Tuesday, 8 March 2011
Order of Business
The Order of Business is tributes to our former Seanad colleague, the late Willie Farrell; and No. 1, the Construction Contracts Bill 2010. It is proposed to take Committee and Remaining Stages of the Bill on the conclusion of the tributes.
I welcome Senator Darragh O'Brien and congratulate him on his appointment to the Seanad. I join with the Cathaoirleach in congratulating all the Members who were successful in the general election and commiserate with those who have not been successful at this point.
Since our last meeting the people have spoken and have voted for change. What we have seen is a revolutionary election which heralded a sea change in Irish politics. The people have given their verdict on the outgoing Government, holding it to account in no uncertain way for the part it believes the Government played in the economic crisis in which the country finds itself now. There is no doubting the enormity of the challenge. Tomorrow we will certainly have a broad-based and unified Government which will have an agenda of reform and change. I am sure everybody in the House would wish the incoming Government every success for the future. We will certainly need it.
I support the points offered in congratulating our colleagues elected to the other House. People often speak about Senators being elected to the DÃ¡il. The vast majority of the people elected to the DÃ¡il from this House are people who would have worked diligently as Senators in here and in their constituency. I do not have a problem with Senators being elected to the DÃ¡il but when in the Seanad, they should make a contribution. I believe those who were elected to the DÃ¡il did so. I welcome my near neighbour, Senator Darragh O'Brien, to the House, although I will have some unkind things to say about his party leader.
I ask the Leader to consider arranging an Adjournment debate on an issue the House needs to discuss. Not only is Ireland experiencing a financial recession but it is also in the midst of a recession in democracy. I want someone to offer a viewpoint on this matter. Local government has been completely emasculated since 1977 and no longer enjoys public trust or confidence. In addition, the Seanad, which was intended in the Constitution to be the voice of the people, is about to be rubbed off the face of the earth. Has the leader of the Fianna FÃ¡il Party experienced an irony bypass in this respect? Only two weeks ago he spoke about abolishing the Seanad yet this week he has spoken of the importance of getting good people into this House. It is difficult to accept this type of thinking. While there is nothing wrong with wishing to have good people in the Seanad, it is impossible to reconcile this view with Deputy Martin's statement that the House should be abolished. As the Cathaoirleach will soon no longer be involved in the House, he will be able to take an independent view on some of the matters I raise.
I, too, wish the new Government well. I have referred to local government and the Seanad. While reducing the number of DÃ¡il Deputies by 40 may sound like a great idea, it would, if implemented, result in fewer people maintaining contact with the political system. The idea of keeping Deputies in Dublin for five days each week to ensure they do not get near their constituents is absolutely daft. It will never affect me.
Someone should offer a view on the proposals we have heard and carry out quality audits on them. The proposal to remove Ministers from the DÃ¡il and make them answerable to some other power is equally bad. Let us examine what is taking place in politics because we have a democracy in recession. We are cutting back on many important things without first debating them. Media commentators are getting away with murder.
I want someone to do a quality audit on all the daft proposals seeking to row back on hard fought constitutional matters which have served members of the public. One hears that we should reduce the size of the DÃ¡il because we do not like it but no one tells us how the House would work better. It is also proposed that people who are not part of the DÃ¡il should run the country because we do not like how Cabinet works. These are regressive proposals. The same arguments were made when the Health Service Executive was established and how long will it last?
We need political answerability at all levels, whether in local government, the Seanad or the DÃ¡il. Members should examine the proposals that have been made and should not be afraid to speak up and ask that they be reconsidered. I appeal to the incoming Government to make haste slowly on political reform. People should be afraid if we give a free run to all sorts of daft, untried, untested and unaudited proposals on the political structure.
I congratulate all those who were elected to DÃ¡il Ãireann, especially Senators from the Labour Party benches which, as Senators will note, are virtually empty. I welcome Senator Darragh O'Brien who will, I am sure, make a valuable contribution to the House.
I concur with the views expressed on the new Government which will have to work hard. Politicians who sought election on a platform of opposition will have to provide answers regarding Ireland's future, especially in Europe.
This is International Women's Day and in welcoming that 23% of Labour Party Deputies are women, I also note that Ireland still falls far short in terms of women's representation in Parliament. Wonderful women throughout the world are marking International Women's Day in many different ways. Earlier today, I was in contact with people in Australia and the United States where a variety of initiatives have been taken to celebrate the occasion. This is a positive day on which many women throughout the world are doing a great job. They should be congratulated.
I welcome Senator Darragh O'Brien to the House. I hope he is successful in contesting the forthcoming Seanad election and will return to serve in the House.
