Thursday, 29 March 2012
Order of Business
We will not be opposing the Order of Business.
On the household charge, I was looking for a quote that might sum up the continuing confusion now descending into farce. Today the media are reporting yet more examples which are adding to the confusion and which I would like the Leader to address. It seems that those living above retail outlets who had originally believed because they were paying commercial rates as per the leaflet distributed by the Government that they were exempt from the household charge are not exempt from it. It seems that those who have been using part of their commercial dwelling as a place of residence will have to pay the €100 charge in addition to the €200 second home charge. This will place yet another burden on small businesses. Will the Leader request the Minister - this is an important weekend for the Fine Gael Party - to, at least, clarify the position and outline how one can make the payment and also who is liable for the payment? This would serve the purposes of those of us who support the law of the land.
I draw the attention of the Leader to an imminent decision by RTE to shut down the LW 252 service which, as Members are aware, has been serving three quarters of the United Kingdom landmass since its inception over 20 years ago. Wearing my other hat of broadcaster to the Irish Diaspora, I can testify that this service has been essential in maintaining a link, particularly among the elderly who are not tuned in to Internet or high-tech services. As the Leader is aware, there is a high volume of traffic, both commercial and tourist, between Britain and Ireland who use the service on their travels to keep in touch with what is happening in Ireland. Notwithstanding the fact that RTE is in serious financial difficulty - I understand it must bridge a gap of some €20 million this year and that it is in that context that the termination of the service has arisen; I believe a decision is imminent and will be announced in the next few days by the director general Mr. Noel Curran - I ask the Leader to investigate what role, if any, the Government might play to ensure this service is maintained, particularly given the increased use of the Internet which RTE will use as a justification for terminating the service?
As I stated, I was looking for a quote that might describe, to some degree. what was going on in relation to the household charge. I have found one by Churchill who was always good for a quote that might apply to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, and which was made across the floor of the House of Commons:
He is one of those orators, of whom it is well said, "Before they get up, they do not know what they are going to say; when they are speaking, they do not know what they are saying; and when they have sat down, they do not know what they have said.
It would be useful if the Minister clarified the exact position on the household charge.
Churchill was, of course, a noted orator. There are many good orators who do not know what they are going to say when they stand up, so I am not sure Senator Mooney was right about that.
With regard to the household charge, as colleagues know, this was introduced as part of the EU-IMF programme. It is regrettable that it is a flat rate for the first year but the Government has made clear it will be based on an assessment after the first year and will, therefore, be tailored to individual houses and properties after that. While I regret the fact it is a flat rate, I very much support the principle of a property tax. It is extraordinary that those on the left politically - I am not looking at anyone in this House in particular - appear to be against a property tax in principle. The alternative is more income taxes or tax in other ways. A property tax is something we have lacked in this country since the ill-fated abolition of rates many years ago. It is something we should stand over in principle.
There have been serious problems with communication and information, which is accepted. It is a pity An Post was not used. It set a rather high rate initially but, in retrospect, it would have been the preferable means of payment and of communication to people. However, it is now clear that, for people who wish to pay by 31 March, there are many different avenues to do so. In Dublin, the civic offices on Wood Quay will be open from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. to accept payment by cash, cheque, bank draft and postal order. People can pay online, by phone or by post. There are quite a range of different means of payment, although I agree people should have been more clearly informed from the outset, as that is when the difficulty arose.
I call for a debate on prisons in light of a hearing held this morning by the justice committee with the director general of the Irish Prison Service concerning an investigation into the escape from Loughan House open prison of Martin McDermott, the person convicted of the manslaughter of Garda Gary McLoughlin in 2009. It was a matter of great regret to all of us here and we all expressed sympathy at the time to the family of Garda McLoughlin. The director general gave a very frank presentation to the committee in which he accepted utterly that the decision to transfer the prisoner from a closed prison to an open centre was wrong. He said measures have been put in place to ensure the transfer of an unsuitable prisoner who is likely to abscond does not take place in future.
We need to place this in context. It would be useful to have a debate in this House about our prison estate generally and to note that in Ireland we have an extremely low proportion of prisoners in open centres, less than 6% compared with an average of one third of prisoners in open prisons in Scandinavian countries, which have a much higher rate of rehabilitation as a result. I ask the Leader for that debate.
