Tuesday, 14 February 2012
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, statements, questions and answers on the HSE national service plan 2012, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and conclude not later than 5.15 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed five minutes, the contribution of a Sinn Féin Senator not to exceed two minutes and the contributions of all other Senators when asking the Minister a question not to exceed one minute; No. 2, Bretton Woods Agreements (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2001 - Second Stage, to be taken at 7.30 p.m. and conclude not later than 9.30 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be called on to reply not later than 9.20 p.m.
The altered schedule of business for today was unavoidable. The Veterinary Practice (Amendment) Bill 2011 will be taken next Tuesday, immediately after the Order of Business.
The debate last week on the Private Members' motion on investment in education was useful and many good contributions were made. Have Government Members been briefed by the Minister for Education and Skills on the outcome of the review of DEIS schools and the proposed cuts to be made in disadvantaged schools? I note Senator Ivana Bacik's colleague, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordán, said at a public meeting in Dublin that they would be satisfied with the outcome of the review. I was not aware that Deputy Ó Ríordáin was at Cabinet. Can the Leader confirm if he, himself, was briefed by the Minister for Education and Skills? Perhaps Senator Bacik can advise given that the Minister is a member of the Labour Party. Have they been briefed? What is the review? Will parents of pupils in disadvantaged schools be satisfied when the review is published this week?
I give a guarded welcome to the action plan for jobs published by the Government yesterday. Any Government initiative on jobs is to be welcomed and we need a debate on the plan. I am sure the Leader will allocate time for one in the coming weeks. I am concerned about a number of items in the plan. The main issue is a lack of access to credit for businesses which we all know about and discussed in the House. The action plan is aspirational and is a rehash of many other initiatives, such as Food Harvest 2020 delivered by the last Government, so a lot of announcements have already been made.
The most important part of the action plan is on financing. The Government has said that micro-finance is not in the document and it will produce it in next quarter or the one after. Can the Leader confirm that the plan for a much vaunted strategic investment bank is gone and there will not be one? NewERA, which is the responsibility of the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dowd, does not have anything to do at the moment because a new era has not happened. Is the strategic investment bank plan finished? My party is concerned about a number of items in the action plan, particularly the scrapping of the county enterprise boards, which is unwelcome. We need to tease out these issues in more detail.
Finally, can the Leader raise the following issue with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, as I did not get an opportunity last week when we discussed energy legislation because the issue was not appropriate to it. There is a ludicrous situation whereby ComReg proposes to fine An Post €11.9 million for not meeting service targets. An Post has already, in difficult times, made substantial savings over recent years. It does not make sense for the communications regulator to fine a State company nearly €12 million because he does not believe An Post met a 94% next day delivery target, which the firm disputes. It is also critical of the fact that ComReg does not provide sufficient or timely information to enable An Post to improve its performance. All of us will agree that An Post has made major strides over recent years and has saved over €100 million in operating costs. I ask the Leader to bring the matter to the attention of the Minister and ask him if it is sensible for the communications regulator to fine a State company €12 million in the current climate. It makes no sense at all. This is the same ComReg that took no action against multinationals like O2 and Vodafone when they suspended their bill pay service and stopped the option of paying a bill at the post office. Such a measure went against ComReg's advice but the companies were not punished. I ask the Leader to raise the matter with the Minister, as a matter of urgency.
I, too, welcome the action plan for jobs launched yesterday. It amounts to a significant new programme with more than 270 actions, some clearly based on initiatives taken previously and some of which are new. Some actions are creative and have already captured people's imagination. I know that people in small businesses are interested in the diaspora finder's fee. That measure, coupled with the visa waiver programme mentioned by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, in the House last Thursday, incentivises people outside of Ireland to invest here and create jobs. I have perused the action plan already and it contains important new provisions on the strategic investment fund, freeing up credit for small businesses and reforming procurement procedures for them too. It is important that we are seen to support small and medium-sized enterprises and indigenous enterprises that are major employers here.
I would welcome a debate on the action plan on jobs, following on from what Senator Darragh O'Brien has said. A debate would build on the one we already had here on job creation when a Minister was not present. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, wrote to us and said he would take into account our suggestions. It would be very useful if we could build on that debate, even without a Minister being present, and debate the proposals for job creation made in the action plan and how some of our own ideas might feed into the further development of the plan. It is welcome that the Taoiseach will be monitoring the plan and that quarterly reviews will be held. Even if similar measures have been announced before, there was often a failure to ensure they took effect and actually worked.
