Wednesday, 26 January 2011
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Criminal Justice (Public Order) Bill 2010 — Second and Subsequent Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of the tributes to the late Séamus Dolan, which will be taken immediately after the Order of Business, adjourn at 1.45 p.m. and resume at 5.30 p.m., if not previously concluded, on Second Stage of which spokespersons may speak for ten minutes and all other Senators for seven minutes and Senators may share time, by agreement of the House; and No. 2, statements on the national monument at 14-16 Moore Street, Dublin 1, to be taken at 4 p.m. and conclude not later than 5.30 p.m. The business of the House shall be interrupted between 1.45 p.m. and 4 p.m.
We see again this morning that the uncertainty with the Finance Bill is continuing, especially in the approach some of the Independent Deputies are taking. This highlights the fact that we are in limbo, which I believe every Member agrees is affecting people's lives. The sooner we move out of this state and get on with the general election and have a new Administration the better, as critical decisions are not being taken. Families in negative equity are in dire need of assistance. We need clarity from the banks on how they will approach the significant number of people who are finding life very difficult and concerned about their homes. Families are also facing emigration. Young people are emigrating, as are entire families. Older people are experiencing serious cutbacks in home care packages, with which there is a crisis which has serious effects in communities. The health service remains under severe pressure. There are significant challenges for an incoming Administration, all politicians and communities and we must deal with them with energy and commitment. The sooner the uncertainty in respect of the Finance Bill is removed and these issues are clarified the better. In the meantime, we must get on with whatever work we can do in the final days of this Seanad. There is a good deal of unfinished work, including the referendum on children's rights and the financial implications of the Civil Partnership Act which we are all keen to see dealt with in a finance Bill as soon as possible.
I wish to pick up on some of the points made by Senator Fitzgerald. Also, it is fair to make reference to the biased and cynical comments made about elected Independent Members in the news media this morning, comments which have been well supported by many parties. The reality is that the issues raised by the three Independent Members in the other House are of great concern to many ordinary people. They have nothing to do with issues affecting Tipperary North, Tipperary South, Kerry South or Wicklow. They include bankers' bonus payments, an issue with which everyone in the House was in favour of dealing; the civil partnership provisions, of which the House was in favour and, especially, the student fees tax rebate. These issues are of great concern and, with section 23, should have been dealt with. The parties are entitled to take the position that they want an early general election. I understand this, as that is democracy. However, it is totally unbalanced and unfair to blame Independent politicians in the other House for raising issues about which ordinary people are concerned. There should be a clear view on this matter. I congratulate the Independent Members concerned in Dáil Éireann for raising issues of great concern to the people to whom I talk, the same individuals who want us to take another week or two to deal with the issue of bankers' bonus payments, as well as the other issues to which I have referred. That we will be driving students out of college because of the loss of the tax rebate on student fees is a serious issue. These are not matters for self-centred Independent Members but ones about which large parties should also be concerned.
The issue raised by Angela Merkel in recent days is interesting. She is now indicating that she and the European Union are prepared to support a reduction in interest rates for countries such as Ireland, Greece and other borrowers as long as it is accompanied by reforms in the system and restraint in our spending habits. This is something for which I have argued here in recent years. I do not see it as a loss of sovereignty for Ireland to buy into a safer, more dependable and trustworthy euro system.
Senator Fitzgerald is correct: the sooner the people — I was going to say "ourselves", but we do not count in the same way as the people — are put out of their misery and an election is finally called the better. It is somewhat odd to suggest it is regrettable that such questions as the civil partnership provisions in the finance Bill cannot be or are not being dealt with now. It is strange to suggest they can only be dealth with by the Government now. They could be dealt with quickly and expeditiously within a short period. It is possible for parties other than Fianna Fáil to bring forward legislation and run the country. This will be possible and these matters will be addressed quickly by whoever is in government once the new Dáil convenes, which is as it should be.
Will the Leader address an issue raised in the House previously? Will he give a report at this late stage or an indication on whether any progress has been made on the missing children's hot line? I believe Senator O'Toole and others have raised this issue. Apparently, a number has been set aside by ComReg for this important facility. If I am not mistaken, there is a European directive to the effect that such a service should be introduced. Some 12 countries have done so but we have not. The number is available, but no funding has been allocated by the Government to enable the facility to be made available. I realise people have other things on their mind, but will the Leader give me an indication of where the matter stands with the Government?
