Wednesday, 14 December 2011
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Private Members' business, Fiscal Responsibility (Statement) Bill 2011, to be taken at 3 p.m. and to conclude no later than 5 p.m; and No. 2, Jurisdiction of Courts and Enforcement of Judgments (Amendment) Bill 2011 — Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1 and the time allocated to this debate shall not exceed one hour.
Today's business is extremely light. Having a sos between completion of the Order of Business, probably at noon, and Private Members' business at 3 p.m is a poor use of our time and reflects badly on us. I do not suggest the Leader is doing this but I hope it is not being done for the sake of optics in light of the upcoming debate on the existence of this House. A three hour sos is not good enough. We have enough business issues of national and international importance to discuss. My colleague Senator Burke and others have raised on numerous occasions the fact that this Chamber should scrutinise European legislation. That would be a productive use of our time and Senators across the House could do the job extremely well because we have a broad breadth of knowledge and experience in this Chamber and we pay more attention to legislation than many of our colleagues in the Lower House. I speak from experience as one who has served in the Lower House. I am very disappointed that there is a three hour sos today and I hope in the new year such situations will not occur again.
If colleagues are bored with me raising the issue of the mortgage arrears implementation strategy, I am sorry but the Keane report is nearly 11 weeks old. The Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Brian Hayes, in good faith came to the House and gave a bold statement that the strategy that will address the almost 10% of people in the country whose mortgages are in arrears, would be published before the budget. The budget has gone. My colleague Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance when the strategy would be published and he said not before the budget but before the Christmas recess. Today is Wednesday and there are two days left. Will the Leader confirm the mortgage implementation arrears strategy, which is supposed to assist homeowners in great distress coming up to Christmas, will be published this week?
I also wish to raise the ECB interest rate cut. Has the Government brought in any of the banks over the most recent rate cut? Bank of Ireland, which did not pass on the previous cut of 0.25%, this time decided it would pass on only a cut of 0.14%, not the full rate decrease. What is the Government doing about that and about the other institutions that have not passed on those rate cuts?
I called for a debate on education yesterday. That should be the first thing we discuss when we come back on 11 January. Disadvantaged schools, guidance counsellors and the European and second languages programme in primary schools have all seen cuts. Some 500 primary schools are teaching children second languages, predominantly European languages. Everyone agrees there is a grave deficit of knowledge and experience as a country in second and third languages so why is that being cut? I ask the Leader, therefore, to ensure this is the first debate we have when we get back, and I do not care if the Minister for Education and Skills attends, it could be the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. The idea must come from this House that education is how we will get out of our difficulties. That has been proven time and again.
Given it is the last week and we are waiting for things to come from the Dáil, some difficulty was inevitable. I entirely agree, however, with levels of scrutiny of legislation on Committee Stage. This House has generally had a high standard of debate, particularly on Committee Stage, where we offer a higher level of scrutiny. That debate will be more common in the new year.
I am looking forward to a debate early in the new year on the electoral amendment (political funding) Bill. I was delighted to see it was approved by Cabinet yesterday and will be published this week. It is likely to start in the Seanad, something we should all welcome. The Seanad is the only House of the two that has ever had a debate on women's participation in politics. We had that debate in May 2010 on foot of the report I had authored for the justice committee on women's participation in politics, which recommended legislation requiring political parties to adopt a minimum proportion of candidates of each gender. I am delighted his Bill will now be introduced and that it will be done in the Seanad and I look forward to the debate in the new year. The international evidence is clear that unless we take positive steps and require political parties to adopt targets for the promotion of women in politics, we will not see any improvement in our poor figures for women's participation rates in politics. There was cross-party support in May 2010 when we debated the principle of positive action.
We all wish to send our sympathies to the families of the victims of the terrible massacre in the Belgian city of Liège yesterday. We will be debating foreign affairs early in the new year and we should discuss the massacre of civilians that has been occurring under the radar in Syria in recent months. Some dreadful reports are emerging, but very little is being reported of what is really happening because of the ban on foreign reportage. We might explore our foreign policy towards Syria when we have that debate.
I would like to ask for a debate on values. We start every day here with a prayer and the Constitution invokes the central mysteries of the Christian religion. People are sometimes diffident about this and every year we hear that in certain places Christmas trees are found objectionable, although I have never heard any Muslim, Jewish person or Buddhist object to them. I object strongly, however, to the National Irish Bank using words which come from the communion rite of mass, the words of Jesus Christ, "ask and ye shall receive". From a bank with a history that stinks like National Irish Bank, I find this grossly offensive and the bank should remind itself that Jesus Christ scourged the money changers and usurers out of the temple.
