Thursday, 1 March 2012
Order of Business
While I accept what has been ordered, I am sure the Leader will agree that it is somewhat light, even on a Thursday. Will he endeavour to get some of his ministerial colleagues to consider bringing forward more legislation on a Thursday?
Once again, the Government has been embarrassed, but I am sure it is also seething with anger at another leak from the European Commission to the finance committee of the German Bundestag. Once again, members of the German government have been given discussion documents and draft papers on the Ireland's budgetary position ahead of their being discussed in the Oireachtas. At a time when we are about to embark on a very important referendum campaign, this activity undermines and further erodes the waning trust many people have in the European project. Will the Leader indicate what steps the Government is taking, given that this is the second occasion, within three months, such a leak has come from the Commission, to ensure this does not happen again? Can he give an assurance that these documents will find their proper way to this sovereign Parliament, despite our difficulties? It is clear the issue is linked to the referendum. It is obvious from looking at the document that the Government's economic policy is in disarray and not receiving the acceptance-----
It is possible that the level of acceptance the Government is conveying of it being ad idem with the EU and the troika in respect of budgetary policy may not necessarily be what it appears. Given that it is very much in the news I reassure the Leader and the House that Fianna Fáil remains steadfast in its support for the Government in respect of the referendum. It is with regret that the former deputy leader of our party should dissent on a matter of policy. However, I can also inform the House that much of what Deputy Ó Cuív has been saying about the continuing unsustainability of the bank debt has been raised here consistently. I have no doubt the Leader will agree that these issues will form an important and central part of the debate in order to ensure the people have a full awareness of the issues on which they will vote. I reiterate that the bank debt is unsustainable. This is a unique opportunity for the Government to play hardball with the EU on this issue. This is not a conditional support, neither is it equivocation on our part, we are simply stating a particular fact that there are elements of the bank debt that can be renegotiated, specifically the promissory notes, which are effectively a ball of smoke. It is a sum of money that was created and printed by the Irish Central Bank, underscored by the ECB and the State has to be pay it back to the Central Bank. As Professor Karl Whelan, Professor Brian Lucey and others have pointed out in recent weeks to the House committee, this is effectively little more than a technical exercise. If that €31 billion was to be taken out of the equation it would go a long way towards ensuring we return to prosperity and economic independence.
I ask the Leader what steps the Government is taking to ensure there are no further leaks from the Commission. While the Commission was set up to help and protect small nations, recently it has not shown many examples of same.
As I understood it, the Fianna Fáil Party on the Order of Business yesterday was united and unequivocal in its support for the referendum. However, by teatime all that support had evaporated and septic tanks, turf cutting and everything, bar the kitchen sink, have been thrown into the equation and support is clearly conditional. It is a dangerous to raise people's expectations on what is and is not in the treaty. The promissory notes have nothing to do with the treaty as Senator Mooney is well aware.
To say to the people that if we play hard ball on this we get a good deal and a good cut-off from the EU is a dangerous tack. Clearly we do not know whether the Micheál Martin wing is supporting the referendum; but the Éamon Ó Cuív wing, which is a substantial wing-----
As today is officially the first day of spring, I commend the Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, and Mr. Conor Skehan of the Peatland Council for the Trojan work they are doing in trying to resolve the turf cutting issue.
As one who comes from the heart of the bogs and who cut turf, as did my family, I am cognisant of the emotional attachment to land, turf cutting and turbary rights. A forum is concluding in Athlone today at which Mr. Conor Skehan with Judge John Quirke have tried to facilitate families. It is important to note that only 53 raised bogs out of 1,400 across the country are affected by the measure. The families in question are being offered substantial and fair compensation, alternative deliveries of turf, ten tonnes per annum to their homes for 15 years or alternative turf plots nearby. Most people would agree that is not an unreasonable proposition.
No. I simply want to draw the attention of the House to the matter because it is fair and good work. Others who seek confrontation and protest on the matter are leading people up a cul-de-sac or a boithrín at which there is no good.
