Wednesday, 23 May 2012
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Companies (Amendment) Bill 2012 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude no later than 12.30 p.m.; No. 2, motion re the agreement between the EU and the US on the use and transfer of passenger name records to the US Department of Homeland Security, to be taken at 12.30 p.m. and to conclude within 25 minutes, with the contribution of group spokesperson not to exceed three minutes each, one Sinn FÃ©in contribution not to exceed one minute and the Minister to be given four minutes to reply; No. 3, motion to amend the terms of reference of the Smithwick tribunal, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 2 and to conclude within 25 minutes, with the contribution of group spokesperson not to exceed three minutes each, one Sinn FÃ©in contribution not to exceed one minute and the Minister to be given four minutes to reply; No. 4, Animal Health and Welfare Bill 2012 â Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at 2 p.m. and adjourn at 3.45 p.m., if not previously concluded; No. 5, Statute Law Revision Bill 2012 â Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken at 3.45 p.m. and to conclude no later than 4.45 p.m.; and No. 24, motion No. 9 re national lottery, Private Members' business, to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and conclude not later than 6.45 p.m.
The Taoiseach has confirmed the most pressing and important matter for the Government and the Oireachtas is to deal with those in mortgage distress. Later this week, we will get the exact figures but it is expected that up to 25% of mortgages are in distress with over 10% 90 days or more in arrears. I have referred to these figures time and time again since last October. I am not going to move an amendment to the Order of Business on this matter. However, will the Leader give a commitment to get the Minister for Finance to attend the House next week? We need the Minister for Finance on this issue, no disrespect to the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, for whom I have immense regard. Should I not get a response to this request by Wednesday week, I give notice that every successive day I will table amendments to the Order of Business. I appreciate the House is not sitting next week. If a date is not set for that debate I will continue to table amendments to the Order of Business. We need a proper debate in order that we know what is happening in that regard.
I asked last week and on seven separate occasions in recent months about the publication of the pyrite report. In a reply last week I was told that the Government was planning to publish the report by the end of the month? Is that correct? If so, I look forward to seeing it. Will the Leader give a commitment to arrange for a debate on the report? Pyrite potentially affects up to 72,500 houses and apartments predominantly on the east coast, mainly the north east, but including the city and county of Dublin. We should be afforded sufficient time after publication to allow us consider the report after which it should be debated in the House.
I welcome the Private Members' motion on the national lottery which is tabled for debate.
I call for a further debate on the sale of State assets and what is being proposed. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, to come to the House for that debate.
I noted with grave concern yesterday the case in regard to a double murder in 1988 where a person signed himself back into the Central Mental Hospital having escaped some years ago. I understand the State will be caught in a bind in respect of this individual and that he will be able to seek release from the Central Mental Hospital on the basis that he was not tried because he was deemed insane. I am interested to hear the Government's response and, particularly, that of the Minister for Justice and Equality. This brings me to the issue of justice in general.
Many colleagues on all sides of the House and I have requested time and again that the Minister for Justice and Equality come to the House to discuss the Government's stance on policing. I have given specific examples, including the fact that the Government is planning to close 400 Garda stations in the next three years. That is contained in the PricewaterhouseCoopers report. The Government has closed busy urban stations and rural stations. As I got no answer last week or the previous week, to my request I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister for Justice and Equality come to the House and address the Government's plans for upholding the safety of citizens and, specifically, its plans for policing and the number of Garda stations it considers optimal in Ireland today.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for his indulgence. What we are getting is a drip-drip feed. He closed 39 Garda stations last year and proposes to close 40 this year. The Minister must come to the House to make a clear statement on where the Government stands on policing.
I do. I welcome the announcement from NAMA regarding its proposal to invest â¬2 billion to cater for the supply and demand side of residential and commercial property which will lead to the creation of 35,000 new jobs. That is tremendous news. I look forward to its continuous roll-out of further good news in the coming years. Demand for commercial and residential property has increased and there is a supply shortage in respect of large offices which, it has said, will be dealt with in this programme. The creation of 25,000 new jobs in construction and 10,000 in the wider economy as well as its commitment, in line with its brief, to pay its debts by 2020 are welcome. It suffered criticism, somewhat unjustly. We are all interested in transparency and look forward to the Bill whenever it is moved.
Yes. I indicate also that I watched a programme on television last night which dealt with the Oireachtas inquiry into RTE's handling of the Fr. Reynold's case which was most instructive, particularly, the very strong behaviour of various Members, including Members of this House who, when RTE is down it is easy to kick it and they put the boot in. There was a noticeable muting in the House when I raised matters concerning the general media, including the print media. One issue that escaped the attention of everybody who was there was that without the DNA evidence, Fr. Kevin Reynolds would still be convicted by public opinion. As far as I know, nobody raised that issue. That is one critical point and they missed it - well done, congratulations.
It is an appalling example of timidity that people will only attack what is a great national institution, RTE, when it has made some serious mistakes but do not try to find out if this has happened elsewhere and, if so, where, both in RTE, where it has happened. People are afraid to take up these cases and also in the general media. I call again for an inquiry on the lines of the Leveson inquiry. I was taken by what Mr. Tom Savage said when he said that he understood, as somebody who had been a priest for seven years, how it feels to have one's entire ethical standing impugned. I know how it feels too. It would be very good if Members of the House who put themselves forward for public life refused to accept that they can be lied about with impunity. I would like some courage from my colleagues in that regard.
