Thursday, 2 February 2012
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. 18, an all-party motion re the Dublin-Monaghan bombings, to be taken without debate; No. 1, Electoral (Amendment)(Political Funding) Bill 2011 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 18 and adjourned at 1.45 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed six minutes, and the debate to resume next Tuesday afternoon, if not concluded today; and No. 2, statements on foreign affairs, to be taken at 3.30 p.m. and conclude not later than 5 p.m. Following the Tánaiste's speech questions not exceeding two minutes will be taken from the group spokespersons and those of all other Senators shall not exceed one minute. The Tánaiste will take three questions at a time. I have forwarded a list of the names of those who indicated they wished to speak to the Cathaoirleach.
On the Order of Business regarding the statements on foreign affairs, why are there not separate time slots for the Leaders? That is not included in the timetable the Leader set out.
It is remarkable that the issue of jobs is not higher up on the Government's agenda. The European Council which the Taoiseach took part in during the week concluded that much more needed to be done, particularly in Ireland. We have yet to see any jobs plan from the Government. At the start of this Government's term we had the jobs initiative, previously called the jobs budget, which was a "tax now, worry about the jobs later" initiative. Unfortunately, it has not worked. I stated during the debate on the Bill which passed those taxes into law that I hoped it would work but that I also hoped I would not be in the House in a few months time saying that it has not worked. It has not worked. Unemployment continues to rise. Youth unemployment is 29%. Does the Government intend to set up some kind of national youth employment fund similar to those in the United Kingdom and other European Union countries?
When will the Government publish its plans on unemployment, which is the most pressing issue? Various plans were announced by the previous Government, including on agriculture. This Government is following on from our plans. I demand a debate on unemployment, which is the most crucial issue. The numbers are very high. We have a rate of 14.2% and a youth unemployment rate of 29%. I heard a Senator talk yesterday about a village in the west in which she reckoned there was an unemployment rate of 80%. If that is the case it is frightening. Every effort on the part of the Oireachtas and the Government should be focused on that issue but that is not happening. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to call for the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to come into the House for a debate on the issue of unemployment.
I wish to move motion No. 6 on the Order Paper. I do not want to divide the House on an issue such as this one but it is one on which the Government should provide time to debate. The Government parties should consider adopting a united front in regard to that initiative.
No. I have moved one amendment to the Order of Business. On motion No. 6, I am asking the Leader to provide Government time for a debate on it. I will not call for a division on that issue. It is too important a diplomatic issue for us to divide on it in the House. Tabling of the motion follows on from a well publicised debate that the Fine Gael Party had the other day. It seems that it would support this motion. There seems to be no reason this motion could not be put by the Leader and taken on an all-party basis. I encourage and urge that.
It is probably a red letter day or a red dress day for women in Ireland who are delighted about the publication of the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Bill, which will be introduced in this House later today. It is fitting that the Minister, Deputy Hogan, has chosen to introduce it through the Seanad given the work that has been done here in the past in raising the issue of encouraging more women to enter political life.
I also welcome a conference being held in DCU today on a subject of great interest to many Members of this House, the importance of ethical journalism. Perhaps we can be grateful to Mr. Rupert Murdoch after all for showing us how low the bar went and how much work needs to be done. The conference on ethical journalism at DCU is being sponsored by the Global Editors Network. It represents 700 editors across 40 countries and it has launched a campaign for ethical journalism. That is a good thing. If we are to have a debate on this issue in the House, we might bear in mind that campaign and invite the Global Editors Network to address the House at a later stage, given that this is an issue that is close to our hearts. It would be good to see Ireland take a lead in encouraging and supporting ethical journalism.
I would like to raise a touchy subject, that of the issue of a referendum, and suggest to the Leader that when we talk about the fiscal compact treaty next week we would concentrate our energies on the fact that we are seeking to bring stability to the eurozone. Rather than having a row on whether we should vote on it at this point, we should concentrate on what fiscal compact treaty is, its weaknesses and merits and if it can bring stability to Europe. That is what the Government is trying to achieve not only for Ireland but for Europe and for the world.
I ask that the Tánaiste reiterate his condemnation of the events in Syria. The violence of last year, which has resulted in the death of at least 5,000 people, is continuing unabated. The UN Security Council is discussing this with the Arab League. I urge the Leader to ask the Tánaiste to reiterate his condemnation of the violence in Syria and the repression of civil rights there.
I am happy to add my support to the motion mentioned by Senator Byrne in regard to a papal visit for the simple reason that it is a good opportunity for the Government to reassure the Irish people that our continuing diplomatic relations with the Holy See, the Vatican, are as close and as cordial as they were prior to the decision to close the embassy to the Holy See. On that point, I request the Leader to ask the Tánaiste whether the decision not to maintain a resident ambassador to the Holy See was a political decision or was based on the recommendation of the Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade?
