Thursday, 9 February 2012
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on the progress on the implementation of the Croke Park agreement, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude no later than 1.15 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed six minutes and a contribution from a Sinn Féin Senator not to exceed two minutes and all other Senators not to exceed one minute when asking questions to the Minister; and No. 2, statements on the immigrant investor programme and start-up entrepreneur scheme, to be taken at 1.30 p.m. and to conclude no later than 2.30 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed six minutes and all other Senators not to exceed three minutes, and the Minister to be called to reply to the debate no later than 2.25 p.m. A number of Senators have sought a debate on the proposed schemes so I hope there will be a good attendance to hear what the Minister has to say and many contributions.
The group leaders met yesterday and it was agreed to act on the proposal of Senator Darragh O'Brien to have a structured debate on the fiscal compact. It is hoped that the Oireachtas Library & Research Service will be able to make a presentation to Members in advance to allow for an informed debate on the issue.
The Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Creighton, will be present next Thursday to reply to the questions posed by Members in the debate on Tuesday last, in which debate she did not have an opportunity to reply. That is in response to what the leaders requested yesterday.
I thank the Leader for the meeting yesterday. There was a very good meeting of group leaders on having a structured debate on the fiscal compact. It is very welcome. The initiative involving a briefing from the Oireachtas Library will help to inform the House and the public debate. I thank the Leader very much for this and for allowing for the return of the Minister of State, Deputy Creighton, to the House next week to answer the questions asked of her.
I support what the Leader said yesterday on the Order of Business. From my perspective as Leader of the Opposition, I believe the Order of Business serves a very important function in this House. If Senators raise issues on the Order of Business, they should, at the very least, remain to receive an answer. I support the Leader's initiative in that regard wholeheartedly. It allows for more efficiency in the Seanad Chamber. The Leader will have as much co-operation as possible from the Fianna Fáil side.
Today is a very important anniversary in that it is the first anniversary of the comment by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, that "not another red cent" would be paid to the banks until senior bondholders were forced to share the burden. I found a very interesting item on the Fine Gael website, a very good and informative website, in which the party engages in some historical revisionism on this point. Strangely, just in advance of this very important anniversary, this pillar of Fine Gael's election campaign, the item about burning the bondholders, which featured a video and an interview with the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, has been removed from the website.
I raise this because the Taoiseach has reiterated yet again, in advance of the very important summit in New York today, at which I wish him, the Tánaiste and the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, well, that we will not seek debt write-down of any part of our banking debt. I remind Senators this is completely contrary to what was said prior to the election.
In being so forthright on this matter, the Taoiseach has played his hand far too early with regard to Europe. There is no question in my mind. The Taoiseach will go to New York today and I wish him well at this very important economic forum. I remind him to be careful in the comments he makes today. The last time he was at a large economic forum, in Davos, things ran on and he said certain things he did not mean.
It is very important we put on record today that in regard to debt write-down, the Government has stated it very clearly it will pay all debts. Given that this statement made in advance of the completion of our negotiations, and that in this House, the Minister of State, Deputy Creighton, stated that debt write-down was central to the negotiations on fiscal compact, what is the situation? Is the Taoiseach correct in stating we did not seek a write-down, or is the Minister of State correct in claiming that we did? Perhaps the Leader can let us know the true position.
I support Senator O'Brien's comments in regard to the meeting with the group leaders yesterday and like him, I commend the Leader on this. It is a very useful initiative to have, effectively, a full day debate in March on the fiscal compact. I am pleased, too, that the Minister of State, Deputy Creighton, will be in the House next Thursday to continue the debate of this week.
As I stated yesterday, however, this issue is one that changes by the day. By the time March comes round no doubt there will be much more to say on the fiscal compact. Given how quickly the negotiations on Greece are changing, where we see new issues raised today in that country's negotiations that we all hope will conclude and be resolved, I would essay that we will probably need a rolling debate. To have a one-day debate is probably not enough; we will need to have further debates, not only on the fiscal compact but on EU level negotiations and the future of the eurozone. This is very much an ongoing issue.
I support what was said about the Order of Business. It is very important that Senators remain for the Leader's response. That is a courtesy and as leaders we must all support it.
