Tuesday, 6 March 2012
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, opt in motion as set out in No. 1 on the Order Paper, to be referred to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality and to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; and No. 2, statements, questions and answers on the Action Plan for Jobs 2012, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 and to conclude no later than 5.45 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed six minutes and the contribution from one Sinn Féin Senator not to exceed two minutes, and all other Senators are not to exceed one minute when asking questions of the Minister.
I wish to remind Senators of the briefing I have organised on the fiscal stability treaty by the Oireachtas Library and Research Service. The briefing will begin promptly at 1.30 p.m. on Thursday and will last for 30 minutes. I strongly encourage all Members to attend it in advance of the discussion on the treaty in the House next Wednesday, 14 March.
I welcome next week's debate and I join the Leader in encouraging all Members to attend Thursday's briefing on the fiscal compact in the AV room. I ask the Government to make a clear statement on where it stands on the matter. Contradictory noises have been emanating from Cabinet on what this referendum will be about. A number of weeks ago the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, said he was afraid of a referendum on the basis that other elements would be brought in. It is a fair point that matters that are not of this treaty would end up being debated. The intervention of the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, in this regard is most unhelpful. We all want some debt write-downs or a deal on the promissory notes. It is unhelpful and unwise to put this at the forefront of the debate at this early stage. The fiscal compact treaty is about how Ireland and the rest of the EU will have a mechanism to get funding if they cannot get it on the private market. I ask the Leader to make a firm statement that the Government's position is that this is a referendum on the treaty itself and not on supposed sweeteners and kites being flown by Labour Ministers in particular. There is not one voice coming from Cabinet as should be the case.
I remind Senator Bacik that her party has been in government for more than a year and she should just get used to it. She and her colleagues in government have a responsibility to ensure a clear message comes from Government. I am raising the matter today because I am concerned there is not a clear message. The Leader can use his time later and the Deputy Leader, Senator Bacik, can take the opportunity to state the Labour Party's case on it and state that it is not about sweeteners, but about the treaty itself.
On numerous occasions I have raised the issue of how minority faith schools, particularly Church of Ireland schools, are affected by the cuts the Government introduced. Did the Leader see the comments by the Archbishop of Dublin, the Most Reverend Michael Jackson, on the impact the Government cuts affecting small urban and rural schools, particularly minority faith schools, are having on the Protestant community here? We are approaching the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising and the Government has stated it is trying to build a new Republic. I put it to the Leader that any republic should respect its minorities and ensure they flourish. I request a debate on the fact that 65% of all Church of Ireland schools are affected by Government cuts on the small schools area. I was saddened to read that an eminent figure such as the Archbishop of Dublin feels that we are under a creeping threat and it was uncertain whether this was for both economic and ideological reasons. This area is of great concern to me. The Government has reversed some of the cuts on the DEIS schools but has not done enough. The Government is badly letting down our minority faiths.
The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, should come to the House this week or next week to address this specific issue. We know he has particular views on the patronage of schools, which relate to Catholic, Protestant and other faith schools. Is this a means for him to pave the way for the removal of patronage from Catholic and Protestant schools and get it in under the radar? The Protestant community feels under attack from the Government, and it is an outrage and a shame. The Government needs to review and address the matter. I have raised the matter repeatedly here in the House because somebody needs to speak up for the minority faiths in this Chamber as it is certainly not happening within the Government.
I commend the Leader on organising Thursday's briefing on the EU treaty. I agree with what Senator Darragh O'Brien said about attendance and I certainly recommend it to all the Labour Senators. It is very important to have a good attendance from Senators at that important briefing. However, I wish to respond to what he said on where the Government stands on the treaty. Clearly, the Government stands on the point that this referendum is about the EU fiscal compact treaty, not about anything else. There is a very clear voice from the Government on this. I heard the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, just this morning making that clear. There are other issues, of course, which will be helpful, as they would be to any "Yes" campaign in any referendum,-----
-----including the issue of the promissory notes that the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, mentioned.
To hear Fianna Fáil calling for a clear message when there are two voices on the treaty emanating from that party is ironic.
It is not about anything else, sweeteners or bribes, a point which has come very clearly from Labour and Fine Gael Ministers alike.
I call for a debate with the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, on schools patronage. I take issue with Senator Darragh O'Brien's comment that minority faiths feel the Government is doing nothing for them. Far from it.
It is due to report in the next several weeks and it will examine precisely how parents' conscience and preference in terms of faith schooling for their children will be accommodated in a fast-changing Ireland in which we see increasing numbers of children of different faiths and no faiths.
-----on the patronage of a number of new schools, including several Educate Together schools in Tallaght and elsewhere, which will reflect a multidenominational ethos which is very important.
