Seanad debates

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

10:30 am

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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The Order of Business is No. 1, Central Bank and Credit Institutions (Resolution) (No. 2) Bill 2011 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude no later than 5 p.m., if not previously concluded; No. 2, motion for the earlier signature of the Central Bank and Credit Institutions (Resolution) (No. 2) Bill 2011, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of No. 1; and No. 16, motion No. 6, Private Members' business, to be taken at 5 p.m. and to conclude no later than 7 p.m.

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Fianna Fail)
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Can we have an immediate debate on the issue of Aviva? For more than two months now, my colleague, Senator Darragh O'Brien, has flagged this potential issue. I myself called for a task force to engage with all companies supported by Enterprise Ireland and the IDA throughout the country in order to anticipate any issues or difficulties they might have and to put forward help and suggestions to ensure their continuity here and the protection of jobs. This was clearly ignored. Our information outlines the fact that the Minister was informed last week - unfortunately workers had to read this on Twitter yesterday evening and in today's headlines - that up to 1,000 jobs would be lost at Aviva throughout the country. This is catastrophic news for those families, for Dublin city, Cork, Galway and the other parts of the country that will be affected. We needed to get in to do a pre-emptive strike and to engage with these companies to ensure they had adequate supports and that jobs were protected.

It is no consolation to the families involved and Ireland as a whole that this morning in Manchester, Ms Susan Helmont, the head of brand, will give a presentation entitled The Secret of our Success.

It is no consolation to the families or to Ireland that this morning in Manchester the head of branding at Aviva, Ms Susan Helmont, will give a presentation on the secret of the company's success. One wonders if, within the secret of that success, is the fact that the company gets the naming rights to the Aviva Stadium for €40 million when the people of Ireland invested €191 million. I ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, to give an explanation immediately on whether he engaged with the company over the past number of weeks, the suggestions brought to the company to protect the jobs and how in God's name any Government can preside over a company that talks about the secret of its success in Manchester on the same morning as it is telling 1,000 families in Ireland that they are no longer required to contribute to the success of the company.

I apologise for raising health issues because I know that we have a debate on 27 October but this is too big an issue to confine to one debate. This morning we heard reports that we will subcontract the management of hospitals in HSE west to a private consultancy firm. Can the Leader seek clarification on how much this will cost the health service? Will other staff and management be sidelined while consultants come in to do their jobs? Is there a redundancy package if they are surplus to requirements or incapable of doing their jobs? What hospitals are directly affected? The people of Ireland are entitled to know whether the HSE, which is responsible for more than 50% of the tax take of this country, is about to give that money to management consultants to tell us how we should be doing a job that professionals in the health service should know how to do. If they are not doing it correctly, why are we hanging on to them?

Photo of John WhelanJohn Whelan (Labour)
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We all share Senator MacSharry's grave concern for the families and workers to be affected by the proposed and expected major lay-offs in the Aviva company. The unemployment fall-out from the fiscal and banking mismanagement in this country and elsewhere has not fully washed through the system. For many families, the worst is not over yet and they face the prospect of having no job coming up to Christmas.

We must be horrified for the families affected by the Priory Hall fiasco. That situation is only the tip of the iceberg regarding the issue of dodgy house building by cowboys in this sector. There has been much handwringing by many of the stakeholders in this sector, including the Construction Industry Federation and others, who say that it has nothing to do with them. I do not agree and I would like to have the Minister of State with responsibility for housing, Deputy Penrose, in the Chamber to hear his proposals on tightening up in this area. This is another example where light touch regulation has landed us in a fine mess, similar to the light touch regulation in the banking system. I was horrified to learn recently at a local authority briefing that only 15% of all construction projects are inspected by planning enforcement officers from local authorities because the industry is supposed to be self-regulatory. That system does not work in banking or construction.

I commend the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, on his genuine effort to engage with turf cutters around the country to solve the issue and to strike a fair and reasonable balance between turf cutting for domestic use and the important issue of conservation and preservation. I appeal to those who represent large turf cutting contractors to engage in a genuine and meaningful effort to solve the problem.

We all agree that press freedom and fair comment are cornerstones and fundamental values in our democracy. Fair comment in the public interest is a pillar of a real republic. I was shocked to learn at weekend of the de facto sacking from Today FM of the prominent press man, Sam Smyth.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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That is not a matter for the Order Of Business.

Photo of John WhelanJohn Whelan (Labour)
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It is, and I will tell the House why.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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That is a private contract and we cannot have the Senator naming individuals on the Order of Business. Does Senator Whelan have a question for the Leader?

Photo of John WhelanJohn Whelan (Labour)
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What I am addressing is not a personal or private matter and I do not seek to single out any proprietor or an individual journalist. There is a fundamental matter of press freedom, freedom of speech and fair comment in the public interest, no matter who it concerns. Everyone in this country would be a lot poorer if we did not have an unhindered press. We must also deal with the issue of proprietorial interference. This week, the director general of RTE, Noel Curran, made a significant keynote speech assuring the public that investigative journalism will be one of the key cornerstones of RTE's remit. I call for a special debate with the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, to discuss media ownership and control at the earliest possible juncture so that we can hear the legislative proposals he has and so that the Seanad can have an early input into the proposal and the legislation. This is a fundamental matter for democracy and a national issue.

