Tuesday, 24 April 2012
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Thirtieth Amendment of the Constitution (Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union) Bill 2012 – Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude no later than 3 p.m., if not previously concluded; No. 2, motion pursuant to section 23 of the Referendum Act 1994, concerning a statement for the information of voters, to be taken, without debate - although I am sure it can, if necessary, be discussed during the debate on the Bill - on the conclusion of No. 1; and No. 3, statements on the report of the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments, to be taken at 3 p.m. and to conclude no later than 6 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed six minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply no later than 5.50 p.m.
I wish to inquire whether the Leader has an update in respect of the report of the working group on pyrite. I welcome his indication yesterday that the House will engage in a debate on this report and also on building control issues relating to Dublin and other areas throughout the country. Will the Government support the call from the residents of Priory Hall to the effect that when he meets representatives from the Irish Banking Federation later in the week, the Taoiseach should insist that the federation and the relevant mortgage lenders take part in the conciliation process? As stated yesterday, I welcome the fact that such a process is taking place. However, the involvement of all stakeholders, particularly the banks, is required. If the Leader would convey my message in this regard to the Taoiseach I would be very grateful.
As each day passes, it is incumbent on the House to engage in a full and proper debate on the Government's position with regard to water charges. I indicated yesterday that the problems in this regard follow on from those relating to the debacles involving both the septic tank and the household charge. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, has confirmed what people in Dublin already knew, namely, that up to 39% of homes in the capital and the surrounding county are not suitable for metering and that a flat charge will, therefore, apply. This means that certain people will not be obliged to pay for the water they use.
Figures released in recent days show that the Government has spent over €7 million on obtaining policy advice from private consultants. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, and his Department paid PricewaterhouseCoopers, PwC, over €130,000 for advice on how to establish Irish Water. PwC clearly stated that the latter should be a separate State entity which should not be held under semi-State control. When it received this advice, the Government effectively threw it in the bin along with the €130,000 paid for it. The Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, paid Goodbody Economic Consultants €300,000 to produce a report on how to go about selling the VHI and then promptly decided to discard the advice offered. These figures represent only a small proportion of the €7 million spent overall. The latter amount does not include the money Government Ministers are paying to private spin doctors. I will not even refer to the breach in salary caps which the Government continues to condone. The money paid to the private spin doctors to whom I refer has not really been well spent, particularly when one considers their performance, and that of the Government, in the past three to four weeks. If I was a member of the Government, I would seek to obtain assistance from others in the context of matters relating to communications.
I wish to table an amendment to the Order of Business to the effect that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, come before the House to explain the position with regard to water metering and the proposed property tax and the figures that are being bandied about in respect of both. There is total confusion with regard to water charges and different messages are being issued by different Ministers and Departments each day. The only contributor to the debate on water charges from the Labour Party has been the Tánaiste, who commented on the Sunday before last that a decision had not been made when, in effect, it had been made. Obviously, there is a drive on the part of Fine Gael to impose these charges on people. As already stated, over one third of people are not going to be in a position to have meters in their homes. The Government is to spend over €1 billion putting a system of water metering in place but it does not really have a clue as to how it is going to proceed. It is important, therefore, the Minister, Deputy Hogan, should come before the House today to explain the position and to provide clarity in respect of this matter. If my amendment to the Order of Business is accepted, perhaps Deputy Hogan, as the senior line Minister, might be able to provide clarity once and for all.
Senator Darragh O'Brien raised the issue of water charges. I have gone on record in the House previously - I am happy to do so again - to indicate that I am very much in favour of such charges. It is important to ensure sustainable use of this scarce resource. As has been stated previously, so much rain falls in Ireland that it is difficult to believe it is a scarce resource. It is, therefore, important to use water in a sustainable way and we must encourage people to do so.
In other countries where people are charged for the use of water, the price falls and it becomes more economical. In principle, I am very supportive of the notion of water charges. I accept, however, that there are some issues with regard to how such charges will be imposed. I was certainly dismayed to read the comments attributed to one person who suggested that it would be difficult to put in place meters at all properties.
If I could finish, the decision makers in respect of this matter are all in the Cabinet. It is important that they should make a decision based on the experience elsewhere. Ireland is the only country in the OECD which does not charge citizens for water. I presume that other countries have overcome the difficulties relating to putting meters in place in apartments. Professor Richard Tol has put forward some very useful suggestions with regard to alternative ways to ensure that people can be charged based on usage-----
-----rather than being obliged to pay an average charge. I am sure there is a way around the difficulties in this regard. Water charges are not about to be introduced imminently and there is time to achieve a solution that will be both sensible and sustainable.
