Tuesday, 15 May 2012
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on mortgage arrears followed by questions and answers to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude no later than 5.45 p.m. with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes, which can be shared, and a contribution from one Sinn Féin Senator not to exceed three minutes and all other Senators not to exceed one minute when asking a question of the Minister.
Most Members will agree this week has been an historic one for the Houses of the Oireachtas, in particular the Seanad. Our Taoiseach found where the Seanad Chamber was and saw fit to address members of other jurisdictions in the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, which, by the way, I very much welcome, and yet he has not seen fit in 14 months to come to the House to speak to Members of the Seanad who were duly elected to it, who are part of the Oireachtas and who are part of the Legislature.
I welcome the fact the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly was a very successful two-day event, having spoken to colleagues on all sides of the House who were involved, including the Whip, but it showed very clearly the contempt in which the Taoiseach and some of his Ministers hold Members of the Seanad. It is not acceptable. Maybe it is because we are not as compliant as the Dáil where the Taoiseach has a large majority of 59 Deputies but he would be given the due regard and respect he deserves as Taoiseach of this country.
When will the Taoiseach see fit to come to this House to talk to Members or will Senators have to sit in the Visitors Gallery in the Seanad when parliamentarians from other jurisdictions decide to use the Chamber for a plenary session? The matter should be addressed very quickly. Will the Deputy Leader ask the Department of the Taoiseach and the Taoiseach directly when he will come to the House to talk to Senators and explain his ideas not on reforming this House, I might add, but on abolishing it? I ask the Deputy Leader to take up this matter.
On a number of occasions I have asked when the pyrite committee established by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, will complete its report and I ask the Deputy Leader to follow up on this. I have raised this matter on six separate occasions since November but no report is pending. I was very concerned to see the Minister had appointed an individual to the Housing Finance Agency who was a former director of HomeBond, which has washed its hands of all the problems caused by the pyrite issues springing up on the east coast. This is a very important report and citizens are waiting for it. Will the Deputy Leader follow up on this?
We need an urgent debate on Garda resourcing, the closure of rural Garda stations and the restriction in the activities of many urban Garda stations. Once again I will table an amendment to the Order of Business to call on the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, to come to the House to address the specific issues relating to the closure and restriction of Garda stations. I remind Members that when the Minister came to the House to answer questions I asked during an Adjournment debate he stated the reason for the closure of these stations and for turning full-time Garda stations into part-time stations was to free up Garda resources. He stated there would be no significant monetary savings. He assured me there would be no issues with prisoner transfers and that prisoners would be detained in part-time Garda stations. I have since found out that from 30 April, Malahide Garda station-----
This is important and I am trying to give background to the Members because Senators on the other side of the House have rightly raised this issue also. I want to give an example because perhaps people did not understand me last week.
If someone is arrested in Malahide three gardaí plus the squad car will have to drive not to Coolock because the cells there have been condemned but to Ballymun. This means three full-time gardaí will be taken out of their jurisdiction. This is nonsense.
The PricewaterhouseCoopers report lists 400 Garda stations to be downsized or closed. I remind the House I will table an amendment to the Order of Business to call on the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, to come to the House today to explain to its Members his plans for policing in the country.
With the greatest of respect I must say to Senator O'Brien that his comments on the Taoiseach were very much over the top. The Taoiseach made a very worthy wide-ranging speech here yesterday. As the Senator knows, the Taoiseach operates a total open door policy. He is available as much to the Senator as he is to me or to any other Member of the House.
Yes. Will the Deputy Leader in early course allow an hour for statements on the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly and the progress made by the body? A lot of worthwhile suggestions were made at yesterday's meeting and I shall mention two of them. One involves, as the Taoiseach said yesterday, our nearest neighbour and closest ally. A suggestion was made during a debate here that we have a bi-annual trade mission, led to the Taoiseach one year and the Prime Minister the following year.
We do so much trade with our nearest neighbour but more can be done. It was a useful suggestion and, equally, was the suggestion of a part exchange programme of personnel in the Civil Service. Some of the experts that spoke to us, particularly Seán O'Driscoll this morning, referred to a "silo" mentality where 15 Departments who are on the one team somehow do not communicate with one another very often and we need much greater co-operation. That is just two of the many suggestions that came out. I ask the Deputy Leader to facilitate a debate, in early course, in order that we can deal with some of the other matters. The other House shall also deal with the matter on Thursday.