Senator O'Toole may not be aware that the finance Bill which will go through the Houses is not the one that would have gone through otherwise. A second Bill in which all of the issues mentioned will be addressed will be agreed and introduced early in the life of the next Government. Many of the issues being addressed in the other House by Independent Members — Independent Members in this House, in particular, have a fine record — have been raised by my party in government and since it left and I am confident they will be addressed by way of amendment. However, there is a certain cynicism attached to the last-minute bargaining and the debased currency that is Irish politics. These issues are being raised in public, but what is taking place behind the scenes may be a different type of bargaining. This is the type of politics of which we must get rid. I admit to personal revulsion at the idea of some individuals promoting tax equity, given their own personal history. That our political system is held hostage to the views of people with such histories and experience is not to our benefit. I look forward to the other House making an appropriate decision and the Bill being debated fully and responsibly in this House.
I regret that, owing to a diary conflict, I am unlikely to be present to pay tribute to the leaders of 1916 in the presence of their descendents. I ask the Leader to transmit personally my feelings that they were men of vision and chivalry. They had a poetic vision of Ireland and gave us the extraordinary and wonderfully liberating Proclamation that Padraig Pearse read at the GPO. I would be very pleased to support the creation of a national monument, especially as we move towards the centenary of the event and welcome the opportunity to say as much because there may be confusion about my views. One newspaper published some contradictory material. I had to contact those concerned and they made a grovelling apology and, I am glad to say, printed a retraction. This spirit is still embodied in some Irish politicians. I am thinking especially of Joe Higgins and about the very clear way in which he spoke out on behalf not only of the people of Ireland but also Europe against the inflictions of the banking system. It is interesting he rattled Mr. Barroso who showed his complete lack of professionalism by going for the Irish people. The people of Europe ought to take note of this. It is not entirely unconnected that the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has changed her tune and is now echoing what Senator O'Toole and I have been saying in the Seanad for some considerable time.
There are different kinds of Independents. Some are like those in this House who are independent not only of party political affiliation but also in mind and thought. I am not sure that can always be said about the Independents in the other House. I agree with Senator O'Toole that they are now raising issues of national importance. That was not always so. They certainly raised parochial issues in the past. Looking at the track record, I join with them in most of the issues they have raised now, but in the past there has been parish pump, self-interest and jockeying for their own electoral advantage. I hold that in contempt.
Not all commentators were acid about them. This morning Michael O'Regan on Newstalk made the point that these are real issues which they were right to raise and, accordingly, should not be attacked for so doing. Not all commentators were incorrect on this matter. The record of the three Deputies in question should be kept in mind when judging the matter.
I did not interrupt Senator Norris. It has never been my practice to interrupt others if I can avoid it. I am sick and tired of some of the stuff being put out by political parties which want to be in government but whose policies are diverse as Sunday and Monday. There are others who have left government but now feel, because they are outside, they can play an independent role claiming this, that and the other could have been done. Why did they not stay in government and do so if they felt that was appropriate course of action?
The House may debate the Finance Bill on Friday. There are several anomalies in the legislation, especially with regard to the self-employed. Different rates for the universal social charge are proposed for the self-employed and PAYE workers. Will one set of people be classed as lepers, namely, the self-employed, who have been classed as this by a number of groups for years, while a different category will be applied to the public service and other PAYE workers? It is time the self-employed got a fair crack of the whip. It must be remembered we will be depending on many of them to dig this country out of the economic situation in which it finds itself.
I agree with Senators Fitzgerald and Alex White that the instability of the current Government is demonstrated by the fact that we still do not know whether the Finance Bill will pass. The Government clearly has no popular mandate and it is essential we have an election date as soon as possible.