The Thirtieth Amendment of the Constitution (Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union) Bill 2012 continues today. I welcome the reports in this mornings newspapers in respect of the Tánaiste who, over the heads of certain union leaders, has appealed to trade union members to vote "Yes" in the referendum on the stability treaty on 31 May. This is an important appeal and I hope that when it makes its decision tomorrow, ICTU will not direct its members to vote "No". Any rational reading of the treaty indicates that it would be against the interests of union members for it to be defeated because such an eventuality would give rise to the creation of a great deal of instability. The latter would not be good for jobs or for union members.
I am requesting a debate on the forthcoming merger of the Equality Authority and the Irish Human Rights Commission. The working group's report was published late last week and it contains some sensible and worthy suggestions, including that the new entity - the Irish human rights and quality commission - be independent and adequately resourced in order to allow it to carry out its task.
I am not sure whether the Minister for Education and Skills is due to come before the House to discuss any particular business in the immediate future. In that context, I request that the Leader arrange for him to appear before us to inform us of his plans with regard to the establishment of institutes of education. It appears the Minister has ordered a review of teacher education and today's edition of The Irish Times reports that this is expected to back the establishment of institutes of education. It is obvious, therefore, that somebody in the media is being briefed as to what is going to be the likely outcome. I am of the view that it would be appropriate for the Minister to come here in order to hear the opinions of Senators on this matter. In general it would be a good idea if we would have centres of excellence in teacher training. There is an interesting debate to be had about whether such centres of excellence should combine teacher training for pre-primary, primary and secondary level and whether it is necessary or appropriate that all teacher training should be provided within particular institutes. What we could agree on easily is the need for diversity. There has been much talk about the divestment of schools and there has also been the forum on patronage and pluralism. There is also talk about the status of stand-alone schools. It is clear we are looking at a future in which there will be much more diversity of identity, style and characteristic spirit in our schools. What would be most important, therefore, is that we would have a plurality of types of teacher training rather than looking at some stand-alone, one-size-fits-all State model which should be avoided. That is a very important point that will need to be made. I hope we would have the opportunity to debate it with the Minister here.
One critical issue that applies to schools is the issue of bullying. Bullying for whatever motive or of whatever kind needs to be stamped out in every school. I welcome the intervention yesterday of Mr. Jeremy Prince, father of the late Phoebe Prince, who as we know killed herself as a result of severe bullying in the US in 2010, and encourage the work of the National Anti-Bullying Coalition. This should form the basis for a debate in this House.
I commend the Taoiseach for the very open approach he took in consulting with the various parties and groups in this House about the proposed constitutional convention. Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl raised a question in the other House as to what is happening with and what precise timetable there will be for the convention. It would be useful if we would hear from the Government on this. As there are so many diverse issues proposed to be considered by this convention, it is probably the case that we should ensure we vary Members partaking in the convention on an issue-to-issue basis. It is important that whatever issue is discussed this House would set the standard for the diversity of viewpoints and ideals being represented on the constitutional convention, especially as it is not clear how the non-parliamentary members of the convention are going to be chosen or whether there is any particular way to ensure diversity in their choosing.
Regarding water charges, if we go back far enough to the EU water framework directive and subsequent legislation we can see it is not a Labour Party or Fine Gael development. As Senator Bacik said, every country in Europe pays for water and it is not because everybody wants to but for quality and sustainability of water supply.
Will the Leader ask the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance to investigate how the advice of Ms Marie Mackle, a senior official in the Department of Finance who courageously sought to demonstrate that Ireland's property boom was not based on sound fundamentals, was ignored? We have all read it in the newspapers. The Department of Finance was advising the Taoiseach of the day and this official was screaming for the madness of the property boom to stop but was ignored. The warnings were dismissed and erased from public statements by senior officials in the Department of Finance.
Some of these officials are still occupying top posts in the Department. Are they still erasing what they think a Taoiseach should not hear? The scandal of this cover-up in the Department of Finance is documented in a full file compiled by Ms Mackle which she had intended-----
A senior-ranking person in the Department of Finance was charged with the responsibility of giving advice to the Taoiseach and answering parliamentary questions. I want to put it on the record that this person did not release any information or file into the public domain. Somehow, however, it got out there which warrants another investigation. While it is good it got out there, her warnings were systematically removed and erased from draft answers to parliamentary questions to Fine Gael Deputies who were in opposition at the time and had begun to ask the relevant questions.