We had here yesterday a Minister from a party that at one stage had some socialist leanings who seemed in at least one statement to epitomise the most ruthless form of capitalism, saying that people should receive in proportion to what they put in. There is a mysterious text in the Bible, "For he that hath, to him shall be given, and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath". If this is the Government's policy I would like to know more about it. I would like to know why the Model School in my constituency is having so many teachers removed in an area where there is a terrible drugs problem and generational unemployment. This will cause enormous destruction down the road. In Grangegorman, the victims, the most vulnerable in society, who are there because of illness, have been turned into prisoners and locked in. I would like to know how many other institutions in this country do the same.
We have an opportunity to do something about this. We have been told by the Taoiseach on more than one occasion that we are on death row as far as he is concerned. I remember a film called "The Shawshank Redemption" and even there the prisoners banged their mess tins against the cell walls, they made a protest and went out to the strains of great classical music. Under the Constitution of this country we are charged with defending the rights of the people. That is more important than any party allegiance.
We have an opportunity to stand up and on the budgetary matters, we should look at this and stand not for parties but for the people or Ireland and strike a blow, because it is our constitutional responsibility to revise legislation if it is not satisfactory, if it conflicts with the values of the Irish people. It is our moral responsibility, each and every one of use, whether we are members of a party, independent or nominated by the Taoiseach, to strike a blow and at least then we will show we have had some value to the people of Ireland and have lived up to the Constitution under which we work.
Yes, I am calling for a debate on the values that lie beneath what is happening in this country. I do not think they should be commercialised. I was horrified to learn the largest selling game in history is a violent war game that is sold at Christmas. What are our values? Are we Christians? I have previously expressed reservations about the prayer not because I am anti-religious but because I believe in the separation of church and State. If we say these things, however, let us at least mean them.
I agree with Senator Darragh O'Brien on the need to promote education. The Seanad is the forum where we could do such a thing with the cross-party and independent unity Senator Norris mentioned. Today the ESRI has published a very significant report by researcher, Dr. Dorothy Watson. It shows that pupils who we might regard as being weaker pupils do not benefit from being streamed. They have low esteem and their achievement is less than if they were in a class of mixed ability.
The converse is that those of higher ability do not benefit from being in a streamed class with like pupils of higher ability. We are managing a flawed system where the outcomes show that it needs to be changed. It is deeply important because it goes to the core of education. Our focus should be on outcomes based on quality teaching and learning in our schools. We should have frequent education debates in this House. The Minister should come to the House. I want to see an improvement in our education system so that our children can have better outcomes.
Senator Norris's rousing rally reminded me to remind the House that this week commemorates the disastrous tragedy at the battle of Fredericksburg during the American Civil War when Thomas Francis Meagher led the fighting 69th Regiment and many lives were lost. An interesting article in the "Irishman's Diary" section of The Irish Times, which I commend to the House, pointed out that what lifted their spirits afterwards was a rousing rally by one of the captains who broke into his favourite song that became a rallying cry throughout the decades. I was expecting Senator Norris to finish his flourish with "Ireland Boys, Hurrah".
This is the first significant country-specific and certainly pro-Irish legislation in 15 years since the Donnelly and Morrison visas. I commend Senator Schumer, who with the help of Mr. Niall O'Dowd and the Irish immigration lobby in New York have been actively involved in trying to get some meaningful immigration reform. Lest anybody might think that these comments are in some way encouraging emigration, the reason I welcome it — I am sure the Leader will agree — is that there are young well educated Irish people who sadly do not have jobs here but who voluntarily leave to upskill and then return later. That is now a firmly established pattern.
There is a distinction between voluntary and involuntary emigration. If it means the country with which we have the strongest cultural, historical and economic ties will permit 10,000 Irish citizens to enter the United States and work for a short period, it will ultimately benefit this country and I hope it will address not only those, who may wish to avail of this voluntarily if the Bill is passed, but also those who are currently undocumented in the United States. Would the Leader consider inviting the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to come to the House to discuss the immigration-emigration issue? It is important for us to have an opportunity to discuss the impact it is having and to convey to the general public that sometimes emigration of itself is not necessarily tragic, but involuntary emigration is.
