Thursday, 19 July 2012
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding the arrangements for the sitting of the House on Friday, 20 July; No. 2, Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Bill 2012 - Second Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and conclude not later than 1.45 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be called on to reply not later than 1.35 p.m.; No. 3, Public Service Pensions (Single Scheme and Other Provisions) Bill 2011 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 3 p.m. and conclude not later than 5 p.m.; No. 4, Health (Pricing and Supply of Medical Goods) Bill 2012 - Second Stage, to be taken at 5 p.m. and adjourn at 7 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes. Business shall be interrupted from 1.45 p.m. to 3 p.m.
I wish to raise two brief points before coming to the main point. I welcome yesterday's report on the pyrite issue. Obviously much work must be done on the issue. The people in the commuter belt in County Meath and in surrounding counties will have a little more patience on the issue but not much more. Yesterday's report is an indication of some progress. I am meeting many residents next week to discuss what action they wish to take, given that so far there has been no action on the issue.
An issue that affects Senator Diarmuid Wilson and me is the Meath-Cavan-Tyrone powerline. Fine Gael made fantastic promises in opposition, ran fabulous campaigns and buried the cables. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, has told EirGrid to go ahead with all due haste immediately with the proposal in place under the previous Government. That is another broken promise for the counties of Meath, Cavan and Monaghan, and it also affect the North.
The main issue affecting people's ordinary lives today is the health of the nation. The health service is on course to run a €500 million deficit. This is not because of the IMF, Fianna Fáil or Deputy Micheál Martin, who is constantly blamed, but the failure of the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, to run his budget properly. He presented what was a false Estimate to Dáil Éireann last December. He failed to implement the necessary legislation on time. One of those pieces of legislation is only coming before us today, namely, the Health (Pricing and Supply of Medical Goods) Bill 2012, which was released with great fanfare on Tuesday. The delay in publishing the Bill and the fact that is only coming before the Oireachtas on the day the Dáil goes into recess are partially responsible for the €500 million deficit in the health service.
Last autumn the Minister, Deputy Reilly, said that legislation on drug pricing was being finalised and would be submitted in 2011. It was included in the budget 2012 savings. The HSE performance report in April stated that none of the €124 million projected savings had been delivered to date because of a failure to introduce legislation. The chief executive of the HSE, Mr. Cathal Magee, stated on 28 June:
In our plan the assumption was that we would save €124 million in drug payments, with a substantial part delivered through a new pricing agreement with the industry. That has not come through.
Legislation on reference pricing and generic drugs was only published seven months after being budgeted for, which is outrageous. Because of the failure and volatility of the Minister, Deputy Reilly, and his concentration on other important matters facing him, wards will be closed, nurses will work reduced hours in some cases, operations will be cancelled, and emergency units and medical assessment units will go on shorter hours. This is all because of the Minister's delay and inaction. While many people criticise Deputy Martin, who was last Minister for Health and Children in 2004, he did fantastic work then.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that not only will we take the Second Stage of the Health (Pricing and Supply of Medical Goods) Bill, but in order to prevent ward closures and operations being cancelled, and in order to keep the health service and help deliver the savings, unusually we should take all Stages of the Bill today because it is so urgent. The Minister has delayed it for seven months. It is absolutely inexcusable that it comes in on the last day of term. I ask the Leader to give us some time on it and let us pass all Stages today. Seanad Éireann would be seen to be doing our bit to rectify what the Minister has failed to do.
I know the Leader will respond to Senator Byrne's proposed amendment to the Order of Business. It is good to see that Fianna Fáil is supporting the Bill. There was an element of manufactured outrage about the Senator's contribution and he seemed to be trying to find a way to object to the Bill while supporting it.
The Taoiseach's visit to the House yesterday was extremely useful for us. It was particularly welcome to hear him give the comprehensive update on developments at EU level and plans for Ireland's Presidency of the European Council next year. It was also very welcome to hear him say that he anticipates a resolution being reached on the issue of breaking the vicious cycle between banking debt and sovereign debt in early course and hopefully in October before we take up the Presidency of the European Council. We all hope those negotiations will go well over August and September and we will see that resolution.
On a related note, I believe Senator Paul Coghlan raised with the Taoiseach the issue of the banking inquiry. Perhaps in September we might have a debate on the format of a banking inquiry and how best a banking inquiry could be conducted by the Houses of the Oireachtas, given the failure of last October's referendum and given issues arising as to which committee is the most appropriate to hold it. That would be a useful debate to have in the House.
In the autumn I am sure we will have a debate on universality of benefit. I was very concerned, as were many others, at reports that the IMF was looking at universality of child benefit and other types of benefit. I was very glad to hear Nora Gibbons of Barnardos very strongly pointing out the dangers and risks of unforeseen consequences if there is any move away from the universality principle upon which child benefit is paid. She also pointed out the very important principles of support for children that child benefit symbolises. We will certainly be returning to that debate.
