Wednesday, 9 November 2011
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on the community and voluntary sector, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude no later than 1.45 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons, who may share time, not to exceed eight minutes, followed by questions to the Minister from the floor during which Senators are asked to confine themselves to one minute when asking questions; and No. 2, Welfare of Greyhounds Bill 2011 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 3 p.m.
While I was trying to be helpful, yesterday I might have been somewhat overzealous in what I said. I am trying to be constructive regarding passing on the interest rate cut to mortgage holders on variable rates. All Members of this House are concerned that the two State-funded banks, Bank of Ireland, which includes ICS Mortgages, and AIB, have yet to make any statement on the matter and more importantly have not passed on the 0.25 percentage point rate cut. We will see a further rate cut perhaps by the end of the year or in January or February of the new year.
In order to ensure we do not have a Mexican stand-off between Government and banks every time there is an interest rate reduction, yesterday I asked for a special debate here to ascertain what the Government is doing to ensure the two banks that the taxpayer saved from going to the wall will pass on these rate cuts. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister for Finance or the Minister of State at the Department of Finance come to the House to explain what the Government is doing to ensure that the banks and the lending institutions that hold banking licences - not just the two that are propped up by taxpayers' funds - pass on the interest rate reduction. The Minister should outline what will happen in the future when we see further interest rate reductions. The Taoiseach said last week that should the Financial Regulator not have the powers to insist upon the banks passing on the interest rate cuts, which he does not, he would seriously consider introducing legislation. I wish to notify the House today that Fianna Fáil is preparing a Bill to provide those powers to the Financial Regulator, which legislation will be brought before the Oireachtas next week. We are trying to assist Government on this issue.
The amendment to the Order of Business asks that the Minister or Minister of State come into the House to discuss this issue and let us know what legislation the Government proposes to put in place. I will withdraw that amendment to the Order of Business if the Leader gives a commitment this morning that sufficient time will be set aside next week to allow Members of the Seanad to discuss this serious issue which is affecting hundreds of thousands of people in this country.
I welcome the response yesterday from the Leader, Deputy Leader and other Members of the Government side of the House that they would welcome a debate on the appointment to the European Court of Auditors. Is that offer still on the table? When will that debate take place? I heard in the Dáil yesterday and again this morning Ministers of the Government say they stand over the nomination of Mr. Cardiff. I do not wish to personalise matters but Mr. Cardiff will have to be interviewed by a panel of our European peers and it is, in my view, unlikely he will be sanctioned and given the post at the European Court of Auditors. The Government has made big play of the fact that it is working hard to improve our reputation in Europe, if that requires to be done. I accept that. Let us take it that needed to be done. What reputational damage will this do?
The Leader and Deputy Leader stated yesterday in the House that they would welcome a debate on this issue. Will such debate take place tomorrow, when there is ample time available for it or will it take place today? The Government will tomorrow publish the review of the capital programme, which will introduce €750 million worth of cuts. Will the Leader provide time for a debate on that issue either tomorrow or early next week?
Senator O'Brien again expressed, as do we all,condemnation of the failure of some banks to pass on the interest rate cut. It should be stated - this was not alluded to by Senator O'Brien - that since yesterday another bank, the EBS, has announced it will pass on the interest rate cut, which we welcome. It is hoped there will be further progress in that regard during the next 24 hours.
It is clear from the comments of the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, on radio this morning that the Government is moving towards preparing legislation to address this issue if the banks do not fall behind the interest rate cut. This is what needs to be done, if as the Senator says there is to be a Mexican stand-off every time.
-----on third level education. The proposal yesterday from the HEA in regard to the imposition of a cap on third level student numbers is important, one which we need to debate seriously in this House. This House would be the appropriate forum for such a debate given the interest some of us have in third level education.
Given the cutbacks in third level education and the difficulties experienced by universities in terms of coping with increased student numbers, we need to consider a proposed cap while being mindful of the serious consequences it would have for the many thousands of students seeking to get onto courses.
I join with others in calling for a debate with the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, which it is hoped will take place during the next couple of weeks. We need during the course of that debate to look at issues other than Syria, including Gaza in the context of the recent MV Saoirse trip to Gaza and the Israeli State's actions in that regard, which I am sure Members on both sides of the House condemn.
