Wednesday, 5 December 2012
Order of Business.
The Order of Business is No. 1, Private Members' business, Statute of Limitations (Amendment)(Home Remediation-Pyrite) Bill 2012 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude no later than 1.45 p.m.; No. 2, statements on Budget 2013, to be taken at 5.30 p.m. and to conclude no later than 7.30 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be called upon to reply no later than 7.20 p.m.; and No. 5, Personal Insolvency Bill 2012 - Committee Stage (Resumed), to be taken at 7.30 p.m.
This is an important day, given that the budget for next year is due to be introduced. We will have two hours to discuss the budget later in the day. I hope the Government will take the opportunity afforded by the budget to reverse the cuts to the home help service it introduced this year. I also hope it will live up to the commitments it made in the programme for Government. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, will have the opportunity later today to indicate in clear terms that he wants to protect the least well off, the disabled and the infirm. I hope the Government will take the opportunities to which I refer but we will discuss that matter later.
Will the Deputy Leader arrange a debate in due course in respect of the resourcing of An Bord Pleanála? I make this request because I have become aware of a number of shovel-ready projects in Dublin in respect of which finance is available but which have been delayed because they are before An Bord Pleanála. I accept that this is through no fault of the staff of An Bord Pleanála. I am of the view that we must give consideration to the overall resourcing relating to this organisation. There are two projects of which I am aware where there is a danger of the finance being withdrawn as a result of the objections of a single individual. Objections are fine and people are entitled to make them but An Bord Pleanála has extended its periods of consideration in respect of the projects to which I refer. I am sure there are similar projects throughout the country which could give rise to job creation and attract investment in these very difficult economic times.
Will the Deputy Leader arrange for a debate with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan - when he returns from abroad - in respect of this matter? Such a debate would allow the Minister to outline the plans he has to properly resource An Bord Pleanála. Everyone is aware that local authorities each have similar numbers of staff in their planning offices as were there when there was much more work to be done. How many of these staff could be transferred to An Bord Pleanála in order to try to expedite planning decisions? I am concerned that we will lose a number of quite significant projects as a result of delays within An Bord Pleanála. It would be worthwhile discussing this matter, particularly if it assists in getting projects off the ground and attracting investment to towns and cities throughout the country. This is a serious matter of which, I am sure, colleagues have been made aware.
Will the Deputy Leader arrange a debate in respect of palliative care as soon as possible? I have made requests to the Leader on four different occasions in respect of the holding of such a debate. Many Members met representatives from the One Day More group in July and I was given a commitment immediately after that meeting that a proper debate would be held in respect of this matter. It is very important that such a debate should take place. I would like a debate on palliative care to be scheduled before the end of the current term.
On the day that is in it, I wish Ministers and Members well. I am sure the hallmark of the budget will be fairness and the latter is certainly the aim and intention. I hope Members will not be feeling too much below par later in the day.
I will withhold my comments on the budget until we discover what it contains and whether all the reports relating to it have been accurate.
I echo Senator Darragh O'Brien's call for a debate on palliative care. This is an issue I have also raised on several occasions. I will do whatever is required in order to ensure that the debate is held at the earliest opportunity.
I wish to request a debate on the proposed new child and family support agency. When created, this will be the second largest agency in the State and it will have the potential to impact on the lives of all children in Ireland. I am extremely concerned by the fact that the report of the relevant task force into the agency was published in July. I have requested a debate on this and other issues relating to children on a number of occasions. I am of the view that this is a particularly pressing matter. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs is supposed to introduce a Bill to facilitate the establishment of the agency, which was due to be in place by 1 January next. In order to facilitate a debate on this matter, I took the opportunity this morning to write to the Cathaoirleach and suggest the names of three people who could be invited to address the House on the proposed new child and family support agency. Even if the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs is not available, the Seanad should proceed to engage in a debate on this matter. This agency is too important and we should not be obliged to await the publication of the Bill before engaging in a discussion on it. As already stated, a report has been produced in respect of what will be the second largest agency in the State. Regardless of whether it is resources or children's lives, we should engage in a debate on this matter at the very earliest opportunity.