Photo of Jillian van TurnhoutJillian van Turnhout (Independent)
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I support Senator Whelan's call for a debate on media ownership. I welcome yesterday's publication by the HSE of a series of reports undertaken by the national review panel for serious incidents and child deaths. This report details the circumstances of child deaths and serious incidents involving children and young people. The first annual report of the national review panel was also published yesterday and it provided an overview of the work carried out by the group since its establishment in 2010. It is the first of what I hope will be an annual report. The report highlighted a number of deficiencies in the current child protection system, including several breaches of Children First guidelines, inadequate supervision of practices in the HSE and family services in a number of cases and the absence of a standardised method of assessing the needs of children and young people who come to the attention of social services. The report also exposed the need for specialist training for social workers to improve investigative skills and to assist in engaging with hard to reach families. It also highlighted the need to develop additional protocols for children who abscond from care and the very real need for after-care support as children make the transition to adulthood. I fully support the review panel's recommendations. The reason I am raising this in the House is that report raises the question of whether we need greater scrutiny, which I feel we need. I am concerned that the report of the national review panel states its workload is virtually impossible to carry out owing to the number and breadth of inquiries it must instigate. Every one of those inquiries is a child death or serious incident. This is not just a pile of paper, each one represents a child. It has been reported that the panel was asked to review 51 cases, including 35 deaths, since its establishment in March 2010. It is imperative that the panel is adequately resourced to ensure the timely, proper and full investigation of these cases. Each and every childhood counts and key lessons can be learned from the reports, which will inform policy and child protection and welfare and prevent future child deaths. These lessons must be seized on. I call on the Leader to request the Government to entrust the receipt of these reports in full to the Joint Committee on Health and Children so that it will facilitate appropriate scrutiny of the child protection systems within the Oireachtas.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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I express my agreement with comments about Aviva this morning. Two important fixtures face the Irish football team and one of them will take place in the Aviva Stadium. It will stick in the craws of many people to attend fixtures at a wonderful national arena at a time when there does not seem to be a commitment to this country on the part of the company whose name is on the front of the stadium.

Already this morning, certain vested interests have sought to criticise the decision of the European Court of Justice, which has restricted the patenting of a stem cell research technique, which involves taking stem cells from a human embryo and destroying human embryos in the process. This decision by the European Court of Justice is very much to be welcomed. It is clear from the wording and language that the decision was taken with human dignity very much in mind. Nor have the voices expressing concern about what was proposed to be permitted been solely religious voices; the challenge was originated by Greenpeace. This shows there are people of diverse religious and philosophical perspectives in our society who place great store in protecting human life in its early stages. One of the more manipulative dimensions of this debate is the broad and exaggerated claims for future cures which are linked with embyro-destructive research. The reality is that much of the progress and potential can be associated with induced pluripotent stem cell research, which does not involve the destruction of early human life. Patenting is important because the only thing worse than the exploitation of human life is the privatised and commercialised exploitation of human life. We should all regard this decision by the European Court of Justice as a good news story. I hope the Government will always consider it part of its mission to join the ranks of those focusing on adult stem cell research and the promising moves being made in that direction in the search for the cures and treatments we all desire for the future.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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I join Senator Marc MacSharry and other speakers in voicing my concerns about the name of our national football and rugby stadium. Unfortunately, we all seem to have taken quickly to referring to it by its new name. If Senator MacSharry's figures are correct, we have more of a right to call it Lansdowne Road Stadium than Aviva does to call it by its new name. I cannot understand why we all - and I include myself in this - took to the new name so easily.

Solutions must be found to the situation at Priory Hall. The provision of hotel accommodation for residents is an acceptable temporary measure, but it will not do in the long term. As Senator Mark Daly argued yesterday, we must demand that NAMA jump into the breach rather than asking or hoping that it will. I urge the Government to apply sufficient pressure to the agency in this regard. It is somewhat ironic that NAMA would not take this approach automatically given that it is developers who make up the sum total of its clientele.

In regard to consumer rights, I welcome the measures unveiled yesterday by the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton. Building upon the recently passed EU consumer rights directive, the Minister announced a range of initiatives which will serve to offer further safeguards to consumers. The ban on excessive payment fees, for example, will apply to online transactions and booking fees. This is particularly pertinent in regard to Ryanair and other airlines which have made a point of charging fees far in excess of transaction costs. Under the new provisions, retailers, both online and offline, will not be permitted to charge a payment fee in excess of the cost of the transaction. This is a positive move which will remove any ambiguity in respect of the process.

However, we should bear in mind recent reports of an 800% rise in the cost of card processing faced by some retailers as a consequence of the change from Laser to Visa debit.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Is the Senator seeking a debate on this matter?

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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Yes, and I wish to highlight the issue. These enhanced consumer rights are a positive development. Of particular interest is the ban on pre-ticked boxes. For instance, when booking a flight online the option for purchasing travel insurance is often preselected. Older people in particular may not be aware that they are being charged for such options.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Such issues should be raised by the Senator in the relevant debate.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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Will the Leader invite the Minister, Deputy Bruton, to the House to discuss these and other issues?

