Wednesday, 1 February 2012
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Water Services (Amendment) Bill 2011 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] - Report Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and conclude not later than 1.15 p.m.; No. 2, motion for earlier signature of the Water Services (Amendment) Bill 2011, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 1; No. 3, statements, questions and answers on local government reform, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2 and not to exceed one and a half hours, with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed five minutes and the contribution of the spokesperson for Sinn Féin not to exceed 2 minutes - Senators are asked to confine themselves to one minute when asking the Minister questions; and No. 21, motion No. 6, Private Members' business, to commence at 5 p.m. and conclude not later than 7 p.m.
For the information of the House, I have secured a commitment from the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs to discuss the EU fiscal treaty next week. At this stage I anticipate it will be the first item, after the Order of Business, on Tuesday.
I thank the Leader for securing a commitment from the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy Lucinda Creighton, on the holding of an important debate.
On the proposal concerning Report Stage of the Water Services (Amendment) Bill 2011, will the Leader allow additional time should it be required? The debate is due to conclude at 1.15 p.m. If Members are still offering, will the Leader give a commitment that he will extend the time allowed? I await his response before agreeing to support the Order of Business.
As I said, I am pleased the Leader has secured a commitment from the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy Lucinda Creighton, to come to the House next week. I am concerned about a report in the newspapers this morning in which a senior European official is quoted as saying, "We drafted the text for the treaty so that he [the Taoiseach] has a chance to avoid a referendum." That is extremely serious.
As part of its negotiating position, did the Government request EU partners to water down the treaty in such a fashion that the Irish people would not have a say in what is probably the most important fiscal treaty to be passed since we joined the European Union? What is the Government's position and does the Taoiseach deny that this is the case? Does the Government deny this report from Europe that "we drafted the text of the treaty so that he has a chance to avoid a referendum"? If that is not a subversion of democracy, I do not know what is.
My party is pro-European and on behalf of it I call on the Government to give a commitment that the Irish people will get a say in this new fiscal treaty, which will tie the hands of this country for the next ten or 15 years, in good and bad times. This is one of the most serious departures we have seen. Is it the Government's negotiating position to say to draftsmen and EU colleagues that it does not want the Irish people to have a say in the treaty and it should be drafted in such a way? Does the Government accept that the treaty was drafted to suit the Irish Government? Did the Government, and specifically the Taoiseach and Minister of State for European affairs, request specifically that the text be drafted to subvert Irish democracy, in effect? I will ask her next week. This is one of the most serious actions a Government can take. The current Government has a mandate from the people but is afraid to seek another.
As I have indicated we will provide time next week in Private Members' business for a proper debate on smaller rural and minority faith schools.
It was very interesting to hear the responses of the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, yesterday. I put Government Members on notice that the Minister has stated he will facilitate a cost review of these schools, taking in 600 schools across the country with 50 or fewer pupils. He will examine where schools can be amalgamated.
Education is not just about cost but about our children and the future of this country. Will the Minister and his officials on Marlborough Street simply examine schools on the basis of cost, efficiency and proximity to other schools? Some 25% of the schools to be affected by the changes brought in by the Government and cuts in education are minority faith schools. Any true republic that does not respect its minorities does not deserve the title of republic.
I am reminded of the Skibbereen Eagle when I hear Senator O'Brien suggest that this treaty, an international agreement among 25 member states in the EU aimed at trying to save the economic system pertaining within the EU, has been drafted to subvert Irish democracy.
I call for a debate in this House with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government on waste management, following the excellent "Prime Time" report last night on the fiasco concerning the incinerator at Poolbeg and the decision making by the executive of Dublin City Council against the wishes of the elected representatives on a number of matters to do with waste management. This takes in not just the incinerator but also privatisation of waste collection and the transfer of the service to Greyhound, which has led to enormous problems in waste collection across Dublin city. There is a real issue for us to debate at a broader level about where responsibility for waste management policy should lie. Should it be with the employees of the council or should it be referred back to elected representatives? I would like to see a debate here whenever the Minister can facilitate it.
I call for a debate on blasphemy law. There was an excellent briefing yesterday from Professor David Nash of Oxford Brookes University, a leading expert on blasphemy, who spoke about the international impact of the passage of the 2009 Defamation Act in Ireland, particularly section 36, which created a new statutory offence of blasphemy. There was an excellent debate on it in this House, and many colleagues participated in it. There is an issue as there was an adverse international impact, with certain countries adopting Irish arguments on blasphemy and using this to bolster prejudice against different religions, even Christian religions in Islamic countries. We have also seen that Ireland has gone against the EU norm in adopting a new statutory definition of blasphemy based on a definition of offence. It is outdated and I am glad it is up for review in the programme for Government. We must move forward by having a debate in the House on how we can ensure incitement to religious hatred laws are strengthened in the Statute Book. We no longer need an offence of blasphemy.