This is a very important day. I am afraid that it is going to be a rather dark day. I listened with interest to the comments of the chairman of the Labour Party on radio earlier this morning. He stated that the past three budgets were unfair and that this one will be no different. Given that this comes from a significant person within the Government, we should know what to expect.
As an ordinary citizen, I am of the view that the populace is going to be hit by ¤3.1 billion in cuts later today. Those cuts will take effect in January, February and March, which is when the pain will really be felt. In March, we are going to pay some ¤3.1 billion to the corrupt descendant of the former Anglo Irish Bank. That is exactly the same amount as the cuts to be made in the budget. The sums in this regard are easy. Why are we paying these people off? The money in question is just going to be put into an incinerator. It will simply disappear but the people of Ireland will be left to pay the bill. I call on the Government to refuse to accept the debt to which I refer in the new year and to adjust the budget accordingly.
Each day Members highlight the effect of the cuts that have already been introduced. Today I wish to outline the position of St. Brigid's day nursery which is located in Mountjoy Square, close to my home. This nursery, which was founded in 1940, accommodates children who live in the north inner city, particularly those who have been referred by social agencies and social workers, speech therapists, etc. Its funding has been cut back by 47% and it has been informed that there may be a further cut which may be backdated. It is facilities such as this one and other like it which the cuts to which I referred earlier really hurt.
Many Members have raised the issue of the pilot training scheme. The Joint Committee on Transport and Communications gave an undertaking to the parents of the young people involved that it would have an inquiry into the matter. The committee got publicity for this announcement but now it has reneged on that undertaking. The committee members gave the commitment in public and turned their backs on it in private. That kind of behaviour brings the profession of politics into disrepute. I do not look forward to today's announcements. We will have an opportunity to say a few words about it later this evening but I do not imagine people will pay much attention. I think it astonishing that in a country which prides itself, correctly, on its volunteering spirit, people are withdrawn from the support of social welfare if they volunteer. Surely that should be looked at in the budget.
Members are probably aware that a UN conference on climate is taking place in Doha. One of the comments of the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, was that climate change poses a threat to the survival of mankind. I note that 230 people are presumed dead this week in the Philippines. While we are currently involved with the budget, I ask the Leader to arrange a debate early in the new year on the measures being taken by Ireland to address climate change. I am familiar with the foresight programme which is being developed by Teagasc. This is a measure to prepare the agriculture sector for what faces us. We need to be well briefed and well informed about this issue. Climate change is not just about buying salt for icy driveways or clamps for walking on icy footpaths or sexy wellingtons; there is much more at stake. I travelled through the south east of England recently where a proportion of agricultural land has been flooded. Climate change is a serious issue which we should debate in the new year.
We will have an opportunity to speak on the budget later today. I refer to a serious allegation on the front page of today's edition of The Irish Times. Once again it relates to the primary care centres and, in particular, ministerial involvement in that process. The Tánaiste informed the other House that following investigations he was quite confident there was no ministerial involvement in that process. According to the report in The Irish Times, the constituency office of the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, was in very close contact with him on this issue. The newspaper report raises serious questions. If the front page report is accurate it would seem to suggest that either the Tánaiste lied to the Dáil on this issue or, at best, he was himself misled.
Notwithstanding the budget debates which will take place over the coming days, the drip-feed of information with regard to this issue is continually damaging to public confidence - whatever little bit remains - in the running of our health service. I ask the Leader to make a statement on this matter tomorrow so that we can put this issue to bed once and for all. I particularly ask Labour Party colleagues on the other side to ensure that happens.