I want an investigation into this. The person in question has said she feels isolated in the Department. I am speaking out on her behalf to ask why this is.
I am asking for a debate on it. I want the Minister to come into the House after, not before, investigating the matter to give us some answers as to why this happened and if it is still happening. It came from a woman who was serious and, had her predictions been listened to, it would have saved this country.
There was another woman on the Anglo Irish Bank board.
I second the proposed amendment of my colleague, Senator Darragh O'Brien, to the Order of Business. On a more positive note in these times of doom and gloom, will the Leader have a debate on agrifood exports with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, who has taken up the initiative set in motion by the former Minister, Deputy Brendan Smith, in his Harvest 2020 programme? I compliment the Minister's success on his recent trade mission to China, an initiative embarked on by the late C.J. Haughey and followed up on by Bertie Ahern. This is a positive news story.
I would like the Minister to explain to the House how through Bord Bia and Bord Iascaigh Mhara, BIM, we can actually implement the plans for greater agrifood exports. It deserves a lengthy debate. I have read about the Minister's exploits in China. Coming from a fishing background, I was interested to note that he has agreed on exporting boar fish to China. This fish is relatively new in Irish commercial markets. Before, when it was caught by our boats, it was minced up for food for fish farms. This is an interesting development on which I hope we can embark.
China will soon be the greatest economy in the world. There are in excess of 100 million affluent Chinese people with another 100 million close to being affluent. That is a greater market than America and the EU. I hope the Minister, Deputy Coveney, will attend the House for a full debate not alone on his exploits in China but on the agrifood industry and if BIM and Bord Bia can meet the export targets set for the next seven years. This deserves a full debate as soon as possible.
I support my colleague Senator Keane in her call for a debate on what has emerged from the Department of Finance regarding a cover-up. It is most outrageous that a competent and conscientious public servant's advice was ignored and interfered with several years ago. If that good advice had been heeded, we would certainly be in a less difficult situation than we are today. This matter demands that it be fully investigated and debated in this House while we learn from the mistakes made in the past.
I want to raise the issue of excessive booking fees which is a scandal and a rip-off perpetrated by many air transport companies, particularly Ryanair and Aer Lingus.
When will the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation bring forward the legislation to stamp out these excessive charges? To give Members a rough idea, Ryanair and Aer Lingus are charging €6 per person per one way ticket. Potentially a family of four could pay €48 for the privilege of booking a flight.
It is a matter of great importance to citizens. Companies such as Ticketmaster are charging 12% to book a ticket for a show or match. Citizens are being charged excessively and the Minister is taking the issue so seriously that he is proposing legislation which should be introduced as a matter of urgency. At a time when people are stretched, having to pay such charges on top of the cost of a ticket is excessive. The matter should be regulated. While I welcome the Minister's commitment to introduce legislation, we need it urgently as we approach the busiest time of the year for travelling.
We have had this argument before, but people used the words "in this country." It is not a scarce resource in this country. I fully approve of water charges, but it would be ridiculous for the Cabinet to spend time considering the details of the mechanical application of water metering. It has no competence in the matter, whatever competence it might have in other areas. This is an engineering matter which should be left to those with competence in it. Of course, there are problems. When I bought my house, the pipe that fed it also fed the factory behind it. It is no longer used, but there is planning permission for an apartment block; presumably, therefore, I will supply water to that entire apartment block. When I asked for the water to be separated, I was told the local authority would not do it. That is a practical problem that can be multiplied across the country.
The situation with water meters is getting close to the e-voting machines scandal. Apparently, it is proposed people will have to pay up to €800 for each meter. They are available on the open market for €80. Why do we not practice what we preach and buy them on the open market?
Whatever about the scarcity of this resource, there will not be any scarcity of it tomorrow, according to Met Éireann. If its forecast is right, we will have the entire rainfall figure for the month of April. Will the Leader ensure, in such circumstances, that we will avoid the situation that arose so sadly in Cork the last time, when the electricity generating authorities did not make provision in time and when the dam in the hydroelectric scheme started to overflow, they released water that added to the flooding. Can we have a assurance there has been a little forward planning and the Cabinet will direct its attention to this matter rather than the minutiae of water metering, about which it knows nothing?