The lack of clarity about the date does affect the everyday lives of those outside the political world. Today, I received an e-mail from a constituent who pointed out the week beginning 21 February is schools half term. Many parents with children in primary school have made arrangements to be away that week. If the election does fall on that week, many people, especially parents of young children——
The solution we offered was to bring forward the motion of no confidence in the Government. This had the effect of ensuring a general election before the end of February. In terms of lack of clarity and instability, there were attempts——
Yesterday, from the other side of the House, there were deliberate attempts made by Senator Feeney and others to muddy the waters concerning civil partnership. It was suggested those entering civil partnerships would be in some way prevented or delayed from doing so because amendments on civil partnership in the Finance Bill would not be made.
It is true; I listened to Senator Feeney yesterday. The Labour Party has given a categorical commitment that the amendments necessary to ensure equity between civil partners and spouses will be brought forward in the finance (no. 2) Bill by 1 April, even if the Finance Bill is passed without the amendments in question made this week.
I just want to tell Senator Alex White, in case he is inquiring, that I am Senator Mark Daly and have been a Member for three and a half years.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Finance to attend the House to debate the absence of legislative provisions in the Finance Bill to deal with bankers' bonuses? I saw my colleague from County Kerry, Senator Coghlan, nod in agreement that these provisions were vital, yet they will not be contained in the Bill because his party will not allow it to happen in a timely fashion. I look forward to them being introduced in this House at a later date, perhaps under the stewardship of Senator Coghlan who might be Leader then.
Will the Leader arrange a debate on amendments to the NAMA legislation? Section 35 of the National Asset Management Agency Act, concerning the sale of assets under NAMA's control, requires that a code of conduct regarding the disposal of bank assets be drawn up in three months after enactment. This was done but under the code of conduct all assets must be disposed of by auction or competitive tendering process. This is not happening, however.
There are numerous anecdotes, which I am sure colleagues have heard, about people who owe hundreds of millions of euro to the banks but who are illegally putting bids in on their own debt through third parties and offshore companies and buying it back at hugely reduced rates.
I do not always agree with Senator Bacik but I do on her point about the effect of political doubt and instability on everyday life. It is important we get back to ensuring a Government is in place to rule this country soon. I am not going to cast blame but I am concerned we are already having the debate on the Finance Bill on the Order of Business when it will be taken on Friday and Saturday.
I refer to instability and doubt because Retail Excellence Ireland warned yesterday that up to 400 shops are likely to close this month alone because consumer confidence is waning. Consumers, it seems, are saving their money, not spending it. The reason for this is the current political doubt and instability. Something must be done about it. While talking ourselves into instability, we are leaving the opportunity for others to enter the market. A chain of sportswear shops was recently bought by a British company which plans to expand it by opening another ten shops. That means retailers outside the country can sometimes see opportunities here while we talk ourselves into more serious difficulties.
The Houses of the Oireachtas passed the Personal Injuries Assessment Board Act in 2003. Senator O'Toole is vice-chairman of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, which has been extremely successful and which has brought logic to the process relating to the making of awards in respect of personal injuries. I am concerned with regard to a recent award of €10 million in a libel case. There appears to be a major imbalance in respect of those who suffer personal injuries — which may leave them invalided for the remainder of their lives — and those who are libelled. Perhaps, in the near future, the House might consider some sort of legislation which could bring balance to the situation.
These are the final days of the current Seanad. Many of those present can look back with pride on some of the great debates which took place in the House in recent years. I am particularly pleased that the Leader has made time available to take statements on the national monument at 14 to 16 Moore Street. Everyone is aware that a relatively small number of men and women took a stand during the Easter Rising in 1916. They did so against all the odds and in the face of the might of the British Empire in order that we could gain both our independence and control of our own destiny. It is interesting that a small number of people have again come together in Dublin and established a committee, the purpose of which is to ensure that the Moore Street area will be properly protected and promoted as a national monument with links to the Easter Rising in 1916.
What is particularly interesting about the committee to which I refer is that for the first time since 1916, the descendents of all the leaders have come together to promote the national monument at Moore Street. That is a significant development. I hope that during the statements to be taken later today, Members will bear in mind that we are dealing with such an august issue. I cannot think of anything more appropriate than for Seanad Éireann to discuss 1916, the War of Independence, our identity as a people, the subject of from whence we came and the great vision those involved in the Easter Rising had for this country.
