Thursday, 15 September 2011
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re International Democracy Day, to be taken without debate; No. 2, statements on the future of local and rural transport, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and conclude not later than 1.45 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed eight minutes; No.3, Insurance (Amendment) Bill 2011, all Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No.2 and conclude not later than 5.30 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the contributions on Second Stage of spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed six minutes.
I will be strenuously opposing the Order of Business on the basis that the debate on the first Bill to be taken in this session is to be guillotined. This is a Bill that we would probably normally reluctantly support, given that the insurance compensation fund needs to be replenished-----
Yes, but the problem is that there is no timeline set in the Bill. An open-ended levy of 2% is to be introduced on all non-life assurance policies and the position is not even to be reviewed. We were talking yesterday about improvements to the way we did our business in the Seanad, yet all Stages of the first finance Bill are to be taken in one day. I am, therefore, strenuously opposing the Order of Business on that basis.
I have rarely, if ever, interrupted the Senator. This is not the way to do business. This is an important Bill which provides for an extra charge for hundreds of thousands of people. The charge is probably necessary to replenish the insurance compensation fund, but this is not the way to do business in the House. I hope we will not see the debate on any further Bills being guillotined in this fashion.
I asked yesterday whether we would have a debate on the three year fiscal plan the Government was to introduce. I asked that question in the context of the budget deliberations. On the last day of the previous session the House saw fit to defeat by only three votes a Bill which would have provided real protection for home owners. Is the Government going to see through its commitment given prior to the general election to increase the rate of mortgage interest relief to 30%? This effectively would amount to a net saving of â¬160 per month for home owners in difficulty, but the Government has been backtracking since. Will it do what it stated it would do, or will it renege on another pre-election promise?
Senator Leyden is far too excitable.
In response to Senator Darragh O'Brien's point, it is a matter of great regret that the Insurance (Amendment) Bill is before the House and that a guillotine will apply. All of us wish the legislation was not necessary. The Senator has noted, fairly, that it is probably necessary because of what has taken place in respect of the Quinn Group.
I refer to a matter raised yesterday on the Order of Business by Senators Zappone and Norris, namely, the proposed merger of the Irish Human Rights Commission and the Equality Authority. In opposition many others in the Labour Party and I were very clear in our support for the agencies in question. No one is against the merger per se, but we all want to ensure it brings about an effective entity and maximises the resources available for the protection of equality and human rights in this country. Nobody is more concerned about these matters than me and the TÃ¡naiste, with whom I have raised the matter.
The Senator can be reassured on the matter.
I am pleased to note that on International Democracy Day, 15 September 2011, a cross-party motion is before the House which refers to the events to which I alluded yesterday, namely, the democracy movement and the Arab Spring, and condemns attempts by repressive, non-democratic regimes to suppress these movements. The motion should mark the start of a larger debate in the House on that international context.
Having raised a matter on a number of occasions in the House, I am pleased the British are listening to me and taking action on the issue. I refer to the large amount of wasted food. Information alone can help to address this problem. A number of labels are used on supermarket foods and I take responsibility for my role in this area in the past. They are "use by", "sell by" and "best before". It is clear that products featuring the "sell by" and "best before" labels are capable of being eaten after the date printed on the label, although they may no longer have the flavour the producer would like. A large number of consumers throw such products out when they can still be consumed and the amount of food being wasted as a result is a scandal. People should be reminded that the date featured on the "use by" label is the only one that must be strictly adhered to. I read this morning that the British would introduce legislation or provide information - I am not sure which - to ensure consumers focused on "use by" dates rather than the other two. I mention this because a large amount of food is being wasted when people are dying around the world as a result of the lack of food. We can do something about this and may be that information rather than legislation is required.
I raise one other topic, namely, the treatment of horses. My attention has been drawn to the inability of an individual to obtain a response to a query submitted on foot of concerns about the treatment of racehorses. The person in question has sought information from the Taoiseach, the Turf Club, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and Horse Racing Ireland on a number of racehorses which have died but is unable to ascertain who has responsibility for this issue. I will pass on the information in my possession. I ask that the Minister reply to the individual concerned, clear up any doubt about who is responsible and put the individual's mind at rest.
I will raise two issues. The Leader will recall that before the summer recess a number of other Senators and I sought a wide-ranging debate with the Minister for Education and Skills. The need for such a debate is more urgent than ever. The first issue I would raise with the Minister is the continuing decline in educational standards, particularly in mathematics. I am especially concerned about our performance in project maths. Yesterday's junior certificate results also show up how poorly we are performing in foreign languages. Ireland is the weakest country in the European Union in learning languages.
I am especially concerned about the extent to which parents must shore up the education system by providing for private grinds at great cost. This issue must be addressed.