I have a question for the Leader on Syria. All Members must be appalled by what they see happening in the besieged city of Homs and today's reports on the torture of not just civilians, but hospital patients by Syrian Government forces. It would be useful if the House could agree a cross-party motion calling in particular on the Russian Government, now that Vladimir Putin has been re-elected President, to withdraw support from the brutal regime of Assad and move towards a ceasefire where Syrian Government troops no longer fire indiscriminately into and causing blatant atrocities against civilians in Homs.
Exactly, that is the dilemma we face. I am speaking first so we were not sure about the procedural process. I like to be a constitutional revolutionary anyway. It is worth waiting for. The Cathaoirleach will like it.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Health to schedule an urgent emergency debate on the plans of the State for dealing with the unfolding crisis in paediatric medical care, specifically with respect to the disclosures made that the two leading largest children's hospital - real hospitals, not some fantasy on some architect's drawing board – have been confronted with catastrophic cutbacks and crises? These crises were precipitated by a strategic decision that all short and intermediate-term investment would be put on hold until the national children's hospital was constructed. This was a valid excuse for delaying certain infrastructural developments in these hospitals because of the sense we would reach the long-promised land of a grand tertiary referral centre for all the children of the State. Now it looks like that project is on hold indefinitely.
Professor Michael O'Keeffe, an ophthalmologist in the children's hospital in Temple Street, bravely came out during the week to inform the State that at the same time as the national children's hospital was put on hold because it would upset the view of Dorset Street and the north inner city, children were having their sight compromised by the closure of operating theatres which meant there were lengthening waiting lists for vision-saving, vision-restoring and vision-protecting eye surgery. He went further to say that he knew from other areas in the hospital that the closure of these operating theatres could have the spin-off effect of placing children's lives at stake because some of the conditions for which they were now being put on waiting lists were life-threatening conditions. Similarly, our colleagues at Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin, an institution on which I have written in defence on many occasions when it was under vicious administrative assault a couple of years ago when its funding was slashed and one which has shown itself to be extraordinarily adaptable at living within ever-shrinking budgetary guidelines at a time when the demand for its services is increasing and the sophistication of the treatments which it offers is broadening, were forced to go public in the past two days to announce that they were issuing what is unheralded in the Irish health system, namely, a public appeal for philanthropic money. This is not for research, but to develop the clinical services in the hospital, in particular the Dickensian conditions which apply in the tertiary care centres for both cancer and cardiology in terms of the bed complement.
The context in which this must all be seen is the extraordinary decision by An Bord Pleanála to reject the siting of the children's hospital last week. Without revisiting the issue ad nauseam, it is well known that there was exactly zero consensus among the medical-paediatric community as to where the hospital should go. Roughly speaking, it shook down along entirely predictable lines. People who worked for one hospital wanted it in their hospital while people who worked in another hospital wanted it in their hospital. These are good people. It was not due to selfishness. Institutional loyalty is something we must admire, but we all agreed that even if the decision was not the one we wanted - for the record, I was in favour of building a new children's hospital in Crumlin, because I thought it was already 80% of a fine international children's hospital - but the opinion was that wherever they picked it, we would all get behind it, support it and get it built. Now it appears that the objections that have been raised to the hospital have nothing, zero, nada, rien, to do with the care of children or the access of the site for people with parking or for public transport. It was based entirely on two criteria. One was the view, which, I am sorry to say to my architectural colleagues, is a wholly subjective observation. The view of the building would have been a whole lot nicer than some of the views with which we have blighted our skyline. The second is the nebulous term of "overdevelopment of the site". Most of what will be in the site is already there. It is not as if they are moving a whole new children's hospital in where none existed. Temple Street exists 200 m away. About half of what was going to the new children's hospital was coming with Temple Street anyway. The maternity hospital in the Rotunda is approximately 300 m away. It is not as if they were bringing the population of Guangju and dumping them in Dublin 1. They are redeploying-----
The question is whether he will please ask the Minister for Health to schedule an urgent debate so we can have an informed discussion and some input into this critical decision? I sense a disaster in the offing, in particular if they decide to amputate this hospital and put a rump children's hospital shoe-horned into the site which the architects will not find offensive to the view on Dorset Street. Our children deserve better right now.
I note that it is reported that divergent views have been expressed by Cabinet Ministers on when to hold the referendum on the fiscal compact treaty. While that is understandable, I urge the Leader to express to the Taoiseach the necessity for holding the referendum at an early date, and in any event not later than the end of May. We must put this question to the people as soon as possible, consequent to getting out the relevant information to inform public debate and pass the treaty.
As the only English speaking country in the eurozone, we are uniquely placed at present to attract foreign direct investment such as the 1,000 PayPal jobs which are coming to Dundalk. In order to stay at the heart of the euro, passing this treaty and showing our full constitutional commitment to the fiscal compact, as Senator Darragh O'Brien has said, would be a wise course of action.