Yesterday some colleagues called for a debate on NAMA and the amount paid to legal firms by that body. I raised this matter some weeks ago in terms of procurement of legal and accountancy services and it is one on which we could usefully have a debate. There has been a tendency always to go for the larger firms of solicitors and accountants. We see the same with credit union receiverships. It would be worth looking at smaller firms and spreading the work more widely.
Will the Leader allow for a debate in six months' time, when we will have the report from the expert working group set up by the Government to look into how best to implement the ABC judgment by the European Court of Human Rights in December 2010? It is timely to call for that debate now because this week marks the 20th anniversary of the X case, when, in February 1992, the then Attorney General sought and obtained an injunction to prevent a 14 year old girl from leaving the country. We all know the outrage that was caused by the granting of the injunction and the change in law it brought about. However, that was 20 years ago and it is long overdue that we should legislate to implement the criteria by which the X case test should be observed and implemented. I ask the Leader that when the group reports in June the House would have a debate on that report.
I, too, welcome the clarification on the Order of Business procedures. As a relatively new Senator who, unlike Senator O'Brien, will not be joining Fine Gael, or reading its website, I welcome that.
I have a small point that may concern the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. This may be the showbiz director in me. There is a rule that Members should not walk into the Chamber while a person is speaking, in other words, when a camera is pointed at the speaker, for example if somebody were to walk behind me or another Senator while we were speaking. That is something we should bear in mind in terms of procedure. I looked up the rules. This would give a cleaner and more efficient image and would also give more respect to the Chamber, particularly as we are broadcasting.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for that.
Without pre-empting the passage through the House of the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, a very important Bill in regard to donations and gender quotas, no matter which way it goes, will the Leader say whether it is possible that the final passage of that Bill might coincide with International Women's Day on March 8? I do not wish to pre-empt the debate or make any suggestion of a guillotine. Plenty of time should be allowed. However, that might be a symbolic and good moment for the House to pass the Bill and bring it to the Dáil.
Our group of Independent Senators submitted at least four names of prominent national and international citizens whom we would like to invite to the Chamber to address the House on civic and international matters. These are important figures from different areas, from both entrepreneurial and civil society. Does the Committee on Procedure and Privileges have any intention of inviting prominent citizens into the Chamber, especially before the end of February? I wish to keep the momentum going and I commend the Leader on what he has achieved already.
I also welcome the initiative by the group leaders and the leadership offered by the Leader of the House in welcoming the debate on the fiscal compact, which is very important. It is an innovation that we will be briefed by the Oireachtas Research and Library Service, publicly in the House. That is an important part of the Seanad's role.
When I heard Senator Mac Conghail recall his theatrical experience and, at the same time, wish Senator O'Brien well, I naturally thought he would continue and invite his erstwhile colleague, Senator Coghlan, to break a leg as he goes forward into his new party.
On a more serious note, I share with Senator Bacik the view that the House should have a debate on abortion, given that it is the 20th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in the X case. I do not believe we should necessarily wait until the report of the expert group. It would be appropriate for us to have a debate very soon on the state of abortion law in Ireland and in other countries. We could reflect in particular on Britain's barbaric laws in this area.
I believe Senator Bacik was both legally and factually inaccurate, on any objective reading, when she wrote in The Irish Times the other day that the decision of the European Court of Human Rights effectively mandates legislation on abortion.
In asking for this debate, I point out to the Leader and the deputy leader, that no less a person than a former judge of the ECHR, Judge Javier Borrego-Borrego, when speaking recently in Ireland pointed out that what the court's decision points to is the need for consistency between our constitutional position and our legislative and administrative position.
The notable point about the decision in X was that no psychiatric evidence was heard. The drift of things-----
Of course I am. If anything it now looks as there may well be adverse mental health sequelae for women associated with abortion some of the time. We are now in a new place with our knowledge about the impact of abortion not just on the unborn child but potentially on women as well. All these issues need to be scrutinised.
We should also remember that were we to legislate for the X decision, as Senator Bacik would like us to, we would be talking about no time limits. Otherwise, that would also be unconstitutional. The X decision was quite unworkable. We need to look at this issue in the round and courageously. In protecting the unborn, we must also ensure women always have the necessary support and solidarity from all institutions of our society so they do not feel they have no other option but abortion. It draws on all of us to show compassion and imagination as we try and vindicate human rights in a true and proper sense on this most important of issues.