I add my concerns to those of Senator Darragh O'Brien. I know, based on what Senator Bacik has said about the times——
I echo Senator Bacik's comments about the people of Liège, who are obviously struggling to cope with the events of yesterday and the deaths of some of their citizens. I ask the Leader if the Minister for Health might consider an idea from the UK — the Good Care Guide, which is an online service to encourage users and their families to rate care homes for the elderly. However, it is not just an online service. The UK is also introducing patient rights groups called "Health Watch". These are committees which include representation from relatives of care users. These health-watch teams will be enabled by legislation to visit care homes as independent visitors with full visiting rights. However, this will be done in conjunction with the online guide. It would be very simple, effective and useful to introduce some level of scrutiny of care homes. I do not suggest that this would replace HIQA's work. However, patients and their families would have a role and a capacity to observe what is going on. These ideas came from conversations with families of users about how they felt they could be assisted to better help their elderly relatives. It would be useful and cost effective, and could be set up relatively quickly. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Health to consider introducing such a system?
I welcome the announcement that the Minister will convene a forum with health insurers to address the issue of the excessive price increases they seek. He is quoted as saying that in some cases he feels 4% would be adequate while some of the companies are claiming as much as 25%. Last week we referred to our wish that the regulation of the health insurance sector should be moved to the Central Bank.
I refer also to the issues in the Milliman report. I know the Leader will ask the Minister to come to the House to discuss some of the matters in that, such as keeping people for inpatient medical treatment for 10.6 days when 3.7 is recommended and keeping people for 7.5 days for surgical inpatient admissions when it should also be 3.7. It indicates that up to 10% of people are being admitted to hospitals without due cause and perfectly healthy young people are being admitted for tests and being detained overnight. There are many issues that need to be teased out. I know the Leader has asked the Minister to come to the House to discuss them. Will the Leader convey to the Minister that these talks with the insurance companies are welcome and long overdue? We hope the Milliman report will be circulated to Senators without having had the important parts redacted as the copy circulated last week had. Many Senators on the Government side had important points to make about the excessive cost of health insurance. I welcome the Minister's initiative and ask the Leader to convey my request to the Minister.
I agree with Senator Barrett on the matter of health insurance. I have previously referred to a particular health care provider that is prepared to reduce costs by 6% but still the VHI will not offer cover to people admitted to that care unit. I filed a complaint on the matter which is now under investigation by the Competition Authority.
We are coming up to Christmas and although we are in difficult times, there will be a considerable amount of money spent between now and Christmas Day. It is important to highlight the need for people to buy Irish.
Interestingly, a story appeared in a newspaper this morning about a GAA club, which raised the issue of how tickets for the all-Ireland hurling and football finals are printed outside Ireland. The club in question intends to table a motion to ensure that all work done by the GAA is given to Irish companies. This highlights what can be done here to keep jobs and work in Ireland. This is a time when, more than ever, this needs to be done and when buying for Christmas, people should buy Irish and should support those who work in Ireland. This is an important issue Members should continue to highlight. Perhaps they should have a debate in the new year on the promotion of Irish goods at home and on bringing back support to Irish industry at home because there has been a tendency to deviate from that and to buy products that are not produced here even though they are available from companies operating here. When the agenda for the coming months is set, I seek the inclusion of a debate on this issue.
Jesus Christ, Joe Hill and Thomas Francis Meagher already have been mentioned this morning and I wonder what any of those individuals would make of the cuts in education that have been announced by the Government. Senator Jim D'Arcy stated — I believe him in terms of his passion — that he wishes to see changes in education. Members should consider the changes announced in this budget that affect disadvantaged schools. A total of 38 concessionary teaching posts will be withdrawn from 15 non-DEIS primary schools and 102 concessionary posts will be withdrawn from 52 urban band two DEIS schools. As for the support teacher project, 43 posts will be withdrawn from 48 primary schools. A further 45 concessionary posts regarding the breaking the cycle scheme will be withdrawn, as will 64 concessionary posts in 59 primary schools and 136 concessionary posts in 163 post-primary schools. The latter posts are in schools that were covered by the giving children an even break programme. The Minister's response is that these are legacy posts. This is an absolute disgrace because these are posts that are needed in schools which suffer from disadvantage. This morning, the principal of St. Saviour's primary school contacted me because of her great concern about the impact this will have in her school. The aforementioned school had 27 teacher posts in 2010 but by the end of next year, it will have 20 such posts. The point made by the principal was that the school had been successful in improving the reading, writing and numeracy skills of children who needed additional learning support and all this could be undone, were these teaching posts to be withdrawn.
