Tuesday, 17 July 2012
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Industrial Relations (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill 2011 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 5.15 p.m.; No. 2, Microenterprise Loan Fund Bill 2012 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1 and to conclude not later than 7.15 p.m. The revision of today's schedule to deal with the Remaining Stages of No. 2 is due to the fact that only two Committee Stage amendments were received by the Bills Office and both were ruled out of order. That is why I have decided to take Remaining Stages of the Bill at that time.
I advise the House in advance of the statements on the development of the European Union and Ireland's Presidency of the European Council, which will take place tomorrow, it is my intention to allocate ten minutes speaking time to each group leader, which can be shared, with Sinn Féin receiving three minutes of speaking time. This is the most efficient way to order the time for the Taoiseach's visit.
I am finding it difficult to contain my excitement about the fact that the Taoiseach will come to the House tomorrow after 16 months. I very much welcome it and I appreciate the Leader organising it. I look forward to the debate tomorrow.
This morning on the radio we heard the announcement of 1,000 jobs at PayPal and Senators on all sides of the House welcome it. Certainly the jobs are badly needed in the greater Dublin and Louth areas. However, having listened to media reports today, it is of concern that more than 500 of these jobs will be filled by people from outside the country because of the lack of modern language skills here. There are several reasons for this and relates to not only lesser used languages such as Russian and Arabic, but also mainstream languages such as German. PayPal could not find enough people in this country with the requisite language skills to have sufficient proficiency to fill the roles. I remind Government Senators that in the most recent budget the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, abolished the modern European languages programme in primary schools. Since the programme was implemented by Deputy Micheál Martin in 1999, thousands of children at 550 primary schools went through it but it no longer exists. We need a proper debate in September on proficiency in European and other languages. Alarm bells are going off in my head over the fact that 50% of the PayPal jobs had to be sourced abroad. I asked the Leader to arrange this debate.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, come to the House to discuss promises he has made since becoming Minister and in the run up to the election. We know very well the promises he made with regard to Sligo cancer care services. These were specific promises which he has broken. We also know the promises he and the Taoiseach made about retaining services at the Roscommon accident and emergency department. I welcome representatives of the cross-party action group for the Community Hospital of the Assumption in Thurles and concerned citizens to the Gallery. Not only has this hospital lost 20 respite beds, but 37% of its hospital beds have also been lost while more than 300 people in the area are waiting for beds. What is worse is that on 9 November, the Minister, at a meeting with the group attended by Deputy Coonan and the Minister of State, Deputy Alan Kelly, promised the beds would be reinstated by the end of January 2012. This was a specific promise. I want the Minister to come to the House to explain whether Deputy Coonan and the Minister of State, Deputy Kelly, are incorrect. Did the Minister make this promise? It was very clear to those who were there. Why have the beds not been reinstated since January 2012?
We are used to broken promises. On numerous occasions prior to the news coming out two weeks ago I raised my concerns about the Minister for Health having a conflict of interest in the nursing home sector. I stated this six months ago. How can the Minister tell a group of elected councillors and people in the community that he will reinstate beds by the end of January 2012 at a meeting in Leinster House on 9 November 2011 but now deny he said it? Is the group lying, is the Minister lying, or did Deputy Coonan and the Minister of State, Deputy Kelly, pick up wrongly what the Minister said? I will tell the House who is wrong in this. The amendment I propose is that the Minister for Health come to the House to explain why another promise has been broken and ask him with the greatest degree of urgency to fulfil the promise he made to the community of Thurles on 9 November 2011 that he would reinstate the beds. We will accept nothing short of that.
I welcome the €2.25 billion stimulus package announced by the Government today. It is greatly welcome, in particular as it is a job-rich public stimulus programme. The infrastructure projects being put forward by the Government in a range of areas will provide for significant levels of employment in those areas and they will also be of great public good. I refer in particular to the €280 million worth of investment planned for the education sector - notably to finally build the new DIT campus in Grangegorman which I think was announced by the previous Government on at least three or four occasions. I was present in Grangegorman on one occasion when Bertie Ahern, as Taoiseach, announced it was to go ahead-----
It is a strong symbol of this Government's commitment to third level education to see the Grangegorman campus finally going ahead and the DIT being moved from 39 locations in which it is located across the capital. That is really excellent and it will also rejuvenate that inner city area.
There will be investment in health - in primary care centres - in transport and in the justice area. I am really glad to see the State pathology laboratory will be invested in. It is long overdue and it is really important investment for the future.
Will the Leader arrange a debate on the Minister of State, Deputy Shortall's, alcohol abuse package? I very much hope the package of measures will go to Cabinet next week. We need to support her in putting forward this range of very important measures to try to curb the abuse of alcohol which has been the topic of so much debate in this House and elsewhere, in particular following the recent gig in the Phoenix Park. Some doubts have been expressed about curbing sponsorship of sports by alcohol companies but I think that is misguided. If one looks back, one will see the same issues were raised about cigarette company sponsorship. We now all accept that was wrong. Some years ago I raised in this House the issue of a very well-known beer company sponsoring children's sports and football kits. It was most inappropriate to see young children going around with the beer company's logo on their t-shirts. I am glad to see that has stopped but we need to be more radical in curbing sponsorship by alcohol companies.