Following on from Tuesday night's "Prime Time Investigates" programme and other exposures of criminality, will the Leader inquire if the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources will introduce legislation governing the sale of SIM, subscriber identification module, cards? It is a disgrace that one can walk into any mobile telephone shop to buy any number of SIM cards without any trace or accountability, particularly given that in other countries one needs a passport or other form of identification. In recent documentaries and programmes such as the RTE series "Raw", it has been shown how criminals throw away SIM cards from their mobile phones after committing crime. We have had incredible advances in telecommunications in the past decade. Practically every citizen has a mobile telephone. However, there are twice as many SIM cards as there are mobile phones. Questions must be asked about what is going on with so many SIM cards.
On Tuesday's "Prime Time Investigates" programme, we saw poor unfortunate women trafficked from Romania and other countries to work as prostitutes here. The advances in telecommunications have assisted and benefited this most heinous crime. We need a system to tighten up on the sale and distribution of SIM cards. One has to be 18 years old to buy cigarettes or alcohol but one can be any age to buy a SIM card.
I commend Senator Zappone on her excellent presentation on Tuesday's "Prime Time" programme on Clare local radio this morning. This House has led the way in introducing legislation to deal with prostitution. We must keep our foot on the pedal-----
Will the House send a request to the Iranian Government to show leniency in the case of Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani. He is an Iranian Christian pastor who has been sentenced to death in Tehran for converting from Islam to Christianity. On all human rights issues this House should take a particular stand. I will send the Leader the details of this particular case and I hope he will make a case through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to the Iranian Government to show proper leniency in this case. It has already offered leniency if Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani recants his Christianity and reconvert to Islam. Imagine if we had the same approach here to a Christian who converted to Islam. This case is inhuman.
It highlights the disadvantage of closing our embassy in Teheran. It has meant we have lost influence in these countries to protect human rights. This House could do a great service to Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani who is languishing in a prison for his right to be a Christian. As Christians, we should defend his right to become and remain a Christian.
I support the call made by the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade last night in Washington for the reinstatement of an OSCE presence in Belarus where there is a continuing erosion of human rights. Belarus closed the OSCE office in Minsk after OSCE observers called the country's December 2010 presidential elections badly flawed. Since then, there have been many popular protests against the election but the Belarus Government has cracked down on anyone publicly criticising or protesting against these election results. Numerous human rights activists, political figures and media workers have been intimidated, beaten, arrested and imprisoned. All fair-minded people condemned the harassment of opposition and human rights organisations in Belarus. I welcome the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade's initiative yesterday.
All of us have an association with Belarus. In east Galway and elsewhere, many families host children from orphanages from the country. This is an issue in which we should support the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. I urge the Leader to convey the House's support for his words in Washington last night.
Again, I call for a wide-ranging debate on the economy. It seems to me we are revisiting the 1970s with the announcement the other day of a new version of passports for sale and now the financial lure in tax breaks for business executives. There may well be reasons for this but they should be teased out in this House. To people on the ground who are having their services cut back, it looks obscene that people on enormous amounts of money should have tax concessions of a very considerable nature. We are moving into a two-tier society.
I also sympathise with the Greek leader who said they were being put under pressure to sign a document in one hour which will govern the conditions in their country for the next 50 years. These matters have an effect in how we perceive society and human rights. When the situation economically is so disastrous, we tend to take our eyes off the ball on other matters.
For that reason, despite the economic situation, I welcomed yesterday's briefing at the foreign affairs committee indicating the strong possibility that Ireland will receive a seat at the UN human rights committee. I hope this will happen and it will take up issues such as trafficking which have been highlighted by the foreign affairs committee. At the committee, I made the point it is not just women who are trafficked and had the wording of a proposed motion changed to "persons". Adult males and young boys in a small number of circumstances are also trafficked.
A wide-ranging debate on the economy can take in literature and other unexploited resources. For example, the short story was invented in this country by Maria Edgeworth, a fact conceded by no less an authority than Chekhov. We have great women writers like Mary Lavin, almost forgotten now, Molly Keane and others. Why do we not use these resources? I would be very grateful if we could have the widest possible debate on the economy.
"Morning Ireland" this morning carried a story of a new investment of €3 billion from an American source. The European Commission has commended the way bonds are going in Ireland. Rather than always downing ourselves, when we see ourselves being praised in Europe and America we should say to ourselves we are going in the right direction.
Everybody recognises we have a lot to but if we keep hitting ourselves, somebody else will beat us when we are down.