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I endorse the points made by Senator Jillian van Turnhout on the report published by the national review panel for serious incidents and child deaths. It is a well researched document which retains the confidentiality of those involved. Will the Leader arrange a debate on this report so that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, can outline her response? The public service recruitment embargo should not apply in respect of social workers. The question of how an 18 year old can be released from State care without support must be addressed by the Minister. The HSE cannot bear full responsibility in these matters; the Government and all Oireachtas Members have a role to play.

I compliment RTE, and presenter Áine Lawlor in particular, on its excellent documentary on the President, Mary McAleese, and the support given to her throughout her presidency by her husband and our colleague, Senator Martin McAleese. It was a great tribute to her presidency. We are not permitted to say much about this, but I fundamentally disagree with Mr. Diarmaid Ferriter that the role of President is primarily one of leader of trade missions. As a former Minister of State with responsibility for trade I realise-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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The Senator should not comment on the role of the President.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I assure the Cathaoirleach that I do so on a very complimentary basis.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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It is nice to hear something positive for a change.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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Indeed. Ms McAleese is a great example to us all and has been a credit to the country for the past 14 years. She has achieved everything she set out to do. She certainly has been instrumental in leading trade missions; that is part of her duty and I hope the next President will be as active. However, she will be a hard act to follow in all aspects of her role and if some of the candidates had viewed this documentary six months ago, they would not be in the field.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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Does Senator Leyden have anybody in mind?

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I look forward to welcoming Ms McAleese and her husband, Senator McAleese, back to their family home in Cootehall in County Roscommon.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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Up Roscommon.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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That is not relevant to the Order of Business.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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We in County Roscommon are very proud that the President and her family will be living there.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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I join other speakers in voicing my concern at the loss of 1,000 jobs at Aviva. I, together with colleagues, raised the issue three or four weeks ago. It has taken the company that length of time to announce the bad news. The situation has been speculated about, including on Twitter and Facebook, for weeks, which is most inappropriate. For a company of Aviva's size to behave so deplorably is extremely regrettable. I call on the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, to articulate the concerns of this House to the company management. I also call on the Football Association of Ireland, FAI, to see whether it can reconsider its arrangement with Aviva in terms of the naming of the national football stadium. Surely there was another organisation willing to come up with the sponsorship money. I encourage the FAI to break its contractual arrangements with Aviva and to enter into negotiations with another, more ethical, corporate sponsor.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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It would take a crane to remove the sign.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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I will do it.

11:00 am

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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I am confident there will be plenty of volunteers.

Yesterday I raised the issue of the unfortunate situation in north Dublin. It has come to may attention that there may well be other such developments in this city whose status will be adjudicated on in the courts. Will the Leader invite the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, and the Minister of State with responsibility for housing, Deputy Willie Penrose, to the House in order to ascertain the extent of this problem? These difficulties have arisen because the building regulations that were in place for the last ten years were not enforced. While developers secured planning permission on the basis of their adhering to all the regulations, the inspection process completely collapsed once the developments were completed.

The sad reality is that many of the dodgy engineers and architects who signed off and certified these buildings are now out of business. Who will ultimately be responsible for the bill? It is completely unacceptable that it should be the taxpayer. This is an extremely serious issue, with thousands of houses throughout the State constructed in a questionable manner.

There are blocks of apartments and other developments throughout this city and in the other major cities where the building regulations were severely compromised.

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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On the matter raised by our colleague, Senator Conway, it is time to bring back the snag man for both individual purchases of buildings and housing and where the State purchases properties on behalf of individuals. Most builders hate the snag man but he does a valuable service for the consumer which has been missed.

I thank the Taoiseach for his intervention in an issue we raised here yesterday, namely, the 9 foot high sea wall in Clontarf. The Taoiseach said in the Dáil that it is visually appealing for people to be able to see the bay and to have a levee of that scale would cause people to feel rightly aggrieved. He called for compromise on the issue but as I stated yesterday, the compromise exists in that those who travel the coast road from Dublin to Howth are aware that after the Clontarf wooden bridge there is an area of mudflats, which is a ready made reservoir for the water which now floods Clontarf and cannot get out the mouth of the harbour between the two lighthouses when the tide is coming in. It requires Dublin Corporation to breach a causeway to allow the water to flow out. There is approximately four or five miles of capacity to take the water that now floods Clontarf. The late Seán Dublin Bay Rockall Loftus raised this issue many times and it has now come back as a live issue. I ask the Leader to thank the Taoiseach for his helpful intervention and press the alternative Sutton Creek proposal to relieve that flooding on the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan.

Photo of Tony MulcahyTony Mulcahy (Fine Gael)
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I echo Senator Conway's sentiments. I did not realise until yesterday that one of the victims of the recession was Proctor & Gamble because Fairy liquid was used in the building of most of the buildings in this country. That lasts about ten years and therefore many of them will crumble and fall down.