With the permission of the Cathaoirleach I commend the efforts in the pipeline by the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, to resolve the scandal of the use of prefabs in primary schools throughout the country. Some 50,000 children attend school in prefabs. The amount of money being wasted on rented prefabs is nothing short of a scandal. I commend the Minister for the efforts he is making in this area and I look forward to a positive intervention by him in this regard in the near future.
Last week Goodbodys and AECOM published a review of the Irish railway network, although dated October 2011. It shows up a serious problem that we spent €559 million on putting in place four railway tracks to Kildare, that the passenger business was down by 25% and the freight business, between 2003 and 2009, was down 61%. This is another example of the reason capital projects should be independently evaluated - this one appears to have continued with the press releases up to 2009. We continued to put in €595 million to double the capacity to cater for 25% fewer passengers and 61% less freight.
We need to get a grip on the weaknesses in the Departments of Finance and Transport in appraising projects. It is strange that this project was allowed to go through while GAA referees are being pursued for €13 or whatever they get, for refereeing a match, to try to remedy the national finances. If we had proper project appraisal we could save much more money. This one appears to have been unnecessary to double the capacity of what has proven to be declining activity in the past four years.
On the issue of unfinished housing estates, the Minister has asked Westmeath County Council to carry out an investigation following the tragic death of a toddler in an estate. Our sympathies are with the family of the toddler who died. The problem of unfinished housing estates is serious. The Minister should investigate if the same developers are continually working on office buildings and other buildings and ensure priority is given to the estates in which people live to make them safer. I appreciate the Minister has asked Westmeath County Council for a report under category 3, which is under the responsibility of the developer. When does a building site cease to be a building site? I understand five houses in the estate are occupied while all the others are vacant. We have a responsibility to those living in unfinished estates. If work is taking place and there is money the priority should be to ensure safety and that whoever is responsible is held to account.
Can the Leader confirm that the Government parties will play a substantial role and put all their efforts into ensuring that, along with the pronouncement made by Fianna Fáil, this important referendum is passed? I have canvassed on a number of referenda and the then Opposition, consisting of Fine Gael and the Labour Party, had a negative attitude towards us when we were in government. Recently it was confirmed to me by a senior Fine Gael politician that they smirked at us when we canvassed for Lisbon I, II and Nice I and Nice II which was unfair.
Our position this time is clear and unequivocal. The referendum should not just be about Éamon Ó Cuív and his position. He is one man and democracy is at stake. It was important for Senator Whelan to lecture us about a man going overboard and mistakes being made. Given that there was a motion before his parliamentary party not that long ago to silence one of its own Senators, I ask him to be fair on this issue. The Government parties need to put all of their efforts into the referendum. It is primarily the function of the Government side of the House, the Taoiseach and his Cabinet to sell the referendum. My party will play its part and all of its members here are in unison. The last referendum was on the legal fallout of the Abbeylara tribunal but it was badly sold. I am afraid again because this is the first referendum on Europe that the Government will face and it is a critical one. The onus is on the Government to ensure that it is passed and that shoe leather is worn out travelling around rural Ireland.
It was not done in the past and that is an important point. I sincerely ask the Leader, and he knows me a long time as I am a long-standing member of the House, that it is important that the referendum is passed. The onus is on the Government side and we should not be lectured to.
I saw and heard clearly why we need the facts on the fiscal compact treaty. Last night it was not clearly stated that the treaty is not an EU one and there is no need for a "fiscal compact II". Only 12 countries out of 17 must ratify the fiscal compact for it to take effect.
I want to share the concern that was already expressed that, for the second time, a committee of a foreign Parliament is considering information that emanated from an institution of the European Union that deals with matters that relate to the economy and finances of this State, yet the information has not been presented to the legitimate Parliament of this State. This shows there is an appalling attitude somewhere within the European Union and other member states.
The Leader was correct to say the other day that we should not direct our ire at the people of another member state. It is also true that small countries in the European Union, and especially at a time of crisis like this, need to be treated with a measure of respect. Treating a small country like Ireland as though it were little better, with due respect to local authorities, than a county council in the European Union is an appalling message to be sending, particularly at a time when our people must make a sensitive decision on the fiscal compact.