I rise to raise the decision last week in the Bailey case in the Supreme Court. At the outset I welcome the Ombudsman's decision to seek a second report into the activity of gardaí on the case. However, I have other concerns. The Minister should attend the House or comment publicly on the reason a direction by the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, more than ten years ago about there being insufficient evidence to prosecute the case was not acted upon and was left in abeyance.
There seems to have been a major issue with the propriety of the European arrest warrant, yet the Department of Justice and Equality was willing to act on it. Were it not for the DPP's intervention and information being made available, the Supreme Court would have been left in the dark.
I live in the area. The people of Schull, Mizen and Goleen wonder at the total disregard of the public's views by the DPP and various justice Ministers. The public was given the false impression that the Garda had its man, allaying people's fears. However, a vicious murderer is still at large. A woman on her own was battered to death the day before Christmas Eve 15 or 16 years ago. Why is it only coming out now that the Garda does not have its man? These issues should be addressed.
The report by the Ombudsman only deals with one aspect of this unusual and groundbreaking case, which went as far as the Supreme Court. The Minister, Deputy Shatter, must take responsibility for the European arrest warrant. After ten years, the DPP released information that should have been made public years beforehand. The public was sold a pup. The fears of the community must be taken into account.
I want to put on the record something that must never be forgotten by the House or the country, that being, our banks have brought the country to the brink of ruination. They walked the last Government into a haymaker when they suckered it into the bailout and turned private debt into sovereign debt.
In the context of our debate on the fiscal treaty, I call on the Leader to tell the Minister for Finance that he must intervene with the banks. It has been proven beyond question that they are not open for business. The Irish Banking Federation, IBF, repeatedly claims that the banks want to fund small businesses, the self-employed and family businesses if they have good propositions, but there is a raft of anecdotal evidence to the contrary. No Senator is unaware of businesses that are being turned down daily. The banks have a new mechanism so that these rejections do not enter the official record. They talk a person down on the telephone or talk one out of applying in the first place, which means it does not show up as a refusal. In reality, they are misleading the Government. They must be taken to task. They privatised the gain and nationalised the pain, but there has been no quid pro quo for the taxpayer. There is not a single family in the country that is not paying the price for what occurred. Will the Leader arrange a debate with the Minister for Finance? I have irrefutable evidence of countless companies being refused finance. More small businesses will be driven to the wall and start-ups will be curbed. This is not just my opinion. I received evidence this morning. A small business issued a number of cheques during the weekend, one of which was bounced for the sake of 27 cent.
The Governor of the Central Bank, Professor Patrick Honohan, shares my opinion. This week, he confirmed that the lack of finance for the small business sector, as has been highlighted by the Irish Small and Medium Business Enterprises Association, ISME, and the Small Firms Association, SFA, for months, was actual. The Government must stand up to the banks and call the chief executives to task for not giving out the money we gave their banks for business loans.
I welcome the decision of the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, to reconsider the size of the proposed children's hospital. In a short number of years, this city has closed Sir Patrick Dun's Hospital, the Hume Street hospital, Dr. Steeven's Hospital, the National Children's Hospital on Harcourt Street, the Meath Hospital, the Adelaide Hospital, the Jervis Street Hospital, the Richmond Hospital, Mercer's Hospital and St. Vincent's on the Green. When ten hospitals close, the replacement building is so large that it cannot meet the planning restrictions. Will the Leader ask the Minister to include in his review a diagnosis of the Edifice complex, which seems to dominate hospital policy in Dublin?
Our next item of business is to establish "a European Agency for the operational management of large-scale IT systems in the area of freedom, security and justice". This is an Orwellian title.
Would it not be better if a Europe with mass unemployment and a dysfunctional currency that has caused so many problems, as alluded to by Senator Whelan, invoked the old rule we used to have in the licensing system whereby one can open one new quango provided one shuts down at least two old ones? Setting up new quangos at this stage in Europe indicates that many people in Brussels are completely out of touch with what is happening and the failure of many of their policies, which are affecting so many unemployed people throughout the Union at this time.
Our dealing with the request to set up more quangos without debate does not correspond with the problems people feel, not least in a country where unemployment has risen from 4% to 14% in a three to four-year period because of European mismanagement of the currency.
Seachtain na Gaeilge nó coicís na Gaeilge atá ann anois agus tá a lán rudaí ar siúl. Maidin amárach tá neart rudaí ar siúl sa Teach seo agus tá súil agam go mbeidh gach éinne páirteach iontu.
Maidir leis an rud a dúirt an Seanadóir O'Brien i dtaobh an t-easaontas atá eadrainn, níl aon easaontas idir an Tánaiste agus an Taoiseach. Ba cheart dúinn go léir gach taobh dár meabhair a úsáid, an taobh clé agus an taobh deas. Cuirimse na promissory notes ar an taobh clé agus cuirim an referendum ar an taobh deas. Tá an Aire Noonan ann agus tá na promissory notes fós ar an gclár. Tá an reifreann ar an gclár freisin, ach sin scéal eile. Ceapann an Seanadóir that we should be able to deal with both issues at the same time without confusing them and saying they are connected.