I will refrain from mentioning a report in The Irish Times that too much testosterone makes for bad decisions, with a study from University College London suggesting-----
-----that if there is too much testosterone in a meeting, co-operation goes out the window. As it happens, tomorrow we will debate the Electoral (Amendment) Bill with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, which will for the first time introduce enforceable targets for political parties to adopt in selecting more women candidates. I hope that will lead to better decision making in Ireland and less testosterone in meetings.
I thank the Leader for promising to bring the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs to the House next week to discuss the treaty on stability, co-ordination and governance. Like most of us I am in the process of studying it and will form my own view. I look forward to the upcoming discussion.
I will address two matters, the first of which is the universal periodic review. Members are aware that Ireland's human rights record was subject to its first universal periodic review hearing last October, and the report of the working group on Ireland's review, also known as the outcome document, will be adopted by the Human Rights Council during its 19th session on 16 March this year. Of the 126 recommendations contained in the outcome document, the Government has examined and accepted 62, and 49 recommendations are currently under consideration by the Government, with responses to be provided before the Human Rights Council session in March. Some 15 recommendations, the majority of which pertain to reproductive rights and combating racism, have been rejected.
The commitments made by the Government during this process and the potential for further commitments to be made before the adoption of the outcome document should yield significant improvements in the area of prison conditions, children's rights, gender equality, mental health, freedom of expression and combating racism and discrimination. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, to the Chamber to advise and debate with Senators as to the status of the 49 recommendations under consideration, and to outline how the relevant Departments plan to build on the exemplary consultation process with non-governmental organisations and civil society in the lead-up to Ireland's review and the next review of 2016.
There is a second issue, although I will not repeat my requests in detail. On 18 and 25 January I asked that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs be invited to the Seanad to address questions on the proposed children's referendum, the interim measures for children currently detained in St. Patrick's institution, the new children and family support agency and the potential to use the Children's Rights Alliance report card as the basis for this debate. I know there is much talk of referendums in the air but I advise Senators that the children's referendum needs to take place.
I will give a reason for this. There are 2,000 children in long-term foster care and the referendum would make them eligible for adoption. Once these children turn 18, that right is extinguished, so as the days and months roll on, let us be conscious that as we deliberate, we are potentially denying these children what everybody agrees should be allowed, namely, the security of being part of a family. I repeat my call that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs update this House on the status of the children's rights referendum. The issue cannot be debated any longer and we must change it. There are 2,000 very good reasons to have that referendum.
I call for a full debate on the economy. I am not entirely critical of the Government. It has been responsible for some good management. I did not have the opportunity to contribute yesterday but I am sure the question of Davos was raised. I wish to raise it again because it seems to me that we did not go mad. I strongly resist that statement. I remember saying in this House - and being joined by people on all sides of the House when the situation occurred first - that it was not the Irish people who went mad. One has to look at the audience to which the Taoiseach was addressing himself. We have been told that we have to pay out money to gangster banks and hedge funds to prevent reputational damage. What reputational damage was done by the Taoiseach by speaking to this international audience of bankers and people who were partly responsible by saying that we all went mad?
There were those among the audience who were at previous meetings in Davos where they awarded a special accolade to Anglo Irish Bank for its practices. They were the ones who went mad and this was an opportunity that was lost to tell the international audience that the Irish people were suffering to pay for the stupidity and foolishness of the German and French banks.
The other thing that concerns me is the statement of the Minister, Deputy Varadkar. He is a highly intelligent man and he said the referenda were undemocratic. That is an extraordinary statement, but we see this all across Europe. It is a general trend. In the heart of democracy in Greece a Prime Minister was removed because he dared to suggest questioning the people. A referendum is democratic. I understand some of Deputy Varadkar's reasons. He mentioned that, for example, issues such as bin charges, the household charge and other extraneous matters could be brought into the debate. However, he referred to two other issues, namely, the bailout of the banks and the bondholders. Those are relevant issues that it would be proper and correct for citizens to consider during a referendum.
My third concern is the exit from the public service because it is uncontrolled. That is highly dangerous. It seems to me that we are in danger of cutting out the lean and allowing the fat to remain. How many redundant management jobs are going? People in front-line services are going. They are going because of the economic situation in the same way that a number of our colleagues after the previous election saw the opportunity to take the pot and the good pension. I heard the man who was involved in the reform of the National Health Service in Britain say that the way it was being done was absolute chaos. It is like the decentralisation process in reverse. It is uncontrolled, not targeted and it is damaging. For those reasons I call for a major debate on the economy.
I reiterate the call I made yesterday for the Attorney General to make an early opinion available as to whether a referendum is necessary. While the Government does an excellent job and punches way beyond its weight in Europe I do not believe we are so influential that we can dictate the text of a European treaty to suit ourselves.