There is something seriously lacking in the attitudes of powerful people in the EU that this would be allowed to happen a second time. This is not just a matter of political point scoring or an opportunity to slag the Irish Government. I would like to see the Government make representations about the issue and express its annoyance in forthright terms.
Most of us would agree that the Irish people are not a stupid race and will not be politically bribed or brow beaten.
With regard to the forthcoming vote, the most important thing over the next couple of weeks is that full information on the contents of the treaty, not on what it does not contain, will be provided to every single voter. The House can do itself a favour, but more importantly can do the public a huge political favour, by having an engaging, informative debate in advance of the legislation being published. As we know, the formula is that the legislation is published to allow a referendum, we have a debate for a day or two and a few weeks later the referendum takes place. This House, in advance of the publication of any referendum Bill, needs to have a substantive debate on the fiscal compact treaty and its contents, thus avoiding a debate on what it does not contain.
We can talk about revising history. It is quite bemusing to hear people claim that their past did not exist and they were not in government or responsible for massively incorrect financial decisions. We are now, and to use an awful political phrase, "we are where we are" and must move forward. The public demands that we do not lecture them on how to vote but advise and inform them about what the treaty contains. I ask the Leader to arrange, at an early date, a substantive debate on the fiscal compact arrangement or treaty that will be signed by the Taoiseach tomorrow. I ask that, in advance of the referendum legislation coming here, we debate the treaty and give everybody, irrespective of their views, an opportunity to debate it and not just a three minute slot each. That will be good for the House and the public. Irish people are not stupid and they want information, not lectures.
I agree with the previous speakers that raised the issue of the leaked documents discussed at the meeting of the German finance committee. The Dáil and the Seanad are being treated with contempt and being usurped by the people that leak the documents. Such behaviour is unacceptable. Wherever we might find ourselves in terms of the argument on the fiscal compact treaty, it is disgraceful that our finance committee did not have sight of those documents which referred to a number of important things that could impact on the country. The documents raised the possibility of a mini-budget and that, following discussions with the troika, the figure for the sale of assets increased from €2 billion to €3 billion.
German parliamentarians are debating all of these issues. They have full knowledge of what is happening in the discussions on Ireland's financial affairs. However, parliamentarians here are not being given the same opportunity. Regardless of our various stances on the fiscal compact treaty, let us all agree that the leaking of these documents and the provision of information that is of vital importance to Ireland should, in the first instance, be discussed in this Parliament before it is the subject of debate elsewhere. People are angry about austerity measures, about the fact that we do not have power over our own fiscal affairs and our loss of sovereignty. We all want to work together to assuage that anger and regain our sovereignty. However, when the German Parliament rubs our faces in it by discussing these matters when we have not had the opportunity to do so, it is an embarrassment for the country.
In dealing with this issue it is important that people approach it in a balanced way. I worked in Brussels for two years and one of the things I learned was that people from the various member states had respect for parliamentarians or officials from other countries. It is unfortunate, therefore, that this matter has again arisen in respect of Germany. It is not a welcome development. It is important, however, that we do not exaggerate the problem and make it far greater than it actually is.
We need to approach the matter in an extremely delicate way.
I wish to comment on the need to be positive. Today some people from Northern Ireland are visiting the Oireachtas to discuss matters relating to health. That is a welcome development. This is a matter on which a great deal of progress has been made. Yesterday was International Rare Disease Day. The authorities both here and in Northern Ireland can work together on an all-island basis. It is important that we continue to encourage the sharing of services and information. The process relating to such sharing is welcome and we must ensure it continues and is developed further.
The cross-border health care directive was adopted in February 2011. However, it has not yet been transposed into Irish law. I have raised the matter with the Department of Health. If we are not able to provide particular health care in this country, it is important that people be entitled to travel to another member state in order to access it. This highlights the advantages of membership of the European Union. Will the Leader request the Minister for Health to ensure the directive to which I refer is transposed into Irish law at the earliest possible opportunity? In addition, we must carry on and develop the work being done on health issues with our colleagues in Northern Ireland.