I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, to come to the House to discuss certain legislation before he introduces it here. I was at a briefing by the Irish Refugee Council and other NGOs today and noted they had great praise for the Minister regarding what he is doing for immigrants. What is being done, however, is being done on an individual and piecemeal basis. Basically, the organisations are saying that what the Minister is doing in an individual capacity and humanitarian manner should be written into legislation. The Minister stated he will bring the immigration, residence and protection legislation of 2010 before the House again. Before this, the House should debate what should be amended in the Bill to ensure people's rights are honoured. I refer, for example, to the 15-day residency clause.
Provisions are being implemented at present on a piecemeal basis and the Minister has been complimented on doing so, but the procedure should be written into legislation so everybody will know whether he is coming or going. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister to come to the House to have a full discussion on this.
Mar is eol do na Seanadóirí uile, is í seo Seachtain na Gaeilge. Is seans iontach é seo chun aitheantas a thabhairt do thábhacht agus fiúntas an teanga. Ba mhaith liom tréaslú le gach duine atá páirteach sa féile seo agus atá i mbun eagrúcháin nó imeachtaí de gach shaghas. Níl ach beagán Gaeilge agam féin, ach tá sé ar intinn agam í a fheabhsú agus beidh mé ag freastal ar ranganna as seo amach leis an cuspóir sin. Cuireann sé an-áthas orm an méid daoine óga atá ag foghlaim na Gaeilge a fheiceáil, ina measc mo mhac Emmet, agus cuireann sé lúcháir orm freisin an méid daoine óga atá páirteach i gcur chun cinn na Gaeilge agus sa féile seo. Tá an Ghaeilge go forleathan sna meáin, tá nuachtáin Gaeilge againn, cúpla stáisiún raidió a fheidhmíonn trí Ghaeilge agus, ar ndóigh, TG4.
Mar fhocal scor, ba mhaith liom moladh thabhairt do na Seanadóirí agus na Teachtaí a bhaineann úsáid as an Ghaeilge go rialta agus a thugann spreagadh do Sheanadóirí eile an méid bheag Gaeilge atá acu a úsáid. Beatha teanga, í a labhairt. It is important that more Irish be spoken. It is Seachtain na Gaeilge, the week we are encouraged to speak Irish. There is a coffee morning tomorrow which I hope all Senators will attend. It is important that we try to support the Irish language where we can. I will try to use a little more Irish this week, and it is important that as many Senators as possible will also do so. Go raibh maith agat.
To follow up on what Senator O'Donovan said about the west Cork case, it is important to acknowledge that it was the Attorney General and the Minister for Justice and Equality who released the papers to the solicitors for the person whom the French authorities were attempting to extradite. It was an important decision and, in fairness to everybody, it was important that this information was made available. The right decision was taken.
Senator Jillian van Turnhout and I went to Finglas on Friday with some other Members of the Oireachtas. We were trying to deal with the issue of finding a solution to the delays in issuing medical cards. As of 1 March last, over 1,734,000 medical cards have been issued. Another 124,000 people have general practitioner, GP, cards. Approximately 40% of the population will have a GP or medical card by the end of 2012. It is important to be aware of the volume of work being done by the people in the HSE who are dealing with this matter. Over 338,000 medical cards were issued between 1 July 2011 and 1 January 2012. That is a huge number.
I agree that the reorganisation of the system was carried out in too short a time period. Previously, there were 100 locations issuing medical cards and that operation was brought into a single location. Perhaps it might have been better if it had been streamlined in a more co-ordinated manner over the last six months. However, that is the current position. A total of 31,000 medical card applications are outstanding. Those applications were lodged prior to December 2011 and every effort is being made to have them resolved by the end of April next. Therefore, everybody who applied for a medical card prior to last December will have their medical card by the end of April.
One of the issues that arose was the problem of incomplete applications. Approximately 25,000 applications on hand are incomplete. In other words, all the necessary information has not been supplied. I realise there was an issue with information being misfiled but that is being dealt with. A serious effort is being made in this area. The concerns that were raised in the House have been taken on board and many matters are being fast-tracked. However, I believe we should revisit this matter in four weeks, to ensure that the commitments we were given in Finglas last Friday are being fulfilled and that there is no further downturn in the number of medical cards issued over the next four weeks. I ask the Leader to put it on the agenda for four weeks hence.