A debate on education should also examine ways to support children with special educational needs in the classroom. Is the special needs assistant, SNA, model the only way forward and what role can parents play in this regard? I do not believe the model is sustainable in terms of cost.
On the sale of a minority stake in the ESB, a member of the public made an interesting proposal to me yesterday. Given the large amount of savings held by Irish people, will the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, make a statement to the House on the proposed sale? I would like to ask him to consider establishing a syndicate or fund to enable Irish people to bid for a stake in the ESB. This is an innovative proposal because the sale of a minority stake in the ESB rather than simply providing a cash cow for the country would also give people a stake in the company.
I look forward to the Leader's responses on the two urgent issues I have raised.
Senator Healy Eames's has made an interesting proposal which should be examined in detail by the Government.
I am pleased to confirm that Senator Bacik has left Trinity College on leave of absence. I welcome clarification on the issue as I had not seen any statements about it. While it is not my business, given that the Senator has been a Member of the House for four or five years, her leave of absence is a positive development.
Senator Bacik informed me of the position - I did not ask her. Will she miss out on becoming a professor as a result of her decision, given that Trinity College is handing out professorships like snuff at a wake? Senator Norris will probably get one also.
Yes. The Government and the Fianna FÃ¡il Party have tabled separate motions on Palestine. I am surprised and amazed that the Government is not supporting the application by Palestine to be recognised at the United Nations in September.
When will the Leader's motion be put to the House? I am pleased to note, if it is the case, that the Government will support the recognition of Palestine as a state at the United Nations, bearing in mind that in 1996 I led a delegation which included the current TÃ¡naiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, that travelled the length and breadth of Palestine with the PLO as its host. I would be disappointed to think the Government would not support this at the United Nations. I am delighted with the motion and I thank the Leader for his clarification. I have read the motion, and it specifically states Ireland will support the application by Palestine for recognition as a state at the United Nations in September.
I have recently been contacted by many soccer fans who will go to Barcelona hoping to see Ireland play Andorra in that city. Maybe the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport could be asked to make a statement on the position in which fans find themselves. To date about 4,000 people have booked trips to Barcelona to watch the European Championship game which was originally supposed to take place there. Both the FAI and the Andorran Football Federation have requested that the match be played in Barcelona because of the numbers expected to attend the game, including about 3,000 Irish fans. The stadium in Andorra can allow only 200 Irish fans to enjoy the game. However, UEFA has decided against this.
Perhpas the Minister could make a statement, because the time for the match is approaching. I ask him to speak to UEFA about whether it could change its mind. There may be 3,000 fans arriving in Barcelona without a match to go to - I will probably be one myself. I ask the Minister to make a statement on this.
I share the concerns expressed about the operation of the guillotine. This is not the first time we have had a guillotine in this Parliament. Historically, the Leader of the House, Senator Cummins, has shared those concerns. I assume that proper and sufficient reason will be given for the use of the guillotine and that it will not become a practice.
A couple of people described each other as excitable today. I do not think I am excitable today, but I am a little disappointed that there is so much political point-scoring going on. That is unhelpful. We need the Government to come up with constructive proposals. It is important that we have a clear, strong and constructive Opposition. That is how Parliament works. In the situation this House is in, it is important that we maintain its dignity. We should make our points appropriately and in a restrained way. I have not always held to this maxim myself, but I will certainly do my best. The fate of this House hangs in the balance.
I welcome the taking of item No. 1, although I note that it is without debate. I ask the Leader whether we can have a debate some time on the principles that underlie the motion, but I am happy it will go through. However, there is one point I would like to make; I am sure my colleague Senator Mullen, who is our representative, will mention this. I note that the names of the Independent Senators are not mentioned. I was contacted and asked by Senator Mullen if I agreed that our names should be added to this, and I said yes. I would like to signal that the Independent group strongly supports this important motion.
I share the concerns echoed on the Government side by Senator Healy Eames about the selling off of utilities. This is a significant step, and the rights of the people must be guaranteed. We have made too many mistakes in preserving a system rather than the people. The welfare of the people comes first. In light of what I said yesterday about maintaining a system - an initiative from the Government that I welcome - under which gas and electricity are not cut off when people cannot pay for them, can the Leader give us a guarantee from the Government that this policy will continue even if there are private and foreign investors in these utilities? I am concerned that we are selling off significant assets.
I strongly support the proposal by my colleague Senator Healy Eames about the ESB. It is certainly worthy of consideration and I hope the Government will consider it. It was regrettable that the first words from a union leader at the ESB this morning consisted of a call for strike action.
That is something to be regretted and it is no way to proceed in this day and age.
I ask the Leader to convey our appreciation to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, for clarifying the situation with regard to septic tanks yesterday.
