Tuesday, 26 July 2011
Order of Business.
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re the amendment of Standing Order 91 of the Standing Orders relative to public business in paragraph (3) by the deletion of "The Seanad Public Petitions Committee" and the substitution thereafter of "The Seanad Public Consultation Committee" and the consequent amendment of the resolution of the House of Tuesday, 19 July 2011 in this regard, to be taken without debate; No. 2, Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2011 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to commence on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 1.30 p.m., with contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, the contributions of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply not later than 1.25 p.m. and Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 3 and to conclude not later than 6.15 p.m. if not previously concluded; No. 3, Criminal Justice Bill 2011 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 2.15 p.m. and to conclude not later than 4.45 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes, the contributions of all other Senators not to exceed eight minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply not later than 4.40 p.m.; No. 4, Communications Regulation (Postal Services) Bill 2010 – Amendments from Dáil Éireann, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 2 and to conclude not later than 7.30 p.m. if not previously concluded; No. 5, Criminal Justice (Community Service) (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2011 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 4 and to conclude not later than 9.30 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes, the contributions of all other Senators not to exceed eight minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply not later than 9.25 p.m. There will be a sos from 1.30 p.m. to 2.15 p.m.
On behalf of the Fianna Fáil group, I express our deepest condolences to the people of Norway on the brutal and senseless murder of many young people, the bombing in Oslo and the subsequent shootings.
I also express our satisfaction with the deal done last week. I commend the Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance and all others involved in securing a new EU deal. What this proves is that this is not an Irish issue but a Europe-wide one. The changes in the interest rate and the term of the loan repayments are welcome. As I said at the start of this Seanad term, my party will endeavour to be constructive at all times in regard to the business of the Oireachtas. Credit where credit is due, if one will excuse the pun. A watching brief is necessary because I do not believe Europe is through this crisis yet.
I draw Senators' attention to a motion on the Order Paper on Palestine, signed by 22 Senators. It calls for the recognition of a Palestinian state and expresses support for the Palestinians at the UN General Assembly meeting in September. I realise the Government may be somewhat constrained in this regard but I ask all Senators who have not yet signed this motion to look at the content of what we have tabled in conjunction with other colleagues in the House. Perhaps Senators will see their way to putting their names to this motion.
Proposals in regard to the household charge will be put to the Cabinet for a decision today. It is reported that the charge will be €100 per annum, substantially less than that originally proposed by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. It appears the Government is rolling back from a flat rate water charge and is moving towards Fianna Fáil's position of metered water charges, charging for water only when meters are in place, providing a certain amount of free water and of enshrining in that the ability to pay principle. Is it the Government's intention that water charges will not be imposed prior to the installation of water meters in households throughout the country?
As the Leader is aware, Private Members' time tomorrow will be devoted to the Family Home Bill 2011, which is sponsored by Senator MacSharry and others. Earlier this morning, I was interested to read that AIB has indicated it sent proposals to the Central Bank in respect of assisting people whose mortgages are in arrears. I ask Senators to peruse the Bill to which I refer, particularly as it provides us with an opportunity to enshrine in law protection for homeowners in respect of their principal private residences. I hope we can engage in a fruitful debate on the legislation tomorrow evening and that we will be able to enshrine in law the protection which many thousands of people are seeking.
On behalf of the Labour Party, I join Senator Darragh O'Brien in offering our condolences to the people of Norway in respect of the brutal murders which occurred last weekend. Everyone would agree that those murders were chilling in nature and must be condemned outright. For those of us in the Labour Party, it is particularly terrifying to consider the comparison with this country. We also hold a youth summer camp every year. It is dreadful to think that such a camp, in which teenagers and young children are involved, could be targeted in this appalling and horrific way. We all offer our sympathy to the people of Norway.
I welcome the announcement on Friday last of the reduction in the interest rate and the extension of the period applying to Ireland's loans from the EU, etc. That was a major achievement on the part of the Government. Both Labour and Fine Gael made commitments to have the interest rate reduced during the election campaign but many doubted whether this could be done. We are all glad to see that it now has been done. As Senator Darragh O'Brien stated, there is a watching brief in respect of this matter because there is a much larger context than just that relating to the loans to Ireland and the terms relating thereto. What has been achieved will ease our great financial difficulties and is to be welcomed.
I accept that it is to be taken without debate but I welcome the motion on changing the name of the Seanad Public Petitions Committee. For the information of colleagues I wish to state that it is not intended to change anything about the committee other than its name. At a meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges it was agreed that the name should be changed to the Seanad Public Consultation Committee because this provides a more accurate and appropriate description of what we intend to do, namely, to seek consultation with and submissions from members of the public and to allow for greater engagement with the latter in this House than has been the case heretofore. The terms of reference already drawn up by the CPP will stand and it is anticipated that the type of public consultation to which I refer will be able to take place from September next. What is envisaged will be an important new addition to the work of the Seanad. It will also make that work more effective and visible.
I welcome the announcement to the effect that the House will debate the Cloyne report this week. I am aware that the schedule for today and tomorrow is quite crowded. I compliment the Leader, therefore, for ensuring that the House will be able to engage in a two-hour debate on the report. I believe I am correct in stating that the debate can continued in the autumn because there may be Senators who may wish to contribute but who may not be able to do so during the two hours set aside. I hope that, if necessary, the House will be able to continue its debate on the report in the autumn. We will be in a position to discuss the announcement that the papal nuncio has been recalled, the Taoiseach's announcement that he is awaiting an official response from the Vatican and other matters tomorrow. I welcome the fact that we will have the opportunity to debate the report this week.