Five years ago the European Union established a missing children's hotline and we debated it here last year. The EU urged every one of the nations of Europe to introduce the hotline 116000 and it can be contacted immediately when a child goes missing. A few minutes ago I telephoned the number and it still has not been set up in Ireland even though it has been set up in most European states. Last October we were told that the money had been allocated for it yet it still has not been established. Today or tomorrow is the annual missing children's day and it is a date by which we should have complied with the European rule. We have the money, the allocation of time and the ability to do it but we have not done so yet. I ask the Deputy Leader to find out what has delayed the establishment of a hotline and why we do not have it. A missing child needs all of the help that his or her family can get and the hotline should be established here just like most of the other states in the European community.
This year I spent time in Drogheda and its people decided to get together and do what they could, through working together, to achieve success. Yesterday, the first cruise ship docked in Drogheda where it will remain for a day to allow its crew and tourists visit the Boyne Valley. I also discovered that tomorrow the first of this year's cruise ships will arrive in Killybegs, the first of 12 cruise ships that will dock there this year. Last year when I was in Cobh I saw so many cruise ships arrive in its harbour. It was so interesting to see the ability of different towns in Ireland and how they encouraged and developed this type of tourism. The people of Drogheda have shown that they can get together and take action rather than hope that the Government, tourist board or Fáilte Ireland will do it. The people of Drogheda, Dublin and Killybegs have been successful and let us ensure that they copy what Cobh has done for years. We can achieve it ourselves without having to seek help.
I agree with the Senator and I raised the issue of the missing children's hotline 116000 on the Adjournment debate last September. I am confident, following discussions at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, that the hotline will go live within a short period. I urge all parties to work on it as quickly as possible.
I would like the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the Seanad for a debate on legal fees even though I know that we are dealing with the Legal Services Regulation Bill at present. However, I read in The Irish Times this morning that payments of €5.8 million were made by the State on foot of claims against gardaí, €4.9 million of which went to the legal profession which is an outrage. Only €900,000 went to the people who were injured as a result of a few gardaí not behaving properly. There is something wrong with a society and a State where legal eagles can receive over 80% of a compensation claim.
The issue needs to be addressed urgently. I hope the Legal Services Regulation Bill 2011 will go a long way towards doing that. If it does not, we will have to bring in any further legislation that is necessary.
I ask the Deputy Leader to raise with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources as a matter of absolute urgency the tariffs that are being imposed on pipelines between here and England. Those involved with the Shannon LNG power plant in County Kerry have an issue with the effect the charges are having on them. An investment of €1 billion a year and between 300 and 400 jobs depend on the pipelines. My colleague, Senator Paul Coghlan, is very familiar with this issue. He has spoken about it previously. I emphasise that the Deputy Leader should ensure it is dealt with as a matter of urgency.
I would like to second the amendment to the Order of Business that has been proposed by Senator Darragh O'Brien. Can the Deputy Leader of the House advise me on how I might go about raising the serious issue of the libel costs of €100,000 that were awarded against RTE following comments that were made by the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte? It seems that the case was settled-----
As this is volunteer week, it is appropriate for this House to acknowledge the many voluntary organisations that offer their time not for one or two weeks of the year, but for 52 weeks of the year. I refer, for example, to the many GAA, soccer and rugby clubs and day care centres that are manned by volunteers in parishes throughout the country. Last but by no means least, it is right and proper we should acknowledge the 850 communities throughout the 26 counties who work for and are proud of the places in which they live and who decorate and maintain them not only for their own benefit, but for the benefit of tourists, from Louth to Kerry and from Wexford to Donegal. It is right to acknowledge the significant contribution they make to their communities and to the country. Their contribution cannot be quantified on a monetary basis.
We must acknowledge that contribution. Will the Leader ask the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to come to the House to hear some of the ideas these communities have for keeping their towns and villages clean? These should be recognised and I urge the Leader to ask the Minister to come in and hear them.
I want to comment on and ask about rehiring retired workers in the public sector. Late last year we made great play of the announcement that we were seeking the early retirement of 6,000 or 7,000 of our public sector workers, and that happened. The scheme was not targeted at areas of the public sector where there is fat or excess, which meant that specialised fields were left open to sudden retirements. When my business was in trouble in 2008, we agonised for months over who we could let go, how we could best run the business, and from which area of the business we could let people go. We finally let ten people go, which saved us €250,000 and the business. However, we did not rehire those people, because that would have returned us to the previous position.