We have had a summer of scaremongering around rural Ireland by people who should have known better, including Ms Marian Harkin MEP and the former Minister Deputy Ã CuÃv, whose revised programme for Government in 2009 stated that the Government would introduce a scheme for the licensing and inspection of septic tanks and waste water treatment systems.
Ba mhaith liom mo dhÃomÃ¡ a lÃ©iriÃº mar gur gealladh dÃºinn, nuair a bhÃomar ag scor, go mbÃ©adh dÃospÃ³ireacht ar na healaÃona ar siÃºl inniu ach nÃor tharla sin. Deirtear liom go mbeidh sÃ© ag tarlÃº an tseachtain seo chugainn. Ba mhaith liom soilÃ©iriÃº a fhÃ¡il ar sin, mar tÃ¡ cuid mhaith grÃºpaÃ ealaÃne atÃ¡ ag sÃºil leis an dÃospÃ³ireacht sin.
Ar Ã¡bhar i bhfad nÃos tromchÃºisigh, fad is atÃ¡ muid ag geadsaÃocht anseo tÃ¡ 130 post idir dhÃ¡ cheann na meÃ¡ ins na ceantair Gaeltachta i Meitheal Forbartha Gaeltachta. Ba mhaith liom leasÃº a iarraidh ar Riar na hOibre inniu le go dtiocfadh an t-Aire, an Teachta Phil Hogan, isteach sa Teach le mÃniÃº dÃºinn cÃ©ard tÃ¡ ag tarlÃº.
I call for an amendment to the Order of Business. As we sit here, 130 jobs in Gaeltacht areas are on the brink of disappearing. Last week, Meitheal Forbartha na Gaeltachta, a company fully funded by the State, had a board meeting at which the members discussed advice by management consultancy Mazars that the company should close because it was trading in a way it should not. The board took a decision that day to cease trading immediately. The manager rang a number of employees to ask them to tell their colleagues they no longer had jobs. In the interim, there were meetings between officials from Pobal, under the aegis of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, and members of the board of directors and ex-management of this company. Up to half an hour ago, none of the employees of this company had been given any notification of where they stood. They cannot collect their dole or use their mortgage protection plans, and they really do not know what to do.
Some of the people concerned are employed under FÃS schemes, and they were told yesterday to go back into work today under these FÃS schemes, although when we sought clarification from FÃS we were told there was no contract for these people to be at work and that they would not be covered by insurance if they did go to work. It is a serious matter. All the funding for this company comes from the State. It is under the aegis of the Minister. These jobs could be saved and the company could be put right. The reason the company is in trouble is bad management, as highlighted by a number of audit reports done by Pobal. We have asked for these reports to be published but they have not been. However, I have seen a copy of one report, and it is a damning indictment of the company.
I propose that we call on the Minister, Deputy Hogan, to come to the House to clarify what his Department intends to do to save the 130 jobs at MFG. This needs to be done immediately because the people concerned are in limbo. It is simply not acceptable. The company has been given ample time to act but it has not done so. This is a matter of great urgency.
Like others, I call on the Leader to caution the Government to tread carefully with regard to the disposal of any portion of the ESB.
We need to learn from the mistakes of the past. We saw what happened with Telecom Ãireann, which became Eircom. We got rid of a network that would have ensured broadband would have been provided to every house in the country. That would have happened had the company remained in State ownership.
I support the call of my colleague, Senator Healy Eames, for a broad-ranging debate on education. Like others, I congratulate the people who got their junior certificate results yesterday and indeed the freshers who are going off to college this week. However, some elements of the education system are simply broken. We need a back-to-basics analysis of the standards, quality and funding of education. Whether we like it or not, we have a two-tier education system. If someone has the money, they can get the grinds or go to a private school, but if they do not have the money, they will not do that. One thing that our country prided itself on during the years was that we had a first-class education system. We need to return to that and ensure that everyone has equal access to quality education regardless of whether they have resources. I suggest to the Leader that, in briefing the Minister ahead of such a debate, he should request that information is made available to us on how much funding is made available to private schools and grind schools that provide leaving certificate programmes. If people choose to go into private education, the State should not be expected to cough up money to subvent it. With those remarks, I ask the Leader to ensure that we have a comprehensive, broad-ranging on education during this term.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Health to report immediately on the existence of Labour Relations Commission agreements between unions representing ambulance staff and the HSE National Ambulance Service wherein it has been agreed that sick leave must be offered to staff as overtime, and whether he will make an immediate statement on the matter? If what has been alleged to me in private is the case, while it might represent a new way of doing Government or business, it is a disgraceful way in which for us to preside over working arrangements for anybody. I am not looking for an amendment to the Order of Business, but if there is no answer by next Tuesday, I will do so, and each day until such time as we have an answer.