I wish to be associated with comments that have been made regarding the chilling events that took place in Norway at the weekend. I am sure all Senators would want to remember those who were lost or injured and their families in their thoughts and prayers. Let us hope that events of this nature never visit our shores again.
I wish to note the judgment handed down yesterday in the Circuit Court by Judge Teehan whereby a decision of the Equality Tribunal against a school to the effect that it had indirectly discriminated against a member of the Traveller community was overturned. Whereas the judge's decision, all things considered, was good, it highlights the complexity that surrounds the issue of school admission and enrolment policies. In that context, the discussion document put forward by the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, is welcome.
I am seeking - on the resumption of business in the autumn - a debate relating to school admission and enrolment policies. It is clear that there are legitimate but competing values to be considered in respect of this matter. The right of members of particular faith communities to be able to access an education that reflects their ethos must be considered. In addition, the need for inclusivity must be respected and we must ensure that people with special needs, members of the Traveller community or immigrants are not at the bottom of the list when it comes to accessing school places.
A number of issues arise in respect of the matter to which I refer. These include the fact that there is no easy way to proceed, that different rights are competing with each other and that there is a need to ensure equality and diversity. However, matters eventually boil down to the need to have adequate numbers of school places and legitimate diversity in school provision in each area in order that people might genuinely access a form of education that meets their particular needs. If there is a shortage of school places, then there will never be an easy way to determine who should be given a place when a school hits its maximum enrolment and matters come down to a lottery. In such circumstances, somebody will lose out and he or she will have legitimate grounds for complaint. There is a need to consider how we might provide resources into the future in order to ensure that people will have genuine choice when seeking to access education.
I welcome what has been stated in respect of the Cloyne report, particularly Senator Bacik's comments to the effect that the debate on it can be continued in the autumn. Colleagues will be aware that Senators Quinn, Walsh, Ó Murchú and I have tabled an amendment to the all-party motion on the report. I would be grateful if other Senators would examine the amendment with fresh and discerning eyes and consider whether they can support it. In light of the fact that two hours may not be sufficient to allow everyone who wishes to do so to contribute to the debate on this extremely important and sensitive issue tomorrow, perhaps the Leader will confirm that a vote will not be taken at the end of the two-hour period - either on the motion or the proposed amendment - and will be held over until the resumption of business in the autumn. It would be wrong to put the issue to a vote until everybody who wishes to contribute has the opportunity to do so. That is almost self-evident. I would welcome the thoughts and contributions of other Seanadóirí on that point.
If the Cathaoirleach will indulge me, I wish to offer a clarification. My colleague, Senator Norris, was puzzled some weeks ago when I mentioned that I was involved in the trusteeship of approximately 112 voluntary secondary schools. This led a number of people asking whether it was irresponsible of me to be on so many-----
I am simply seeking to facilitate the House in its understanding that I am the member of one trusteeship body. Perhaps what occurred a number of weeks ago highlights the need for Seanadóirí to understand the distinction between trusteeships and boards of management, particularly as any confusion in that regard can create unnecessary difficulty for persons such as myself in the context of being obliged to deal with questions that are based on a false premise.
I join previous speakers in offering my condolences and sympathies to the people of Norway.
I wish to raise the matter of the takeover of Superquinn by the Musgrave group. Media reports indicate that Superquinn's existing suppliers have this week received cheques which have bounced. This will have crippling consequences for their businesses. Superquinn's loyal suppliers require more certainty and clarity regarding payments that are owed to them. I was concerned to discover that payment will be made in respect of deliveries made since Monday last, 18 July, but that payment will not be made with regard to deliveries made before that date. A dedicated staff complement has been appointed by Musgrave Group to cater for the suppliers to whom I refer. Additional information must be provided and a more serious commitment given to suppliers. Small businesses cannot be allowed to be squeezed out in this way.
Problems of this nature have arisen in recent years in my county and other Border counties as a result of companies going out of business and leaving sub-contractors and suppliers out of pocket. What is the position with regard to the Bill relating to this matter which was introduced by Senator Feargal Quinn? What can be done to safeguard the livelihoods of the people to whom I refer?
I join my colleague, Senator Darragh O'Brien, in welcoming the reduction in the interest rate payable by Ireland on its bailout deal and the doubling of the repayment term to 14 years. European leaders, in the main, have been behind the curve on the debt crisis, but this brings them somewhat up to speed. Team Ireland must be commended on its work in this regard, including the Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Lucinda Creighton, and other members of the negotiating team. We all welcome the progress made last week.
These developments offer a timely context for the proposal my colleagues and I will bring forward in Private Members' time tomorrow, namely, the Family Home Bill 2011. Given that we have succeeded in negotiating a lower rate of interest and doubling the repayment term in respect of our international obligations, which will facilitate us in meeting those obligations in the coming years, there is surely an equal obligation on us as legislators to put in place a template to allow families in this country to meet their own obligations. The Bill we are putting forward provides that template by offering flexible solutions which will allow people the dignity to meet their financial obligations. It does so by providing the courts with a set of tools which give people the ability to protect themselves, meet their obligations in the medium to long term and ensure they can remain in their family home. I urge colleagues to take the historic step of acting in unison with us tomorrow. We will have the opportunity, if the Bill passes Second Stage, to improve it further by way of amendments on Committee Stage.