In the public sector we allowed all those who wanted to leave to retire and in excess of 8,000 have left. However, in the Department of Social Protection, the Minister has permitted the rehiring of the chief medical officer due to his specific skills and experience and because of the difficulty and long lead-in time for a replacement. He had left his job, but is now rehired on a salary of €80,000. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has rehired seven former senior officials on contracts ranging in length up to three years. Will the Leader find out for us what it cost the State for the 8,000 public servants who retired in the first quarter of this year? Also, what is it costing the State to give jobs back to some of these people? This does not make commercial sense.
In the course of the stability treaty campaign, I have found it very interesting that there is widespread support for the fact that the treaty will rein in the budgets of the various countries. However, the people are pointing out that this does not mean the treaty will rein in the markets or in the area of capitalism, which played a large part in the crisis. How often do we hear the statement that it depends on how the markets react? We get a bounce for a day, but there is nothing sustainable in the bounce. Very often the markets are wrong, but yet they command too much power. They also concern countries other than Ireland. I have listened to constituents and wise people who are concerned about the future of Ireland and of Europe.
It is time to have a debate in this House on the reform of the financial system to prevent a repeat depression, as well as on the reform of the markets and how they operate in which Members should ask what responsibility is placed on the markets. They should face up to this issue because they are trying to ensure this society never again lands back on this spot. On that question, I also ask what the stability treaty can do to manage the markets in order that they are more responsible.
In last Sunday's edition of The Sunday Business Post, Emma Kennedy estimated that at present, approximately 90,000 people hold Leap cards, which gets one a discount on bus fares, in the greater Dublin area. It cost €55 million to get the system up and running, which comes to more than €600 per person who holds such a card. The card gets one a saving of 11% on one's fares and the average Dubliner spends €140 per year. Consequently, by these calculations it will take 40 years before the passenger saves the cost to the taxpayer of giving him or her such a Leap card. I ask that this entire project be referred to the Comptroller and Auditor General to ascertain whether it makes any sense in financial terms.
I also wish to refer to the decision regarding Shannon Airport last week about which I believe the Minister to have been correct. Professor David Starkie, who is one of the leading experts in this field, has stated "improving the efficiency with which resources are used in the airports sector depends critically upon increasing the degree of competition between individual airports and, in the case of commercial services, at each airport site." However, the mysterious aspect of last week's announcement is that Cork Airport was not given such independence. In the presence of Senators Bradford and Colm Burke, I put forward the proposition that Cork people would be just as capable as people in the Shannon region of running their own airport and the Minister also should have given them their independence from the Dublin Airport Authority.
I echo Senator Brennan's acknowledgement that this is National Volunteering Week, which again highlights the excellent work and service performed by volunteers nationwide both this week and in every week of the year. I note that regional finals for the Special Olympics will take place in Navan next weekend and as a parent of someone who is able to participate in those games simply and solely because of the support of volunteer services, I thank all volunteers throughout the country who have made such huge improvements and provide such a service to those who are most in need.
I also welcome the announcement yesterday by the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, that €39.7 million is to be spent on the construction of new facilities and the refurbishment of existing amenities at St. Patrick's College of Education, Drumcondra. I was delighted to learn such a major investment in the future of education and our future teachers will take place. Originally, St. Patrick's College was built to accommodate 800 students but at present, 2,000 students study at the college. Consequently, these new and upgraded facilities are both welcome and urgently needed. The Minister already has announced changes to the content and length of teacher training courses, with greater emphasis to be placed on teaching skills, literacy and numeracy and St. Patrick's College now will be able to incorporate its new teaching facility into future education strategies. I also welcome the addressing of the issue of accessibility for disabled persons in the construction of the aforementioned new facilities.
I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments expressed today by Senator Healy Eames. It was a worthwhile contribution and I had intended to make some similar points. First, I agree with the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Gilmore, when he stated that what is happening in Greece at present is very worrying. However, I approach this issue from a different perspective because what worries me and many others is the finger-pointing at the Greek people, because of how they voted, by certain politicians in this country and across Europe, as well as by journalists and commentators. It is true that whenever some people dislike the outcome of an election or referendum, the markets and what they think appear to take precedence above and beyond what the people in such countries themselves seek. That is a very worrying development in regard to democracy in Europe and it will have very powerful consequences if it continues. We have seen what has happened in Germany, France, Greece, Italy, Britain and in many countries where there have been referendums and votes and where people have voted against the kinds of measures put in place by leaders across Europe. There is a very real danger that the markets and the interests of very powerful individuals are being put ahead of the interests of the people of those countries. I agree with Senator Healy Eames in that respect.