I have looked at the legislative programme, which was announced yesterday as representing a great way forward for the people. As has been mentioned, it includes additional burdens on households by way of charges for septic tanks of some â¬50, which is a small amount to some but is significant to many. It will also impose an annual household charge on the owners of certain residential properties. Yet again, it is void, absent and vacant, as is Government policy generally, in failing to do anything for mortgage holders and the many families who are struggling. I remind the House that the last act of the Oireachtas in the previous session was to vote down the only extant set of proposals that would have helped, and media reports have stated that the expert group that is soon to report will come forward with only superficial proposals to help families. Meanwhile, we in the Oireachtas preside over a legislative programme that will do nothing except increase the burden on families between now and Christmas.
In last year's budget, the Minister increased the registration fee for colleges, which is now known as the student contribution, to â¬2,000, but said that only one member of the family will have to pay the increased rate. In recent weeks, I have come across a number of families with two or more students in college who have had to pay â¬2,000 each. They have been advised that the way in which to reclaim the money is to do it through their tax by getting a rebate for it in their tax at 20%. Now, 20% of â¬4,000 equates to â¬800 and not â¬1,000 as it should be, so parents are losing out on 20% of their entitlement. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Finance to introduce legislation to rectify the anomaly as quickly as possible or to come to the House and explain to us why he cannot do so.
I agree with the proposals from Senators Healy Eames and Conway to invite the Minister for Education and Skills to come to the House. The problem of mathematics in Ireland, which was first raised in this House, has been promoted heavily in one of the national newspapers. My fear is that it may be even bigger than has been stated so far. The expert group on future skills needs estimates that as few as 20% of teachers of second level mathematics studied it as a major subject beyond the first year of their primary degree. That means that 80% are non-qualified, which is way in excess of the 30% that has been mentioned. The Minister should consult the expert group and the Royal Irish Academy, which have made the running on this.
We need a mechanism quickly to get university mathematics departments and higher diploma in education departments to talk to each other. As Senators have said, the bonus points reward those who can afford grinds, those who attend private schools, and those who have been taught by the 20% of teachers who are fully qualified in the subject. The problem also has horrendous impacts on our attempts to promote Ireland as a centre of science, engineering and technology. In the current recession, perhaps engineers could be drafted in on a temporary basis to teach mathematics in schools. I commend the Minister on his interest in this major problem, but it may be even larger and more urgent than is realised. I hope he will accede to the other Senators' requests and come in to debate this major issue in education.
I express my support for the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, who is in negotiations or talks with NAMA to try to get it to allocate some of its stock to social housing. That should be a key priority for NAMA and it is absurd that it is not. The housing list had 58,000 people on it in 2008 and it currently has 100,000 people on it. No doubt many of those individuals were helped along the way by bankers, developers and, it has to be said, some of our colleagues in Fianna FÃ¡il. I say that with the greatest respect to Senator Norris, with whom I agree that we should not be seeking to score political points. There is a difference, however, between making political points and helping colleagues with their delusions, and the fact is that many people were helped onto the housing list by Fianna FÃ¡il as well. That has to be said.
I ask the Leader to ask the Minister, Deputy Hogan, to come to the House. As many colleagues have asked for this, it seems there is a need for it. Allocating some of NAMA's stock for social housing should be made a key priority without delay.
-----that the Government made many promises to the people and has managed to keep less than 10% of them. It was not elected to blame the previous Government, rather to fulfil its promises to the people.
I note that the first item on the Order of Business is on international democracy day and the Arab Spring, but I also note from the Order Paper that there is a Government motion that this side of the House did not previously support in relation to recognition of the Palestinian state. It is long-winded and convoluted and looks like the Government is preparing the way not to support Palestinian state recognition at the United Nations this year. That is regrettable. On the other side of the same the page we have this side of the House supporting the pre-1967 borders. It will be interesting to see if the Labour Party, especially as the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade is the leader of that party, will support a long-held view and see if Ireland has an independent foreign policy anymore. Will we leave it up to the European Union to decide the fate of the Palestinian people and the Palestinian state? As we know EU foreign policy is not worth the paper on which it is written. It could not intervene to do anything in Bosnia or Serbia. It has been woefully inadequate in many situations throughout the world. I hope the Government will reflect the people's views on the recognition of a Palestinian state. If not, when the resolution is decided by the Palestinian Authority, Fianna FÃ¡il with, I hope, colleagues on both sides of the House will put that wording. The same wording that is being put before the United Nations this month will be put before this House and we will see where people's beliefs lie and whether they will simply follow the EU line on this.