In that context, I commend the group, New Beginning, on its recent court victory, which highlighted an anomaly in the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act 2009. That decision effectively casts doubt on any orders for repossession granted in recent years and will therefore afford a stay of execution to some families in danger of losing their homes. As such, I welcome the ruling, notwithstanding my view that our Private Members' Bill, if enacted by the Seanad, will mark a vital and constructive beginning in tackling this important issue.
Members of the other House have mostly adjourned to the Galway races, along with many colour writers and other members of the media-----
It is highly regrettable that "Oireachtas Report" will not be broadcast this week. This underlines, once again, the disdain and contempt in which the mainstream media hold the actions of this House. In advance of any referendum, they seem to have decided the Seanad will be abolished and have the gall to claim that proceedings in the House are simply not newsworthy. It is the news editors of Pat Kenny's shows, other RTE programmes and other mainstream media who determine the news. How dare they take this view when such important issues are being debated in this House today and tomorrow? They are showing contempt not only for us but also for the Irish people by denying them the right to know what is happening in the House.
I join others in expressing my deep sympathy to the parents of the Norwegian children who died in such tragic circumstances in recent days. The idea that a gunman can walk up to a child on the beach and shoot him or her at point blank range is horrific to any right-thinking person. Various newspaper reports have indicated that it took the Norwegian authorities up to 90 minutes to launch a successful counter attack. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Defence what provisions are in place in this State to enable a rapid response in the event of a similar attack? In the modern world we must be all conscious of the existence of extremists of every hue who are determined to undermine democracy. We must have confidence that we are equipped and able to respond in an appropriate way.
Will the Leader invite the Minister of State with responsibility for housing, Deputy Willie Penrose, to the House early in the next session for a debate on social housing? I am concerned by certain recently introduced statutory instruments governing the allocation of social housing in terms of their implications for tenants participating in the rental accommodation scheme, RAS. Under that scheme, people are accommodated under long-term rental arrangements which are secured by local authorities. An interpretation has been put forward that the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 makes appropriate allocation for people under the RAS and, as such, they are no longer eligible for inclusion on the social housing waiting list. As somebody who negotiated the RAS in 2004 and 2005, I am aware that a commitment - what I would describe as a legal commitment - was given to those persons on the housing waiting list who availed of RAS accommodation that they would continue to be included on the list. This matter must be clarified. It has engendered widespread panic in the community.
I read during the week that a professor in Columbia University posed the question to his students, as a matter for ethical debate, why 12% of people in one country might have agreed to be organ donors while the corresponding figure in a neighbouring country was 99.9%. The students discussed, among other issues, whether it was to do with religion or was a question of the availability of advanced surgery techniques. The answer was that the second country, Austria, has an opt-out or presumed consent system while the other, Germany, does not. I mention this in reference to the Human Body Organs and Human Tissue Bill 2008 which I introduced in this House and in respect of which Second Stage was adjourned in order to allow the then Government to consult on the proposals. In those countries which have an opt-out system, with well trained co-ordinators in hospitals, lives are saved. I am aware of concerns regarding such a system, but it is worthy of another debate in this House.
I received a letter during the week - I am not sure whether other Members received the same - on the subject of the regulation of betting shop opening hours. I have no particular enthusiasm for gambling, but it seems the relevant legislation has been in place since 1931. I understand betting shops, unless there is a horse race, must close at 6.30 p.m. from September until March. We might well ask whether this should be a matter of concern to us, but I am told that 6,000 people are working in betting shops and that 600 of them may lose their jobs in September. Although we may be not be enthusiastic about gambling, there is something to be said for at least reviewing regulations based on legislation introduced 80 years ago.
In the context of the horrific events in Norway, I remind colleagues that I have raised the question in this House of whether it is time to review our national anthem. I love the melody and the atmosphere of the composition, but it is perhaps time to reconsider the lyrics. It is a 32-county Ireland national anthem and I am not sure whether the lyrics, as we hear them in English, are suitable. No doubt some will point to the British or French national anthems, for example, as similarly bloodthirsty. However, at a time when we are concerned at the strong nationalist views expressed by people such as the individual in Norway, it may be time to set a standard by reviewing our anthem. It is a great tune but the lyrics date from the beginning of the last century and may need to be reconsidered.
The Cathaoirleach may bring clarity to the Seanad after all these years.
I support Senator Aideen Hayden's comments in regard to the rental accommodation scheme, which has been one of the most successful social housing initiatives of the past decade. We all offered reassurances to constituents when the scheme was introduced that their participation would not preclude them from remaining on the social housing list. That issue must be clarified. It would be helpful if, as the Senator suggested, a debate on social housing were arranged early in the new session.
It remains not just a mystery but a cause of deep annoyance to tens of thousands of people on housing lists that, at a time when there are so many vacant properties in housing estates, we cannot marry that problem with a solution for the people looking for housing. We need a new formula for housing, local authority housing and social housing. A debate in the early autumn would be helpful and I support Senator Hayden's comments.
I want to be associated with the expressions of sympathy to the people of Norway, the victims and their families and the AUF party, which is aggrieved at what happened. We must be careful not to allow one extremist or crazed individual to set the agenda. That is why I oppose the view proposed by Senator Quinn, that we should change our national anthem on foot of events in Norway. Comments such as that play into the hands of extremists who want to set the agenda. It is most unwelcome.