I congratulate the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport on his initiative in regard to the GoSafe programme for speed cameras. Although €10 million has been raised through the speed cameras, the programme is intended to save lives rather than a fund-raising exercise. I would like to know how much of this €10 million will be invested in additional cameras. The locations of cameras are available online. I do know if that is a good idea given that we do not yet have a sufficient mass of cameras. It is easy to go online to find out the location of cameras before starting a journey. Until such time as there is saturation coverage of cameras, it might be self-defeating to reveal their locations. Some of the cameras are located at the entrances to towns and villages, which is like catching herrings in a barrel. I ask the Minister to ensure that GoSafe, the private company operating the programme, puts the cameras in optimal locations. The programme must be working given that 100,000 penalty points were issued in the past six months.
I ask the Leader to provide additional time for the debate on the Croke Park agreement. I do not think 90 minutes is sufficient time to debate all the issues arising and a number of Senators have raised questions in the context of public sector reform.
Certain economic commentators and right-wing elements of the media and Government are attempting to undermine the Croke Park agreement with a view to reducing pay across the board and creating a low-pay economy. An attempt is also being made to divide and conquer by setting the users of public services against public servants. Certain public representatives are claiming at public meetings on schools and hospitals that cuts will be required to services unless pay is reduced. They are trying to play teachers, nurses and doctors against those who depend on public services, which is wrong.
This House should send the message that public sector workers do a good job in difficult circumstances and they are doing a lot more for a lot less. Efficiencies have been achieved across Departments and public services. We will not be able to do justice to public sector workers and those who depend on public services if we did not get an opportunity to tease out the issues arising. Group spokespersons will have six minutes, the Sinn Féin spokesperson will have two minutes and one minute will be allowed to others who wish to contribute. Is the Leader prepared to increase the time for debate?
I agree with Senator Keane's comment that the Government's return to the bond markets is a good news story for the Irish economy and society. It is a small story but it is nonetheless welcome. This is the first time we have been able to return to the markets since the disastrous day in 2010 when the troika arrived in our country. The interest rate charged on 10 year bonds was 18% in September but less than 6% last week.
It is an indication that the Government's strategy is working, albeit more slowly than we would like. It is good news, despite what the naysayers and doom laden prophets are saying. A front page article in last week's Financial Times acknowledged Ireland's return to the bond markets as a good thing and other international commentators have agreed. The only people who think it is bad are the Opposition Members of the Seanad and the Dáil.
I move that under No. 16 on the Order Paper, motion No. 6, be taken today. The motion is in the name of Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin Members, as well as Senators Mullen, Quinn, van Turnhout, McAleese and Mac Conghail. When I raised this matter on the Order of Business last week, I was asked to wait to hear what the Tánaiste had to say.
The motion asks the Government to convey to the Holy See its intention to welcome a visit by the Pope to Ireland in an official capacity. Last week, we explained the difference between a pastoral visit and an official state visit. The Tánaiste indicated that the Government would facilitate the Pope if he wished to visit. The Pope can visit without being facilitated by the Government, however. This is a question of the Government sending a signal which would be contrary to the negative signals sent over the past year.
On 20 July the Taoiseach made comments in the Dáil with regard to the Vatican frustrating inquiries over the previous three years. These comments were unfounded but were not corrected. A second issue involved a quotation attributed to the Pope which dealt with an entirely different matter relating to the vocation of the theologian but was applied in a pejorative manner to the child abuse scandal. When that was clarified by the Vatican, the record was not set straight. The third issue arising was the closure of the residential embassy to the Vatican. The fourth issue, which disturbed me and many others, was the Clontarf report that sought to discriminate against Catholics in the public service and remove religion from all schools. Such blatant anti-Catholicism has not yet been disowned by senior people within the Labour Party. I recognise there are good people in the Labour Party and Fine Gael who share my concerns and would like to see a papal visit.
There is little point in being critical of human rights abuses in respect of freedom of religion in far away countries if we do not stand up against similar breaches of human rights in this country. I hope we can stand together on this motion rather than divide on it.
The Taoiseach has made clear his position on extending an invitation to the Pope. An invitation will be made available once the appropriate indications are given to the Government.