The first matter to which I wish to refer relates to the fact that the statutory instrument on copyright which was signed last night is not on today's Order Paper. While I was able to procure a copy of it from the Oireachtas Library and Research Service, when statutory instruments become available on the Internet and are the subject of discussion in the media, they should be listed on the Order Paper and readily available from the Oireachtas Library and Research Service. I request that the relevant officials examine the position in this regard. I am not complaining, however, because staff in the Oireachtas Library and Research Service eventually obtained for me a copy of the statutory instrument to which I refer. However, it took some effort to procure it.
Fianna Fáil is absolutely clear in its position on the fiscal compact. We will be voting "Yes". This is despite the fact that many of us have the same misgivings as the former Minister, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, and understand his genuineness on the issue. Fianna Fáil is a pro-European Union party and has done more than any other party in this country to integrate Ireland into the Union. We are going to continue our work in this regard. The reality, however, is that the people do not have a choice: they must vote in favour of the treaty. This is because the Government has signed up to a pact, under which we do not have a veto in respect of the treaty. If we vote "No", it will mean nothing because only 12 countries need to assent to the treaty for it to come into force. We will not, therefore, have the same leverage which applied in the case of the Lisbon treaty. It is unfortunate that the Government has signed us up to these arrangements.
The Government also signed us up to a blackmail clause, whereby there will be no further bailouts if we do not sign up to the treaty.
As a result of what was negotiated by the Government, we have no other option.
The document discussed in the German Parliament was circulated to the governments of the various member states. We should not be asking why it was leaked to the Bundestag because the German Government is obliged under its country's constitution to circulate such documents to Members of Parliament. Why did the Government not circulate the document to Members of the Oireachtas in order that we had an opportunity to read it before our German counterparts? The Government was aware of the German legal obligation from the previous occasion on which this occurred. Why is the document in question not listed on today's Order Paper for discussion? The Government is going to be obliged to introduce a second budget. It spent all of last year claiming credit for the budget it had opposed. However, nearly three months after its own budget was introduced, it is already contemplating the introduction of a second budget.
That was a very uncharacteristic remark from Senator Tom Sheahan who is a gentleman. I am glad he withdrew it immediately.
I am delighted that colleagues on both sides of the House referred to the leaking of a particular document to the finance committee of the German Bundestag. What has happened in disgraceful. People in this country are obviously of the view that this is a matter of importance and it is the subject of a leading article on the front page of today's edition of The Irish Times. Yesterday I raised this issue under Standing Order 30 and the Cathaoirleach ruled it out of order. He has my sympathy. Thereafter, the Leader informed the House that a particular Bill would be introduced next week when he knew that this was not correct. There is an urgent case to be made in respect of the revision of Standing Orders in order that we might have honesty, openness and transparency.
It is absolutely appalling that the Cathaoirleach informed the House that a matter of direct relevance to the people, namely, the fact that we have been told that we will require further austerity measures and possibly another budget and that we were obliged to scale upwards the level of State assets to be sold, a matter discussed by another sovereign parliament, was out of order. Members of the Bundestag were able to discuss what affected our people before elected representatives here were in a position to do so. However, that does not surprise me, although I am not criticising the Cathaoirleach. On a previous occasion when I raised something I considered to be a national emergency, namely, a strike in the ESB, I was informed that it was not a matter of national importance. Simultaneously, the then Taoiseach, Charles J. Haughey, was declaring a national emergency in the Lower House. These things make a farce of Seanad Éireann.
I have made it clear that I am not criticising the Cathaoirleach, particularly as he always operates in an extremely fair way and within the rules of the House. I am not impugning his reputation, I am merely stating the rules of the Seanad are completely farcical and nonsensical.