It is disappointing, to say the least, that the trade unions are recommending a "No" vote in the upcoming referendum. Workers are the ones who will benefit from the proposed measures included in the treaty. We must restore confidence in the country. The treaty has been designed to avoid the reckless spending that took place in the last ten to 15 years. It has been designed to promote an economy that will keep money in reserve and not think in the short term.
The days when money is flowing and there is cutting when there are difficulties must come to an end and keeping nothing in reserve is an idea we must avoid in the future. It is a clever gimmick to call this an austerity treaty; it could more properly be called an investment treaty because it will restore stability and confidence.
I join Senator Cáit Keane in asking for a debate on the official in the Department of Finance who attempted to bring matters to light that could potentially have saved us billions of euro. It is an outrage. I would welcome a debate on the topic in the near future. The suggestion an investigation take place before someone comes in to talk to us is a good one.
The last time money was held in reserve for the people was when the National Pensions Reserve Fund was set up. However, that fund was emptied to pay back speculators and bondholders. Working people in this country got nothing; rather they were saddled with mortgage arrears, while 460,000 are out of work and 150,000 have been forced to emigrate. None of that money was used in their interests. The Taoiseach and the Tánaiste can try all they like to go over the heads of trade union leaders, but the Tánaiste has no credibility with working people. Let him go over the heads of trade union leaders. He might appeal to card carrying members of the Labour Party who may be trade union members, but he will not appeal to ordinary working people who are crippled with austerity. They see no plans to create jobs or help those in mortgage distress or lift the domestic economy. They see a treaty that will institutionalise austerity for decades to come and tie the hands of future Governments in seeking to borrow to invest prudently.
Senator Ivana Bacik can shake her head, but the reality is social democratic parties across Europe have opposed the treaty, as has the European Trade Union Confederation. The Labour Party in other European countries opposed parts of the treaty when it was going through the European Parliament but because the Labour Party here feels it has no choice because it is in government, it is asking the people to vote for a bad treaty for working people who know this is bad for them, there will be more austerity measures and that it could potentially bankrupt the country. I hope, therefore, they will vote "No".
Our colleague and Leader of the Opposition, Senator Darragh O'Brien, started sensibly this morning when he spoke about the issues of pyrite and conciliation. We support him in that regard, but then he went totally silly when he turned to water.
As it will all be worked out sensibly, I advise Senator Darragh O'Brien to desist from putting this matter at the top of the agenda. No one will pay for water for another two years at least. As we know, contrary to what Senator David Norris would have us believe, water needs treatment, which is expensive. It must be piped, which is also expensive. Reservoirs are needed.
Last Wednesday and Thursday there was a debate in the Dáil on the issue of abortion. Diverse views were expressed in that debate. There was subsequent acknowledgment that the debate was conducted with great civility.
Today, we are fortunate to have the opportunity to hear someone who has campaigned internationally against the abuse of forced abortion, particularly in a number of Asian countries where female foeticide, gendercide and human trafficking are major and co-related problems.
The House has a proud record in taking on and advocating women's issues across a range of areas. Last year, Senator Bacik raised the issue of female genital mutilation and legislation forbidding this is now on the Statute Book. In an effort to continue that record, I urge Members to go to the audio-visual room at 4.30 p.m. to hear Ms Reggie Littlejohn, who has devoted a considerable portion of her energies and life's work to opposing the abuses of gendercide and human trafficking. The meeting will be enlightening for us. I urge Members to go. Whether one is on one side or the other of the abortion debate, I have no doubt that we re ad idem in opposing forced abortion, gendercide and female foeticide.
I call upon the group leaders in the House to bring forward an all-party motion condemning that practice and seeking changes. If we secure a place on the United Nations Human Rights Council this should be one of our main platforms during our tenure on that body.
I urge people to attend the audio-visual room at 4.30 p.m.
On a point of order arising from Senator Walsh's contribution, is it appropriate under Standing Orders to circulate invitations to meetings which are quite detailed but make no mention of the principal subject of the meeting. I received an invitation to this event but it did not make any reference to abortion. I find that disingenuous.
Once again, a request has been made for a debate on water charges. Having a vote, morning after morning, on requests for the Minister's presence, apart from the politics of the matter, does not solve the broader issue. If the water charges produce the full amount of money expected, that will still be a minuscule portion of overall Exchequer requirements.