Yesterday, we discussed medical matters and the prospect of allowing qualified individuals to open GP practices. More than one third of junior hospital doctors come from outside Ireland and 24% are from outside the European Union. We produce a number of medical graduates every year but the vast majority leave the country within three years of graduating. It would be appropriate to have a debate on whether someone who graduates from an Irish medical college should be obliged to work in hospitals in Ireland for a minimum period. We need a detailed debate on the matter. Providing medical training in universities is a major cost to the taxpayers who are entitled to some payback in that regard. It would be appropriate to have a debate with a Minister from the Department of Health or the Department of Education and Skills on whether they should be required to work in Ireland for three to four years after qualifying.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Walsh. It is curious that we extended an official invitation to the head of the Church of England and yet we do not seem to extend an invitation to the Pontiff. We invited Queen Elizabeth, who is the head of the Church of England, and extended her all the courtesy.
That is what the Taoiseach said. I thank the Leader for his answer on yesterday's Order of Business. I agree with his policy that only those in the Chamber should get a reply. The clarification was that the Taoiseach and Tánaiste will be seeking waivers for the undocumented Irish from the US Secretary of State, Mrs. Clinton, and President Obama when they travel to Washington. I thank him for the information.
The leader of the Fianna Fáil group brought in a-----
However, there is a protocol. The Taoiseach is very happy to do it. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, who has discussed it with the Pope, has said that once an indication is given that he wishes to come, it will happen. However, as Archbishop Martin explained, the full fruits would not come from it until the report by the three cardinals involved in the apostolic visitation is published, clarified and dealt with. We should not rush our fences on this one and should not try to embarrass the Holy See or anybody else. The Senators have gone somewhat off the wall in some of what they said.
I have and the Leader will respond to it. I wanted to deal with NAMA today, but I feel I had better leave it to the next day because I do not want to be ruled out of order by you, a Chathaoirligh. Before I wind up, I congratulate you on your new position in another sphere.
Ba mhaith liom iarraidh ar an Ceannaire cuireadh a thabhairt don Aire Dlí agus Cirt agus Comhionannais teacht isteach anseo chun eolas atá tagtha chun cinn, go bhfuil €14.5 milliún caite le cúig bliana anuas ar phóilíneacht agus ar ghardaí i gcás tobar gáis na Coiribe, a phlé. The Minister for Justice and Equality should come to the House to explain how €14.5 million has been spent on overtime, allowances, travel and subsistence, PRSI, etc., for gardaí at the Bellanaboy plant in County Mayo. In 2011, €913,000 was spent, with €3.5 million in 2010 and €5 million in 2007. We heard during yesterday's Private Members' debate that it would cost €15 million to retain rural schools and now we hear that an extra €15 million was spent on overtime and related costs. I will go a little further while not jumping to any conclusions about media reports. This morning the Minister, Deputy Shatter was reported as saying "some protesters behave in a self-indulgent way that has no regard for the rights of others." I would like the Minister to come to the House to clarify if that is what he said-----
----- and what he meant by it. I call for a debate on the money spent on policing the protests at Bellanaboy so that we can ask questions and we can possibly ask for an investigation or inquiry into how the Garda handled allegations of assault made by protesters there.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Cullinane.
We need a half-day or a full-day debate on mental health services. In February 2011 there was a national recruitment campaign for mental health CNM2-grade positions. Interviews were carried out for a week with approximately 400 to 500 people placed on 11 panels for the delivery of mental health services. My information is that nobody from outside the Dublin area has been recruited from those panels. People were put on panels for each HSE area in the country but the only people recruited have been in Dublin. I am led to believe that it is a sweetheart deal between unions and the HSE. We need an open debate-----
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate at an early date on the issue of higher education. Senators may be aware of a proposal from the institutes of technology in the north west in particular to come together as a multi-campus university of technology. This proposal is not getting the kind of attention it requires from the Higher Education Authority and from the Government and should be debated here. In mentioning that it would be remiss of me not to mention a national project launched this morning by the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, which from a research point of view is being headed up by Sligo Institute of Technology. It is an EU-approved pilot electronic invoicing project, which over a period of time will lead to savings of €250 million per year. It will increase competitiveness for businesses and will increase efficiencies in the public service. In the context of a multi-campus university of technology, one can see from today's initiative just one example of the kinds of strides that can be made in applied research from the institute of technology sector throughout the country.
I thank the lead researcher, Edmund Gray, and lecturer, Pádraig Harte, of Sligo Institute of Technology, who, following the launch today, have taken the time to come and listen to us here in the House. They are very welcome.