Looking beyond these shores over the coming couple of months, there are very worrying signs of escalating conflict in Syria. There are reports today of gunfire and attacks in the capital, Damascus. There is still obstructionism at the UN Security Council by Russia and China in particular. There is increasing frustration among UN officials in trying to bring humanitarian aid to the unfortunate civilians in Syria who are caught in the conflict. Ireland needs to be making strong representation through the EU to try to bring some sort of resolution to the conflict. I hope we will see that happen in the next couple of months.
I welcome the Fianna Fáil proposal to take all Stages of the Health (Pricing and Supply of Medical Goods) Bill, which I would wholeheartedly support. Although I have not had an opportunity to discuss it with my group, I know there would be much support. Today's newspapers carry reports of a case heard in the Dublin District Children's Court yesterday about the HSE's inability to find accommodation for a boy in his mid-teens. This is not a report from ten or 20 years ago, but yesterday in our capital city. Judge Gibbons said:
This young chap patently needs the assistance of something that terms itself the child protection agency... it is obvious from this that the HSE has completely walked away from its responsibilities... [The HSE has] lost the plot.
The judge was disturbed by its lack of co-operation. This report indicates that there is a boy in his mid-teens that we have failed as a State. The Seanad should send out a clear message that it is totally unacceptable. I call on the Leader to express that message to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs.
I agree with Senator Bacik's comments on child benefit, an issue on which I have done considerable work. Yet again we get the call for it to be taxed or means-tested. Many research papers have proved that it is impossible to tax or means-test it. We would end up paying so much in administration to identify who is the beneficiary of the payment. Is it the children's money or the parents' money? How would it be administered if the parents are separate or there are custody arrangements? It is a horizontal payment that demonstrates how we value children in our society. Many families are in financial distress and finding it very difficult. Removing the safety net at this time is not the answer and certainly not in this simplistic way. Mr. Michael O'Leary and others have raised a misconception in complaining about receiving child benefit. A parent must apply to get child benefit and does not get it automatically. On having one's first child one must apply. People who claim that they get it and do not want should be told to stop - they do not have to have it and people must apply. Families who are applying for child benefit obviously believe they need it. I raised this at the Joint Committee on Jobs, Social Protection and Education and said we should not be so simplistic when considering taxing or means-testing. There are other ways, including a free schoolbook scheme or free children's health. There are other ways to ensure the money goes to pay for what it is intended. Let us not be so simplistic and consider one Department - let us connect government.
He made a number of extremely valuable points. Regrettably sometimes Government actions undermine those fine words. Once again No. 1 proposes that we should have no Order of Business tomorrow, which I oppose. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that we delete No. 1 from the Order Paper because it is an undemocratic principle. I was rather disappointed that last night during a serious debate with some extremely fine contributions the Government produced only the minimum number of speakers - one from each Government party - one to propose the amendment and one to support it. Anyone who reads the debate will see that they did not deal with the substance at all. That is a great disappointment.
I also wish to refer to a debate last week regarding the establishment of the Constitutional Convention, when there was some disruption of the business of the House. The record needs to be corrected. Senator Zappone suggested that a gentleman who was sitting in the Visitors Gallery was criticising me and the other Senators who had organised a series of votes, intended to protest at the lack of proper debate. I have received a letter from the same gentleman, a copy of which he also sent to The Irish Times, in which he expresses considerable respect for Senator Zappone and her public work but says that she had, unfortunately, misinterpreted what he said. It was the obstructionist tactics of the Government that he was protesting against when he said, "Shame on you". On the record of the House a completely different construction was placed on his comment. The fact that the person who uttered the words has contradicted that construction should be placed on the record of the House now, in order that the record be accurate.
I ask that we, as a body, assuming the Cathaoirleach thinks it is appropriate ---
I am not going to go there because what I want to say is not at all frivolous. I know that expressions of sympathy are usually passed through the Committee on Procedure and Privileges but this is a general one with which everyone might agree. At the very least, we can express horror at the outrage that was committed in Bulgaria against a bus load of Israeli tourists. These were innocent victims. It was a slaughter of the innocents. Nobody knows what their political views were. I certainly do not. They may well have supported Palestinian rights, as many Israeli people do, but whether they did or not is no justification for killing them. Any of the organisations, whether Israeli-Jewish, like B'Tselem or others, who oppose Israeli policy in the settlements would not welcome this. It is appalling.
The final matter is the question of the tragic death of a young woman in Roscommon who was on her way to hospital in Galway. I have never been a hospital-candidate type of person and I have always supported rationalisation but I am appalled by the fact that somebody died on the way to hospital because the journey took so long. Could we have an investigation into this? Added to that is the fact that we were told that the air ambulance would be available. It should be located in Athlone but is in Casement Aerodrome. The reason given by the Army is that the noise would cause a nuisance but I believe that the level of nuisance caused when the use of the air ambulance is necessary would be tolerable if it saved a life.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbite, to the House in the autumn to discuss energy policy. The Government produced a policy document on infrastructure yesterday, to which Senator Byrne referred. We also had the recent announcement from Element Power that it will go ahead with the development of 40 wind farms in the midlands, generally, to serve the UK market as it struggles to reach its commitment to renewable energy. We had an announcement last week from Eddie O'Connor, of Mainstream Renewable Energy, on its proposed 5,000 megawatt investment. The National Competitiveness Council produced a report yesterday which highlighted the fact that Ireland' share of energy derived from renewable resources is approximately one third of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, average and that we are one of the most oil-dependent countries in the OECD. Thrown into that mix we have natural gas and the Corrib line which is expected to come onshore and supply our gas needs for the next 20 years or so. We must have a debate on energy, particularly on wind energy, including the cost to the Exchequer in supporting its development and whether it is economically viable or recommended. There are many questions to be answered regarding energy and we must hear the Minister's views on these matters as we move forward. Energy policy is very important from a competitiveness point of view and that must inform the debate.