I thank colleagues who came forward to join the Oireachtas all-party cyclists group which met last week. We launched it on a very busy Kildare Street where we had a cycle safety class. I hope other colleagues will join with me and that we can have a debate on transport and on promoting the use of cycling as part of our transport policy.
Having given the matter careful consideration, I deem it would be remiss not to question the unfolding events in the Seanad last Thursday. That morning we gathered to debate the intent and content of the resolution to establish a constitutional convention for Ireland, a matter of exceptional historic importance. As one of the newer Members of the House, I may not understand all the traditions and customs underpinning the act of putting to a vote an extensive string of motions which blocked the use of our time to engage in a debate with the Tánaiste scheduled for this period of time. It behoves us all to stand back from the events and allow us space to reflect on the wisdom of our procedures - the wisdom of interrupting the work of this House in that way.
I had prepared for many hours the issues I wished to raise, and I am sure many Members did so also. However, not only was the Tánaiste left standing outside the door for more than 90 minutes, but those in this Chamber who wanted to engage in this historic moment of conversation were silenced.
I have a question on democratic exchange.
As a result, the resolution passed through this House without debate and with no opportunity for any of us to improve or amend its contents. As a litmus test of how members of the public view this use of our time in the Seanad, perhaps we should listen carefully to a voice from the Visitors Gallery who shouted his judgment having witnessed-----
I have a right to raise this question. Will the Leader gather his colleagues on the Committee on Procedure and Privileges to review whether Seanad rules, relevant to the procedures utilised last Thursday morning, require some form of amendment?
I respectfully disagree with my colleague, Senator Zappone. The way the business was organised we would not have had time. This House was lied to because we were told the Tánaiste was not available. He was then made available when it suited him.
Will the Leader pass on my congratulations to the Government on the firm stance it has taken with regard to the tragic case of the McAreavey and Harte families? I cannot comprehend how appalling it must be to have this pain continually re-opened in the way it has been, particularly the sensationalising of the case in a newspaper in Mauritius. I welcome the strong line the Government has taken. I hope this will encourage it to take a similar line with the media in this country.
By coincidence I today received an interesting e-mail in which a parent is very concerned about material available on a newspaper website which shows a woman being murdered by the Taliban because she was accused of adultery. This is a difficult issue because one must be appalled by what the Taliban did but the questions remains as to whether a seven or eight year old child should have access to this synthetic outrage of the tabloid newspapers. I recall seeing a photograph on the front page of one such newspaper some years ago of a female teenage heroin addict in her coffin. They also recently published photographs of the singer, Whitney Houston, in her coffin. This raises a question. It is commendable but less difficult to raise these questions about a newspaper with a tiny circulation on a small island many thousands of miles away. It takes more determination to raise it directly here, particularly as politicians may not be protected against the depredations of the press. I listened with interest to a good commentator on television saying that this was less acceptable because she was not Irish nor a celebrity. Does this mean that if this unfortunate victim had not been Irish or had been a celebrity it would have been appropriate to show those pictures? I do not think so nor do the vast majority of the Irish people.
I strongly agree with Senator Bacik in supporting the moves of the Minister of State, Deputy Shortall, with regard to the problem of alcohol. I am not sure what the statistics are and there may be some dispute about them. However, as one who lives in the north inner city, there is a real problem with people in possession of enormous trays of beer which they get for virtually nothing from supermarkets. This should be banned.
I welcome this afternoon's announcement of the infrastructure stimulus package aimed at labour-intensive sectors of the economy, including construction. We need to rebuild our construction sector to provide trade jobs. Funding will be in the region of €2 billion and I am delighted this will include a new primary care centre for Tralee.
While this is a positive investment I would also like to point out that if we want sustained job creation we have to focus on small and medium Irish enterprises. Small, family-run Irish companies are providing thousands of sustainable jobs. There are two pressing problems for the SME sector. In a recent survey 41% of SMEs reported a drop in turnover, 79% said their employee levels were constant and 21% had decreased employee numbers. Some 72% reported a profit or achieved break-even. Why it is so hard for the SME sector to get credit from banks is hard to understand. There are pressing problems on the sector. Business costs for small and medium enterprises, utility costs and local charges have increased by almost 10% in the past 12 months and there is also a continuing lack of credit from the pillar banks. We have to act on this straight away in the name of job creation and, while I welcome the stimulus package, I call for real and practical help for the small business sector.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Darragh O'Brien. I ask the Leader if he can provide an update on whether the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, will come to the House this week given that it is our last opportunity to make statements on the pilot issue. I will reserve my right to propose an amendment to tomorrow's Order of Business if the response is not positive.
