Thursday, 24 March 2011
Order of Business
The Order of Business today is No. 1, proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and the Council on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters, to conclude not later than 1 p.m., with the contributions of Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be called upon to reply to the debate not later than 12.50 p.m.
I wholeheartedly congratulate Senator Cummins on his appointment by the Taoiseach as the new Leader of the Seanad. I worked well with him as Leader of the House, as did the previous Government Whip, Senator Wilson, and Deputy Whip, Senator Glynn. I thank him for all he did for us and look forward to working with him in the remainder of the lifetime of this Seanad. We will support the Government in every way possible to ensure the smooth running of the House. Senator Cummins has huge experience and will make a very successful leader of the Seanad. He is the fourteenth Leader of the House. It is a great honour for his family, party and himself personally and I wish him well in continuing to make the Seanad a success.
On behalf of the Fianna FÃ¡il Party and as leader of the Fianna FÃ¡il group in the Seanad, I urge support for the Taoiseach and the Government in their stand against the introduction of a common consolidated corporation tax base ahead of the European summit in Brussels today. Everyone in Ireland will agree that the Government cannot leave the door open for its participation. Two weeks ago the Taoiseach said he was opposed to the establishment of a CCCTB which he described as tax harmonisation by the back door. The matter should not be up for discussion in any shape or form. We all agree that the European Commission's proposals would see the introduction of a single set of rules which companies operating within the European Union would be able to use in calculating their taxable income which, as we all know, would then be divided up among all of the countries in the Union. The 12.5% corporation tax rate is our hallmark in terms of what we have achieved.
SeÃ¡n Lemass introduced his own tax regime in 1960 which stood to us well until 5 April 1990. The 12.5% corporation tax rate, with the system of free education introduced by Donogh O'Malley, has given us what we have which we hope to progress for future generations. As in the case of the former Taoiseach, former Deputy Brian Cowen, and the former Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, I ask the Taoiseach to ensure the 12.5% corporation tax rate will not be interfered with in any circumstances. That is the strong message I ask the new Leader to take back to his party leader whom I wish well in his deliberations in Brussels over two days.
We would also like to be associated with the words of Senator Cassidy in congratulating Senator Cummins on his elevation to the important role of Leader of the House. I wish him well in that regard. I also thank Senator Cassidy for his support and co-operation in recent years as Leader of the House.
On the question raised by Senator Cassidy, I seek a reassessment of where we are in the European Union. By the end of the general election campaign everyone in the country was certain that we would have a reduced interest rate because we had been told this by every party. However, the first trip by the new Taoiseach to Brussels undermined that idea. He was told there was no such commitment to reducing the interest rate. There was then the question of restructuring, which has also been removed from the agenda for the moment, as well as the question of changes to the tax base by way of the CCCTB. All of these issues have to be looked at. I wish the Government well in this difficult task and support the points made yesterday by Senator Regan on the importance of maintaining our relationship with the European Union in the way we do business.
There are some things about which we need to be careful. We cannot start to raise the expectations of the people only to have them dashed. In that regard, there is much loose talk coming from the Government. It would be useful, therefore, if it outlined clearly the vested interests of France and Germany in the discussions.
In dealing with the banks, as many on both sides of the House have stated in the past few months, â¬50 billion, â¬60 billion or â¬70 billion of the money we are paying back is going to German and French banks. Of course, they do not want us to default or see a rescheduling, as it would not be in the interests of their people. Chancellor Merkel faces four or five LÃ¥nder elections between now and the end of the year and many of her supposedly European concerns are actually local concerns.
The other point that we need to make clear to everybody - it should be stated and reported on - is that the actual rate of corporation tax in France is far closer to 7% or 8%. In real terms, therefore, the corporation tax rate is lower in France than in this country. President Sarkozy is simply playing a game; he is third in the opinion polls behind Ms Le Pen. That really is the issue.
We need to be absolutely clear that the issues being dealt with by the European Union in the context raised by Senator Regan yesterday should be addressed with European objectives in mind and also state that unless Ireland can get back on track, there will be no payback. Call it burning or whatever one likes, but there must be a rescheduling.
While I will not take the initiative, this House should discuss the Moriarty tribunal report. I am not suggesting we do so today, but I ask the Leader to consider the matter. Some 30 Members could sign such a request. I support the view that this House should return to discuss the issue which is uppermost in the mind of every citizen.