I am sure the printers are working on the Minister's budget speech. I hope that despite reports in the newspapers about all the budgetary issues that members of the Labour Party might reflect on their election manifesto and posters-----
I support calls from the Leader of the Opposition for a debate on the future of An Bord Pleanála. There has been no alteration to An Bord Pleanála's terms and conditions in a very long time. The organisation does quite good work but it could be managed a lot better. The time allowed for appeals to the board is extended on a regular basis and this is very unprofessional in my view. There should be a set time period and An Bord Pleanála should stick to it. Similarly, it would be appropriate that a time moratorium be imposed on senior officials from An Bord Pleanála to prevent them engaging as planning consultants and making submissions to the board. It is inappropriate that highly-placed senior officials and board members, when they leave, can within a reasonably short period of time, engage in advising and preparing submissions to the board. They have a distinct advantage, because of their former association with the board, in procuring and securing work. We need to re-examine the code of ethics surrounding An Bord Pleanála. A debate in the House in the first instance would be appropriate as would new legislation, if necessary. The current planning environment is completely different to what it was five to ten years ago. The board of final appeal needs to be straightened out and brought up to public expectations.
An Bord Pleanála has carried out oral hearings about an application by Clare County Council to build a new pier at Doolin in north Clare. I call on the board to expedite its decision because the people in north Clare and the Aran Islands need the connectivity between those two locations as a matter of urgency. The Department has provided the funding but the whole project has been delayed unnecessarily in my view.
I agree with previous speakers that today is an important day for the people of this State and for the Government. I sincerely hope that today is the day the Government changes course and adopts different policies. I hope it will adopt a position of fairness and that this will be the hallmark of the budget. Many families are struggling and many are paralysed with fear about what the budget might hold. They will be looking to all legislators - all 166 Deputies and 60 Senators - to fairly and properly scrutinise and debate the budget. How is it possible for this House to do that with an allocation of 120 minutes debating time? The Minister will take up ten minutes of that time resulting in 110 minutes of debate, less than two minutes per Senator. It means that fewer than one fifth of the Members of this House will have an opportunity to speak. This is outrageous at a time when people are looking for leadership. We may have disagreements about the tough decisions to be made. However, we are not even allowing for a proper debate. Two hours is not good enough. We are doing an injustice to the people of this State by scheduling only two hours.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that at least four hours' debate be ordered. I will listen to what the Deputy Leader has to say but in my view it is outrageous that not all Members will have an opportunity to speak. We are giving over so little time to what is the biggest issue facing the people of this State today and for the next number of months and years.
I ask the Deputy Leader to agree to allocate more time for today's budget contributions.
-----will be taken by the House. I want to speak in the same vein as the Leader of the Opposition, with regard to planning. I note there will be a debate on pyrite today and I look forward to engaging with Senator O'Brien on that issue.
I ask the Deputy Leader to question the Minister on the issue of enforcement of planning regulations.
A trend is developing in local authorities where innocent citizens who have their lives turned upside down by illegal developments have little recourse to get the local authority to use the enforcement legislation to prevent such developments going ahead. In many cases the innocent Joe public is required to seek an injunction or a judicial review - two subjects about which most people know very little. An excuse during the building boom was that there were not sufficient enforcement staff. I invite the Leader to ask the Minister to introduce clear guidelines and protocols to respond to complaints and inquiries from citizens on illegal developments to ensure they are not completed when the only option for the concerned citizens would be to go the courts to have the developments stopped or taken down.
All I have to say about the budget is that, like others, I have been lobbied intensively by various sectoral and interest groups who are worried about cutbacks. Yet, it appears to me that one of the groups facing the most radical cutbacks, in terms of expenses, is ourselves. Perhaps it is time we started to lobby for ourselves and stopped running away from media pressure and to have the courage to stand up for ourselves. I foresee a day when only very wealthy people will be able to take their place in parliament, that is not democracy.
I expressed concern previously in regard to the timescale for the report of the boundary commission for local elections. There is growing concern about the issue. The previous Dáil took more than two years to bring forward its report. Given that in each Dáil constituency there are four to six electoral areas to be considered, there is a serious crunching on time. I ask that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, come to the House with an interim report on progress on the boundary commission. Unlike in the old days when a Minister could order local elections to be deferred for a year, that would now be a matter for a constitutional referendum and I am sure nobody would look forward to yet another referendum.