I repeat the call I made some weeks ago to ask the Minister for Finance to come to the House to talk about the broader future taxation requirements of our economy. We all realise that the current tax base is limited and that we will have to look at new revenue raising measures and, I presume, some difficult options. We need to discuss that range of options.
A number of commissions on taxation have produced ideas but these normally get as far as the Oireachtas Library, where they rest in peace.
It would be helpful if the Minister for Finance came to the House to discuss the general principles of taxation and outline the range of options that might or might not be on the cards, fiscally and politically, in the next decade or so. If we are to spend endless time talking about a water charges which will bring in a possible €150 million or thereabouts, how can we solve the bigger problems where billions of euro are required.
I agree, in general, with the comments of Senator Mullen on the constitutional convention. It would be helpful to learn more about its make up. I would not like the convention to take away the role of the Oireachtas. I have no difficulty with expert groups or constitutional conventions looking at any subject under the sun. However, we should not forget that we, the elected Members of the Oireachtas, are the people who must lead the debate and take the decisions. Advice is all that can come from an expert group or constitutional convention. We, the elected representatives, are the ultimate constitutional convention and we must not see our powers reduced in that regard.
While constitutional conventions are debating so called great topics, we need to keep up the debate in this House. It is here, where elected people can be hired and fired by the people, that decisions must, ultimately, be taken.
I welcome the expressions of concern regarding the civil servant whose remarks were widely publicised in the media at the weekend. I also compliment the Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts who has stated that the PAC will investigate this issue, as well as other related issues.
This is not the first time the media have revealed advice given to senior officials in the Department of Finance, which they studiously ignored at a critical time in the country's development. Our party suffered from this to an extraordinary degree, as history now reveals. Questions are now being asked about what went on during that period. That is why I welcome the promise of the investigation by the Committee of Public Accounts. It will investigate the issues surrounding the events of that time.
About a year ago, it was reported in the newspapers that a freedom of information request had revealed that, for a year following the introduction of 100% mortgages, the office of the Minister of State with responsibility for housing, Deputy Noel Ahern, constantly and regularly corresponded with the Department of Finance to warn of the adverse impact of 100% mortgages on the ability to repay of many of those who were taking up these mortgages. The advice was studiously ignored. In fact, the Department of Finance went so far as to say that the percentage of those who would acquire 100% mortgages was so small that it would have no impact on the housing market. We now know this is a major issue and it is regularly debated in this House. The Government is grappling with the consequences of the introduction of 100% mortgages.
It is somewhat ironic, in light of today's debate on the fiscal treaty, that Ireland kept within the rules up to and including the crash of 2008.
I fully agree with the concerns expressed. I am not trying to rewrite history. All I am saying is that the requests that have been made in the House are valid and relevant. I welcome the inquiry of the Committee of Public Accounts where the Irish public will at last get an opportunity, free of emotion and of the emotive atmosphere that has surrounded the crash and its consequences, analytically and forensically to examine exactly what happened.
I wish to make reference to the decision of some trade unions, announced at the weekend, to oppose the fiscal treaty. I ask the Leader to write to these unions and to other parties who oppose the treaty and ask the following question. Should Ireland need further assistance from the EU, where do these unions, and others who are against the treaty, suggest that we get the money to fund their members' increments, allowances and wages in the event of the treaty being rejected?
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Social Protection to the House to explain the delays of up to 18 months in the awarding of some social protection entitlements. Hundreds of public servants have been transferred from other Departments and areas to the Department of Social Protection, yet the waiting lists are getting longer.
In our discussions on water, there are aspects of the PricewaterhouseCoopers report which deserve our consideration. First, the engineers have sought to portray the 41% of water that is unaccounted for as people wasting water in their houses. One's house will flood. In the garden, one's garden will flood. It must be in the pipes outside houses and that is where the responsibility should lie.
Page 41 of the PricewaterhouseCoopers report states that only 52% of the commercial water rates are collected. I am sure the Leader will advise the Minister to get those local authorities to go and collect the money. At this stage, we are short of money. People are uneasy that the wastage problem is being visited upon them when it properly rests somewhere else and that money due to the water authority is not being collected.
The final worrying part in the PricewaterhouseCoopers report, on page 55, is that there is a substantial excess cost. They looked at 13 water authorities in Britain and Ireland and on all the indicators, Ireland is far behind. In Scotland, which seems to be the same kind of place with, as Senator Norris pointed out, much rain, the operating cost per connection is €70 and ours is approximately €230. There must be some emphasis on extracting efficiency out of that water industry before we start issuing bills to the public.