I wish all the Members of this House who have been elected to the DÃ¡il well. It has been a marvellous success for them. Please God, those Senators on this side who were not successful in the general election will be back here again and contest a future general election.
As regards the Private Members' Bill to be brought before us today, the Registration of Wills Bill, No. 18 of 2005, was passed by this House on 13 December 2006. Unfortunately, however, all of my efforts to have it passed by the Lower House were unsuccessful. I will not go into that matter today, but I will explain the reasons sometime.
I also wish to be associated with the warm words of welcome to Senator Darragh O'Brien. I hope he will enjoy a full term here following the Seanad election. I join Members in congratulating all our colleagues who have been elected to the other House. I wish them well. I also wish those Senators who will be fighting the forthcoming election or who are to retire from political life well. Important words have been said by Senator O'Toole, the voice of experience.
The kingdom salutes him. He made many pertinent points, although this is not the day to go through all of them. However, the words "festina lente", hasten slowly, come to mind. That was the advice he gave. I, therefore, urge the incoming Government to hasten slowly. It is important that all of the points made by Senator O'Toole should be borne in mind and I have no doubt that they will be.
The Government is facing great difficulties which we have inherited. We will not get involved in any arguments, but we are where we are. I have no doubt that everything will be tackled fairly, honestly and openly. Please God, there will be a lot more transparency. We must communicate with the people on where we are, what is happening and what is proposed. I wish the Government well, as I am sure we all do. I also wish my colleagues well in whatever path they have chosen to take. The best of luck to them.
I offer my congratulations and those of my party to the 16 Members of this House who have been elected to the DÃ¡il. As debates occur in both Houses of the Oireachtas in the next year - there may also possibly be a referendum - the experience and performance of those 16 Members in the other House will be one of the main reasons people should pause to reflect on the need for the Seanad, given the skills of the parliamentarians concerned. I wish them well in their endeavours. I also extend a welcome to our new Member, Senator Darragh O'Brien.
As I said before the general election, we should make the most of the time that remains in the 23rd Seanad and meet on several occasions. However, that will depend on the co-operation of the incoming Government. There are matters we could debate, including, for instance, the programme for Government, a useful document which follows through on the fiscal policy of the previous Government because our options are limited. The 23rd Seanad could contribute to the discussion on certain items before the programme for Government is implemented. Outstanding legislation, in particular Private Members' Bills, could also be finally debated in this House before the incoming Government decides on its legislative programme. For example, the Private Members' Mental Health (Involuntary Procedures) (Amendment) Bill 2008 has gone through Second and Committee Stages. A Report Stage debate would be useful in our remaining time.
I agree with Senator O'Toole regarding the essence of political reform. It must be founded on the reform of local government, the devolution of power from the central to the local and on ascertaining the best structures of local government, be it the town district model or the regional county council model. These are the choices we should make. Like Senator O'Toole, I fear that we will engage in a cosmetic exercise on the number of Houses we have and the number of Members we have instead of an analysis of the decisions at each level of government and where they can most appropriately be made. This is the debate we need. While we have had a general election where opinion swung wildly and the electorate reacted to the situation in which we find ourselves, we have yet to have a real debate on the nature of the country we should become. I wish the new Government every success and hope it can have that debate to ensure our future is founded on that type of principle.
To be somewhat facetious about my party and its participation in government, we have had a baptism of fire, a communion of fire and a confirmation of fire, but we have not had an extreme unction of fire. I look forward to the time when my party will be represented in the Lower House again. We have experiences of other European countries. It is ironic that, as the Twenty-third Seanad comes to a close, my party now has a larger representation than the Labour Party and one less than Fine Gael. Maybe that is a portent for the future. I wish the new Government every success in its legislative programme.
I will not take part in the kind of "ho-ho" stuff going on here. I would welcome, endorse and wish the new Government a fair wind if it was a brave Government, be it a minority Government or one governing on a knife's edge. However, a Government with a majority that large is asymmetrical and holds in itself the seeds of its own dissolution.
The Oireachtas has one task in hand, namely, the economy. Central to that task is that we cannot do anything about the banks. We are fairly locked into the realities of the ECB, as Mr. John Bruton said. That is a straitjacket. The only area over which we have control is the domestic economy and the public finances. There is a deficit of â¬19 billion, the bulk of which comes from public sector pay and pensions and social welfare. Far from this Government tackling that task, the programme for Government is a collusion not to deal with it. The Government will never have the full confidence of the people until it behaves like a national Government. It calls itself such, but a national Government by definition is one that takes hard choices, does hard things and administers hard medicine. This is a division of spoils between two parties.