Consequently, I propose an amendment to the Order of Business today. Given that Members face a three-hour sos, the Minister for Education and Skills should come into the House to discuss the impact the loss of 428 posts in primary schools across this State will have in inner-city Dublin, Waterford city, Cork city and urban areas. Moreover, many one to four-teacher schools in rural areas may be forced to close because of what has been announced in this budget. I note Senator Jim D'Arcy spoke of unity in respect of education. However, if one is serious about the future of education and about being positive, there cannot be unity when the Government proposes to take 428 teaching posts from those schools that need them most. As Sinn Féin cannot support that, there will not be unity. The Minister of Education and Skills must come into the House to explain matters to the principals of those schools in Waterford, Dublin, Cork and elsewhere who will be devastated by the cuts announced in the budget.
I will respond to the previous comment made by Senator Cullinane. DEIS is a new and wider classification for disadvantaged schools that followed the giving children an even break programme. I would welcome a clarification in this regard from the Minister, Deputy Quinn, to whom my second item this morning also pertains. In the previous Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Science, the Minister, Deputy Quinn, sat beside me and I acknowledge his concern for disadvantaged schools. He strongly supported my study on early school leaving, which largely emerged from disadvantaged schools. He was the main proponent of that study and consequently, I have every confidence the Minister, Deputy Quinn, will address any injustice there may be in this regard. However, my reading of this situation is that DEIS was a new classification that came on top of the giving children an even break programme and perhaps there was an imbalance that now has been ratified. However, Members should wait and get an answer in this regard.
The main issue I wish to raise with the Leader today concerns the need for a comprehensive debate in the new year on bullying. I do not believe such a debate has ever taken place in this House. Bullying affects children, young people and adults. Conventional bullying has caused the suicide of young people in Ireland and I recall the terrible death of that young girl from County Clare, Phoebe Prince, when she went to America and was bullied there. In this regard, I commend the work of the National Anti-Bullying Coalition. However, I draw Members' attention to the grave dangers of cyber-bullying through social media and social networking and in particular, I refer to Facebook. A wonderful report appeared in this morning's edition of the Irish Independent concerning a 16 year old, who has been obliged to consult a psychologist, is now on antidepressants and who was obliged to move schools. His parents were obliged to approach the American Embassy to get Facebook to take down the child's site to stop him from being bullied. While the country faces austerity, tough budgets and really tough times, this is something Members genuinely can try to do something about through legislation. It is time that social media were regulated, as this has gone too far and is hurting the lives of too many children, young people and adults. I look forward to such a debate in the new year.
I raise with the Leader a matter he may bring to the attention of the Minister for Justice and Equality, who will be in the House this evening. I refer to the military judge issue on which I locked horns with the Minister last July. Members may recall that there was a huge debate in the House in which I was criticised, as was the previous Minister for Defence, Mr. Tony Killeen, for delaying the legislation. It is almost six months later, Members are in the run-up to the Christmas recess and I understand this appointment has not been made. I raise this question in a sensible fashion, because the Minister may be able to throw some light on the issue in the House this evening. I note several judicial appointments have been made since July. Second, the Minister told Members there was a huge backlog of issues concerning military courts martial and so on that had to be dealt with urgently. Since then, he has had the power to second a Circuit Court judge for three or four weeks to clear the backlog, if necessary, but apparently this has not been done. Does the Minister consider there to be a need for a military judge? I note the Defence Forces are dwindling and so many barracks now have been closed that one would hardly recognise the Defence Forces here. What is the entire cost to the State at present of a military judge in respect of the judge's pay, clerk, driver and so on?
During last July's debate, I suggested to the Minister that just as there is an Admiralty Division of the High Court to deal with seafaring matters, he could consider appointing a Circuit Court judge to engage partially in military work and partially in civil or criminal work, which would make a great deal of sense. Perhaps the Minister might have answers in this regard. Members had a tough and lengthy debate on the issue in this House. At the time, the Minister, his officials and some representatives from RACO might have thought I was ratcheting up the issue. It was far from that. I had good reasons for raising the matter and I am deeply concerned that almost six months later, this appointment has not been made. As the Minister is scheduled to be in this House this evening, he will have an opportunity to clarify the issue. I always try to be fair and reasonable. I offer this opportunity for the Minister to explain. If he is unable to do so this evening, he should return to the House in the new year to explain why the measure was bulldozed through this House as an item of urgency when, six months later, no appointment has been made.