There is much merit in what Senator Barrett stated. What we need in this House is a dedicated water day, where we look at all the elements of water. This House should lead the debate on water. Water is a precious commodity. There are millions of people around the world who would only love a glass of water which we take for granted in this country. A dedicated water day should look, in the first instance, at water conservation and lead the charge on educating the people on the vital necessity of water conservation. This country needs a water conservation charter to which all citizens sign up. Although there is 41% unaccounted for, there is a significant percentage of water wasted. It is criminal to see that amount of water being wasted.
Furthermore, we could then look at best practice internationally because other countries have been charging for water for years. We need to look at what is happening in other countries and educate ourselves and the Irish people as to what is happening elsewhere because we seem to have a tilted debate here. People would need to wake up to the fact that every other country has been paying for water for years and the reason there is a botched water infrastructure is because we have been giving it away for nothing. The only ones who have been paying for water are the farmers and business people, those who have been paying for a great deal in this country. We need to wake up and have a mature debate on water and we could start that by having a full day's deliberations in this House on the future of water in this country.
As I stated here on numerous occasions, the No. 1 challenge facing the country is the creation of employment. The trade union leaders are being disingenuous in what they say. The American Chamber of Commerce, the members of which are the chiefs of the multinational companies located in Ireland, includes Ms Louise Phelan, who is the sister of our former colleague who died tragically two years ago, former Senator Kieran Phelan, and who has spoken out as the chief executive of PayPal's European operations. On Ireland's track record to date, no doubt we were beginning to restore international confidence in the country. This was started by Fianna Fáil and is being continued by the current Government.
The chief executives of IBM Ireland, Merrill Lynch Ireland and Microsoft Ireland have drawn attention to the fact that the only jobs being created at present are in the foreign direct investment area and already, in the first quarter of the year, 2,200 jobs have been created.
We are in a democracy and, of course, people are entitled to vote "No". If, however, the trade union leaders who are speaking on behalf of their members are not presenting a fair case, and as our challenge is to create employment, being at the heart of Europe will send out a signal to foreign direct investors. One of the main reasons they are coming here is because of Ireland being a member of the EU and the access to the 500 million EU citizens. I would like to invite the unions in here to tell us face to face-----
I support the comments of previous Members about the trade union movement and the fiscal treaty. From listening to and reading media reports, it seems that there is a certain amount of confusion among many commentators. The confusion seems to arise from mixing up two distinct economic elements: first, the need for the stability treaty to pass; and second, the need for a stimulus package. The misunderstood link between both is that without access to international funding, there is not the slightest possibility of creating a stimulus package and without passing the treaty, there is not the slightest possibility of achieving access to international funding. I call on the trade union movement to reflect upon this and reconsider its recommendation to its members that they reject the treaty.
I call on the Leader to ask for a debate on symphysiotomy. I am a member of the all-party Oireachtas committee set up to investigate the matter. I am calling for support for these ladies and I would ask the Leader whether, as promised, we could have a debate on the issue.
In response to the Leader of the Opposition, Senator O'Brien, I have not received anything back on the pyrite report. I hope to have it in the next day or two. We all welcome the fact that the Priory Hall conciliation process is going on and would express our wish that it will reach a satisfactory conclusion. I certainly will bring the Senator's comments to the relevant persons.
Quite a number of Members spoke about water and water metering. Charges for water will not commence until 2014 and there will be ample time to discuss the question of water metering and water. Members should not rush. We do not want to get bogged down on water every day of the week. We will have plenty of time to discuss the issue.
On consultants, as was mentioned by Senator O'Brien, all areas of Government spending are coming down in line with the budget deficit reduction targets. It is safe to say that no matter what was spent by the current Government in the past year, it would be considerably less than what was spent by the previous Government on consultants.
Senator Bacik stated that all decisions on water, and all other matters, are decisions for the Cabinet. As I stated yesterday, the Government is united in implementing the programme for Government over the five-year period. That will be done and let the people judge at that point in time.
A number of Members raised the question of the stance of unions on the referendum. There was a good Second Stage debate on the referendum Bill here yesterday and Committee and Remaining Stages will be taken today. All of those comments can be made in the context of the debate on Committee and Remaining Stages that we will hold over the next couple of hours.