I congratulate Senator Cummins on his elevation to the position of Leader of the House and wish him well. He can be assured of my party's co-operation in the time available to us. I seek mutual co-operation along the lines I hope I offered when Deputy Leader of the House. In that spirit, I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that after No. 1, 30 minutes be provided to complete Committee and Remaining Stages of the Mental Health (Involuntary Procedures) (Amendment) Bill 2008, on which much progress was made yesterday and to which there are four amendments, three of which have been discussed and the fourth is not contentious. A series of votes would complete discussion of the Bill. I would be grateful if the Leader, with the co-operation of the Minister and the Department, could achieve this end and finish the process.
I support Senator O'Toole's call for a debate on the Moriarty tribunal report, not for the narrow party political reasons that might accompany such a debate but to address the serious issues involved in the relationship between the media, business and politics in general, which will inform aspects of the programme for Government we discussed yesterday. Before it finishes its term, this House should have an opportunity to do this, especially in the light of the decision of the Taoiseach to refer the report to the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Garda. As it was the creation of the Oireachtas, as a House of the Oireachtas, we should have an opportunity to discuss the tribunal's report at an early date.
I, too, agree with some of the comments made by Senator O'Toole, particularly on the corporation tax rate and the distraction caused at European level by the French and, perhaps, German tactics. The Taoiseach has been consistent in his approach to safeguarding the best interests of the country and has made it clear that the 12.5% corporation tax is a sine qua non and not up for renewal or negotiation. It may take some time to deal with the issues involved because there are 17 countries involved in the defence of the euro and 27 countries in all in the European Union. With so many states involved, let there be a little patience in dealing with these matters. One cannot attend a one or two-day meeting and have decisions made on all matters. For instance, as has been stated, an interest rate reduction might be in the pipeline, but it will take a little more time to deal with all of the other matters involved. Therefore, we should be patient. We have the utmost confidence in our negotiating team - the Taoiseach, relevant Ministers and the Civil Service. I say let them get on with it. It is an issue to which we can come back if the Seanad is still in being.
I congratulate Senator Cummins on his appointment as Leader of the House. It creates certain difficulties for me on the Labour Panel, which now includes a former Leader of the House, as well as the new Leader. It will put considerable pressure on me.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that the TÃ¡naiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Gilmore, come to the House and call for an immediate ceasefire in the bombardment of Tripoli and other places in Libya. On the activities of Colonel Gadaffi, who could condone the activities of his regime? I note that not long ago the former British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, and the Rt. Hon. Jack Straw, MP, negotiated with Colonel Gadaffi the release of the Lockerbie bomber.
Yes. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that the TÃ¡naiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade come to the House to outline the Government's position on a country with which we have strong trade relations. I remember the meetings which took place in the desert with the then Taoiseach, the late Charles Haughey, and Mr. Goodman. I remind the TÃ¡naiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade that, as a guest of the Palestine Liberation Organization, in 2006 I led a delegation with him to Palestine and that we understand the situation regarding the Muslim nations and the attack on Libya. This is a serious issue. By the way, all the armaments in Libya were supplied by Britain and the United States. Colonel Gadaffi was a friend in need; now he is an enemy. I call on the Government which is independent and neutral to call for an immediate ceasefire in the bombardment of Tripoli and other places in Libya.
I congratulate my colleagues on the Government side and wish them and the Government well.
With regard to the euro, I have stated previously in the House that the banking problem is a serious one. The whole of Europe is involved; it is not merely an isolated problem for Ireland. In Portugal the Government has collapsed. This creates a significant additional element. The people of Portugal, through their representatives, have refused to accept the stringent measures proposed and, as a result, they may well be faced, through central government, with even harsher regimes.
It is important that the Government appreciates, for example, given the situation in Germany referred to by my colleague, Senator O'Toole, that we have a job to do, not merely at senior political level where it has been done fairly well so far but also in making contact with local political representatives and civil servants there. Listening to some of the stuff coming out of Germany on radio the other day, I was astonished at persons speaking from a reasonably high but uninformed position about the situation, the relationship between the financial systems in Ireland and Germany, and the benefits that accrued through the difficulties being inflicted on the Irish people. The impossibility of the task we are being asked to take on with regard to both bank and sovereign debt simultaneously needs to be brought home to them clearly. I also listened to an interview on television with people in France. It became quite clear that Senator O'Toole is right when he says the rate of corporation tax in France is between 7% and 8%, but is being concealed. A man from Strasbourg admitted that the French tax regime provides tax concessions, rebates and incentives. If they are all added together, it is clear the French corporation tax rate is significantly lower then our rate. We need an overall view. I have said in this House previously that an inevitable centrifugal force is driving Europe towards tax harmonisation. If Europe is to continue to function and the euro is to survive, it is inevitable that tax harmonisation will happen. We need to prepare for it. That is a task for the new Government.