I voted for Fine Gael, wished it well and hoped it would have the bottle to reach out to Fianna FÃ¡il, to count up the Independents and, if necessary, to govern as a minority party and administer the strong medicine to the public finances that was necessary. I regret that Fine Gael has decided not to do this. I hope everything works out for it, but I cannot see how it will. After a few months, never mind years, the Labour Party - the party of soft options - will look more and more like the national Dublin modernist progressive party and Fine Gael will regret that it did not decide to live dangerously. There are no free lunches in this life. There is no way a Government of this size will have a soft passage.
There is no Opposition in the country right now. As Yeats stated, "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity". I do not say the Opposition are the worst, some of them are. I wish that Fine Gael had the courage of its convictions. I also wish the Labour Party had the courage of its convictions and went into opposition to give us a decent division in the country. "The best lack all conviction", Yeats says and it is true. It is true that Fine Gael and the Labour Party lack the conviction to do what is necessary. This is a big, heavy, lumbering Government, which contains in itself the seeds of its own destruction. Right now, the only real Opposition in this country is the media, and I am glad to say my newspaper will take part in that Opposition.
I congratulate Senator O'Brien on his appointment and congratulate those who have been elected to the DÃ¡il. I used the same route to the DÃ¡il and I am using the same route out of the House.
Before we leave this House, we need to put a few things on the record. Senator O'Toole signalled that we must make haste slowly when it comes to abolishing the Seanad or other forums available to the public. I will add to that my thoughts on the current idea of amalgamating county councils, which has been suggested in some areas. This will be to the detriment of local communities and county identity.
I agree with much of what Senator Harris said. The incoming Government has decided that the outgoing Government was on the right track and that it will stay on that track for the next two years. That signifies one thing: the new Government realises that what was done by the outgoing Government, despite the resulting loss of popularity, will have to be continued. We must ensure that people are given hope that they can get out of this mess and that "Mother Ireland" can escape from the problems it has. If we do not see an improvement in the next 12 to 18 months, I dread to think where this country and its population will end up. We all see it at the moment, as so many of our young people are forced to emigrate.
One group has escaped in all of this, and it is not the politicians. The regulatory authorities, both in Europe and at home, are what has landed Government after Government in the mess we are in today, yet their members walk away with fine, handsome pensions. The same will be said of us, but we walk out of here knowing that the people who should have kept us advised let us down, and that is the reason we find ourselves in this mess - although I am not saying Governments were not also responsible for some of the things that happened. The new regulators should not make the same mistakes as their predecessors, which have landed this country in a mess.
I congratulate Senator Darragh O'Brien on his appointment to Seanad Ãireann and wish him well in the forthcoming Seanad election, in which he will presumably be a candidate. I also congratulate all of my previous Seanad colleagues who have been elected to DÃ¡il Ãireann and commiserate with those who were unsuccessful in their quest. Among the unsuccessful is Senator Prendergast, who I believe will go on to represent Munster as a Member of the European Parliament. I sincerely wish her well in that position of major importance and significance.
I hope she will enjoy that political experience and work well for Munster over the next three years. Sometimes in politics, winners become losers and losers become winners. I think this loser from south Tipperary will be a winner in a few weeks and I wish her good luck.
The general election of ten days ago is being described as a watershed. It can be said, if we remove the party political aspect of it, that it probably marked the end of the old style of politics and government. Regardless of the composition of the new Government and the new structures of Parliament, it will be incumbent on every elected Member of DÃ¡il and Seanad Ãireann to approach the task of rebuilding this nation in a much more unified and transparent fashion.
The record will show that there is a history of Governments with large majorities having a short life span. Senator Harris is worried about the size of the majority that the next Government will have. I hope we have not just a national coalition Government but a DÃ¡il of 166 Members united in a common purpose, because this country is as close to the precipice today as it was a month ago. Nothing has changed. There are new Deputies, and there will be new Ministers and a new Taoiseach, but the fact remains that Ireland is virtually bankrupt, and nothing but the strongest, most strident policy decisions will save the country.
That is a responsibility for every single Member of DÃ¡il Ãireann, from incoming Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, down to the newest Deputy. The whole attitude and approach to politics will have to change and there will have to be a common unity among all Members over the next five crucial years. We do not know whether this House is on its last term, but it has a very important role to play. I hope the next Seanad will be as constructive as the current one was, but a different type of leadership is required. It needs to be a Chamber of much more reflective debate, and Senators will genuinely have to change the way they do business in this House.
I have expressed my disappointment and criticism to the current Leader on a number of occasions to the effect that we did not use the Seanad to have the type of debate, dialogue and constructive approach that modern politics requires. I hope for the sake of those who aspire to be in the next Seanad that a new direction will be taken. We have to respect how the people voted last Friday week.