I was delayed getting here yesterday when I am sure the issue of the Keane report was raised because I was with one of the unfortunate victims with which the report deals. There is an interesting document floating around the House, the Proclamation, which perhaps some of us should read. It states that Ireland should cherish all of its children equally. We are not doing that. When I read the Keane report last week I was fuming.

Senators:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Tony MulcahyTony Mulcahy (Fine Gael)
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It was defended in the Dáil yesterday to the effect that it is intended to send our children and their parents to the poorhouse; we will give them a council house. That is a great cure for the problem after we fattened the bankers by giving them €70 billion and let off the biggest borrowers and developers. We did not ask them to pay anything back but rather let them get off scot free. We are paying salaries of between €150,000 and €200,000 to some of them to keep their businesses going.

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Sinn Fein)
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We are giving them €700 million next week.

Photo of Tony MulcahyTony Mulcahy (Fine Gael)
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That is more money. Senator MacSharry brought a Bill before the House recently on mortgages on houses. It was a good Bill that required some touching up. We have a responsibility to all the people of this country and to the 30 children who sat in the Gallery a while ago to work together to find a solution.

Another Bill came before the Dáil yesterday and I have a question-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Somebody's mobile telephone is interfering with the microphones.

Photo of Tony MulcahyTony Mulcahy (Fine Gael)
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I am sorry. Another good Bill came before the Dáil yesterday from the Fianna Fáil grouping. Last night, Senator Jim D'Arcy invited representatives of New Beginning to give us a briefing in the Seanad but unfortunately not all of those who should have been present were present. I suggest that representatives of New Beginning be invited to this House if it is possible; I do not know if the rules allow for that. I suggest we invite all the representatives of those groupings and sit down together for a discussion. I would love to see Mr. Keane come into this House and defend that raiméis he published last week-----

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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Hear, hear. Well said.

Photo of Tony MulcahyTony Mulcahy (Fine Gael)
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-----and the raiméis that came out two years ago because I will not accept or stand over it.

I was challenged in the House last night by Senator Byrne - we were all challenged - on whether we had the courage to state that and stand over it. Yes, I have the courage. As a member of my party and a Member of this Seanad I will not put up with that.

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Sinn Fein)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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Well said.

Photo of Tony MulcahyTony Mulcahy (Fine Gael)
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We must get them in here to defend it.

Photo of Trevor Ó ClochartaighTrevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Fein)
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Ba mhaith liom tacú leis an Seanadóir Whelan faoin díospóireacht a d'iarr sé maidir leis na meáin agus úinéireacht na meán, agus go gcaithfimid na meáin náisiúnta s'againn féin a thógáil san áireamh sa cheist sin chomh maith.

Ba mhaith liom chomh maith mo mhíshástacht iomlán a léiriú leis an Seanadóir Mac Sharry maidir leis an phleanáil atá ar bun maidir le príobháidiú a dhéanamh ar sheirbhísí bainistíochta sna hospidéil san iarthar. Tá sin scannalach. Táimid ag íoc a dhóthain cheana féin isteach san HSE leis na hospidéil seo a rith agus ba cheart don Aire teacht isteach agus míniú a thabhairt dúinn cén fáth nach bhfuil an jab sin á dhéanamh mar is ceart.

Scéal eile atá ag déanamh tinnis dúinn i nGaillimh chomh maith ná ceist Aviva. Tá an-trua againn do na hoibrithe sa chomhlacht sin leis an chaoi a bhfuil dá chaitheamh leo agus aontaím leis na Seanadóirí ar fad ó gach taobh maidir leis an méid atá siad a rá gur cóir don Aire teacht isteach agus ceist Aviva a phlé linn agus céard a rinne agus céard nach ndearna an Rialtas agus cén fath go bhfuil na jabanna seo ag imeacht le sruth.

Chomh maith le Aviva, ba cheart don Aire Comhshaoil, Pobail agus Rialtais Aitiúil teacht isteach sa Teach agus míniú a thabhairt maidir le Meitheal Forbartha na Gaeltachta, an chomhlacht ar tharraing mise aird uirthi roinnt mhaith uaireanta sa Teach seo, ag déanamh leachtú. Ceapadh leachtaitheoir, no liquididator, ar MFG inné. Bhí mé ag an chruinniú creidiúnaithe agus scannal a bhí ann i ndáiríre, an chaoi a reachtáladh an cruinniú, an easpa eolais atá ann agus an dóigh nach bhfuil aon mhíniú tugtha ar cén fáth go bhfuil an 130 post a bhí i gceist sa chomhlacht imithe agus cén fáth nach féidir iad a shábháil. Ba cheart go mbeadh fiosrúchán faoi sin.