Finally, I ask the new Leader to indicate what level of progress is to be made with Senator Quinn's Bill, which relates to the construction industry. I understand the Leader is an enthusiastic supporter of the Bill. Will the Government support it in the other House? Will the Bill pass into law? The legislation in question marks a significant contribution to Irish political life on the part of Seanad Ãireann.
Like my colleagues, I would like to be associated with the vote of congratulations to Senator Cummins. I do not doubt that he will make an excellent Leader not only in the short period before the Seanad election, but also in the future. I am sure all Members of this House are quite willing to recommend to the Taoiseach that he should reappoint Senator Cummins as Leader after the election.
Senator Burke is going to higher office. This is probably the last chance some of us will have to say something in this House. I would like to make some final remarks after 30-odd years in the Oireachtas. Every citizen of this country has a duty to support the Government as it tries to ensure our 12.5% corporation tax rate is not changed. If it is changed, this country's chances of recovering from its present situation will be very poor. We will be bounced from left to right by Sarkozy and Merkel. As everybody here knows, they have totally vested interests in trying to hammer the Irish economy. I have said publicly and privately that the rate being charged to this country for the bailout is unsustainable.
I wish the new Government luck. It has the full support and confidence of the people of this country as it tries to renegotiate the deal. If we cannot do so, the jobs we hope to create in the future will be created elsewhere. In such circumstances, the jobs mentioned in the programme for Government will not be created in Ireland - they will be created in France, Germany and across Europe and we will be the lame duck once more. I do not want to see us return to that. Some of us are old enough to remember pre-EU times. We know what they were like. We are aware of the benefits the EU has brought to this country. We should not allow the EU to take from future generations the benefits we have enjoyed.
That is all I wanted to say. I wish the very best to my colleagues who are standing in the Seanad election. I thank the staff of the House for their co-operation over the years.
On a point of order, I would like to inform the House that I do not intend to pursue the amendment I have proposed, given that the TÃ¡naiste may have to join the Taoiseach in Brussels. I ask the Leader to convey my views to the TÃ¡naiste.
I recognise the new Leader, as other Senators have done, and wish him well. I would like to second the amendment to the Order of Business that was proposed by Senator Boyle. I hope the new Leader will look kindly on it.
As long as the current Seanad is in place, we should do our jobs. The new Leader should look to ensure further debates take place. I would like us to discuss the energy security crisis we are facing in this country. Such a debate is crucial. Since the Seanad broke up at the start of the general election campaign, the price of oil has increased to in excess of $100 a barrel, an appalling nuclear crisis has developed in Japan and water supplies in Tokyo have been cut off, which makes it somewhat difficult for the nuclear option to happen in this particular country. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, told the other House last year that Ireland is "acutely exposed in the event of fossil fuel import disruptions ... [because] ... fossil fuels comprise 96% of Ireland's primary energy mix ... all oil used for energy and over 90% of natural gas is imported [and] Ireland is at the end of a long supply chain that mostly originates in regions of geopolitical instability". That is clear from the situation in Tripoli, as has been pointed out, and from the difficulties in Egypt and other parts of the Middle East.
The Minister, Deputy Coveney, also said last year that "Ireland has a total of only 11 days of commercial storage capacity for natural gas which may, or may not, be filled at any particular time", and that "Ireland has only a few days of commercial stocks of oil on the island and is dependent on 24/7 availability of Dublin Port and the Whitegate refinery". There is an impending oil and energy crisis. When people ask about the major financial crisis in the world, they often ask why no one warned them about it. I believe we have to warn the people about the impending energy crisis. I admire Fine Gael's NewERA document. I am pleased a Minister of State is now responsible for it. We have to take it seriously. This country's economy is more exposed than any other in Europe to the needs of energy security. We should have a debate on it in the Seanad.