Last autumn, I recall, there were marches on the street outside Leinster House. Angry people were marching, starting with hundreds and growing into thousands. The election was a release valve for many of those people. As far as democracy is concerned we are literally in the last chance saloon. People have rejected one Government and replaced it with another. It is crucial that the incoming Government and all those elected to Parliament respond to the national crisis. Within six to 12 months, if the public decides that the current Government has not succeeded, I am afraid that democracy in this country will find itself in a very dangerous place, because all the democratic alternatives will have been found wanting. An enormous challenge faces the incoming Government, but we have to play our role as well. We must remove this "Yes" and "No", Government versus Opposition type of childish politics which has ruined this country.
There is a grave responsibility on everyone seeking election to the Seanad as well as those elected to the other House to face the reality that Ireland is still on the brink of total disaster. It is consoling, however, that our incoming national coalition government will comprise not just Fine Gael and Labour but also the IMF and the ECB. Regardless of whether we like it, those external structures will put certain pressures and demands on us which we cannot ignore. I hope for realism, common sense and goodwill because I do not want this to be last Seanad, nor do I want the other House to be the last DÃ¡il. Democracy is on a knife edge, however, until and unless everyone works together to turn around the country's economic woes.
I acknowledge and respect how the public voted last Friday week and congratulate all those elected to the 31st DÃ¡il. I also congratulate Senator Darragh O'Brien on his nomination to the Seanad. I wish the new Government every success in the challenges that lie ahead for it. I am not going to get into whether it intends to adopt existing policies, but the new Government needs to offer hope and confidence to the public. I wish it well in its endeavours in that regard because we need to see a sea-change.
All I have is a notification of the Seanad sitting today. I do not know what the plans are up to polling day in the Seanad elections. Will the Leader outline whether the House will sit in the meantime?
Will he also highlight the National Transport Authority's public consultations website? I am referring to the final consultation on Vision 2030 for Dublin transport. Whether they work or live in Dublin, the National Transport Authority are encouraging as many people as possible to take part in the final consultation.
Will the Leader arrange to hold a debate on matters relating to the insurance industry, an area in which he has shown an interest? I am referring to the manner in which crash repair companies are approved by insurance companies, as well as the possible competition related matters on that issue. That was brought to my attention in the course of the recent general election.
I find myself in a difficult position when I hear about reform of the Seanad. I am conscious that I have been involved in a public procedure and do not want to have a conflict of interest-----
I was hoping to have an opportunity to ask the Cathaoirleach what would be involved if I wished to make a personal statement in the House, how I should go about it and when I could be accommodated. Will the Cathaoirleach clarify if, when a point of order is raised with him, he is obliged to rule on it? I draw his attention to the fact that I have been in correspondence with his office.
If we in this House are to find our way, we must earn our keep. We have done so to a certain extent today. I thank the Leader for arranging for the House to sit today because it has not sat for a number of weeks. We are meeting in order to pass the Construction Contracts Bill which I hope we will pass today. I appreciate the Leader's response to my request that we do so. I do not understand, however, why we will not be meeting in the next few weeks. The Constitution provides that a vote will not take place for almost two months, yet it is not planned to meet in the intervening period. Senator O'Toole has mentioned to me that we have not yet seen the programme for Government, which is exactly what we should be debating. That is how we will earn our keep.
We do not deserve to stay alive if we do not do so. When I was playing rugby for Newbridge College many years ago, the trainer used to refer to the attacking team and the defending team. When I asked him what he meant by "the attacking team" and whether this was determined by the position of the ball on the field, he replied that it was not, that the attacking team was the team in possession of the ball, even if it was on their back line. The Seanad is a little like the attacking team. We are on the back line and if we are to survive, thrive and succeed, it is in our own hands. We can make sure we will meet to consider our opportunities. We must show a degree of optimism and confidence. Let us not talk ourselves down, as too many are doing in the country, and say things are so bad we cannot get out of the position in which we find ourselves. We can do a lot. We must believe in ourselves and that those in this House can prove their worth.
I welcome Senator Darragh O'Brien. I hope he will be working very hard, at least three or four days a week, for the next two months.
In response to Senator Quinn's comments, Members must try to be re-elected to the Seanad. It is unrealistic to expect the Seanad to continue to sit when they are trying to be re-elected.
I acknowledge the results of the general election and wish the new Government well. Senator Harris hit the nail on the head in cautioning against what might go wrong. I concur with him that big government is not necessarily healthy government. I hope the Government will have the courage to tackle issues as it needs to do so. In that regard, I concur with the assessment of Senator Harris.
I congratulate the Members of this House who have been elected to DÃ¡il Ãireann. It is a great honour. I also commiserate with those who were unsuccessful. It was a difficult election. I welcome Senator Darragh O'Brien who is most welcome. I hope he will have a long life in this House.