However, the real tragedy in Greece is the fact the Greek people are suffering.
There is much suffering in Greece and I do not think it is appropriate for anybody to lecture the people of that country on the way they vote. The way they vote is purely a matter for the Greek people. The kind of bullying we are seeing and the intimation which is being brought down on the heads of the Greek people as they face a fresh set of elections underpins much of what is wrong with Europe. A lot of good comes out of Europe but there is a very dangerous almost anti-democratic sentiment at the heart of much of what some people in Europe stand for and it should be faced down by all those who want to see democracy thrive and what is in the interests of the Greek people prevail. Will the Deputy Leader take on board those points?
Like Senator Mary Ann O'Brien, we have all read the condemnation of the rehiring of public servants. It would be worth having a debate to get to the actual facts of the matter. The facts of the matter might show things in a different light altogether. The scheme would not be drawn up today in the same way as it was previously because it was not targeted.
We would have another story. The Department of Education and Skills had to rehire many teachers who took early retirement because of the examination classes. If one's child had a teacher for six months but would not have him or her for the leaving certificate or the junior certificate, one would have a different story. There are exceptions to every rule. The rule is not good but there must be exceptions to it. I call for a debate to put the facts on the table.
When people with expertise retire, we should ensure there is a replacement before the retirement is granted.
I rarely disagree with my colleague, the senior Senator for Kerry, Senator Paul Coghlan. While I share his high opinion of the Taoiseach on a personal level, the Taoiseach made a very serious error of political judgment when he came to this House to address a group of people other than ourselves.
The Taoiseach has declared his position on the Seanad and he obviously thinks that by ignoring us, we will go away but that will not happen because the people of Ireland will have the ultimate say in that regard. I have been a public representative since 1985 and I have acquired a reasonable political antenna in that time-----
-----and it is my opinion that if there was a referendum in the morning to abolish the Seanad, the Taoiseach would be soundly beaten. I would welcome an opportunity for the Taoiseach to come to the House to engage with us on how best we can reform the Seanad but ignoring us is not the way forward.
On another issue-----
I have a question for the Deputy Leader. Last week Senators gave a general welcome for the announcement by the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, about Shannon Airport. As someone from the mid-west I recognise that Shannon Airport is important for all of us. However, there was a sidebar to that which was not greatly illuminated in last week's debate, namely, the rejuggling of functions between the various State bodies, including Shannon Development, IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland. There is a downside for those of us on the Kerry side of the Shannon Estuary. One of our most prominent and respected entrepreneurs, Jerry Kennelly, who is well known having made not one but two fortunes from his own initiative and has given great employment in the region, has come out very strongly this morning against renewing the IDA Ireland regime in Kerry. I echo what the Minister, Deputy Deenihan, said that IDA Ireland's record in Kerry has been a total disaster. I ask the Deputy Leader to organise a debate with a number of relevant Ministers to see how best we can ensure completion of the big programme of the gas terminal in north Kerry as mentioned by Senator Conway. That had been progressed under the auspices of Shannon Development. We would be very nervous about having IDA Ireland back in Kerry and would like a debate on the matter.
The current situation in Europe is of concern to us all. Greece is the most visible example of a near collapse of politics and economics, but across the entire European Continent millions of citizens are worried about their futures. We must both empathise and sympathise with all of those people. From our perspective we must ask about our rate of reform and what the Government is doing to bring about the necessary reform. In that regard the questions raised by Senators O'Brien and Healy Eames among others must be addressed. It would be useful for the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, to come to the House to give an overview of the future of the reform agenda. I heard Senator Crown on a programme over the weekend and while I might not fully agree with his prescription about the future of this House, he focused on the question of reform. It must be the key word in trying to rebuild this country. I am referring to both economic and political reform.
I am not sure of the Minister's range of responsibilities as they may apply to the constitutional convention but if elections are to mean anything and if they are not to be just about replacing governments with the "same old, same old" remaining in place, reform must happen, be visible and must work. We urgently need to question how the reform agenda is progressing and what progress will happen in the next two years. People must have confidence in politics and know when they insert an "X" in the box for Party A or Party B it makes a difference. It was quite depressing last week amid all the euphoria about the change of Government in France that the first statement of the incoming President of France was that the books were worse than he thought. We have heard that so often.