I want to be associated with the votes of congratulations to Senator Cummins. Senator Wilson and I received extremely good co-operation from Senator Cummins, who is a very decent man. I do not doubt that he will reflect the confidence the Taoiseach placed in him when he appointed him Leader of the Seanad for a short time. I am sure that will continue after the election. I wish him well.
I would like to raise a couple of matters in the aftermath of the recent general election. I have been in public life for almost 32 years. I have to say the electorate has become cynical and distrustful of politicians in general. Promises are very real until elections are over, when they are forgotten. It would be important if people would report on what they have done, rather than on what they are going to do.
When the new Seanad has been elected, I suggest it should seriously consider the ever-increasing scourge of knife crime, which has reached epidemic proportions. Last week, a young man of 19 was chased and knifed to death. Can anybody say with any measure of conviction that it was an accidental occurrence? It was not. It was intended. Those who carry knives do not do so to pare their pencils or their nails. They do so with the intention of using them for other purposes.
Even at this late stage, I appeal to the Government parties to row back on their intention to abolish this House. We all accept it has to be reformed. No one disputes that. The failure to introduce reforms is not the fault of this House. Successive Governments have failed to reform the Seanad. Several reports have been compiled, but each of them is collecting its own layer of dust. Equally, the need for local government reform needs to be visited in a realistic way.
I would like to conclude by thanking the Cathaoirleach. I will not be contesting the forthcoming Seanad election. I wish every success to those who have decided to do so. I sincerely thank the Cathaoirleach and my colleagues on all sides of the House. I thank all the councillors throughout the country, as well as their spouses and partners. It has been a very enriching experience for me. I am delighted to have been given an opportunity to serve.
I join my colleagues in congratulating my good friend and colleague, Senator Cummins, on his elevation to the position of Leader of this House. It has been a great pleasure to have worked with him as Whip for the last four years. He was always honourable and always kept his word. His word was always his bond, which is a great attribute in any person. I also congratulate Senator Coghlan on his elevation to the position of Government Chief Whip in his House. Nobody deserves it more. He was one of the few people who could fill Senator Cummins's shoes when he was absent from this House, which did not take place too often.
I feel like proposing an amendment to the Order of Business because I have wanted to do so for the past four years to observe the faces of Senators Cummins and Coghlan when they realise they would lose a vote. I will not do so, however, because I am not that cruel. I genuinely wish Senator Cummins well as Leader and hope he will serve in that position not only for the next couple of weeks but also for the coming five years. I also hope I will have five years to get used to sitting on this side of the House and to seeing the faces of Government Senators.
I pay tribute to the outgoing Leader, Senator Cassidy, who faced a difficult job at times in keeping the business of the House running smoothly. He always held his position of leadership in high esteem and I wish him, and all my colleagues, well in the coming Seanad election.
I also pay tribute to the Cathaoirleach and the staff of the House, including the Clerk and Clerk Assistant to the Seanad, for the courtesy they have shown over the nine years I have served as a Senator. I look forward to returning to work with the other Senators elected to the 24th Seanad. I offer my best wishes for the future to all my colleagues who are retiring.
I join my colleagues in offering my best wishes to Senator Cummins in his new role. As a proud parliamentarian and Irishman, he fully appreciates the honour bestowed on him and I know he will fulfil his duties with great dignity.
It is ironic that the Green Party was the only party in the general election to campaign on the basis of retaining the Seanad. The principle of bicameralism is very important and I did not enjoy the comments from certain Fine Gael Deputies in regard to other parliaments which have thrown away that principle. That is another example of loose talk which should be knocked on the head. I wish my Green Party colleagues luck in their bid for re-election. Given our unique position on the future of the Seanad, it would be ironic if they failed to be returned.
I called for a debate on nuclear power on three occasions in the year I sat in this House, sometimes in the face of speeches in favour of nuclear power. On one occasion, I spoke at length about the number of quangos and regulatory and supervisory bodies required to put order on the industry. We can see now what happens when that order breaks down. To put in context the ongoing threat posed by the industry to Ireland, I remind Senators that whereas 26 kg of caesium 137 were released across Europe when the core of the reactor in Chernobyl melted down, the waste tanks which store liquid nuclear fuel rods in Sellafield contain more than two tonnes of this material. The caesium is stored in 21 tanks in a building, B215, which is not secure in the event of an aircraft strike. The unimaginable has happened in Japan and it can happen again. The call by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to stress test Sellafield is like calling for a stress test on Anglo Irish Bank because it is a proven case. We need to be more firm in seeking an end to nuclear reprocessing. Sellafield will not and cannot go away and it needs to be managed effectively and secured against the unimaginable. I ask the Government to raise its game on this issue and seek far more than a mere stress test.