Senator Rónán Mullen and others referred to the review of teacher training colleges and institutes of education. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, will be in the House next Tuesday, 1 May, for a debate on the issue of school patronage and pluralism, during which Members will have an opportunity to raise the question of teacher training.
Senators Cáit Keane and other speakers referred to recent revelations of a cover-up in the Department of Finance. No person should feel isolated in such circumstances as the individual in question apparently did in this case. As Senator Paschal Mooney mentioned, this matter will be dealt with comprehensively by the Committee of Public Accounts. We all wish it well in its deliberations. We can have a debate on the matter after it has produced its report.
Senator Denis O'Donovan called for a debate on the agrifood and fisheries sectors. The two debates we have had on agriculture and fisheries, both attended by the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, were among the best we have had in the House. I am sure the Minister will be willing to come to the Chamber to report on the positive implications of his visit to China and debate whether, as Senator Denis O'Donovan mentioned, Bord Bia and Bord Iascaigh Mhara can meet the targets outlined for them. That would be the basis of a good debate and I will certainly seek to arrange it with the Minister.
Senator Michael Mullins referred to the excessive booking fees charged by airlines. I will ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport when he intends to introduce legislation to deal with this matter.
Senators David Norris, Sean D. Barrett and others raised the need for forward planning in water management. That is the reason the new body, Irish Water, is being established. As I outlined previously, the service will remain in public ownership, which is to be welcomed.
Senator David Cullinane referred to points made in reference to the forthcoming referendum. I was disappointed that only one Sinn Féin Member had contributed to the debate on Second Stage of the Thirtieth Amendment of the Constitution (Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union) Bill 2012, but I am sure that will be rectified on Committee and Remaining Stages.
I also note Senator Paul Coghlan's comments on the referendum.
Senator Jim Walsh referred to the issue of abortion. I have indicated on numerous occasions that, in accordance with the programme for Government, an action plan was submitted and an expert group established under the chairmanship of a distinguished judge, Mr. Justice Sean Ryan, which is due to report in July. The Government considers that group the appropriate forum in which to examine this complex and sensitive matter, to which we will return once its report has issued.
Senator Paul Bradford called for the Minister for Finance to come to the House to discuss a range of options regarding the broadening of the tax base. I will certainly ask the Minister to partake in such a debate. The Senator also referred to the proposed constitutional convention. I agree that the role of the Houses of the Oireachtas must be paramount in respect of any proposed changes and that all proposals must be debated in both Houses before being acted upon.
I have referred to the point made by Senator Paschal Mooney on the role of the Committee of Public Accounts in investigating issues that have emerged relating to the Department of Finance. The last Government did run surpluses on many occasions, but, as we learned to our cost, they were not built on sustainable foundations.
Senator Tom Sheahan referred to several social welfare issues. The Minister for Social Protection will be in the House all day Friday and again on Monday next, during which time the Senator will have ample opportunity to raise these issues.
Senator Sean D. Barrett rightly points out that almost half of commercial water rates have not been paid. I acknowledge that, in some cases, the businesses in question are no longer in operation. Notwithstanding this, ensuring a more efficient method of collection of these charges is necessary if we are to make progress. However, that is a matter for the local authorities.
Senator Mary M. White referred to the attitude of union leaders to the forthcoming referendum, a matter I have dealt with. I welcome the Senator's acknowledgement that confidence is beginning to return to the system, which we all hope will lead to the creation of more jobs. A positive outcome to the referendum will certainly add to this.
I will endeavour to accommodate Senator Mary Moran's request for a debate on the practice of symphysiotomy.
The Seanad Divided:
For the motion: 11 (Sean Barrett, David Cullinane, Marc MacSharry, Paschal Mooney, David Norris, Darragh O'Brien, Denis O'Donovan, Ned O'Sullivan, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Against the motion: 27 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Terry Brennan, Colm Burke, Paul Coghlan, Michael Comiskey, Martin Conway, Maurice Cummins, Michael D'Arcy, John Gilroy, Aideen Hayden, James Heffernan, Imelda Henry, Lorraine Higgins, Caít Keane, John Kelly, Denis Landy, Mary Moran, Tony Mulcahy, Michael Mullins, Catherine Noone, Susan O'Keeffe, Pat O'Neill, Tom Shehan, Jillian van Turnhout, John Whelan, Katherine Zappone)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O'Keeffe.
Amendment declared lost.