I call on cool heads to prevail and to await an early opinion from the Attorney General.
I also have a slight concern about the management of the mass redundancies within the public sector. I wish well in their retirement to the 7,000 to 8,000 people who have decided to go. I ask the Leader to facilitate the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to come to the House for a question and answer session on what crisis management systems are in place. I have no doubt there is a rapid response team in place to ensure that the flexibility we are told is available and that is part of the Croke Park agreement will kick into force. This will be a defining moment on the Croke Park agreement as to whether it does what it is supposed to do and creates the flexibility.
It is also important to remember that for every 100 public servants only three are retiring - there are still 97 left. We are a country of 4 million people. Surely to God, 97 out of every 100 can be flexible enough to ensure that people will not be affected on the front line. I call on the Leader to facilitate an early question and answer session with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.
The Irish Times today exposes the situation on the proposed treaty. The people should be given an opportunity. With respect to the Cathaoirleach's town, the Taoiseach did not bring home the bacon. He did not bring anything home. The treaty is only endorsing the austerity measures that are currently in place.
I was fully briefed by the Tánaiste, Deputy Gilmore, on the details of this treaty. We are quite familiar with it. I would like the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, to come to the House to explain why he signed the treaty and why there was not a better deal for this country.
I agree with Senator Norris on the audience the Taoiseach had in Davos in Switzerland. He should have told them that they went mad lending us such money at those percentages at that time.
Senator Leyden never ceases to amaze me or amuse me, as he did his colleagues last week in the Council of Europe when he almost tripped over himself as he rushed to embrace and congratulate Mr. David Cameron, I am not sure on what, but perhaps Senator Leyden might inform the House what words of praise he imparted to Mr. David Cameron.
We are having a second re-run of the discussion on the treaty this morning based on the comments of some unnamed official. The position should be quite clear, as it has been since 1973. If anything arising in the financial compact arrangement impinges on the Constitution there will be a referendum and the people will be consulted. We did not have a referendum to discuss the bank bailout. We did not have a referendum to discuss any of the recent harsh budgets which have impinged greatly on the public, so let us be a little mature and cop ourselves on. If a referendum is required it will be held. It is rather pathetic, as my colleague Deputy Phelan said last night on another show to see a once great party such as Fianna Fáil now trying to out-Sinn Féin, Sinn Féin in order to try to find a little bit of political purpose.
-----by becoming a eurosceptic party. It is quite pathetic.
The question I had intended to ask if Senator Leyden had not made such a silly intervention is whether the Leader would consider inviting the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Deenihan, to the House in the coming weeks to discuss the Government's concept of a decade of commemoration.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Ulster Covenant, there was the 1913 lockout, the First World War, the 1916 Rising, the Anglo-Irish War, the treaty and the civil war. All of these need to be debated and commemorated with sensitivity. I would like that debate to be instigated.
I did not agree with Martin McGuinness's interesting contribution last weekend to the effect that the next few years could see a referendum in Northern Ireland on the future of the Six Counties. However, that issue could form part of our debate on commemorations. This Seanad has not debated the broad aspects of policy on Northern Ireland. Perhaps the Leader could try to set aside time for such a discussion.
Yesterday, I stated it would be a good idea for the Attorney General to give her opinion sooner rather than later, but it would not necessarily decide the issue. All we know from the revelation by the unnamed official is that our European partners ensured that nothing they required would force us to have a referendum. This leaves the question open as to whether the provisions of the Constitution-----
One question is whether the provisions of our Constitution require a referendum to permit participation in such a treaty. There is another argument for holding a referendum, namely, democratic legitimacy. This morning, the Technical Group in the Lower House indicated its intention to avail of Article 27 of Bunreacht na hÉireann if the Government did not seek to proceed via referendum. Under that Article, the support of a third of Deputies and more than half of Senators is required to petition Uachtarán na hÉireann to put the matter to the people. It will be for Uachtarán na hÉireann to take counsel from the Council of State.
Referendums and decisions of this kind can be viewed in two ways. I disagree with my good friend, Senator Bradford, in this respect. We can take the view that we should have government by elites and that the important factor is to get the result. If that means admitting the people to the decision as little as possible, so be it. This is a dangerous road to take at a time when something of that nature seems to have occurred in Greece and Italy, given the change in governments there. The other route is to involve people, to have a definite opinion ourselves and to seek to educate public opinion as we go. The Irish people would understand that accepting and rejecting the treaty would each have difficult consequences and that this decision cannot be subjected to a populist anti-Government impulse concerning unrelated issues. Too much is at stake.