This matter does not merely relate to the past, it also relates to the present and the future. It is not possible to commemorate and celebrate those great patriots without seeking to emulate what they did, for the good of the nation, on the occasion of the Easter Rising. We have an opportunity to work as one people, cohesively and independently, to ensure we will overcome whatever challenges arise for the common good.
Senators on the Government side have been bleating about the difficulties they are experiencing this week. I refer to the collapse of the Government and the issues that arise therefrom. The reality is that the Government collapsed a long time ago. However, the Fianna Fáil Party and the Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen, have been in denial about that fact. When the Green Party pulled the plug last November, it played along with the denial for some time.
In view of the urgent need to hold a general election, consensus was reached on the procedure relating to the adoption of the Finance Bill. Those on the opposite side of the House have sought such a consensus for some time. We are in something of a political vacuum because we do not know if the Dáil will pass Second Stage of the Bill.
The urgent need for a change of Government cannot be underestimated. In Washington on St. Patrick's Day, we will have the opportunity to begin rebuilding the image of this country in the United States. Negotiations will also be taking place at the highest level in Brussels, when the European Council meets to discuss the rescue arrangements relating to the banks in Europe. Effectively, the latter will involve a renegotiation of the EU-IMF bailout for this country and the interest rates relating thereto. It is ironic that later today we will be taking statements——
——on the national monument at Moore Street and the 1916 Rising. The EU-IMF deal represents, on the part of the current Government, the biggest sell-out in this country's history. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance have continually stated there can be no renegotiation of the terms of the bailout. We now know that a new Government, led by Fine Gael — in the best tradition of the Christian Democrats — and supported by its friends in Europe, can renegotiate the EU-IMF deal for the betterment of the country.
It is a pity a few more Members were not available to hear the presentation given by Professor Karl Whelan at yesterday's meeting of the Joint Committee on European Affairs in respect of the extremely intricate but very dynamic workings of the European Financial Stability Facility, the European Financial Stability Mechanism and the IMF loan. Professor Whelan discussed how these mechanism works and how they differ from each other in great detail. He also outlined the number of variables that exist in the context of the ultimate interest rates which may be charged.
The key lesson I took from Professor Whelan's presentation is that Ireland must be at the forefront of the discussion and debate on this matter in the coming weeks. I also gleaned from it that, as parliamentarians, we must have a full understanding of the opportunities that exist in the context of obtaining lower interest rates than those which were originally envisaged. I refer in particular to the interest rates relating to the €22.5 billion available under the European Financial Stability Mechanism. This is a complex matter but there are prospects with regard to having the interest rate relating to the mechanism reduced.
I regret that the proposed meeting involving members of the Joint Committee on European Affairs and the President of the European Central Bank, Mr. Jean-Claude Trichet, on Monday next in Frankfurt has been cancelled. I was looking forward — I am sure other members of the committee were in the same position — to making the most of the opportunity to which this meeting would have given rise. What has happened in this instance provides an indication of how the current instability is affecting the day-to-day workings of the Houses and, consequently, the lives of ordinary people. We should have taken the opportunity presented but we are no longer in a position to do so.
It may represent a break with convention, but the Seanad should debate the issue. The context relating to this matter is changing so quickly that Ireland cannot afford to be left behind in the period between polling day in the general election and the Seanad election. There is an onus on us to remain abreast of what happens in respect of this matter, particularly as the likely financial impact it will have in this country is of such import.
The core of the Climate Change Response Bill 2010——
——should be carried forward and taken up by the next Government. The dividing lines between those who support the legislation and those who oppose it are clear. This should inform the approach of the next Government in the context of delivering strong legislation such as that introduced by the Green Party in this House.
Tá an ceart ar fad ag an Seanadóir Quinn nuair a luann sé an cheist faoi na damáistí a thugtar i gcás leabhail i gcomparáid le cásanna eile. D'ardaigh mise an cheist seo le linn dúinn an reachtaíochta maidir le clúmhilleadh a phlé agus mhol mé, agus bheadh go leor daoine ar aon tuairim liom, gur chóir an cúram a thabhairt do na breithimh damáistí a dhámhachtan do dhaoine i gcásanna clúmhillte.
