Thursday, 16 December 2010
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund (No. 2) Regulations 2010, back from committee, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, Criminal Law (Insanity) Bill 2010 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1; No. 3, Credit Institutions (Stabilisation) Bill 2010 - all Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2, with Second Stage to conclude not later than 2 p.m., if not previously concluded, the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed seven minutes and on which Senators may share time, by agreement of the House, with Committee and Remaining Stages to conclude not later than 4 p.m.; and No. 4, motion for earlier signature, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 3. It is also proposed to take the Appropriation Bill 2010 at the conclusion of No. 4. The Bill is before the Dáil and will be circulated to Members when completed in the other House by way of a Supplementary Order Paper.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on public transport, specifically Dublin Bus, when the House returns after the Christmas break. Dublin Bus recently set about changing its routes. I am aware of reductions in service in parts of Dublin, especially in the Lucan-Palmerstown area. The deterioration in service being experienced by people in the area gives rise to major competition issues and the Minister must come before the House to discuss them. A private company which operated in competition with Dublin Bus in the Lucan-Palmerstown area is no longer operating and Dublin Bus has withdrawn certain services, resulting in a significant deterioration in the local bus service. People are beginning to use their cars again because the bus service is ineffective.
In raising the Government's record on reform I refer specifically to recent newspaper reports and information that has emerged on appointments to State boards. The Government talks about reforming politics, including the Seanad, yet here we have the same old story of appointments being made without a transparent process. The Government has not acted on the suggestion of the Green Party that appointments be made by way of committees. Approximately 300 people are to be appointed to State boards by the outgoing Government without transparency or reform of the appointments process. This is not acceptable and I ask the Leader and Deputy Leader to exert influence on the Government in this matter and show they are serious about reform.
The House has debated air traffic, flights, etc., on a number of occasions recently. I ask the Leader to walk down the road to his neighbour, Mr. Michael O'Leary of Ryanair, and ask him whether he misled us. While I accept people from Castlepollard would not promulgate untruths-----
I hope the Leader is not defending him. Mr. O'Leary promised to deliver 6 million additional passengers to Ireland if the airport travel tax was abolished. His response to last week's decision by the Government to reduce the air travel tax from €10 to €3 was to cut six routes out of the country. The same individual told us he would save Shannon Airport, but he cut the number of flights from the airport as soon as the publicity ended. He also played footsie with Cork Airport and is doing the same with Kerry Airport, from which he has blocked flights. Will the Leader ask him if he has any conscience with regard to how he does business with people? Mr. O'Leary believes politicians treat him contemptuously. I felt a degree of sadness on his behalf when I read an interview with him in one of today's newspapers in which he states he is being got at by politicians. I do not hold him in contempt as he is doing a fine job for himself. He is, however, misleading people, which raises questions about the reason he repeatedly makes promises only to walk away from them.
Perhaps we will have an opportunity to discuss the issue of euro bonds in later debates. The Government should sit down the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and take her through a potted history of the past 100 years. It should explain to her the reason the Common Market, now the European Union, was founded and tell her that everyone needs to pitch in to address Ireland's problems and create stability. Euro bonds must be introduced. If we have a single currency, we should have a single bond. Some little Irelanders such as my colleague, Senator Ross, may be taken aback when I question the need to have 29 separate central banks in the European Union. Would it not be sufficient to have one central bank making appropriate decisions? The nationalist Senator Ross will have difficulties with this proposition, but we should recognise that currency matters are only one part of what we do. Taking sensible decisions on behalf of the people would not result in a loss of sovereignty. One such decision would be an agreement on the introduction of euro bonds. Another would be to recognise that we do not need 29 central banks replicating decisions across Europe.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate early in the new year on four reports on special care units for children which were published yesterday by the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA. They make for disturbing reading and identify significant failings in four separate centres with regard to how they are managed and staffed and in the training of those running and working in them. I accept that many good people work in such care units. However, the State faces a severe problem. As Jamie Smyth reports in The Irish Times this morning, the sad thing in reading the reports is that the children in question appear to feel more at risk in the units than they felt in the community. That is a shocking statement which the House must acknowledge in drawing conclusions on how these units are managed and operated.
I note an extraordinary statement made by the Minister of State with responsibility for children yesterday.
It was extraordinary but at a time when many extraordinary things are being done and said one often misses some. The Minister of State responsible described the service as "drifting and lacking leadership". He shares responsibility with the Minister for Health and Children from whom we never hear about these issues. Of course, he might have described many other matters in the present Government as "drifting and lacking leadership". Those words are not mine but his. Clearly, there should be a debate on the issue in the House as soon as possible in the new year.