The issue of education appears to be highly topical in the Seanad today and rightly so. I note the presence of children in the Visitors' Gallery and I welcome them to the Seanad. Speaking on education is one of the Seanad's primary aims and Members should try to change things for the better. Senator Jim D'Arcy spoke earlier on the new ESRI study that has been conducted on streaming and it is the matter on which I also intend to speak. While Senator D'Arcy mentioned Dr. Dorothy Watson, Dr. Emer Smyth and Dr. Selina McCoy were the co-authors of the report on streaming, Improving Second-Level Education: Using Evidence for Policy Development. The debate on this matter has been ongoing for some time and this is not the first report compiled in respect of it. In 2007 the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment issued a report, the findings contained in which were exactly the same as those in the report to which I refer. We can discuss this matter until the cows come home——
——but that will not be of assistance to the children who are being streamed. I compliment those schools which, on a voluntary basis, do not engage in streaming. It has been found that children who are streamed on entering first year often do not have upward mobility and instead remain at the level at which they initially enter the system. This does them a disservice and their parents should be aware of that fact.
As Senator Jim D'Arcy stated, there is a need for a debate on this matter. We must take action in order to educate parents, teachers and those who run our schools that a disservice is being done to our children. On previous occasions I referred to the multiple intelligences of children. In that context, not all of the abilities of children are taken into consideration when streaming takes place. The Minister must come before the House to discuss this matter, in respect of which action must be taken.
The study to which I refer contemplated 100 reports from other jurisdictions and also the Irish research carried out in this area. It is fine to carry out studies and engage in discussions in the Seanad but I am of the view that action should be taken in respect of this matter. Senator Healy Eames and Senator Cullinane referred to the DEIS schools. It has been found that streaming is used more in disadvantaged schools than is the case in other schools. This results in a disservice being done to certain students.
I propose that the Order of Business be amended in order that the Taoiseach might come before the House to discuss the future of democracy in this country. I do not wish to be overly dramatic but the Taoiseach is a member of a party which prides itself on having — with some small exceptions during its history — a great adherence to democracy. It was one of the first parties to hand over power peacefully to those it had militarily defeated in a bitter civil war. That is a fact of which the entire nation should be proud. However, I am somewhat concerned regarding some of the commitments to democracy that are being exhibited by the Government. I refer to two issues in particular. The first of these relates to the decisions made at the recent EU summit and the widely-rumoured impending transfer of a chunk of national power and sovereignty to entities outside the State. This may or may not be the right thing to do. I am not in a position to make a judgment on the matter but I will offer an opinion if I am given the opportunity to do so when it counts. It is essential that the Taoiseach be given the message in person in the House that this is not a matter in respect of which the opinion of the single lawyer who advises the Government should be paramount. This issue will have to be put to the people in a referendum. I am of the view that the matter is non-discretionary in nature. If we are going to effect a major transfer of power, then what I am suggesting must be done.
The second issue relates to the cornerstone of democracy in any country, namely, its national parliament. As Members are aware, I have strong opinions regarding the need to reform both Houses of our national Parliament. I also have strong opinions on where the responsibility lies in respect of the decisions that were made which gave rise to the extraordinarily difficult circumstances in which we find ourselves. Those decisions were not made in Seanad Éireann, although I believe those in the House at the time probably had a partial passive culpability because they were asleep at the tiller. The Taoiseach has indicated that the constitutional convention will be established next year and has specifically excluded any discussion by it of the future of one half of our national Parliament. It was reported in the newspapers in recent days that a decision has been made to hold an early referendum — perhaps a solitary referendum — on the future of the Seanad. It was also reported that the arrangements for existing Senators may be somewhat different to those which were widely rumoured at the time when the discussions concerning a referendum originally took place.
I find myself occupying a peculiar position in respect of this matter. If the Seanad ends abruptly at some point next year and I am no longer a Senator, I will be better off financially. That is a fact. Being a Member of this House costs me money. I have another job to go to. I stated in all of my election literature that I will never run for the Seanad again under the electoral rules which currently obtain in respect of it because I believe these to be an affront to democracy. I am of the view that I have some authority in being an advocate in respect of this matter. It is essential that something as fundamental as the future of our country's Parliament should be discussed here.
This is the third occasion on which I have suggested that the Taoiseach should come before the House. I have voiced major objections to people using the voting procedures of the Seanad in order to delay its proceedings. Today, however, I will press for a full vote on my amendment——
——because people on both sides of the House must indicate what they believe to be the future of the Seanad and the say we should have in respect of it. In spirit, the Seanad is supposed to be different to the Dáil. I intend no disrespect to full-time politicians but the original idea was that individuals of a different skill set would become Members of this House. One of the reasons the Seanad has garnered its bad reputation is because the original idea to which I refer has been subverted by those full-time politicians and used for purposes other than bringing in Members with a variety of skills at their disposal.
I am of the view that a certain discipline in conducting the hours of business of this House is essential. It is regrettable that those hours have been changed this week and that we are to have a sos of several hours' duration following the Order of Business.