As we heard, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade will be in this House this afternoon to make a statement and respond to questions from Members. However, due to time constraints there will be limited opportunities for Members to make substantial interventions at that time. As a result, I ask the Leader to put a number of questions to the Tánaiste. We all appreciate the important role the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has to play at this time to advance Ireland's interests regionally and globally. I would like to raise a few strategic issues regarding the work of the Department. The past year has been a significant year of change for the Department, probably the most important since its creation. My first question relates to two functions of the Department, first, the transfer of certain trade functions to the Department from the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and, second, the possible transfer of responsibility for passports to the Department of Justice and Equality. Regarding the transfer last summer of the trade function, it would be interesting to hear from the Tánaiste how this is working in practice, what benefits it has brought in terms of marketing Ireland abroad through our embassies, how this additional responsibility is being managed, if there are resource implications or if staff were transferred from the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.
Regarding passports, the programme for Government envisaged the transfer of the passport service to the Department of Justice and Equality with a view to ultimately operating it as an independent agency under the aegis of that Department. I understand the Tánaiste is on record as saying that it is more appropriate for an identity document such as a passport to be issued by the Department of the Justice and Equality given that it has responsibility for citizenship law. I would be concerned that the transfer of this service could have a negative impact on the ease of access to passport services in particular to citizens abroad.
I have. I ask the Leader to ask the Tánaiste if such a transfer of passport functions will occur and, if so, what safeguards will be built in to ensure appropriate direct and speedy communication between the various offices and Departments, including our embassies, and to provide assurance that ease of access to passport services for our citizens is maintained.
I ask the Leader to request the Tánaiste to give his views on a strategic question, that of the need for a clear and up to date vision and public statement of the principles underlying Irish foreign policy. The first and only White Paper on Foreign Policy was an initiative of the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Dick Spring. That document dates back to 1996 and is impressive in its scope and detail, but after 15 years the context has changed at home and abroad. I suggest that a review of that White Paper could be a useful vehicle to consider policy priorities. It could provide clarity within the Department and for the public on what principles and policies now guide Ireland's foreign policy and what issues we intend to focus on in light of current resource constraints. Will the Tánaiste review or consider a review of this White Paper? I ask the Leader to put these questions to the Tánaiste at the earliest opportunity.
The following text is of interest:
Do I feel bad about living on benefits? Certainly! I don't want to live at the Government's cost, which is why I treat this help as an opportunity to start my own business."
This is an accurate report of comments made by a lady called Magda, who we all heard about yesterday. It appears an article in a Polish newspaper was seriously misrepresented in one of our national newspapers yesterday. I commend Senator O'Keeffe on what she said about ethical journalism. It is instructive for us to think for a moment about what happened. One of our colleagues, Senator Harte, spoke eloquently on national radio yesterday criticising this person for her views and I am sure he did so in good faith. If it had not been for that media misrepresentation, he would not have gone on the programme and said what he did. That is how the media does a disservice at times to the public.
Incidents like this one contribute to a lack of trust in the important institution that is our media. There is a crisis in many of our institutions. We should reflect on the need not to knock our institutions but to build them up through constructive criticism. In light of this latest event, I would welcome that debate on media standards in this House. It is useful to note also a very welcome initiative from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, which has launched a public consultation on a draft code of fairness, objectivity and impartiality in news and current affairs in the broadcast media. Many of us spoke about the Fr. Kevin Reynolds case several months ago. The deadline for submitting responses to that is 14 March 2012. I hope to make a submission. Perhaps the Houses, or committees of the Houses, should consider making submissions. Given the concerns about media standards often expressed by Members on different sides of this House, I believe submissions should come from the world of politics to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland on this draft code.
Speaking of inflammatory comments, I briefly refer to another recommendation made recently. It was that all senior official appointments to State bodies that are likely to have to deal with the Catholic Church should be screened to ensure that they will not show inappropriate deference to the Catholic Church. Those who feel they are Catholic first and Irish second should seek promotion in other organs of the State. This recommendation, bizarrely, is on the clár of a forthcoming Labour Party conference, having been put down by the Clontarf branch in Dublin North Central.