I ask that the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, be asked to come into the House to discuss the issue of our natural resources. We have had Laurel and Hardy politics in these Houses in recent years regarding our natural resources of oil and gas where successive Ministers wrote away our finite natural resources, which are worth a huge amount of money to us. Previous Governments did that and this Government is following through on the same policy of handing over our natural resources to big businesses. We are hand-wringing around the Aviva issue but it is obvious that both the previous Government and this Government are in cahoots with big business and instead of standing up for the people of this country are standing with the people in big business. The Minister's decision to issue an additional 13 licences for exploration in the oil and gas basins off our west coast is scandalous when one takes into consideration that an Oireachtas committee is supposed to be discussing the licensing regime to be put in place. We are giving away the family silver before we discuss the rules on that. It is a scandal. Ba cheart don Aire teacht isteach anseo agus míniú dúinn cén fáth go bhfuil sé ag leanúint leis an pholasaí nár oibrigh roimhe seo. Is mór an náire é.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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Increasingly lately we hear of the exorbitant fees that are being skimmed off people who have saved for pensions. We are aware of the crisis in the pensions industry but we have learned that the charges can be as much as one third of what hard-pressed people have put aside in pension funds. I read that the Taoiseach referred to that, which I welcome, and that we will have a report on pensions from the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, which will lay bare the hard facts and the rip-off taking place in the pensions industry. I ask the Leader for a debate in this House on the pensions crisis once that report is available. I am aware Senator Barrett took part in a debate on this important subject last Sunday in Kenmare. There is so much concern about the issue it would make a worthy debate to have here as early as possible.

Photo of Labhrás Ó MurchúLabhrás Ó Murchú (Fianna Fail)
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Senator Whelan made an important contribution earlier. I support his call for a debate on the ownership and control of the media in Ireland. It is not that long ago that we were all convulsed with what we heard from the News of the World. We saw something happening in that case that indicated there was not due vigilance and monitoring. That went probably to the highest office in the land, and we have seen since resignations of senior people. The paper has closed down and the reverberations will be felt for a long time to come.

Ireland has been exceptionally well-served by the media. They have made an important contribution to the cultural, social, economic and political life of the country. They have turned many a stone that needed to be turned. On the other hand, they ruined many a character of innocent people, Fr. Reynolds being the most recent.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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The Senator must refrain from mentioning people on the Order of Business who are not present to defend themselves. As the Senator knows well, that matter is before the High Court.

Photo of Labhrás Ó MurchúLabhrás Ó Murchú (Fianna Fail)
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Of course. I was delighted the director general issued another apology three days ago on that issue. That was the right thing to do but what I think-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Senator Ó Murchú, I ruled on this issue last week. I ask you to refrain from mentioning that case. It is before the High Court and Standing Order 47 specifically relates to it. I ask you to refrain from speaking on it.

Photo of Labhrás Ó MurchúLabhrás Ó Murchú (Fianna Fail)
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What is important when we come to discuss the media in Ireland, is that we consider the monopolies that are developing. I can recall that when local radio was being established it was intended to give a voice to each community. Monopolies have since developed and we have seen ownership from what could be considered a monopoly creeping in to local radio. We have seen local newspapers being bought by agencies outside this country - my own area being an example of that. If this is the case, why are we not having a debate on the issue of responsibility of monopolies? Nine or ten years ago we were particularly worried about this issue and since then much has happened that should not have happened. I would like the Minister to come to the House to debate this issue very shortly. I think it is not just for the good of the country but in the long term it will benefit the media.

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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Less than a month ago, on 21 September, Aviva issued this statement: "Aviva is committed to Ireland, where we have had a business for over 100 years." Today, we find out that 950 employees are to be let go. Quite a number of those employees work in Knocknacarra, Galway. I would like the company to think of its employees and their families. Aviva still wants the people to buy insurance from it and for that it should show loyalty to the people who work for the company. I request the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton to write to all the companies in the country who trade here about the manner in which they deal with employees and give notice of redundancy. The very least people deserve is forward planning and time. I am not at all happy with the manner in which Aviva has treated its employees.

Second, I wish to raise the issues of helping people with mortgages to hold on to their homes. Yesterday, New Beginnings and others who are proposing solutions to help people keep their homes made a very interesting presentation to members in the AV room. I am quite disgusted with some of the proposals in the Keane report, which I think is fit for no more that 5% to 10% of people who cannot be helped in any way. The majority can benefit from some forward planning and restructuring, and avail of non-court based approaches. That is the reason I did not support the Bill from the other side of the House. We need solutions that do not rely on the courts. New Beginnings and others have made great proposals. We need to show leadership in this House. We must have a debate in the Chamber. I ask the Leader to invite Deputy Michael Noonan, the Minister for Finance, a good man who can empathise with others, to listen to other solutions, besides the Keane report, that will help people to keep their homes. The Keane report is not an adequate response and it is letting us down. We are far better than that. Will the Leader consider also a means to facilitate whereby those who come up with other solutions can be heard in this House? That would be a brave new step for this House. We must help people to hold on to their jobs but most especially to hold on to their homes.

Photo of Feargal QuinnFeargal Quinn (Independent)
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On Monday I got a call from Áras an Uachtaráin.

A Senator:

We normally ring it when we have late night sittings

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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Was it the acting President?

Photo of Feargal QuinnFeargal Quinn (Independent)
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The reason I bring it up is that it was a call inquiring about the health of my mother-in-law. Her 102nd birthday was due to fall on 10 November and the President wanted to know to which address she should send the letter of recognition. Unfortunately, my mother-in-law died a few months ago and I was able to tell them that. This is a reminder of what we are able to do if we commit ourselves. President Mary McAleese has not just given a very generous gift on each 100 year birthday but has put in motion the marking and recognition of each subsequent birthday, a token that my mother-in-law got last year. Mrs Grace Prendergast was looking forward to her 102nd birthday, but unfortunately it was not to be.