I thank all colleagues who contributed to the very lively debate yesterday on the Labour Party's Private Members' motion on supports for small business and the self-employed. I am very grateful to everyone who put forward constructive suggestions and ideas. It was great to have a very full Visitors' Gallery of stakeholders from small business and members of ISME and the chambers of commerce. We certainly intend to follow up on the suggestions made. I will be writing to the Minister of State, Deputy John Perry, and the other Ministers involved, Deputies Burton and Bruton in particular, to put forward some of the suggested ideas from our debate yesterday.
Arising from the Order of Business, I ask that the Leader allow leniency in regard to the 2.30 p.m. time limit on the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) Bill 2011. There are 141 amendments, of which 90 are proposed by the Minister. The bodies concerned have not been consulted, even though the Minister said he would consult them when he was in the House last July. The same Bill reappeared, however, although the Department obviously feels it is seriously flawed and anybody who has read it would think it is seriously flawed. It may require more time than is available up to 2.30 p.m. today to get through the issues, not least dealing with the Minister's many amendments.
The other problem we will encounter is that the Minister will not be present. Therefore, the wisdom we tried to pass on to him last July will have to be communicated again to the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, who is standing in for him. There should have been proper consultation on this and the Bill should have been prepared much more properly than it was.
On another issue, Mr. Carl O'Brien writing in yesterday's edition of The Irish Times stated: "The Revenue Commissioners raised serious concerns over the fairness of aspects of [the] tax breaks aimed at luring multinational executives to Ireland [which was] signed into law earlier this year." The Minister for Finance was most concerned about this issue and spent many hours debating these tax expenditures, the way in which they have grown and are not properly analysed and their seriously inequitable effects. It is disconcerting that so soon after the Finance Act was passed these concerns are raised by the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Finance. The tax breaks are of substantial benefit to people who earn between €75,000 and €500,000 per year.
The briefing to Mr. Carl O'Brien states: "The introduction of any measure which results in the reduction of tax paid by high earners, even if done for compelling reasons such as attracting economic activity into the State ... will be criticised in the context of an increasing burden on 'ordinary' employees". This fits into the category the Minister was describing.
I ask that the lobbying that secured this tax break for people earning between €75,000 and €500,000 be placed in the Oireachtas Library for us to consult. It was obviously an attempt to bypass parliament. The lobbyists are listed as "Citibank, consultants KPMG, PwC and Deloitte ... the American Chamber of Commerce, the IFSC's Tax Strategy Group and the Irish Funds Industry Association." When we give concessions to these groups, the tax burden on everybody else rises, which is part of the problem with the property tax. Those groups I have listed can just walk into the Department of Finance and walk away with massive tax concessions for extremely rich people, without analysis.
I ask the Leader to ensure that those briefing documents which were, unfortunately, so successful, be made available to parliamentarians to consult them and to see how they won the argument. I thought last week that those of us who think the tax burden should be spread evenly and fairly over the people had won the argument. This seems to indicate the Revenue Commissioners are seriously unhappy about what happened and they said so yesterday to Mr. Carl O'Brien in The Irish Times.
Yesterday, I felt the Seanad cut new ground when we had the conclusion of our first public consultation on older people. I compliment Senators Zappone and O'Keeffe for a very fine piece of work, which was well presented and completed in a very short period of four months, with clear recommendations. I ask the Leader to consider the same approach in a number of other areas in future. I know he is considering one immediately in the area of cancer prevention, which is laudable.
Last weekend, a number of Members had the opportunity to be present at an event called Change Nation, which was about changing our nation for the better. What we had in Dublin Castle and Farmleigh was 50 innovators and social entrepreneurs from all over the world, including Ireland, who came together to offer solutions to problems we are experiencing in health care, education, the economy and civic participation. I can only tell the House it was vibrant, positive and solution-focused. For example, in regard to health care, a consultant from New Mexico - a gastroenterologist - said that with the list he had before him, he could only see 4% of his patients and could never see that situation changing. He then decided to start mentoring GPs through video-conferencing at a distance. Two hours a week, every week of the year, they brought their cases to him and now the lists are gone. He has not turned his GPs into doctors but he has made them experts-----
It would be very valuable to have a debate in the House on how Change Nation works and the solutions it can bring. I also ask the Leader to consider a public consultation phase along those lines. These innovators will be coming back to Ireland and I know they are very keen to contribute. The Taoiseach last weekend launched a social investment fund to encourage this type of solution. It is where people are learning to help themselves.