I wish to be associated with the expression of sympathy from Senator Norris and believe it would be appropriate that our sympathies be sent to the Government of Israel following the recent atrocity. The murder of innocent people should be condemned by all sides. I hope the Leader will convey the sympathy of this House to the families affected and to the people of Israel.
I ask the Leader of the House to devote time today to debate another matter raised by Senator Norris, namely the tragic death of Ms Elaine Curley, who was only 19 years old. She was 15 minutes away from Roscommon Hospital when she was involved in a car crash on the Galway-Roscommon border. Due to the closure of the accident and emergency department in Roscommon Hospital, she died. She is the first real, declared tragedy of the decision by the Government of Deputies James Reilly and Enda Kenny, who gave commitments and promises to the people of Roscommon that the accident and emergency department in Roscommon would be retained. They misled the people. This young girl is a victim of the policies of the Fine Gael, Labour Government.
I wish to make a point. Senator Leyden is somebody for whom I have great respect but I wish to disassociate myself from the manner in which this matter is being followed through. This is not the manner in which I wished it to be raised. I asked for an examination because I do not believe it has been established that the death was directly as a result of the accident and emergency closure. It may have been - we do not know - but to state it baldly was not my intention. I wish to cause no hurt to anybody nor to engage in this kind of controversy.
I will not comment on Senator Leyden's accusations in order to spare the family any further hurt.
Before I raise an important matter, I wish to welcome friends in the Visitors' Gallery, who have come from California and are on their honeymoon.
It would be the last place I would go to celebrate my honeymoon.
I do and I want to make a point. I support Senator Clune's call for a debate in September on wind energy and its viability because it is a very important issue. I also want to raise an issue which is very close to my heart. I am conscious we will be in recess for a number of weeks and I am always concerned about the security of small post offices in rural Ireland. Criminal gangs target them, as they did in Dublin last week if people need evidence. Most rural small post offices are run by post mistresses who run the show on their own perhaps with a substantial amount of cash. They are sitting ducks for criminals. My sister is a postmistress and last year she was tied up and robbed-----
Will the Leader call on the Minister for Justice and Equality to put in place extra security in rural Ireland over the summer recess when this House and the Dáil are not sitting and to ensure there is a greater Garda presence particularly where there are small rural post offices? It is too late when the horse has bolted in this instance.
I add my voice to the compliments to the Leader for his words yesterday. It is necessary to respond to the Taoiseach, whom I also wish to compliment. It is seldom somebody has come here to speak for as long as he did without notes from the civil servants behind him. He spoke off the cuff after our debate. I thank the Leader for arranging the debate. I was impressed by the Taoiseach's words apart from on one point, which is the future of the House. The Taoiseach said it is in the hands of the citizens of Ireland. It is up to us to ensure we earn respect if we are to have a vote. I hope we will even convince them we do not even need a vote.
I was impressed to hear we will all be given an information tablet. The reason I mention this is because for some time I have been fighting about the amount of paper we receive. I hope by the end of the year we will all be able to come here with our information tablets and have no paper. Five years ago the former Senator Joe O'Toole told me he would no longer take paper with him anywhere and since then he never has. He uses his tablet or computer.
When we return after the recess I would like to see a debate on genetically modified foods which are back in the headlines again. Last week we had a wonderful week of science and the issue of genetically modified foods need to be debated. Two opposite views exist and this would be the ideal forum for such a debate.
I wish to mention something positive that perhaps is not known. This year Ashoka's Change Nation came to Ireland. It involved 50 innovators bringing solutions we need to help our country. One of them is Dr. Sanjeev Arora, a consultant in New Mexico. He found the greatest problem facing his people was waiting lists, such as we have here. People were waiting up to eight months to see him and they were getting sicker and dying. Through a method called ECHO and teleconferencing with his GPs he has reduced his waiting list to three weeks. He is upskilling his GPs to become super specialists within a year. The good news is that I have linked this person with the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, who is in consultation with him and we will establish a pilot scheme here. Consultants and GPs are willing to do it. This is about an investment in education and technology to improve health outcomes.
Will the Leader asked the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, to attend the House in the autumn to discuss an urgent issue? The IMF report issued today is very broad ranging on systemic change it seeks in medical cards, social welfare rates and child benefit. It also states it would like property tax to be at a suitably high level. We must reflect very carefully on this. More than 50% of the people in the country have no disposable income after they pay their bills. Many of them have very high mortgages and we must be careful to mind our people.