On the conduct of the Order of Business, a practice has emerged that Members are not replied to if they are not in the House. I remained in the House yesterday and I noticed that once again the Government broke its rule as it suited it to do so. Apparently, it is quite arbitrary and capricious. That is not appropriate. I missed a meeting with the Colombian delegation which was here to brief the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade in order that I could be in the House but, apparently, I would have been replied to even if I had not been present. That we do not know where we stand is sloppy management for which I condemn the Government side. That is regrettable.
I am glad, I think partly as a result my raising the issue, that the question of our approval of the Council decision on the conclusion agreement between the United States of America and the European Union on the use and transfer of passenger name records will be discussed. It was, apparently, to go through without discussion. That I raised the issue may have something to do with it. I ask the Deputy Leader if she will be present to give us the benefit of her knowledge. She informed the House she had been at the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality when the issue was discussed and certain issues were raised which were of concern. It would be helpful if the Deputy Leader with her professional background could let us know these concerns in order that we can decide whether to approve the motion.
Like Senator Darragh O'Brien I raised my hand to speak about the Gallagher affair. I will not speak on the Gallagher case per se because that will be an issue for a review of the prison authorities and I would not presume to infringe on any issue it will decide. I ask the Minister to make a statement on the actual procedures of the Act. When the Act was adopted, the verdict was guilty but insane. In 1963 it was changed to, "not guilty by reasons of insanity". If a person escapes from prison, it is an offence and time is added or a penalty is imposed. If a person escapes from a mental institution a different law applies and I ask the Minister to review it. If a person escapes from a mental institution and returns, presuming and claiming to be sane, that person cannot be prosecuted for leaving because of insanity. One cannot have it both ways. I ask the Minister to come here to the House because we, as legislators, are being asked questions but we need answers. I need answers to my questions and an explanation of the difference between escaping by means of insanity and no penalty or vice versa from jail. Anne Gillespie, her mother, Annie, and the extended Gallagher family need answers too. I ask the Minister to make a statement on the matter.
I want to ask the Deputy Leader about the U-turn by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, on the Smithwick tribunal. Approximately a year go he put a gun to Mr. Justice Smithwick's head demanding that he complete his work quickly and claimed he was tardy and delayed providing a report on a delicate inquiry. It now appears that the Minister has made a second U-turn by further extending the time. What changed the Minister's mind in the past year?
Last summer he made a public comment, at his own volition, a most unusual move by a Minister for Justice and Equality. He basically condemned and slated Mr. Justice Smithwick for the delay but the Minister should have reflected further at that stage. He should now come in here to explain his position.
I seek an urgent debate next week on the referendum. As a supporter of the "Yes" campaign I can say that it is faltering day by day. The display the other night by the TÃ¡naiste on television was extremely poor.
I propose, with or without an amendment but I can table one tomorrow, that the Taoiseach and Minister for Finance come here. It is regrettable that the Minister for Finance made very undiplomatic remarks on feta cheese and the Greek situation. It is important for this House to hold a debate next week before we vote on the referendum, and it does not matter whether Members support a "Yes" or "No", but we must have a full debate. There was no proper debate in either House on the issue. There were just a few spats in the DÃ¡il on Leaders' Questions. There has not been a proper debate in this House.
I support Senator Darragh O'Brien's call for a debate, with the relevant Minister, on the proposed personal insolvency Bill. The Senator is right that it is a matter of huge public importance. People are crying out for some support to alleviate their personal indebtedness. I am not sure but I think it is the Minister for Justice and Equality that will introduce the Bill. I am concerned about the way it has been drafted and the potential damage it could inflict on the credit union movement. Everyone here is familiar with the fantastic contribution made by the credit union movement to our society over the past decades. There are 400 credit unions nationally with â¬13 billion in assets and 2 million members. The Tullamore Credit Union, in my own area, is one of the largest in the country with 35,000 members and â¬61 million of a loan book.
Many members of the credit union movement feel that the personal insolvency Bill, which is intended to solve one problem, could cause an even greater problem if it is introduced in its current state. As Senators will know, most credit union loans are under the â¬20,000 threshold. The preferential creditors system and structure proposed in the Bill means that the credit union movement could take a grievous hit even though it has always fostered a culture of saving and responsible lending. Nearly every person in the country has taken out a credit union loan at some stage of their lives. I was 17 years old when I took out my first loan from the Monasterevan Credit Union for a motorbike. Credit unions are very important to every community. It is important that in trying to solve one problem, the issue of mortgage indebtedness, we do not create an even greater one by completely undermining the foundation and stability of the credit union movement. A debate here could be fruitful because we could influence how the Bill is drafted and amend it accordingly to allay the genuine and well-founded concerns of the credit union movement.
TacaÃm leis an Ã©ileamh atÃ¡ dÃ©anta ag an SeanadÃ³ir O'Donovan maidir le dÃospÃ³ireacht eile a bheith againn ar an gconradh fioscach. Rinneamar roinnt plÃ© ar an gconradh sin ach tÃ¡ rudaÃ ag athrÃº gach lÃ¡ agus bheadh sÃ© fÃor-thÃ¡bhachtach go mbeadh plÃ© againn faoi DÃ© MÃ¡irt seo chugainn.