I refer to the comments of Members on the renegotiated bailout. The language used so far is interesting. Fianna Fáil has described the deal as constructive and the Labour Party has hailed it as a major achievement. Senator MacSharry referred to Team Ireland but he is referring to a team of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party. The renegotiated deal is the same deal that the two parties in Government opposed when they were in opposition.
This week, I was reminded of how far the Labour Party has travelled when I heard Deputy Eamon Gilmore saying that people should put the green jersey on and get behind the Government effort in terms of the bailout. The person most vociferous in the Dáil before the last election, on his feet every day of the week, opposing the bailout and the fact that, as will occur this week, €18 billion of taxpayers money was transferred to banks, was Deputy Eamon Gilmore and this led him-----
-----to accuse a former Taoiseach of economic treason. All that has changed since that charge is that the Labour Party is in government and implementing the same policies.
Sinn Féin has consistently called for a proper debate about the terms of the bailout. It is clear there is a consensus among the main political parties, who are happy to sell this country and its taxpayers down the river-----
Along with other Members, I extend my sympathies to the people of Norway and particularly the families touched by tragedy. It is a reminder of the last century when extreme nationalism led to economic nationalism and world war. We must be careful of what is happening.
Sinn Féin said that the Labour Party has travelled far but a party with the background of Sinn Féin has travelled a long way and still has a long way to travel.
The House indulged Sinn Féin for a few minutes so it can indulge another viewpoint. Sinn Féin accused the Minister of spending money on his office. Last week I read that Sinn Féin claimed over £400,000 in Westminster when most of its MPs did not attend.
My question concerns the proposal of Senator Higgins to have a debate on social housing in the autumn, particularly the rental accommodation scheme with which I am familiar in Donegal. Initially, I was in favour of the scheme because it brought people from substandard accommodation into reasonable accommodation. However, when we go down the road of bringing people off the housing list, it is counter-productive and therefore I welcome the debate on the scheme and on social housing in general, which I take it we will debate in the autumn.
I join in the congratulations offered to the Government and European leaders for the interest rate reduction. It deserves some nitpicking and we will have the opportunity to do so later. It is a good deal and it is good news for the country that the interest rate has been substantially reduced. However, further challenges remain.
We await the decision on charging ordinary folk €100 per houses, including local authority housing I presume. The idea that any Government will pay out €1 billion on unguaranteed senior bonds in November is crazy and I urge the Government to negotiate as hard as it can on this issue. The public will not put up with €1 billion being paid in November to a particular bondholder at the same time as the harshest budget ever.
The Government does not realise the opposition it will face over the €100 charge. It is the most inequitable charge if a millionaire pays the same as an ordinary person. It is not right and it will not be paid. There will be mass protests comparable to the poll tax in the UK, which caused major resentment and was the downfall of the Conservative Party Government at the time. I am utterly opposed to the flat rate charge and there will be massive opposition to a flat rate charge on utility bills. It is completely wrong in the context of no significant spending cuts in local authorities. The public will not fund local authorities if it does not get value for money, if staff do not return telephone calls on various issues and do not telephone public representatives.
Mortgages are in the news and I concur with Senator MacSharry on the point about the interest-rate cut and the lengthening of maturities to the Government. It is about time these were given to the ordinary punter and are provided for in the Family Home Bill. Senators will have the opportunity to support this Bill or otherwise, particularly in the context of yesterday's High Court judgment. It is a significant judgment. I presume it will end up in the Supreme Court but it is a hopeful judgment.
We have significant difficulty in getting the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, to the Chamber. Like the High Court judge yesterday, I recommend that the Leader suggests mediation between the Seanad and the Minister is appropriate. If he cannot attend the Chamber to discuss health issues, perhaps it is because he is too busy with the property development side of his portfolio. Perhaps some mediation can be used to get the Minister into the Chamber to discuss the important issues that affect all of us.
I support the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland. That might seem an outlandish statement when we are debating the Cloyne report today. I support the organisation of 500 priests prepared to stand up against the bishops of this country and who are always patronised by the bishops. They write to the bishops and they are prepared to stand up and be counted but the bishops ignore their pleas.
I am not discussing the Cloyne report. I ask the Leader to write to Dublin City Council to ask it to consider withdrawing the use of the Phoenix Park for the Eucharistic Congress proposed for June. That suggestion was put forward by 500 priests in Fr. Flannery's Association of Catholic Priests, and I support the organisation in its call.
The Eucharistic Congress 1932 was a laudable event and would be still but the decision on the use of the Phoenix Park, the people's park, should be given serious consideration. It should not be decided at the stroke of a pen to hand over the people's park to a group of people who treated the ordinary people and the children of this country in such a fashion and with such contempt. I ask the Leader to write to the City Manger and the councillors about withholding the use of the Phoenix Park. Also, I ask the Leader to write to Archbishop Martin, and to copy that request to Rome, because handing over our park-----
I am sure he can, and that is what I am asking the Leader to do. I ask him to write to Dublin City Council and put my request that the use of the Phoenix Park be withheld. I do that with a heavy heart. I was very proud that my aunt attended the 1932 congress. It was one of her proudest moments and hopefully we will get to that stage again. I ask the Leader to write to the Dublin City Manager and the councillors, copy that letter to the Archbishop of Dublin and ask him to send it on to Rome. That is my request.