Will the Leader ask the Minister to attend the House early in the autumn because we will be facing into a budget and people will be worried about certainty as they approach a new year with regard to their disposable income and what they can rely on receiving if they are out of work? The Minister must address the issue of sick pay. I completely disagree with her that the employer should pay.
D'iarr mé ar an Taoiseach inné, i gcomhthéacs an tábhachtacht a bhaineann leis an nGaeilge, an bhfuil sé i gceist aige Uachtaránacht Aontas na hEorpa a úsáid chun stádas na Gaeilge san Aontas Eorpach a chur chun cinn. Chualamar ar maidin go bhfuil sé níos daoire téacs a sheoladh as Gaeilge ná mar atá sé i mBéarla.
Yesterday, Vodafone confirmed that users would be charged the cost of three text messages if they include a fada in a text message of 160 characters. O2 and Vodafone state they are conforming to global standards set by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute. Will the Leader invite the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to attend the House after the recess, after he has examined this issue, to discuss how we can put our language to the fore and ensure we are not unduly penalised for using our native language in media such as text messaging, which is used every day by the people of Ireland?
I welcome the happy couple to the Visitors Gallary. I hope they have a good honeymoon in the country and a good life ahead.
The issue I wish to raise is related to what Senator Kelly stated about small rural post offices and banks. In Donegal, like other rural counties, there are one or two banks in a town and the prospect of them closing down means people may have to travel distances to lodge money or meet their bank manager. If we have a banking inquiry in the autumn we should ask representatives from the banks about their plans for rural banks. Inishowen in Donegal has two banks and if both closed the nearest town would be ten or 12 miles away. The banks must come clean with rural communities and tell them how they view their future role. I welcome the role of the post office in banking but it could not be expected to carry out all of the work a bank does, particularly with regard to financial planning. This could be related to Senator Bacik's call for a banking inquiry.
I second Senator Byrne's amendment to the Order of Business. I wish all my colleagues a peaceful and enjoyable break during the few weeks we will be off. As this is the final Order of Business this session, I do not want to press a vote on Senator Norris's amendment.
In a matter of weeks Mr. Justice Moriarty of the Moriarty tribunal will adjudicate on third party legal cost applications. The auditor general has estimated these costs will be in the region of €80 million to €100 million. I wish to advise the House that I have received new information that raises concerns about the evidence of some key tribunal witnesses, particularly a Member of the Lower House. The new information refers to the acquisition of Doncaster Rovers Football Club and records that the Member attended well in excess of 50 meetings relating to this acquisition.
Yes, I have. It is my understanding that neither these meetings nor their extent were advised to the tribunal, and I will be forwarding this information to the tribunal. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate immediately on our return in September on not only the Moriarty tribunal, but the Mahon tribunal and future potential tribunals, so the costs of these tribunals are dealt with as a matter of urgency.
I concur with much of what Senator Wilson has said and the Leader should give his request due consideration. I also agree with my colleague, Senator John Kelly, on the security and role of rural post offices. The post office network is extremely important and has the potential to act as a one-stop-shop for many of the services that are splintered among various offices such as local government, banks or other institutions. The network deserves to be considered for upgrading and security at post offices needs to be reviewed. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, to come here in September to discuss the existing security protocols for small rural post offices. People and the staff, who are mostly female, are vulnerable in such offices. I ask that the protocols be reviewed and upgraded because there have been too many attacks on post offices in recent times. One post office in Dublin was attacked two weeks on the trot. The issue is extremely serious and we, as parliamentarians, have a responsibility to highlight it and to ensure that action is taken. I have utter confidence in the senior management of An Post but the Oireachtas has a role in ensuring that post offices are utilised to their full potential and that the thousands of people who work in them can do so safely.
I wish my colleagues an enjoyable summer break. I remind them that there are many facilities and services to be seen in County Clare if any of them wish to spend their hard earned money there.
I thank Senator Conway for his kind invitation to Clare. Yesterday, I raised item 17 on the Order Paper, the Fiscal Responsibility (Statement) Bill 2011, with the Leader as it is overdue by many months. The Bill appeared in the afternoon and I compliment him on his superior efficiency compared to the Department of Finance. I hope that when the Taoiseach visited here he too noted the superior efficiency of the House. His visit was welcome.
The IMF's recent conclusions stated:
Maintaining expensive universal supports and subsidies is difficult to justify under present budgetary circumstances. Better targeting of the child benefit, medical card spending, the household benefits package and the expenditure on non-means tested pensions can generate significant savings while protecting the poor.
Some of what we heard earlier makes me think that Ireland must have the richest poor people in the world because of the way they make special pleadings when the IMF reports on rampant inequalities in this society, furthered by extra State expenditure towards extremely rich people. I recall studies in the United Kingdom which showed that the Common Agricultural Policy mostly benefited the members of the aristocracy because they owned more land. Public expenditure is not always progressive in its distribution and can be highly regressive. That is what the IMF has told us and we would be well placed to listen to its advice and analyse it rather than have knee-jerk reactions.
I have been here well over a year and I just found out that one can accumulate one's time and let the meter run up in order to get a better run at things.