I hope that it is not a case of Fianna FÃ¡il getting ready, because they feel that the tide is turning against them, and they are trying to lay the blame for the defeat of the referendum at the feet of the Government.
A debate would be welcome. I wish to mention that Africa Day will take place on Friday and congratulate the people for organising it. Today a very good conference is being held at Trinity College Dublin. It was organised by the Trinity International Development Initiative and deals with development issues in Africa. I also welcome the development of the Africa Agrifood Development Fund. It is a positive move forward.
Unfortunately, not everybody from Africa will be in a position to celebrate in this country. This week, I received the very disturbing news that the Galway Refugee Support Group will close down due to a lack of funding. That is a detrimental step backwards. It is important to have a debate with the Minister for Justice and Equality on asylum seekers here, particularly on the development of the immigration Bill which has been long fingered and kicked into touch once more by him. I talked to people from the Galway Refugee Support Group and people in this country are living in desperate conditions while in direct provision. Some of them have waited up to ten years to get a case hearing and to resolve the issue. It is very important that we deal with these people. We would jump up and down if it happened to one of our citizens anywhere else around the world. There are huge issues around health, inadequate food, lack of an independent complaints mechanism, right to privacy, right to dignity, etc. A broad ranging debate on asylum seekers and the immigration Bill is necessary. Where is it? Why can it not be brought forward? The legislation is extremely important.
I welcome Africa Day and in true Irish fashion the celebration has been extended to almost a week. Go raibh mÃle maith agat.
I wish to raise the issue of building standards and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government's proposed amendments of the building regulations. The property boom of the past ten years has resulted in a dramatic fall in the building standard of our properties. We have all seen the dangers that arise from cases like Priory Hall and I am sure that there are similar cases throughout Ireland. We have houses that are not properly insulated, sound proofed or structurally sound and the wrong materials were used in construction, including pyrite. We also have buildings with insufficient fire prevention standards and generally shoddy standards. The cost of the lax system of building regulation over the past decade is now beginning to show. We must strengthen building standards to ensure that we are building in a sustainable manner and that we never repeat the mistakes of the past. I am working with a number of architects on proposals to improve the manner in which we build our homes and buildings.
I call on the House to debate the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government's proposed amendments to the building regulations. The ramifications of the changes are in the interest of every property owner and I call for a debate.
When will the Coroners Bill be introduced in the House?
Will the Deputy Leader arrange for the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform - public service reform is a misnomer - to come to the House for a debate on jobs for the boys? I do not only refer to public service retirees on good pensions being re-employed at high salary rates, which is a scandal, but also to the various party hacks who have been employed by Ministers on enhanced salaries. A bad precedent was set by the Taoiseach when he arranged for at least nine ministerial advisers to be paid salaries in excess of â¬93,000, which is the designated salary for the post. He gave the green light for a salary of â¬127,000 for a former Fine Gael director of communications who had been appointed as special adviser to the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. The Taoiseach appointed two top Fine Gael aides as advisers with a salary of â¬168,000.
Yes, absolutely. Not to be outdone, the Labour Party could not keep its snout out of the trough, with the TÃ¡naiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade appointing the party's former director of policy on a salary of â¬155,000. My concern is that this contagion has spread to the Office of the President. An adviser, whose salary was to be designated at â¬80,000, has had it increased to â¬103,000.
At the same time, Ministers are cutting social welfare and dealing with the unemployed who cannot get jobs and they are not bringing forward the necessary legislation to extricate people from the severe financial difficulties they face because of the pressure of their mortgages. However, there is no difficulty in dealing promptly with what is an absolute scandal.
I appeal to Government Members, whom I know share my sentiments, to express their objection and hostility to this. This arrogance will undermine and do untold damage not only to the country but also to the parties they represent. I ask for a debate on this issue.
I refer to "The Frontline" debate on the fiscal stability treaty last Monday night. It was a good debate, which was illustrative of certain positions. I thought the TÃ¡naiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade did well. He articulated a difficult position against a shallow argument from the opposition. As he said, throwing slogans will not solve problems. If people on the "No" side even for a moment debated the content of the treaty-----
I refer to NAMA's announcement earlier of a â¬2 billion investment to create thousands of jobs. Any measure that stimulates the labour market must be welcomed. However, the House could do with a debate on the agency. I would like to know more about the nature of this investment, the due diligence carried out on it, the multiplier effect of the investment and whether other investment opportunities in the economy could yield a better return. Will the Deputy Leader organise a debate on NAMA because the House has an important role to play? If the House in the past had properly done its job and debated medium to long-term policy on issues that were not part of the dominant ideology or discourse of the day, perhaps the country would not be in the mess it is in. The House has an important role in discussing mid to long-term policy. NAMA is a perfect example of where we can do productive work. The Deputy Leader should ask that a representative of the agency appears before the House as well as the Minister for Finance. Will she facilitate a full and comprehensive debate?
I have raised this issue on a number of occasions and I have called on the Attorney General to come to the House, as I believe that NAMA is not selling its properties in accordance with the legislation passed by the Oireachtas. To date, the Attorney General has failed to reply to the questions I raised. NAMA is the largest property company in the world. Both Houses passed legislation that requires the agency to sell all its assets in an open and transparent manner.