I call for a debate on the universities as some significant reports have been issued this week. Yesterday the HEA issued a very significant report on the criteria necessary for the emergence of technological universities, something which has been sought for some time in the south east. I spoke at a conference last Friday in Trinity College Dublin at which quite a number of issues were examined as to what made a university different from other institutes of higher education. This is a debate we could usefully continue and develop in the House in order to bring different perspectives to bear. Other reports are due from the HEA this week on the future shape of third level education and I welcome the proposals for reform brought forward by the Minister. It would be very useful to have a debate devoted specifically to third level education and the universities.
There are occasional outbreaks of discussion in the House on the future of the Seanad and there have been a number of calls for a more extended reflection on our institutions and in particular the future of the Seanad. A very useful contribution has been made, however, by the inaugural parliamentary fellow in these Houses, Mr. Brian Hunt, who has written a report on the role of the Houses of the Oireachtas in the scrutiny of legislation. It would be very useful if his report which is available in the Oireachtas Library was to form the basis for a discussion in this House. He has raised a number of relevant issues, but he has expressed opposition to the proposed abolition of the Seanad on the basis that he believes at least one serious attempt at reforming it should be made before it is considered for abolition. He points out that should it be abolished, the major question that would arise is, in view of the importance of the role played by the Seanad during the legislative process, what would take its place. He says if the Seanad is not to be replaced by another legislative forum, there is a question about whether the legislative process in the other House would be enhanced and lengthened. Clearly, this gentleman who has considered the issues involved in detail believes merely abolishing the Seanad is not a runner as a sensible reform. He was the inaugural Oireachtas or parliamentary fellow and we should take his good work very seriously. It deserves to be debated in this House.
I am not a member of the Fine Gael parliamentary party, but if I were-----
I have no secrets to tell, but if I were leader, I would ask how it was that the grassroots of the party and backbench Members seemed to be more in touch not just with public opinion but also with experienced diplomats who had served in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade during the years in saying the withdrawal of our ambassador from the Holy See was a mistake. We all heard the former ambassador to Washington, Mr. Seán Donlan, yesterday on "Morning Ireland" when he exposed the Tánaiste's bad judgment on the issue when he talked about the importance -----
In raising a point of order I hope my colleague will refer to the slip of the tongue which was Freudian when Mr. Donlan talked about the responsibility of Irish diplomats in the implementation of Vatican policy. That takes us back a few years.
Yes. There is a serious issue about the Tánaiste's credibility. He tried to claim all along that the decision was taken on economic grounds. It now appears the embassy to the Holy See was not even on the most recent list of embassies recommended for closure by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
-----in contrast to his colleague in the other House where it was dismissed out of hand. It is a wide-ranging document which deserves to be debated in this House. I suggest we debate it under the four headings of indigenous business; international start-ups and attr multinationals; areas with high potential; and improving our competitiveness. The debate would be more far-reaching if we were to divide it up into different areas for discussion over a period of weeks. The Leader might consider this suggestion.
There are many elements to the plan which contains 270 proposals across 15 Departments and 32 State agencies. While I accept some of the proposals are not new, they had been left sitting on the shelf and not implemented. In fact, as noted by the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, yesterday, the microfinance proposal had been made by the previous Government and that when he took office, he found it needed to be taken down and put into action. That is just one of many.
I welcome the proposed changes to bring the county and city enterprise boards within the local authorities and tie them with Enterprise Ireland. This will make them much more reactive and provide for far greater support for small and medium-sized businesses. That is a very positive proposal and I would not shake my head to dismiss it. I look forward to a very good debate on it.
I am delighted Senator Rónán Mullen dealt with the following issue so well and I agree totally with him. I call for a debate on the decision of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, to unilaterally close our embassy to the Holy See at Villa Spada in the Vatican. In a statement yesterday the highly experienced former Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr. Seán Donlon, exposed it as a personal, vindictive vendetta by the Labour Party-----
-----specifically to discuss the question of the closure of the embassy to the Holy See. This morning there was a chink of light when he said he was reviewing the matter. He is making an excuse about Villa Spada in which I had a private audience with the late Pope John Paul II when I met him in Rome.
