the many good things our membership of the EU has secured for this country, it is only honest for us to note that we are dealing in some cases with forces that do not have our best interests at heart. At a time when we are not borrowing and we have sufficient funds to last until next June, why are we suddenly coming under pressure to take the bailout route? I was struck by a point made by a commentator to the effect that when we had our own currency our banks were assisted by our Central Bank, but now we are depending on the European Central Bank. While I accept the European Central Bank has been putting money into our banks, I suggest that it needs to see this problem as its problem as well as our problem. We have already heard the comments of Chancellor Merkel, which could be considered to be unhelpful to our interests. We are famous for our negotiating ability. It will be important for Ireland to work with its allies and to push back against attitudes that might serve the interests of larger and more powerful countries in the EU, rather than assisting us in our immediate crisis.
As Senator Donohoe said, "despite the gravity of the situation" we must not forget the vulnerable in our society. Members will be aware of the priorities set out by Inclusion Ireland for people with intellectual disabilities in its proposals for the forthcoming budget. It emphasised the need to avoid cuts in the front-line health and education services provided to people with disabilities and to improve the personal advocacy services set out in the Citizens Information Act 2007. We cannot afford to lose sight of such priorities. Any reduction in disability supports of any kind must be a last resort. In light of the waste involved in Irish politics and Government Departments — I refer to the inflated wages of some top public and civil servants, the massive proliferation of quangos, the gross overruns and unreasonable expenses associated with the tribunals and our willingness to throw good money after bad into our banking system — it is inconceivable that we have reached the last resort in expenditure cuts. The vulnerable should not be a viable economic target. We have to find a way to keep this issue front and central, even while recognising and working within the grave situation we have.
I would like to talk about a similar issue to that raised by Senator Mullen. I learned at the weekend about a HSE proposal to cull the mental health budget in the western area by 5%. I find this quite shocking given that the Minister of State with responsibility for mental health was in the House last week. We had a two-hour debate on mental health services and how the recession was impacting on people. We discussed various issues, including the 25% rise in the suicide rate. The development to which I have referred gives little comfort to people who have been affected by suicide. It is said that 20 people are affected by every suicide but I would say there are many more.
This represents a total abandonment by the Government of A Vision for Change. The Minister of State must come clean on this. Is it the intention to cut the mental health budget by 5%? What is the point of advertisement campaigns making people aware of mental health issues? It is paying lip-service to mental health services. There has been a total abandonment of treating the conditions. It is fully acknowledged that there is an increase in the need for mental health services in a recession when every waking moment is filled with fear and trepidation in regard to our financial situation. Could we have clarity on what will happen to mental health services?
Will the Leader request the Minister for Finance to address the House at the earliest opportunity on the outcome of the ECOFIN meeting? I am especially conscious that we are not in a vacuum and that we need to be very careful about what we say. The comments about sovereign default and the question mark over how we manage our economy do not serve us well because what we say is often misrepresented, particularly in the international press.
I am very conscious that those who wish to be responsible will see that the best way to show responsibility is by supporting the budget and the four-year plan. That plan will remain in place regardless of which parties form the next Government. Calls for an immediate general election are nonsensical at this stage. An immediate general election would lead to instability, the budget being rejected and the international markets reacting immediately. For five or six weeks after the general election, we would have the coalition polka where the Labour Party would step in, step out and step in again and, once more for the benefit of the left, step back out again before eventually stepping back into coalition. It would be ridiculous at a political level for people to call for an early general election. Similarly, we should be conscious that if the Donegal South-West by-election results in a Sinn Féin win, given its economic policies, it would be to the detriment of the economy of this country and of the euro.
People used to ask whether someone was in the GPO in 1916. Our descendents will ask those of us who are Members of both Houses where we were when this crisis occurred. Today is not a day for blame. It was interesting to hear people say let us avoid the blame game. Let us remind ourselves of the importance of what the Minister for Finance is trying to achieve tonight. He is trying to ensure control over the future remains in our hands as much as possible. Let us ensure we support that.
Let us look at what happened to Latvia. It ran into similar difficulties to us. It handed matters over to the International Monetary Fund and ended up with a 30% reduction in the number of public sector employees, a 30% reduction in public sector pay, 37 of 76 state agencies were closed, 17 hospitals out of 75 were closed, the teacher-pupil ratio was changed dramatically and there were increases in taxes. It solved the problem but it was not in their own hands. They did not make those decisions.
We have a problem which may or may not be our fault but let us stop talking about blame. Let us ensure we support those going into battle for us. Let us ensure when our descendents ask us where we were in these years that we say we were Members of these Houses and we were responsible for whatever decisions were made. Let us ensure we can look back knowing we did as good a job as we could do.
I join colleagues in wishing the Minister for Finance and his team well in his deliberations, probably well into late hours of tonight. Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Hannigan, Boyle, McFadden, Ormonde, Norris, Ó Murchú, Healy Eames, Dearey, Coghlan, Ellis, Harris, Ó Brolcháin, Buttimer, MacSharry, Donohoe, Keaveney, Phelan, Bradford, Mullen, Hanafin and Quinn once again expressed their serious concerns about the events which have taken place in recent days. I join Senators who have confidence in the resilience of the people who are waiting to play their part in any way they can. The Houses of the Oireachtas has a duty to allay the uncertainty and the fear among some people and to make decisions as quickly as possible in the best interests of our people.