I am sure colleagues have read the newspaper reports, particular in the Irish Examiner, about a property on which a loan of â¬100 million had been secured which was sold for â¬7 million. Nobody, including adjoining landowners and farmers, knew the land was for sale. If that is selling State assets in an open and transparent manner, then my colleagues opposite are clearly delusional when it comes to selling something in an open and transparent manner.
As a former auctioneer, I am sure Senator Coghlan knows how to sell something in an open and transparent manner. I have moved an amendment to the Order of Business and I also ask the Deputy Leader to invoke Standing Order 56 to invite the Attorney General to come to the House to explain to us why NAMA is not following the laws it passed.
I seek a debate on banking, including the upcoming personal insolvency Bill. The most important legislation the House will deal with this year will be the personal insolvency Bill. It warrants significant debate. I am a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, which made significant amendments to the heads of the Bill and made additional proposals. We worked particularly hard to ensure our input to the Bill would be specific, detailed and relevant. The House would benefit from a debate on banking prior to the publication of the legislation.
I am delighted that Aung San Suu Kyi has been invited to Ireland. Unfortunately, the invitation has been issued by a group of NGOs and not the Government. I called some time ago on the Government to invite her to Ireland when she visited London. However, she is coming here and that is welcome. Perhaps the Leader might put a proposal to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges that she be invited to address the House during her visit to Ireland.
I second Senator Darragh O'Brien's amendment to the Order of Business. While I applaud Senator Martin Conway's interest in Aung San Suu Kyi, those of us who are here long enough are aware that her name has been mentioned in this House for more than 15 years. I assume the non-governmental organisation to which the Senator referred is Burma Action Ireland, in which several Members have been involved. That body is to be commended for its persistent and extraordinary work on this issue, including at a time when its cause was not popular. It has played an enormous part in informing the general public to the point where people now understand Aung San Suu Kyi's ongoing contribution to the restoration of democracy in Burma.
There have been media reports in recent days on remarks made by the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, indicating her astonishment that people should be critical of hard times, austerity and cutbacks. The Irish people do not need lectures from Chancellor Merkel about hard times. Just as we endured a series of hard times in the last 800 years and more, we will also come through our current difficulties. Instead of lecturing us, Chancellor Merkel should look to the banks in her own country. Moreover, she would be better occupied in dropping her opposition to the issuing of eurobonds to the European Central Bank, a move which would remove the crippling and unsustainable bank debt that will otherwise bring this country down. One may call such moves by any name one likes - debt forgiveness or otherwise - but unless and until that debt bank is removed we will not overcome our difficulties. The bottom line is that this debt was generated by German banks which handed out money like confetti to financial institutions throughout Europe, yet the Germans have the temerity to suggest the Irish people should seek not only to bridge the deficit gap in day-to-day spending which is what the Government is attempting to do and what its predecessor also sought to do, but, in addition, to also take on this burden of bank debt. This is the one issue that keeps coming up on the doorsteps in the course of my campaigning for a "Yes" vote in the forthcoming referendum. The degree of hostility to the banking sector in this country and Europe generally is a far greater cause for concern regarding the outcome of the treaty than its terms. That is my message to Chancellor Merkel today.
I join Senator Denis O'Donovan and others in calling for the Taoiseach to come to the House for a debate on developments in Europe, following his attendance next month at what will probably be the most important European summit of modern times. Decisions will be taken over dinner tonight, following today's meeting, which will be formulated at the summit in June. Other members of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly and I appreciated the Taoiseach's visit to this Chamber last week and the speech he made. Will the Deputy Leader respond specifically to my request that he be invited to the House after the European summit at the end of June to report to us, as he will to the other House, on issues that will greatly impact on the future of the country?
In 2005, when schools were designated for support under the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools, DEIS, programme, there were a number which, despite meeting the criteria for inclusion, were not awarded that status. Many of the areas in which these schools are located have been suffering even greater economic and social deprivation since. The Minister for Education and Skills did the right thing in reversing some of the cuts to the DEIS scheme announced in the budget last December.
However, I am concerned that the schools which did not attain DEIS status in 2005, despite meeting all of the criteria, are now being subjected to the same cutbacks as schools which are much less disadvantaged. The consequence of this is that students who need more support will receive much less. The Minister must come to the House to discuss what might be done for this cohort of students. If the matter is simply brushed under the carpet, these areas of deprivation will end up requiring hundreds of millions of euro in support by way of Limerick-style regeneration. I hope I have the support of the entire House in this regard. An error was made in 2005 and the schools thereby denied DEIS status have experienced further hardship in the interim. It would be an absolute shame if the Department imposed additional cuts on these schools.