The other matter to which I refer is the fact that an honourable man whom I do not believe has ever been obliged to tell a lie outside the House was forced to tell one yesterday. We all knew that the relevant Bill would not be introduced next week and we were told that what had been said reflected a form of words used under Standing Orders. No one should be compelled by Standing Orders to tell a lie. They are a complete and absolute antiquated nonsense and must be revised in the interests of this House.
I have no doubt that during the course of the debate we will have during the coming weeks, the people will be very much focused on economic recovery, job creation and how we can get our country out of the mess it is in right now. In that vein I welcome the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, opening the Enterprise Ireland high potential start-ups showcase yesterday, which featured 92 brand new companies which will employ 1,600 people by 2013 and generate in excess of €200 million in annual sales. This is on top of the Government announcement that €500 million is to be spent on research aimed at turning good ideas into jobs. I very much welcome that 18 trade delegations will take place in 2012, with many going to Brazil, Russia, India and China. Three visits to China alone are planned for this year.
In some further good news on the jobs front, I see in this morning's newspaper that the Lynch farm in Clarecastle, County Clare, lit up Chinese eyes, with a focus on agricultural production and how we can increase the very significant exports we already have to China in baby food and milk products. There are some positive issues on the horizon.
Following our recent very comprehensive debate on job creation, perhaps we could have the Minister in the Chamber each quarter to update Members on how things are going and the jobs initiative is developing. He could give Members a further opportunity to feed into Government plans on an ongoing basis with regard to job creation.
I join with others in expressing concern about the Europe-wide discussion on budgetary matters for Ireland before we discuss them here. It is unacceptable, as the Leader of the Opposition, Senator Byrne and others have articulated very well. In the context of ongoing and future debates about the forthcoming referendum, I will unequivocally support its passage. It is incumbent on all of us to keep the message simple. Much of the analysis I have seen so far is much too complex and there is a finite amount of time to get one's message across. I will support it because it will put a mechanism in place to prevent a repeat of the financial catastrophe we have seen throughout Europe and the wider world, as well as Ireland. That should be welcomed.
That does not deduct in any way from my passionate view that Europe owes the Irish people. In advance of international acceptance of problems in Spain, Italy, Portugal and even France and the United States, the Irish people fronted up in a way and absorbed austerity, blanket guarantees and other measures. Nobody would wish to have to put such measures in place, but we did so, and I sat on the Government side of the House and had to defend these. For that reason, make no mistake that Europe owes the Irish people - not Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil. For that reason, every time I speak on the issue or canvass for a "Yes" vote, I will push the Government and any person with influence in Europe to ensure that they do the decent thing, front up for us now and ensure we get debt write-down, action on the promissory notes and other concessions that acknowledge the actions and support given unequivocally by the Irish people to Europe.
Bear with me as I do not mean to be argumentative about the matter. Senators should have no fear that if something went wrong, any government - including this Government - would protest in the strongest possible manner. We do not know the detail and Senator Byrne's comments are interesting. They had better get the timing right if his comments are right, and there may be something in it.
There is no point in us needlessly getting into a flap, which is happening far too frequently. Everyone on the Government side would accept the bona fides of the Opposition with regard to the very important referendum which is staring us in the face and which is necessary legally and constitutionally. Let us not argue about it, and Senator MacSharry is probably right that we should keep it in terms as simple as possible when presenting the argument. Allied to this, I have no doubt that the Referendum Commission will do a fair, impartial and good job of work in presenting the facts.
I am coming to it, as the Cathaoirleach correctly anticipated, as ever. There have been calls for the Leader to provide a debate, but he has been working on this and has had it in the pipeline for ages. That is what we are about. I have no doubt, and I am sure the Leader will confirm that himself, that we will have the debate as early as possible, and even in advance of the necessary Bill.
I refer to the septic tank legislation, the Water Services (Amendment) Bill, and the so-called standards which were published approximately one hour ago on the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government website. It is a seven-page document which asks more questions than it gives answers, to say the least. I call on the Leader to facilitate a debate in the House, next week if possible, on the standards for septic tanks that the Minister, Deputy Hogan, is seeking people to meet.