I support the issue raised by Senator John Kelly this morning. I also support Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell who made a potent if brief speech yesterday in the presence of the Taoiseach on how we have abandoned and surrendered control of our main street in the capital city. We must be honest: it is not safe to walk on O'Connell Street in broad daylight. I use the Luas to travel from Heuston and I have been accosted and intimidated on mornings and evenings. I have witnessed racial attacks on the tram. I call on the Leader to invite the Minister for Justice and Equality to come here in the autumn to explain policing policy. I know that resources are short and small Garda stations may have to be closed, but we do not have enough gardaí on the beat. It is as simple as that. We have no Garda visibility, and it is not just an urban problem. In the village of Clonbullogue, there were 50 house break-ins in one week and one house was burgled three times. People are not safe in their homes. There are community alert and neighbourhood watch schemes, but they are no substitute for having gardaí out and about. When the Minister comes here he must outline a policing policy that will get gardaí back on the streets and visible again. There is something radically wrong with our policing policy when one cannot walk the main street of the capital city in broad daylight.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator David Norris. I would also like to take up the point about the session we had with the Taoiseach yesterday. I found the debate helpful and edifying in many ways. I compliment the Leader and all of the speakers on their contributions yesterday. Once again it showed that we can discuss and debate serious issues, such as our position in Europe, with less acrimony in the Chamber. There is always the possibility that the Taoiseach will have a Damascus-like conversion on his way to the referendum. I do not know if that will happen but his visit was good for the Seanad.
Senator Norris raised a legitimate point this morning about the young woman who died in Roscommon on her way to hospital. It is a reminder to us all that behind all of the statistics there are human stories, many of them tragic. Members need to know that her family spoke on the issue in the hope that it would never happen to anybody else. Most people in this country are committed to the rationalisation of the health system. Most people want centres of excellence because without them, many more people would die. The important part of Senator Norris's point is that we should examine the situation in the context that there are times, like the case in Roscommon, and even when there is a programme of rationalisation and new structures in place, that a different approach could be adopted on the spot in the hope that it might safe a life. That is the reason it was important to raise the matter here. Perhaps we could discuss such issues, although not specific cases, after the summer recess because I know of another case where a young person in Tipperary almost died. If the person had gone to where they were supposed to go in Waterford and had not gone to Clonmel, there is a good possibility that the young person would have died. In that case, a decision was made on the spot to ensure that did not happen. That is the atmosphere in which we should discuss a tragedy of this kind.
I wish to raise the issue of the IMF's stated views on universal payments. We must grapple with this issue sooner rather than later. During the term of the previous Government we saw how difficult it was to remove a universal payment, which is just about impossible.
We should put the issue of universal payments to a referendum so that the people can decide on the issue. If people vote against these payments, they will be voting against the receipt of child benefit, old age pensions or medical cards or any other benefit. Universal payments cost a great deal of money and the word is that not everybody needs these benefits.
My second point is that those who do need to avail of universal benefits are supposedly the wealthy. We need to compare the gross payments via social welfare to the take home pay, following deductions for tax and levies of those working. We need to put this objective information into the public domain for debate. This is a service that this House could do for people in general.
I ask that we consider holding a referendum on universal payments?
I was astonished to learn that a circular was supposed to have issued from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government to local councils imposing yet another cut. It was reported in today's Irish Independent that the Longford county manager confirmed that €1.3 million has been cut from his budget in the seventh month. Local authorities are already suffering under the crushing blow of reduced estimates and allocations in the past number of years.
It is astonishing that the Department would act in vengeance against local authorities which are being penalised as a result of people not paying their household charge. As the county manager pointed out last night, it is not that the local authorities which are neglectful in attempting to get people to pay. This will make it more difficult for local authorities to continue to provide the services that most people take for granted. It is only when services are no longer available, as will surely happen between now and the end of the year, that it will become apparent. With further cuts, the future services for those who rely on the local authority will deteriorate. It is shameful that this Government will now penalise local authorities which are cutting their cloth according to the current economic measure. This is outrageous. I hope the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government will come into the House in early September to outline his plans for the future funding of local government. Does he expect local authorities to collect each new tax he introduces? If people will not pay the tax, the local authorities will be penalised. That is shameful.
I concur with the views of my colleagues, Senators John Kelly, John Whelan and Jimmy Harte, on crime and the lawlessness on our streets. I too call for a debate on this issue in the autumn.
A number of years ago there was a raft of crime in rural Ireland. The Garda set up an operation to intercept the gangs leaving the capital and travelling to the west and the south. They stopped them very successfully. We need some similar action now. Senator Martin Conway mention the robbery of post offices. In my area, a criminal gang knocked out the electricity in a community and then proceeded to rob house after house while the people were in their own houses. This has put the fear of God into these people for the rest of their lives. This must stop. The Garda must take the initiative to make it stop.