Senator Michael D'Arcy's reference to grandstanding is nicely in line with the issue I wish to raise, namely, my concern that some of my colleagues have been losing the run of themselves at recent meetings of the Joint Committee on Communications, Natural Resources and Agriculture. I feel as passionately as anybody about the wrong done to the individuals concerned by RTE's "Prime Time Investigates" programme, but I am very concerned that certain people are missing the point about that documentary and its consequences for RTE. It is typical of what happens when controversy erupts around institutions in our society that politicians, in particular, are tempted to call for heads and seek headlines. That is the wrong approach to take because it misses the point about the lessons that must be learned. It is emphatically the case that the chairman and director general of RTE should not consider resigning. The issue is what they intend to do to assure public representatives and the wider public, first, that they fully understand and have thoroughly investigated what happened and, second, that they will put things right for the future in a way that will protect investigative journalism but also examine the bias and unprofessionalism within journalism. The test of the director general and the chairman in the coming months will be the extent to which they continue to maintain the spotlight on RTE's internal operations and learn the full range of lessons arising from this affair, including those relating to the culture may have underlain the broadcast and how matters relating to it were handled. I reiterate my concern that some of the people involved have not, to my knowledge, apologised to Fr. Kevin Reynolds for their role in the affair, while others seem to have been moved aside within the organisation. This is not about resignations but about the taking of responsibility. As politicians, we must cool it, avoid grandstanding and focus on the issues rather than missing the point. If we are only going to hyperventilate, shout and scream and demand that heads roll, the public will not take us seriously as people with a genuine and important role to play in establishing the truth about matters of public controversy.
I disagree with Senator Denis O'Donovan that another debate on the fiscal treaty, following the one that took place last week, is required. The time has come to go out and press the flesh. We must get the message across that the treaty is vital for the future of the country.
Will the Deputy Leader invite the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, to come to the House in the coming weeks to update us on developments in regard to the jobs plan? Significant progress has been made in recent months, but it is important that this House have an opportunity to contribute further to the debate on how we should proceed in encouraging job creation. It is vital that employers are aware of the PRSI savings they can make by taking on eligible employees. As the summer arrives, we are all hopeful a significant number of jobs will be created in the tourism industry. It is very much to be welcomed that the PRSI exemptions will be extended to those on the JobBridge scheme. Many of them are coming to the end of their placements, and employers will be in a position to employ them and avail of the savings in PRSI.
It is also to be welcomed that a significant reform of the industrial relations machinery of the State is taking place, which will be of benefit to employers and employees. It is fantastic to see that the backlog for rights commissioner hearings has been eliminated. The waiting period in 2010 was 142 days. Significant progress is being made by the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. He has a good story to tell, and we need to assist him and to have further debates and discussions here on how to create employment opportunities for our people.
I do indeed, a Chathaoirligh, and a question for yourself as well.
Last week, on 17 May, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, with the Cathaoirleach's permission, in accordance with Standing Orders, came to the House and made a personal statement in response to questions I put to him arising from a libel case that RTE kindly settled on his behalf with ex-Garda-----
Litter bins, bottle banks and recycling centres - we all have them, we all advocated them and we all requested them in our own counties. Travelling from the Cathaoirleach's county recently, I went through a couple of counties that I will not name, and saw bottle banks that were in an absolutely disgraceful condition - full and unemptied for I do not know how long, with household refuse dumped beside them. I saw this in several counties, including my own. I read recently in the newspapers that one of the Dublin councils has withdrawn between 200 and 300 litter bins from streets and estates because of abuse of these bins, such as people dumping household refuse beside them - people who were obviously not paying the refuse charges. It is a question of personal responsibility. I have never used a litter bin because I take my litter home with me. If an emphasis was put on the need for every Irish man, woman and young kid to bring his or her litter home, we would not need half the litter bins we have, and we would not have to empty them, replace them and maintain them.
Could we have a debate with the Minister concerned about this issue? It is very important. There are major savings to be made, to say nothing of the impression we want to give to our many visitors, who see household refuse dumped everywhere in the country.
If we have to wait until after the referendum, when he is brought out of the closet again, I have no difficulty with that. It is important that he attend the House to discuss the effect of the closure of Garda stations throughout the country on policing, particularly in rural areas.
On Monday, the Minister signed off on the sale of the former Army barracks in Longford for â¬450,000. I ask him to come to the House to discuss the philosophy of robbing Peter to pay Paul that seems to exist within the Department of Defence. The barracks were sold to Longford County Council for â¬450,000. This is taking â¬450,000 from the county council at a time when the roads in that county and other developments are badly in need of funding. At the same time, he is going around trying to get State agencies to buy the other barracks he closed earlier in the year. I call on him to stop trying to find a buyer within the State sector for DÃºn UÃ Neill Barracks in Cavan, and to reopen the barracks in light of the Taoiseach's comments in this Chamber to the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly last week, in which he stated that dissident paramilitaries posed a real threat not only to the North of Ireland but to this State. I ask that the Minister - and the Taoiseach, when he comes to the House - clarify exactly what they meant by saying that, while at the same time standing over the closure of DÃºn UÃ Neill Barracks in Cavan.
They are all linked.
The personal insolvency Bill was mentioned by our leader, Senator O'Brien, who spoke about the delays in publishing the Bill and bringing it before the Oireachtas. There are about 90,000 people in mortgage arrears, as we know, and the banks are putting excruciating pressure on some of those people. They are calling them at all hours, and they are not adhering to the code of conduct on mortgage arrears. The Government needs to stop dilly-dallying with this Bill. A Cabinet sub-committee was established - the Taoiseach referred to it in the DÃ¡il yesterday - but it seems to be dilly-dallying with this urgently needed legislation. I propose to the Leader that the House sit through the month of August if needs be to debate the Bill. Every day the Bill is delayed the 90,000 people to whom we referred and their families face the prospect of telephone calls from banks on mortgage arrears. Some houses are being taken over by the banks, some of which are rented to the individuals living therein. This is happening at the same time that the Government is, apparently, delaying the legislation.