Like Senator Prendergast, I acknowledge that today is International Women's Day. However, I am astonished that she has failed to acknowledge that the membership of the Labour Parliamentary Party in the Seanad is 100% female, something of which she can be very proud.
To revert to the programme for Government, what worries me about what we have heard about it is the number of reviews being sought. People have said they want a review to be carried out of the Hunt report that has just been published, as well as a review of the decision on the siting of the proposed children's hospital. That does not bode well in having a good, dynamic and progressive Government which will have to make tough decisions, but nonetheless I wish it well. It is in the country's interests that we have a good and strong Government which will tackle the issues that need to be tackled.
I welcome Senator Darragh O'Brien and wish him well in his term in the House. I also congratulate the 14 Members of the Seanad who have been elected to the DÃ¡il, as well as Senator Prendergast on her elevation to membership of the European Parliament.
Senator Harris hit the nail on the head when he said it would be a difficult period for the new Government. It will have difficult decisions to make, but I have no doubt it will make those hard decisions because it will have no choice. There are parameters set by the IMF and in our banking policy within which the new Government will have to work. I hope it will state the buck has to stop some place because in the last ten years it did not stop anywhere in any Department, semi-State body or quango. No one in any place took responsibility. I hope the new Government will act on this. With power there is responsibility. I hope someone will take responsibility wand that the buck will stop somewhere.
I ask the new Government to take on board an issue I have raised in this House on a number of occasions, that of the â¬2.8 billion in fees in respect of NAMA being paid by banks. In some instances the consultancy fees have amounted to â¬3,500 per day. That is a disgrace and we cannot afford it. We hear from Senator Harris about the pain inflicted and the cuts that should be proposed. Right now we cannot afford to pay these fees as a nation. I hope this will be one of the first things the new Government will do.
I concur with those who have congratulated the Members of this House who have been elected to the DÃ¡il. I will go further and pay tribute to all those who have put their names before the public in the interests of the democratic process. It is essential that we have people with courage and commitment who are prepared to do so, often at great sacrifice to themselves and their families. It is important, therefore, that they are recognised. It is all too easy to offload on politicians, which tends to be done by people in the media and the public at large.
I welcome to the House Senator Darragh O'Brien who has been an outstanding politician in the DÃ¡il. I have no doubt he has a bright future here and I hope he will return to the DÃ¡il in the future.
I want to raise two items. A number of weeks ago I raised on the Adjournment the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and Pakistan. The Minister with responsibility the minorities in Pakistan, Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, has since been murdered outside his parents' home. With one voice we should condemn what is a sectarian murder, an atrocious way for any society to conduct itself. I would like to think the incoming Minister for Foreign Affairs will make Ireland's voice heard in that regard.
I read with interest and welcomed a comment made by Deputy Enda Kenny quoted in the newspaper in recent days that the disastrous mistakes made by the coalition Government led by Dr. Garret FitzGerald in the 1980s will not be repeated. That is essential. The mistake at the time was that the issues confronting the country were not faced. They were allowed to fester and as a consequence, they prolonged the recession when the rest of the world was doing extremely well. I ask that the issues be faced in this instance.
As with Senator Harris, I am concerned with the programme for Government, which in many instances fudges a number of the huge economic challenges that face us. It would be terrible if we failed to move ahead, improve economic competitiveness and deal with the real issues.
Ba mhaith liom fÃ¡ilte a chur roimh an SeanadÃ³ir Darragh O'Brien. Go n-Ã©irÃ leis. Ba mhaith liom freisin comhghairdeas a chur in iÃºl dÃ³ibh siÃºd a fuair suÃochÃ¡n sa DÃ¡il an uair seo. There is nothing ignoble about aspiring to being in the DÃ¡il if one is a Member of the Seanad although certain members of the public may feel the aspiration to get elected to the DÃ¡il from the Seanad represents some kind of indictment of the latter. That view reflects widespread ignorance of the different powers of State and government. We have a Judiciary, Executive and Legislature. It is quite clear that anybody who aspires to being a member of the Executive needs to be, in all but very exceptional circumstances, a Member of the DÃ¡il. That does not detract from the very important role the Oireachtas must play. It is really time that we asserted the importance of the Legislature in the Irish political system.
I feel very strongly that the real test of the incoming Taoiseach's commitment to political reform will entail two issues. First, having promised to abolish the Seanad, what will he do when it comes to appointing his 11 nominees? Will they be people who will take seats for his party at the next election or will they be the types of people who will restore the faith of the public in the Oireachtas? I refer to people of the calibre of Brian Friel, Gordon Wilson and others who graced the Seanad in the past. Those are the kinds of people a reforming Taoiseach should think of putting into the Seanad.