Following the resignation this week of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr. James Hamilton, we need a debate on crime and the difficulties with prosecuting banking crime and crime in the financial services sector. The DPP made some interesting and important comments in the course of his retirement which need to be reflected upon. I would welcome a debate in this House on that issue.
Go raibh maith agat. With the permission of the Cathaoirleach, I would like again to raise with the Leader the Palestinian issue. I am sure all Members received this morning communications in regard to the current position of the two civilian vessels and the manner in which they have been treated. The Irish vessel was almost sunk as a result of water being pumped onto it by the Israelis. I know that the families of the Irish people on board, who are all people of conscience, are particularly concerned about their fate. They have been threatened with incarceration, ill-treated, roughed up and stripped naked and photographed. This incident has been off the radar for the past couple of days.
It is particularly important, given the position of the Irish Government in relation to a Palestinian State, which is what we favour, that those who wish to support the people of Gaza who are suffering are enabled to do so. Gaza is currently one of the most populated places on earth with 1.5 million people on a small piece of territory. These people are being denied their basic requirements, medical and otherwise. Children, women and old people are suffering. Ireland has always been to the forefront in the matter of human rights.
It is no longer sufficient for us to say we favour an independent Palestinian State. While our diplomats may be in touch with the situation, we must send out loud and clear the message that we do not want our citizens interfered with in this particular manner. Likewise in respect of the Canadian vessel; one of the people on board that vessel is an American journalist who has been able to give a firsthand account of what occurred even though her equipment was confiscated to ensure she would not get out the real story which would be in conflict with the sanitised story put out by Israel. I suggest to all who received the document that they read it closely.
In spite of the other pressing issues with which we must deal we must look after our people in difficulty and ensure the State or nation responsible answer for their actions. I suggest that the Seanad draft a resolution which ensures our immediate and urgent support for these people of conscience who are trying to help those whose human rights are not being upheld. I ask that the Leader consider the framing of a motion to this effect during the next couple of hours. This would ensure support for these people when they need it most.
I join with colleagues in congratulating Michael D. Higgins on his presidential victory. I look forward to his inauguration on Friday. Also, I wish Sligo Rovers well in the FAI Cup and wish the Irish soccer team well on Friday and Tuesday next. As I said yesterday, I am glad that Trapattoni is in charge of the Irish team and not Berlusconi. I hope that-----
I refer to a local issue in Letterkenny. I ask the Leader to bring the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to the House to discuss the ongoing problem in Donegal and in the Letterkenny area in particular where several developers have left the scene and gone into receivership. There have been public meetings held regarding the issue of sewerage pumps in housing estates. The ESB has announced it will discontinue the power supply on 20 November because there is no one to pay the ESB bill. I am informed that some of the developers are from Northern Ireland and one in particular has gone into receivership. The receiver has been contacted without success. Ultimately, the responsibility for the bill will fall back on the county council.
There is much anxiety in the area and the situation is similar in other places in the county. Letterkenny has three estates which are recently built and if a substantial ESB bill is not paid by 20 November, the power to the sewerage system will be cut off for these estates and it will become a public health issue. I ask that the Minister come to the House to enlighten us on how this will be resolved. It is impossible for residents who purchased these properties in good faith to foot this bill. As Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú said, a nation must look after its people. This is a local issue-----
I join with Senator Ó Murchú in again raising the issue of the 14 Irish citizens who are being detained in Israel. I received the e-mail and I have also been in contact with the families of some of those people who are being held by Israel. Two Sinn Féin councillors, Councillor John Hearne and Councillor Pat Fitzgerald, were on the boat and are now being held captive by Israel. Others being held include a former Fianna Fáil Deputy, a former rugby international player and a SIPTU official. These 14 Irish citizens are being treated disgracefully.
It is interesting that the American journalist to whom Senator Ó Murchú referred, Jihan Hafez, talked about how the people were treated. She talked about how they were roughed up, mistreated, stripped searched and filmed naked. This is how the Israeli State and the Israeli authorities are treating Irish citizens and it is absolutely appalling. Two water cannons were used to force some of those on board down onto the lower decks. Four warships, three gunships and two naval ships were employed. Dozens of commandos stormed the ship and they used force to remove citizens from that boat to bring them to Israel.