I agree totally with Senator Darragh O'Brien that we need a debate on this issue today to clear the way for our discussion of the legislation and play our part in informing its drafting. I am not even sure it is being drafted because it appears from what the Taoiseach said yesterday that the Cabinet sub-committee has not even finalised its recommendations. This morning a Minister stated the legislation would be published shortly. There are, therefore, conflicting reports on it. We have not seen any action and have heard empty promises. It is time the Government lived up to its pre-election promises in this regard.
Following on what Senator Brian Ã Domhnaill and others in the House have said, I want to refer to mortgage arrears. In three weeks it will be almost one year since we introduced the Family Home Bill in the House. A number of other Bills were introduced in the DÃ¡il specifically to provide solutions to the mortgage arrears problem. The Governor of the Central Bank and countless other credible authorities have highlighted the urgent need to tackle this crisis, yet we encounter delay after delay. The Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Brian Hayes, a good operator in the past in this House and elsewhere, had egg on his face when in the House for the most recent debate. He was effectively apologising for the inaction. This morning we heard on the national airwaves the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, wondering whether mortgage debt would even be included in the personal insolvency Bill. The delays, far from being constitutional and in the interests of those suffering throughout the country, seem to be in the interests of the banks and none other. I support the view that we need urgent action in this regard and would like to see the issue addressed.
On a separate but related issue in the context of the economy, I join Senator Diarmuid Wilson in asking where the joined-up thinking is in Departments. The Senator has made the important point that the barracks in Longford are being sold by the Government and bought by a local authority. In Sligo, my area, the local authority which is some â¬70 million in debt is buying for almost â¬500,000 the recently closed Teagasc offices. We are robbing Peter to pay Paul from individual entities under the authority of the State. The local authority which is in debt is spending â¬500,000 of the people's money to buy an office, the need for which is questionable in this day and age when resources are so scarce. There is an urgent need to deal with the general management of the Government finances when we see these transactions taking place. There is no issue more urgent than this and I can speak on behalf of both sides of the House. For some three years we have brought forward legislative proposals. If the Government's personal insolvency Bill is not ready, it should embrace the real solutions brought forward, either through the Family Home Bill introduced in this House or the Debt Settlement and Mortgage Resolution Office Bill introduced in the other House.
Before the Deputy Leader responds, I ask the Cathaoirleach for his guidance on a point of order. Is it appropriate for a Member of the House to defy the Cathaoirleach's authority and refuse to withdraw a remark? I have withdrawn remarks, even when I considered they were appropriate. There has been a disgraceful abuse of the privilege of this House in smearing a Minister. I saw the programme in question and noted that the Minister, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, had actually taken on the smear when it was made outside the House without the right of privilege. The journalist bottled it; more power to the Minister. I ask my friend and colleague, Senator Terry Leyden, to withdraw the remark. It is a disgrace and brings politics into disrepute.
Senator Darragh O'Brien asked me to ask the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, to come to the House to debate the issue of mortgage arrears. The Leader is consulting the Minister on framing a full and comprehensive debate in the House on the economy which would cover the issue of mortgage arrears. This would be welcomed by us all. As soon as the date is arranged, the House will be informed. The House is not sitting next week to facilitate our canvassing in the referendum, as the Senator knows.
The second issue Senator Darragh O'Brien raised was the pyrite report. The position remains the same, as I advised the Senator last week. The expert review group is continuing its work. The Minister is expecting its report by the end of this month or in early June. A debate with him on the issue will certainly be requested.
I understand the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, will be in the House on 6 and 7 June to deal with the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2012.
Yes. I am told it will be available by the end of the month or in early June. I certainly hope it will be available in the first week of June. We will have the Minister in the House to discuss the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill in any case on 6 and 7 June.
The Senator also mentioned the sale of State assets. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, will be in this House this evening during Private Members' business. We can certainly seek a further debate with him on that issue, although it is relevant to the Private Members' motion tonight, as the Senator knows.
The Senator raised the case of Mr. John Gallagher. As the Senator may know, it will be dealt with under the reformed law on criminal insanity introduced in 2006 through the Criminal Law (Insanity) Act, under which a board considers the issue of release.
The Senator sought an amendment to the Order of Business to discuss the issue of policing. I have already sought a debate on the issue, as the Senator raised it last week. It is one of the debates I have asked the Leader to facilitate, but I cannot facilitate it today. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, will be in the House to deal with two other issues today, but we will not have time for a debate on policing also.
Senator Paul Coghlan welcomed the â¬2 billion investment by NAMA, as announced today. We all very much welcome it, particularly the fact that NAMA anticipates the investment will lead to the creation of 25,000 direct jobs and 10,000 additional jobs. The investment is in addition to the investment of â¬17 billion announced for the Government's capital programme. The announcement by NAMA marks a movement towards a different phase of its operations. Having completed the acquisition of property-based loans worth â¬74 billion, NAMA is moving towards managing its portfolio actively and maximising job creation and the return to the taxpayer. We very much welcome the announcement. NAMA will work on a number of areas, including the construction sector.