I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to come to the House, not in regard to the household charge, although I am sure he will be before us at some stage in regard to that ongoing debacle, but to discuss the issue of planning permission and how third parties can object to planning applications that are far away from their homes or areas. In England, people must meet certain criteria before they can object to a planning permission, for example, they must be adversely affected, from the locality or prove they will be at some loss in the event of a planning permission going ahead. In a recent case in Kerry, a person who lives 20 miles away objected to a planning permission that would bring 35 jobs to my area in Drumquinna, which is as good as a small factory. This week the other House is discussing the issue of planning. We all know of cases where people object to planning permissions in the hope of getting paid off, particularly professional objectors. They know they will bring the person seeking planning permission to the table and if given money will go away. That issue can be tackled by ensuring legislation is in place to provide that only people who are affected by a proposed planning in their area and can prove they will be affected can object. That is done in other jurisdictions. I propose an amendment to the 2009 planning Act setting out a list of criteria under which objections can be lodged. I ask the Leader to address the issue.
I note the contribution from the Senator. It is interesting that the other House is dealing with the excess of planning permissions and the problems that stem therefrom. His comments about what could be described as serial objectors is worthy of consideration. In respect of his point and the matter being debated in the other House there is a need for a substantial debate on the broader planning concepts and how the mix of planning and politics, objections, support and so on can be regulated. That could be a debate for the next few months.
I agree with Senator Fidelma Healy Eames in respect of the group to which she referred. Although there are a number of ideas before the Seanad Public Consultation Committee it is a matter that is worthy of consideration.
Senator Sean Barrett raised a pertinent matter concerning taxation in general. We have had a number of commissions on taxation, all of which have done sterling work. Like many reports on all topics they generally rest wearily and easily in the Oireachtas Library and in various museum type places. We need a broad debate on taxation and the forms of taxation which will have to be introduced in the coming years. Perhaps the Oireachtas is the best place for such a debate. The Members of this and the other House should be the members of any commission on taxation. It is unrealistic to expect that no new forms of taxation will be introduced but the plea must be to ensure they are fair and representative. The debate could be kick started here in the coming months on the necessary reforms. I ask the Leader to consider such a debate as we all know it is necessary.
It was a Seanad Bill and became law here yesterday. I congratulate her for her perseverance in that area.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames referred to Change Nation which took place last weekend and was quite an event. I support her move because it is the sort of thing we could talk about. There has been a huge development in the past in expecting Governments to solve every problem. What we learned at Change Nation and at another function, Students in Free Enterprise, SIFE, established yesterday, is that people are getting up and doing it themselves. I found Change Nation fascinating. The Senator mentioned one doctor in New Mexico. Those of us who attended had the opportunity to sit for 45 minutes each with social entrepreneurs from around the world. These are people who are changing the world and the way of life themselves, some came from Ireland. One particular person, Mary Nally set up Third Age Foundation to get volunteers to help people who have retired to improve the nation. She has also set up Fáilte Isteach the purpose of which is to ensure the newcomers to our country are welcome in their communities. Much of the work being done is unheralded, unrecognised and unnoticed. What Change Nation did and what SIFE is doing where it has students from around the world who give up their time to do good for their locality and their people are the issues we should debate here.
Following on from a point raised by Senator Barrett, there are 141 amendments to a Bill to be debated today, approximately 100 of which are Government amendments. It is a Seanad Bill and deserves time and attention.