I congratulate Senators Cummins and Coghlan on their elevation to Leader of the House and Government Whip, respectively, and wish them well.
Given that 2011 is a census year and as I am sure the new Leader will occupy the same position in the next Seanad, I ask that he bring forward legislation to publish the 1926 census. There was no census in 1921 and my colleague, Senator Ã MurchÃº, and I have previously called for legislation in this area. As a local genealogist, every week and month I receive communications from various parts of the United States and England regarding families who had to leave this country between the 1920s and the 1950s. The publication of the 1926 census, like its predecessors in 1901 and 1911, could provide vital information on these families. I will send a reminder of the matter to the Leader when he is, I hope, reappointed to his current position in the next Seanad.
As this is our last sitting and I am not contesting the forthcoming election, I wish my colleagues the best of luck and, most importantly, the best of health. I hope those who are contesting the election will be returned. As I understand the Cathaoirleach will not be contesting the election, I commend him on the way he fulfilled his duties in the House in the past three and three quarters years. I understand now that he always knew what was happening on this side of the House because he had a clearer view of it than he had of the other side. I offer the best of wishes to his staff and thank them for their help and co-operation.
I join my colleagues in congratulating Senator Cummins on his new role as Leader of the House. I wish the best of luck both to those who are contesting the election as well as to those who are going on to other careers. I am told there is a life after politics.
Given that the economy is uppermost in our minds, I hope the renegotiation of the IMF-EU deal will bear fruit. I am sure all of us were concerned to learn that the Taoiseach will not seek an immediate deal on the interest rate but is parking the issue pending the outcome of the stress tests on the banks. This underlines the critical nature of these tests for our economy and, in light of what is happening in Portugal, everyone is understandably nervous about what will happen. I hope and believe the renegotiations will enable our economy to recover.
Other speakers have referred to the appalling human catastrophes unfolding in Libya and Japan. As Senator Dearey noted, the natural disaster in Japan, compounded by the crisis in the nuclear reactor, points to the need to debate the issue of nuclear power and the potential of renewable energy as a safer alternative.
The abolition of the Seanad is on the agenda of the new Government but this alone will not bring about the fundamental political reform which people clearly demanded in the recent election. If we are to abolish the Seanad, this should be done only as part of a comprehensive reform of the Oireachtas that ensures the scrutiny we bring to Committee Stage of Bills such as the one introduced by Senator Boyle is incorporated into the business of the DÃ¡il by, for example, electing a number of Deputies on a national list system. This would allow for closer attention to the national interest and the sort of debates we have held in the Seanad. It is important that we consider overall reform of the Oireachtas in the context of debate on the future of the Seanad.
I congratulate the Leader. I am delighted Senator Cummins was elevated to the position.
Of course the incoming Government is entitled to the support of every Irish man and woman - it will have it wholeheartedly from me - in ensuring that the country returns to prosperity and that the necessary changes are made. However, I ask the Leader to ensure we do not have 11 separate constitutional referendums, as suggested in the programme for Government. I suggest that the proposal for a constitutional review include all of these, although I will be voting against three of them - the abolition of the Seanad, the introduction of same-sex marriage and the removal of the provision on blasphemy from the Constitution. It would be wrong to have 11 separate constitutional referendums. We must ensure there is one proposal for reform of the Constitution, and we can vote on that issue.
It will not be easy to make certain decisions, although some decisions will be easy. For example, it was originally proposed that there be 20 fewer DÃ¡il Deputies. Based on the 2011 census, Dublin will probably lose a seat, but it may lose another six if we have 20 fewer TDs. It will be more difficult for the incoming Government to ensure this change goes through when all of those seven seats will be Government seats. That will take real courage. Another thing that will take courage is the introduction of taxation that the public does not want. I refer specifically to water charges and rates. There is a proposal that councils be given this power, but having spoken to councillors around the country I can say that under no circumstances will they vote for this. They do not believe the Government should divest its responsibility for the introduction of water charges or rates to the councils, and they will not vote for it. It is important that those on the Government side know this. It is a function of Governments to introduce taxation, and it will have real difficulty in this regard.