Yes. The Technical Group is to be commended for claiming it will seek to the have issue put to the people regardless. I can support the idea. I will reserve my position on the treaty until I have had a chance to consider it, but it should be possible for people to favour a referendum and a "Yes" vote. I will support the Technical Group's petition should it come to this House and I encourage colleagues on all sides of the House to take a similarly positive view. At this time, we need to promote the idea of democratic legitimacy.
The article gives the impression of a lifestyle that is like an "Hawaiian massage", but this could not be further from the truth. For the many people living on social welfare alone, it is not a life of luxury. The individual in question obviously does not have many overheads, for example, children attending school or college or a car on which she needs to pay insurance or tax. It is not a fair or balanced article. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Social Protection to refute some of the statements made in the article and let the people of Ireland know that it is not a life of luxury? Working people will be annoyed by the suggestion that, while they are working and paying their way, people living on social welfare are having such wonderful lives.
I join with Senator Conway in calling for a debate on public sector reform. The Government intends to reduce public sector numbers to 282,500 by the end of 2015, which means that 37,500 people will have left the system since 2008. Under the current scheme, 7,764 workers have applied. Of these, 3,500 come from the health sector, some 3,000 of whom are employed by the HSE, 2,000 come from the education sector, including 1,500 teachers, 1,000 are civil servants from many Departments, 730 are local authority workers, 293 are gardaí and 241 are from the Defence Forces. According to Senator Conway, the 7,764 account for three out of every 100 or so public sector workers and the rest of the staff can be flexible enough to take up the slack, but this flies in the face of what many public servants are facing.
Yesterday, the House debated problems and delays with medical cards. Any Senator who has contacted social welfare or community welfare offices knows how stretched they are. I am in favour of public sector reform, but I would rather see pay being cut and capped at the top than I would a dilution of public services. Number reductions will mean reduced services for people across the key Departments of Health, Education and Skills, Justice and Equality and the Environment, Community and Local Government.
The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform should discuss his plans with the House, as I would like to hear more about the rapid response team and how it will play out. I would also like to hear from the Minister for Health about how having 3,500 fewer workers in his sector will impact on health services. I would like to hear from the Minister for Education and Skills about how the loss of teachers will impact on young children.
I would like to hear from the Minister for Justice and Equality about the loss of gardaí and from the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government about the impact that losing local authority workers will have on services. We need a comprehensive debate on the impact that a reduction in the numbers working in these areas will have on the State's services.
I am surprised by Senator Darragh O'Brien's overreaction to an alleged phantom. We should not overreact to what we read in newspapers. They must print stories everyday - that is their job. We are referring to an alleged unknown official.
The Leader has secured the attendance of the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs in the House next week. She will deal with this matter adequately. As has been stated from the Taoiseach down, once the Attorney General makes her ruling on the matter, we will know whether there is a conflict with any provision in the Bunreacht.
We can proceed from that point. This is a question of stability, ensuring proper co-ordination and governance of economic and monetary policy and reducing our debt to GDP ratio to more manageable levels. This is about issues of which Senator Darragh O'Brien should be supportive. Since I presume he is, I do not know why he is going on with all of this ráiméis and ranting like his colleagues. It is rather ridiculous carry on. The Senator is usually a reasonable man; I ask him to hold off for another week.
I welcome the undertaking by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, to review the allowances that are paid across the public service. I recall being invited to a meeting of representative of one of the teachers' unions in Wexford at the time the crisis first emerged. When I queried the attendees on aspects of the issues they were discussing, I discovered that they were in receipt of some €2,000 per year for school yard supervision duties. These are the types of mindless allowances which showed up a dearth of management within the public service. I am pleased the Minister is taking action in this regard. It is the first indication of action I have seen from him which might lead to savings. I hope he will follow through on it.
I welcome the statement yesterday by the Governor of the Central Bank, Professor Patrick Honohan, that the savings we must make will have to extend beyond merely a reduction in the numbers within the public sector to encompass re-examination of pay. Most sensible people would agree with this. The reality is that the reductions in numbers we have seen will yield savings of less than 25% of the gross pay of the staff concerned. Some 50% will go on pensions into the future and of the other 50%, which is a gross saving, half will be lost in tax and universal social charges forgone. When one adds in the lump sum, which is 150% of salary, there is very little return. In fact, a rate of return valuation shows it will take approximately eight years, until 2020, before we begin to effect savings.
Deputy Stephen Donnelly, who is well qualified in this area, has spoken about his meeting, as part of a Dáil Technical Group delegation, with representatives of the troika. He encountered little empathy from the troika in regard to the austerity being imposed on the populace, which he attributed to the fact that it is well aware of the very high salaries being paid at senior level within the public service in this State. The troika's lack of sympathy should be seen against the background of much lower salaries in other member states. Will the Leader invite the Minister for Finance to the House for a debate on this issue? It is coming to the stage where we may have to call on the Taoiseach to attend for a debate on whether the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform should be brought back within the Department of Finance if it is not delivering on the functions it was set up to carry out.