I am asking the Leader and the deputy leader whether they agree with me. I have written to Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, who is Vice Chairman of the Joint Committee on Education and Skills, and I have had a courteous response from him. He says he agrees with the report, which surprises me, although he disagrees with that statement. He makes the excuse that the statement is ironic. At one level it certainly is ironic. Would the Leader and deputy leader agree that if such a recommendation were made about gay people - and similar sentiments were expressed about Jews and communists in the past - or about members of the Anglican Communion, there would be outrage? Would they agree with me that the motion should not have made it on to the clár of the Labour Party conference and now that it is there that it deserves to be condemned in the roundest terms by participants at the conference?
I did not hear what Senator Keane said. This is about attitudes to different groups and sectors in our society. Political parties, like the media, need to show responsibility in their public utterances. That is why this is a relevant issue which I bring before the House this morning.
I also mention the fact that this is historic day for politics, with the introduction of the Electoral (Amendment)(Political Funding) Bill, which will provide for a 30% quota of women candidates. I will speak on that Bill later today. Sadly, quotas are necessary to increase the proportion of women candidates. If we were to use any other method we would have to wait more than 200 years. This has to be done.
Good samaritan, or civil liability, legislation would protect members of the public who choose, out of the goodness of their hearts, to help people in trouble. Such legislation is intended to stop people hesitating for fear of being sued. We do not have legislation to protect such people, although other countries do. Such legislation pertains in many civil law jurisdictions which encompass most EU states.
The Law Reform Commission examined this issue in 2009 and recommended that a legal duty of care be introduced in legislation. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House to make a statement on good samaritan and civil liability legislation, and consider introducing such legislation. We Irish are noted for being kind and good and helping people but it has been noticed that there is hesitancy in helping people. An exercise was carried out yesterday on "The John Murray Show" when people helped people in cars. It may not have been a fair exercise. The balance of male and female in Donegal and Kerry was noted.
I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Justice and Equality if he would consider making a statement on the introduction of a good samaritan and civil liability Bill.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business calling for a debate on unemployment. The proposal to invite the Pope to visit Ireland is a separate matter, as far as I am aware. I have signed a petition, at the invitation of Senator Jim Walsh, to send an invitation to the Pope. I hope he will accept it and come. It will be a marvellous boost to the country if he does.
Will the Leader allow time for a debate on broadcasting? I will not accept ridicule from any side of the House regarding the very important issue of information to the public from our broadcasters. RTE is not providing for proper debate on the proposed EU treaty. Whether a referendum is held, the treaty has been signed and will come, as a Bill, to the House and be debated. Last night TV3, which does not receive a subsidy from our €160 licence fee, broadcast a third discussion on the treaty. Our excellent Senator Thomas Byrne, Deputy Mary Lou McDonald, Deputy Stephen Donnelly and the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Lucinda Creighton, all spoke eloquently-----
I have a very serious question for the Leader. I ask him to have a debate on the responsibility of our national broadcaster to provide time to debate one of the most important issues of the day. On an independent television station, the "Tonight with Vincent Browne" programme spent three nights on excellent discussions on the treaty, teasing out every issue, while RTE gave ten minutes to it this week.
I ask Senator Jimmy Harte to come to the House to apologise-----
I am not the Labour Party Whip, but I suggest to Senator Mullen that if he wants to debate the issue he raised he would have a perfect opportunity to do so if he joined the Labour Party and came to the conference.
I raise a serious issue, which I discussed with the Cathaoirleach yesterday. A convicted murderer can come out of jail, having served a term, and share in or inherit the assets of the person he murdered. A high profile case of this nature was heard in the High Court recently. The judge overseeing the case made it clear that there was no legislation to enable him to prevent the murderer from sharing the assets of the deceased, the person he had murdered. The people are outraged at this. Many people have come to me about the issue. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to amend the legislation to ensure that a person convicted of murder pays, out of the assets he inherits from the person he murdered, the €90,000 per year it costs the State to keep him in prison. Any remaining money should not be given to the convicted person by way of entitlement.
It costs the State €90,000 per year to incarcerate someone who has murdered a wife or husband. The State then must watch these people coming out of jail, being handed a sum of money and laughing all the way to the bank. I want something done about this and I ask the Leader to bring to matter to the Minister for Justice and Equality to ensure that anyone who kills another person pays the price and does not benefit monetarily from it.
Returning to the theme of employment, in The Irish Times of yesterday there is a headline that I found astonishing. "New rules to see serious exit from the taxi sector".