I call for a debate on gang criminality in major urban centres, particularly Dublin. There is no doubt Dublin is beginning to resemble the Chicago of Al Capone's time with shootings every second day. I am not so concerned about criminals shooting themselves, which is regrettable, but I am concerned at the images going out from the capital city and the "Love-Hate" programme, which does not glamorise the thugs, is getting an image for Dublin based on that criminality. Whether the Garda need more powers is a matter for debate. Frankly, the image of the capital city is diminishing rapidly.
Like other speakers, I am glad it is budget day because there is a good deal of fear, much of which is stoked up by the media and politicians. I hope the budget will be fair and that those who can afford to pay more will be asked to do so. There is a huge gap between income and expenditure, not including the bank debt. I wish the solutions were as simple as those put forward by Senator David Norris in respect of the bank debt. Some 18 months ago the people gave Fine Gael and the Labour Party a mandate to fix a badly broken economy following ten years of mismanagement and excessive spending. All Government Deputies must show solidarity and unity of purpose as we act in the national interest. Some recent utterances from Deputies, who are not in the Cabinet, are most unhelpful. When the budget furore has died down, I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the jobs potential in the restaurant and hospitality industry as The Gathering will bring large numbers of people to Ireland in 2013. Recently I attended a presentation by the Restaurants Association of Ireland which highlighted a major shortage of chefs. It claims it has the potential to create 1,000 apprenticeships and many other jobs in the hospitality industry. Recently the association submitted a proposal to train 220 chefs and had 140 jobs available immediately. It offered to train the chefs for half what it costs in some of the colleges and had the facilities to do so but the proposal was rejected. Any opportunity to create employment, particularly in an industry that has been on its knees for some time and which may see a revival, should be discussed and I ask the Leader to arrange for a debate in the near future.
I am concerned about the length of time it takes to get anything done in the State, particularly in Government areas. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, was in the House some months ago and said that before he came to office, provision was made for the introduction of a post code system. To the best of my knowledge that has not happened, at least I have not seen anything. He was complaining about the time it took to get that done. I do not know the reason for the delay but it appears we are going to spend ¤15 million on it.
The Construction Contracts Bill, in which I took a particular interest, passed Second Stage a long time ago and finished in the Lower House 18 months ago. It has not got any further than Second Stage in the other House, more than 900 days since it was passed in this House. I cannot figure out what prevents things from happening. The Construction Contracts Bill is important from the jobs point of view. It is not as though it is being put on the long finger because it is not important. The subcontractors who have not been paid recently in at least two large developments in the south are waiting for the legislation. If it means sitting longer hours to get this work done, whether here or in the other House, let us do that and ensure urgency in some of the State concerns.
I have noticed in recent days that some commentators in the House and a Deputy who was on radio this morning demonstrated a lack of understanding of the financial position. Despite their lack of understanding, it does not prevent them from making authoritative-sounding pronouncements. Some commentators suggest that if we do not pay the promissory notes next year there will be no need for a stringent budget. That is either patently untrue or demonstrates a lack of understanding or a lack of honesty. Whether we pay the promissory notes has no bearing on the fact that we must close the fiscal deficit by ¤3.5 billion as agreed by all parties. The mechanism by which it is done is the budget. Those who say there is a link between the promissory notes and the budget demonstrates a lack of understanding or a lack of honesty. I call for a debate on the debt strategy in the near future.
I agree with Senator Gilory on the need for that debate. On the issue of the promissory notes we need a write-down or co-operation from the European Central Bank.
In regard to the budget, the property tax will be introduced. We have all listened to the media speculation on the valuation of properties.
However, two houses were sold in my county at auction over the past two weeks. One, a three-bedroom house in a prime location, sold for ¤20,000 and the other, a four-bedroom state-of-the-art house in Letterkenny, sold for ¤40,000. How will individuals calculate the valuation of their properties? It will be difficult but the bill, therefore, for the average house in County Donegal will be ¤40 and not what the Government says. It is a flawed time to bring in a property tax.