I refer briefly to the manner in which the Credit Institutions (Stabilisation) Bill 2010 is being dealt with by the Houses, given that it has been ordered for today in this House. Does the Leader agree it is extraordinary that, after many months of debate, argument and concern about the banking system and the wider economic crisis caused in the main by the banking crisis, only now are we debating the issues contained in this Bill and the mechanisms that need to be put in place? There is no question that many of the items in the Bill are necessary but they were necessary months if not years ago. Looking at the explanatory memorandum which lays out the different issues that form the basis of this Bill, one could not disagree about the need for legislation on any one of them. However, what happened? We have had two years of the most torrid revelations, controversy, argument and so on yet have none of the legislation we need. In its dying days this Government published the Bill on a Tuesday, brought it to the Dáil and passed it on a Wednesday, will introduce it to the Seanad on a Thursday and wants it to be passed. Three days are awarded for public debate on the Bill.
-----of such extraordinary and important legislation. I emphasise my point is not that the legislation is not important, rather it is the opposite. It is so important that it is wrong that the only people who appear to have debated these issues are the Minister for Finance, the Attorney General and, presumably, the Taoiseach.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on cancer services, focusing on prostate cancer which affects thousands of men. It is the most diagnosed cancer in men and the statistics are worrying. One man in six will be diagnosed with prostate cancer and the cancer is responsible for more deaths in men than any other cancer. There is no standard screening in place and the current blood test for those who present is unreliable and does not adequately address this killer disease. The good news is that with awareness and standard screening, especially new DNA screening, more men can be diagnosed. Early intervention means positive results. I call for a special awareness programme and regular screening of all men in the susceptible age category.
I remind the Leader that I have sought a debate on obesity and related issues, particularly the need to improve food labelling.
As Senator Fitzgerald stated today, the prospect of the stuffing of so many State boards in the dying days of a Government or of any Administration is appalling. It is totally unseemly, does nothing to inspire confidence and is very damaging to politics. We are in enough trouble as it is without the unseemly haste with which this is to take place. The process is entirely lacking in objectivity, not to mention transparency. At a minimum, it should be halted until there is Oireachtas scrutiny. That is what should happen and, obviously, should apply also to any new Administration. The opportunity must be given to the new Administration to amalgamate and perhaps abolish a number of these boards. There must be less government and we must cut size. I appeal to the Leader to allow a motion in this House to alert the Government and halt this process.
I shall refer briefly to the matter raised by Senator O'Toole. I, too, do not wish to mention names but perhaps, as suggested, the Leader might see the individual in question over Christmas. It is a public interest matter because a public service obligation, PSO, is involved. What happened in Kerry is tragic. This business cut out the opposition because its rates were so cheap. Now it has cut flights and we can see what is happening to our tourism as a result. I strongly support the spirit of what Senator O'Toole said regarding that matter.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, to the House to discuss the Government's response to the decision this morning by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The court ruled that Ireland has failed to implement the constitutional right to abortion where a woman's life is at risk. I understand Ireland has always complied with the constitutional ban on abortion. This decision taken by the court today is very serious and the Minister should respond as a matter of urgency. Another constitutional amendment may be required that could run in conjunction with the general election next year. It is a very important issue and I hope the Minister will give an early response in this House to this major decision by the European court at 10.30 a.m. today.
I commend two very brave gardaí in Cork, Garda John O'Sullivan and Reserve Garda Peter Clifford, who rescued Mrs. May O'Gorman in Murrough Lane, off Blarney Street. I ask the Leader to send the best wishes of the House to the two gardaí through the Garda Commissioner, complimenting and commending them for their bravery which was above and beyond the call of duty. They rescued the woman from being burned alive in an alleged arson attack on her home.
Senator Leyden has placed very significant news on the record of the House. This is a most serious matter. There are people with deep and profoundly held convictions on both sides of the issue. It touches the most serious level of our life and our values as a people. I very much hope that unlike some previous occasions when this matter was discussed, it will be done in a calm rational way with respect for divergence of opinion and that whatever solution may be arrived at will be in the best interests of the people.
Can the Leader give us any indication as to whether the immigration Bill will come before the House? Will it be before the Government ceases to exist? It is a complex and controversial Bill. This morning I listened to Sr. Stanislaus Kennedy delivering her thought for the day. She was very reflective and instanced a case which I believe we all know about of an asylum seeker who was deported on foot of a traffic offence. That does not seem to me to be at all proportionate and the sooner we have proper legislation in this area the better.