I support Senator Paul Bradford's call for a question and answer session with the Minister in regard to the various forthcoming celebrations and commemorations. Senator Bradford neglected to mention that the Labour Party is 100 years old this year. It is an anniversary my colleagues and I will remember and salute.
It is interesting that we find ourselves in a situation where the very notion of a referendum, which I had understood as a vehicle by which people could be given the opportunity to vote on proposed changes to our Constitution, has turned into an incendiary device. When the Opposition is calling willy-nilly for a referendum-----
----- it merely serves to obfuscate the entire debate about what is happening in Europe. We can no longer hear what anybody is saying in regard to the fiscal compact and so on in the midst of the clatter and clamour of screaming for a referendum, even though the Attorney General has not yet given her advice on whether it is required.
Yes. I will finish my point by urging that this House, in the debate on this matter should seek to inform and enlighten Members and the public as to what is happening, without a great deal of shouting about what certain Members would like to happen.
Will the Leader urge the Minister for Health to indicate the minor capital funds allocation for this year? Those funds are necessary if certain hospitals, including St. John's Hospital in Sligo, are to proceed with important works.
Last week I raised the issue of Article 27 and the facility it provides for a majority of Members of this House to sign a petition requesting that the President not sign a Bill but instead put it to the people by way of referendum. Even where a Bill is found by the Attorney General to be constitutional, it can and should be put to the people if the President deems it to be of such national importance that the will of the people ought to be ascertained. The Fianna Fáil Party will ask Members of the Seanad, on this and the other side of the Chamber, to sign such a petition in respect of the Bill dealing with the new EU treaty. I ask Members to support the petition even if they are in favour of the treaty. Opinion polls show that some 75% of the people want a say on this treaty. We should give it to them.
Senator Mark Daly suggested that 75% of people want a referendum. I agree they should have a say, but the first consideration must be that they understand the proposals on which they are adjudicating. All of the opinion polls to date were undertaken before the wording of the treaty was published. I call for a sensible debate on the proposals, not on the question of whether or not they require an amendment to the Constitution.
I also call for a debate on referenda in general, what they are for and how much they cost. None of us should be afraid of a referendum. Articles 27 and 47 of the Constitution provide for an ordinary referendum, known as a reference of Bills to the people. These provisions have never been invoked, on the basis that there has never heretofore been good reason to invoke them. The debate we should have is not on whether there should be a referendum but on the provisions of the proposed treaty. Unfortunately, the entire debate thus far has centred on whether there will be a referendum rather than what is contained in the treaty.
Regardless of how these proposals are handled, they will almost inevitably be challenged in the courts. While I would not presume to advise the Attorney General or the President to do A or B, I am free to give my own estimation, which is that the President should refer the Bill to the courts to determine whether it is constitutional.
I wish to raise another issue.
Ní hé an reifreann seo an t-aon reifreann a raibh caint air le linn an deireadh seachtaine. Go deimhin, bhí díospóireacht ag tosnú maidir le reifreann ó thaobh aontacht na hÉireann chomh maith. The potential referendum on the new EU treaty is not the only referendum that has been discussed in the broader public domain recently. Senator Paul Bradford referred to the possibility of a plebiscite on the future status of Northern Ireland, an issue which should form part of the debate we have called for on Northern Ireland.
We have seen several significant developments in recent times, with the First Minister, Mr. Peter Robinson, recently attending a GAA match and the Deputy First Minister, Mr. Martin McGuinness, undertaking to attend a Northern Ireland match and support the players in green jerseys. In addition, the announcement that Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann will be held for the first time in the Six Counties, in Derry, is very welcome. The presentations to this House by Ms Mary Robinson and Mr. Maurice Manning were fantastic occasions. It was mentioned in the early days of this Seanad that we might invite the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to the Chamber. Such an invitation would be an ideal context for the debate on the future of Northern Ireland. It would give us an opportunity to discuss all of the useful co-operation that is taking place. There is some fantastic co-operation taking place in respect of waterways, agriculture, sport, culture, language and so on. It would be fitting to convey this to the First Minister and to do so in the context of a debate with him in this House on Northern Ireland and the future of this island. We could also during such debate discuss the possibility of a united Ireland and a referendum in that regard. Ba mhaith liom iarraidh arís ar an gCeannaire soiléiriú a thabhairt dúinn an bhfuil an cuireadh sin tugtha cheana don Chéad Aire agus don Leas-Chéad Aire, agus muna bhfuil, an bhfuil sé i gceist aige sin a dhéanamh agus cén sórt scála ama atá i gceist?