Very often, in the midst of the big stories and debates, we miss out on some small stories that are generally stories of service, co-operation and compassion. I refer in particular to people who are at the end of the road in solving the problems brought about as a result of the collapse of the Celtic tiger. They are on the verge and we have debated that here on many occasions. I was particularly pleased to see that a new group has been established in County Laois called the Phoenix Project, which is an appropriate title. The sub-title is New Beginnings. This is directed at helping people who cannot help themselves in the context of not being able to pay their mortgages and their bills. These are people who would not have €10 in their pocket. They also try to look after the welfare of their children.
In all the big controversies and debates these are the forgotten people, the people of no property or means. We have learned nothing from the history of Ireland in the past. We are great at looking at something retrospectively and saying what we might have done but these people are in every townland, village, town and city in Ireland, and they have no voice. This group, the Phoenix Project, has given them a voice. It is a not for profit organisation. It has accountants, solicitors, counsellors and support groups, all of whom are available within a resource centre. There have been many cases-----
I would also say that my matter will not make the headlines like denying the Phoenix Park to the Pope but it may help the ordinary people who are at their wits' end.
I always bow to the judgment of the Cathaoirleach and his instructions but these people should be given a voice here. I am only asking for a few minutes to give them that voice and if we are able to help those people and save them from suicide, that is what we came in here to do. We are not here to make grandiose speeches or talk about big policies we do not often understand or saying there are no solutions and coming up with negative attitudes. The ordinary human being, the individual, is our concern. This small story could become the big story in the same way as the credit union became the big story in the past. For Heaven's sake, let us give some time to reality and to the ordinary individuals who have no one to speak for them.
Recently I have been inundated with business people who are unable to pay their rates demand. I did some research on it and I always understood that rates were calculated on the square footage of a business but that is not the case. It is only part of it. The other part of the way rates are calculated is on the best achievable rent of a property. During the Celtic tiger years business people paid their rates willingly, and they paid willingly the annual increases in rates, but in terms of where we are now achievable rents are probably half of what they were three or four years ago. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to the House for an open debate which should be given adequate time because there is much to be discussed. There are many people suffering and businesses closing because they are unable to pay their rates.
An issue that I would like included in such a debate is the ongoing review by the Valuation Office into rates. It has taken it a year and a half or two years to cover Dublin. At such a snail's pace a review of rateable valuation throughout the country will take up to ten years. While part of the rateable valuation is calculated by the square footage, it should be borne in mind that one could have a 4,000 or 5,000 sq. feet business with a turnover of €0.5 million per year and they are paying their rates on their-----
I am almost finished. They are paying rates on the square footage but we must look at the position of professionals who have two rooms who may have a turnover of millions of euro yet that is not taken into account in the rateable valuation. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to the House for an open, frank discussion on rates.
I am sure other Members have already raised the situation in Norway but I wish to add my expression of sympathy to the people of Norway and compliment them on the dignified way in which they have responded to what was described on Fox News, without any evidence, as an attack by Al-Qaeda but which was actually an attack by a Christian fundamentalist. As a Christian I am deeply ashamed should this turn out to be the fact. They have responded appropriately by saying that there will be more democracy in Norway rather than less. That is appropriate.
I am sure it cannot be done in this session because I understand tomorrow will probably be our last day but in the incoming session in the early autumn I ask the Leader to arrange for a major debate on the fate of the islands around our coast and in particular the impact in Gaeltacht areas, including the islands, of Údarás na Gaeltachta and the cut in budgets. Traditionally, it has been creating over 1,000 jobs. It is important, if we want to save our identity, that we save this part of it because it is what makes us unique.
I remember being in Sligo launching a crafts fair and I was particularly impressed by a woodworker who was making furniture. Instead of levelling out all the gnarls and twists in the wood he left them there so that every piece was unique. We have lost our beautiful cló Gaelach, and I spoke there with a gentleman who must have been slightly older than myself because he said he was in school when the transition was made from the cló Gaelach to the Arabic script, and he felt it was a loss. It was a different language and it lengthened the words because instead of the buailte they put in the "h" and so on. I find myself in agreement with him. We dumbed down the language. We can save an integral part of our culture if we make sure Údarás na Gaeltachta and the people on the islands are supported and a small amount of money is invested in them because of their particular disadvantage in terms of economies of scale.
I welcome the appointment of the new Chief Justice yesterday and particularly her statement following the making of her constitutional declaration in the presence of the President and other witnesses at Áras an Uachtaráin. She proposed a new judicial council and court of appeal. I am sure the Government will pay attention to her call and agree with her. She is showing herself to be a fine reforming judge. As stated already, she has a good track record in this regard. I particularly welcome the fact that she is not accepting any salary increase on taking up her new position. She pointed out that judges are sharing and caring and prepared to play their part in these difficult economic times. They are not immune to what the rest of society is suffering, nor are they opposed to taking cuts. The new Chief Justice is leading by example. Until the question of judges' salaries is finally resolved, she is not taking an increase.
It is most unfortunate that some judges have refused to take cuts. They have stood aside from the national effort in this emergency and, while I will not say they are giving judges a bad name, they are not doing the cause of the vast majority of judges, who are kind and caring, any good. I recognise the lead the new Chief Justice is giving and hope the few colleagues who have stood apart will follow her example and pay heed to her lead.