In regard to the ESB and other State companies and properties, we should remind ourselves of the words of the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte. He said that we need to manoeuvre within the parameters of what the previous Government agreed on behalf of this sovereign State with the European Union and the IMF. There are parameters, but I have no doubt we can have confidence in any decisions the Government will make. It is proceeding with caution and due care, and I think this is very preliminary.
I am glad Senator Daly has spoken. The front page of today's Irish Examiner contains an interesting story, which I have not had time to digest fully. I believe it also has an editorial which I will read later and to which Senator Bacik drew my attention before we came into the House. It relates to NAMA and a decision by Ms O'Reilly, the Information Commissioner. I had understood that body was excluded by statute, but it seems that she has made a decision that it is subject to the Freedom of Information Act, which is very interesting. While this may be subject to appeal, I ask the Leader to bring in the Minister for Finance in order that we can have clarity on the subject in due course. NAMA has a social obligation. It is important to have a coherent policy in the national interest. I share the concern of the Minister, Deputy Hogan, about the great number of ghost estates and unfinished houses that could do such good in co-operation with local authorities in housing the many people who are on the housing lists. Obviously there should be discussions in pursuit of that policy between the Minister, his officials and NAMA. I back the calls to invite the Minister to the House to provide some clarity on the matter. It is an urgent national concern. NAMA is not just a debt collection agency. The banks, as we know, busted us and made valueless judgments on lending decisions. There is much to be cleared up in that regard.
I support the request by a number of previous speakers for the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, to come to the House to discuss the potential sell-off of a stake in the ESB. It is ironic that at a time when the State is nationalising private banking debt and taking on the burden of debt which belongs to international investors, it is at the same time privatising profitable State-owned companies such as the ESB. It shows the scale of the injustice that is being perpetrated on the people. We will end up with a national debt of more than â¬200 billion by the end of 2013, while at the same time selling off all of the family jewels. We are not only putting the State into liquidation - Senator Bacik rightly blamed the previous Government for this - but also not taking responsibility for what the present Government should do. This Government will unfortunately add to the problem by selling off profitable State companies. The ESB is self-financing. It has made a profit and put â¬1.2 billion into the State in the past seven years and more than â¬2.2 billion in the past ten years. It is a profitable company that should remain in public ownership. Senator Healy Eames put forward the notion that some syndicate of Irish people should be put in place to allow some Irish people to invest in the ESB. All of the Irish people own the ESB regardless of whether we have money. It is absurd to suggest that a small percentage of Irish people who happen to be wealthy and have cash in the bank be given the unique opportunity to invest in the ESB. All of the people concerned, who are being crushed by all the policies that have been put in place-----
----- will not be given the opportunity to do so. I ask the Government representatives to reflect on the fact that we own the ESB and should not open it up to people either nationally or internationally to come in and make profits on the back of a profitable State-owned company.
I second the motion tabled by Senator Ã Clochartaigh to have the Minister come to the House to discuss the job losses at MFG.
I echo what was said by Senator Norris today and Senator Crown yesterday that this House is not a House for individual constituencies, but a House for the country. Given the pain that was evident in the face of the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, when he spoke yesterday, it was clear that the decision was taken because he had no other option and was done within the parameters of what was available as mentioned by Senator Paul Coghlan. Sometimes people need to do things for the country that they would not do for their constituency if they are politically minded. Difficult decisions are difficult decisions and need to be taken by Government, and nobody is happy taking difficult decisions.
I have a question for the Minister for Education and Skills on grinds. Senator Barrett spoke about the teaching of maths. I compliment Engineers Ireland, which for the past 18 months has been offering free maths grinds for leaving certificate students on Saturday mornings. It has now extended the scheme into the junior certificate. The grinds are provided by engineers who are qualified in honours maths and applied maths. I have a son who has done maths and applied maths. There is talent throughout the country. UCD have been very good at following up with its alumni in the enterprise sector. I spoke yesterday about how it is following up with the alumni in London who are involved in businesses. The Government and universities should come together to use the talent that exists. President McAleese has spoken about the attitude to volunteerism in Ireland. Most graduates who did honours maths do not go into teaching. My son did not go into teaching. There is a great deal of talent available. Many people who are not politicians would do things for their country if they had the opportunity to do so. Universities and voluntary groups, for example, would be glad to capitalise on the services of such individuals. We have to lay down the criteria for this by deciding who is and is not qualified to teach maths. We should avail of the massive talent available. Many honours graduates are not teachers. I ask the Minister for Education and Skills to establish a group to see how we can work with the universities to do something like this.
I suggest Senator Mullins' words will come back to haunt him. When the inspections start to take place, they will be concentrated in places such as east Galway where there has been a history of pollution and there are problems with the water table. It will come back to haunt the Senator when there are no grants available. Everyone wants clean water and expects us to comply with European law. We are not saying otherwise.