I wish to raise cases that have come to my attention in respect of the payment of the carer's allowance. I am sure some of my colleagues have been acting on behalf of people during the past 14 months following election to the Seanad. The difficulty is that the goalposts are constantly being shifted by the Department. I call on the Leader to ask the Minister to do four specific things: to have a clear definition of the criteria for eligibility for and to be granted the carer's allowance; to have clear instructions on what medical evidence is needed from the outset to qualify for the carer's allowance; to have clear instructions on the responsibilities of the carer who is applying for the allowance; and to have a clear timeframe on the processing of these applications. What is happening is totally unacceptable. During the past 14 months I have been trying to follow up the case of man who is suffering from cancer and his partner applied for a carer's allowance to look after him. That is unacceptable.
I thank the Cathaoirleach, the Seanad staff and my colleagues for their forbearance with the novice Senators like myself.
On Tuesday, I called for a debate on poverty and the Leader replied that the Minister for Social Protection would attend the House to deal with the broad issues in her portfolio. I do not believe that will do justice to a debate on the causes of poverty, which I was seeking.
I call for this debate in the context of a number of published reports, the Social Justice Ireland report, the report of the Commission on Credit Unions, and a CSO report, all of which point to the growing gap between rich and poor. Many low-income households have less disposable income now than they had last year and in previous years. Yesterday, the IMF representative, Mr. Beaumont called for a re-examination of medical cards, and for child benefit and social welfare rates to be cut. These people have no grasp of reality and have no idea how these cuts would impact on the lowest income earners in this State. The gentleman who made that call yesterday should have been asked what he thinks is an acceptable rate. What level of cut would he apply to the social welfare rate? He should then have been asked if he could live on that amount of money.
A person on social welfare receives €188 a week. We are targeting the low paid and people on social welfare when cuts and adjustments are being made, but there is no call coming from the IMF on the higher earners.
I ask the Leader to contact the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation on the 253 former workers of the hops breweries in Dundalk and Kilkenny whose negotiations for proper redundancy packages has run into a brick wall? It is important that these workers get compensation from the very profitable Diageo. Will the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation intervene to ensure the workers get proper compensation?
During his address to the Seanad yesterday, the Taoiseach signalled significant progress on a number of fronts. I believe this augurs well for our Presidency of the EU and his leadership of it next year. In my view the most important issue he raised was breaking the vicious circle between banks and sovereigns. He negotiated this during the most recent summit. This is a significant achievement. I hope the Minister for Finance will be able to report on the detail of our further progress by October.
I agree fully with Senator Bacik's view on the banking inquiry that I referred to yesterday. I support her call to the Leader, that if matters have not been decided in the meantime, on our return we would immediately work on the terms of reference, the format and structure, how it should proceed and the timeframe. We could very usefully deal with the subject on resumption in early September, if it has not been decided in the meantime.
I support Senator Norris in his protest at the absence of the Order of Business on tomorrow's agenda. It should be a principle that we have an opportunity to discuss and adjudicate on the Order of Business every sitting day. That said, we are at the end of the term and I wish to compliment Senators on all sides of the House on what has been an excellent Seanad term. Indeed, the 24th Seanad is shaping up to be a very sound and successful one. In that regard, I wish to commend the Leader for arranging for the Taoiseach to be with us yesterday. It was an important and dignified event and was an opportunity for the Taoiseach to readjust his thinking on the merits of abolishing the Seanad.
I noticed an interesting manoeuvre by the Taoiseach when he said that the future of the Seanad is in the hands of the people, as if he, the poor innocent man, has nothing at all to do or say about it. Is he just going to throw out this idea about abolishing the Seanad like a wet fish on a plate and let the people make up their minds about it or is there going to be a Government position on it? Will I see my learned colleague from Kerry, Senator Paul Coghlan, going around knocking on doors in Killarney to put himself out of a job to which he is eminently suited?
The issue of the future of the Seanad was raised on numerous occasions by Members on the other side of the House. We decided not to raise it with the Taoiseach and felt it was proper that they should do so. I urge them to keep at it. I think the Taoiseach is for turning.
We are in the final seconds of the Order of Business for this term and tomorrow we go into recess.
After seven years of meticulous planning and preparation and an investment of approximately €11 billion, the games of the 30th Olympiad take place in London, commencing one week from tomorrow. The Olympic Games is an event that dominates the sporting landscape like no other event and for 16 days the world will be captivated by the extraordinary, brilliant and bizarre. Team Ireland will have 65 athletes represented in 14 different sports, which is a record level of participation for Ireland. That is a reflection of the wonderful investment that has been made by the taxpayer via the Irish Sports Council. I know for some athletes it has been a lifetime of preparation, dedication and focus. Some dreams will be realised but others will turn into nightmares. However, for some athletes, the difference between success and failure will be a matter of milliseconds. On the last day of this Seanad and as the only Olympian to have been invited to sit in this House, I feel it appropriate for me to wish Team Ireland the very best of luck in the Olympic Games.
It might also be appropriate, given that Liz and Casey have been invited to the Seanad, that the Leader consider inviting some or all of the members of Team Ireland to the House when we return in September. The young men and women who are representing Ireland represent the best of Ireland. They are good role models for the youth of Ireland and for all of the people of Ireland.