It does not matter if the ambassador is living in a small apartment. He or she does not need to live in Villa Spada which could be used by the Irish Embassy to Italy. We have two ambassadors in France, one in Paris and the other in Strasbourg dealing with the Council of Europe.
There are more than 1 billion Catholics in the world giving allegiance to the Holy See. Ireland must have a permanent representative in the Vatican. I, therefore, urge the Government to reverse its decision. No matter how long it takes, the Fianna Fáil Party will ensure it is reversed, either by the Government or it as part of the next Government.
I welcome the Government's jobs initiative which comprises a selection of bold ambitions, including making Ireland the best small country in the world in which to do business. It is easy to be cynical, but I know Senator Darragh O'Brien is not a cynical person. The plan offers hope and is presented with a genuine commitment to get the country moving again. I say with conviction that the plan gives hope to the mothers and fathers who are planning to say goodbye to their children at the airport that these young people will be able to stay in Ireland. As I welcome the youth of Ardee, County Louth, to the Chamber today, I want them to feel the energy of the House. They must be assured that the Seanad and the Dáil are working hard to make progress in this area.
The welfare of the people is continually suppressed in the interests of the system. In an article in Rolling Stone in 2009 Matt Taibbi described Goldman Sachs as a "great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money". I have been raising such issues as Goldman Sachs, the banking system and the ratings agencies for the past ten years. The rating agencies are no more than a flotilla of poisonous squids with the same motivation and intent as Goldman Sachs. In this context, I call for the establishment of an international financial court. The agencies are engaged in re-rating countries, yet they have been shown previously to have no knowledge or understanding of the concept of a conflict of interest. Who knows whether some of the people concerned do not have an interest in the impact they are having on the market? Who knows whether they are not making money on it? We are all entitled to know. Why is money being lent to the banks to buy bonds at a rate of 6% for which we, the Irish people, are paying?
Continuing on the theme of the welfare of citizens, I was astonished at the response of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, when she was asked about marriage equality. Her response shows she has no intention of respecting the welfare of children. I am tired of the posturing of politicians on this issue and the opportunism that abounds when it comes to the welfare of children. I opposed the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010 on the basis that it violated the rights of children. Members who are now on the Government side of the House spoke most affectingly about the matter, but have they done anything about it? Gay people can adopt children - let that message go out - but they cannot do so as a couple. This means that when the adopting parent dies, the child is in limbo. I hear such smug hypocrisy about the welfare of children, but, as I pointed out at the time, the failure to make provision in this regard in the Act was nothing more than an abuse of children.
Let us put the welfare of the people at the centre of our agenda. I hope to have an opportunity, if we have a general debate on economics, to talk about these matters. I spoke to the marriage equality people; I spoke to people about fracking and I have concluded that it is all part of the same thing - a lack of respect for the welfare of the people.
The electricity supply to the people in Priory Hall is being cut off because the building is being pumped out. What were they building? Was it a boat? What kind of building needs to be pumped out? Let us have a debate on these broad issues of principle, which is one of the things for which the Seanad was established.
-----the previous speaker who managed to run three items together. He even interrupts me during my little item.
I would like to raise a serious issue today that is causing problems in both rural and urban Ireland. This is the continuous theft of gold for sale. I have seen statistics from the Garda Síochána in my own area and in my region which show that robberies are being carried out specifically to steal gold. This gold is being sold to shops which are unregulated and which do not require any identification of those vendors selling them gold, which they then sell on the market. I have sought legislation on this issue and have been in contact with the Minister's office through one of my colleagues. I have been informed that it is under consideration. There is currently no traceability for gold sold by cash for gold shops.
In view of the serious nature of this matter, the epidemic of robberies throughout the country specifically related to gold, and the sentimental consequences of these robberies to people, I call on the Minister to introduce legislation immediately to ensure there is full traceability of all gold that is being sold through cash for gold shops. This can be done easily and very quickly. I ask the Leader of the House to bring this matter to the attention of the Minister.