Senator David Norris asked for a debate on the media. I have already asked the Leader whether we can facilitate such a debate. The Senator also asked about Seanad procedure and whether the Leader or Deputy Leader would respond to the remarks of colleagues not present in the House. This has nothing to do with the Government; I am simply following a practice Senator Maurice Cummins adopted in the House some time ago. As a courtesy to those Members who remain in the House for the duration of the Order of Business, he responds only to them and those from whom he has received apologies because they must be elsewhere. That is a very fair procedure and I will have no difficulty in changing it if Senator Maurice Cummins wishes to do so.
It is a fair procedure. It is a relatively minor obligation on us, as Senators, to be present in the House for the Order of Business. I have looked around the Chamber and have seen no more than ten to 15 Senators present at any one time. For a Seanad that will be subject to public scrutiny in the coming months, particularly in the approach to the referendum-----
We need to consider our practice, particularly on the Order of Business.
Senator David Norris asked about the motion on the exchange of data on passenger names. As justice spokesperson for the Labour Party, I will certainly be present to speak to the motion and raise with the Minister some of the issues I raised previously at the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality.
Senator CÃ¡it Keane, whom I know has to be elsewhere, referred to Mr. John Gallagher and asked for the Minister for Justice and Equality to make a statement on the issue. It would be appropriate for the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality to ask the Minister to make a statement on the new procedures under the Criminal Law (Insanity) Act 2006 that will govern the position of persons found not guilty by reason of insanity. As the Senator said, the law has changed since the Gallagher case.
Senator O'Donovan raised the issue of the Smithwick tribunal. Of course, the Minister, Deputy Shatter, will be in the House today and Senator O'Donovan and myself will be here to address those issues with him.
Senator O'Donovan also stated he would be seeking an amendment to the Order of Business in order that we would sit for a full-day debate on Tuesday next on the referendum. We had a debate on Thursday last on the referendum. In total, 12 Senators spoke on the referendum which demonstrated the level of interest in a debate. I, for one, would much prefer to be out canvassing next week for the referendum and that is why we will not be sitting next week. That would be a better use of our time.
Senator Whelan raised the issue of the insolvency Bill. That issue was raised by a number of Senators. To clarify, the heads of the insolvency Bill were published some time ago. The Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, as Senator Conway stated, conducted a series of oral hearings with interest groups and those working on the front line with those in mortgage arrears and, indeed, with banks, etc. We had a series of hearings and on foot of those hearings, we published a report which has made various recommendations for change to the heads of the Bill. Among the recommendations we made was, specifically, that mortgage debt would be included in the Bill. We also made a recommendation that specific consideration would be given to protection of the family home in contrast with other forms of mortgage debt. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, under whose remit this comes, has committed to publishing the Bill by the end of June. Work is going into this Bill now across the Departments of Justice and Equality and Finance and the Attorney General's office. It is a priority for the Government, as the Taoiseach made clear yesterday, but they want to be careful to get it right. It is a complex issue but no doubt it is very important. The Minister has also stated that he intends to introduce the Bill, and I hope very much in the Seanad rather than in the DÃ¡il, by the end of the summer session.
I agree with Senator Whelan's point about the credit union movement. It is something we need to look at in the debate, both in this House and in the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality.
Senator Ã Clochartaigh raised the issue of Africa Day or, as it has become, Africa week. I would share the welcome for that. He sought a debate on immigration and asylum seekers. We recently had a debate on this in the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. The Minister for Justice and Equality explained to the committee - it was reported quite widely - that he would re-introduce the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2010 given the large array of amendments, particularly Government amendments, that had been put forward to the last version of it. As the Senator will be aware, it has gone through a number of different permutations. We want to ensure it is a strong, watertight and comprehensive Bill.
I would agree. I would very much hope that it will be initiated in this House.
I would agree with the Senator about the delay in processing applications. It is something that we need to see changed. However, since the Minister, Deputy Shatter, has taken office, it has been well publicised that he has speeded up substantively the dreadful delays in the processing of citizenship applications, which are more straightforward than asylum procedures but in which there were long delays.
Senator Sheahan raised the issue of building standards and we could usefully have a debate on that, and I will inquire when the Coroners Bill 2007 will come before the House?
Senator Gilroy called for a debate on NAMA and welcomed the â¬2 billion investment that NAMA has announced. It would be useful to have a debate on NAMA and review it, particularly as it moves into this new phase of operation, the work it is doing, and to review the legislation that established NAMA which was introduced by the previous Government.
Senator Daly raised the issue of the NAMA transparency Bill. We cannot take that Bill today but I would suggest that Senator Daly use his party's next Private Members' time for that. I will look for a debate on NAMA generally in the near future.
Senator Conway sought a debate on banking in advance, perhaps, of the introduction of the personal insolvency Bill, which I think is a good idea. He also noted the invitation to Aung San Suu Kyi to come to Dublin, which we all very much welcome. I think the invitation was issued by Amnesty and other NGOs. I will certainly ask the Leader. We might invite her in to address the Seanad while she is here. That would be an excellent idea.
I think it has already been agreed. There will not be any difficulty.
Senator Mooney asked about the Taoiseach coming to the House. I have already explained that the Leader has been in contact with the Taoiseach who stated he will come to the House in June.