I congratulate the Leader for the innovative changes he has made in the Seanad this year, particularly inviting the public into the House as a precursor to the citizen's assembly. I wish to put it on the record that the Seanad has a lot to offer. We may be a House of the condemned in some peoples' eyes but I do not think so.
I wish to refer to children who are condemned into care. I started my career teaching children and I wish to mark my first year in the Seanad by drawing attention to the fact that 2,300 children were taken into care in 2011. The number of orders granted by the District Court last year rose to 2,287, which was an increase of 119% on 2010. If there was an increase of 119% in anything else, the heckles would go up. An increase of 119% in the number of children going into care is enormous. I obtained this information from the annual report of the Courts Service.
The increase in care orders may be due to the fact that 260 additional social workers have been appointed in the last year. In that context, I congratulate the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, on the work she is doing in her Department. I am seeking a debate on this issue which should also include child benefit, child care, preschool care and facilities for parents who, often through no fault of their own, cannot look after their children. I know this is a top priority for Deputy Fitzgerald but I would like a debate in this House on this issue. The number of children in care in 2010 was 5,727 and that number has increased to 6,282. Those children, through no fault of their own, are in care and we should be helping their families. I know the Minister is doing so but I want the issue included in an wide-ranging debate on child benefit, child care, preschool care and so forth. It is all very well to say that rich people get child benefit but over 60% of people in receipt of child benefit are receiving social welfare payments or disability allowance, including many single parents. I wish to see a proper debate on these matters, between ourselves and the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald.
It is not often that I agree with Senator Cullinane but I agree with much of what he said about the comments by the International Monetary Fund on State benefits. Senator Michael D'Arcy made a very good contribution, when he called for a conversation on how we spend and spread State payments and benefits. I appeal to the Leader to take his comments on board because we should have that conversation in the autumn.
We hear a lot of talk about taxing the wealthy but we must ask who the wealthy are in this country. The people who were wealthy seven or eight years ago are no longer wealthy. Many were small employers or sub-contractors who were not paid what they were owed by larger contractors. Now many have found that they are not entitled to any State benefits because they were not paying the correct PRSI contributions at that time. We must widen the debate about who the wealthy are and how we are spending our State benefits. There are certainly people receiving State benefits whose entitlement is questionable and perhaps their money should be targeted at the underprivileged and the disadvantaged. This conversation is important. At a time of scarce resources, we should be targeting the most vulnerable. I hope we will have that debate in the autumn as we approach the budget. It is important that this House has an input into shaping the budget and that the various Ministers would take on board comments made in this House.
I welcome our honeymoon friends, Liz and Casey, to the Chamber. Their presence set me thinking that the next time I want to sweep Mrs. Gilroy off her feet I might whisk her up here to the Visitors' Gallery so she can hear the romantic tones that often emanate from the Chamber.
I support Senator Eamonn Coghlan's call for an invitation to be extended to the Irish Olympians to come to the House in September.
Senator Thomas Byrne welcomed the pyrite report, which was raised yesterday by Senator Darragh O'Brien. We hope that, as a result of the report, many of the people affected by this issue will be facilitated. I admit this is long overdue but hopefully, now that we have the report, we will be in a position to act upon it. The Minister is taking steps to rectify the HSE budget deficit. He outlined a number of areas in which he intends to rectify it and the management has been informed that it must come within its budget. It is unusual for the other side of the House to request to have all Stages of a Bill taken together.
----- the format for the banking inquiry. Senators Paul Coghlan, Gilroy and others asked for such a debate. I will try to arrange that debate in the new session. As I outlined yesterday the Minister for Social Protection will come to the House for a two and a half hour debate. Many Members spoke about the universality of child benefit. Those issues can be raised with the Minister during that comprehensive debate, which should take place on 11 October.
I take on board what Senator Cullinane said and as I said to him yesterday if there is a need for a further debate on poverty perhaps we can have a debate on the reports he mentioned at a future date. We will need to have the Minister in for that also. Approximately ten Senators spoke on the issue this morning and I hope at least as many will contribute when the Minister is here for the debate on the issue on 11 October. We will have ample opportunity to discuss it. It will feed into the budgetary process and will be considerably more than we had in previous years. We hope to have many more such debates in October.
Senator van Turnhout expressed her concerns about the case she outlined. I will bring it to the attention of the relevant Minister. She also spoke about child benefit, as did many Members.
Senator Norris spoke about the Order of Business. Along with Senators Quinn and Mooney, he also raised the matter last week and Senator O'Sullivan mentioned it again. Early in the session I sat down with the group leaders and agreed that when sitting on Fridays we would not have an Order of Business. I am not sure if that was related to the Members of the various groups.
Last week when that question was raised by Senator Norris, I asked all Members of the House to let me know by e-mail or otherwise whether they wanted an Order of Business on Fridays. I did not get one e-mail. Seven people contacted me to say they did not want an Order of Business. I asked for the opinion of everybody in the House and that was the response I got. We will not have an Order of Business tomorrow if the House so decides when we vote on today's Order of Business. If a majority of the House wanted an Order of Business on Fridays I was quite willing to accede to that request.