I would also ask the Minister to give a little bit more thought to the type of response he gives back to Senators on issues that we raise in this House. I got a reply to a serious issue I raised two weeks ago, namely, the Eamon Lillis case. I got a one-line reply from the Minister which did not refer to the issue I was raising and included Senator Cáit Keane in the response, even though the Senator did not raise the issue at all. Senators need to get some serious responses from Ministers from now on.
I am sure that all Senators will join with me in expressing relief that all five bodies have been recovered from the sea following the sinking of the Tit Bonhomme fishing trawler, and in commending the communities of Union Hall in west Cork and the Gaeltacht area in west Waterford where one of the fishermen who lost his life, Michael Hayes, spent a lot of his time. A huge community effort was put in. Fishermen from throughout the country lent their boats to aid the recovery of the bodies. Divers were brought in from throughout the country. People in the communities supplied food and other supplies. It was a great community effort.
A call was made by Mr. Hayes's family at his funeral for various Government agencies to look at introducing personal emergency beacons to fishermen. This is a formal GPS system that is placed on the wrists of fishermen so that if a boat sinks and we have a tragedy like this in future, it will be much easier for the rescue operators to recover bodies. No one wants to see a situation again where we wait for weeks on end while divers try to recover the missing bodies. That causes huge trauma for the families. There have been major advances in technology and it is to be hoped the political exists to implement this change. I know the Taoiseach visited the families, as did the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and they have been very supportive of them. They said they would investigate this. I ask the Leader to convey to the Taoiseach the importance of this issue and one hopes there will be some movement. It is important to ensure what happened in recent weeks does not happen to other families.
I am concerned about the comment by Senator Norris that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, has no interest in the welfare of children. That comment needs to be clarified.
With regard to the embassy to the Holy See, it would be helpful if the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade explored further the possibility of the embassies to Italy and the Holy See sharing the one residence. That the Vatican does not want this to happen is a mistake because we should be looking to find a way to resolve the issue amicably.
I welcome the publication yesterday of the criteria for the designation of institutes of technology as technological universities. Let us make no mistake about it, this is a major development which needs to be debated because there are fears to be allayed and questions to be answered. For example, will this development lead to a lowering of standards? The institutes of technology are attracting students with 200 points plus, whereas the universities are attracting students with 350 points plus. Will the students in institutes of technology be able to do a masters and PhD? If that will not be the case, where will the students go? Will no one want them? Will lecturers at IT level without a PhD or significant publication record be offered a professorship at full or associate level? These questions need to be answered. Money will be a factor. Will there be enough resources to fund technological universities? This is about standards which matter. The standards achieved in education have brought us to where we are and sell us to the world. Therefore, we must not lower standards while seeking to improve the system. I look forward to a debate on the issue.
Last week it was flagged by me that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government was to attend in Cavan the annual conference of town councillors. I attended the conference at which I took part in a panel discussion with Senator Denis Landy. There were more than 400 delegates in attendance. If they had attended in the hope the Government's position on the system of local government would be clarified, they left deeply disappointed because the Minister did exactly the opposite. Instead of bringing clarity to the subject, he confused it even more. His messages were mixed. He referred to ending the isolation of town councils and implied that he was speaking about integrating local government structures. We are all for integration, but nobody wants town councils which have given fantastic service to communities for more than 100 years to be abolished at the stroke of a pen. Like me, the Leader will be conscious of the tremendous work councillors do. County councillors are equally concerned because, apparently, the Government is countenancing having fewer councils and county councillors.
There was a reference to the Fine Gael parliamentary party. I cannot imagine what goes on at such a gathering-----
-----but I am confident the Leader will be in a position to relay the concerns of councillors of all parties, the majority of whom are supporters of the Government. The Minister is supposed to bring an action plan to the Cabinet in six to eight weeks. He made it clear, however, that he was not bringing forward a White Paper or a consultation document, all of which bodes ill. There is, therefore, an onus on the Government side to ensure the Minister pulls back and allows local democracy to be saved.
The news today in the north west is that the UK Government, through the Northern Ireland Assembly Minister for Finance and Personnel, Sammy Wilson, has allocated £330 million towards the upgrade of the A5 route from Aughnacloy, via Strabane, to Derry. It follows on the news that the Irish Government does not have the funds to complete the project. Several months ago I raised the issue of commencing roads with funding from Northern Ireland but I was shouted down by members who are not present today. They insisted that it could only be done jointly by both Governments, North and South. I congratulate Sammy Wilson on making that allocation today. I also made the point that the major issue was to get the road started because once it was started, it would then be completed. The news today is what and other proposed before Christmas, that is, to get the road started and get funding of £330 million.