I hope for the sake of Ireland that the Government has a successful term. There are some issues that may result in knee-jerk reactions, but there are also real, substantive and difficult tasks to be undertaken. I wish it well in its deliberations.
One of the fundamental issues that must be addressed by the Government is the EU-IMF bailout deal. Senator O'Toole mentioned that promises were made to renegotiate it. The fact that the deal is unsustainable for this country makes it imperative that it be renegotiated. I do not think we should second-guess how the Government plays its cards on this one. There is much damage that must be undone.
There is also the question of rebuilding our reputation in Europe. We must get the facts out about the significance of the 12.5% corporate tax rate, including the fact that this is not the lowest rate in Europe and, particularly, that it played no part in the crisis in our economy. That will take time. The Taoiseach's strategy of not rushing the fences in the European Council this week will be proven to be correct.
Lest we do not have the opportunity again, as this may be our last occasion to meet, I must say that I have found it a privilege to be a Member of this House. The manner in which business has been conducted has been exemplary, and much of that is due to the Cathaoirleach, Senator Pat Moylan, who has conducted business in an even-handed and fair way.
We have tested his patience at times, and I have played my part in that. His approach to the business of the House has been very fair, and I thank him for that. We will all support him in the future.
The Seanad is a most important institution, although its role and effectiveness in scrutinising legislation are not very evident. Not many amendments or suggestions from the Opposition are accepted by the Government - at least not obviously, because no Minister wants to admit that he or she is accepting amendments from the Opposition. However, the debate in this House permeates through to the various Departments and is ultimately reflected in better legislation. It has provided a platform for raising many issues of national interest and concern, and we have seen results from some of those debates. The Seanad has effected change in the body politic.
I join with others in congratulating Senator Maurice Cummins on his appointment as Leader. Like my colleague Senator Hanafin, I wish him well. We know the road ahead will be a challenging one for those in government. We wish him well on, as Senator Hanafin put it, the easy and the tough decisions. As Senator Ellis mentioned, we are all at one, rightly, in our desire to move forward and address the difficult decisions.
I do not wish any disagreement with the Cathaoirleach, who has a letter on his desk from me - I think he is getting it as we speak - on the subject of an appeal to his decision not to afford me the opportunity to make a personal explanation under Standing Order 32A. That is his decision and I will not have any disagreement with him in that regard. I have sent him a letter of appeal and I hope he will consider it and look favourably upon my request.
I could table an amendment to the Order of Business to seek permission to allow people such as me, who would like to make a short statement, ten minutes to speak. We do not have a full day of business; I do not think the House will sit into the late afternoon. I am asking for this, rather than tabling an amendment, and I hope Senator Cummins will accommodate my request in a spirit of co-operation. As I mentioned earlier, co-operation is what the public wants to see on the national issues, and it should happen at every level. I am simply asking that people such as I, who have not had an opportunity to put certain issues on the record, be given a chance to do so. I have been ridiculed personally, as a Member of this House.
I am simply seeking an opportunity to obtain fairness. I owe it to the House and to the people of Ireland to make a factual statement about the adverse issues on which I have been ridiculed since I had the opportunity of making my last statement here on 2 June. There have been a litany of issues and I am simply asking for a few minutes.
I will conclude by saying that there are others in the House who are finishing their terms and would, I am sure, welcome the opportunity of having a few minutes. Senator Cummins might be able to afford an hour at the end of today for me and others to make comments. Also, I ask Senator Cummins-----
I considered the draft statement the Senator submitted last night to my office, but I do not consider this matter to be one contemplated by Standing Order 32A. Accordingly, I have notified the Senator that I will not be calling on him to make a personal explanation to the House today. I allowed the Senator to make a personal statement on 2 June 2010 and I am aware of nothing on the record of the House since then that would warrant the making of another statement on that matter. I call Senator O'Brien.
On a point of order, a Chathaoirligh, I would like to put on the record the fact that the House gave every opportunity to Senator Callely to have a discussion, and adjourned twice one night for that purpose, but he refused to do so. It is not as if he did not have the opportunity.