Thousands of turf cutters will descend on Leinster House tomorrow to protest what is happening with the age old tradition of turf cutting on raised bogs in rural Ireland. Many of them will be from my constituency. I compliment the efforts made by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, who has bent over backwards to try to find a resolution to this problem. He has worked hard on it along with Mr. Conor Skehan of the Peatlands Council. However, at this 11th hour I call on the Minister to increase any proposed compensation package for turf cutters. What moves are being made to find alternative bogs for relocation purposes, similar to what has been achieved in Mountbellew, County Galway? Will the Minister adequately supply turf cutters with turf on the same basis as the increase I have called for in compensation? I call on the Minister to adequately supply turf cutters with turf on the same basis as an increase in compensation, which I call for as well.
Another important thing to be dealt with is a speedy delivery of the compensation package that many turf cutters have already signed up to but not received because of an issue over the title of property. Many of these turf cutters are finding it difficult to prove title despite the fact that they have cut turf for ten, 15 or 20 years on these bogs. I have suggested to the Minister previously and I say it again now that this should be done on the basis of a statutory declaration. If a person declares that he has cut turf on a bog for ten or 15 years, it should be accepted by the Minister and the compensation package should be paid to him.
Finally, the contractors who have invested heavily have been forgotten in all of this.
They have invested heavily in plant and machinery to cut turf for local turf users in rural Ireland. Instead of bringing in Bord na Móna to supply these people this year on a tender basis, they should be bringing in the local contractors to provide the turf for these people well into the future. Rural Ireland has taken a battering of late and it is time that we reconnect with it across the board.
I second Senator Mary White's motion to hold a debate on No. 11 today. It may have already been seconded by Senator Crown but, in case it has not been, I second it now. It seems out of place for those of us who have already reached the age of 65 years but who have not been forced to retire from the House to force others to retire. This does not make sense.
A man was arrested this morning for the non-payment of three fines. He was subsequently jailed. This occurred in County Limerick. It is outrageous to use jail for the enforcement of offences that can easily be collected by taking products from people instead. The ability to put people into jail almost on a whim makes no sense. We have passed legislation previously to enable the authorities to fine people and, if they do not pay the fine, we can deduct the money from whatever source, either by taking products, goods or money instead. Some 90,000 foreigners did not pay fines incurred through travel on our roads. Some 90,000 points were not paid for and 90,000 foreigners did not pay the fines with which they were charged.
It seems to be easy for someone to come across the Border. Those of us who use the M1 from Dundalk to Dublin will know that as one comes down that road, one is regularly passed by Northern cars driving past and, to a large extent, they ignore the speed limits. The same applies when one goes north of the Boarder and one finds southern cars ignoring the speed limits as they head to Belfast. The ability to avoid fines because one does not live in that part of the country is something we should be able to handle more easily. If one is caught under the influence of alcohol, one is not allowed drive one's car any further. One must park it there and find one's own way home. Surely, there are other ways of enforcing the legislation. To put someone into jail for the non-payment of three €200 fines makes no sense. The correct procedure should be to remove the person's property in some form or other.
I thank the Leader for organising the briefing on the European fiscal compact treaty. The coming weeks will involve a journey to define our future as a nation. Whatever the result of the referendum, it will be a defining moment in our history and it will affect generations to come. I am pleased that the "Yes" bus has got off to a good start. I am also pleased that our colleagues in Fianna Fáil have taken front seats on the bus. Their role in this campaign is remarkably important. This House can be in the driving seat in terms of discourse, discussion and debate.
I call on all people who believe in Europe to study the treaty. When they have studied it and realise the implications of what is involved, they will vote "Yes".
Any independent-minded Member of the Dáil or the Seanad who believes in Europe and wants to support the "Yes" campaign should make a declaration now and get in behind the campaign. The bus is going and it will not be diverted by scaremongering about bondholders, promissory notes or anything else that has no relevance to this treaty.
I support Senator Kelly's points on the turf-cutters and the contractors who are lobbying against the draconian decision taken by a previous Fine Gael-Labour Government which agreed with the European Union to sign the order to restrict turf-cutting on bogs.
Unfortunately, commitments were given in the general election by various Fine Gael candidates in Roscommon, one of whom said he had signed his commitment in blood, a very dramatic gesture. However, he subsequently, along with the other candidate, ran away from the issue. I cannot name the Deputy because he might be upset. I have upset him in the past and I certainly do not want to upset him again.
I am just trying to be fair to the Deputy involved.
The turf-cutting saga has been going on too long. The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Deenihan, is doing his best to resolve this issue and has put much effort into a solution. However, there will be a major protest about it here tomorrow. Will the Leader arrange for the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Deenihan, to outline to the House what he has achieved to date? The Minister should also ensure no further bogs are designated to be preserved. We have all been involved in turf-cutting. I presume the Cathaoirleach himself has been involved in turf-cutting like myself.
I support Senators Kelly and Leyden in the matter of the prohibition of turf-cutting. Clarity needs to be brought to the matter. I hope the negotiations taking place can be brought to a successful and full conclusion. I also hope everyone involved will be prepared to compromise because it is an issue that can divide communities which I hope it does not come to over the coming months.