It is time we considered the disparity between the damages awarded in libel cases and those awarded in personal injuries cases. Senator Quinn was right to raise this matter. The House debated this matter in the context of what became the Defamation Act 2009. I was one of those who proposed that we should consider leaving it to judges to make awards in cases of this nature. The latter is certainly a suggestion that is worthy of further consideration. While we are mindful of the responsibility of the media and the need to prevent abuses by its members in the context of people's reputations, we must also consider that it is not just in respect of the awarding of damages to people that the media can be held to account. There are other ways of dealing with media abuses in this area. I refer here to the imposition — on an independent basis — of fines and penalties on those who offend in this regard. One of the things I greatly regret about the chaos of recent days, of which I spoke yesterday, is precisely the issue Senator Dearey raised. I also attended that excellent presentation by Professor Karl Whelan. Listening to him, it struck me that this is what we really should be about as legislators instead of having the pointless gamesmanship we have seen in the past week which has brought the business of the Oireachtas to a halt to all intents and purposes and brought our proceedings into disrepute.
There was another fine hearing yesterday when the Irish Human Rights Commission appeared before the Joint Committee on Health and Children in light of the commission's report into services at the John Paul Centre for intellectual disability in Galway. Key recommendations of that report have not been acted on by Government, including in regard to problems of overcrowding, under-funding, inadequate staffing and a lack of therapy and activities for people with disabilities.
I will finish on the this point. Mr. Maurice Manning, a former Senator, and Professor William Binchy attended yesterday. They deserve to be complimented on their work but they also deserve to be supported by this House in asking those kinds of questions. It is greatly to be regretted that we are not in a position to ask the hard questions in the way we need to because of the chaos that has taken place.
I agree with the points made by Senator Ellis. Within an hour the general election may be called. The one thing the people need at the time of the general election is honesty, and that honesty will be demonstrated firstly by what the Opposition does at this point and whether it will be true. As Members have said, while the Labour Party in particular has stated that it is in the national interest to see the Bill pass, it is not voting for it. There is a total incoherence in that argument.
The people deserve that honesty and they should get it at this first point when the vote is taken in the Dáil.
I cannot understand why Fianna Fáil and the Government have decided to stick with it because they are only making a rod for their own backs as they go. They will be brutalised in the general election when this happens because both major Opposition parties, while they recognise its importance, will say they did not do it. That is very dishonest. As a first step, I hope we will have a good, clean and honest debate where the Irish people will not be hoodwinked and will get the presentations from all the parties honestly about what can and cannot be done in the bind in which we find ourselves.
I wish good luck to everyone from this House who is standing for election. This morning, I heard a commentator who is an academic banking expert describe in an appalling manner all politicians, not just those who are politicians today but also those who are standing for election for the first time having decided their country needs them. It takes courage to stand up and to face the electorate, especially in these trying times. I again wish good luck to anyone in the House who is standing for election.
Dr. Garret FitzGerald was always described as a national treasure. In case we are not here again, I note that one Member who will not be back is Senator O'Toole, who I like to think is a national treasure. I pay tribute to the work he has done and I have no doubt it will continue.
I hope the Finance Bill will survive in order that this House can have its usual calm, dispassionate and objective consideration of it on Friday. Senator Daly made comments on bankers and banking. I have always understood that our policy on this side of the House is quite clear in regard to conduct, ethics, the bonus culture and so on, so I do not quite understand the Senator's comments. Senator Daly made a very serious charge in regard to NAMA and, if there is substance to what he said, there should be an investigation. The Leader might respond while he still holds that position because serious issues are involved. NAMA should be selling some of its asset portfolio, particularly in the Dublin region, to assist the market, which is not moving, and to establish a floor.
I too welcome the fact the Christian Democratic-led Government that will succeed in this country, please God, will be able to deal with our problems successfully in Europe. As has been said by other speakers, there are signs of a new dawning, awakening and enlightenment in Europe in regard to interest rates, which makes eminent sense. It is as with the issue of landlords and tenants and the reduction in rents which is necessary to oil the wheels and keep business moving. It is to be hoped that will happen. I believe it will be good for the eurozone as a whole.