I am mesmerised by the enthusiasm of the other side for a referendum, given, in particular, the lack of public meetings held by Senator Daly's party in south Kerry during the previous two referendums. By way of information, when I met a sitting Fianna Fáil Deputy at a referendum count and said to him that I had not seen him campaigning on the referendum his response was that his colleague in the constituency had not phoned him to tell him what to do. I do not wish to put the Member's name on the record but that is what he said to me.
There appears to be a great deal of misunderstanding about what is done with money collected through taxation here. I attended a meeting last night which provided information on health care, which cost €13.4 billion last year despite that only €13.317 billion in income tax was collected. Every cent taken in through income tax was spent on health care. While there is much information available on departmental websites, there is a need for greater information to be put into the public domain. This would allow the general public to identify areas wherein we are not obtaining value for money.
Senators referred yesterday to the need to get more information out on the new European treaty. We need to start at home in terms of getting out information in regard to how the country is run and how money collected through taxation is used. We should perhaps debate in this house the issue of how we can get more information out to the general public.
I endorse Senator Mark Daly's proposal of last week in regard to Article 27 of the Constitution. I note the Technical Group has jumped on that band wagon today. However, it is important to credit Senator Daly with that proposal.
I speak as someone who, contrary to what Senator Colm Burke said, actively canvassed for a "Yes" vote in every European referendum, including before I became involved in politics. I believe in a European Union that looks to the European and national interest.
My principal difficulty with the current treaty is that it will be other countries rather than the European Commission who will tell us whether we did right or wrong. Under this treaty Ireland could be sued by Germany, Slovenia and so on if we do wrong. As such, we have moved away from the European Union which I have always supported, the European Union which Fianna Fáil led the way in supporting. Contrary to what Senator Burke had to say, Fianna Fáil, put vast resources into supporting European referenda. Fianna Fáil has a proud record of supporting the European Union.
I am totally opposed to intergovernmentalism and to the idea of Germany, Slovenia or any other European country bringing us to court in respect of breaches of European law in terms of our deficit and telling us we should spend less and tax our people more. That is completely wrong. While this treaty deals with finances, who is to say that this different model of Europe will not continue into other areas. This treaty proves that the veto is meaningless. It is not about the right to remain outside something rather it is about stopping its introduction on a European basis. The British and Czechs have vetoed this treaty. If we value the European Union we should oppose this and go back to the drawing board to try to bring in Britain and the Czech Republic. Not enough was done to bring those countries on board. They should be on board. This is a European community not a community of countries.
I am disappointed that Senator Colm Burke and a number of others are being somewhat selective in terms of past referenda. While the Fine Gael leadership was commendable in terms of the manner in which it actively supported the second referendum on Lisbon, the same is not true of Fine Gael membership on the ground. I set up public meetings in my home town but local Fine Gael members would not join me on the platform. This was repeated throughout the country. Let us not be too selective in terms of what happened in respect of the second referendum on Lisbon.
On whether there should be a referendum on this treaty, the will of the people must be reflected. The storm clouds are gathering around this Government in this regard. I remind the House that the view when the first referendum on the Nice treaty was put before the people was that no constitutional changes would be required. The term widely used in this regard was that it was essentially "a housekeeping exercise". The Government of the day, to judge and reflect the mood of the people, put the matter before them. The same argument is being put forward here today.
This is not about whether there should be a referendum on this treaty: it is about what the people want. During the past 48 hours, every economic and political commentator, including the head of the Central Bank, Professor Honohan, has questioned whether this fiscal compact is in the interests of Ireland. The real debate should be about whether this is in the interests of Ireland. The best way of determining this is to put it before the people, following reasoned debate on the issue.
I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, to come before the House to explain what is going on in relation to hydraulic fracturing here. The national headlines this morning are that Tamboran are to proceed with drilling in north Leitrim. This is a controversial concept, one that has been banned-----
-----in several places. I am not asking for a debate. I am asking that the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, call on the EPA, whom he mandated several months ago to come up with a conclusion in regard to whether hydraulic fracking was in the best interests of the people, to issue its report.
Tamboran has stated it will go ahead with this project and has put out the view that it will result in the creation of many jobs.
I wish to raise again the issue of bank repossession of property, which issue arose last night on "Ear to the Ground". I saw most but not all of that programme and I was disappointed that the information provided was not complete. The position is that a bank can repossess property, mainly machinery, following the completion of the legal process if one third of the payments have been made to purchase the property in question. When a court judgment is handed down, a bank can apply for it to be enforced by the only individual, the county sheriff, empowered to enforce it. The impression given on the programme to which I refer was that a bank can just tell anyone to repossess equipment on its behalf.
I raised this issue on a previous occasion and I wrote directly to the Governor of the Central Bank and the Ministers for justice and finance in respect of it. I am not satisfied with the practice whereby the banks are continuing to interpret the law to their own ends. What they are doing is not right. Would it be possible at the earliest opportunity to try to bring more pressure to bear upon those institutions of the State which have an input in respect of this illegal practice on the part of the banks? It is most disappointing that a programme aired on RTE last night did not provide full and accurate information.