The second issue concerns whether the new Taoiseach will let the tail wag the dog. Fine Gael got an excellent result in this election, partly because it returned to its Christian Democrat roots. Guarantees were given on the importance of maintaining best maternal care for mothers while vindicating the duty of care to a baby in pregnancy. We must not have any backsliding on those commitments simply because of the aspirations of a liberal minority party in government. It will reflect badly on the respect for the public if there is backsliding on those commitments.
I endorse what Senator Quinn had to say on the fact that the Seanad could be sitting. If Senator O'Malley is correct about the need for Senators to get re-elected, why did we not sit during the general election campaign? Senator Harris quoted Yeats whereas I am reminded of Hamlet: "Sure, he that made us with such large discourse, looking before and after, gave us not that capability and godlike reason to fust in us unused." We have allowed our capability and God-like reason to fust in us unused instead of having important debates in the House and restoring people's faith in the Oireachtas.
I congratulate Senator Darragh O'Brien. I know from listening to him and having observed his political career to date that his will be a success story. I wish him the best of luck.
I congratulate all the Senators who were elected to the DÃ¡il and whom I loved looking at across the floor in the last session. I recall all the times we had a flip-flop across the floor. I miss the Senators' faces and wish them well. I am delighted to see they have moved to better places.
I beg of the Leader of the next Seanad not to seek the abolition of the House. We had not really had a discussion on reform. I am a reformist. We can talk about the selection and election procedures. All these matters have never been aired. There is a mood for change and this has been aired already. Let us start in this Chamber. What is wrong with having career Senators in addition to using the Seanad as a respite centre for those who stay for a short time and then move on? I ask the new Leader not to allow our Seanad to be treated as proposed. There is room for wisdom and experience and for young people entering politics. It would be a shame to simply put a pen to paper to abolish the Seanad without having any real discussion. That is not the way I think. I ask the Leader of the future Seanad to please put this in writing and ensure we have many discussions. Let us start from today. I do not know whether I will be returned but I hope to be to continue to work in every way I can to ensure we do not abolish the Seanad. I want the next Leader-----
There is no canvassing. I am not here to canvass. I am here to make a plea to the next Leader of the Seanad not to allow us to be abolished. We are a great Chamber. We scrutinise legislation and monitor all aspects of legislation coming from Europe. Let us not throw it all out with everything lost in the process.
I am delighted to be here today. Well, I am not entirely delighted but I congratulate everyone in the Chamber who stood for the DÃ¡il, including Senator O'Brien, whom I welcome. The seats on the other side of the House are quite empty but unfortunately those of us on this side did not manage to get anyone elected.
I agree with other Senators that it is important we are here to debate the Construction Contracts Bill 2010. It is important we do our job properly and examine legislation.
I join other Senators who have spoken about the need for a debate on the programme for Government. We should have debate on it in the remaining lifetime of this Seanad. It is quite a useful function we can serve. I had a look at the programme for Government and the only reference to the Seanad is a mention of abolishing it. There will be a Seanad until the referendum goes to the people so I would like to know what the new Government will do with it. As Senator Mullen pointed out, the Taoiseach will appoint 11 people to it. Who will those people be? Will they be people from his party who might be elected in the future or will they be the people with other views of the world? There is an inherent contradiction in the way the programme for Government deals with the Seanad and political reform. The reality which will face us is the likelihood that for the lifetime of the next DÃ¡il there will be a Seanad in place. The people will not stand for a Seanad mainly populated by Fine Gael Senators which will not have any useful function or purpose. Political reform starts with the people from the ground up and not from the top down as the programme for Government states. I do not believe getting rid of the oversight which the Seanad has will necessarily give us a better democratic system. If we are not to reform completely the political system we have at local authority, Seanad and DÃ¡il levels we will not have better politics in this country.
Like others, I congratulate our newest Member, Senator O'Brien. Unlike Senator O'Malley, I hope he does not delay too long in this House. I know his work rate and I am delighted to welcome him on board the Fianna FÃ¡il team.
It is a sad day when one will no longer see the faces and hear the contributions of Members such as Senators O'Toole, Harris, Ellis and Carty. It is most unfortunate that the Chamber does not get better media coverage, especially for the type of common sense one hears from the likes of Senators O'Toole, Ellis and Harris.
Like Senators Prendergast and O'Malley, I congratulate those who began International Women's Day 100 years ago. I wish continued success to the bodies in this country associated with it. It is a very special day and in a Chamber such as this, we think of women in a way that we may not think of them outside. We all know that women are under-represented in politics. As others have done, I congratulate Senator Prendergast and wish her well. She was very modest and she could not mention it herself but she is on her way to Europe to be an MEP for Munster. Her departure from this House will lead her on to something very exciting and important.