I congratulate the new Leader of the Government parties here in the House, Senator Cummins, a great friend of mine for many years. The Cathaoirleach, Senator Wilson and himself have accommodated me on many occasions over the years-----
-----and I am very grateful for that.
I ask the Leader to raise with the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the matter of the Department office in Ballybay, known as the DV office, which has a great cloud hanging over it. I would appreciate if the Leader would ask the Minister to do everything in his power to ensure this office is maintained to provide the service for the people of Monaghan. The office has been widely used for the last 20 or 30 years, and was very effective when we had to face the big threat of foot and mouth disease in the county and surrounding regions, including cross-Border areas. The work done from that office was second to none so that we now have brucellosis-free status and TB is well under control in the county and surrounding areas. It would be a shame to see this office closed. The office is needed and it will not cost any extra money to keep it open. That is the one thing I want the Leader to convey to the Minister. I want to convey a special word of thanks to the last Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Brendan Smith, who did everything in his power to keep that office open. That was brilliant, and I am appealing to the Leader to speak to the Minister on a personal basis on my behalf and ask him to do what he can in this regard.
I want to say a sincere "Thank you" to Deirdre, Jody and all the staff of the Seanad Office, all the staff of the Oireachtas including the ushers, the Superintendent, the Captain of the Guard, catering staff and all the staff associated with this House over the last 22 years. I offer sincere thanks to the Cathaoirleach, previous Cathaoirligh and all the colleagues with whom I have served in this House over the last 20 years for their co-operation. I have enjoyed every minute that I have spent in this House. I do not deny I shall miss it, but I have made up my mind and I am happy with the decision I have taken.
To give a little dig to Senator Cummins and his colleagues, it is not too often in the last 22 years that I have sat on the Opposition benches. I sat, more often, on the benches opposite. I offer a sincere thanks to all the Members with whom I have served over the last 22 years and may those who have gone to their eternal reward rest in peace.
I congratulate Senator Cummins on becoming Leader of the House. I thank the Cathaoirleach for the even-handed approach he adopted in this House over the last four years. I thank the staff of the House as well for their co-operation and excellent advice over many years. I offer my best wishes to those Members seeking re-election and I wish those who have decided to call it a day well in their retirement. It was a privilege to work with all the Senators in this House over the last number of Seanad terms, particularly the last one. It was a good Seanad and we passed some good legislation in this House. The Seanad is a great Chamber in which to scrutinise legislation and I hope that whatever legislation is introduced in the years ahead will provide the same level of scrutiny that previous Bills received in this House over many years. The country would be the poorer if this does not happen or if proposals are not put in place to ensure that. I wish the Cathaoirleach and those who are retiring well.
Go raibh mÃle maith agat, a Chathaoirligh, agus ba bhreÃ¡ liomsa freisin mo bhuÃochas a ghabhÃ¡il leatsa as ucht do chuid oibre ar feadh roinnt blianta anuas. I wish the Cathaoirleach well.
We have already heard the opening shots of the great retreat about the abolition of the Seanad with the admission by the Taoiseach that the matter may not be as simple as originally portrayed. We might add that the matter may not be as simplistic as originally presented by the new Taoiseach. This was clearly a grab, as I have said before, for the cookie jar of popular ideas, when what is needed is a more thorough and mature reform of the operations of the Oireachtas. That would see reform in both the way the DÃ¡il and the Seanad operate and a better resourcing of SeanadÃ³irÃ agus TeachtaÃ DÃ¡la so that they can fulfil their duty as scrutineers of legislation more effectively. I hope now that with all the different measures being promised we will have careful reflection before we jump into referendums on overly simplistic proposals.
I did not have an opportunity to contribute to the debate about the programme for Government yesterday. I was one of the Members waiting to get in, but there was not enough time. However, one issue I hope the Government takes very seriously is the whole question of how we treat victims of human trafficking and, in particular, how we deal with problems of prostitution. We saw the former Minister for Justice and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, moving towards a recognition of the type of legislation used in Sweden where the purchaser of prostitution services is criminalised but the prostitute is not. There is a movement towards a recognition that this is the way we should be going. I had the pleasure, along with Senator O'Toole, of attending an interesting presentation recently involving people such as the poet, Theo Dorgan, Christy Moore and others, uniting around the issue that men in particular must be seen to be saying "No" to the exploitation of women in prostitution.