I have a question for the Leader because this is a very serious matter. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has described this venture as a legitimate humanitarian aid mission. If this is the case, then the Department accepts that Irish citizens are being held against their will and are essentially being held captive. It is appalling that Irish citizens, who are trying to help and assist the people of Gaza who have been subject to a blockade and are victims of a humanitarian crisis, should be blocked in their efforts by the Israeli State, taken from their ship against their will, treated in this manner and detained. At a judicial hearing yesterday, the judge said he could hold those Irish citizens for up to two months. This is outrageous and I ask that the Tánaiste makes every effort to ensure that all of those 14 Irish citizens are returned to Ireland as quickly as possible. This reinforces the need for us to have a discussion about what is happening in Palestine because it is appalling. A total of 42 civil society organisations operating in Gaza and in Palestine sent out a call to the international community asking for people to do something about what is a humanitarian crisis in that part of the world. These Irish citizens were responding to that call, trying to bring medicines to women and children and men who are suffering in that part of the world. That is why it is important that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade comes to the House to have that discussion about the appalling humanitarian crisis that is Gaza and Palestine.
-----that on all sides we agree that we want to see the interest rate reduction passed on to the consumer. However, there is a significant difference between what the Senator referred to as State-owned banks because while the taxpayer's equity in AIB is perhaps 89% or thereabouts, it is only 15% in Bank of Ireland.
I was going to develop the point. We have public interest directors and particularly in the case of AIB, which is practically owned by the State, there should be a lot more than two public interest directors, I would argue. Bank of Ireland also has two public interest directors. A director's first duty is to the institution but we would hope that public interest directors would have a concern for the national interest and that they would be pitching and arguing in regard to that.
I support what Senator Bacik proposed in regard to the recent comments by the Director of Public Prosecutions which were very interesting and particularly with regard to white collar crime. The sad aspect is that this State, in my view, failed in supervising the banks to ensure a clear-out of all the people who were culpable, both at board level and at senior management level. This never fully happened and that is one of the outstanding issues that needs to be dealt with.
I am assuming that is a yellow card which has been issued to the Chief Whip. I endorse all that has been said so far regarding the humanitarian crisis unfolding off the coast of Israel, off the coast of the putative state of Palestine. In that context, it would be important that the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade should come to the House. The Leader may correct me but I do not believe he has yet come to the House to debate Ireland's foreign policy in general since he was nominated to that position. I suggest the Leader might keep this in mind, especially now when, once again, Israel is flying in the face of international sentiment, as has been outlined.
It is not enough for the Israelis to say that humanitarian products can be transited through Israel. The state of Palestine is on the cusp of nationhood. In that context, a little-known revelation last week, which was not widely reported, is that UNESCO decided to fund Palestine. Such was the impact of this decision that the United States has withdrawn significant funding from that body which is the cultural organisation of the United Nations. Israel has also withdrawn funding from UNESCO and announced in the same breath that it would proceed with further illegal settlements which are in contravention of several UN resolutions going back to 1967. I question if Israel is really concerned about promoting peace and stability in that region.
Those decisions, coupled with what is going on right now, as has been outlined - the humanitarian crisis and the degrading manner in which Irish citizens are being treated - hardly support the Israeli cause. Why are the Israelis shooting themselves in the foot once again? I ask the Leader to convey to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the strong sentiment of this House and to emphasise the support we are giving to the Irish citizens in question. The Minister should call in the Israeli ambassador to the Republic of Ireland today to convey our anger about Israel's unacceptable policy towards Irish citizens. He should look for an immediate response.
I wish to conclude by seconding the amendment to the Order of Business that was moved by Senator O'Brien.
I do not blame Senator Darragh O'Brien and others for getting excited about the banking issue. I ask them to accept the Government's good faith in this regard. I listened to the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Brian Hayes, the Taoiseach and others saying they will deal with the banks if the interest rate cuts are not passed on. It is appalling that these banks, of which we are the paymasters, should behave in such a despicable fashion. We own them. It is right that this issue has been well vented here. I look forward to the introduction of legislation in this area. I think it is inevitable that we will have to introduce legislation, even if the interest rate cuts are passed on. This situation will repeat itself as interest rates are cut by the European Central Bank.