The Minister of State has said that numbers in the taxi industry should be reduced by between 13% and 22%. The headline should instead read that the Minister of State wishes to see the abolition of 4,900 to 8,360 jobs. The deregulation of the taxi sector happened in the teeth of the opposition from the Department - which had done a deal to confine new entrants to those who already held licences - and in the teeth of the opposition from the incumbents. The other feature is that it increased employment in the sector by 30,000, from 2000 to date. The Goodbody report found that the value of the time saved by not having to wait for a taxi was worth approximately €790 million. The taxi industry grew to be worth €1.5 billion in 2008, compared with €193 million consumer receipts on the railways and €329 million on buses. When divided by the number of drivers, the revenue per person employed is about €39,000. It is a viable business willed into existence because people started to acquire taxis whereas in the previous system they had been limited for more than 20 years. The judgment in the court case was that people have a right to enter a sector for which they have the skills and training and the public has the right to the services of such persons. It is bizarre that a Minister of State should wish-----
I am looking for the Leader to highlight our view that it is not the role of Government to reduce employment in any sector and nor is it the role of Government to create new sheltered sectors. I ask why the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, in its Neanderthal economics wishes to announce that it would like to abolish up to 8,360 jobs in the taxi sector. It is bizarre and it contradicts all of the economic policies that have been referred to and which are aimed at the need to reduce unemployment. I ask the Leader to ensure that when this is debated, the good points of taxi deregulation and the Goodbody report will be used to good effect against what the Minister of State is trying to do. It is not credible that he would wish to abolish between 13% and 22% of the jobs in a sector which is viable and is not subsidised.
Like Senator O'Keeffe, I was aware of the conference in DCU on ethical journalism, the timing of which is appropriate. We have seen in the past 12 months a deterioration of ethical journalism throughout the world, I would suggest, and in the British Isles, including in Ireland. I make one point regarding Independent Newspapers. At least when they realised they made a mistake, they corrected the record the following day. There is nothing wrong with making a mistake although we would prefer if it did not happen particularly when translating from one language to another. At least the following day, which is this morning, the record was corrected. That did not happen in the situation down in Ballinasloe with regard to Father Reynolds. This is an appropriate time for print and broadcast media outlets to reflect on their responsibility to communicate an accurate and true message as to what is happening throughout the world, to report ethically and fairly and to ensure that discourse is informed as opposed to being led by media. The duty of the media is to scrutinise, analyse and examine but they certainly do not have a role in terms of setting an agenda. It is their responsibility to report.
I sincerely hope that the people who are at the conference in DCU have a fruitful discussion and I would suggest to the Leader that perhaps a debate on media standards here would be an appropriate topic for this House. We have led the way in having debates on issues such as job creation and disability. This House has a key role to play in setting the standards for ethical journalism here.
I join Senator O'Keeffe and a number of previous speakers who have called for a debate on ethical journalism. The Leader has said he has scheduled time to discuss this important issue. Such a debate is timely, in the wake of the article in the Irish Independent yesterday which has been raised by a number of other Senators. This article was deliberate. Its intention was to stoke up anti-social welfare and anti-immigrant sentiment. It was shameful. Even if they apologised, they should hang their heads in shame. They knew exactly what they were seeking to do. Let us be very clear, this was an attempt to stoke up tension. One could go further and say it was an attempt to incite hatred. Articles such as this should not appear in national newspapers.
The Senator who raised the issue yesterday in this House is absent. His comments yesterday were shameful-----
What was a cheap shot was for somebody to come into this House yesterday and say that a Polish national should be expelled from this country, should be asked to leave this country. That was a cheap shot and that is the point. I do not believe this view reflects the Labour Party's views.
Yes, I have. I want to ask the Leader whether he supports me and whether he supports a call from Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin of the Labour Party when he called for a proper debate on integration in this country and a celebration of multiculturalism. That is what the Labour Party stands for and not what was said in this House yesterday by one member of that party. It is important that we, as elected representatives, do not feed into an agenda which is to stoke up anti-immigrant and anti-social welfare sentiment. It is wrong and it must be challenged.
We will hear the Leader's response. Some of us have been in touch with the Tánaiste, the Secretary General of the Department and the nunciature on this matter in recent months. Yesterday, the Taoiseach made it abundantly clear that he has spoken with Cardinal Brady, Archbishop Martin and that everything listed in this motion has been attended to and has been done. The Taoiseach equally made it clear that he will extend the necessary proper official invitation once the Holy See indicates its wishes and this, apparently, is in accordance with standard proper protocol. I say to the leader of Fianna Fáil that he should check with his leader, Deputy Martin, who is a former Minister for Foreign Affairs, and he will be appraised that what I am saying is completely accurate in this respect.
The Tánaiste will be here today and no doubt this subject will be raised and we can then hear further on the matter. It is a question of being patient. Everybody's bona fides on this matter are appreciated. Matters are in hand and everything is being reviewed and is being attended to in a proper way. I suggest that we hear what the Tánaiste has to say today. I am sure the Leader will indicate along those lines when he makes his response.