For that reason, although I welcome the new diversity in the DÃ¡il, I very much regret the wrong-headedness of Deputy Mick Wallace's approach to this issue where he suggests that we might somehow improve the situation for sex workers, perhaps by giving them a PPS number or something. He seems to have adopted the naive and mistaken view that it can somehow be made easier for persons in prostitution in terms of accessing health services and otherwise by giving the whole thing the veneer of legality and respectability. That would be a step in the wrong direction, as other jurisdictions are discovering.
The way to go is to follow the way Sweden has gone, namely, to criminalise the user and protect the person in prostitution. I hope there will be more careful and sustained reflection on this issue. I see Senator Regan in the House, a fine lawyer and an influential person, and I hope he will push the new Minister for Justice and Law Reform in the direction of bringing forward legislation along-----
I should like to thank all the Members for their kind wishes which are very much appreciated.
Senators Cassidy, O'Toole, Coghlan, Norris, Ellis, Hanafin and Regan spoke about our 12.5% corporation tax and our relations with Europe. The Taoiseach has made it perfectly clear that the 12.5% rate is sacrosanct.
With regard to the renegotiation of the terms of the bailout, it is accepted by everyone that it will not happen overnight. The Taoiseach stated it will be done in a measured way, with the interest of the country paramount. There is a need to rebuild our reputation in Europe. There is a diplomatic offensive under way to inform other countries of the difficulties and the position in this country. Prime Ministers of other countries make rash statements at election times. This is to be expected and statements should be taken in that context. The Government is committed to renegotiating this deal and it will be done in a measured way. There will be no knee-jerk reactions from the Government. Every Member has wished the Government every success in renegotiating the deal.
Senator Boyle proposed an amendment to the Order of Business that we deal with the Mental Health (Involuntary Procedures) (Amendment) Bill for 30 minutes. I am prepared to accept that amendment to the Order Of Business in order that we take the Bill after No. 1. I thank Senator Leyden for withdrawing the amendment he proposed regarding Libya. Senator Norris referred to the Bill introduced by Senator Quinn, which is very important. We will make representations to the Government to have it progress through the other House.
Senators Ã BrolchÃ¡in and Dearey referred to the energy and oil crisis and the dangers of nuclear reprocessing. A Minister of State has been appointed with responsibility for the NewERA project. Given the crisis in Japan, it is a matter we must consider and I am sure the Government will give the matter serious consideration in due course.
Senator Glynn raised the matters of knife crime and local government reform. Knife crime is at epidemic proportions at present and I hope the Government will bring in further measures, if necessary, to tackle that. I compliment members of the Garda for their efforts in this regard. They have a difficult task but they are carrying out their duties in an exemplary manner. There is a comprehensive list of proposals for local government reform in the programme for Government and the Government is committed to proceeding with those reforms. Senator Carty referred to the publication of the 1926 census. I will take the matter up and I see no reason it should not be published.
Senator Bacik and other Members referred to the abolition of the Seanad. The Government is committed to comprehensive reforms in many areas and to proposing constitutional amendments. The Government is committed to a constitutional amendment, irrespective of what Senator Mullen stated, on the Seanad and other matters. It is hoped that some will be taken together but they may have to be taken separately. Some of the constitutional amendments proposed in the programme for Government will obviously take some time. Senator Regan referred to Seanad reform.
Regarding Senator Callely's point, it is not a matter for the Leader to decide on a personal statement. It is a matter for the Cathaoirleach and he has ruled on the matter. I understand the question is also under appeal in the courts.
It is a pity Senator O'Brien's question on Ballybay was not submitted as a matter for the Adjournment but it will be taken up and it would also be a worthy Adjournment matter in the other House. Senator Mullen referred to human trafficking and there will be sustained reflection on the matter by the Government, as requested. I can assure the Senator that will happen and I hope for some action on the matter.
I am dealing with amendment No. 1 to the Order Of Business. I am ruling on this matter. Senator Boyle moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That, on the conclusion of No. 1, 30 minutes be allocated to debate No. 14, Mental Health (Involuntary Procedures) (Amendment) Bill 2008: Committee and Remaining Stages." The Leader indicated he is prepared to accept this amendment. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed.
Senator Leyden moved amendment No. 2 to the Order of Business: "That statements on the Irish Government's position on the situation in Libya be taken today." The amendment was not seconded and the amendment subsequently falls. Is the Order of Business, as amended, agreed?