It is most appropriate to congratulate Ryanair on its spectacular results. It is likely to make a profit of €440 million during these recessionary times. Regardless of whether one likes Michael O'Leary, one has to admire him for that. I admire him for another reason as well, which is that he pays his taxes in this country. I would like to ask the Leader a question in that context. I am aware of significantly wealthy individuals who have mansions in this country, but are tax exiles. This situation needs to be dealt with comprehensively, for once and for all, in the upcoming budget. I take exception to the likes of Bono who preach about the Third World and speak about how we can get this country working again-----
Some of the individuals who were in Dublin Castle advising us on how we can get this country back working again should start by looking into their own souls and paying tax in this country. One can help this country to get back on its feet by paying tax. If these people are not prepared to do that, the Government should consider introducing legislation to alter the existing tax exile legislation.
I will conclude by speaking about the budget. I suggest that the Leader could advise the Minister for Finance to introduce a pension tax to deal with the massive pensions of several hundreds of thousands of euro that are received by some public servants when they retire. Obviously, we cannot do anything retrospectively about payments that have already been made. There are laws dealing with it. There is nothing to stop the Government from introducing a tax on pensions of over €100,000.
I would like to support the comments made by the Fianna Fáil group leader in this House, Senator Darragh O'Brien, about the refusal of some financial institutions to pass the reduction in the ECB rate on to their customers. It is outrageous behaviour on the part of the banks, particularly National Irish Bank, the public perception of which is that it has a very unsavoury record. If Senator O'Brien's amendment to the Order of Business has not already been seconded, I would be happy to second it if he accepts that.
I would like to raise two issues, the first of which is the whole Gaza issue. I will be honest and say it is not something I get very exercised about. As Senator Cullinane said, among those on the trip to Gaza are two Sinn Féin councillors and a former Fianna Fáil Deputy. This is not the first aid mission to Gaza. Those involved know what happened the last time. They knew what would happen this time. We are now pleading for them to be released. They knew this would happen. What I really took from this mission was the message of the people on the ground in Gaza. People on the pier had placards telling the EU and the UN they need protection rather than aid. That is what they were asking for.
I will come to the second issue about which I would like to ask the Leader. The "cash for gold" industry has been mentioned in the House previously. It needs to be the subject of regulation and legislation. I would like to propose an addendum to that. The "cash for scrap" industry also needs to be included when regulations are introduced. A person might bring 20 copper tanks to a scrap merchants today, before arriving with four scrap cars the following week and numerous rolls of fibre optic cable the week after that. Such a person might not have any identification. Most of the material in question is stolen. There should be a process of identifying such people. This sector should be regulated. The "cash for scrap" industry is the same as the "cash for gold" industry. I ask the Leader to bring to the attention of the Minister the need for regulation and legislation to be introduced to stop this practice.
I support what Senators Ó Murchú, Cullinane and Mooney have said about the plight of the 14 courageous Irish people who are now in a dangerous situation as a consequence of their high idealism with regard to the 1.5 million people who are basically prisoners in Gaza.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Gilmore, accompanied me on a trip to Palestine. He knows what the situation is like on the ground. He is well aware of what is happening on the ground. He should take firmer action in the current circumstances.
I am discussing it in the context of the Israeli situation. There is a contradiction here. We are leaving the Irish Embassy in Tel Aviv open even though that country is not a friend of Ireland, or of Irish citizens. The people in question have been strip-searched and photographed naked. Those photographs could be shown wherever certain people might want them to be shown.
I am. I do not agree with Senator Sheahan in this regard. A former Member of the Oireachtas, Chris Andrews, is out there, as are two Sinn Féin councillors, a Socialist Party MEP and a former rugby player. They are very honourable Irish people. They went out there with the right motivation.
I will make another suggestion at this stage. I was the convener of the Friends of Palestine group, the outgoing chairman of which is now the President-elect of this country. If the 14 people in question are not released, I will call on the President to make a statement in his inaugural address on Friday-----
I support the call for a debate with the Tánaiste on the situation in Gaza. While I deplore the continued detention of 14 Irish people, it would be better if all the facts about these issues were put on the table. We need a balanced discussion on this issue. The humanitarian crisis in Gaza is certainly a concern for us all. We need to see what we can do as a Parliament to advance peace talks and discussions and the resolution of the appalling situation that has continued there for many years. Although I agree with the sentiments expressed by Senator Darragh O'Brien this morning, I wonder about the relevance of tabling an amendment to the Order of Business every morning.
It is unreasonable to expect a Minister to come to the House at the drop of a hat, or at the whim of the Opposition. Very valuable time is being lost. Yesterday, we lost a half an hour when the Minister for Education and Skills was due to attend the House to discuss the changes to the junior certificate. It is a waste of time.