I second amendment No.2 proposed by Senator Byrne, that Seanad Éireann calls on the Government to convey to the Holy See at official level and through existing diplomatic channels that it would welcome the opportunity of extending an official invitation to Pope Benedict XVI to visit Ireland at a time of mutual convenience.
Yes. When Pope John Paul II visited in 1979, there was a tremendous response from the people and it was a time of joy and hope. In 2010, when Pope Benedict XVI came to the neighbouring island, despite advance criticism and certain elements of media hostility, he was very well received and there was a tremendous positive reaction in Britain. I spoke to somebody in the House of Commons yesterday or the day before that who recalled the effect of that visit, not just on the Catholic community but on others of Christian faith as well.
There are two types of visit and it is important not to confuse them. There is a visitation at the behest of bishops, who would invite the Pope for a pastoral visit, but if the Pope was to attend on an official State visit, an invitation must be extended by the Government. That is my specific suggestion. I do not want a discordant note in this discussion as four groups have indicated a willingness to support this, and I hope there will be agreement. We do not need a big debate and we could welcome an agreement. At least the Seanad would have made its statement in that regard.
Relations between the Vatican and Ireland are not what they have been since 1929 so there is an opportunity to rebuild the close ties we had with the Vatican in 1929.
Will the Leader accept the motion and intention on an all-party basis in the House? That would send a clear signal that the Seanad would at least play its part in giving an indication to the Government. I do not believe this would cause disquiet to the Tánaiste, based on his comments, and some of the wording in the motion is a reflection of precisely what was said by the Tánaiste to the committee. I hope we can agree the motion as there would be an enormous benefit. We must consider the sense of hopelessness that many people in Ireland have, and it could have a very beneficial effect if the motion were adopted. We do not know if it is possible for the Pontiff to visit but at least we would play our part in facilitating such a visit.
I compliment the Government on negotiating with Mr. Appleby, the director of corporate enforcement, and ensuring he will stay in his post until the probe into the former Anglo Irish Bank is over. This is a very wise decision. It is cheap at any cost when we consider the carnage wrought on Irish families as a result of reckless banks and governance over a period. Innocent Irish families and rural schools, for example, must take very hard cuts that would not be necessary if the awful decisions were not made by these banks, or if the previous Government had regulated the banks.
On that note I raise a matter which should be of concern to everybody in the House this morning. Overnight I learned that Bank of Ireland has seized €1.1 million from the deposit accounts of Galway airport to offset loans despite repayments being fully up to date. Members may have read this for themselves. It is an unprecedented move. Such action should ring alarm bells for every business in the country and I ask for an inquiry into it.
Will the Leader check why and how this could happen? Surely there must be some protection from banks moving on businesses or companies whose loans are up to date. It is an outrage and an infringement of rights. Where is the company law to protect us? Will the Leader tell me which Minister has responsibility in this? Is it the Minister for Finance? Company law must be changed in response to this. I want to know how Bank of Ireland can make this move without, at the very least, informing directors.
I support Senator Jim Walsh's plea, although I am not sure it needs much support as he has made a strong case and explained very well the difference between a pastoral visit from the Pope and an official State visit. The point made was that the official state visit was so successful in Britain only last year, we should be able to achieve the same success here. I am sure our parents told us of the success of the Eucharistic Congress in 1932 and the pride there was in Ireland on that occasion. We are approaching another opportunity in that regard.
I support Senator Barrett's case, although I had not quite understood the point he made. I remember ten or 15 years ago the queues that existed trying to get taxis and how impossible it was to get one. At one time there were 2,000 people coming for a convention in Dublin and it was almost cancelled because one person could not get over the fact that when he went out for a meal, he could not get a taxi back to his hotel. At that time it could take three hours to get a taxi. There is little doubt of the success of having an open market for taxis in Dublin. It has provided employment, customer service and the wealth and success referred to by Senator Barrett. I had not realised that steps were being taken to reduce the number of taxis in Dublin on purpose, and I assume that is being done at the behest of the taxi drivers' association. I read yesterday that only those with criminal offences would have their activities limited but I gather from Senator Barrett's comments that there is an ulterior motive.
I urge the Leader to schedule a debate on this so the relevant Minister can explain the objective. I hope Senator Barrett is not correct in what he is saying and that only people with criminal records are being barred from driving taxis. We support that proposal but would not support a reduction of the service to the public and competitiveness of the market.