Ireland is a very small player in the European Union but it is a very strong country in terms of its total commitment to the European Union. We could not have a better ambassador representing our country than the Minister for Finance. It is a difficult situation and, as has been said by colleagues, when the international gamblers and speculators enter the fray and want to make easy money because Ireland is seen as a small player in the European Union, the European Union must decide for itself.
We all know the issues. The people, the entrepreneurs and those who have proved employment for a long time are ready and waiting for the banks to start to lend for good sound projects awaiting funding. The recovery will not be sustainable unless it is through employment.
Before the Order of Business, the party and group leaders and I discussed leaving time aside to allow Senators to express their concerns and views. We will leave time aside tomorrow after the tributes to our late colleague, Kieran Phelan, for a debate with the Minister or the Minister of State present. We have no difficulty sitting any day or night. No matter how much time is needed, every Senator will be given the opportunity to speak during these defining days when the decisions of the Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas will be made which will have ramifications for the coming years. Please God we will be in a position to make the right decisions and we will be thanked for them by generations to come. How many times have we heard about the decisions taken by the late Mr. Charles Haughey, Mr. Michael Mullen and Mr. Ray MacSharry in 1987 which gave us the vibrant economy we have had for the past 25 years or so? On the views expressed by Senators Ó Murchú, Ellis and Harris, I have taken note of those exceptional contributions on the matters about which I just spoke.
Senator Hannigan spoke about communities coming together in County Meath. I fully support his views in this regard and wish well the community which got together yesterday. I have been in Donegal South-West for the past few days and it was uplifting to see how the people of that county are addressing their problems and getting on with it. Their great strength is that of their communities.
Senator Boyle welcomed the release of Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, which I fully support. She is a Nobel peace prize winner and spent 15 years under house arrest. I hope she will bring many opportunities and hope to the people of her country given the sacrifices she, like Nelson Mandela in South Africa, made. I hope she is as important a guiding light and an inspiring person. What she has done will certainly be appreciated and will change the people of her country in the future.
Senators McFadden, John Paul Phelan and other colleagues raised the issue of the single farm payment, on which I have received representations. I will give the House the up-to-date position on it from the Department on tomorrow's Order of Business.
Senator Ormonde spoke about the importance of having a debate on the IT industry, the challenges it faces and the opportunities that exist for its development. She said that as a food producing country, our food industry could be a world leader and it has achieved a great deal. I have no difficulty in having a debate on this matter. The Senator also called for a debate on third level education and on why some students are quitting courses in institutes of technology after completing the first year. I have no difficulty in arranging for the Minister to attend a debate on this matter.
Senator Norris asked that I contact the Minister for Foreign Affairs on a student issue he outlined to the House. I will contact the Minister's office after the Order of Business and report to the Senator directly on it.
Senators Dearey, Ó Brolcháin and Keaveney called for a debate on energy, our ability to be self-sufficient in meeting our energy needs and on the opportunities for development that exist in the sector for us as an island nation. I gave a commitment last week to have such a debate. As was outlined by the Senators, there is great potential and opportunities to develop this sector. It is where our future lies in terms of restoring our economy. This is one of the planks of our economic recovery to which we can look forward with much optimism and hope. I hope to arrange for such a debate very soon if it is possible with all the legislation that is due to come to the House.
Senator MacSharry congratulated his local team on winning the cup. I am a Shamrock Rovers supporter myself. It was an incredible game and four penalties were missed in the final analysis, but be that as it may, I congratulate the Senator and Sligo Rovers on winning the cup. It was a terrific game.
Sport is important in uplifting the spirits of our people. The Cathaoirleach was a keen sportsman and he led his county in the field of dreams in his time. Sport is as important for our people as is, as Senator Keaveney has often said, our music. It is important that people are allowed and able to celebrate and that they can return to the joys of celebration in this regard.
Senator Keaveney spoke about the Rape Crisis Centre report, abuse, domestic violence and all the serious issues she outlined to the House. I have no difficulty in arranging for such a debate.
Senator Glynn expressed his serious concern regarding road deaths and road accidents involving young males in particular. I have no difficulty in arranging for a debate on this matter at which the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, would be present in the House. I welcome the speed cameras which came into operation from midnight last night. The speed cameras represent the biggest spend in decades on making our roads safer. A total of 197 people have lost their lives on the roads this year to date. While that is a very high figure, when I was chairman of the Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business, of which Senators Leyden and Brady were members, more then 400 people a year died on our roads at that time. I am glad that the hard work of our committee has been taken seriously by the Department and the Road Safety Authority and that now we have the lowest number of road fatalities in more than five decades. That speaks for itself. I congratulate everyone involved and wish them well. I hope that common sense will prevail in this regard.
Senators Prendergast and Mullen called for a debate on mental health services, A Vision for Change and changes in the budget for mental health services. As we all know, no one is privy to what changes will be announced in the budget, but I have no difficulty in having a further debate on A Vision for Change, for which Senator Prendergast has called on many occasions.