It was with interest I heard Senator Quinn refer to the difficulties facing retail, and I wholeheartedly support his expressions in that regard. Indeed, it is an issue I touched on last November and December when I asked people to shop local. We all see the growth in exports, which is very welcome, and we all know the country is becoming more competitive. The one thing we need to do, however, is to show confidence in retail. Each one of us has a role to play, as I said last November and December.
It was with interest I later heard Senator Regan, who makes many contributions, not only in the House but also in the newspapers, on individuals and on Members.
He spoke about the need to rebuild our reputation. I understand his party is rebuilding its reputation following some hacking of technology which it obtained from an overseas company. If his party is in Government, he might encourage those in his party to take a lead and to shop local to support Irish industry and to give everything we can to our industry.
As we are at this stage of this Seanad, I ask the Leader if all-party agreement could be reached on two issues. The first concerns the patients of the former surgeon, Mr. Neary. Wrongdoing was clearly carried out but I understand a small number of people are not accommodated in the redress compensation scheme, some of whom are excluded on a technicality due to the lateness of the claim. I ask that there be all-party agreement that everyone who experienced wrongdoing under Mr. Neary's knife be accommodated.
Second, a number of dedicated and committed employees of Aer Lingus are experiencing difficulty in reaching agreement with their employer, which is having a detrimental impact on thousands of commuters. If we could reach all-party agreement on this issue, I would very much welcome it.
I ask that the Minister for Transport would with urgency come to the House for two reasons. The first and primary reason concerns the crisis that is developing at Aer Lingus. I have received numerous representations from people in mid-Louth, south Louth and east Meath who are staff or customers of Aer Lingus and who have been caught in the middle of this row. Ultimately, this problem will be solved but the breakdown in communication between management and staff will not lead to a positive working relationship in the future. If the industrial relations mechanisms within the State are needed, I urge the Minister for Transport to act swiftly to get those in place.
The second reason I want the Minister for Transport to come to the House is to consider the issue of rail infrastructure for the north east. There is an industrial rail line from Navan to Drogheda and many people have been in contact in regard to the idea of possibly developing this into a commuter line. As a commuter myself, I believe the Minister should urgently examine this issue, coupled with the idea of re-opening Dunleer train station, which is necessary.
Most urgently, as other Senators have said, we could be in the last hour of the Oireachtas as we know it. There is talk the Independents might not vote for the Finance Bill in the Dáil, which is of serious concern. If Independent Members in this House have any influence on Independent Members in the Dáil, I urge them to put pressure on them. Ultimately, we must get the finance Bill through the Houses for the good of the country; it is critical that it be passed. Whether we are on the road within an hour and I am back knocking on doors in County Louth and east Meath within two or three hours, I still believe it is critical the finance Bill be passed for the good of the country. I ask the two Opposition parties in this House to use whatever influence they have because I hope we will all be back in the next Dáil and Seanad and we must have a strong and stable country. I ask Independent Members in the Dáil to act as strong Irish citizens for the good of all.
Yesterday I spoke about the importance of how we conducted our campaign in the next general election. We are in the dying days of this Seanad and I am sad that we must now try to defend ourselves and the Seanad. It is said it is finished, but when I come into the House every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, I am delighted to listen to contributions from all sides. Yesterday, for example, the Seanad passed the Student Support Bill, a fine legislative measure that was welcomed on all sides of the House and by students in third level education and their parents. They were anxious to have this legislation processed quickly. Many other legislative measures have been initiated in this House. I am sad that the sub-contractors Bill initiated by Senator Quinn will not now be passed. These are examples of the work done in the Seanad, yet we are abused left, right and centre by the media as being defunct and nobodies. I ask all Senators to defend themselves. This Chamber should be recognised; we need this House. I also ask the media to be honest in the general election campaign and not to bring forward spin doctors or persons who will spin a line to encourage sales of their newspapers. That is not what the country is about. I urge Senators on all sides of the House to play an honest game of politics in the election. We are trying to save the country and bring it back to normality. I will do my part and ask everybody else to do his or hers also.