Regarding the discussion in the House this morning concerning the fiscal treaty, much has been said in trying to blame, in a political fashion, people who have spoken and have sought concessions for this country. It is only right and proper that those concessions would be made. The only reason those questions are now being asked and that Fianna Fáil has debated this over the past 36 hours is because of the shortcomings of the negotiation team representing this country and the Government: the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. The Minister of State with responsibility for European Affairs is also at fault. We have not achieved what Ireland sought in terms of a write-down on the banking debt. It appears we have not even discussed the write-down or even the promissory notes.
Ba mhaith liom chuile ádh a ghuí ar mhuintir Fhianna Fáil roimh an Ard-Fheis ag an deireadh seachtaine. Ta súil agam go n-imeoidh an Ard-Fheis go maith dóibh. Tuigim go bhfuil deacrachtaí acu faoi láthair. Sílim go léiríonn an méid atá ag tarlú faoi láthair go bhfuil tuairimí éagsúla ann faoin reafrainn atá ag teacht chun cinn. Léiríonn sé freisin an gá atá ann le díospóireacht an-leathan ar na ceisteanna seo.
I wish my Fianna Fáil compadres all the best for the Ard-Fheis and, in all seriousness, what is important about the events of the past 24 hours is that they have shown that there is a need for a very broad debate on the issues. It is a polarising treaty and there are very different viewpoints within all parties. It is very important that the debate be as wide, honest and open as possible. I say this in all sincerity. Tacaím leis an méid atá ráite ag an Seanadóir Ó Domhnaill maidir le ceist na dabhcha séarachais. Yesterday, a large crowd protested outside the House on the important issue of septic tanks. The Minister promised to have a debate on the standards that will apply to septic tanks once they were published. I welcome the publication of this information because it may put to bed many of the rumours and scaremongering that may have taken place.
I ask that the Minister for Education and Skills come before the House to debate the future of rural schools. While the House has debated educational issues on a number of occasions, it has not had a specific debate on rural schools. The Government has rowed back somewhat on its proposals on DEIS schools in urban areas but has failed to row back on its proposals for DEIS schools in rural areas. Hundreds of rural schools with between one and four teachers still do not know what the future will hold. It is important, therefore, that Senators discuss the implications of cutbacks in rural schools, school transport, scholarships and other areas. It is important to have a debate on rural Ireland. I will quickly plug the launch of our rural campaign in Castlebar tomorrow. Perhaps we will see the Taoiseach at the event.
I have asked the Leader on a number of occasions to ensure the Taoiseach addresses the House and treats Senators properly. Under the 1937 Constitution, Senators are nominated or democratically elected. I ask the Leader, on my behalf, to request that the Taoiseach come before the Seanad to discuss the EU fiscal treaty and inform us about the negotiations in which the Government is engaged with a view to securing a reduction in the €31 billion in promissory notes issued to the Central Bank. I understand such negotiations are ongoing.
Ireland must pass the fiscal treaty. The Fianna Fáil Party was the driving force behind Ireland joining the European Economic Community. When I was doing my leaving certificate we did compositions and discussed the issue, Buntáiste agus míbhuntáiste an chomhargaidh. Ireland is a small country with a population of just 4.4 million. Access to a European market of 300 million people - it has since increased to 500 million people - was the reason multinational companies thronged to this country. We are the only English speaking country in the European Union.
We are the only English speaking country in the 17 country eurozone. This is highly attractive to multinational companies which locate in Ireland to manufacture goods and supply services to the European market. Where would we be without multinational companies?
My life has been very much wrapped up in the issue of industrial development. I am pleased the Government and the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, recognises the significance of multinational investment. The former Taoiseach, Mr. John Bruton, did not share his brother's passion when he was Minister for industry.
I do not know if Senator Whelan read today's edition of the Financial Times, the most important newspaper in the world, in which the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, states she wants to secure a better deal for Ireland. The Minister is not seeking anything different from what Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív wants.