I wish to praise a world record breaking hero, Steve Redmond from Ballydehob in west Cork, who met one of the most enduring challenges ever faced by a human being. He succeeded in a task of Herculean proportions in passing the Oceans 7 challenge, which incorporates swims between Ireland and Scotland, the English Channel, a channel in New Zealand and the Tsugaru Channel in Japan, which he swam last Saturday. It is an enormous achievement for any individual, particularly one who is not known as a long-distance swimmer. It was a test of endurance, mental strength and tenacity and we should acknowledge what he has achieved. His world beating record is similar to that achieved by the great explorers to the North Pole and the South Pole and those who climbed Mount Everest. The final swim covered a distance of 27 km in difficult seas. As a west Cork man, an Irishman and a European he deserves the accolades of this House.
I join Senator Darragh O'Brien in calling for a debate on education and language skills in particular. Last February we were delighted to welcome 1,000 jobs but it is disappointing to note that more than 50% of the new positions will have to be recruited from abroad. I worry that the shortage of necessary language skills will deter companies from locating in Ireland. As a gateway to Europe, it is important that we focus on language skills. I ask the Leader to arrange for a debate with the Minister for Education and Skills when we return in September.
I support the comments made by Senators Darragh O'Brien and Moloney. Senator Darragh O'Brien beat me to the punch because I clearly recall our previous discussions on this issue. Senator Quinn and I have met representatives of the modern languages in primary school project. It is astounding that the Government could be so penny wise and pound foolish as to cut funding for this important project. It is a matter on which we should express our disquiet to the Minister for Education and Skills and I hope the cuts will be reversed.
I support what Senator Bacik has said about the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Shortall, and her laudable ambition to introduce changes to the law governing sponsorship of sporting events and concerts by alcohol companies. Perhaps we can ask the Taoiseach in due course whether the matter will be discussed in Cabinet before the end of this term. I have not heard any reason why it should not be discussed and the Government should signal its firm purpose in this regard.
There is considerable speculation about British people being invited to Ireland to escape the madness of the Olympic Games. However, certain Irish people will not be coming home because they are in a vulnerable position and are being supported by various bodies in England.
I have heard recently from the Southwark Irish Pensioners Project which involves an outreach by Anglo-Irish seniors who give of their time to accompany Irish people, some of whom are in their 70s up to late 80s and may not have that long to live. That project having lost funding from the London Borough Council is very concerned about whether it will lose funding from the Irish State in due course. That insecurity, particularly in the lives of some vulnerable older people, is something with which they should not have to put up. I hope that in all the hard decisions that have to be made people such as those involved in the Southwark Irish Pensioners Project will not be forgotten and that the small amount of funding which is given in order that people can bring joy and support into their lives will not be cut back in due course.
I am delighted to note Senator Darragh O'Brien's excitement in regard to tomorrow's business and hopefully he will manage to contain himself. On a more serious note, ever since the Lehman Brothers crash in September 2008, the banking world has not been the same and banking practices everywhere have been suspect. We are still awaiting our own banking inquiry in this country.
We saw recently that a major international bank in Britain, Barclays, fiddled and manipulated the London interbank money rate. How can we sure about the Dublin interbank rate? This is a vital interest rate. We need true reform of the system. Greater transparency is essential. We cannot afford in this country to have any hint of the sustained fraud which occurred in Britain. In light of that, I ask the Leader if he would be good enough to arrange a debate on banking as early as possible.
I have called for a full debate on poverty on a number of occasions in this House in recent months. The Leader indicated he would consider hosting such a debate but up to now he has not come back with any timeframe or date. A number of reports have been published since I made those calls. A report by the Irish League of Credit Unions, published last week, reveals that 1.82 million people are left with less than €100 per month of disposal income after they pay their household bills. It also shows that 69% of people will have less money at the end of this year than they had at the end of last year. A report by Social Justice Ireland, published yesterday, shows that the gap between the rich and the poor has increased. It shows that low income families and people who are out of work are suffering because of the austerity measures and policies in place and that there are more people living in poverty this year than there were last year and previous years.
It was on the back of a CSO report published a number of months ago that I sought a debate on poverty. That report shows that the top 10% of earners in this State have seen their disposable income increase while everybody else has seen their disposable income reduce. That is one of the most important debates that we could have in this Chamber. Every issue is important but when there are people living in poverty who do not have money to pay even basic bills and there are people who have no money left over after paying those basic bills yet policies are still being put in place, and may well be put in place in the next budget, which will force more people into poverty, it is important that we debate the matter.
Combat Poverty was disbanded by the previous Government. There is a real opportunity for this House to play its part in ensuring there is a constructive and worthwhile debate on the causes and effects of poverty and on what actions we can advocate the Government should take to reduce the number of people living in poverty bearing in mind that far too many people in this State live in poverty. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, subject to the Leader's response to my request, that we have a debate on poverty in this House today and that the Minister for Finance would take it.