I support Senator Walsh's motion and call for vote. It seems to me the motion is so carefully worded in such a modest and careful manner and in a manner which I believe aims at getting the support of all sides of the House. An event such as this is important. The text states:
"That Seanad Éireann calls upon 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."
It is purposely worded in a mild, modest and careful way to extend the invitation or to seek at official level through existing channels to welcome the opportunity of extending an official invitation. This could be and should be supported by all sides of the House.
We are all aware that church-state relationships have not been good for some time past. People on both sides of the argument have felt hurt in this regard. Often, this comes down to individual families. I believe Senators will have noticed the feeling abroad that it is time to move on. If we do not move on when the opportunity arises, it may not come again in the near future. The Eucharistic Congress will involve people from throughout the world coming to Ireland. If there is an indication that church-state relationships are still at a low and fragile ebb it will not be good for the country.
There is an opportunity today to show that the Seanad has given careful consideration to this, to show that we are prepared to move on and that we are prepared to do what is right at the right time. I believe genuinely that this is the right time. No one need believe we are losing face in any way by doing so. The Seanad can set an example. As Senator Feargal Quinn stated, the motion before us is delicately worded and it in no way attempts to be triumphalist or confrontational. It simply tries to set the position in Ireland straight in respect of this relationship which we all cherished in the past. It would do good for the Seanad, the country and its future in the context of church-state relationships. We should do this today and try to be unanimous in this regard. I call on the Leader to reflect on the wording of the motion. It is in no way anti-Government, nor is it anti- any political party. It simply reflects what we are hearing from people, not from a select body of people but widespread views throughout the State at present.
We are being examined very closely internationally. Last week, a major delegation from Britain went to meet the Pope to discuss issues of human rights and many other issues as well. Given the closure of the Irish Embassy at the Vatican and by not taking the opportunity to send the right message, we are not doing what our constituents are keen for us to do. I call on the Leader to reflect on and consider whether there is some way forward to get this message to the Government.
I am sure our thoughts are all with the family of Melanie McCarthy-McNamara after her untimely and appalling death. I commend the Garda on its prompt recovery of the weapon and vehicle involved. Will the Leader arrange for the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House in order that we can raise the issues of gangs, gang warfare and the difficulties that arise? This is still a relatively new phenomenon in Ireland. There is much to be learned from other countries, where the problems arising from gangs have been around for far too long and where they have experience of the way in which gangs relate to drugs and the sale of drugs. Given all the difficulties and dilemmas facing the country at the moment it is easy to forget the people who are caught up, in this case, it would appear, innocently, in such trouble. When a young girl loses her life in this way it is time for the House to ask the Minister to address this particular point, as opposed to asking the Minister for Justice and Equality to come and talk about crime. I wish to be appraised of where we are headed and how the Garda is set to cope with the problems that will surely only increase in the years to come.
As the Senator is aware, we are in a process of exploring arrangements with the troika to re-engineer the promissory notes and to find a less expensive solution by replacing them with other financial instruments with a long maturity. In simple terms, the objective of the Government is to significantly reduce the overall cost to Irish taxpayers of the promissory note arrangements that we inherited from the previous Government. Senator O'Brien is aware that the troika will bring forward a common paper in the coming weeks. This gives us the basis of an opportunity to move forward on this area of debt. It is a medium-term strategy and the decision-making process in the EU will take time, of that there is no question. I am sure Senator O'Brien is aware of this situation.
Senator Mullen called for a debate on abortion laws. Senator Bacik remarked on the implication of the ABC v. Ireland judgment and the report due in June. We should probably wait for the report and we can probably arrange a debate on the issues at that time.
Senator Mac Conghail asked about the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Bill. Committee Stage will be taken in the House next week. It will be well over by Wednesday and probably in the other House at that stage. Senator Conway commented on the question of the purchase of mobile phones, subscriber identification module, SIM, cards and so on. The Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, will be in the House on 22 February to deal with media standards and so on. Perhaps the matter could be raised with the Minister while he is dealing with the communications end of it at that stage. Senator Conway referred to the RTE programme "Raw".
It is under continuous review. Senator Mullins spoke about the reinstatement of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE, representative in Belarus. The director general of the OSCE was in the Visitors' Gallery last week when the Tánaiste was present. I support him in this regard and I am fully aware of the links between his area of the country and Chernobyl and the number of children who come to visit the area on a regular basis.