I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to come to the House to explain why the UK Government can spend £330 million but the Irish Government is found wanting. I would urge us to find a way to complete the road because it is important to the economy of the north west and for the delivery of services.
I support Senator Healy Eames's comments on education developments announced in recent times. We discussed in the House our problems with mathematics, which are very serious at second level, along our problems with what used to be called foreign languages. We also have a problem with economics in that the Wright report found that 7% of the senior staff in the Department of Finance had a qualification in economics and that showed in its performance in recent years. We need to place an emphasis on the classroom, learning and investing as early as possible in education. Over the weekend, we witnessed the obsession with structures, with calls by the head of the HEA for yet another round of restructuring. That is bureaucracy taking over from education which is what we do not need. We should have a debate in the House on real needs, where we are failing badly in mathematics and failing badly in languages, becoming a mono-lingual country. We have people in senior positions allocating billions worth of resources and without them having the proper qualifications in economics . Can we put a debate on structures aside until after we tackle the real problems in education?
I join colleagues in welcoming the Government's jobs plan announced yesterday. I particularly welcome its specific targets which means it is more likely to succeed with the creation of 100,000 jobs by 2016 and a further 100,000 by 2020. I have read the jobs plan and I am impressed. It proves that job creation is at the centre of the Government's focus. Two measures caught my eye. First was a measure to encourage all professionals in accounting, taxation and the legal industry to supply the business sector with quotations in advance of any services. That is a positive move and is welcome.
Second, there is mention of placing downward pressure on commercial rents in NAMA properties to drive down the rate of vacancies and potentially save us from a situation like the one that occurred recently with the Lighthouse Cinema in Smithfield in Dublin where a perfectly viable premises was left empty and unrented for a year because a scheduled rent increase of 50% could not be deferred. These are small moves and are an example of the type of things that are being encouraged by the Government.
I am grateful that Senator Darragh O'Brien and the Opposition welcome the plan. Our earlier debate was constructive. I join other Senators in asking the Leader to arrange a debate on the jobs plan.
I am informed that the mileage rate for the public service has three different levels which rewards those with bigger cars. This is a time when we are watching our costs. A larger car means a higher rate in mileage allowance and the lowest rate is €21.22. This is a time when we should not be encouraging people to have bigger cars by paying them more to do so. I understand that the subsistence allowance increases with the salary level and that three levels of payment exist. Does this mean that people who are paid more have bigger tummies or are hungrier so that they are paid more? Those are two areas which should be examined in light of controlling costs. I ask the Leader to verify what I have said or to correct me if I am mistaken.
I also welcome the jobs plan announced yesterday. I wish to raise one issue with regard to the proposal to remove red tape. I refer to a European Commission document which I have here. I can download a page which clearly shows the responsibilities of each official. There are 89 names on this page-----
-----and 89 different departments, but it clearly shows who is responsible for what area. We need to change processes in Departments and local authorities in order that people can immediately access information on a website as to who is dealing with a particular area in a local authority instead of having to telephone reception and go around the house to find the responsible person. The removal of red tape is one of the aims in the jobs plan and one of the ways to do so is to have a means of identifying the people in Departments and local authorities who are involved in job creation and regulation. This type of reform is badly needed. However, I welcome the proposals set out by the Government. Together with others, I look forward to ensuring the targets set are reached by the end of the term of this Government.
Senator Leyden's intervention was another attempt at a phoney spat regarding the Vatican. He was an absolute holy show. I am as big a supporter as anyone in this Chamber or in the other House of having an embassy to the Vatican in Rome. However, it should be remembered that in this case, there is no diminution whatsoever of ambassadorial service. The previous ambassador retired but Mr. David Cooney, the Secretary General of the Department, is a full ambassador. There is no withdrawal of an ambassador-----
Of course I am. Mr. Cooney and the new papal nuncio, Archbishop Browne, are doing a wonderful job. I believe they will achieve something I mentioned before and which Senator Healy Eames mentioned today. One would hope the Vatican would see its way to allowing a small country in economic difficulties to have two ambassadors and two embassies work within the one building.