As Senator Bacik said, the Garda Representative Association has described as astonishing the fact that Martin McDermott was transferred to Loughan House, an open prison, having had 91 previous convictions. The Minister has said it was a mistake and that measures would be put in place to ensure such a occurrence was not repeated. He was convicted for the manslaughter of a garda. We expect the Garda to protect us as citizens. The Garda is special and over and above ordinary citizens. If we expect them to put their lives on the line for us, as legislators we should ensure their lives are protected in the ordinary line of duty. What sanctions will be imposed on those who made the mistakes because it is only by sanctions that one learns? While a system must be in place to ensure there is no recidivism and education facilities, Garda Gary McLoughlin's family cannot visit him, he is dead. I thought we did treat the Garda as a special category in respect of the prison system. This is a sad day for the Garda force in that Martin McDermott has been allowed escape. Not only had he 91 previous convictions but while he was in prison for the manslaughter of Garda Gary McLoughlin he had breached the rules, therefore, he was not entitled to be transferred to Loughan House. I ask that the matter be investigated even though there is a report on the issue. I want the report discussed in the House to ensure the Garda we put on the streets are safe.
Déanaim tagairt do rud adúirt an Ceannaire agus an leas-Cheannaire inniu maidir leis an muirear teallaigh. Yesterday and today, the Leader and Deputy Leader mentioned that the household charge is part of the EU-IMF deal. I seek clarification on that issue. Perhaps they will indicate at what page in the memorandum of understanding it is stated. We have been looking for it but cannot find it.
I draw attention to a matter I raised yesterday and Tuesday, which the Leader did not address, namely, the debate on the Mahon tribunal. We have had a report, which has been 15 years in the making, 400 witnesses and which cost hundreds of millions of euro, on corruption in political life and we still have no indication of a date for a debate on it. Prior to publication the Leader said we would have a comprehensive debate on it. Members of the Fianna Fáil Party have indicated they would like to have a debate on it, therefore, why have we not had the debate? The other House has had a three-day debate on it.
In fairness, the Leader said he would come back to us on it on Tuesday.
Where is the urgency on this issue? When the issue of the prayer that opens our daily proceedings was raised, we had a swift debate, which I welcomed, but we have not had a debate or an indication regarding a debate on the Mahon tribunal report, which has serious ramifications for political life. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that we have a debate on the Mahon tribunal today. I am willing to withdraw the amendment if the debate cannot be facilitated today but can be arranged for next Tuesday or Wednesday. The report is being debated throughout the country, in the media and in cafeterias and workplaces. It is being talked about in the Dáil bar and cafeteria. Why can we not debate it in the House? The report is being debated for a third day in the Dáil today. This is a huge issue and people are asking whether the issues highlighted in the report are still going on. For example, there has been a lack of action on the Moriarty tribunal recommendations. People were asking why Denis O'Brien was standing on the same podium as the Taoiseach. There are huge issues around the Mahon tribunal.
I have moved an amendment to the Order of Business that we discuss this report today. This is a serious amendment. We should stop beating around the bush and avoiding this issue. This hugely important issue deserves to be debated in the Upper House.
I agree with Senator Daly's contention that we need to tighten the process of objecting to planning permissions in the context of who, how and why. There is significant anecdotal evidence that large sums have been paid by those seeking permission to objectors to facilitate and encourage them to withdraw their objections, which is not acceptable. We need to examine how best to ensure that if an objection is made to a planning permission, it is legitimate and is not a rogue objection or somebody trying to make a few quid.
I support the call of previous speakers, including Senator Bacik, for a debate on the Irish Prison Service. Overall, the service is doing a good job but what happened in the case of Martin McDermott was appalling. I have just come from a meeting of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality and it was refreshing to hear the director general of the Irish Prison Service, Mr. Michael Donnellan, putting his hands up without making excuses or trying to spin what happened. He made a plain apology. His staff know they were wrong and they are putting procedures in place to ensure they do not get it wrong again. It was a sad day for An Garda Síochána when a prisoner convicted of the manslaughter of a member of the force was able to escape in this manner. Thankfully, procedures will be in place to ensure this will not happen again, which is welcome. I also asked the director general during the meeting how many other prisoners-----
We have had extensive debates on the household charge and it has featured intensively in the media for a long time. It might be well worth our while to have a discussion on why the campaign against the charge has gathered such momentum. It has taken us all by surprise. One of the reasons for it is the perceived anomalies and inequities in our taxation system. For instance, if somebody is in receipt of perks or concessions, it is not always fully understood why that might be happening, even when there is a valid reason for them.