I am in a particularly positive mood this afternoon because over the weekend we had many positive activities in County Galway. Yesterday, in my hometown of Ballinasloe a €1 million child care facility was opened by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Fitzgerald. On Friday, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, announced 80 new jobs at SourceDogg in Dangan. This morning, funding of €3 million was announced for transport projects in Galway city.
Remaining in a positive vein, thousands of talented people exited from the public service over the past several weeks and as many people have retired in their early 50s. Hopefully, all of them will enjoy good health for the next 20 years. This is a significant resource that should be tapped into by the State. Many of the people in question would like to give something back now they are retired with secure pensions. They can give advice and mentoring in business, education and health care. I would like if this resource could be tapped into and utilised in some structured way. Will the Leader organise a short debate in the coming weeks with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to see how this goodwill and energy among those retired people who want to give back to the State can be harnessed? We are at a point where the country needs all the help it can get. If people are willing to give voluntarily of their services for the good of the nation, we should avail of that facility.
I wish to move an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 1 will be taken with debate. My colleague, Senator Barrett, spoke about that and put it in the context of the economic situation.
Senator Crown spoke about the fact that he sensed a disaster in the offing. Senator Whelan spoke tellingly about the impact on business of the current financial situation. Senator Conway suggested that people who want to support the referendum should jump on the bus now. I have news for him; it is not a bus, it is the Titanic. If he cannot see the iceberg then he is totally blind.
The political correspondent of The Sun on Sunday, if I may use that term of the Taoiseach of this country, Deputy Enda Kenny, signed an instrument which contained a blackmail clause. He did not have to do it. He had the option of using the Irish veto, but we are now tied into it. If and when the instrument is signed we are consigned into a situation where goals of financial austerity are set that are totally unachievable in any conceivable timescale. Let people know that this is what is happening. Austerity has not worked ever in the history of the economy. It is devastating the economies of European countries as we speak.
We threw away the one card we had. As a result we have placed ourselves in an extraordinarily difficult situation. Let us look at what we are doing and how we are addressing it. Just before Christmas we appointed people from Goldman Sachs to the board of the Bank of Ireland. We are putting Goldman Sachs in charge of unloading our bonds if the market ever recovers. We have not learnt that it is the system that is rotten. I will continue to repeat-----
In fairness, Senator Darragh O'Brien's concerns are understandable if there was any question of the Government not speaking with one voice, but as we know the Cabinet is totally united on the stability treaty and will campaign vigorously knowing that it is in the country's best interests. I have no doubt that if Deputy O'Brien's side and our side, act together, as he put it, and keep the debate focused on what is contained in the treaty itself that we will be successful. In that regard I compliment the Leader, as Senator O'Brien did, on the facility provided on Thursday for a briefing on the treaty during which we can go into more detail. In fairness, most sensible people see it as a no-brainer and a win-win situation, contrary to what has been said by others.
The promissory notes are a separate issue. There is no doubt the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, has done and continues to do much work on them. We know that involves all of the states in coming to a common ground on the issue. It speaks for itself that it is a separate issue and we should leave it alone.
The big danger as I see it on the so-called fiscal stability treaty is that if we were to vote "No", which I do not believe we will do, Europe would move on without us. That would not do us any good. On insurance policies, if I may put it in such a way, this talk of austerity is overdone. We will never be back where our mothers were with butter coupons and grocery vouchers. I was too young at the time to know their exact title and it slips my mind at the moment.
No longer will our children, like our cattle, be brought up for export. We are all aware of last weekend's juxtaposed images of the Ard-Fheis of the party founded by the man who made that remark and the Working Abroad Expo in the RDS that saw 20,000 people seeking employment outside the State. This morning, the Ombudsman, Ms Emily O'Reilly, stated that emigration was not always the worst option for young people and that it could be a practical measure. This followed numerous Ministers' claims that emigration was a lifestyle choice. I know that-----
The Minister, Deputy Bruton, will attend the House after the Order of Business to discuss the Action Plan for Jobs 2012, but now is the time for a real discussion on emigration and on why so many people emigrate, given the claims about lifestyle choices and emigration not always being the worst option.
The Irish are among the top five nationalities of people seeking working visas in Australia. I have been in contact with many Australian parliamentarians who stated that their Irish immigrants had the engineering and construction skills their country needed. The Seanad in particular should start to engage in a discussion on why so many young people, including families, are emigrating so that we can dispel the rumours about lifestyle choices and practical measures.
We also need to engage with the diaspora. Senator Daly has a motion on the Order Paper concerning an honorary Senator to represent the global Irish community. We need to start examining measures such as these, given that 12 people will emigrate in each of the State's electoral divisions this year. Concurrent with our debate today, can the House start to consider emigration as a topic for discussion?