People need to see that politics works, that change matters and that reform is actually happening. The Minister, whose job description includes the word "reform", should come to the House to give us a branch-by-branch account as to what is happening and how the reform agenda is progressing.
I will be very positive today and give a very strong welcome to the revised plans that have been submitted for the Mater Hospital. I raised this issue on many occasions and sought an international panel to review it. We have now come to the end of the line as far as this is concerned. I am delighted these new revised proposals have been submitted and in particular that Harry Crosbie has been put in charge. If any person in this city can get things done it is Harry Crosbie, who showed great courage in continuing with the Grand Canal theatre and other developments. It is extraordinary that there are now alternative sites springing up all over Dublin like mushrooms. The danger is that we will not get a hospital at all if we do not go ahead. A revised plan has been submitted and I think that it has been accepted or will be accepted. Let us go ahead and do it.
I am sometimes critical of the Government, whatever one is in power, and recently I have been very critical in correspondence with the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Eamon Gilmore. Today, I wish to publicly salute him for his courage in addressing the situation in the Middle East and to ask the Deputy Leader for a debate on it. He has said, and it is the first time that anybody has said it, that we must consider a boycott of goods from the illegal Israeli settlements in Palestine unless the human rights protocols attached to the Euro-Med agreement are properly observed. He has gone further, and under questioning, he said that he would consider it appropriate for Ireland to use its situation, while it holds the Presidency of the EU, to advance the issue. The matter is being stalled by Germany because of its bad conscience having destroyed one Semitic race in Europe it has now set about the systematic assistance of the destruction of another Semitic race in the Middle East. It is very refreshing that our Tánaiste has had the courage, as a Deputy Leader of a small country, to stand up for a very, very oppressed people.
I support my colleague, Senator Paul Bradford, in his call for a debate on the reform agenda. People have a legitimate expectation following the general election. They are getting impatient and want to see progress.
The issue raised by Senators Keane and Mary Ann O'Brien, on the rehiring of public servants is worrying. We need to hear the rationale behind it. We all know that the plan by the previous Government to reduce public service numbers was ill conceived, ill thought out and not targeted properly. We must tease out those issues with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, to see how things are processing.
On a more parochial level, I ask the Deputy Leader to liaise with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Minister for the Justice and Equality to ensure that the illegal development at Eyre Square, Galway, is removed, as a matter of urgency.
I, like others, welcome the development of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly being in the Senate chamber. Like others, I have made proposals on The Gathering to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar. I propose that members of the Irish overseas who are members of parliament in Westminster, America, Australia, New Zealand and, our fifth largest overseas community, Argentina, are brought back in 2013 to come to this chamber to discuss issues of relevance to our mutual communities and shared heritage.
I thank Senator Coghlan. While I agree with him that one cannot believe everything that one reads, he would be aware that his own leader, Deputy Enda Kenny, who is the Taoiseach, and he said that in June that he was concerned about NAMA and its operations.
I have. I am suggesting that this issue should be debated as a matter of urgency. Fianna Fáil's next Private Members' time is three weeks away. Every time NAMA sells a property or an asset without openness or transparency, the Irish taxpayer loses hundreds of thousands of euro, if not millions of euro. NAMA and the Irish banks are agreeing deals at a cost to the Irish taxpayer.
I would like to accommodate the Kerry Senators by suggesting that we reduce from six to five the number of Members of this House required to establish a group, thereby allowing them to organise their own debates in this House.
I would like to raise an issue regarding the Private Residential Tenancies Board that needs to be dealt with because of its importance for tenants and landlords. I understand that the board's financial difficulties have led to long delays in dealing with disputes. Perhaps the Deputy Leader could arrange a debate with the relevant Minister on how it is proposed to address the long delays in dealing with disputes between tenants and landlords, the backlog of cases that are pending and the long-term financial support that is required by the board. Given that many people are renting property in this country and will continue to do so, this matter cannot be allowed to continue as it is at present. The relevant Minister should come to this House to debate how it will be dealt with.
I would like the Deputy Leader to seek clarification from the Minister for Health on two issues, the first of which relates to an emerging policy of public patients being stripped of their choice of public hospital. That is occurring in this country. It has serious implications for many citizens who would like aspects of their care to be provided in hospitals other than those geographically defined as being their local hospital.