I completely agree with Senator O'Toole about eurobonds about which I have spoken. If the euro strengthens so will the financial community within the European Union, just as happened in the case of the development of the state of Germany out of a series of small German states, Prussia, in particular. A type of centrifugal force is involved. It started as a customs unit and continued. In my view, that progress is inevitable and we should stand together. We have not seen much in the way of comradeship or solidarity from our European partners, with particular regard to the excessive rates being forced on the Irish people in order to pay for the speculative banking habits of some of the largest European banks. This is wrong and intolerable. The eurobond is a measure that should be considered.
I wish to raise again the issue of corruption in sport, on which I have been ruled out of order several times. As recently as last night, in a football match between Motherwell and Hearts, a player was sent off. There has now been a formal investigation into the incident by both the Association of British Bookmakers and the Scottish Football Association because of suspicious activity on the betting markets.
I beg the House's pardon. I cannot speak because there are so many conversations taking place.
While we are not drawing any conclusions regarding the player at the centre of the allegation, I seek a debate on the need for an international agency to combat organised crime in sport. Too many issues are arising right across the board in this regard. I have had informal discussions on the subject, even with sports associations in Ireland. I declare an interest in that I am chair of the youth and sport committee of the Council of Europe. It has been charged with putting together a report on this matter. If Ireland, a very good sporting nation, does not have an opinion on it, there is something seriously wrong.
Perhaps it is just good luck that someone bet €500 that there would be a red card and it just happened to pay off. There was no abnormality found in the betting market but when this specific case was examined, it was concluded that there was a lot of suspicious activity. With exchange betting, it has become easier for people to bet on small incidents within and between games, thereby opening up massive opportunities for very serious crime and very serious allegations of match fixing. These should not go unnoticed and should be very much exposed to ensure the integrity of sport.
I join Senator Fitzgerald in asking for a debate in which the Taoiseach would explain why, in the dying days of this Government, 300 people, mainly friends of Fianna Fáil and the Green Party, are to be appointed to boards. The old-pals act continues.
I am asking for the Taoiseach to come to the House to explain why the Fianna Fáil-led Government, in its dying days, is going to fill 300 vacancies with its pals. Has the Government not learned anything from the mistakes in the banking sector and from the way the economy has plummeted through the lack of regulation and the cosy cartels involving members in the Government benches? That is the reality.
In the budget, debated in both Houses, the Government again missed an opportunity to reform the political system. It funked it regarding salaries and the lavish expenses of Ministers and their entourage. It did not have the bottle to introduce a referendum on Seanad abolition. It has no credibility on reform. This morning it is carrying on as if it were business as normal. It is not business as normal.
Senator O'Toole's point on Ryanair is very valid. The Government was wrong to introduce the travel tax. It reduced it by 70%, in fairness to it, but it still kept it. Is the Government serious about working with the stakeholders in the aviation industry to bring tourists into this country? If so, it will take up Senator O'Toole's proposition and meet Mr. O'Leary. More important, the Leader will arrange a meeting between Mr. O'Leary and the Minister. While we know Mr. O'Leary's relationship with the Government is bad, the Leader could be a bridge builder to bring in more tourists to this country.
I thank my colleagues for a very good debate yesterday on the fishing industry and thank the Leader for organising it. Bearing in mind the fishing industry is one of Ireland's smaller industries, I note the great support received from my colleagues in Fine Gael and the Labour Party. Even Senator Norris was very encouraging.
I would like a broad debate on farming and fishing. The fishing sector can, in the next five years, provide over 20,000 jobs, provided there is a level playing field. Unfortunately, vessel numbers are declining. For example, the number of vessels fishing from Castletownbere port has halved in the past decade and the number of people involved in fishing has reduced by more than half, yet the number of enforcement officers has quadrupled. Our farming and fishing sectors are subject to more stringent compliance regimes and regulations than any other EU country.
In the new year, I would like to debate the provision of jobs. The stimulus to reactivate our economy will come from indigenous natural resources, such as farming and fishing resources. These served us well in recessions in the past and there is no doubt they will do so again. I am absolutely encouraged by the fact that the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Seán Connick, returned from Europe with a very positive package that was heralded and lauded by the fishing industry nationally. This is positive in these recessionary times. We must do something to encourage the development of mariculture, aquaculture and the fishing industry generally, and the development of value added products in agriculture. Such development can serve as a stimulus in that jobs will be created if we ensure the rules and regulations are as fair in Ireland as they are in other EU countries.