I am glad to support my colleagues in calling for the Order of Business not to be agreed to. It is an absolute scandal that we are imposing a levy on insurance policies today in a single meeting of the Seanad. It is a disgrace. We are talking about Seanad and DÃ¡il reform, but it seems to be all talk and no action. I will not say anymore about the legislation because I have not had time to read it. I will have to spend my day reading it because my colleague who usually deals with such matters is not here today, unfortunately.
The Tara Mines pensioners from County Meath were outside Leinster House yesterday to protest against the introduction of a 0.6% levy on pension funds. We were told that the levy was to be introduced in the interests of job creation. When we claimed that pensions could be reduced by 10% as a result of the levy, we were told we were exaggerating and that we did not know what we were talking about. It was suggested it was a disgrace to oppose something that was all for jobs. The measure involved VAT cuts for industries such as the newspaper industry, which I highlighted at the time. A person who was outside this building yesterday will have his pension reduced from â¬10,000 to â¬9,000. The Government is taking money from him and giving it to Tony O'Reilly, Denis O'Brien and Rupert Murdoch. These are the facts. When we asked the Taoiseach if he had received any advice on the measure, he would not give it to us. Fianna FÃ¡il had to submit a freedom of information request to find out that the Government had been advised not to introduce this measure because it would have huge adverse effects on pension funds. Document No. 112 which was released on foot of our freedom of information request is a letter from a representative of the Irish Insurance Federation on behalf of Standard Life, Irish Life and New Ireland. It argues that insurers must be in a position to pass on the levy to policyholders. That is what the industry asked for and that is what the Government gave it.
It was a disgrace that they were not put before us. The same thing is happening today with the Quinn Insurance levy. We are not getting any documents or background information. That is the sort of new Government we have. It is a disgrace.
TacaÃm go mÃ³r leis an mÃ©id a dÃºirt an SeanadÃ³ir Ã Clochartaigh maidir leis an gÃ¡ atÃ¡ ann dÃospÃ³ireacht a bheith againn faoi chÃºrsaÃ ealaÃne agus cultÃºrtha. BhÃ sÃ© i gceist go mbeadh an dÃospÃ³ireacht sin ar siÃºl an tseachtain seo. Bheadh sÃ© go maith dÃ¡ mbeadh soilÃ©iriÃº againn Ã³ thaobh an dÃ¡ta ar a mbeidh an dÃospÃ³ireacht sin againn. Thug mÃ© faoi deara go bhfuair mÃ© go leor teachtaireachtaÃ Ã³ eagrais agus gluaiseachtaÃ Ã©agsÃºla atÃ¡ ag plÃ© le cÃºrsaÃ ealaÃne agus cultÃºrtha. TÃ¡ sÃ© an-suimiÃºil go bhfuil suÃomh idirlÃn, www.freagra.net, ar fÃ¡il d'Ã©inne atÃ¡ ag iarraidh leagan ceart Gaeilge a chur ar cibÃ© teachtaireacht atÃ¡ acu - comhartha siopa, nÃ³ta le dul i bpÃ¡ipÃ©ar nÃ³ rud Ã©igin eile. Is iontach an rud Ã© go bhfuil seirbhÃsÃ den sÃ³rt seo ar fÃ¡il chun cabhrÃº le daoine Gaeilge snasta cruinn a chur ar cibÃ© teachtaireacht atÃ¡ acu. TÃ¡ sÃºil agam go mbeidh deis againn acmhainnÃ agus imeachtaÃ den sÃ³rt sin - trÃ©aslaÃm leo - a phlÃ© go luath.
I echo the concerns expressed about the shortening of debates on legislation in this House. This issue will be particularly acute when it is proposed to make changes by means of referendum. It seems we have got ourselves into a bad position. Certain proposals are the subject of a great deal of discussion outside the DÃ¡il and the Seanad but very little time for debate is provided when they are raised in the Seanad. The various excuses we hear such as the fact that certain legislation has to be passed before the presidential election takes place on a particular date are not good enough. If it is proposed to take certain legislation at a certain point, I suggest there is no reason we cannot have a debate on the relevant issues in advance. This House has not had a substantial debate on the judges' pay referendum, or the proposal to reverse the Abbeylara judgment to widen the powers of Oireachtas committees. It is unacceptable that we will have a quick and rushed debate before the issue is put directly to the people. One way of overcoming this problem is to provide for debates on these issues before the relevant legislation comes before the House. That would demonstrate that the Government has a genuine interest in hearing the opinions of the Houses on its proposals.
Many have expressed concern about point-scoring. The people want us to start scoring a few goals. We cannot do this, unless we work together.