As this might be the last Order of Business of this Seanad, although I hope it is not and that we can make it through to Friday, I wish you, a Chathaoirligh, and everybody else who works here, as well as all of my colleagues, well. I hope I can make this speech again on Saturday, but it has been a great privilege to be a Member of the House. It has been a pleasure to work with you, a Chathaoirligh. You have always been fair and generous. I will not mention everybody, but the Clerk of the Seanad, Ms Deirdre Lane, has been very good to me from my first day. As I do not wish to miss anybody, I will not mention every name.
My colleagues, Senators Boyle and Dearey, have spoken about meeting in the interim between the conclusion of the general election and when the next Seanad election takes place. That could be used as a time by Members to reflect on and consider how the Seanad functions. Having served in this House, I believe the Seanad has great value for the people. It is a great institution and we should tread very carefully in considering its abolition. However, major reforms are required in both Houses of the Oireachtas and Senators could use the time available in the interim to lead that debate which would be very useful.
Will the Leader outline exactly what he believes will be the timing arrangements for the sittings on Saturday and Sunday? Many Senators are anxious to debate the finance Bill——
I am sorry, it was a Freudian slip. I mean Friday and Saturday. Senators are anxious to give the Bill a fair hearing. They are anxious to speak to it and consider it carefully, as it is important legislation. It is worth sitting late, very late, if necessary, to ensure all aspects can be properly debated. Let us go out in a blaze of glory and ensure we do a very good job on it.
A Chathaoirligh, it has been a pleasure working with every Member of this House and I am proud to be here today.
Ba mhaith liom aontú leis an méid atá ráite ag na Seanadóirí Ó Murchú agus Norris ar son laochra na Cásca. I support Senators Ó Murchú and Norris on the designation of 14-16 Moore Street as a national monument. Unfortunately, owing to a family bereavement, I will not be present this afternoon for the debate, but I echo their sentiments. It would be an absolute shame if this monument was not preserved for the future. It is a distinct part of our history. In fact, I have just finished reading a tome on the 1916 Rising by Fearghal McGarry which offers a good elucidation of what happened during the withdrawal from the GPO to Moore Street, the fighting that took place, the personnel involved and the signing of the surrender document. It is an integral part of our history, from which we all draw our spirit of service to the nation. I appeal to the Government and the various State authorities involved to ensure the monument is preserved for the future.
Like other Senators, I have received an e-mail from a person in Glanmire, County Cork who has been encountering difficulties in attempting to establish a youth café. The motivation behind establishing it is to provide a facility for young people in view of the high incidence of suicide in the area. Unfortunately, it is one of the great tragedies in our society in recent times that many young people who have life and everything before them feel they have no option, as a result of whatever malaise afflicts the psyche, but to take their own lives. It is so sad. We have a particular responsibility in this regard and I hope the incoming Government will develop a policy to tackle the weaknesses in society and address this terrible affliction.
I wish you, a Chathaoirligh, and all other Members every success in the weeks and months ahead. It has been a privilege to serve in this Seanad which had the benefit of many fine contributors on all sides of the House.
Yesterday I asked the Leader to make representations to the Taoiseach and I repeat that call today. It is particularly valid in the light of the complex issues we have had to confront in this Seanad. I am cognisant of the bank guarantee scheme and the fact that we have passed legislation that has been exceptionally difficult and budgetary provisions that have been harsh, yet everything was necessary. In the light of the fact that we wish to have a full and frank debate on issues and policies, to move away from personalities, to keep this properly in the public domain and avoid a knee-jerk reaction, I again ask the Leader to request the Taoiseach to opt for the full time limit allowed under the Constitution for the general election campaign which I believe is 28 days, excluding Sundays. This would give the people time to reflect on, consider and face the realities that the Government and country face, as well as their responsibilities for the future, before they vote.
Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Alex White, Boyle, Norris, Ellis, Bacik, Daly, Regan, Dearey, O'Malley, Coghlan, Carroll, Ormonde and Ó Brolcháin expressed their concerns about the passing of the finance Bill in the Dáil. It our intention to take Second Stage of the Bill all day on Friday and Committee and Remaining Stages on Saturday. I hope to meet the leaders of the parties in the House immediately after the tributes to the late Seamus Dolan to finalise the timeframe colleagues require for their Members to speak on the most important legislation to come before both Houses of the Oireachtas every year. However, I support the view of Senator O'Toole that Independent Members, be they in the Dáil or the Seanad, have made an enormous contribution. Freedom of speech is sacrosanct. I support Independent Members of the Dáil and Seanad being allowed to express their views and vote with the courage of their convictions.