That is why I have quite a clear conscience in the context of requiring everyone to vote on my amendment. I know the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, is a busy man but perhaps if he has nothing better to do, he might come before the House during the sos in order to outline his future plans for our national Parliament.
I agree with Senator Colm Burke's suggestion that we should support Irish businesses and products in the run-up to Christmas. Everyone is aware that the retail sector is experiencing a difficult period and that many businesses are hanging on by the skin of their teeth. The Christmas period is going to be crucial for such businesses. It goes without saying that the banks are not assisting small businesses. This week, a business in the town in which I live was obliged to close its doors because the relevant bank decided to withdraw its overdraft facility. This is a serious development.
Will the Leader request that Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, to come before the House early in the new year to discuss the operation of the fair deal scheme and to indicate why it is taking so long to process applications? I raise this matter because a 68 year old woman in the constituency in which I reside is awaiting a decision in respect of her application under the fair deal scheme. The woman qualifies under the scheme but she is facing an uncertain future. She was discharged from hospital and sent to a community nursing unit for a six-week respite period but she was then informed that she will be obliged to leave until her application has been processed. The woman cannot afford a private nursing home. It is not acceptable that an 86 year old woman should be obliged to endure the stress of not knowing when her application under the fair deal scheme will be processed. The Minister should instruct the HSE to ensure that applications for the scheme will be processed in a much more timely manner.
In that event, I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to the effect that No. 11 on the Order Paper be introduced today. I also wish to second Senator Cullinane's amendment. The legislation to which I refer relates to a matter we discussed in the House on 29 January last in respect of the lack of transparency in NAMA. In June, the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, voiced his concern with regard to developers buying back their own properties. NAMA put in place a website in July but, unfortunately, it is far from transparent. In recent weeks, a former director of Anglo Irish Bank who lent money to a consortium which bought the Four Seasons Hotel bought that property on behalf of another consortium. These developments are deeply disturbing. There is a lack of transparency in the way NAMA and Anglo Irish Bank are conducting their business and selling loans and property.
An Australian newspaper recently carried an interesting article on how a former worker at the UniCredit Bank Ireland — an Italian financial institution based in Dublin — left his job when his boss asked him to engage in illegal activity. He has said he went to the Financial Regulator to tell him what was going on, but four years later the regulator has still not come to a conclusion on what happened in Unicredit Bank. It truly was the Wild West of banking in the western world.
I ask that the Bill listed on the Order Paper be introduced and discussed as soon as possible.
I commend the work of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform in its attempts to get 10,000 visas for Irish people. This does not relate to the undocumented Irish. I met Bruce Morrison and Ciaran Staunton in Washington three weeks ago and we went to Capitol Hill to lobby Congress and Senators to get this done, a task in which we wish them well, as it will not be easy.
The issue I raise is similar to that raised by Senator Mark Daly. It concerns the immigration Bill introduced by Senator Charles Schumer in the United States Senate yesterday. It is noteworthy that the Senator has stated that if the Bill is not successful on this occasion, he will try to bring forward a Bill in next year's legislative programme. It is encouraging that the US Senate is actively taking steps to facilitate Irish citizens who want to go to work in the United States, which has been a tradition for many years. This is welcome news for Irish people working in the United States. It is also understood such a visa would be renewed on a two yearly basis, much the same as what is being done in Australia. Mr. James O'Malley, an immigration lawyer in Ireland, has stated the Irish have been accustomed to going to the United States since the Donnelly-Morrison green card lottery in the late 1980s. That legislation set a 40% quota for people who wanted to travel from 1989 to 1996. I will contact the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, in the coming days to ensure this measure is supported. We look forward to the passage of the Bill through the US Congress.
I support colleagues on this side of the House in encouraging people to buy Irish during the Christmas period. We produce 1 million turkeys and while there are many imports available, it would be a great boost to the economy if people were to buy Irish turkeys.
I am normally reluctant to propose or second an amendment that would delay the work of the House and a Minister due to come here to speak to us, but I listened carefully to what Senator Crown had to say and he made a strong case. It is with pleasure, therefore, that I support his proposed amendment to the Order of Business to request the Taoiseach to come to the House today to debate the issue of democracy. We are not only talking about the Seanad but, to a large extent, also about a proposal made by the Taoiseach a number of months ago that has not been discussed in this House. It is time we discussed it. I think back to the 1790s when the Members of Grattan's Parliament decided to abolish themselves. If the Seanad is abolished in the future, the legislation to provide for this will have to pass through this House. A majority of Members in the House would have to call for the holding of a referendum because that is the legislation that would be required. Therefore, we would be like the Members of Grattan's Parliament who said they were committing suicide in deciding to absolve themselves and go to Westminster instead. I think they received bribes to do so.