I agree with Senator Hayden's comments on the need for a debate on climate change, taking agriculture into account and our commitments under the Kyoto protocol. It is also sad to reflect on the fact that a Minister is waking up to 26o Celsius heat in Doha today while many families in Ireland are waking up to freezing conditions. I acknowledge the Minister is taking a hands-on approach in the discussions in Doha but we need to keep our eye on the ball. We need to examine what is important and not focus in an overbearing manner on international issues of that nature at a time our own people cannot afford to light a fire or put on the central heating.
I wish to again raise the issue of the sale of alcohol. The Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Alex White, has been in office for a number of months and I look forward to the development of his policy. I hope it is near completion at this stage because it is badly needed. Dr. Declan Bedford addressed the Irish Medical Organisation in the Royal College of Surgeons last week about the dangers of alcohol and the fact that Ireland is a nation of binge drinkers "with a dangerous ambivalence towards alcohol". That should ring true for many of us. He called for restrictions on the point of sale of alcohol and price controls. He also told delegates that we had more places in the country where alcohol is sold than shops to buy fruit, vegetables or milk. Time and again, we hear that the number of outlets where alcohol is for sale is at a dangerous level and it needs to be restricted. Minimum pricing is needed. A recent 10% increase in the minimum price of alcohol led to a significant decrease in consumption. Will the Deputy Leader ask the Minister of State about progress on the sale of alcohol Bill and the development of his policy in this regard and schedule an urgent debate on this issue? We need to address this. The Government will be two years in office in a number of months and it was promised that we would get to grips with this. I am concerned about the access young people have to alcohol.
Ba mhaith liom ceist iontach tromchúiseach a ardú ar maidin, ach i dtosach báire ba mhaith liom cuidiú leis an leasú ar an Riar Gnó atá molta ag mo chomhghleacaí, an Seanadóir Cullinane.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business. We have had a great deal of discussion about supporting business and attracting foreign direct investment but a startling report has been published by Transparency International, which says Ireland has suffered the sharpest fall in the corruption perception index in its history. It shows that our international reputation is that corruption is on the increase from a business perspective. The index is one of the most commonly used measures of political risk and it is used by credit risk agency, Standard & Poors, to assess the likelihood of sovereign debt default. Internationally, our reputation has not improved. The report says the poor result comes after a succession of political controversies. The Moriarty and Mahon tribunals published negative findings against politicians and business people. There was further controversy following the publication of the final Moriarty tribunal report when the Taoiseach shared a platform on Wall Street with Denis O'Brien.
The report says that Ireland's failure to hold people to account for wrongdoing is also having a negative impact on international perceptions of Ireland and little action appears to have been taken on foot of the publication of the final Moriarty tribunal report. Transparency International says that 45% of businesses have been deterred from investing in a country because of its reputation for corruption and Ireland could be losing ¤1 billion a year in FDI having slipped 11 places on the index. This is startling and worrying and we should have a debate on corruption in business, our international image and the effect this might have on our credit rating in the financial markets. I call on the Deputy Leader to arrange a debate with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation about what he is doing to improve Ireland's image in the business world in order that we can attract badly-needed investment and tackle the corruption of previous regimes which has not been tackled by this Government.
I support the call by several colleagues for an urgent debate on planning. I also support Senator Quinn's call regarding the Construction Contracts Bill which he introduced two years and eight months ago.
As spokesperson on tourism and sport, I welcome the announcement of the sports capital grant awards last weekend to various clubs throughout the country. Considering there were 2,200 applications seeking ¤230 million in funding, it was a difficult job to allocate the ¤27 million in grants. A further ¤3 million remains to be allocated. I welcome the allocation of ¤700,000 to various sporting organisations in my own county of Louth. As this was the first time in four years that grants were available, will the Deputy Leader ensure the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ring, continues to award these grants for the foreseeable future?