Some of the issues being rushed through the Dáil will cause the hardest of hardships on families who have built up businesses over generations. I am not too sure if the constitutionality of one of the sections of the Bill going through the Dáil might not be challenged. I certainly know of the hardship it will cause and the trust it will break with those who have invested in our country, from which we have benefitted in jobs, taxes and every other way. This leaves a lot to be desired.
Senator O'Toole spoke about the euro reforms and mentioned Chancellor Merkel's comments. I look forward to debating that here, if the electorate so wish, after the return of the next Seanad. Senator Alex White asked whether there was any progress on the missing children's hot-line. I will come back to the Senator on this and we have all supported it. I thank him for bringing it to our attention again.
Senators Norris, Ó Murchú and Walsh spoke about tributes to the men and women of 1916 who made the ultimate sacrifice by giving their lives so we could have our freedom to express ourselves in a democratic society. I put a motion down this evening to ensure the house where the seven met on 29 April 1916 to take the decision to surrender would be preserved as a national monument. It is not too much to expect that we honour and acknowledge those who gave their life for our freedom. I know that the next of kin of all seven will be with us in the Distinguished Visitors Gallery for this evening's debate. I am looking forward to it and I had no difficulty, for only the second time in my political career, in signing an objection to a planning permission, along with Senator Ó Murchú and colleagues in the Dáil, and calling for the preservation of 14-16 Moore Street as a national monument.
Senators, Quinn, Mullen and Callely all expressed serious concern about consumer confidence. On our return following the Christmas recess and following the heavy snowfall across the country throughout December, I said the retail sector was under serious pressure. It was decimated in some cases. I certainly would support Senator Callely's call that we should continue to shop locally. I ask the Revenue Commissioners, county managers and local authorities to be understanding to the retail sector, who have been with us for generations with their families and who are now finding it practically impossible just to keep the door open, not to mind paying rates and other charges or penalties that are being levied on them. It does not matter who is in government after the general election. They will have to take a caring view of those who have made a massive contribution for decades and who are finding it impossible to survive for the first time since the 1930s. Business is not there for making a living anymore, but it is just a way of life, as many people in the retail sector have told us recently.
Senators Quinn, Ormonde and Mullen offered their congratulations on the success of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board. Senator O'Toole and myself and other colleagues worked very hard on the enterprise and small business committee between 2002 and 2007 to set up that board. The chief executive office of the board, Patricia Byron, is doing a wonderful job. The vice-chairman is a Member of Seanad Éireann and Senator O'Toole has done a great amount of work in this area. I agree with the proposal that the balance of libel awards against the media should be examined when articles or stories are incorrect and a person is defamed.
Senator Mullen spoke about human rights. The former Leader of this House, Maurice Manning, has made a massive contribution in this area and I will pass the Senator's views onto the Minister. Senator O'Malley wished everybody good luck in the elections and congratulated everyone for having the courage to stand before the electorate. She kindly remarked that Senator O'Toole is a national treasure. That is certainly one on me, but we all know how important he is.
Senator Callely spoke about the redress scheme in respect of Dr. Neary and the few cases that still remain. The patients have suffered and an all-party agreement could be reached on this at an early date. Senators Callely and Carroll also spoke about the difficulties at Aer Lingus. Everybody will have to get around the table and negotiate a settlement and I wish them well. I know I have all-party support in saying that. Senator Carroll called on the Minister for Transport to come before the House and explain decisions made about a rail line between Navan and Drogheda. Senator Carroll has brought many issues from Drogheda and the Meath border to our attention over the last few months, and I have no difficulty in passing on his request to the Minister.
Senator Hanafin asked about the date for the next general election. It is the Taoiseach's prerogative. What he said made quite a lot of sense and I will pass his views on to the Taoiseach.