Senator Prendergast referred to the percentage of women representatives in her party, but unfortunately for my party we no longer have any women Deputies. I would hope, however, that the Seanad election will right this and that good women will be elected back into the Seanad, myself included. That is the end of my canvassing.
I was going to ask the Leader - it is now too late - if he could institute an international men's day because is it obvious that there is a gender imbalance which is very unfair on us men as we do not get the opportunity to project all the good qualities that men have with regard to this election.
I concur with the remarks made and Senator Feeney summed it up rather well. My own friend and colleague, Senator Ellis, along with Senator O'Toole and others, referred to the future Government. I congratulate the Government and I wish Deputy Enda Kenny and Deputy Eamon Gilmore well. They have a significant challenge to face. I also hope that Senator Darragh O'Brien's tenure in the House will be a short one and that he will be restored to his rightful place in the Lower House. I wish Senator Prendergast well. I am deeply envious that Senator Prendergast, who was on the substitute list, has managed to realise her ambitions. They may not have been her ambitions during the election but I wish her well now. Unfortunately, I was unable to persuade my friend and colleague, Pat the Cope Gallagher, MEP, to take a similar route back to the DÃ¡il which would have allowed me to have joined Senator Prendergast in the European Parliament, but be that as it may.
This is an historic day for this House. As the reducing echo of the rhetoric in this House wafts its way across to the other House, I hope that many of today's contributions might resonate positively, including those of Senator Harris, Senator O'Toole and Senator Quinn. I do not think the amount of talent in this House should be dismissed so quickly and so easily. I agree with the view that the media should have taken more cognisance of the proceedings of this House and that the media set up public opinion that the Seanad should be abolished. If there were to be a constitutional referendum, I am sure some people would say the local authorities should also be abolished. This is the prevailing culture. The incoming Government has a duty to ensure both sides of the argument are put to the people.
I will be brief in my contribution. Like other colleagues I welcome Senator Darragh O'Brien to the House and congratulate Senator Prendergast on her elevation to the European Parliament. It was the intention of the outgoing Government to bring in an amendment to the National Asset Management Agency Act. I have written today to the Office of the Attorney General to ask it to investigate NAMA for breaching the law and the intention of the NAMA legislation as passed by this House in the disposal of assets under its control. There is no transparency in the current process being pursued by NAMA. This lack of transparency has been confirmed to me by people who were asked to become involved in a scam whereby the original borrower of the loan would buy back his own loan book for less than the current market value thus causing a significant loss to the taxpayer. I have sought legal opinion from the Law Library on the matter, which has confirmed my suspicions that not only has the spirit of the law been breached, but also the law and its intent as passed by this House. Sections 2 and 10 of the National Asset Management Agency Act provided that the taxpayer must be protected, but this is not the case.
I will refrain from throwing bouquets at my colleagues, but I sincerely wish well to everybody in this Chamber who will put his or her head above the parapet and stand for election. It is easy to talk about standing for election, but it takes great courage to actually do it.
My pleading for the three issues of thalidomide, breast cancer screening and suicide prevention has been successful and they figure in the new programme for Government. I was Vice Chairman of the Oireachtas Sub-Committee on the High Level of Suicide in Ireland. The new Government will ring-fence a substantial amount of money to deal with the epidemic of suicide. I am delighted the programme for Government proposes to extend breast cancer screening to cover women aged from 64 to 69.
How many times did I say that here and our Minister for Health and Children did not listen, but it is now in the programme for Government? Finally and not least the programme for Government will open up the case for the thalidomide survivors.
On my first day here I will be brief as I understand we are under time pressure. I very much appreciate the kind remarks from people on all sides of the House today. I look forward to working hard in the Seanad for the good of the people outside. It is a House for which I have immense respect. Having watched it from outside before, I believe the quality of debate here is something from which the lower Chamber could learn based on my experience of the past three and a half years. I very much appreciate all the kind words and look forward to working with all colleagues over the next few weeks and hopefully in the next number of years.
I also congratulate Senator Darragh O'Brien on becoming a Member of the House. We all know he became a member of Fingal County Council in 2004 and a Member of DÃ¡il Ãireann in 2007. He was the Vice Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, which is the most important committee in the House and was a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committees on Foreign Affairs, and Justice, Defence and Women's Rights. He also has a distinguished career in financial services. Along with his wife, daughter and family, I congratulate him. I wish him well and look forward to working with him.