On an allied issue, I would like the Minister to clarify how many non-clinical staff in hospitals are allowed to look at the medical records of patients in our hospitals. It has come to my attention on a number of occasions that people with various medical problems who have been seeking medical care in institutions outside their local areas have been told they can no longer be treated there. Some of my colleagues in this Chamber have asked me to make inquiries in this regard on behalf of their constituents. I have now learned that several staff in my own hospital were brought in for a chat by representatives of the hospital administration. They were told in no uncertain terms that patients who come from outside the catchment area of St. Vincent's Hospital - according to some interpretations, it appears to be a small area confined to Ross O'Carroll-Kelly land - should not be coming to the hospital but should instead be decanted to hospitals closer to where they live. A critical issue of choice for public patients arises in this context. People choose hospitals for many reasons. They may choose a good hospital near to them, which is often the appropriate thing to do. They may also choose a hospital with expertise in a particular area in which they are troubled, such as one with expertise in a particular disease or skill. They may also have issues of confidentiality. Some people do not wish to be treated in the hospital beside where they live where everybody knows them. Finally, some people have personal, painful and legitimate memories of sad things that happened in hospitals that can leave them a little psychologically coloured with regard to going back to that hospital.
The reason this is happening is because of the inflexibility of budgeting structures in the HSE. The hospitals get a fixed budget at the beginning of the year, so the natural way to deal with financial shortfalls as we experience the economic downturn is to turn away customers. What other enterprise tries to turn away its customers? However, that is what our hospitals are doing. They are trying to force patients to go elsewhere. In addition, a perverse incentive has now emerged in that hospitals that do not meet waiting list requirements will be fined. Therefore, where a hospital tries to do the decent thing and provide a service on a shoestring budget for people coming from long distances for treatment, waiting times will increase because more people are going to it, resulting in the hospital being fined for being good. This is the opposite of what should be happening in the system, that quality should be incentivised. This is what is classically called a perverse incentive - where people are incentivised to be bad or mediocre.
Will the Deputy Leader seek clarification as to whether there has been a "from the top" change with respect to the right of citizens to go to any hospital in the country to be treated and whether that right is being respected by the individual administrations of hospitals? On a related matter, are members of the finance departments of hospitals allowed to trawl the records of patients in those hospitals.
Ba mhaith liom díospóireacht a lorg leis an Aire le freagracht don iascaireacht, an Teachta Coveney. Leis an gceart a thabhairt don Aire, bhí sé i gcónaí flaithiúil go leor lena chuid ama le teacht isteach agus plé a dhéanamh ar chúrsaí iascaireachta. Tá sé in am arís go labharfadh muid arís leis faoi, mar tá athraithe go leor beartaithe ag an tionscal sin, go háirithe maidir leis an cuótaí iascaigh sa Mhuir Cheilteach agus na cuótaí ronnach agus mar sin de. Tá polasaí fé leith dhá fhorbairt ag an Aire féin maidir lenár acmhainní mara agus ba bhreá liom dá bpléadh muid iad sin.
I am calling for a debate on the future of the fishing industry in Ireland. I am aware the Minister has been in the House on this issue before, but it is important that he comes in again because changes are happening quite rapidly and it would be good to know where he stands with regard to quotas in the Celtic Sea area. A number of fishermen have raised this issue with me. The Minister has to make a decision on this and I hope he is not going to pander to pressure from the elite in the fishing industry, as happened many times with previous Governments. I hope the Minister gives the smaller fishermen a fair crack of the whip. I would welcome that and would welcome an outline of his policy on Our Oceans Wealth and his plans for that and other quotas.
I commend the gardaí in Galway on their balanced handling of the Occupy Galway situation. The chief superintendent, Dónal Ó Cualáin, made it known to the joint policing committee in Galway that he was not aware of any law being broken by the people of Occupy Galway. I can understand the frustration of my fellow Senators, but it is important we uphold the right to peaceful protest.
It is important we debate these issues in the Seanad. Perhaps there should not be so much concern about the Occupy Galway group. Come the Volvo Ocean race, I expect there will be many other people protesting at the cutbacks and the austerity measures being brought in by the Government. Attention should be focused on that rather than on the Occupy Galway people, who are protesting peacefully.