A charity used to use the catchphrase, "give a little, it will help a lot, " and I rise this morning on behalf of an advocacy group with that in mind. If that group could be given a little, it would help a lot. The group is Brí, a group for people with acquired brain injuries. For several years, it has sought an identity card to be provided for people with acquired brain injuries so they can go about their lives. I put this to the previous Minister responsible for health matters and I hoped that if the current Minister, Deputy Reilly, came to the House, we could ask him to implement such a programme. It would be a great help for such people in going about their lives. It would not be at great cost and it would make life easier for these people. If the group got a little, it would help a lot.
I support the amendment to the Order of Business. I commend the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform and former Congressman, Mr. Bruce Morrison. I ask the Leader to organise a debate on the Irish overseas. There has been a push for many decades on the issue and I spent some time on Capitol Hill with former Congressman Morrison and Mr. Kieran Staunton. People are seeking a new visa Bill for the Irish, and Senator Schumer from New York has put forward legislation on the matter. Previously, there was a provision for the undocumented, whereby they would have been able to seek waivers; unfortunately, that will not remain in the Bill.
I know the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade is coming to the House this afternoon and we will put the issue to him then. A general debate on the undocumented in Ireland would also be welcome, as families are suffering as a result of the inability of people and their loved ones to return from the United States for family events and bereavements. There will be no waiver provision in the Bill. There is an opportunity. The Tánaiste, Deputy Gilmore, is going to the United States next week and he will be there again in March. I assume that the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and the White House would provide a government to government waiver, as they did for Mexico. That is nothing unusual. They allowed 48,000 Mexicans to receive a waiver. That would solve our undocumented problem literally overnight. I ask the Leader to organise a debate, not just today on foreign affairs as he has done, which I welcome, but also on the undocumented Irish in the United States and the provision of a waiver programme. The White House, and the Clintons who are great friends of this country, have simply not been asked. One could ask why that is the case.
I wish to raise an important issue relating to a telephone call I received last night from a business man who is a wholesaler. Last week he called to two businesses that were closed down and had "For Sale" signs on them. My constituent was owed €24,000 by one business and €27,000 by the other. By virtue of the fact that the banks were not lending to the businesses the Revenue Commissioners shut them down. They had a fire sale of the assets and the stock in the shop and €30,000 worth of stock was sold off for €4,000. My constituent has no way of retrieving the €51,000 he is owed by both of those creditors. The businesses are for sale and the banks are indebted to the tune of €400,000. The banks are seeking to recoup €200,000. The man still has no way of getting his money at this stage to keep himself afloat. He employs four people. If he has to lay them off it will cost the taxpayer a further €80,000. It is similar to what Senator Healy Eames said about the banks and the way the Revenue Commissioners do their business. They are now threatening the viability of businesses themselves in a quest to ensure they get their money. I call on the Leader to invite the Minister to the House to address such issues. Unless we do our business differently we will close down small businesses. The likes of this should not be allowed to happen.
I call for a debate on asylum and immigration issues and ask the Leader to inform us when the relevant legislation will be introduced. I do so partly in light of the situation regarding the Polish woman who was mistranslated. I wish to refer to something Killian Forde said, if I could be heard, on the radio last night. He said with regard to the tabloids that the coverage of the issues was cheap, opportunistic and nasty and should not be allowed. I agree with him on that.
With regard to the deportation system, we have the worst record in Europe, 98.5% of asylum cases are rejected. On its last day in power, the appropriate Minister in the previous Government signed deportation orders for 200 people. He said he had given due consideration to each one. That is equivalent to a rate of approximately two minutes per case. Earlier this week I attended an event organised by BeLong To in Capel Street, an organisation for young gay people which is quite extraordinary. It has taken an important initiative, supported by Pobal and the HSE, in which it is involved in an educational process with the asylum authorities. We have had a situation where, for example, an Algerian man was refused because the person in charge said that his demeanour suggested that he was not gay. That is the most extraordinary stereotyping. In other words, he appeared masculine so he could not possibly be gay. That is the kind of extraordinary attitude women used to suffer. A Ugandan man was questioned about the existence of nightclubs. He did not know about them. It is astonishing that this level of ignorance should persist. People have also been returned to Nigeria - where they are in the process of reintroducing the death penalty - and to places such as Uganda. Gay people are told that they should conceal their identity. That is against protocols passed by the United Nations. Let us imagine if one were told that even if one is a Christian that one could not exhibit it in any way, that one had to conceal it, or that one had to conceal a political opinion.
I compliment RTE on its current series, "Operation Transformation". It has got people moving around the country and it is making them aware of the problem we have. It highlighted to me the fact that food chains, in particular fast food chains, are not doing what is being done in the United States and in the United Kingdom now, namely, displaying food calories on their menu boards. The Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, has written to the various fast food businesses in the country but he has had a limited response. Legislation has been introduced in the UK and if it is required in this country we should introduce it. McDonalds in the North, for example, has calorie counts for each item on its menu boards. It should be very easy for it to do the same in the Republic but it could be viewed as a disincentive for certain customers. Whatever the reason, it would be an incentive for menu items with a lower calorie count if the calories were listed on menu boards.