I apologise to Senator Cummins. I take this opportunity to again congratulate the Leader on the tremendous innovations he has introduced in respect of the workings of the House. The Leader has organised fantastic opportunities for Senators to speak in the House and for Ministers to be in attendance for debates. When he has arranged such debates, he has pleaded for those who requested them to be present in the Chamber while they are taking place. I am in complete agreement with what he has done in that regard.
I do not wish to hurt the feelings of the Leader, who is doing his utmost, but there is an elephant in the room in the form of the fact that the Taoiseach - the leader of our country - has not come before the House. I want the Taoiseach to come to the Seanad. I have difficulty with the Taoiseach in the context of unfavourable comments he made regarding this House - the future viability of which he also questioned - when in certain salubrious surroundings, namely, at a dinner organised by Fine Gael. He found himself in other salubrious surroundings at Davos last week and it appears that being there, in the presence of various world leaders, went to his head. The Taoiseach forgot himself and began backbiting in respect of the Irish people and stating that they went mad borrowing money.
I ask the Leader to arrange for a question and answer session with the Taoiseach in the Seanad. I assure him that the House would be full for such an event. The Taoiseach is our country's leader and he should be prepared to come to this Chamber and account for himself. If I were Taoiseach, I would come here to respond to questions. The Taoiseach should treat with respect the Senators from his own party and those in opposition who are making valiant efforts, day in and day out, to uphold democracy via this institution.
I concur with the proposal from our colleagues in Sinn Féin with regard to inviting the First Minister and Deputy First Minister from the North to come before the House.
On the calls for a referendum, the previous Government had to be dragged before the High Court in respect of holding a by-election in Donegal. This gave rise to costs which the taxpayer was obliged to pay.
Senator Moloney referred to an article in today's Irish Independent regarding a Polish national living in Donegal. I wish to place on record my belief that the words attributed to this individual in the article in question do a disservice to Polish people who live in Donegal. It was indicated that she referred to the town in which she resides as a "s***hole". That attitude is disgusting. In an interview on Highland Radio earlier this morning, the Polish ambassador to Ireland stated that the article was distasteful and that he did not have much time for the person who made the remarks it contained. Anyone who refers to a town in Donegal in the way outlined does not deserve to live there. As everyone is aware, Donegal is the most beautiful county in the country. It is important to clarify that the person who was the subject of the newspaper article in question was not speaking on behalf of the Polish community but rather on her own behalf. I would welcome her exit from this country because of her attitude and not because-----
Anyone who calls a town in Donegal a "shithole" and who is living there should leave. I make no apology for what I have said because people from elsewhere would object to their counties or the towns they contain being referred to in that way.
The issue of the fiscal pact is being debated by groups of people throughout the country. The one question being asked is whether we will have the opportunity to hear a constructive debate as part of a referendum process. I agree with Senator Harte that the court case relating to the by-election in Donegal was handled in a very poor manner by the then Government. I certainly paid a political price for what happened.
However, the advice given to the Government at the time by the then Attorney General was that the court case would not be successful. We are now depending on advice from the current Attorney General. I am not stating that her advice will not be valid or proper. Regardless of whether the Attorney General recommends the holding of a referendum, the Government will take a political decision with regard to whether it should be held. Is the Government going to afford the various political parties and others the opportunity to engage in a debate on the fiscal pact? We have not as yet seen the detail relating to the pact. When that detail emerges, Members of both Houses should at least be given the opportunity to debate what is involved.
I appeal to the Leader to encourage the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to come before the House to engage in a question and answer session on the fiscal pact and on whether we are getting a good deal. Why is there no mention of debt forgiveness at European level in the pact, which the people of this country are going to be expected to accept? If a referendum is not held, it is my view that this will attest to the scant regard that exists for the views of the Irish people.
I strongly support Senator Bradford's request that the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Deenihan, come before the House to discuss how we might best leverage the benefits to be had from the very many historic centenaries that will be celebrated here in the coming years. I raised this matter during our debate on job creation last week. As many of the events relating to these centenary celebrations will be held in Dublin, we must examine innovative ways in which we might encourage the large numbers of tourists that will be attracted to the capital city to visit other parts of the country.
As stated during the debate on job creation, we should consider the possibility of providing subsidised transport for tourists who come to our country and who can produce airline or ferry tickets. As a result of the distances and the costs involved, we must consider the introduction of incentives designed to attract people to visit the regions and maximise the benefits the country will enjoy as a result of the many historic events we will celebrate in the next number of years.
Senator Darragh O'Brien and many others raised the matter of a referendum on the fiscal treaty. Referendums are held to amend the Constitution. If it is necessary to amend the Constitution, the Government is fully committed to holding a referendum.