——but I suggest democracy will be damaged if we end up in a situation where we will have only one House. In the 18 years I have been a Member of this House I have seen mistakes made by the other House. I am sure mistakes have been made in this House also, but when the mistakes made in the other House were scrutinised here, democracy improved. We have been able to say to the Lower House that we corrected a mistake it made. Therefore, having only one Chamber that is often ruled by one party, in which the Whip is used to ensure there is no debate and Members do what they are told, will result in democracy being damaged. We should have a debate soon on the future of this House and I cannot think of a better time to have it than today. Senator John Crown has proposed that in the few hours during which there will be a gap in proceedings the Taoiseach should come to the House to give us his opinions on this subject and allow us to debate it.
I, too, welcome the developments yesterday in the United States on the provision of visas for Irish people who wish to travel to the United States. I suggest to the Leader that it might be a good idea to invite the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to come to the House in the new year for a debate on the undocumented Irish in America. The people concerned would love to be able to come home for Christmas, but legally they cannot do so. If they do, it is more than likely that they will be unable to get back into America. In 2007 I attended a rally held in Washington for the undocumented Irish to support the Kennedy-McCain legislation which, unfortunately, collapsed at the eleventh hour. I hope we are looking at a new dawn for the illegal Irish living abroad and that a pathway to legalisation will be created. The people concerned want to live, work, pay their taxes and take out health insurance legally in the United States in which they want to play a full part in their communities. They do not want to live there illegally. All they want is a channel to become full American citizens because America is now their home, but, importantly, they also want to be able to travel home freely and without any difficulties to visit their loved ones, attend weddings and, unfortunately, funerals. That is a basic human right Irish people living abroad for 15 to 20 years deserve and the Government has a duty of care to them. It should work with the American authorities and those in America who have at their core the betterment of Irish communities abroad. I support Senators Mark Daly, Michael Comiskey and others in the work they do and look forward to working with them to ensure this matter can be brought to a satisfactory resolution.
I join other speakers in their comments on the future of the House. It is a rare occasion on which I would agree with Michael McDowell who has had many jobs, but membership of this House should be voluntary before it is abolished. That may be an unpopular view to hold——
——but if it is about the money, we can find a way around it. We could make the time commitments involved less onerous and have Members come here for a number of hours each week to ensure the legislation passed by the Dáil was appropriate for the country. Democracy demands a second House and that we have a debate on the future of this House with the Taoiseach or whomever he believes is equipped to deal with the matter. Unfortunately, I cannot support Senator John Crown's amendment to the Order of Business——
——and treat us in the way Members should be treated in this House. We need to know what will happen and the sooner we are apprised of the thoughts of the Taoiseach and others on the matter the better. As I have been doing for months, I ask for a debate on the future of the House.
Senator John Crown's idea that the Taoiseach should come to the House is an excellent one which I would support. It would not be reasonable or practicable to have him here today because of time constraints, but we could ask the Leader to arrange to have him come to the House for a debate on the issue on the earliest possible date. I am concerned about his comments on the future of the House in his state of the nation address and I would like to have an opportunity to express my concerns to him in a reasonable way. Perhaps the Senator might consider changing his amendment to take into consideration the constraints on the Taoiseach's time and to seek to have the debate held as early as possible.
Education and the future of the Seanad are the two issues that have dominated the Order of Business this morning. The Taoiseach gave a commitment to the people prior to the last general election that he would held a referendum on the future of this House. It is the people who will decide whether it is to continue, not the Taoiseach or anybody here. We have heard rumours in the last week. I was told by Members that there would be a Bill next week to provide for the holding of a referendum on the future of the Seanad, but there is no truth whatsoever in that assertion. I was then told we would have a Bill in January. I have checked the position and there is no truth in that assertion either. The one thing that is certain is that there will be a referendum on the future of the Seanad in 2012. That commitment has been given. In the meantime, no matter which way the referendum goes, this Seanad will continue to serve until the next general election. To the best of my knowledge, that is what is contained in the Constitution.
Therefore, we should get on with our business as best we can. However, I will try to arrange a debate on the matter early in the new year. I do not know whether I will be able to get the Taoiseach to address it, but I will try to arrange a debate for Members.
I gave notice last week that there would be gaps in the schedule of business on Wednesday and Friday because there was a possibility that several Bills would be brought before the House, including the Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2011 mentioned by Senator Ivana Bacik. We will deal with that legislation early in the new year. A number of other Bills were to have come back from the Dáil, but they will now not be taken until next year. That is why there are gaps in the schedule of business for today. Ministers cannot come here at the drop of a hat. They have commitments in their diaries to keep. Therefore, while it is everybody's prerogative to ask for Ministers to come here at the drop of a hat, it is not always practical for them to do so.