I second Senator Norris's amendment to the Order of Business.
Seo Seachtain na Gaeilge agus ba mhaith liom cúpla focal a rá i mo theanga féin. Déanaim comhghairdeas don ghalfaire Rory McIlroy a bhuaigh an Honda Classic, comórtas mór gailf, sna Stáit Aontaithe an Domhnach seo caite. Is é an galfaire is fearr ar domhan anois, aidhm a bhí aige ó bhí sé deich mbliana d'aois. Ambasadóir iontach é Rory, cosúil le gach bean agus fear spóirt ó gach spórt sa tír seo a théann thar lear mar ionadaí na tíre. Táim cinnte gur thóg agus go dtógfaidh Rory i bhfad níos mó galfairí-----
On a point of order, I have been informed that a remark I made has been completely and deliberately misinterpreted. People have been tweeting about it. When I referred to people being unable to see that we were facing the Titanic, it had nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that one of our colleagues suffers from partial blindness.
I bitterly resent such a disgusting performance from the office of a Senator on that side of the House. I will not take it. I would not demean myself by making such a remark about a man who has made a valuable contribution and who I greatly value.
At approximately this time last year when the Taoiseach was elected and the Government formed, the programme for Government included a commitment to tackle wasteful expenditure across the public service. I have seen nothing in that regard and I ask that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, who has responsibility in this area, should attend the House to debate the issue. He should explain why nothing has happened and the House can then explore what might be done in this regard.
A newspaper article today points out that the State gives an estimated €1.5 billion per annum to disability sector organisations and to other NGOs. It points out that one person in an administrative position is receiving a salary of €234,000 and others are getting almost €200,000. It is unconscionable that hard pressed taxpayers should have their money taken every week so that the State can pay it on to people who are on salaries that are multiples of what those poor people, who are struggling to make ends meet, are getting. It is not right and should be discontinued. Even though the State may decide it cannot intervene in salary levels, he, who controls the purse, controls what goes on in those organisations. This also applies in the human rights and equality sectors. A whole industry has developed and people are creaming off huge salaries that they would not be able to secure in the private sector.
Le críochnú, ba mhaith liom aontú leis an méid atá ráite ag na Seanadóirí mar gheall ar an dualgas atá orainn an Ghaeilge a chur chun cinn. Mar sin, iarraim ar an Cheannaire gur féidir go gcuirfeadh sé aistriú ar Riar na hOibre ar maidin chun ábhar amháin a bheidh ar an chlár amárach, lá na Gaeilge. Tá sé oiriúnach dúinn sin a dhéanamh agus molfaidh mise é má dhéanann sé sin.
I welcome this morning's Cabinet agreement to roll out broadband to all secondary schools. All 650 secondary schools will have high-speed by 2014 - 200 this year, 200 next year and the final 250 in 2014. Having high-speed broadband will have a major impact on how teachers use ICT in their teaching and I must commend the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, and the Government on this very welcome initiative. As a former teacher, who only left the classroom nine months ago without any broadband or other access to the Internet in the classroom, I regard this as a great Government initiative. It will boost learning opportunities and ultimately make a major contribution to the competitiveness of the future workforce.
I support the Government in the devolution of powers to local government. However, I was surprised to hear in recent days of a proposal to centralise the provision of driving licences into a single national unit. I ask the Leader to clarify if there is any substance to this. I was informed by IMPACT members who seemed to have considerable information on the issue. It is a retrograde step when on the one hand we are proposing to devolve powers to local government and enhance the role of local authority members, and on the other hand we are chipping away at the powers and role they already have.
I was unaware of the comments of the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin. I have not read them but I assure the House that there is no threat to minority faith schools from the Government. The issue will be dealt with by the Minister for Education and Skills in early course when he announces his policy on the patronage of schools. The matter can be addressed at that stage. As the House is aware, the Minister for Education and Skills has been in the House on several occasions to deal with legislation. I have agreed with the Minister that he will come in on 19 April and we can hold a debate on a wide range of issues in education which Members have asked for in the House in recent months.
Senator Bacik commented on Syria. What we are witnessing on our television screens from Syria is absolutely appalling. Ireland has been working intensively with the EU, the UN, the Arab League and other partners in the international community through a series of robust economic, political and diplomatic measures to compel the Syrian regime to cease its appalling and unacceptable attacks on the Syrian people. These attempts will continue. Everyone is appalled at what we see occurring in Syria at present.
Senator Crown raised the issue of the proposed national children's hospital. I wish to restate that the Government is totally committed to the national children's hospital. The review is under way. Let us wait for the review to finish. I reaffirm the Government's commitment to the national children's hospital to be delivered in the earliest possible time, something every Member seeks.