Some months ago there was talk of whether we need a President at all. It is a reminder of what we can do, if we can manage to recognise the benefits of the institutions we have and the people we elect who are able to make of those institutions something that can be of significant benefit to the community as President McAleese and other Presidents have done. It reminds me of this House because at the same time we were talking about the need for the office of the Presidency, the question cropped up as to whether we need a Seanad. I think it is fair to say that the Presidency has earned the respect of this country. If we are to maintain this House, and I really believe in this House, it is up to us to do something about it. It will not just happen. The onus of responsibility is on us to do something. I am not sure but I understood that there was a process in being to see how we could manage the affairs of this House. I am not just talking about reform of the Seanad because we have had plenty of that before but I am posing the question of what we in this House will do. The Leader has done a very good job since he came in here. I believe the value of the Seanad is being recognised. We have not gone nearly far enough and can do much more. If we are still around as a forum in years to come, it is in our own hands.

Photo of Caít KeaneCaít Keane (Fine Gael)
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I had signalled I wished to raise the issue of pensions. Senator Paul Coghlan just mentioned the rip-off pensions. A third of the pot of a person's pension is at risk of being totally diluted and eaten up. The figures are startling. On Monday night, RTE did a programme on pensions. People are absolutely shocked to learn that one third of their money is swallowed up in a black hole. In actual fact the Irish pensions industry could be swallowing up to €1 billion a year in fees. A research specialist in NUI Maynooth had to spend several years trying to figure out the actual fees being charged and an economist has spent a couple of years trying to set up his own pension pot without being ripped off in fees and has still not figured it out. I ask the Minister for Social Protection to investigate what the Pensions Board, a statutory body established in 1990, is doing. One of the remits of the Pensions Board is to protect the interests of pension scheme members. I ask you. Here we are in 2011, 21 years since its establishment in 1990, and it took a television programme, a specialist in Maynooth, an economist and a television presenter to tell us that a third of a person's pension is being ripped of. I have asked for the issue of pensions to be put on the agenda, in addition to ask the Pensions Board to carry out its remit and to research where the people's money is going. It is said that €1 billion a year is paid in fees, which is a total rip off. I am asking the Leader to invite the Minister to the Chamber to investigate the hidden costs and the charges applied by companies and to advise people on the best offers in pensions. At this stage we have to do it if we are concerned about society.

Photo of John CrownJohn Crown (Independent)
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I would be grateful if the Leader could find out from the Minister for Health if it would be possible to clarify the lead up to, the circumstances of, and the implementation of a decision to bring in a firm of private management consultants to run the hospital services in Galway and Limerick. This is a fundamental shift in the way a large part of the acute hospital service will be run and co-ordinated. I have a perspective on this and would be anxious to have the opportunity to discuss it with the Minister, if possible. In a few months it will be the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. The Titanic analogies are done to death when discussing the health service, but in the health service geographical area in question where the waiting list for some outpatient appointments can be up to two years and which is desperately short of all the specialists needed to implement the services, the idea that the right way to fix the system is to bring in more managers is similar to bringing in a new organisation of coxswains on the sinking Titanic to man the few lifeboats that remain to ensure that the 700 rather than the 2,200 patients can access lifeboats in an orderly fashion.

Clearly, a more fundamental shift is necessary in how the health system is run, managed and led. I ask the Minister to consider the possibility that, perhaps, what is needed is not new management, but new leadership. We must develop a new culture of leadership with professional technical management, rather than having a culture where, in a leadership vacuum, the leadership is provided by technical managers who do not have the vision of what the health service should be. I do not believe the new managers coming in, although I wish them well in their thankless task, will necessarily bring the skill set that is required. We need something much more fundamental.

Photo of Susan O'KeeffeSusan O'Keeffe (Labour)
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I support the call by my colleague, Senator Healy Eames, for a debate on the Keane report. I understand we are due to have a debate next week. In light of Senator Quinn's comments about the future of the Seanad and how we conduct our business, would it be possible to structure that debate in such a way that there is a commitment that the contributions will be very precise and will actually be used in building on what the Keane report can do and in which we can channel to the Minister the contributions to the debate of organisations such as New Beginning?

The Minister has said that the Keane report is part of the process, a beginning as it were. In that regard I welcomed it as a contribution to how we can work together to improve the plight of those who are suffering and struggling with their mortgages. Members of the House must find a way, perhaps with the assistance of the Leader and the Minister, to ensure that those contributions are made as specific parts of that process. Time is not on anybody's side in this. The people who are struggling are doing so on a daily basis and they cannot wait for us to pontificate. Perhaps we can find a way in that debate for, in the future, conducting very precise contributions. Is some slight alteration required to do that? Forgive me for not knowing the answer at this point but is there a specific way in which we can contribute on that day?