I join Senator Fitzgerald in calling for a debate on Dublin Bus services and Bus Éireann services to the commuter towns. Recently, during a cold snap, we saw the fantastic services these companies provide to commuters from places such as Ashbourne and Dunshaughlin. The bus is the only means of transport to work for these commuters when they cannot use their cars. Another cold snap is due next week. I am sure the bus companies will do their utmost to get people to their destinations.
I would like to extend the debate to include future transport provision in the capital. Yesterday at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Transport, the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport representatives told us about their proposals to meet the city's future transport needs. A recent review by the institute concluded that the prioritisation of schemes should be considered. It feels the DART extension should be considered more favourably and sooner than metro north. This would be a very interesting debate. I am still not convinced that the cost-benefit ratio for metro north indicates we should proceed with this project straight away. We could benefit from a debate on this. I ask the Leader to arrange one.
I join Senator O'Toole in calling for a debate on euro bonds. When we debated the Lisbon treaty some years ago, reference was made to the spirit of solidarity. It was asked whether countries in trouble would receive help from their fellow EU member states. We said at the time we would not send military assistance but other forms of assistance. Now is the time for us to receive assistance from other European countries. I invoke the spirit of Article 222. I was glad to hear Martin Schulz, chairman of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, of which group my party, the Labour Party, is a member, state this morning he would be in favour of considering euro bonds. Ms Angela Merkel is a member of the European People's Party in the European Parliament, of which party Fine Gael is a member. Between people such as Ms Merkel, Mr. Sarkozy and Mr. Schulz, we could negotiate a better deal than the one that was done last week on the ECB loan. I encourage the leaders of the Labour Party and Fine Gael to talk to their European counterparts to determine whether we can secure a better deal.
I too call for a debate on the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights this morning regarding one of the three women who took an action over her right to an abortion in circumstances where her life might be threatened. One of the three women had her rights upheld by the court. There has already been talk of a constitutional referendum. I am not sure this is what is needed in this case but the court's findings are binding and it may place an onus on Ireland to issue guidelines to the effect that a woman whose life is threatened and who is constitutionally guaranteed the right to an abortion in such circumstances may have to be facilitated. This would involve a huge change in how Ireland has traditionally addressed this issue and it would give rise to a major moral debate among many people. Talk of a constitutional referendum may be previous but there is no doubt that we face a very serious debate on this most serious matter. It has been brought into very sharp relief by the binding nature of the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights this morning.
I seek guidance from the Minister for Defence on the role of the Army if the cold weather returns. In recent weeks in Dundalk, a barracks town, the Army played a very important role in keeping the streets clear. There may be a role for the Army in outlying areas around the country. Small businesses have been badly affected by the cold weather at a critical time of year and we need to do all we can in an attempt to keep our smaller towns open for business, where county councils may not have resources, particularly at night time. I was contacted by a restaurateur in Ardee, who is terrified of another cold snap in the run-up to Christmas during what is the make or break time of year. I would appreciate if the Leader could give guidance in this and seek to make use of the Army in this civil matter to as wide an extent as possible.
I seek a debate on the funding of local government and local authorities. We urgently need a debate in this House and I am disappointed that the Minister the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has not attended the Chamber. Will there be water rates on private dwellings? What will happen with waste disposal?
Will there be county managers for more than one local authority? All these matters are up in the air and we need a debate. We need the Minister to come in and explain where the Government stands on proposals for the proper funding of local authorities. The vast majority of local authorities are in dire straits in respect of funding. In most cases, they do not have enough money to buy salt for the roads over the bad weather period. I call for this debate to be held because it is important and I am disappointed the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is running away from this problem.
Having read the interpretation by RTE, it appears the court is calling for legislation. With that in mind, I uphold the calls this morning for a referendum because the people in the Republic are meant to be sovereign. When it suits legislators and when they have a particular view, they do not want people to be sovereign and they want the legislators' views to be sovereign.
I ask the Leader to convey to his party that it should consider the difference between the verb "Is" and the verb "Tá", the former being a permanent position and the latter being a contingent condition. People put up with minor corruption when an economy is booming but the smallest bonus in the public sector arouses major public anger. Everything must be considered in context now. The three main parties have certain obligations to the Irish people, who have shown in polls that they require large degrees of consensus on delicate matters such as the Northern Ireland peace process. Resolving the matter of appointments to State boards is easily resolved. If the Government insists on appointing people to State boards, it will find the level of public anger will be of the same degree as the anger about bonuses in the public sector and it will cost the Government parties dearly at the polls. Common sense should tell them to think twice.