I bring to the attention of the House and note the sad passing of Professor Gerry O'Sullivan, the founder of the Cork Cancer Research Centre, who was a true visionary, not only in the world of cancer research but also in terms of having the ambition to set up something where nothing had been in place before, in the process earning a huge international reputation for his native county and city, as well as for his medical school and hospital. He launched many careers on the national and international stage of young people who worked for him, to say nothing about the many patients throughout the country who owe their lives to his work. The House should acknowledge his sad passing, if it has not been acknowledged already. May he rest in peace.
It is welcome that this week has started on a very positive note. I join my colleagues in welcoming the jobs initiative announced yesterday. I hope 13 February will be remembered as the day on which we started a real fight-back in this country to create some badly needed jobs. I support the call made for a full debate in the House on the jobs plan. It would be appropriate for all those Members who contributed to the very worthwhile debate some weeks ago to have an opportunity to feed into the plan and discuss some of the very good ideas presented in the House but left out of the plan. I hope we will have another opportunity to try to have them included.
The plan is a very positive document which contains some innovative ideas. The idea of linking and working with the very large Irish community abroad is certainly worth pursuing. I also welcome the idea of a one-stop-shop. I hope the local authorities which are working with Enterprise Ireland will provide the service that will help to generate many new small businesses. However, previous plans had their shortcomings.
Lack of accountability and measurable results bedevilled previous plans. What is to be welcomed in this new plan is that the Taoiseach has nailed his colours to the mast and put his reputation on the line. He has said that on a quarterly basis he will give an account to the Oireachtas on how the plan is progressing, which is to be welcomed. As we discuss this issue on St. Valentine's Day, we will remember the day we started to make a real difference by tackling the huge problem of unemployment.
I support the comments of Senator John Crown on the passing of a great west Cork man, Professor Gerry O'Sullivan. As the Senator rightly said, Professor O'Sullivan was a pioneer in cancer research and was dedicated to the programme up to the very end. He originated from the small parish of Caheragh in west Cork and was very proud of his roots. He was a man who could mix with kings, but he never lost the common touch. He will be a huge loss to cancer research, the medical profession and not alone west Cork but the entire country, as well as internationally. A former Member, whom most Members would have known, the late, great Senator Peter Callanan once told me that Professor O'Sullivan had kept him on the planet for 20 years longer than expected after he had been diagnosed with cancer in 1989 and given six months to live. He served into his third term. He also paid tribute to Padre Pio, in whom he was a great believer. That is an anecdote of a late colleague of ours who survived owing to the excellent work, professionalism and dedication of Professor O'Sullivan. I was not going to raise the matter, but I take this opportunity to convey my condolences to Senator John Crown, who is also an expert in this field and a colleague of Professor O'Sullivan. I did not want his passing to go unnoticed in the Chamber.
I spoke to three young girls at the weekend who, unfortunately, are obliged to go to Australia because they cannot get work in Ireland. The last thing on their mind was whether or not we have an embassy in the Vatican. We should grow up and realise that people in this country have far greater concerns than that.
I noted with interest the publication yesterday of a report by the Higher Education Authority on the potential elevation of some institutes of technology to university of technology status. We have seen in the past how such elevations can be successful, with the University of Limerick, formerly the National Institute of Higher Education, now enjoying a proud reputation. However, we have also seen a situation where, in recent years, heads of department, professors and presidents of colleges throughout the State are being paid Monopoly money, with salaries of €200,000 or €300,000 not uncommon. I sincerely hope that the financial remuneration of incumbents in institutes of technology are not upgraded because of a change in status.
We must have a debate on this issue. There is a question as to whether we are moving in haste. Why is this change required, who is seeking it and is there a demand from the international business community for such institutions? What is wrong with the current model? A debate on higher education should encompass the international ratings of our universities. Some are doing extremely well but others are not. An issue of particular concern in this regard is that there is no procedure for disciplining lecturers who are underperforming. Once one gets in the door of a third level institution, one apparently has a job for life. A debate is necessary because we are in a climate of austerity where we must examine every line of expenditure. What is more important than ensuring our young people have the education they deserve?