This is the position of the Government and it awaits the advice of the Attorney General. The Government is quite clear that if the Constitution needs to be amended, a referendum will be held. This should be clear enough for everyone.
With regard to the Water Services (Amendment) Bill I do not propose to have additional time as an hour and a half will be sufficient. We discussed the Bill for 18 hours and today we will deal with several amendments back from the other House. An hour and a half will be more than sufficient unless we have repetition and filibustering as we did during the course of the debate previously.
I look forward to the debate on rural schools during Private Members' time next week. I note an Adjournment matter on the subject will be taken this evening and perhaps some points that will be helpful for next weeks' debate will be made this evening.
Senator Bacik spoke about national waste management. Waste management and bin collection in Dublin is a matter for the local authority but we can certainly bring the Minister to the House to discuss national waste management. Senator Bacik also called for a debate on the blasphemy laws and we can certainly look at this.
Senator van Turnhout called for a periodic review on human rights. She also called on the Minister Justice and Equality or the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to outline the status of the outstanding recommendations. We will endeavour to arrange this. The Senator also called on the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to outline the status of the proposed referendum and a number of other items. The Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, has been very good to the House and has come here on several occasions. We will endeavour to have her back soon.
Senators Norris and Conway spoke about the exit of public servants. This matter will be dealt with next week as a debate has been organised on the Croke Park agreement. I have already notified the House that this debate will take place and it will definitely do so. The points raised on Order of Business can be raised during this debate.
Senator Leyden has been acting as a television guide for us this morning and we appreciate his advice on what is on the various television channels.
Senators Bradford, O'Keeffe and Mullins spoke about the decade of commemorations and inquired whether the Minister, Deputy Deenihan, will come to the House. We will certainly try to arrange this.
Senators Bradford and Ó Clochartaigh called for a debate on Northern Ireland.
Senator Mullen spoke about the petition for one third of the Dáil and half of the Seanad to call for a referendum. This matter was raised by Senator Daly last week and it is a matter for the Senators if they wished to proceed in this way.
With regard to the matter raised by Senators Moloney and Harte, I am not aware of the article in the newspaper on a person living in Donegal. My experience of Donegal is that it is a wonderful county. People who speak about the excesses of those living on social welfare should try to live on the basic social welfare rate themselves for a few weeks and see how they fare.
Senator Walsh spoke about payments and reform of the public service. This will be dealt with in the debate next week.
Senator O'Keeffe inquired about the capital allocation funds in the Department of Health. We will endeavour to find out when the announcement will be made on these capital allocations.
Senator Burke asked about disseminating information to the public and informing people on how their taxes are spent. Perhaps this can be included in a debate in the near future.
It was interesting to hear Senator Byrne's comments in support of Europe and his total opposition to the fiscal treaty. Again, we will discuss this next week.
As he did yesterday, Senator Sheahan called for a debate on people's lifestyles and eating habits with regard to diabetes. The Seanad Public Consultation Committee will partially deal with this in its next area of examination.
With regard to the issue raised by Senator Mooney, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, will come to the House for the Private Members' debate and perhaps Senator Mooney can raise the issue then. The Minister will also come to the House to deal with the Energy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill next week. I am sure Senator Mooney will have an opportunity to raise the issue then.
Senator Michael D'Arcy spoke about a television programme broadcast last night not giving sufficient information. We will see what we can do with regard to this.
To respond to Senator White, it has not been the practice of any Taoiseach to come to the House for questions and answers. I am sure the Taoiseach will come to the House if he sees fit to do so in his own time.
Senator Mullins spoke about tourism and incentives for tourists. A number of tourism initiatives are in place, such as the Gathering, and the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport will come to the House in March for a debate on tourism.
I want to correct something I said on the Order of Business. I stated Private Members' business would be taken between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. but it will actually be taken from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
The Seanad Divided:
For the motion: 29 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Colm Burke, Deirdre Clune, Paul Coghlan, Martin Conway, Maurice Cummins, Michael D'Arcy, Jimmy Harte, Aideen Hayden, Fidelma Healy Eames, James Heffernan, Imelda Henry, Lorraine Higgins, Caít Keane, John Kelly, Denis Landy, Fiach MacConghail, Maire Maloney, Mary Moran, Tony Mulcahy, Michael Mullins, Catherine Noone, Susan O'Keeffe, Pat O'Neill, Feargal Quinn, Tom Shehan, Jillian van Turnhout, John Whelan)
Against the motion: 17 (Thomas Byrne, David Cullinane, Mark Daly, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Paschal Mooney, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Darragh O'Brien, Averil Power, Kathryn Reilly, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O'Keeffe; Níl, Senators Paschal Mooney and Diarmuid Wilson..
Question declared carried.