I would like to second Senator Bacik's proposal that at the earliest opportunity we should have a mature, honest and open debate in this House on the question of alcohol, alcohol abuse and on the sale, price and advertising of alcohol. Every Member has been inundated with requests from parents and teachers across the country for us to do so. Any sensible and right-minded person would know that we can no longer bury our heads in the sand on this issue with regard to what is going on across the country. It is important that we give proper and fair consideration to what I regard to be common sense proposals put forward by the Minister of State, Deputy Shortall.
I regret to report to the House that my old friends in EirGrid are back to their old tricks. After promising courtesy in public engagement, the company is now behaving once again more like the old KGB than the old ESB by riding roughshod over the rural communities. In my own area across the scenic landscape of Stradbally and Rathnesk and Timahoe, 17 new high voltage power lines are planned. I do not understand how this is conceivable or how it can happen. We were promised this would not happen-----
The worst fears of the community about a spider web of power lines across the country are now being realised. We have attended a briefing by another company which is promising not hundreds of jobs but tens of thousands of jobs, not millions of euro investment but billions of euro. They are promising to do so with the installation of 750 wind turbines in the midlands. This is in addition to another company which proposes another 1,500 wind turbines across the midlands. The proposals of these two companies alone amount to 2,000 wind turbines across the midlands, in the bog, and no one has convinced me how this power will be transmitted from the midlands over to the eastern seaboard and across to Britain.
I am in favour of renewable energy. I know the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, has a difficult task to ensure energy security and sustainability and to take the future carbon issue into account but this will not fly and I call on the Leader, to have an up-front and honest debate on the question of energy provision and transmission at the earliest juncture with the Minister responsible for energy, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, so that this House can get to the bottom of the situation. People are promising pie in the sky jobs but nobody is explaining how this is possible without covering the entire country or all of rural Ireland in pylons and power lines.
On a happier note, I wish to mark the fact that today is the tenth anniversary of our Leader's election to this House. I congratulate him and Senators Diarmuid Wilson and Marc MacSharry and also myself. That was not the point of the exercise.
-----and that he will impress on him the effectiveness of this House. I leave it up to yourselves because I will not have an opportunity, unfortunately.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate in the next session on the prison service. I wish to express my solidarity with the prison officers at Castlerea Prison. The two Romanian nationals took advantage of the attitude of trust and the fact that they were in the Grove which is not a high security area. These are old houses which remain from the time it was a hospital. It also housed the republican prisoners. They respected the fact that this was a low security area and did not break that trust. This escape has been a betrayal of the trust and the quality of treatment in that area of the prison to prisoners of all persuasions, including politicians. My solidarity is with the officers who are providing an excellent service in this low security area in Castlerea. The prison provides excellent employment in the area and the project was approved by the Fianna Fáil-Labour Government. I hope that despite the result of this betrayal of trust, this excellent facility will be retained in Castlerea and that it will not become a high security area.
We gave ammunition to those who wish to abolish the Seanad and I hope we can be much more productive in the future in this House.
I welcome the infrastructure projects announced this morning by the Government. These will bring much needed employment to the country. I particularly welcome the funding for the N17-N18 Gort to Tuam road, which is 57 km of motorway that will bypass Clarenbridge, Claregalway and Tuam. Obviously, this is vital infrastructure. Another piece of the jigsaw which has yet to be completed and which will make Galway probably the most desirable place in the country in which to do business is the completion of the Galway city outer bypass. At present, legal proceedings are ongoing which have yet to be resolved, but there is a commitment in the announcement this morning that when those legal proceedings are concluded the Galway city outer bypass project will be completed.
While exports were up 7% in May this year in comparison with May last year, I share the concern expressed by Senator Sheahan for the small and medium enterprises in this country that are really struggling. There has been much debate in the Seanad on job creation but I ask the Leader to set aside time next September for a debate on small and medium-sized businesses, in which we can explore the problems facing them. Many of us have concerns about the possibility of small businesses having to carry the cost of sick pay schemes. That issue requires a great deal of debate and I urge the Leader to put it at the top of the priority list for discussion in September. We are beginning to turn the corner with regard to employment but we need to give assistance and a boost to the small businesses of this country that are currently on their knees.
I second Senator Mullins's call for a debate on the subject of sick pay, and I apologise to Senators for raising it again today. However, there are only 95 working days between now and the budget. Great damage could be done to the small and medium-sized business community. Over the weekend the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, said that workers in the public sector take nearly twice as many sick days as their counterparts in the private sector. I was aware of that after researching this area in detail over the last number of weeks. The public sector absenteeism rate also compares very poorly with that of our EU counterparts, while the statistics for our private sector show it is among the best in Europe. The Minister, Deputy Bruton, said in a party briefing document that €40 million could quickly be saved if public sector workers took as few sick days as private sector employees. If average absences in the public sector, calculated at 11.3 days, could be reduced to the private sector average of six days, there could be significant benefits.