I would like the Leader to ask the Taoiseach to come to the House. The Minister, Deputy Burton, is saying the same thing as Deputy Ó Cuív. All of us are in favour of passing the referendum. I ask the Leader again to request that the Taoiseach come before the House to sell the fiscal treaty to the Seanad. The issues should be explained in simple terms. What, for example, is a promissory note? In simple English that everyone understands, a promissory note is an IOU.
This is the first day of spring and every year at this time I religiously ask that we have this day the whole year around. The reason I say this is that, as the Leader is aware, I have believed for many years that Ireland should join central European time. Making this change would give us an extra hour of daylight throughout the year. I raise this issue again because the British are moving in this direction. Any qualms we had about making this change, to which there is no opposition-----
I have difficulty hearing with Senator White still speaking. My apologies to the Senator but I was on the point of saying that the idea of having an extra hour of daylight is under consideration in Britain. The British do not use the term "central European time" but refer to retaining "summer time" throughout the year. The additional hour of daylight has a clear benefit to the economy in terms of tourism, energy costs, road traffic accidents and in many other respects. A Bill to move Britain to central European time is before the House of Commons. The only reason Ireland has not made the transition to central European time, for which there is almost universal support, is that it would create a time gap between Dublin and Belfast. On that basis, let us ensure the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, who I understand has responsibility for the matter, informs his British counterparts that we are anxious to make this change because they will then follow us.
In light of the reference to the forthcoming Fianna Fáil Party Ard-Fheis, I take this opportunity to congratulate our colleague, Senator Mary White, on her elevation to the position of vice president of our party, which is a prestigious role for her.
As someone who believes the fiscal compact is a no-brainer that must be passed, I am beginning to worry about the forthcoming referendum. If the reasonable people of this country are given proper information, they will accept and pass the referendum. However, the arguments are already becoming fractious, even in this House whose Members like to believe they set an example. Posters were erected by the "No" side before people had a clue what it was they would vote on. Strong and formidable forces, including our colleagues in Sinn Féin with their organisational skills and passion for printing, will campaign against it.
We will more than likely have ranged against it all the various strands of independents, the extreme right and looney left, the Judean liberation front, Uncle Tom Cobley and all. Those of us who occupy the middle ground must be sensible. This is not a time for point scoring but for taking a national government type of approach. I hope it will work because if we do not achieve this type of focus-----
I do not want to offend anybody and I have withdrawn the remark as requested, which I am happy to do.
I ask the Leader to take every opportunity to enable this House to be seen as a shining example of how proper debate can take place. Let Senators provide an example to the nation. If we do not stick together on this issue, it will be a disaster.
Yes. Like other Senators, I look forward to an informed debate on the fiscal compact. It may be a good idea to invite a spokesperson for the Referendum Commission before the House as soon as it is appointed to explain how it proposes to run the referendum campaign, distribute information and inform members of the public about a treaty which will define the future of many generations to come.
On an organisational matter, I ask the Leader to suggest to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, that presiding officers and polling clerks who will run the polling stations in the referendum be drawn from the live register. They should be people who do not have a job but are competent and capable of doing the job. We should make a strong effort to send out a clear message that people who have given good service over the years but are reasonably well off, with pensions and other jobs and so forth, should be moved aside to give an opportunity for at least a day's work for people who are on the live register.
The acting leader of the Opposition, Senator Mooney, mentioned the leaking of documents. The document that was leaked yesterday from the German parliamentary committee is a European Commission staff report and not an Irish document. All of the key documents related to the Irish programme were published on the website of the Department of Finance on 14 February. These include the letter of intent and the accompanying documents such as the memorandum of understanding and the economic and financial policies. The leaked document was a report that was being discussed by European Union officials. It is not an important programme document. The leaking of this document is not an issue of concern for the Government. Following a decision of the German Federal Constitutional Court, the German Government and the relevant parliamentary committee of the German Parliament must be circulated with official programme documentation. Everybody is aware of that. The Government is working hard, as everybody realises, to exit from the programme of assistance so that there will no longer be a requirement for the circulation of such information. In order to exit the programme, we will be strongly urging a "Yes" vote in the forthcoming referendum.