Yes. I ask the Leader and the leaders of the other groupings to see if there is a better way to deal with urgent issues rather than tabling an amendment to the Order of Business which results in the loss of valuable time in which we could discuss issues which are scheduled. Non-scheduled activities such as this should be dealt with in a different way.
Tá mé ag iarraidh ceist a ardú inniu a d'ardaigh mé inné agus brathaim nach raibh mé soiléir go léir san ábhar. I again raise the issue of traffic in Galway city. It is a crucial issue and perhaps it was not understood yesterday. I hope the Leader is not suffering from Dublin-centric thinking since becoming Leader. It is clear to all in the west that the traffic situation in Galway is chaotic. It is a national issue. The reason I asked that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport take it on board was that many of the problems stem from agencies under his auspices co-operating with other agencies. I refer to the National Roads Authority, Bus Éireann, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, the airports, Iarnród Éireann and the co-ordination of transport services in and out of the city, whether by rail, air, bus, car, bicycle or pedestrian.
This is a very serious issue. We need to get Galway city moving in order that we can create more employment and allow people to get in and out of the city and not be turned off visiting the city, a matter to which a number of Senators refererred yesterday. It takes two hours to get to Galway from Dublin on an outstanding new motorway but then one is stuck in traffic for one hour trying to get through the city. It is a very serious issue and I ask that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport attends the House to debate it.
Bhí an tAire Gaeltachta istigh cúpla uair ach tá sé tábhachtach go dtiocfadh sé isteach arís mar tá roinnt athruithe tarlaithe le cúpla seachtain anuas. Tá sé fógraithe go mbeidh athbhreithniú á dheanamh ar Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla agus tá an chomhlacht MFG imithe agus nílimid cinnte cad a thiocfaidh ina háit. Tá an samhail nua maoinithe ó thaobh maoiniú na n-eagras Gaeilge faoi Fhoras na Gaeilge á athbreithniú arís agus tá plean forfheidhmithe bliana faoin stráitéis 20 bliain foilsithe ag an Roinn agus tá na hoifigigh ag rá go mbeidh plean trí bliana forfheidhmithe don straitéis 20 blian á chur in áit acu. Bheadh sé tráthúil agus go maith dá bhfaighimis seans na rudaí éagsúla seo a phlé mar beidh tionchar mór acu ar shaol na Gaeilge, ar phobal na Gaeltachta agus ar thodhchaí na teanga sa tír seo agus thar lear. Bheadh sé thar barr dá dtiocfadh an tAire isteach go bpléimis na hábhair seo leis.
I would like to comment on the lack of balance in the debate on Gaza and the ship which has been detained. We recognise that Israel is a legitimate state but from some of the comments I have heard, it seems that some people believe Israel is completely wrong on this occasion. Surely, a state has a right and a responsibility to protect its borders. The sort of language I have heard-----
The sort of language I have heard in the House does the proponents of each position no good, in particular when we hear calls for the President of this country to become political and make a statement on this. That does no good. It shows that we do not even understand-----
There is also talk of expelling the Israeli ambassador. This sort of talk is ridiculous. One of those detained is a former Fianna Fáil Deputy. If we want to put pressure on the Israelis, perhaps if we sent an entire boatload of former Fianna Fáil Deputies-----
I support the call for the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to attend the House to discuss this issue in a balanced, mature and democratic way and without demonising one party or the other, which adds no merit to the argument.
I support the call by Senator Ó Murchú and others for a debate on the Gaza situation but I do not want it to be a political one. As far as I am concerned, this is a humanitarian issue. These are decent people who are friends of ours. Reference was made to former a Fianna Fáil Deputy, Chris Andrews, who has a long record in human rights, as did his late father. They are not out there for fun. They are genuine people and we must support them. I would like a debate to take place.
Will the Leader arrange for the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to attend the House to debate local government? We have not had a debate on local government for some time and there is a threat to its future. It is only ten years since we celebrated the centenary of county councils. It is one of the few things the British left us which has proved to be positive and valuable.
There is a serious threat to local government as we approach the budget and there is a fair amount of speculation about the abolition of town councils, which I will oppose because it would be a disaster, and a VEC-type amalgamation of councils. If the VEC template is used, it will be a disaster. Many of us became Members of this House through the councils and we are dependent on county councillors to keep us here. It is a very democratic system. I want to see the role of the councillor and our county councils protected. Will the Leader arrange such a debate?