I would like to add to the debate on the proposal that a charge be imposed for having one's septic tank inspected. I would like the Leader to ask the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to bring it to the attention of the officials in the environmental division of his Department that the real problem in this regard is pollution by phosphates. Given that we have unleaded fuel, low-tar cigarettes, fat-free foods, yeast-free bread and sugar-free foods, perhaps the Department might examine whether it is possible to remove phosphates from detergents and dishwasher tablets, etc. If pollutants such as phosphates could be removed from detergents, etc., I would like to see some movement on that side.
Senator Darragh O'Brien spoke about the Insurance (Amendment) Bill 2011 which we will have ample opportunity to discuss today. The debate can continue until 5.30 p.m., if necessary and if there is a sufficient number of speakers. I do not know whether we will reach 5.30 p.m. We will see how it goes.
A heavy legislative programme will be conducted in this session. All Senators have seen the list. I will do my best to ensure ample time is made available for debate. Nevertheless, on some occasions it will be necessary to pass legislation by certain dates. I must facilitate the schedule of business of the House at times. However, ample time will be provided to discuss legislation at every possible opportunity. I have explained the need for the Insurance (Amendment) Bill 2011 to be dealt with speedily. Ample time has been set aside for the discussion on it today.
Senator Darragh O'Brien also asked about the possibility of having a debate on the three-year fiscal plan. The Government intends to publish a pre-budget outlook document by the end of October, following the completion of the comprehensive review of expenditure. The Minister for Finance who will be in the Chamber today has agreed to be present again in the early weeks of October for a discussion on financial matters. I am sure that we will have ample time for debate on the myriad of subjects that Senators have raised under the financial brief. The Minister has committed and he will be in here by the middle of October to discuss financial matters.
Senator Bacik gave reassurances on the merger of the Irish Human Rights Commission and the Equality Authority which was raised on the Order of Business yesterday.
Senator Quinn raised the subject matter of the large amount of food wasted because of labelling. It is certainly a matter that we can consider. I note yesterday he mentioned food matters with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. I can try to ascertain the intentions of Government on the introduction of legislation, if necessary, on that labelling issue.
On the welfare of horses, my first was that it is the responsibility of the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, but I will certainly try to find out. Senator Quinn might pass on the information he has. I would be interested to know whether it related to the number of racehorses dying on the course or elsewhere. I look forward to seeing that correspondence and I will pass it on to the relevant Minister.
Senators Healy Eames, Conway, Barrett and Keane each made good points on an issue that was raised yesterday, project maths. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, will be in next week dealing with legislation, but he will be in by the end of the October to deal with education matters and we can have statements and questions on that matter at that time.
Senator Harte raised the football game in Andorra. As the Cathaoirleach pointed out, it is probably more appropriate for an Adjournment matter to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. It was a bad decision by UEFA to have the match in Andorra when so many people had initially thought that the game would be held in Barcelona and had bought tickets. It is a bad day for Irish fans. Let us hope we can beat Armenia and Andorra and we will qualify for greater things in the European Championship.
Senator Norris spoke of maintaining the dignity of the House. I certainly will do everything possible to maintain the dignity of the House at all times. I can referee slagging matches on both sides, but there is little I can do about it. He spoke in favour of a future debate on the principles behind the motion on International Democracy Day, which is something that we will arrange. Probably, we will have the TÃ¡naiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade in to discuss that and many other foreign affairs matters. We have not had the TÃ¡naiste in yet and we will try to have him in during this session.
On the ESB and charges, I am not in a position to give any guarantees on the charges for future years. Senator Mullins and others raised the question of septic tanks. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, has given clarification on the matter and I am sure this clarification will be welcomed by all right-thinking people.
Senators Ã Clochartaigh and Mullen sought a debate on the arts. We will have the debate on the arts next week. The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Deenihan, is looking forward to the occasion. I understand there is also a briefing from those involved in the arts the day before on that matter.
The Senator also sought clarification and proposed an amendment to the Order of Business on a clarification regarding the job losses at MFG. Probably, it should have been the subject of an Adjournment motion and I do not propose to amend the Order of Business for a debate on the matter. It is a serious matter for all of the 130 workers involved, but the Senator should take it up with the Minister or put down an early Adjournment motion for next week where it can be discussed.
I dealt with Senator Conway's point on education.
Senator MacSharry raised a question on agreements with ambulance staff. I will try to find out the answer to that from the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, and get back to the Senator. Senator MacSharry also spoke of mortgage arrears. The Government's economic management council has been asked to form an interdepartmental group which is set to consider the further necessary actions to alleviate the problem of mortgage indebtedness. The Minister, Deputy Noonan, has agreed to come in to a debate here by mid-October when we will have ample opportunity. Measures may even be in place by then to help those indebted with mortgages.