That is good. Then the Leader has some pressure on him.
I endorse the remarks of Senator Norris about taking the European Court of Human Rights issue out of the public domain coming up to a general election. It is bad news all round. There should be general agreement to park this away from a general election. Senator O'Toole is correct in his point about this being an endorsement of the constitutional position but in the incendiary exchanges in this House, we can already see the potential for trouble. I appeal to all parties to take it off the agenda for the election.
I reassure Senator Harris and others that it is the stated policy of Fine Gael, with regard to these appointments, that there is provision for an interview before Oireachtas committees. I echo the calls of Senators Fitzgerald and Coghlan that, at this 11th hour, the Government refrains from stuffing the State boards and different agencies with political appointments and cronies. This kind of politics has mushroomed in the past 12 years when we saw a substantial growth in the number of State bodies to which appointments can be made. It is unseemly and I ask the Government to refrain from it before the election takes place.
On the issue of this morning's decision by the European Court of Human Rights, I understand that the court has upheld the right of one of the applicants to an abortion based on her medical need, which is based on the decision in the X case a number of years ago. In that case, in interpreting the Irish Constitution, it was decided that if there was a real and substantive threat to the life of a woman, she is entitled to an abortion under our Constitution. That is the logic used by the European Court of Human Rights. That is already the constitutional position in this country. I agree with Senator Harris that this issue should not be used politically in the next few months but perhaps it could be cleared up legislatively. Our Constitution already provides for this. This morning's judgment is a confirmation of the position as it exists.
I echo the sentiments of Senator Paddy Burke, who asked for a discussion on the funding of local authorities. In the past ten years, a number of items of legislation have been introduced in this House with regard to how local authorities operate, how they are funded and how they are structured. We have seen a proliferation of directors of services and extra remuneration for top management in local authorities while the functions they provide have been stripped back because funding has been cut. It seems that the reforms of the past ten years have not worked in local government. We must go back to a much fairer and older system of local authority management in this country. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate at the earliest possible opportunity in the new year.
The figure is 107. Whatever happened in the past, it does not necessarily mean it was right. We should have new politics and we should start with reform. What is being proposed is old politics. The stuffing of State boards with political appointees and hacks, without any scrutiny, should be a thing of the past. Perhaps my proposal will fall on deaf ears but I ask that these appointments be halted until such time as there is proper scrutiny of the people concerned. That should be done and we should have reform of our political system. It should start with this point. The people of Ireland are sick and tired of this jaded type of politics and cronyism and it must change. The Government should take heed of what the people want in this regard.
I seek an urgent debate on mortgage debt arrears. The Law Reform Commission recommended abolishing imprisonment for people who cannot pay fines. This is a welcome recommendation. The body proposes that a new, non-court system should be set up for personal debt. This is a major issue for a variety of people, particularly over the past two or three years. I welcome the proposal of the Law Reform Commission, which comes up with a number of good ideas over the years.
Another proposal concerns a debt enforcement office to help people and small businesses to reach agreement with creditors. This is an issue the Leader knows a lot about. The revised Central Bank code of conduct on mortgage arrears got lost during the budget debate. This is a huge issue for people in Drogheda and east Meath, who are concerned about their family homes. Senator MacSharry has done a lot of work on this over recent years but protecting family homes is a priority for every Member of the House. After the report of the Government's expert group on mortgage arrears and personal debt, and now the new revised code of conduct, strict procedures must be introduced by the lending bodies. That is welcome and it is up to us in the Oireachtas to ensure it is implemented. I look forward to a debate on this as soon as possible.
Senators Fitzgerald and Hannigan called for a debate on public transport, particularly Dublin Bus and the services that are being mooted to be withdrawn. This is a timely debate. Also the extension of DART services has been suggested and I have no difficulty having a debate about this after the Christmas recess.
Senator Callely raised the issue of prostate cancer. I certainly support his call, particularly looking at the American statistics that demonstrate one in six will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in his lifetime but only one in 34 will die from it. These are alarming statistics and we must highlight them and this is an ideal opportunity for this House to play a leading role. I will certainly have a debate on prostate cancer on the Order Paper within the first two weeks after the Christmas recess. He also called for a debate on obesity and I have no difficulty including obesity when the Minister for Health and Children next visits the House.