Under the proposals mooted by the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, employers would have to pay the first four weeks of staff sick pay, which would save the State €150 million. However, Deputy Bruton says that illness benefit claims lasting up to four weeks only account for 5% of the total cost of illness benefit claims, which leads me to question the logic behind the proposal to transfer the cost to the employer. As a business owner and having spoken to many fellow employers on the topic of changes to sick pay, I welcome the comments by the Minister, Deputy Bruton. The Government's mantra is that Ireland will become the best small country in the world in which to do business, but if the Government transfers the cost of paying the first four weeks of sick pay to the employer it will contradict its own mantra. If the Leader has not already done so, I ask him to arrange a debate on this early in the new term.
I second Senator John Whelan's call for a debate on alcohol. Perhaps we could also include the labelling of alcohol. It is a mystery why all alcohol, regardless of whether it is beer, wine or spirits, can be sold with no label whatsoever to indicate the content of the drink.
I welcome the recently announced stimulus package. My home town of Ballaghaderreen is to benefit from a new primary care centre. It is much needed in a rural part of the country that has been neglected for many years.
I support Senator Whelan's call for the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, to come to the House to discuss the two new wind farm development projects for the midlands region. I am all for job creation, but it should not be at any cost. When one erects over 2,250 wind turbines across four counties, surely people will be affected by them. I have a Bill on the distances wind turbines should be from family homes, Second Stage of which was passed in this House. If the Bill were passed, wind turbines 175 m in height would be 2 km from people's homes. That will not be the case in the circumstances to which I refer.
The main point is that we are not in compliance with the Aarhus Convention. I spoke to representatives of the relevant company in Buswells Hotel this morning and told them that, under the convention, there should be preplanning engagement with local communities. From having spoken to the representatives, I note this has not happened yet, although planning permission has not yet been applied for. All the company has done is have all the farmers sign deals with their solicitors. It is a foregone conclusion that it is an unstoppable train.
The company representatives told me the company is to erect 750 wind turbines, creating 10,000 jobs. Two weeks ago, it was stated in a newspaper that another company in the midlands is to build twice as many turbines and create 54,000 jobs. One must answer the question as to how real the jobs are. It does not make sense.
The Gaeltacht Bill was subject to much debate in the House. The debate was guillotined and the legislation will do away with elections; hence, democracy was stifled twice. A revelation is emerging today about a gardener who works in Glenveagh National Park, which is under the auspices of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. The man is a member of Guth na Gaeltachta, a non-political community organisation that fights for and promotes the Irish language and which endeavoured to initiate debate locally on the Gaeltacht Bill. In recent days, the gardener received a letter from the Department telling him he faced the possibility of being dismissed as a result of-----
Tá siad ar buile. Seafóid atá ann. I have a question for the Leader. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business requesting the Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to come to the House today. The Leader may accede to the request given the seriousness of the matter and the attack on freedom of speech. If one were in China, one might be able to comprehend what has happened, but we are in Ireland and Fine Gael and the Labour Party are in government.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, namely, that the Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht come to the House to give a crystal-clear explanation as to who instructed the official who wrote the letter and why the letter and the gentleman's name were written in English rather than Irish.
I support the call by Senator Ivana Bacik for a debate on the reform of the sale-of-alcohol legislation. The National Suicide Research Foundation published a timely report today that showed 78% of 190 people who committed suicide in the Cork region had abused alcohol in the preceding 12 months. Some 35% had abused both alcohol and drugs in the preceding 12 months. The report shows a direct connection between substance abuse and mental illness and suicide. It is important that the reform required to restrict the sale of alcohol be introduced at a very early stage. This must be dealt with if we want to deal with suicide. We should debate this in the House at a very early date.
I wish to speak on the same topic raised by Senator Burke. I propose that the Leader send to the Cabinet a transcript of our debate on 16 November 2011, during which all the points we have heard today were made. All of the points we have heard today were put at that debate. There are two sides to this argument. The price of alcohol has not been falling, although consumption has done. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, can confirm that. We put this evidence before the House on 16 November and I wonder if the problem is being exaggerated. The current Economist Pocket World in Figures puts consumption of alcohol in Ireland at 23rd in the world, behind Australia, with an average annual intake of 99.4 litres, as well as Finland and Germany. Ireland's average intake is 63.5 litres.
Let us consider the numbers. We have put them before the House but they may be misleading. There is a herd instinct in this debate. I have no interest in the drinks industry at all but one of the proposals on the other side of the House would enrich the drinks industry by giving it a minimum price for the product. I am sure the Senators do not intend this any more than I would.
I welcome the national stimulus package announced by the Government today. Towns in east Galway, particularly Gort and Tuam, have benefitted significantly from the allocation of primary care centres, with many other towns also benefitting from the N17 and N18 motorway project now going ahead.
I welcome Ulster Bank's proposal to compensate customers for inconvenience caused during the recent IT glitch, as I called for such action from the very start of this debacle. However, despite numerous assurances from the bank, the problem persists, and it will be a number of weeks before the matter can be fully resolved.