Senators D'Arcy and Conway and others commented on the referendum. Senator D'Arcy put forward his view that the referendum should be held in May and I am sure he will relay this to the Government. The Government has not decided on a date as of yet. Senators O'Donovan and Burke raised the matter of the Ian Bailey case. We all agree that many issues remain to be addressed as a result of the case and I am sure the Minister, Deputy Shatter, will address these in early course.
Senator Whelan raised the problem of credit for small businesses. We all agree with him that there is a need for more credit for small businesses and for the banks to lend to small businesses. He will have an ideal opportunity to put the case to the Minister, Deputy Bruton, and to ask him questions in this regard when we debate the issue immediately after the Order of Business. I am sure there will be a robust debate and questions.
Senator Norris proposed an amendment to the Order of Business suggesting that we should discuss No. 1. That motion will be dealt with by the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality and it will return to the House for discussion after the committee has considered it. With this in mind, I do not accept the amendment to the Order of Business.
Senators Keane and Coghlan and others raised the issue of the promissory notes. The Government has identified the promissory notes arrangement put in place by the previous Government as an expensive arrangement for the taxpayer. It is in negotiations with the troika to find a cheaper and alternative arrangement. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, is closest to the negotiations. He stated last week that we are making progress but it is a medium-term process. We have set out our negotiating position and are currently working through the technicalities with the troika. We all know that these type of negotiations cannot be acted upon speedily. It takes time to negotiate such measures.
Senator Cullinane referred to using the Irish language. Tomorrow is the beginning of Seachtain na Gaeilge and I am sure we will encourage its use. As I mentioned last week, we are not having a day of Irish per se in the House, but we would encourage people who can speak the language to do so at every possible opportunity, including tomorrow in particular.
I think I have replied to that.
Senator Burke referred to medical cards. I am surprised to hear from him that only two Senators from the Joint Committee on Health and Children turned up in Finglas to find our what was happening about medical cards. I would have thought we would have had a hell of a lot more, especially with the amount of people who have raised that question on the Order of Business. I recognise the great volume of applications that have gone in but there are still 31,000 applicants outstanding and these concerns need to be taken on board. I understand from Senator Landy that the primary care reimbursement service people are coming in to us soon, so we look forward to having an early update on medical cards then.
Senator White moved an amendment to the Order of Business. This is a technical amendment to allow her Bill to be printed and I will certainly accept it.
I do not intend to get bogged down on turf cutting issues, but I would like to point out to Senators Kenny, Leyden and Mullins that only 53 raised bogs are affected out of 1,400. On foot of the EU directive we will face massive fines unless this matter is dealt with. Families have been offered monetary compensation, including free turf and alternative plots as a solution. I commend the Minister, Deputy Deenihan, in this regard and we wish him well in his efforts to resolve the matter.
Senator Quinn referred to the Fines Act and I fully agree with him. I understand that there is a problem with the IT systems to enable cross-referencing between both jurisdictions. However, the Minister has indicated that he is fully committed to implementing the legislation in this regard. That should be done as soon as possible.
Senator Mullins outlined the positive happenings in Galway in recent weeks. He is attempting to harness the voluntary efforts of those who are retiring from the public service, which is certainly worth considering.
I am not accepting Senator Norris's amendment to the Order of Business. As I have outlined, the matter will be discussed by the Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, and it can come back to us at a later stage.
Senator Reilly sought a debate on emigration and I will try to arrange that. There is no doubt that the vast majority of people who are currently emigrating are doing so to seek employment and a better life for themselves and their families. I will try to arrange for such a debate later in the year.
Senator Brennan, ag caint as Gaeilge, congratulated the golfer Rory McIlroy on becoming the world's number one. I am sure we would all join in those congratulations.
Senator Walsh spoke about wastage in the public service. He also discussed the salaries paid to those in NGOs in the charity and human rights sectors. Those salaries certainly seem very high indeed. While this matter is not within the remit of the Minister in question, I am sure it can be raised with him.
We would all welcome the fact, as Senator Moran stated, that high-speed broadband is to be rolled out in 650 secondary schools by 2014. This is of paramount importance for teachers, pupils and the general development of our educational sector.
Senator Landy spoke about centralising the driving licence authority. I am not aware of the situation but I will try to clarify it for him.
The Seanad Divided:
For the motion: 5 (Sean Barrett, John Crown, David Cullinane, David Norris, Kathryn Reilly)
Against the motion: 31 (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, James Heffernan, Imelda Henry, Lorraine Higgins, Caít Keane, John Kelly, Denis Landy, Maire Maloney, Mary Moran, Tony Mulcahy, Michael Mullins, Catherine Noone, Susan O'Keeffe, Pat O'Neill, Feargal Quinn, Tom Shehan, Jillian van Turnhout, John Whelan)
Tellers: Tá, Senators David Norris and Kathryn Reilly; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O'Keeffe.
Amendment declared lost.