Senators Fitzgerald, Coghlan, Buttimer, Harris, Phelan and Cummins asked about reform to the system of appointments to boards. It is true that 148 appointments were made by Fine Gael and Labour in 1997 and it really started with earlier interparty Governments involving Labour and Fine Gael. We will leave all that aside.
I fully agree the best possible people should be appointed and I fully agree that in the main most of those appointments by all parties have taken place. I acknowledge the huge effort and contribution made by men and women down through the decades in a voluntary capacity in most cases. From the experience of the HSE, and many of us in this House have been members of health boards, all of these appointments must be answerable. We as politicians are answerable on an hourly and daily basis to our electorate and we must go for an endorsement every so many years. We must have an answerable system and I have no difficulty debating this in the House because it is in the best interests of the taxpayer in the long-term and I fully support many of the calls made this morning.
Senators O'Toole, Coghlan and Buttimer spoke about the challenge laid down by the Government to Ryanair and its chief executive. I fully support the Government in its challenge. The opportunity is now being made available for one of the most dynamic Irishmen of all times to see how he will answer the call in the national interest, as well as in Ryanair's interest. I will make the case personally to him over the Christmas recess. I have always acknowledged the wonderful achievements Ryanair has made towards tourism over its lifetime in this country. No one has done better than what it has done and we must increase the tourism figures and his company and Ryanair can play a serious, important role in what they can do going forward for us to recover from the downturn in trade that we are all experiencing.
Senators O'Toole, Norris and Hannigan asked about eurobonds, with Senator O'Toole asking if we need 29 central banks. This can be debated when the Minister for Finance is present this afternoon.
Senator Alex White asked about the HIQA report on children in care and I have no difficulty in passing on the strong views of the Senator to the Minister on this issue.
Senators Leyden, Dearey, Hanafin and O'Toole spoke about the EU judgment that has just been announced and I have no difficulty in having this debated in the House in the first week after the Christmas recess. I also join Senator Leyden in congratulating the two gardaí in Cork for their huge bravery in that terrible incident when they rescued that unfortunate woman.
Senator Norris asked about the immigration Bill and I will try to find out about this today. Senator Keaveney spoke about corruption in sport and the need for an international commission to regulate the alleged abuses in sports. The integrity of sport must be protected and in fairness to Senator Keaveney, she is a champion of this cause at this time and I fully support her. We should be doing whatever we can to help and assist her. The alternative to the abuse of alcohol, drugs and everything else is all sports related. As I often have said, the greatest gift one can give the body is to have it fit. I fully support anything we can do to promote sport in our country.
Senator O'Donovan spoke about the huge opportunities for job creation in the fishing industry. I thank everyone who participated in that debate last night and supported the Minister and I too wish to congratulate him on behalf of Members for his achievements in the EU in bringing back a very good deal in very difficult times for the industry. It is an industry where there are huge job creation opportunities and we should be doing everything we can.
Senator Dearey spoke about the role of the Army in view of the very cold spell we are having at present, in helping and assisting those small villages and towns, particularly retailers who are on their knees because of what is happening at present. The first two weeks of Christmas saw terrible weather and there was no business. There was one weekend last weekend and now the weather forecast is very inclement for the next four or five days. Our hearts go out to the people running these businesses and certainly I will pass on the strong views of this House that Senator Dearey has brought to our attention to the Minister for Defence later today regarding the wonderful work the Army is doing. It should not just be in the large towns; the Army should reach out and help people in villages and smaller towns.
Senators Burke and Phelan asked about local authority funding. This is a huge challenge for local authorities as we all know, and there should be a return to the older ways, where the county engineer had more authority in the running of the affairs of councils, rather than the director of services system we have at present. That is something we can discuss when we have the debate. Matters of urgency in the funding of local authorities present an ideal opportunity this evening for discussion on the Appropriation Bill. That is a crucial item that must and should be discussed on the Appropriation Bill.
Senator Carroll spoke about the Law Reform Commission's report on withdrawing penalties from those unfortunate families who find themselves in arrears and are sent to prison. I fully support the proposals of the Law Reform Commission and Senator Carroll's remarks, particularly for the many thousands of people at this time who find themselves in such serious difficulties with mortgage arrears. These tens of thousands of people do not have any peace of mind when they are in difficulty with their repayments and we should be doing anything we can do to help them until the downturn is finished and gone. I welcome the report brought to the House's attention this morning by Senator Carroll.