There is an epidemic in this country and we are heading the same way as the US in this regard. We should take the lead from the US where the obesity problem is chronic. We are definitely heading in that direction. I do not know the exact statistics but I will do some research on it in the coming days. The statistics on the number of people in this country who are obese or overweight is increasing every day among the young and those who are pregnant. It is a serious issue. If we need legislation I see no reason not to introduce it to make businesses show the calories contained in its food, especially if they are already doing it, for example, in the North of Ireland. They are selling the same food all over the world and it is very easy for them to do. Supermacs has given the ridiculous excuse that it would clutter the menu boards. That is absurd. This issue may sound "fluffy" compared with economic issues but it will cost the country a fortune in the future because the health service will be completely stuffed with people who have illnesses relating to obesity. I call for a debate on obesity, healthy eating and the related issue of alcohol with the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, if he can afford us some time.
Ba mhaith liom tréaslú leis na mílte gnáthdhaoine - daltaí, tuismitheoirí agus múinteoirí - a tháinig aníos go Teach Laighin aréir chun léirsiú i gcoinne na ciorruithe oideachais. Ba mhaith liom impí ar lucht an Fhreasúra, go háirithe iad siúd a bhfuil aon tionchar acu ar an Aire Oideachais agus Scileanna, cur ina loighe ar an Aire go dteastaíonn uathu aird a tharraingt ar na ceisteanna a bhí á ardú ag na léirsitheoirí aréir. I commend the thousands of people who came to Leinster House last night to protest against the education cuts that are being introduced. I ask all Members of the Opposition to do whatever they can to ask the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, to reverse the cuts he proposes to introduce.
I also welcome the fact that the Leader told us yesterday that he is willing to consider having a debate on Northern Ireland issues and the way that state is run.
I seek clarification on the other issue I raised on the possibility of extending an invitation to the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland to come to speak to us in this House. It would be a momentous occasion of great symbolism and significance. It might be one the media would cover if both Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness were to speak to this House. It was intimated prior to the Christmas break that it might happen. I would welcome clarity on whether an invitation has been sent yet or if it is the intention of the Leader to send an invitation and what kind of timescale he is thinking about.
We had many calls this morning for a debate on ethical journalism but we need a debate on ethical banking. A situation was highlighted by my colleague, Senator Fidelma Healy Eames, last week in which Bank of Ireland lifted €1.1 million from Galway Airport's bank account to off-set against loans. I wish to make it clear that Bank of Ireland did nothing illegal, but morally it was outrageous. This has been done at a time when the airport is trying to attract investment and it has devalued the asset that is Galway Airport. The money must be restored to its bank account.
My colleague highlighted the experiences of business customers with the banks. What Bank of Ireland has done to Galway Airport other banks are doing to small businesses. The matter must be thoroughly investigated. Treating business customers in this way damages job retention and prevents job creation. Given the fact that the State has invested so much money in bailing out the banks, they have a responsibility to aid in the recovery of the economy. There are grounds for a major Seanad debate on the ethics of banking.
For the information of the House on an issue raised by Senator Terry Leyden, the European flag has not been on display in the Chamber since Ireland last held the Presidency of the European Union. It will be replaced in 2013 when we will again hold the Presidency.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for his explanation, as I did not have an answer for Senator Terry Leyden.
Senator Thomas Byrne, acting Leader of the Opposition, referred to job creation, the Government's No. 1 priority. Further announcements on a strategy will be made during the coming weeks. The Seanad has had an input, as I have forwarded the bullet points of our debate on job creation to the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, and the Minister of State, Deputy John Perry. Our points will be taken into consideration. The Seanad is, once again, playing an active role in suggesting ideas for job creation. We should continue in this vein.
No, as we cannot get Ministers to drop everything at the drop of a hat and debate an issue in the Seanad, but I will endeavour to arrange for the Minister to attend the House as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, an amendment will be pressed in respect of non-Government motion No. 6. Senator Paul Coghlan has explained the position and the Taoiseach has discussed the matter with the Cardinal and the Archbishop. I understand the Catholic bishops are in contact with Rome with a view to determining whether the Pope wishes to visit. If he indicates that he does, the Government has stated it will respond positively and that an invitation will be forthcoming. I hope the amendment will not be pressed, as it could embarrass the Pope.
Protocol must be observed at all times. I hope the previous Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the current leader of Fianna Fáil informed his colleagues about the protocol to be followed. If the bishops state the Pope has indicated his desire to visit, the Government will respond positively.