I have paid the household charge and I fully understand and support the Government position's on this because it would be hypocritical to join a campaign or jump on a bandwagon simply to oppose it because of the discontent felt by people. However, apart from the methodology of presenting this to the people and the threats that were made, which were wrong from the beginning, the fact that same €100 applies to everyone is an issue. It was not sufficient for us to know it was an interim measure and that a proper household tax will be put in place when the database is put together and appropriate valuations are used. If one lives in a particular area in a small house and is living on a low income, one must pay €100 but, down the road, a millionaire living a mansion only has to pay the same amount. We must examine this perception.
The same principle applies to the proposal for taxing foreign executives. There must be another way of dealing with that because it amounts to preferential treatment. The same could be said of the value of an Irish person's work. If he or she is giving a service in the community, one could argue on the same premise that he or she should get preferential treatment. I would like to debate the taxation system because the discontent will not go away. The minute the household charge database is put together and a new system is introduced, the same opposition will be experienced.
It was suggested that if 50% of householders paid the tax before the deadline, this would be hailed as a success but it is an admission of failure. If that same measurement was applied to all other taxes, the Exchequer would have a serious problem.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh said that, despite an intensive search, Sinn Féin can find no reference to the household charge in the EU-IMF memorandum of understanding. He used the collective term "we", which is code for the republican movement. There are other things the republican movement cannot find such as the bodies of the disappeared, nine of whom are still missing. I ask him to use his influence-----
Tá brón orm. The success of the trade mission to China has not been recognised because of the household charge and Mahon report issues. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation is doing an excellent good and perhaps some of that is down to pressure Senator Mary White has put on him. The trade mission has been a great success. China is a source of foreign direct investment as well as exports. This is important because 90% of our economic growth is expected to come from outside the EU in the years to come. As chairman of Dundalk Town Council in 2007, I welcomed the first Chinese manufacturing facility, SATIR, to Ireland. The company recently announced expansion plans, which will lead to the creation of 200 new jobs. I hope that is the first of many similar announcements.
I compliment Senator D'Arcy on his deft linguistic analysis of Sinn Féin's utterances.
I want to focus on one word, namely "rehabilitation." I was present to hear the director general of the Irish Prison Service apologise for what happened when Mr. Martin McDermott absconded from Loughan House. While it is right that people are annoyed, angry and hurt by what happened, and it is appropriate that the apology was made, I am concerned, as Senator Bacik said, about any possible chilling effect which could take place as a result of appropriate decisions made on rehabilitation, in particular the use of open prisons.
We should bear in mind the statistic mentioned by Senator Bacik, namely, that only 6% of people are incarcerated in open prisons compared with a much higher average in other countries, in particular Nordic countries, and how useful they are from a rehabilitation point of view. The apology is appropriate but it is also appropriate that we would not lose sight of the bigger picture.
On rehabilitation and its connection to the Mahon tribunal, one of the problems with the tribunal culture is that we have arrived at a situation where there seems to be very little possibility for redemption or rehabilitation of people. That leads to people on the one hand going into a spiral of denial and on the other going into a spiral of condemnation.
Having regard to what the Minister, Deputy Burton, said about Mr. Denis O'Brien in the Dáil, I am worried there is a creeping culture of judgmentalism where people are being inappropriately tarred for all time, even when they have a significant contribution to make to the benefit of the country. The Minister, Deputy Burton, does not seem to have a problem with the Taoiseach sharing a platform with Mr. Wen Jiabao or Mr. Xi Jinping in Beijing. Just because they have not been found guilty of anything in a tribunal does not mean they do not have very serious questions to answer in terms of human rights.
The Minister recently, when giving a speech at which I was present, mentioned Mao Tse Tung by way of passing quotation without any sense of how inappropriate that was. Were she to have quoted Hitler, Mussolini or another cruel totalitarian dictator people would have quite legitimately asked questions. People need to be careful about pointing fingers in general. I hope and share the cause for an early discussion on the Mahon report.
On a positive note, I welcome the fact there has been a significant increase in the number of people paying the household charge. I encourage people to continue to make payments over the next couple of days. The moneys raised are going to provide services in local communities. I deplore the fact that people who are paid from the public purse has been actively campaigning against the household charge.