Ba mhaith liom mo dhíoma a léiriú maidir le Riar na hOibre inniu. Bhí sé i gceist go mbeadh díospóireacht againn ar na healaíona agus luaigh an Ceannaire an tseachtain seo caite b'fhéidir nach dtarlódh sin. Tá díoma orm feiceáil gur fíor sin anois nach mbeidh an díospóireacht sin ar an healaíona againn. Léiríonn sin arís eile nach tábhachtach do na páirtithe Rialtais na cúrsaí ealaíon sa lá atá inniu ann.
Ceist eile ná cá bhfuil an Teach Déardaoin? Cén fáth nach bhfuil an Teach seo ina shuí Déardaoin? Tá go leor ceisteanna ardaithe ag gach taobh anseo agus tá go leor díospóireachtaí le déanamh. Cén fáth nach bhfuilimid anseo ar an Déardaoin leis an ceisteanna sin a phlé? Cuireann sin an teachtaireacht mhícheart don phobal; táimid ag rá go bhfuilimid ag obair go crua, ag leasú obair an tSeanaid ach nílimid fiú anseo Déardaoin leis an obair sin a phlé. Iarraim ar an gCeannaire machnamh a dhéanamh ar an gcinneadh sin agus an tAire Ealaíon, Oidhreachta agus Gaeltachta a thabhairt isteach leis an díospóireacht a bhí ceaptha againn faoi chúrsaí ealaíona a phlé ar an Déardaoin.
Aontaím leis an Seanadóir Norris go bhfuil sé tábhachtach go bpléifimid arís eile todhchaí Údarás na Gaeltachta. Déarfainn chomh maith go mbeadh sé tábhachtach go mbeadh seisean agus daoine eile a bhfuil Gaeilge acu ag úsáid Gaeilge sa Teach seo.
Tá ábhar ann agus cé nár tharraing sé an oiread sin cinnlínte, léiríonn sé chomh smairteáilte agus atá muintir Mhaigh Eo. Ábhar atá ann atá ag cur an-bhuartha orm maidir le cúrsaí dlí agus cirt. Nuair a bhímid ag plé cúrsaí dlí agus cirt leis an Aire, tharraing muid anuas ceist na reachtaíochta trí mheán na Gaeilge. Dúradh linn nach raibh aon fhadhb ansin, gur féidir leagan Béarla a chur ar an Idirlíon de na hAchtanna agus na Billí agus go dtiocfaidh an leagan Gaeilge ina dhiaidh sin. I Maigh Eo an tseachtain seo caite caitheadh amach cás cúirte maidir le dhá chúis in aghaidh dhá theach osta mar gheall nach raibh leagan Gaeilge de na Billí ar fáil. Ba cheart don Aire Dlí agus Cirt teacht isteach láithreach. Nuair a bheimid imithe don samhradh, cé mhéad cás eile a chaithfear amach as na cúirteanna mar nach bhfuil leagan Gaeilge de na Billí a leanas le fáil-----
I join my colleagues in extending sympathy to the people of Norway on their recent tragedy. It highlights the issues of the arms trade and access to arms. The seriousness of these issues were never brought home to me more than three years ago when I visited the area of Chad bordering Sudan, where over 10,000 people under 18 carried machine guns. Over a period of 18 months, the aid agencies lost over 85 four-wheel drive vehicles because they were stopped by young people carrying machine guns and had to hand over the keys. Machine guns are bolted to stands on the floors of the jeeps, which are then used as armed personnel carriers. In Chad over 500,000 people were in refugee camps and sites for internally displaced persons because of the number of bandits carrying machine guns and the lack of law and order, and because of arms and ammunition being so freely available.
In Somalia, over 4 million people have serious difficulty obtaining access to food.
My question concerns protection for aid agencies working in the sites for internally displaced persons and refugee camps. The Irish Army provided protection when sent to Chad as part of an EU peacekeeping force. In Somalia, many aid agencies cannot provide food because they do not have protection.
We should ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to take the action necessary to ensure the United Nations provides the necessary protection to the organisations trying to provide food aid. I ask that this matter be taken up with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and that he, in turn, take it up with the United Nations at a very early date.
The Seanad is due to go into recess tomorrow, yet in the midst of the jobs crisis, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, has failed or refused to come here, despite numerous requests, to discuss the pressures on indigenous industry. He is avoiding confronting the real issues facing Irish industry by identifying with the continued success of foreign direct investment promoted by IDA Ireland whose job and export contributions are shoring up our economy at present.
For the past week, some 600 local Irish suppliers have been left in the lurch by the midnight manoeuvring that saw the Superquinn group go into receivership and saw it acquired miraculously by the Musgrave group the following morning. The Irish suppliers, many of whom I know from my years with Lir Chocolates, are owed sums of between €10,000 and €90,000. If they are not paid they will be forced to lay off staff and go out of business altogether.
Senator Whelan has drawn the attention of the House to the fact that scores of the suppliers were issued with cheques that bounced. Behind this are the very banks that lent some €300 million to a consortium of property developers to buy the Superquinn group at the height of the property boom. It is these very banks, including Bank of Ireland, AIB and National Irish Bank, that clinically decided to put the Superquinn group into receivership and sacrifice the suppliers in such a heartless manner.
We should not stand idly by and fail to exercise our voice in the strongest possible manner on behalf of the hundreds of suppliers, who are from every part of the country. I do not include the Musgrave group in this because it is very good to Irish businesses by giving opportunities to Superquinn, SuperValu, Centra and Daybreak.