We have all been made aware of certain issues regarding inaccurate recordings of customer accounts, I have now been informed that some direct debits in Ulster Bank customer accounts have been changed without the customer's permission from monthly to bimonthly, resulting in duplicate payments. When one affected customer contacted Ulster Bank, the institution wrongly tried to blame the originator, and the bank cannot and will not explain how a change was made to a direct debit without any input from the customer or originator.
-----which means it should make satisfactory payment or reparation to them. This should not be unilaterally decided by Ulster Bank and the institution should engage with customers, the Financial Regulator, the Minister for Finance and the Central Bank in order to arrive at a suitable level of compensation.
I echo Senator Coghlan's calls for a debate on banking. I would like the Minister for Finance to come to the House in order to have a debate on this specific issue relating to Ulster Bank and particularly details pertaining to a compensation package for all affected customers.
Last week there was a settlement of a price-fixing anti-trust action in the United States. It was the largest ever settlement of its kind, at €6.6 billion, and it involved MasterCard and Visa. The end result is that credit card costs should come down quite dramatically in the United States. Exactly the same issue arose here a few months ago in the case of European cross-border transactions. The European Commission urged each country to take similar action in order to reduce costs. If we are to discuss being competitive, this is one easy win because the banks have been overcharging for many years and it appears that there has been success in the United States with the largest ever anti-trust settlement.
I add to Senator Mary Ann O'Brien's reference to an effort to make employers pay the first four weeks of wages for anybody who is ill. Approximately an hour ago I listened to Mr. Barry O'Leary of the Industrial Development Agency talking about efforts to make ourselves more competitive and have more jobs in Ireland. It is going exactly the wrong way to argue that every employer must pay the first four weeks of any illness in future. We must do something about that.
Senator Mullen mentioned Southwark in England. The people who emigrated were very poor and we did nothing for them in the 1950s and 1960s. They are now in their eighties and cannot even afford a haircut. We gave them a small gesture through the Irish Government but I gather it is likely to close. Could we ensure that we do not forget those whom we let down in the 1950s and 1960s?
I wish to return to the question of sponsorship by alcohol companies of the arts and sport. I understand the concerns being expressed about it. The Seanad would be an ideal forum to debate how we can come up with other revenue sources for sports and the arts. It is a valid concern. Even the Dublin film festival is sponsored by a big alcohol brand, and the director of the festival believes it would not go ahead without a sponsor. A debate on this would be very welcome early in the new term.
On a point of order, I ask for more consistency from the Cathaoirleach with regard to people making contributions. When we have an opportunity to speak we raise one issue, but Senators on the Government side are allowed to raise two or three issues. There should be consistency.
Ba mhaith liom i dtosach báire tacú leis an leasú ar an Riar Oibre atá molta ag mo chomhleacaí, an Seanadóir David Cullinane, maidir le díospóireacht faoi chúrsaí bochtaineachta. Ba mhaith liom aontú freisin leis an méid atá ráite ag an Seanadóir Ó Domhnaill maidir leis an chinsireacht atá á dhéanamh ar gharraíodóir as Tír Chonaill atá ag labhairt amach i gcoinne an Bhille Gaeltachta. Tá sé scanallach agus náireach go mbeadh a leithéid de chinsireacht ar bun.
I note many Government Senators are rising, and properly so, to welcome the stimulus package with regard to primary care centres. I attended a presentation this morning by the Community Hospital of the Assumption, Thurles and I welcome the cross-party group of councillors to the Visitors Gallery. They got a new hospital in 2006 but they consider its services are being downgraded. I hope this will not be the future of the primary care centres being welcomed today.
I would welcome a debate with the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly. We went through a similar situation of promises made about the St. Francis nursing home. That the group can attend the Houses, meet Government representatives and the Minister and be given promises-----
Will the Leader call on the Minister, Deputy Reilly, to attend the House and tell us whether it is Government policy to run down very good facilities such as the community Hospital in Thurles so it can be taken over by private interests in the future? Is this the policy of the Government with regard to health care? Will the Government do something about keeping this hospital and other services throughout the country open to support the 487 people waiting for respite care and the thousands of carers who need this essential respite care so they can get a break?
I wish to add my voice to those who have spoken about the need for change with regard to alcohol consumption. It is not something I do very often, but if I may I will disagree with Senator Barrett. It does not matter if the figures show that we as a country are third or 23rd in terms of consumption. What matters is that our culture and attitude to alcohol needs to change. The attempts at change by the Minister of State, Deputy Shortall, will be difficult and we will need to discuss them. Change is always hard, particularly if one is challenging large organisations which have had control and which offer sponsorship. I second Senator Bacik's call for a debate.
Will the Leader write to the editor of the Sunday Times in Mauritius to lend our voices on what was an outrageous piece of alleged journalism? Perhaps Senator Norris already raised this matter.