Some elements of the media have not covered themselves in glory and have drummed up all sorts of opposition to the charge. Some have encouraged people no to pay the charge but rather to pay it to a charity. One journalist has been doing that on a radio show. Not so long ago Mr. Ray D'Arcy said-----
My question to the Leader follows on from what Senator D'Arcy said. We all welcome the high-profile visit of the Taoiseach and Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, to China and the wonderful international coverage it is getting. It would be very appropriate for the Minister to come before the House and I ask the Leader to arrange that at an appropriate date. We should have an update on the international visits that have taken place in recent months, particularly the activities that took place over the St. Patrick's weekend. We could get a synopsis from the Minister on the level of contacts made and expected outcomes of the significant visits.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business tabled by Senator Ó Clochartaigh. He mentioned the memorandum of understanding and whether the household charge was in it. I was one of those who examined the memorandum and saw no reference to the household charge. Regardless of that, there was reference in the memorandum to the minimum wage, the cut to which was reversed. There was also a reference to increases in income tax, yet the Government renegotiated that. It is irrelevant whether the household charge was in the document.
The previous speaker on the Government side shows the frustration and desperation that is coming through from the Government. It is evident in the fact it is blaming broadcasters, the media and politicians for the fact it made a complete shambles of the tax.
That is the reality. It should stop blaming people for the mess it created and solve the problem. That is what legislators should be doing.
I ask the Leader about a very serious matter, namely, the sit-in by hundreds of workers who worked for Game. It is shameful that in 21st century Ireland a company can shut its doors, not pay its workforce and give them no notice whatsoever. Workers have not received redundancy forms, rather they were sent UK redundancy forms in the post. They are due holiday and sick pay and other entitlements.
Is this company in breach of employment rights legislation? How can a company simply shut its doors? There is a collective agreement of 30 days' notice in place. Is the company not trading in Ireland? Has it gone bust? Has a receiver been appointed? Why is it allowed to do this? It is a very serious issue. We saw what happened with Waterford Crystal, Vita Cortex, La Senza, Lagan Brick and many other companies over the past number of months who have shut their doors and not paid workers their entitlements. It is high time we had a debate in the House on employment rights and the abuse of them in this country.
I support Senator Healy Eames and Quinn in their call to the Leader to set aside some time to debate the increased participation in civil society, which is why the Seanad was originally formed. I refer to Change Nation and Ashoka who organised events last weekend in Farmleigh and the Mansion House. There are an extraordinary bunch of social entrepreneurs and social innovators from Ms Caroline Casey to Mr. Mick Quinn. They work in areas such as agriculture, creating jobs, tourism and democracy. It would be helpful for the Seanad to hear other parts of civil society represented.
I draw the attention of the Leader and Members to a banner headline in The Irish Times today. Mr. Eoin O' Malley, who is billed as a teacher in Irish politics in Dublin City University, has written an article. Its banner headline proclaims: "Mahon just another nail in coffin for dying Fianna Fáil."
The subheading helpfully adds "There is no hope for the once dominant party". As an interested party and vice president of Fianna Fáil who is committed to the party's renewal, I have read and reread the article to find a context for these funereal conclusions but failed to find these statements in the article. In searching for a possible explanation I wonder if the editor of The Irish Times inadvertently omitted-----
I support the calls for a debate on planning issues. I wholeheartedly agree with Senator Mark Daly that there are people - I am aware of some in my constituency - who are merely seeking pay-back by objecting for the sake of it or even in the expectation that a planning applicant might offer them money to drop their objection. As the Senator observed, they do not necessarily live in the immediate vicinity of the site or property in respect of which the planning application has been lodged. Will the Leader agree to a debate on the implementation of decisions made by An Bord Pleanála? In some cases, it takes years for rulings to be executed. In my county, for example, a building constructed without planning permission is still intact after three and a half years, despite proceedings being issued by An Bord Pleanála for its removal. We must have a detailed debate in this House on all aspects of planning.