I have. I want the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, to come to the House to talk about the failure of Bank of Ireland and AIB to loan cash to small Irish businesses. We speak about doing our business in a different way. Why do we not ask the owners of small and medium enterprises to come before the House to tell us the truth about how the banks are not giving out money. They bring people to the last hurdle and then want personal guarantees. We should get rid of personal guarantees altogether. In light of the fact-----
With other Senators I wish to express to the Government of Norway my sympathy on the recent tragedy. I note the political parties there stated the answer is more openness. On this matter, I note what Senator Cullinane stated on the dangers of extremism. He is not here at present-----
I wish to be associated with the expressions of sympathy to the Norwegian people. I understand a book of condolences will open at the embassy on Molesworth Street at 12 p.m.
I ask the Leader of the House not to write to Dublin City Council regarding the Phoenix Park as requested by Senator Cáit Keane. Under no circumstances should he do so. He should welcome the fact that the Eucharistic Congress will come to Dublin in 2012. It will be a marvellous boost to the city. I welcome it and encourage the Leader to write to Dublin City Council to commend it for its decision to give the Phoenix Park relief from the deer for a few days and put in real people.
I compliment Senator White on her excellent contribution. I second her proposal to amend the Order of Business.
The situation regarding the suppliers to Superquinn is daylight robbery. People supplied products which were sold but were not paid for them. The money was pocketed and this is robbery. It is about time the Government intervened and took decisive action.
I request a debate in the autumn on the role of RTE and its lack of neutrality and balance, particularly in the programme broadcast from the Abbey Hotel in Roscommon on Saturday, namely, "Saturday View" presented by Rachel English. No Fianna Fáil representative was invited onto the programme or was in the audience.
The new mayor of Roscommon, Councillor Eugene Murphy, the first Fianna Fáil mayor of Roscommon for 20 years, was invited and then uninvited to participate in the programme which dealt with Roscommon County Hospital. As a person from Roscommon town, I was not particularly interested in being invited even though I was involved in the hospital being given a full 24-hour service under Fianna Fáil. It was never let down by Fianna Fáil. However, Fine Gael-----
-----and Independent Deputies with no involvement whatsoever with hospital issues over the years were given a platform by Rachel English. This provided a totally unbalanced view. We pay €160 for a television licence but this House is not broadcast by RTE.
-----responsibility for neutrality, balance and fairness. This was very evident last Saturday in Roscommon town, the town in which I was born and bred as I was born in Roscommon County Hospital. No Fianna Fáil representative was even invited to be part of the audience. It is absolutely outrageous.
A total of 24 Senators have spoken on the Order of Business. Unfortunately, five Senators were unable to speak today, namely, Senators Mullins, Conway, Walsh, Ó Domhnaill and Daly. They will be taken first tomorrow. We are out of time and I call Leader of the House.
Senator O'Brien and others spoke about the dreadful situation in Norway. I join with the House in expressing our deepest sympathy to the people of Norway. To think that such an atrocity as the shootings happened at a gathering of young people. As Senator Bacik stated, all of our parties have summer gatherings where young people enjoy themselves. To see what happened in Norway was dreadful. I am sure we all join in expressing our deepest sympathy to the people of Norway.
I welcome the comments made by Senators O'Brien, MacSharry and others complimenting the Government on its skills in negotiating a more credible EU-IMF package for Ireland. It was in the programme for Government that we would renegotiate a more credible agreement and this has been accomplished. Many commentators questioned the Government's commitment but it has negotiated a radically different package through the hard work of the Ministers and officials involved. We all owe them a debt of gratitude.
The most important changes are the lowering of the interest rates by 200 basis points and the extension of the loans to 15 years. This will reduce the cost of our programme of assistance by between €600 million and €800 million per annum assuming the full drawdown of funds. The exact amount will depend on the variables such as the technical details associated with the administration of the funds. The changes will improve our debt sustainability by reducing the cost of borrowing from the EU elements of the programme of assistance.
As Members stated, many difficult challenges lie ahead. The decision will ease the repayment burden as set out in the programme for Government but we must all recognise the patience of the Irish people who have given the Government the time to pursue the arguments for lower interest rates and achieve a successful conclusion to the matter. When we discussed this matter several months ago, I stated it was not a sprint but that it would take time and that we would need a reasoned debate and a reasonable amount of time before these matters could be concluded. I compliment everybody concerned.
As far as I know, it is still the position of the Government that we will have a charge for water when meters are put in place. A certain amount of usage will be allowed after which people will be charged. From reading the newspapers, I understand the Cabinet will deal with a property charge of €100. After the Cabinet has made a decision everybody will be informed.
I welcome Senator Bacik's comments and explanation on the change in the public consultation committee. All the other arrangements we agreed will be in place and I hope a number of people will address the House during the next session.
Senator Mullen referred to the complexity of school admissions policies and yesterday's court case. The Minister for Education and Skills indicated to me last week that he will come to the House early in the new session for a debate on education, which many Members have requested. With regard to the debate on the Cloyne report, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs will be present for the beginning of the debate and the Minister for Justice and Equality will close the debate. The motion will be put to the House tomorrow evening but we can have a further debate, if necessary, in the new session if Members do not have an opportunity to contribute. The same all-party motion agreed in the other House will be put and I hope there will be similar support for it when it comes before the House tomorrow night.