I support the amendment to the Order of Business tabled by Senator Ó Domhnaill. I also agree with Senator Darragh O'Brien who tabled an amendment to the Order of Business calling on the Minister for Health to come to the House. A number of serious issues have arisen in the past week, in particular. We have seen the health overruns and the conditioning of the public that the troika is insisting on health cuts. I was part of the Fianna Fáil delegation which met the troika last week and that question was specifically put to it. The troika was unequivocal in stating that the budget would be set by the Government of the day. In regard to the health savings promised by the Government in terms of the generic drugs bill - we will see what emerges from the debate later in the week on that - and cutting the cost of agency staff and of private nursing home beds, in particular, we have seen no action over the past 16 months.
I welcome the people in the Visitors Gallery from Thurles, which is quite a distance from my part of the country. However, we certainly have much in common. We have all lived through the set piece of the ministerial commitment to the restoration of services which is followed up by the local Deputies taking the credit on the local airwaves - in their case Tipp FM while in mine Ocean FM. The follow on set piece is the commitment being reneged on.
These are callous political gestures which are disgraceful in the extreme. Whatever about a pre-election commitment being reneged on, which is inexcusable, to make a commitment at a meeting in November, quite some time after the election, and then to renege on it-----
I join with my colleagues in welcoming this stimulus package. I support my colleague, Senator Mullins's, call for a debate on job creation to be taken later in the year. There has been much talk about job creation but a number of worrying things have come to my notice in the past few days. Two people have set up small companies employing 12 to 15 people. Some 20% of the first company's income will be stopped at source by the Revenue Commissioners when it does work for public bodies. In the second case, the person has spent €100,000 on development charges but he is now being asked to spend another €150,000 on an access road to his business. This is very unfair. We must encourage people to create jobs but the likes of this will stop people from doing so.
I welcome the announcement of a new primary care centre for my constituency. More was announced in the Seanad today than was announced by the Government in its press conference. One would be looking to host a Formula 1 championship race in Galway because one will be able race from Tuam to the far side of Galway city given all the motorways to be built in County Galway. Best of luck to the Senators and Deputies from Galway who have done well.
I wish to raise an important issue. We need to have an urgent debate on social welfare. Last night the Minister for Social Protection announced cuts of up to 20% for existing claimants of jobseeker's benefit who are part-time workers. This will hit people really hard next week and it is important the Seanad shows its relevance to people by having a debate with the Minister about these cuts, in particular when the Government promised no cuts to social welfare payments. The Labour Party and Fine Gael can ignore this but this is the practical reality for people.
In September, the Minister plans another major cut to new applicants for the old age pension who do not have full credits. They are nearly all women who had to leave the workforce to work at home and rear their children. They will be hit hard while the Seanad is in recess. The Seanad must have a debate on the issue and stand up for part-time workers who will face serious cuts next week and for the mothers of Ireland who left the workforce to work even harder in the home. Shame on the Government and on this House if we do not discuss them.
Senator Darragh O'Brien and other Senators raised the lack of language skills, especially in regard to PayPal and the fact that 50% of the jobs there will be sourced abroad, which is to be regretted. In response to many requests from across the House, the Minister for Education and Skills is scheduled to come in to the House in early October for a debate on third level education. The training of people for new types of jobs in the economy could definitely form part of that debate.
Senator O'Brien also referred to broken promises. It is hypocritical of Fianna Fáil to do so given it practically broke the country.
I do not wish to get into the issues raised by Senator O'Brien and others in that regard.
Senator Bacik referred to the investment in Grangegorman, which we all welcome. As stated by the Senator, commencement of the Grangegorman project was announced three times under the Fianna Fáil-led Government. However, it is now being acted upon by this Government.
It is hoped the Minister of State can come to the House before the end of September to address the points raised by many Senators on the issue of alcohol abuse and below-cost selling of alcohol.
On the issue raised by Senator Zappone, I will discuss the matter with the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. What happened last week was regrettable. Senator Norris referred to the McAreavey and Harte families. What happened was absolutely appalling and most distressing for the families concerned. The Senator also outlined a number of other examples of, to put it mildly, misbehaviour by the press. We had a debate with the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, on media standards. I have requested the Minister to come to the House during the next term for a further debate on media standards and ownership. We will have an opportunity then to discuss the matters raised today by Senator Norris.
Senator Sheahan and other Senators called for a debate on the stimulus package announced today by the Government, which I am sure will be welcomed by all sides of the House. Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin Members have been for some time calling for the putting in place of a stimulus package such as that announced. I am sure Members of those parties welcome the package announced by Government.
Senator Sheahan and other Senators also called for assistance for the small business sector. The Minister, Deputy Bruton, will be in the House early in the new term to discuss progress in regard to projects to assist small business and unemployment and youth unemployment.
Senator O'Donovan also raised the pilot issue. I understand that the Senator addressed 15 questions on that issue to the Minister in respect of which he received a response last Friday.