Senator David Norris raised a question about values. I am glad nobody was banging tin cans this morning. This question of being on death row should be forgotten about. Let us get on with our business; we should not be looking over our shoulders wondering about what might happen. I have the utmost trust in the people to decide what is right or wrong for this House. We can have debates on the issue.
Senators D'Arcy, O'Brien, David Cullinane, Cáit Keane and Fidelma Healy Eames are all looking for debates on different education issues. Some valid points were raised by these speakers and I will try to have the Minister for Education and Skills come before the House early in the new year to discuss them.
Senators Paschal Mooney, Mark Daly, Michael Comiskey and Martin Conway raised the issue of work visas for Irish citizens. We all hope the efforts being made to seek 10,000 work visas will be successful. We are all aware of the problems with the undocumented Irish. Senator Martin Conway highlighted their difficulty in not being able to return home for family events. Let us hope the 10,000 visas will be issued as a result of the work being done in the US Senate.
Senator Sean D. Barrett spoke about health insurance and expressed his delight that the Minister had arranged a meeting with the health insurance companies. Let us hope the meeting will bear fruit. The Senator also spoke about the Milliman report and hopes it will be circulated. I will check to see if it can be circulated to all Members.
Senators Colm Burke, Michael Mullins and Michael Comiskey spoke about buying Irish. This is a very important issue coming up to Christmas when people buy more goods than they usually do. I ask them to think and buy Irish. I am glad the printing of GAA tickets will be done in Ireland in the future.
A suggestion was made here a few weeks ago that during debates in the House Members have a few minutes each to present ideas for job creation in the new year. I hope to arrange this early next year. I also hope to have the Irish Commissioner before us to talk about job creation, innovation and research.
Senator Mark Daly has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business to have No.11 accepted. I was prepared to accept it, but the amendment was not seconded. It can be done tomorrow. As it is only a procedural matter, we can deal with it then.
In response to Senator Feargal Quinn, I do not think the option of peerages will be available to us one way or the other.
Senator David Cullinane has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate on the impact of the loss of 428 posts as a result of the budget proposals be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
The Seanad Divided:
For the motion: 14 (John Crown, David Cullinane, Mark Daly, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Paschal Mooney, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Darragh O'Brien, Denis O'Donovan, Averil Power, Feargal Quinn)
Against the motion: 33 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Terry Brennan, Colm Burke, Deirdre Clune, Eamonn Coghlan, Paul Coghlan, Michael Comiskey, Martin Conway, Maurice Cummins, Jim D'Arcy, Michael D'Arcy, John Gilroy, Jimmy Harte, Aideen Hayden, Fidelma Healy Eames, James Heffernan, Imelda Henry, Lorraine Higgins, Caít Keane, John Kelly, Denis Landy, Maire Maloney, Mary Moran, Tony Mulcahy, Michael Mullins, Catherine Noone, Susan O'Keeffe, Pat O'Neill, Tom Shehan, Jillian van Turnhout, John Whelan, Katherine Zappone)
Tellers: Tá, Senators David Cullinane and Paschal Mooney; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O'Keeffe..
Amendment declared lost.
The Seanad Divided:
For the motion: 16 (Thomas Byrne, John Crown, David Cullinane, Mark Daly, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Paschal Mooney, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Darragh O'Brien, Denis O'Donovan, Averil Power, Feargal Quinn, Katherine Zappone)
Against the motion: 32 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Terry Brennan, Colm Burke, Deirdre Clune, Eamonn Coghlan, Paul Coghlan, Michael Comiskey, Martin Conway, Maurice Cummins, Jim D'Arcy, Michael D'Arcy, John Gilroy, Jimmy Harte, Aideen Hayden, Fidelma Healy Eames, James Heffernan, Imelda Henry, Lorraine Higgins, Caít Keane, John Kelly, Denis Landy, Maire Maloney, Mary Moran, Tony Mulcahy, Michael Mullins, Catherine Noone, Susan O'Keeffe, Pat O'Neill, Tom Shehan, Jillian van Turnhout, John Whelan)
Tellers: Tá, Senators John Crown and Feargal Quinn; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O'Keeffe..
Amendment declared lost.
Senator Mark Daly proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 11, the NAMA and Irish Bank Resolution Corporation Transparency Bill 2011, be taken before No. 1 today." However, his amendment was not seconded during the debate and consequently falls.