I raise the matter of the French farce which took place in the Stade de France at the weekend. For any person interested in sport, what happened in Paris beggars belief. The weather in the city was very cold all last week and pitches were frozen. It was inevitable------
I have a question for the Leader. It is astonishing that there was no plan B given that there were warnings for five or six days beforehand. I am concerned at the cost of accommodation for fans hoping to attend the rescheduled game. I call on the Leader to ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to raise this matter with his French counterpart with a view to reducing accommodation costs for the replay. I also call on Aer Lingus and Ryanair to consider, for the benefit of loyal fans who travel abroad to support their team, a significant reduction in air fares for the replay.
In a 50-year period from 1944, more than 1,500 of these operations took place. There are currently approximately 150 survivors. Some 15 survivors have died since these women commenced looking for justice. Many of the survivors have been left permanently disabled, incontinent and in constant pain. I was shocked to learn that many of the women were not even told these operations would be carried out on them during childbirth. Many of them only learned of it some decades later. It is the intention of the Oireachtas committee to highlight the anguish and unnecessary suffering which these women endured. I ask the Leader to call on the Minister to agree to a debate on this issue and to ask him when we can expect receipt of the report commissioned last year and due in September but then deferred to November. I would welcome an update in regard to when we can expect receipt of that report and in regard to the health benefits and entitlements which these women were promised in 2003.
A number of members have raised the issue of the jobs initiative announced yesterday by Government. Senator Darragh O'Brien stated that many announcements had already been made but there have also been a number of new announcements. There is no single solution to the jobs crisis. We have had many years of bad policy in that regard.
The Government's plan contains two strands, a deliberate step-by-step transformation of the economy by improving supports and removing obstacles so that we can get back sustainable enterprise-led growth which will assist more businesses to expand and create new jobs and, identifying and targeting key sectors of strong potential for jobs growth into the future. The key to addressing the jobs crisis, and the central aim of this action plan, is ensuring that we have more successful businesses in Ireland that are exporting more, performing better, expanding faster and creating more jobs.
As has been stated, the plan contains more than 270 pro-jobs measures to be delivered in 2012 by 15 Departments and 36 State agencies. The process will be policed by a monitoring committee, operating out of the Department of the Taoiseach, which will prepare and publish quarterly reports on implementation of the plan. There is transparency and accountability in this area. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating. It is an ambitious plan, which is what we need. We also need positivity. It is hoped the announcement of this plan will bring about more positivity rather than the type of negativity from Deputy O'Dea during the past number of days in regard to what might or should be happening. The Deputy also stated that while he wishes the plan well he does not believe it will succeed. We can do without that type of negativity.
We need to move on and to take action on issues rather than speak about them. That is what this plan will do.
I will raise the ComReg-An Post issue with the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, and come back to Senator O'Brien on that issue. As regards the Senator's point in relation to a briefing on DEIS schools, I was not briefed on that matter and am not aware that any other member or backbencher has been briefed on it.
Senators Bacik, Healy Eames, Conway and Barrett called for a debate on third level education, in particular the criteria in respect of designation for technological universities. The HEA published the criteria for designation of technological universities yesterday. It also published two other papers, Towards a Future Higher Education Landscape, which provides a basis for institutes to review their mission in terms of how they will fit into the coherent higher education system now being developed, and Guidelines on Regional Clusters, which sets out how clusters of institutions are to be formed to serve regional needs. These documents have been sent to the universities and institutes of technology and each institution has been asked to make a submission to the HEA within six months setting out its strategic intentions as to where it proposes to position itself in the Irish higher education system. Submissions are to cover such areas as the institution's distinctive mission, its preferred institutional structure, having regard to its current strengths, its institutional alliances and its involvement in regional clusters, as well as any other matters relevant to its future strategic development. There is much detail in this regard and I certainly will try to facilitate a debate on the structure.
From a personal perspective, I can state with certainty that Waterford Institute of Technology has started this process. The take-up of graduates and people involved in third-level education is lower in the south east than in any other region and it is the only region that does not have a university. Consequently, Waterford Institute of Technology has legitimately set out its place and laid its cards on the table. I realise that many other institutes of technology are beginning to come on-stream to try to get in. When Waterford Institute of Technology was upgraded from being a regional technical college to the status of an institute of technology, it was supposed to be the only such institute at the time. However the then Government - I acknowledge my party and the Labour Party also was involved - decided for political purposes to upgrade all the regional technical colleges to the status of institute of technology.