I wish to join in the debate on Gaza. I visited Gaza as a Member of the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee four weeks after Israel used extreme force, cluster munitions and white phosphorus and got away with it. More than 1,400 people were killed. I fully support the call for a debate on this matter. However, it is important we put it into perspective. Pressure on Israel must come from Europe and the United States because they are the big players.
I am aware of that but I would like to put it into perspective. Israel is the fourth largest exporter of arms in the world and yet in a four year period, it imported $1.4 billion worth of arms and munitions.
While the protest helps to highlight the issue, the real pressure should come from Europe and the US because they can force a change in policy. There is a need for a change in policy in this area.
It is important we debate the matter and that we convey our concerns about the way this issue is being dealt with. I was in Gaza two years ago but nothing has changed since then or in the past 25 to 30 years. The question is whether a similar debate will be held again in 30 years' time, not necessarily in this House but in Dáil Éireann. It is time for pressure from Europe and the US. That is why a debate would be helpful.
On two consecutive days, there have been extensive calls for the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to attend the House. Yesterday, the main issue in that regard was the closure of the embassy in the Holy See and today, it is Gaza. We have there two reasons the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade should attend the House today. It would be helpful if the Leader could express his commitment to asking him to attend the House.
Yesterday, the Leader expressed the hope that were economic circumstances to permit, the embassy to the Holy See would be re-opened. This is in danger of becoming a running sore among many of good will and some date on the door would be a good idea. We have targets in overseas development aid which we will hopefully reach at a particular date. It would be a mature signal from the Government if it indicated when the embassy may re-open.
Senator Noone and others raised the matter of alcohol abuse on yesterday's Order of Business. Today, reports state cases of treatment for alcohol abuse are up by over 40% since 2005, another running sore. The Minister of State at the Department of Health with responsibility for primary care, Deputy Shortall, described below-cost selling of alcohol, as well as advertising targeting young people, as irresponsible.
Many of us will have heard the stirring interview by Seán O'Rourke with a man who lost his son as a result, partially, of alcohol abuse. That man pointed the finger at low-cost selling of alcohol and house parties which allow young people to drink in an unrestricted environment. This issue needs to be addressed in this House soon.
With regard to whether we should be concerned about alcohol advertising targeted at young people, I believe it is past time we got rid of all alcohol advertising. I have called for the banning of alcohol advertising at sporting and cultural events. We need to face up to this as a major issue in our society which has major consequences for public health now and will have in the future as the rising cost of treating people in later life as a result of alcohol abuse will become clear and stark. Will the Leader arrange a debate on this matter soon?
I support the calls for a debate on the Gaza issue. Whether we like it or not on either side of the House, 14 Irish citizens are in Givon prison in Israel, arrested and detained against their wills in an aggressive, determined and disgusting manner. I also support the calls made regarding the Israeli ambassador to Ireland. He does have a responsibility in this case. He is in our jurisdiction and he should answer questions posed in the Dáil and Seanad. If we cannot fulfil this onus of responsibility and have a debate on this matter, we are doing a disservice to the 14 Irish citizens being held against their will in Givon prison. I hope the Leader will accede to requests for a debate on this issue either today or tomorrow with the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade.
I wish to propose another amendment to the Order of Business, namely that the Seanad debates the issue of septic tank charges under the Water Services (Amendment) Bill. Yesterday, we learned this Bill will be introduced in this House next Wednesday. The charge will criminalise those with septic tanks in rural areas.
I second Senator Ó Domhnaill's amendment to the Order of Business. While I accept the Leader has explained the Water Services (Amendment) Bill will be before the House next Wednesday, it is important adequate time is given to debate septic tank charges, a serious issue particularly to people in rural areas who, on the face of it will face a €50 registration fee, when in reality they will face bills of up to €12,000 to rectify problems with their septic tanks. While I have no difficulty with such remedial works being carried out, they should be accompanied with a substantial grant for the works. That, however, is not part of the legislation.
I support Senator O'Sullivan's request for a debate on local government reform. I have raised this too on several occasions over the past several months. It is important the Minister responsible outlines his plans for local government reform with particular emphasis on what he intends to do in reducing the number of county councillors and his plans for town councils. Rumours are circulating he will abolish the town councils, a proposal I would strongly oppose.