I want to add my voice to the chorus of calls for the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to come to the House to debate the important topic that is his responsibility. There are good budgetary reasons for doing this. We are now half way between the last budget and the next, which will be particularly difficult. The soft options are gone, given the failure to tackle the real issues the last time around. A debate is also important from the point of view of having a good, strong, effective, efficient and dynamic public service. We are fortunate to have many good people in the public service, but like anywhere, it is not consistent across the board that everybody is performing. The rehiring of retirees brings the service into disrepute. The retirements should have been focused from the start and the plan should have been refined when the Government came into power.
Recently, we have seen that people have been getting bonus payments, with almost no criteria being applied. The bonuses ended up being paid to everybody, which removed any incentive for people to perform well and for people who worked hard and performed up to the standard required. Increments are also an issue but the Minister turned his face against this.
This is the only sector in our economy in which people are getting wage increases. There are serious issues, many of which are symptomatic of one significant failure, which is the failure of management. Management in the public service is not encouraged. I recall speaking to a union leader two years ago and when I put the question to him, he said there is a series of grades, not management within the public service. Unfortunately, that is the position. We have far too hierarchical a structure within the public service and, as a consequence, people who do not take risks. People who protect themselves and do not make mistakes within the system are rewarded with promotion. We need to get away from that and we need to align the public sector with what is happening in the private sector where initiative, hard work and performance are rewarded. I ask that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform come to the House as soon as possible to debate this. Staff numbers in the public service increased between 1997 and 2007 by 150,000. I do not accept that we cannot have significant reductions in numbers while, at the same time, enhancing performance but the system needs to identify and harness that dynamic.
As I said last week, I will follow the Leader's practice of not responding to the questions of colleagues who have left the Chamber unless they have apologised for their absence. That is a matter of courtesy. One Senator took me up on this last week but most colleagues are in agreement with that practice, particularly those who take the trouble of remaining in the Chamber for the entire Order of Business. That is a courtesy to all concerned.
I thank the Senator. Senator O'Brien first raised the issue of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. All of us welcome the fact that the assembly met for the first time in the Seanad yesterday when the Taoiseach addressed it. The Senator also asked for the Taoiseach to attend the Chamber. He has asked this of the Leader previously and I understand the Leader has taken that up. I will pursue it with him further.
With regard to the pyrite committee, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government has commissioned a report on pyrite. He is not interfering with the work of the expert panel he established to compile the report and he expects the report to be published early next month. That is somewhat later than originally anticipated but he is of the view that it is better to have a fully comprehensive report than to rush it.
The Senator again sought a debate on Garda stations and policing generally. The Leader is working with the Minister for Justice and Equality to arrange a wide ranging debate on crime, justice and policing matters. As soon as a date has been secured in the Minister's diary, we will inform the House. That has been followed up since last week. I cannot accede to the Senator's amendment to the Order of Business seeking this debate today, given an extended debate on mortgage arrears, which he has sought for along time, is scheduled.
Senator Coghlan also raised the issue of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly and sought statements on it. I have followed that up since he raised it. That is how efficient I am but the Minister is not available on Thursday, when I had hoped to arrange the debate. I will speak to the other group leaders following the Order of Business. We could have a debate without a Minister or we could have the debate next week for an hour. I will follow that up.
Senator Quinn raised the issue of the missing children's hotline. I share his concerns that it is not operational yet. Last October, the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, informed the House that funding had been secured but that there were some logistical issues. However, we had all hoped it would be up and running by now. I will follow that up.
All of us would agree with the Senator's comments on people power in Drogheda and the issue of the cruise ship to ensure visitors would come to Drogheda and bring enhanced tourism benefits to the area.
Senator Leyden raised issues about RTE. If he has an issue with RTE, he might write directly to it. I am not aware of the settlement he mentioned.
Senator Brennan pointed out that it is national volunteering week. All of us would commend the considerable voluntary efforts that are made throughout the year and which are being celebrated this week.
Senator Mary Ann O'Brien was the first of many speakers to raise the issue of rehiring in the public sector. The Senator called for a debate about the cost to the State of this practice. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, accepted this morning that the scheme was not sufficiently targeted but that it was inherited by this Government. Overall figures on rehiring are not yet available. Clearly an issue arises whereby the departure of people from senior levels of the public service resulted in a severe loss of expertise. There have been individual instances of rehiring but I do not have figures for this. I agree that it would be useful to debate the issue in this House. There has been a substantive and planned reduction in public service numbers since this Government was formed.