Senators Comiskey, White and others raised the Superquinn issue. As Senator Whelan stated last week, it is a difficult time for producers and suppliers. Credit for small business is an issue the Government will continue to address with the banks. Small businesses are the lifeblood of the economy and I agree that this matter will have to be addressed in a more vigorous way, even at this stage.
We will debate Senator MacSharry's Family Home Bill 2011 tomorrow. He also commented on "Oireachtas Report". I read into the record a letter from RTE previously on the Order of Business regarding it not covering the Seanad when the Dáil is not sitting. I do not agree with the policy, nor does any other Member, and I share the concerns of Senators about this.
Senator Hayden raised the issue of the rental accommodation scheme, RAS. The Minister of State with responsibility for housing attended the House recently for a comprehensive debate but I am sure he will return to address the problem. A commitment was given that people availing of the scheme would continue to be included on housing lists. Perhaps the Senator might table an Adjournment matter tomorrow to get an immediate response from the Minister of State on the issue.
Senator Quinn called for further discussions on organ donations. We have different views in the House on the matter but it could be discussed again. I understand the Government is taking steps to amend the Betting Act 1931 and many amendments which are necessary in regard to betting could be introduced in this. There was an attempt to introduce a betting Bill this session but some problems arose. It will probably be introduced in the next session.
Senator Cullinane and team Sinn Féin continue to pursue a policy of a curse on everyone's house, bar its own. Everybody seems to be wrong and they are the only ones who are right.
Sinn Féin always had a policy on putting money in banks. They were more interested in taking it out of banks for many years.
Senator Harte also raised the RAS scheme which, as I said, could be addressed by tabling an Adjournment matter.
Senator Byrne raised the issue of the flat rate property charge, which is a matter for the Cabinet. I welcome his comments and those of many other Members regarding the interest rate cuts. The Minister for Health will attend the House to address health matters in the next session.
Senators Keane and Leyden outlined different views on the Eucharistic Congress. I suggest that both Senators should express their opinions in writing to the relevant authorities. I have no intention of getting involved.
Senator Ó Murchú referred to the phoenix group and not-for-profit groups. The work of volunteers in communities is understated in many cases. I compliment him on raising the matter on the Order of Business.
Senator Sheahan asked about the calculation of rates. I will organise a debate on the reform of local government with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and the matter can be addressed then.
Senator Norris called for a debate on Gaeltacht affairs and the islands. We had a debate on the Irish language recently but I can organise a debate with the Minister of State with responsibility for Gaeltacht affairs, Deputy McGinley.
Senator Coghlan congratulated the new Chief Justice. She is leading by example by not taking an additional salary. The people will decide the issue of judicial pay in a referendum and, therefore, that is a matter for the future.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh called for a debate on the arts. The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht will be in the House of the first sitting day of the next session, 14 September. The issue raised by the Senator regarding the Irish language was discussed at length during the debate we had recently. The Minister for Justice and Equality will be in the House for eight to ten hours over the next two days. The Senator might have an opportunity again to discuss the other issue he raised with him but we gave it a long hearing when we discussed the Bill in question.
Senator Colm Burke referred to the humanitarian situation in Somalia, which is dreadful because of the famine we have witnessed on our television screens every night. Law and order difficulties are militating against aid agencies bringing help. We are probably overdue a debate on foreign affairs and the UN and I will arrange to have such a debate in the next session.
Senators Jim D'Arcy and Quinn commented on the national anthem.
Senator Leyden referred to RTE's role and a lack of balance. I am sure Fianna Fáil is well capable of addressing this matter and putting pressure on the national broadcaster.
Senator Mary White has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation take statements today on the Superquinn takeover and the provision of credit by the banks to small and medium enterprises".
The Seanad Divided:
For the motion: 17 (Thomas Byrne, David Cullinane, Mark Daly, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Paschal Mooney, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, Darragh O'Brien, Denis O'Donovan, Ned O'Sullivan, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Feargal Quinn, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Against the motion: 28 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Terry Brennan, Colm Burke, Deirdre Clune, Paul Coghlan, Michael Comiskey, Martin Conway, Maurice Cummins, Jim D'Arcy, Michael D'Arcy, Jimmy Harte, Aideen Hayden, James Heffernan, Imelda Henry, Lorraine Higgins, Caít Keane, John Kelly, Maire Maloney, Mary Moran, Tony Mulcahy, Michael Mullins, Catherine Noone, Marie Louise O'Donnell, Susan O'Keeffe, Tom Shehan, Jillian van Turnhout, John Whelan)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O'Keeffe.
Amendment declared lost.
The Seanad Divided:
For the motion: 31 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Terry Brennan, Colm Burke, Deirdre Clune, Paul Coghlan, Michael Comiskey, Martin Conway, Maurice Cummins, Jim D'Arcy, Michael D'Arcy, Jimmy Harte, Aideen Hayden, James Heffernan, Imelda Henry, Lorraine Higgins, Caít Keane, John Kelly, Maire Maloney, Mary Moran, Tony Mulcahy, Rónán Mullen, Michael Mullins, Catherine Noone, David Norris, Marie Louise O'Donnell, Susan O'Keeffe, Feargal Quinn, Tom Shehan, Jillian van Turnhout, John Whelan)
Against the motion: 15 (Thomas Byrne, David Cullinane, Mark Daly, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Paschal Mooney, Darragh O'Brien, Denis O'Donovan, Ned O'Sullivan, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O'Keeffe; Níl, Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson.
Question declared carried.