Senator Norris also raised the desperate situation in Bulgaria where a bus-load of Israeli tourists were massacred, which was atrocious. We all send our sympathies to all involved in that despicable event. The Senator also called for an examination of the air ambulance service and suggested that it should be based in Athlone. I will certainly relay that request to the relevant Minister. It was raised in a better way than the way that Senator Leyden raised the issue, which was terrible.
I had a discussion with the energy regulator this morning. He is quite willing to come to the AV room in order to discuss the whole area with Members of the House and I will try to arrange that also.
Senator Kelly and several others also spoke about the security of rural post offices as well as the future of rural post offices and bank branches. For the banks it is a commercial decision. I know it has devastating effects on local communities to have bank branches and post offices closed. As regards security, I agree that every assistance should be given and protocols will need to be examined to secure our local post offices.
Senator Quinn spoke about the paper trail. We have repeatedly tried without success especially regarding the big brown envelopes, including the Order of Business and several other items. We still have them. I do not know what we need to do in order to rid ourselves of them, but we will continue to try.
I will try to arrange a debate early in the next session on genetically modified foods, which should be very interesting. I am sure there will be people on various sides of the fence in that regard.
Senator Healy Eames made a very important point about innovation and how we had a changed nation regarding waiting lists. I am sure the Minister for Health will accept any assistance in this regard. I am glad he is taking on board the points she has raised.
Senator Reilly spoke about charging people extra for inserting fadas on their texts. That is a matter we can raise. As I believe there are exceptions for other countries, there is no reason for that not to apply here also. I will raise the matter with the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte. Senator Harte also spoke about post offices and banks. Senator Wilson outlined the additional facts which he intends to bring to the attention of the Moriarty tribunal. Any additional facts which are available should be brought to the attention of the tribunal. The cost of tribunals has been debated in this House on many occasions and if there is a need for a further debate on the Mahon and Moriarty tribunals I will arrange it.
Senator Barrett spoke about fiscal responsibility. I note that he raised the issue on the Order of Business and the Bill was published in the afternoon. If only I could do that on every occasion, but I am delighted the Bill was published yesterday. I note his points about the IMF report.
Senator Whelan raised the matter of O'Connell Street and the safety of the streets of our capital city. This is a problem and it was raised by Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell and Senator Sheahan on the airwaves yesterday morning. I am informed that the Garda Síochána and the Garda Commissioner have been taking action to address this problem, not alone in the city centre of Dublin but also in the major cities, towns and rural areas. I will endeavour to have the Minister for Justice and Equality come to the House for a general debate on law and order and policing policies which many Members have requested.
Senator D'Arcy raised the issue of universal payments. We can have that comprehensive debate in the House on 11 October. I do not think there is any need for a referendum. Senator Mooney spoke about the cuts in the local authority budgets. I believe that more than 60% have paid the household charge and I urge everybody to pay the charge as it is the law of the land. The Government must manage the finances in the best way possible. We are still spending a lot more than what is being taken in. It is within our own power to address those problems. The Government is intent on getting the public finances back in proper order.
Senator Landy spoke about the carer's allowance. If he wishes me to raise that matter with the Minister I will do so but I am sure he will raise those points with the Minister when she comes to the House. He is correct that delays such as he has mentioned should not happen. I have addressed Senator Cullinane's request for a debate on poverty. We all agree that all workers should get their just entitlements. I note he has raised the matter of the brewery workers in Dundalk and their entitlements. Senator Coghlan agreed with Senator Bacik and others about the banking inquiry and we can have a debate on that issue in the new term.
Senator O'Sullivan raised the matter of the Order of Business and I have addressed it. I welcome his comments on the Seanad. Senator Eamonn Coghlan advised us that the Olympic Games will begin soon. I join with him in wishing team Ireland every success at the Olympics. We hope that all those athletes who have put so much work and effort into their training will fulfil their dreams in the coming weeks.
Senator Keane spoke about the increase of the number of children in care and she asked for a debate about the children's allowance and other issues and this debate will be arranged. Senator Mullen spoke on the same theme of State payments and he raised the plight of people whose small businesses have collapsed and who do not receive such payments. These matters can be taken in the same debate.
The Seanad Divided:
For the motion: 19 (Sean Barrett, David Cullinane, Mark Daly, Terry Leyden, Fiach MacConghail, Paschal Mooney, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Darragh O'Brien, Ned O'Sullivan, Averil Power, Feargal Quinn, Kathryn Reilly, Jillian van Turnhout, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson, Katherine Zappone)
Against the motion: 30 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Terry Brennan, Colm Burke, Deirdre Clune, Eamonn Coghlan, Paul Coghlan, Michael Comiskey, Martin Conway, Maurice Cummins, Jim D'Arcy, Michael 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, Michael Mullins, Catherine Noone, Susan O'Keeffe, Pat O'Neill, Tom Shehan, John Whelan)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O'Keeffe.
Amendment declared lost.
In light of the Leader's reply it would be inappropriate to put it to a vote. I do not consider it to be a scientific survey and we do not accept it as such, even as an opinion poll, but I accept that he has given an effective contrary argument, so it would be inappropriate to press it. However, I will seek to have it back before the House in the next session.