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Sinn Fein)
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I strongly support the call by Senator Whelan for a discussion on the role of the media in the State. Often when such a call is made, politicians are accused of being opposed to freedom of speech. However, the opposite is the case. The point being made, which I would also make, is that the monopoly a certain number of individuals have of the media in this country and abroad is a contradiction and does not allow proper freedom of speech. It is not inclusive and diverse opinions are not allowed because of the class of people that is represented by some of the people who own the media in this country. If we have a discussion on the media, we should include both the public and private sector State broadcasters as well.

I also support the calls for a discussion on the Keane report. I offer my sympathy to the people in Aviva Insurance who have lost their jobs. Senator Mulcahy gave a powerful speech this morning about unfairness in society generally and referred to the Keane report. As I pointed out yesterday, a single unguaranteed bondholder will be paid €700 million on 2 November and €1.2 billion next January from money that we are borrowing from the IMF and the European Central Bank to pay back unguaranteed bondholders. Politicians on the other side of the House tend to drop their heads and sigh when I raise these issues, perhaps because I raise them continuously. However, I do so because they are the most important issues facing this State.

We are to have debates on the Keane report and on other matters but, as Senator Ó Clochartaigh said earlier, at the same time we are giving away the family jewels through privatisation of State assets and giving away money we are borrowing to bondholders who speculated and gambled. These are unguaranteed bonds, so there is no moral or legal responsibility on the State to do so. Yet that is what the Government is doing. That is two-faced, to be frank. There is no point in saying anything else. We cannot on the one hand say we must do more for people who are struggling to pay their mortgages if, on the other hand, the Government is writing a cheque for €700 million to a bondholder to whom it has no responsibility. The figure is absolutely shocking but that is what this Government is doing. It is following in the footsteps of the previous Government. Again, I call on the Leader of the House to have a discussion on this.

Finally, I welcomed the efforts of the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, to develop a plan for the south east, in which he will examine job creation and bring forward plans in that regard. When that plan is developed, he should bring it before the House. I am sure that many of the issues that are relevant to the south east and Waterford are also relevant to regions throughout the country, and many of the issues dealt with in that report will be relevant to what we must do to support job creation not just in the south east and Waterford but throughout the State. Let us be honest, the recent jobs initiative by the Government has failed.

Photo of Michael MullinsMichael Mullins (Fine Gael)
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I join my colleagues in deploring the awful job losses we heard about this morning in Aviva Insurance. All Members must deplore what we have seen happening recently not only in Aviva Insurance, but in many other companies in this country. The last people who appear to be given consideration when major decisions are taken are the employees. Consider the means by which employees find out what is happening. They hear about it in the media or read about it on Twitter. Unfortunately, I had the unpleasant task of being involved in the closure of an enterprise some years ago. At all times the main consideration was ensuring that the employees were the first to know and were made aware of what their entitlements would be. It is particularly regrettable that a company which we regarded as our own, which has been established for almost 100 years in this country and has a stadium named after it, would treat people in this way. I ask that we have a discussion with the Minister about the Aviva Insurance situation and about how some of the multinationals are conducting their business in this country.

Will the Leader arrange a discussion with the Minister for Justice and Equality about a report in the newspapers this morning relating to the involvement of organised crime in smuggling cigarettes into this country? It is believed that many people who were involved in the drugs trade have switched to smuggling cigarettes because, first, one is less likely to get caught and, second, if one is caught, the penalties are far smaller. Only 34 people, a startling figure, have been prosecuted for cigarette smuggling in this country despite the fact that hundreds of millions of euro in revenue have been lost.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Those points can be made during the debate.

Photo of Michael MullinsMichael Mullins (Fine Gael)
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The serious issue of the involvement of organised criminals such as former drugs barons and drugs lords in the cigarette smuggling business requires an urgent discussion with the Minister for Justice and Equality.

Photo of Jim D'ArcyJim D'Arcy (Fine Gael)
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Like other Members, I call for a full debate on the Keane report. This report is a good first step in dealing with the issue of mortgage arrears. It deals very well with the problem of those who cannot pay their mortgages, such as those who have sub-prime mortgages, and suggests ways they can keep their houses. However, it deals less well with those who are trying to pay their mortgages but simply do not have the full amount to do so at present without sacrificing, for example, requirements for young families. I thank all those who attended the meeting in the AV room last night. I am pleased that representatives of New Beginning will appear before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform later and rather than making this a knockabout issue, if we all work together in the House, we can make progress and solve the problem. In supporting others who called for a debate on the Keane report, will the Leader arrange a calm debate in order that we can make progress on the issue?

Photo of Michael D'ArcyMichael D'Arcy (Fine Gael)
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I would like to raise the issue of banking institutions that take proceedings against individuals or companies and that hide behind the law when they have difficulties dealing with people. I refer, in particular, to those who are sent in to retrieve assets. It has been brought to my attention in the past number of days that some of these people, who are hired on behalf of lending institutions, have criminal records. This was touched on previously and it is crucial, given the financial difficulties faced by people, that the Minister for Justice and Equality ensures that anyone operating on behalf of a lending institution should be correctly licensed to do so. Such licensing was introduced in recent years for staff performing security details for night clubs and so on. Those who enter the premises of individuals and companies being pursued by financial institutions must be correctly vetted and must not have a criminal background but I am led to believe this is happening at the moment.