Senator Susan O'Keeffe referred to the situation in Syria. I hope she will ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade about the matter when he is present in the Chamber in the afternoon when I am sure there will be a number of questions asked about the situatin in Syria.
I assure Senator Martin McAleese that our relationship with the Vatican is close and cordial and will continue to be so. I hope he will pose the questions he asked to the Tánaiste directly this afternoon.
Senators Rónán Mullen, David Norris and others raised the misrepresentation of the facts yesterday by the media in respect of a Polish national. That it occurred is unfortunate and I am glad the matter is being attended to today. Newspapers should be more careful when publishing such articles. I have twice advised the House that we will debate the issue of media standards with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, on 22 February.
Senator Cáit Keane asked whether the Minister for Justice and Equality intended to introduce good samaritan and civil liability legislation. I will inquire about the matter.
Senator Denis Landy asked about the lack of legislation to prevent murderers from sharing their victims' assets. I will raise this matter of public concern with the Minister for Justice and Equality to determine whether he intends to introduce legislation.
Senators Sean D. Barrett and Feargal Quinn mentioned the taxi industry, on which I understand a report has been commissioned and is due to be published shortly. The Minister of State, Deputy Kelly, has indicated his willingness to attend the House as soon as the report is published in order that we might discuss it.
Senators David Cullinane and David Norris asked for a debate on the issues of immigration and integration. We will try to arrange such a debate in early course.
Senator Paul Coghlan outlined the position on the proposed papal visit. Senator Jim Walsh also addressed the issue.
Senators Fidelma Healy Eames and Michael Mullins referred to the Bank of Ireland seizing €1.1 million of Galway Airport's money, even though all repayments were up to date. It is extraordinary and I am sure the company will take action against the bank. If it is up to date with its repayments, I do not know how the money could have been seized.
Senator Tom Sheahan asked about identity cards for people with an acquired brain injury. I will inquire to determine whether the Minister for Health has intentions in this regard.
Senator Mark Daly asked about the undocumented Irish. I understand a Bill is making its way through Congress and that a waiver for the undocumented Irish is still on the cards. The Taoiseach and the Tánaiste have spoken and continue to speak to politicians of Irish descent in the United States on the issue. The Government is maintaining the pressure for action to be taken.
Senator John Kelly, among others, called for a debate on the banking sector and, in particular, the attitude of banks to small business. I agree that we should have a continuing debate on this issue. The Government is pressing the banks on a monthly basis to show they are lending to small business. An ongoing debate in the House would keep us informed of the situation and allow us to discuss developments as they occur.
Senator Catherine Noone observed that fast food outlets in the State were not obliged to display calorie and nutrition information in store. I understand legislation on food labelling will be introduced in the coming months which may encompass this issue. However, it is worth noting that studies suggest there is no evidence that the provision of such information is effective in combating obesity levels. That wil be a subject for debate when the legislation is brought before the House.
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh spoke about reductions in the teacher allocations in rural schools. This issue was discussed last night during the Adjournment debate. In addition, I understand the Fianna Fáil Party intends to raise it during Private Members' time next week. That will afford another opportunity to discuss the matter.
In regard to proposals that the Northern Ireland First Minister and Deputy First Minister be invited to address the House, that is a matter for discussion at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. I will also raise it with the Taoiseach and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
The Seanad Divided:
For the motion: 12 (Sean Barrett, Thomas Byrne, David Cullinane, Mark Daly, Terry Leyden, Rónán Mullen, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Averil Power, Kathryn Reilly, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Against the motion: 33 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Terry Brennan, Colm Burke, Deirdre Clune, Eamonn Coghlan, Paul Coghlan, Martin Conway, Maurice Cummins, Jim D'Arcy, Michael D'Arcy, John Gilroy, Aideen Hayden, Fidelma Healy Eames, Imelda Henry, Lorraine Higgins, Caít Keane, John Kelly, Denis Landy, Fiach MacConghail, Maire Maloney, Mary Moran, Tony Mulcahy, Michael Mullins, Catherine Noone, David Norris, Marie Louise O'Donnell, Susan O'Keeffe, Pat O'Neill, Feargal Quinn, Tom Shehan, Jillian van Turnhout, Katherine Zappone)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Jim Walsh and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O'Keeffe..
Amendment declared lost.
If the Leader will agree to meet the Whips with a view to drawing up a new motion, I will not divide the House on this matter. However, we will not resile from the sentiment of our motion. Perhaps the Leader will indicate whether he is willing to do as I suggest. I would welcome a motion to which everyone could subscribe.