Senator Norris referred to passports for sale. The Minister, Deputy Shatter, will be here in the afternoon to dispel any notions that passports are for sale in respect of the immigrant investor programme. I am sure Senator Norris will take part in the debate and outline his comments to the Minister. He also commented on the Finance Bill. The points can be raised in March when the Finance Bill is before the House. The Senator is correct in that the Tánaiste outlined that Ireland is seeking a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council. Hopefully, we will win a seat on the council.
Senator Keane raised a number of issues and she and Senator Gilroy welcome the return to the bond markets, which is a positive sign which should and has been acknowledged in the Financial Times and other economic commentaries. She also asked about speed cameras and whether there was to be a review of the situation. A review on speed limits and cameras is to be undertaken. I outlined that yesterday and will not go over it again.
Senator Cullinane asked for more time on the debate on the Croke Park agreement. We have arranged for a one and a half hour debate and it will be followed by another with another Minister attending the House. The timing has to do with the availability of Ministers to attend the House. We have planned for a one and a half hour debate. The debate was only requested two weeks ago but we will make more time available for debate on the issue at a later stage. I am sure we will get to debate the issue on a number of occasions, so I ask the Senator to be reasonable. This debate is a start.
Senators Walsh, Quinn, Daly, Coghlan, Ó Murchú and others spoke about the proposed motion mentioned earlier. I am disappointed that Senator Walsh intends to press this issue at this point. It is ironic that when we had the Tánaiste here last week, he was not even asked about the Pope's visit. I had to ask him to address that question myself. A question was asked about the embassy, but no question was asked about the Pope's -----
The Tánaiste explained that as with the Queen's visit, there are significant protocols to go through. There is significant tic-tacking that goes on between embassies, officials and at government level. The same goes for the proposed visit of the Pope. The Irish bishops are in negotiation with the Holy See. When an indication is given that the Pope would like to or intends to visit, the invitation will issue. The Taoiseach has said that the Pope will be made very welcome and an invitation will be issued immediately that indication is given.
There is no question of the Government not inviting the Pope. It must go through the proper protocols. I hope the Fianna Fáil Members raising this issue will speak to their party leader, a former Minister for Foreign Affairs, as he can advise them of the protocols for such a visit. Therefore, I hope the Senators withdraw their motion.
Senator Burke made a good point on the issue of medical training in universities. This is something to which the Minister for Health alluded yesterday and I am sure we will come back to that issue at some stage. Senator Ó Clochartaigh asked about overtime allowances paid to gardaí. These are paid to gardaí to uphold the law. We have had hundreds of millions spent on security to protect this State over 30 years, but Senator Ó Clochartaigh did not mention that.
Senator MacSharry asked about technology universities and so on. I hope the university of the south east will become a reality as a result of the criteria to be announced with regard to technology universities.
Senator O'Keeffe seeks a debate on gangland crime. As she is aware, we have very strong legislation in place in this regard. I agree we should arrange for a debate on law and order at an early date.
With regard to the Leader's response, we are aware of the protocol and have respected it in the motion we wish to put before the House. I withdrew it last week in the hope we would have all round agreement. Even at this late stage, I appeal to Members to support this uncontroversial motion.
The Seanad Divided:
For the motion: 15 (Thomas Byrne, David Cullinane, Mark Daly, Terry Leyden, Paschal Mooney, Rónán Mullen, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Darragh O'Brien, Ned O'Sullivan, Averil Power, Feargal Quinn, Kathryn Reilly, Jim Walsh, Diarmuid Wilson)
Against the motion: 33 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Terry Brennan, Colm Burke, Deirdre Clune, Paul Coghlan, Michael Comiskey, Martin Conway, Maurice Cummins, Jim D'Arcy, Michael D'Arcy, John Gilroy, Jimmy Harte, Aideen Hayden, Fidelma Healy Eames, James Heffernan, Imelda Henry, Lorraine Higgins, Caít Keane, John Kelly, Denis Landy, Fiach MacConghail, Maire Maloney, Mary Moran, Tony Mulcahy, Michael Mullins, David Norris, Mary Ann O'Brien, Susan O'Keeffe, Pat O'Neill, Tom Shehan, Jillian van Turnhout, Katherine Zappone)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O'Keeffe.
Amendment declared lost.