Senators Cummins, O'Toole, Prendergast, Coghlan, Boyle, Harris, Ellis, Bradford, Callely, Quinn, O'Malley, Burke, Walsh, Mullen, Ormonde, Feeney, Mooney, Daly and White expressed their serious concerns and strong views regarding many matters on the Order of Business. First, I congratulate Fine Gael and the Labour Party on their outstanding win in the general election. I commiserate with some very decent former Deputies on the Fianna FÃ¡il and Green Party side who worked very hard in the national interest. There was a mood for change and the electorate certainly had its say.
I acknowledge the very difficult task the Taoiseach, the former Deputy, Brian Cowen, had during his period as Taoiseach. I wish him and the TÃ¡naiste well, as I do to everyone who played a part in the national interest in doing his or her very best under what has been the worst recession since 1929. I look forward to working with colleagues on the future Government side. I congratulate my constituency colleague, Deputy McFadden. What a different place this Chamber will be without the former Senator, Deputy Buttimer.
There is no doubt that DÃ¡il Ãireann will not know what has happened to it when the Deputy takes his seat tomorrow.
I make special mention of the former Senator, Deputy Ross, who, I believe, was the third longest serving Senator in the history of the State.
He made a great contribution here and we all worked very closely with him. We wish him well on becoming a Member of the other House along with the former Senator, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, who was leader of the Opposition in this House on behalf of the Fine Gael Party, and the former Senator, Deputy Alex White, who led the Labour Party in this House. I congratulate all former colleagues who were elected to the lower House. I know what the experience is like. They will have to experience it to know the value of the Seanad and the high quality of debate that takes place here on the very many topics we are asked to consider.
The first 100 days of the incoming Government will be crucial in the national interest. Senator Ellis, who is one of the most experienced Members of both the DÃ¡il and Seanad, said that people need to be given hope. The people are very down and are looking for confidence measures. What the incoming Government does in the first 100 days will be crucial in lifting people who lack hope and confidence. Colleagues on the opposite side of the House should ensure in whatever way they can through their parliamentary parties that that confidence and hope can be given to the people in the first 100 says.
We have had many reports on Seanad reform and all our submissions to the Minister were on his desk for one and a half years. This Seanad did everything it possibly could to ensure the views of the House through our party political system and through us as individuals were placed before the Minister. I firmly believe it will not be possible to reform the Seanad until the DÃ¡il is reformed. The DÃ¡il must be reformed to meet the challenges of the 21st century. As we all know, the Seanad, set up by Eamon de Valera under the 1937 Constitution, was to be the watchdog and guardian on behalf of the taxpayers and to give the vocational viewpoint as it has so very well done.
In 2009 some 1,201 Seanad amendments were accepted by the Government. That is a very significant amount of legislation that was amended in the interest of the taxpaying citizens to ensure no guillotined legislation slipped through in DÃ¡il Ãireann that we did not correct here. With the exception of two occasions we never guillotined a Bill - we discussed them section by section and line by line. Senator O'Toole, who has been in this House for almost 25 years, strongly advised the new Government to look at the democratic sessions that are taking place in both Houses. He has proposed that we should row back and let us take our time to do the right thing. The new Seanad that will be elected will be here for the lifetime of the 31st DÃ¡il. There is no rush and there is plenty of time to get the entire process right so that it is fit for purpose for the 21st century.
I agree with what Senators Prendergast and Feeney said about today being international women's day. I acknowledge the tremendous contribution made by women and this House has been always forthcoming in doing everything we possibly could in debating and discussing the achievements of women.
Senator Callely spoke about the National Transport Authority seeking additional consultation. As we all know it has invited as many people as possible to come forward for the final consultation stage. If this is to be achieved, I would encourage everyone to do so.
The Senator also called for a debate on the insurance industry where massive changes are taking place at present. I chaired the inquiry on insurance in 2004, 2005 and 2006, during the course of which premiums were reduced by 50%. Perhaps it is time for the new Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment to take on this challenge again and conduct a further review of the industry to see how policy holders can be facilitated. Senator Quinn spoke of the Seanad debating and discussing the programme for Government which is a fair and reasonable request. Senator O'Malley gave her strong views on a number of issues which I shall pass on to the relevant Ministers. Senator Burke mentioned the â¬2.8 billion spent in fees for consultants to NAMA, amounting to â¬3,500 each per day. I agree fully with the Senator that this is massively excessive. I shall pass Senator Daly's views to the Minister in question. Senator Walsh spoke of the murders taking place in Pakistan and the Middle East. I shall pass on his comments to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Senator White mentioned the three issues whose cause she has championed in the House, namely, the plague of suicide, breast cancer and redress for thalidomide victims and we would welcome it if these issues were addressed in the programme for Government. Senator White has played a significant part in this.