I agree with Senator Mullen on the need to ban alcohol advertising. Any approach by the Minister of State, Deputy Shortall, to increase the price of alcohol should be done on an all-Ireland basis. Coming from a Border county, I am only too aware of droves of people from as far away as Cork and Kerry going to the North to purchase large quantities of alcohol. Increasing drinks prices will have no effect but to damage our economy if it is not applied on an all-Ireland basis.
Senators Darragh O'Brien, Coghlan, Conway, Norris and several others raised the issue of interest rate cuts. The Government agrees with the Financial Regulator who has stated he will not tolerate unfair increases being put on variable mortgage holders to make up for the banks' past mistakes. Apart from the recent European Central Bank interest rate decrease, the Financial Regulator has said he will be assessing the matter carefully. The Central Bank has also stated it will consider seeking additional legislative powers to force the limit on the interest rate charged by the banks. The Taoiseach has already given an undertaking that he will consider this request and the Government will take quick action on the matter. The Government wants all the banks, not just State-supported ones, to treat their customers fairly in this regard.
My office is making inquiries if the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Brian Hayes, will be available either today or tomorrow for a debate on appointments to the European Court of Auditors and the capital programme. However, I cannot offer a guarantee in this regard. Ministers have various commitments and I cannot say whether the Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, will be available next week. Nevertheless, I will endeavour to facilitate a debate on the matter, subject to the availability of the Ministers. Everybody will agree that the Ministers in question have a very busy schedule and have treated this House with the utmost respect in attending debates at every opportunity. I will ask them to accommodate us next week for a debate on this issue, but I cannot guarantee it will be possible.
I refer to a debate on the ECB rate cut and on the appointment to the European Court of Auditors. I have given the position clearly in regard to the rate cut.
Several Senators called for the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to attend the House for a debate on the situation in Gaza. Deportation orders have been made against all 14 Irish citizens and arrangements are being made by the Department this morning to secure flights home for all of them. That should be in place within hours. The Irish ambassador and the deputy head of mission are in daily contact with all 14 Irish citizens. Their welfare and safe return home is a priority for the Department. I will endeavour to have the Minister come to the House as soon as possible for a broad-ranging debate on foreign affairs, as requested by several Members.
Various Senators called for a debate on local government with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. The latter will be in the House after the Order of Business for statements on the community and voluntary sector. I hope all the Members who called for that particular debate will contribute to it. The Minister has come to the House on several occasions and has been very co-operative in his dealings with us. I am sure he will be willing to facilitate Senators in their calls for a debate on local government.
In regard to septic tank inspections, I stated yesterday that there will be a debate next week. Some Members speak about facilitating debates. We will have a debate on the Bill next week and I assure Senators I will give as much time as they require for that debate. We will have an open-ended Second Stage debate. I hope all the wind that is blowing here will blow again next week when the debate take place. Senators will have plenty of time to discuss the matter.
The Minister will be sure to dispel the scaremongering that has arisen in this regard.
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh referred to problems with traffic in Galway city. I would have thought the mayor, Councillor Hildegarde Naughton, would be in a position to bring together all stakeholders to deal with the matter.
However, I will bring the matter to the attention of the Minister. Senator Ó Clochartaigh also called for the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to come to the House for a debate. I will endeavour to arrange that as soon as possible.
Senator Darragh O'Brien has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate on the necessity of ensuring that all banks and lending institutions pass on the reduction in the interest rate to their customers be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
The Seanad Divided:
For the motion: 16 (John Crown, David Cullinane, Mark Daly, Terry Leyden, Paschal Mooney, David Norris, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Darragh O'Brien, Denis O'Donovan, Ned O'Sullivan, Averil Power, Kathryn Reilly, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Against the motion: 31 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Terry Brennan, Colm Burke, Deirdre Clune, Eamonn Coghlan, Paul Coghlan, Michael Comiskey, Martin Conway, Maurice Cummins, Michael D'Arcy, John Gilroy, Jimmy Harte, Fidelma Healy Eames, Imelda Henry, Caít Keane, John Kelly, Denis Landy, Fiach MacConghail, Maire Maloney, Mary Moran, Tony Mulcahy, Rónán Mullen, Michael Mullins, Catherine Noone, Pat O'Neill, Feargal Quinn, Tom Shehan, Jillian van Turnhout, John Whelan, Katherine Zappone)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and John Gilroy.
Amendment declared lost.