We all welcome Steve Redmond's achievement in terms of the Ocean's Seven challenge, on which we compliment him. Senator Coghlan raised the issue of the Dublin interbank rate and called for greater transparency in view of experiences in the UK. The Minister for Finance was in the House a couple of weeks ago. However, there is a need for ongoing debate on the economy and banking. I will endeavour to arrange such debate early in the new term.
Senator Cullinane called for a debate on poverty. We took two social welfare Bills in the House and we had a comprehensive debate on the question of poverty. The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, will come to the House for a two and a half hour debate on social protection on 11 October. This will be a comprehensive debate on all matters coming under her remit. Several of those matters have been raised by Senators, including sick pay and poverty.
Senators Whelan and Kelly spoke about EirGrid, high voltage pylons and the jobs that can be created through wind energy. Some people in the midlands have objected to wind turbines. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, will come to the House early in the new term. I note Senator Leyden's comments on Castlerea Prison. Senators Mullins and Higgins spoke about the stimulus project for the N17 and N18 highways in Galway. We all hope the Galway city bypass will also proceed. There is good news for Galway in this project.
Senator Mary Ann O'Brien spoke about the sick pay proposals. As I have noted, the Minister, Deputy Burton, will be in the House on 11 October and I am sure she will address the issues raised. Senator Ó Domhnaill raised the specific issue of a gentleman in Donegal regarding whom I do not wish to elaborate further. Senator Colm Burke referred to a report on suicide in Cork which investigated the number of people who died by suicide after abusing alcohol. The Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Shortall, will be available in September for a wide ranging debate on that issue. Senator Barrett set out a different point of view on alcohol. He can certainly make his argument during the debate with the Minister of State.
Senator Higgins again raised the issues affecting Ulster Bank. I am sure we all wish that full compensation will be paid to the customers who have been affected by the debacle. Senator Quinn spoke about price fixing by MasterCard and Visa in the USA. The Senator also raised this issue on previous occasions. I note his comments on sick pay. Senator Noone can raise the question of sponsorship of sports and the arts by alcohol companies during the debate in September with the Minister of State, Deputy Shortall.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh referred to a number of issues which will require further spending. I remind him that we continue to spend €15 billion more than what we are taking in. That will have to be addressed irrespective of what Government is in power. Requesting ad infinitum that additional funding be provided for various items does nothing to address that problem.
Senator O'Keeffe also called for a debate on alcohol abuse and spoke about the McAreavey and Harte families.
Senator MacSharry spoke about the drugs Bill, which was promised last week. A number of Members did not believe that the Bill would be introduced to the House. A commitment to do so was given and it will be before the House this week.
Senator Comiskey raised the issue of the obstacles facing small businesses and we can raise that matter with the Minister responsible. Senator Byrne called for a debate on social welfare and I am advised that the Minister will be here on 11 October.
I do not propose to accept any of the amendments proposed to the Order of Business.
Senator Darragh O'Brien has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate on the commitments given by the Minister for Health especially in the case of the Thurles community hospital be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
The Seanad Divided:
For the motion: 16 (Sean Barrett, Thomas Byrne, David Cullinane, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Paschal Mooney, David Norris, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Darragh O'Brien, Denis O'Donovan, Ned O'Sullivan, Averil Power, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Against the motion: 31 (Paul Bradford, Terry Brennan, Colm Burke, Deirdre Clune, Paul Coghlan, Michael Comiskey, Martin Conway, Maurice Cummins, Jim D'Arcy, John Gilroy, Jimmy Harte, Aideen Hayden, Fidelma Healy Eames, James Heffernan, Imelda Henry, Lorraine Higgins, Caít Keane, John Kelly, Denis Landy, Marie Maloney, Mary Moran, Tony Mulcahy, Rónán Mullen, Michael Mullins, Catherine Noone, Susan O'Keeffe, Pat O'Neill, Feargal Quinn, 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.
Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Minister of State responsible for Gaeltacht affairs on recent correspondence with an employee of Glenveagh National Park be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
The Seanad Divided:
For the motion: 15 (Sean Barrett, Thomas Byrne, David Cullinane, Terry Leyden, Paschal Mooney, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Darragh O'Brien, Denis O'Donovan, Ned O'Sullivan, Averil Power, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Against the motion: 30 (Paul Bradford, Terry Brennan, Colm Burke, Deirdre Clune, Paul Coghlan, Michael Comiskey, Martin Conway, Maurice Cummins, Jim D'Arcy, John Gilroy, Jimmy Harte, Aideen Hayden, Fidelma Healy Eames, James Heffernan, Imelda Henry, Lorraine Higgins, Caít Keane, John Kelly, Denis Landy, Marie Maloney, Mary Moran, Tony Mulcahy, Michael Mullins, Catherine Noone, Susan O'Keeffe, Pat O'Neill, Feargal Quinn, Tom Shehan, Jillian van Turnhout, John Whelan)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O'Keeffe.
Amendment declared lost.