The issues raised by the Acting Leader of the Opposition, Senator Paschal Mooney, in regard to the household charge were clarified by the Deputy Leader. In regard to RTE's LW 252 service, that issue was flagged more than two years ago from the other side of the House. I understand the Government cannot get involved - the decision has been made and it will go ahead. However, I acknowledge the Senator concerns in this regard.
Senators Ivana Bacik, Cáit Keane, Martin Conway and others called for a debate on prisons, particularly in the light of the recent escape of a prisoner convicted of the manslaughter of a garda. It was a very regrettable incident, but I welcome the apology by the director of the Irish Prison Service at a meeting this morning of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Defence. I have asked the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, to attend the House for a debate on crime and prisons which I hope will take place after Easter.
Senators Sean D. Barrett and Feargal Quinn asked that sufficient time be afforded for the debate on the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) Bill 2011. I agree absolutely that we should have adequate time to discuss the legislation. As such, I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the debate on Committee Stage shall adjourn, rather than conclude, at 2.30 p.m., if not previously concluded.
Senators Fidelma Healy Eames, Fiach Mac Conghail and Feargal Quinn asked that certain issues be debated by the Seanad Public Consultation Committee. The committee published an excellent report yesterday on the rights of older people. It was unfortunate that, once again, there was no one in attendance from the media. There is a problem for this House in general in attaining sufficient coverage for the great body of work in which we are engaged in many areas. I compliment everybody involved with the report which I hope will receive the coverage and action by the Government that it deserves in the coming weeks.
In regard to requests that the Seanad Public Consultation Committee discuss issues including Change Nation and social entrepreneurs, these requests may be submitted to the committee which has already agreed to examine a number of issues but others may be tabled for consideration. I advise Members who have made suggestions in this regard to be specific in their submissions. If there is too broad a range of issues to discuss, it will not be possible to compile a proper report. Members might agree on an issue on which we could all focus and I will certainly consider it as a matter for public consultation.
Several speakers referred to planning regulations and the issue of nuisance objections. It is unfortunate that some of these issues were not raised with the Minister of State with responsibility for housing and planning when she was in the Chamber for two hours yesterday. Nevertheless, we will arrange to have her come to the House again. She is scheduled to attend after Easter for the debate on the report of the Mahon tribunal. There may be an opportunity to raise these issues during that debate, or we may have a separate debate on planning issues, if such is deemed necessary.
Senators Sean D. Barrett and Paul Bradford called for a debate on taxation, with particular reference to the concerns expressed by Revenue regarding the tax breaks introduced by the Minister for Finance. I am not in a position to provide the information requested by Senator Sean D. Barrett, but I will raise the issue with the Minister.
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh asked for a debate on the report of the Mahon tribunal. I indicated on Tuesday that I would meet the group leaders to arrange a date after Easter for this debate. That meeting will take place after the Order of Business today. I also said on Tuesday that I would allow ample time for a considered debate on the report.
Senators Jim D'Arcy and Michael Mullins referred to the importance of the trade visit to China, led by the Taoiseach. I will endeavour to have the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, give the House an update on this visit and the various ministerial visits which took place in the week of St. Patrick's Day.
Senator David Cullinane referred to the sit-in by Game workers. This matter was raised by Senator Catherine Noone on the Order of Business on Tuesday, in response to which I agreed that all workers should receive their full entitlements and that the Government should ensure the law was upheld. There seems to be a repetition of issues raised earlier in the week on the Order of Business today.
The Seanad Divided:
For the motion: 3 (David Cullinane, David Norris, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh)
Against the motion: 26 (Ivana Bacik, Sean Barrett, Paul Bradford, Terry Brennan, Deirdre Clune, Martin Conway, Maurice Cummins, Jim D'Arcy, Michael D'Arcy, John Gilroy, Jimmy Harte, Fidelma Healy Eames, James Heffernan, Imelda Henry, Caít Keane, John Kelly, Denis Landy, Fiach MacConghail, Tony Mulcahy, Rónán Mullen, Michael Mullins, Catherine Noone, Pat O'Neill, Feargal Quinn, Jillian van Turnhout, Katherine Zappone)
Tellers: Tá, Senators David Cullinane and Trevor Ó Clochartaigh; Níl, Senators Ivana Bacik and Michael Mullins.
Amendment declared lost.