As I stated in a response on the Order of Business last week, the Taoiseach has indicated he will come in to deal with Northern Ireland and other issues. I understand we have not yet got a final word on framework for the statements but I think there will be an opportunity to raise other issues also.
Senator Michael D'Arcy raised the issue of non-DEIS schools. We might deal with that in the context of an education debate that has already been sought.
Senator Mullins raised the issue of the JobBridge scheme and employment opportunities. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, will be in this House on four pieces of legislation before the end of the session and there will be ample time to raise these issues and others with him. He is in the House this morning on the Companies (Amendment) Bill 2012.
Senator Leyden raised the issue of the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte. I do not think he asked a question of me. I would note, as Senator Norris pointed out, that the Cathaoirleach asked Senator Leyden to withdraw certain remarks he made and I certainly did not note that Senator Leyden withdrew them.
As I stated, it is a matter for the Cathaoirleach.
Senator Brennan raised the issue of the state of dustbins and waste collection generally. He made a good point, which we might address with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government or which could be addressed directly with local authorities.
Senator Wilson called for a debate on policing and for the Minister, Deputy Shatter, to come to the House. As I stated, that is a debate I have sought already. We hope to have the Minister in on that. He will be here on other matters today.
Senator Ã Domhnaill raised the issue of the personal insolvency Bill and I think I have addressed that. I would take issue with his use of the phrase "dilly-dallying". There is a clear process being gone through. I found the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality hearings extremely helpful. Some of the recommendations in the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality's report will require some time for consideration and I very much hope that we will see them incorporated into the text of the Bill when it is published, but there is a process ongoing.
In response to Senator Ã Domhnaill's other point, the insolvency Bill is a separate process. The drafting of the insolvency Bill is well under way. The heads have been published and I have already explained the process. However, there is a separate process with a Cabinet sub-committee on mortgage arrears that the Taoiseach and the TÃ¡naiste have established because they themselves were frustrated at the lack of progress in dealing with mortgage arrears, and they have said this on a number of occasions.
Other recommendations will be forthcoming. The personal insolvency Bill is an important part of the issue of resolving the serious difficult problems with mortgage arrears.
Finally, in response to Senator Ã Domhnaill, we can talk with the group leaders about sitting through August. If necessary, we have no difficulty about that.
-----I never mentioned the name of the individual who presented himself to the Central Mental Hospital. In her response, the Deputy Leader and others did but I did not put his name on the record of the House. I just want that clarified.
We respect Senator Darragh O'Brien's integrity.
Senator O'Brien has moved an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate on the Government plans for upholding the safety of the citizens of the State, its policing policies and the optimum number of Garda stations be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
The Seanad Divided:
For the motion: 14 (Mark Daly, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Paschal Mooney, David Norris, Darragh O'Brien, Marie Louise O'Donnell, Denis O'Donovan, Ned O'Sullivan, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Kathryn Reilly, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Against the motion: 25 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Terry Brennan, Colm Burke, Deirdre Clune, Paul Coghlan, Michael Comiskey, Martin Conway, Jim D'Arcy, Michael D'Arcy, John Gilroy, Jimmy Harte, Fidelma Healy Eames, James Heffernan, Imelda Henry, John Kelly, Denis Landy, Marie Maloney, Mary Moran, Tony Mulcahy, Michael Mullins, Catherine Noone, Pat O'Neill, Tom Shehan, John Whelan)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Ivana Bacik and Paul Coghlan.
Amendment declared lost.
The Seanad Divided:
For the motion: 15 (John Crown, Mark Daly, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Paschal Mooney, David Norris, Darragh O'Brien, Marie Louise O'Donnell, Denis O'Donovan, Ned O'Sullivan, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Kathryn Reilly, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Against the motion: 28 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Terry Brennan, Colm Burke, Deirdre Clune, Paul Coghlan, Michael Comiskey, Martin Conway, Jim D'Arcy, Michael D'Arcy, John Gilroy, Jimmy Harte, Aideen Hayden, Fidelma Healy Eames, James Heffernan, Imelda Henry, John Kelly, Denis Landy, Marie Maloney, Mary Moran, Tony Mulcahy, Michael Mullins, Catherine Noone, Susan O'Keeffe, Pat O'Neill, Tom Shehan, Jillian van Turnhout, John Whelan)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O'Keeffe.
Amendment declared lost.
The Seanad Divided:
For the motion: 31 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Terry Brennan, Colm Burke, Deirdre Clune, Paul Coghlan, Michael Comiskey, Martin Conway, John Crown, Jim D'Arcy, Michael D'Arcy, John Gilroy, Jimmy Harte, Aideen Hayden, Fidelma Healy Eames, James Heffernan, Imelda Henry, Lorraine Higgins, John Kelly, Denis Landy, Marie Maloney, Mary Moran, Tony Mulcahy, Rónán Mullen, Michael Mullins, Catherine Noone, Susan O'Keeffe, Pat O'Neill, Tom Shehan, Jillian van Turnhout, John Whelan)
Against the motion: 15 (Mark Daly, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Paschal Mooney, David Norris, Darragh O'Brien, Marie Louise O'Donnell, Denis O'Donovan, Ned O'Sullivan, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Kathryn Reilly, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O'Keeffe; Níl, Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson.
Question declared carried.