As for the question regarding the salaries of the presidents and lecturers in the institutes of technology and so on, I agree it is a matter that should be addressed in that debate Members will hold.
Senator Mullen referred to the report by Dr. Brian Hunt, which I look forward to reading. I know Dr. Hunt, who is an excellent person and Members should examine his report. The question of the Irish Embassy to the Vatican has been debated at length. It has been raised by Senator Mullen today, as well as by Senators Leyden and Paul Coghlan among others.
The Tánaiste explained the position in this House. The Government's position and decision to nominate the Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr. Cooney, as Ireland's non-resident ambassador means he is ideally placed to inform the Government of any potential issues with the Vatican, thereby helping to head off any difficulties in the future. Moreover, the Holy See has agreed to Mr. Cooney's nomination and it is expected that he will present his credentials to Pope Benedict next May. As Senator Paul Coghlan also noted, the question of the possibility of two ambassadors in one building is also being considered. As the Tánaiste mentioned in this House, this matter is under constant review.
----- because the position is abundantly clear in all the statements from the Tánaiste. I have outlined it a number of times and hopefully Members will not be obliged to deal with it again. I am sure the matter will be reviewed in early course.
Senator Landy raised the question of gold and scrap for sale, which has been raised in this House several times. I will investigate the question of traceability and of future legislation in this regard.
Senator David Cullinane referred to advances in technology, particularly in the context of the deaths of the five fishermen at Union Hall. The tragedy was a harrowing experience for all the families involved. I join the Senator, as, I am sure, do all other Members, in paying tribute to all the personnel of the State services and voluntary bodies who took part in the search. The Taoiseach has intimated that if the relevant technology is available, it should be provided. Skippers and personnel involved in the fishing industry and all others who go to sea should have the best technology available to them. I hope the devices to which the Senator refers will be made available. Their use should be compulsory because we do not want so many families in coastal areas being obliged, as has been the case, to grieve the loss of loved ones.
Senator Ned O'Sullivan referred to local government reform. The Minister will be putting proposals in respect of that matter to the Cabinet in approximately eight weeks. I am sure the House will engage in a good debate on them when they emerge.
Senator Jimmy Harte referred to the upgrading of the A5. As he indicated, £300 million has been allocated to the project.
Senator Sean D. Barrett referred to third level education and the difficulties in the teaching of mathematics, languages and economics. These issues can be addressed when our debate on third level education takes place. I hope the Minister will be present in the House for it.
Senator Feargal Quinn referred to allowances and subsistence rates for higher civil servants being based on the size of the cars they drive. I am aware that they were previously paid on the basis of car size, but I am not sure whether this remains the case. However, I assure the Senator that it is not the position in the case of Oireachtas Members. The system under which the horsepower of one's car, etc., was used to calculate Members' allowances and subsistence rates was done away with many years ago. I do not know whether such a system still applies in the case of higher civil servants and county and city managers. However, I will try to discover what the position is for the Senator.
Senators John Crown and Denis O'Donovan paid fitting tributes to the late Professor Gerry O'Sullivan. I am sure all other Members would like to extend their sympathy to Professor O'Sullivan's family and acknowledge his passing and the work he did in the area of cancer research over many years.
Senator Michael Mullins referred to the jobs plan, while Senator Martin Conway mentioned third level education. I have dealt with both matters.
Senator Terry Brennan referred to the rugby match that was due to take place last weekend. I was astounded when I discovered that there was no undersoil heating at the Stade de France. It must be one of the few international stadiums which does not have an undersoil heating system. All the Irish people who travelled to Paris for the match incurred significant costs and were extremely disappointed at the outcome. I am not sure whether we can do anything about the cost of hotels in Paris. Hotels, etc., here tend to increase their prices when international matches are held at the Aviva Stadium. We should look into our own hearts in this matter.
Senator Mary Moran referred to the barbaric practice of symphysiotomy. I understand the report to which she refers will be issued in the near future. The Minister will be coming before the House after the Order of Business to discuss the HSE's national service plan. If the Senator addresses her question to him at that point, she will probably receive a response.