Senator Moloney raised student contributions and rightly pointed out the existing anomalies. She probably should consider it as a matter for the Adjournment to be dealt with by the Minister for Finance, and she may get answers.
Senator Noone raised NAMA. Certainly, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, is in ongoing discussions with NAMA on releasing stocks for social housing, which would be desirable. A number of Senators have asked that the Minister come in also and he has given a commitment that he will be in the House for a debate on a wide range of issues under his remit by the end of October.
Senator Daly referred to blaming of previous Governments. The former Leader of this House blamed Governments dating back nearly to the 1920s when he was in this position and I have no intention of doing this.
We will leave it at that.
Senators Paul Coghlan, Cullinane and Healy Eames raised the sale of ESB and the â¬2 billion committed under privatisation in the IMF-EU deal. Major decisions had to be made and the Government is in the business of making decisions. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, has committed to come in to this House by the middle of October and there will be an opportunity for all Members to discuss the matters that they have raised in that connection with him by the middle of October.
I am sorry that Senator Byrne is disappointed that the fee will be â¬50, not â¬300, as many of his party colleagues have peddled during the summer months.
Senator Mullen mentioned the service for translation of the Irish language. We will have in the House next week both Bills on the referendums on judges pay and Abbeylara. Both of them will finish in the House next week but there will be ample opportunity to discuss the matters that are there before us.
Senator Sheahan raised the question of removing the pollutants in phosphates from detergents, and so on. Whether that can be done, it is a good suggestion.
We had a good debate here yesterday with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton. Jobs is the most pressing issue in the country. I am certainly disappointed that there were not more Members here asking questions and present during the two hour debate to listen to what the Minister had to say on jobs. However, we will continue to have questions and answers. It seems to be what Members want and it is the right way to go. However, I would like to see a little more enthusiasm from Members when we have future debates.
Senator Ã Clochartaigh has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That statements on the imminent closure of the Meitheal Forbartha na Gaeltachta company in County Galway be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
The Seanad Divided:
For the motion: 17 (Sean Barrett, Thomas Byrne, David Cullinane, Mark Daly, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Darragh O'Brien, Averil Power, Feargal Quinn, Kathryn Reilly, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Against the motion: 26 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Terry Brennan, Deirdre Clune, Paul Coghlan, Michael Comiskey, Martin Conway, Maurice Cummins, Jim D'Arcy, Michael D'Arcy, John Gilroy, Jimmy Harte, Aideen Hayden, Fidelma Healy Eames, James Heffernan, Imelda Henry, Caít Keane, John Kelly, Denis Landy, Fiach MacConghail, Maire Maloney, Tony Mulcahy, Michael Mullins, Catherine Noone, Pat O'Neill, Tom Shehan)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Trevor Ó Clochartaigh and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Ivana Bacik and Paul Coghlan..
Amendment declared lost.
The Seanad Divided:
For the motion: 26 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Terry Brennan, Deirdre Clune, Paul Coghlan, Michael Comiskey, Martin Conway, Maurice Cummins, Jim D'Arcy, Michael D'Arcy, John Gilroy, Jimmy Harte, Aideen Hayden, Fidelma Healy Eames, James Heffernan, Imelda Henry, Caít Keane, John Kelly, Denis Landy, Fiach MacConghail, Maire Maloney, Tony Mulcahy, Michael Mullins, Catherine Noone, Pat O'Neill, Tom Shehan)
Against the motion: 18 (Sean Barrett, Thomas Byrne, John Crown, David Cullinane, Mark Daly, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, Darragh O'Brien, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Averil Power, Feargal Quinn, Kathryn Reilly, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ivana Bacik and Paul Coghlan; Níl, Senators Marc MacSharry and Diarmuid Wilson.
Amendment declared carried.
The Seanad Divided:
For the motion: 26 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Terry Brennan, Deirdre Clune, Paul Coghlan, Michael Comiskey, Martin Conway, Maurice Cummins, Jim D'Arcy, Michael D'Arcy, John Gilroy, Jimmy Harte, Aideen Hayden, Fidelma Healy Eames, James Heffernan, Imelda Henry, Caít Keane, John Kelly, Denis Landy, Fiach MacConghail, Maire Maloney, Tony Mulcahy, Michael Mullins, Catherine Noone, Pat O'Neill, Tom Shehan)
Against the motion: 18 (Sean Barrett, Thomas Byrne, John Crown, David Cullinane, Mark Daly, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Darragh O'Brien, Averil Power, Feargal Quinn, Kathryn Reilly, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ivana Bacik and Paul Coghlan; Níl, Senators Marc MacSharry and Diarmuid Wilson..
Question declared carried.