We have had a lot of discussion of Fianna Fáil's position on the referendum. I am taking the leader of Fianna Fáil and the leader of the party in this House totally at their word that Fianna Fáil is fully behind this referendum. It is an important referendum for our country, and I would expect nothing less from Fianna Fáil. I welcome the comments of Fianna Fáil Members on this issue.
Senator Whelan spoke about the use of prefabs in schools. This has been a waste of money for many years. I am glad the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, is acting on this, and I understand he will soon be addressing the issue of funding to rid many of our schools of these prefabs. I agree with Senator Whelan also in his commendation of the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Deenihan, on his efforts with regard to the important issue of turf-cutting.
Senator Barrett spoke about the €595 million spent on the railway lines despite the fact that we have 25% fewer passengers and over 60% less freight. I agree totally with him that we need more project appraisal, and I can assure him that will happen in the future. We have listened to his comments in this regard.
Senator Keane spoke about unfinished housing estates. I hope to ask the Minister of State with responsibility for housing, Deputy O'Sullivan, to come to the House soon, at which time we can raise any issues we wish.
Senator O'Donovan and many other Members spoke about the referendum on the fiscal compact treaty, and some people asked for a debate. I have said on numerous occasions that with the agreement of the leaders of the various groupings, we are arranging a debate. It will take place in the AV room on 8 March, and representatives of the Oireachtas Library and Research Service will present proposals to us and give us an outline of the fiscal compact. We are ahead of the posse. I have said it on numerous occasions since we decided it. I wonder whether the people who come in and ask for a debate on the issue have been listening to what we have been saying over the last number of weeks.
We are organising such a debate.
Senator Mullen asked about the leaking of documents, as did a number of other Members; I have addressed that question. Senator Burke spoke about co-operation with our colleagues in Northern Ireland on health issues, which we would all welcome. It is important that we have such co-operation.
Senators Sheahan and Conway spoke about the role of the Referendum Commission and whether we should have somebody here from the commission to outline its proposals about the referendum. The commission is an independent body, but we will see what can be done in that regard. Senator Norris asked when Committee or Report Stages of Bills should be taken. I was only adhering to procedures when saying that Committee or Report Stage would be held next week; that is the normal procedure. We are not fully aware of when exactly these will take place. I understand the Senator's point, but I can assure Members that I am in no way misleading the House by suggesting these may take place next week when they may not take place for another week or two. I am adhering to the procedures of the House in that regard.
Senator Mullins mentioned high-potential start-ups. There was an exhibition in the Mansion House yesterday that I attended, and it was very encouraging to see so many people involved in start-ups. Such companies are the future and the lifeblood of our economy. I compliment each and every one of the companies involved in that exhibition. They were wonderful companies and they are the future of our country.
Senator MacSharry and other Members asked about the promissory notes. I can assure them this issue is being negotiated by the Government with the EU, and these negotiations will continue. I have the utmost confidence in the Minister for Finance, and I hope we will have early success in our negotiations.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh asked for a debate with the Minister for Education and Skills on rural schools. We will certainly do our best to arrange such a debate, and of course we all wish Fianna Fáil well in its Ard-Fheis, which the Senator also mentioned.
We all agree with Senator White in recognising the contribution of multinationals to our economy. It is an important area. The Taoiseach will come to the House at some stage in the future. He has indicated he is quite willing to do so. I hope we will have him before the Easter recess.
I agree with Senator O'Sullivan that the lead-up to the referendum is no time for political point scoring. Let us deal with the issues that exist and avoid having other issues brought into it, such as schools or household charges. If we stick to the issues we will certainly have a "Yes" vote in this referendum.
Senator Conway spoke about presiding officers and other staff in the context of the referendum. I agree that as many people as possible should be taken from the live register to take up those positions. It is a no-brainer as far as I am concerned. Those people should be employed. Obviously, we need some experienced staff in certain areas, but certainly a majority of people should be taken from the live register. I am sure county registrars throughout the country will take into account the opinion of Senator Conway and many others in that regard.