Will the Leader bring this to the immediate attention of the Minister for Justice and Equality? If not, people will be hurt. A number of assault cases are before the courts. The notion that lending institutions supported by the State are facilitating the hiring of people with shady backgrounds or a criminal record is outrageous.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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Senators MacSharry, Healy Eames, Noone, Conway and others raised the Aviva announcement. All our thoughts were with the hundreds of workers and their families on hearing the news earlier. The job losses are yet another consequence of the collapse of the economy over recent years and as a result of the contraction in the domestic economy, the insurance market has declined by more than 30%. This is part of the legacy the Government has inherited and the Government parties are keen and committed to address this legacy. They have started to tackle the crisis by restoring confidence and competitiveness in several areas.

Over the past number of weeks, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation has been in continual contact with the relevant State agencies on this issue. He has met global management of the company and he has spoken regularly with Irish management of the company in an effort to minimise job losses. The company has signalled the potential to grow new jobs in another area over a two-year period and the IDA is working with the company to deliver on that potential. Subject to the conclusion of the negotiations between the company and the workers over the coming six months, the full support of the Government and its relevant agencies will be at the disposal of those affected by today's announcement.

In contrast to other recent job losses, there will be a six-month period of negotiation and I note the company's ambition to achieve many of its targeted reductions through voluntary redundancies. Job losses will begin in April 2012 and will take place over a two-year period, which at least provides the workers with time to plan and provides the Government with an opportunity to seek replacement jobs.

Senator MacSharry also raised questions for the Minister for Health. I remind leaders of the groups that I wrote to them a few weeks ago seeking the submission to my office in writing of questions to the Minister by today. I hope I will have the questions that we can pose to him next week. Perhaps the issue raised by Senator Crown can be posed as a question to the Minister then.

Senators Whelan, Noone, Barrett, Conway and others raised the Priory Hall issue again saying it might be the tip of the iceberg. The Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government will be in the House soon to deal with this matter and the issue of building regulations, on which many Members have sought a debate over the past number of weeks.

We all join Senator Whelan in wishing the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht well with his proposals to solve the problems of turf cutters and, hopefully, an amicable resolution will be found for all. Senators Whelan, Ó Murchú and others called for a debate on media ownership, fair comment and so on. I will endeavour to have the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources in the House in early course to deal with that matter. Many Members have raised the issue over the past number of weeks. The Minister was in the Chamber only last week but he is willing to return.

Senator van Turnhout referred to yesterday's report on the deaths of children in care, which makes serious reading. She made a good suggestion that the report be submitted to the Joint Committee on Health and Children to be debated at length. I will make representations in that regard to ensure it will happen.

Senator Mullins's comments on stem cell research and the EU Court of Justice will be welcomed by most. Senator Noone raised the issue of consumer rights and the reforms announced by the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, which will be welcomed by all consumers.

Senator Barrett commented on the Priory Hall case and suggested that the snag man should be brought back. That is needed, as the role of the snag man vanished during the Celtic tiger years. The Taoiseach announced yesterday that the OPW will listen to further proposals regarding the situation in Clontarf over the next few weeks and I hope alternative proposals will be submitted.

Senators Mulcahy, Healy Eames, O'Keeffe, Jim D'Arcy, Cullinane and others called for a debate on the Keane report. We had a good meeting in the AV room yesterday regarding the New Beginning proposals. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance have said that the Keane report is only part of the process. I have arranged a debate on the report next week and I hope, as Senator O'Keeffe stated, that specific proposals will be made when Members make their contributions and that they will not digress into other areas. We should stick specifically to proper proposals and concise contributions on this important matter. We will have a debate for an hour and a half or two hours next week.

Senator Ó Clochartaigh raised the issue of natural resources. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources was in the House last week and he dealt specifically with this issue. I do not know whether Senator Ó Clochartaigh was in the House-----

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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He gave a comprehensive contribution on natural resources.

Photo of Trevor Ó ClochartaighTrevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Fein)
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He sold our resources in the meantime.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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He has issued licences for exploration. It is to be hoped that after exploration takes place we will find or gas. Ireland is not Norway.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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The Senator, without interruption please.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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Senators Coghlan, Keane and others called for a debate on pensions and how customers have been ripped off, as outlined in a recent television programme. The Minister, Deputy Burton, will come before the House for a two hour debate and question and answer session on 17 November. We can have a debate with her on pensions then.

Senator Quinn referred to recognition of the role of the presidency and its thought provoking nature. He also raised the need for the Seanad to be more relevant. We are doing our best to make it relevant and would welcome any suggestions. Nobody has a monopoly of wisdom. We hope to receive comments from Members. I will give the matter consideration.

Senator Crown could pose his question next week. Senator Michael D'Arcy referred to lending institutions hiring people with criminal backgrounds to collect debts, which is a very serious matter. If the Senator has any specific information he should bring it to the attention of the Garda authorities and the Minister for Justice and Equality.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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As we were prepared to stay for the contribution of the Leader, it would be appropriate that he would respond to the request from me and Senator van Turnhout on the report on children.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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The Leader has given his answer.

Order of Business agreed to.