Senator Healy Eames called for a wide ranging debate on the stability treaty and the markets. We will hold a debate on the stability treaty this Thursday and some of the points the Senator raised might be discussed in the context of that debate. We could also organise a more general debate after the referendum.
Some of the Senator's points were specific to the stability treaty.
Senator Barrett asked about referring the public transport scheme to the Comptroller and Auditor General. This is something that could be discussed further but I am not sure that a general debate on the floor of this House is the appropriate venue. Perhaps the issue could be simply addressed through a letter. We can follow it up.
Senator Moran spoke eloquently about paying tribute to the volunteers who ensure so many services in this country run smoothly. All of us would join her in welcoming the substantial investment being provided for St. Patrick's teacher training college in Drumcondra.
Senator Cullinane called for a more general debate on the financial system. I entirely agree with some the points he made about Greece. As Senator Coghlan reminded me, Greece is the birthplace of democracy. I do not think it is appropriate to criticise, hector or bully the Greek people. Some of those issues can be teased out in Thursday's debate on the treaty.
Senator Keane also sought a debate on rehiring in the public sector. As part of the love-in between Kerry Senators that was later referred to by Senator Colm Burke, Senator O'Sullivan called for the Taoiseach to appear before the House and raised the issue of Shannon Development. The latter issue was also raised by Senator Conway in the context of the power plant in Kerry. I suggest that the Senators consider raising the matter on the Adjournment.
Senator Bradford called for a general debate on reform with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. We can arrange such a debate before the summer recess. Senator Norris sought a debate on foreign affairs.
Senator Mullen called for a general debate on the reform agenda and raised the issue of the occupy Galway movement in Eyre Square. Senator Ó Clochartaigh responded on the latter issue. I agree that a balanced approach to policing is needed. The occupy Dame Street protestors were approached by the Garda in advance of the St. Patrick's Day parade and asked to move. They did not agree but, in the context of the Volvo race, negotiations may be ongoing with the occupy Galway protestors. It is a matter for the authorities and local police in Galway.
Senator Daly spoke about The Gathering. Senator Colm Burke sought a debate about the Private Residential Tenancies Board with the relevant Minister. The relevant Minister is the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, but the specific matter might be best raised on the Adjournment. I agree with the Senator that any delay is a matter of great concern.
Senator Crown raised a specific question about public patients and whether there has been a change to policy in regard to choice of hospital. I do not know the answer but I think the question should be put to the Minister for Health. It is a very specific issue on which to arrange a debate. The Government is committed to wholesale reform of the health system and introducing universal health insurance, which is a welcome reform. Perhaps we can have a more general debate on health care reform, in which case Senator Crown could raise more specific questions. We can arrange that.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh dealt with the point about the Occupy Galway movement and sought a debate on the fishing industry with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, who has been a regular visitor to this House for wide-ranging debates on agriculture and fisheries. He will have no difficulty in attending the House before the end of the session but we will consider when he last appeared to ensure the debates are not too close.
Senator Jim Walsh raised the question of rehiring public sector workers, which I have addressed. Senator Norris sought a debate on the Middle East, which is on the list of debates I will ask the Leader to arrange on his return.
Senator Darragh O'Brien has proposed an amendment to the Order of Busines: "That a debate on the closure of Garda stations and the restructuring of opening hours at other stations be taken today". Is the amendment being pressed?
The Seanad Divided:
For the motion: 18 (Sean Barrett, John Crown, David Cullinane, Mark Daly, Terry Leyden, Paschal Mooney, David Norris, Darragh O'Brien, Mary Ann O'Brien, Denis O'Donovan, Ned O'Sullivan, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Feargal Quinn, Kathryn Reilly, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson, Katherine Zappone)
Against the motion: 29 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Terry Brennan, Colm Burke, Deirdre Clune, Eamonn Coghlan, Paul Coghlan, Michael Comiskey, Martin Conway, Jim D'Arcy, Michael D'Arcy, John Gilroy, Jimmy Harte, Aideen Hayden, James Heffernan, Imelda Henry, Lorraine Higgins, Caít Keane, John Kelly, Denis Landy, Marie Maloney, Mary Moran, Tony Mulcahy, Michael Mullins, Catherine Noone, Pat O'Neill, Tom Shehan, Jillian van Turnhout, John Whelan)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Ivana Bacik and Paul Coghlan.
Amendment declared lost.