We also recall the statement by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport that not one red cent more would be put into our banks. He was correct. The Government did not put one more red cent into the banks but instead put in many billions of red cents. We know about broken promises and the posters erected prior to the election about protected child benefit. Tomorrow we will see how many members of the Labour Party will be able to defend the proposals they put to the people during the election campaign.
The property tax will be the big issue. Even former US President, Bill Clinton, said we have to resolve our mortgage problem but the introduction of a property tax-----
Will the Deputy Leader organise a debate on the repayment of the promissory notes? It will be repaid to our masters in Frankfurt, which the Labour Party said would not happen.
I refer to the issue of mortgage arrears. A total of 27% of mortgages have either been restructured or are in arrears. The property tax, which will be announced in the budget, will worsen the situation for many people. The fact that the Government parties have not tackled the issue means they should not bring in a property tax. They should not do so until they have resolved the mortgage issue.
Politicians should not suffer amnesia and what one says today should count tomorrow.
With regard to climate change, I support Senator Aideen Hayden. The Government has given a commitment and it is contained in the legislative programme for the climate change Bill in section G. I would support moving the measure forward, if we could, to section A. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government is in Doha on important business to discuss the climate change issue. We have the National Climate Change Strategy 2007-2012 which is due for renewal and I support that.
I wish to thank Fáilte Ireland from which I met a delegation yesterday. The body has given great support to me and the Leader of the Seanad, Senator Maurice Cummins because we shall bring over 200 MEPs and MPs to Ireland in 2013 for a conference on energy, its production and preservation. Senator Michael Mullins spoke about The Gathering earlier. I thank Fáilte Ireland and the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ring, for the support that they have given to the Seanad, in particular to the Leader and me in order to bring the conference to Ireland for 2013. It is pleasing to have a good national body and Senator Terry Brennan is the spokesperson here in the Seanad. It is worth expressing positive news on the record rather than all negative news.
There has been some comment on the budget and we shall know what it contains in the next four or five hours. I join with Members in saying that I hope that it will be underpinned by a couple of essential pillars. First, the element of fairness which was mentioned by a number of Senators on both sides of the House. I hope that the budget will reflect that the overloading of the workhorse has got to the stage now where working people, particularly in the private sector and small businesses, are finding it almost impossible to survive. There must be some respite for them in the budget.
I wish to comment on some of the leaks about the budget. It is a pity that certain areas that account for 80% of the expenditure has more or less been ring-fenced for protection. It is impossible for us to deal with our very severe problems if we ring-fence 80% of expenditure yet try to resolve the fiscal issues with just 20%. I thought that the Labour Party's requirement that people earning over ¤100,000 would pay extra tax, either through the PAYE system or through the universal service charge, was eminently sensible. It was also a central plank in the Fianna Fáil policy. Not too many politicians would stand up and say the following for fear of being unpopular. I thought that the suggestion made by Fine Gael of a 3% cut across all of the rates of social welfare was eminently sensible as it would be a small adjustment for people. I fear that the budget will impose major adjustments on some people who will not be able to survive them. That is my real concern.
If the Senator had listened to me he would know that I have mentioned that already. Waste should be the second plank. I recall that, pre-election and post-election, both Government parties wanted to target waste in the public sector.
Yes. The targeting of waste in the pubic sector was an essential priority but it has gone off the radar in the past two years since the Government came to power. I reckon that the ¤2 billion sum is a conservative figure and that, realistically, some ¤4 billion could be saved. It is outrageous the amount of money that is being wasted. Yesterday, there was a Supplementary Estimate for ¤360 million simply because the management of the health services were unable to manage their budget. Nobody in business would wait until October or November to discover an over expenditure and how to address the matter. They would say that it should be done in January or February and that once a person knows he or she has overspent during the first month or two of the year then he or she can adjust expenditure accordingly. We need professional management to operate the public service. Unfortunately, we do not have it.
It would be helpful to invite the Minister for Health to come to the House to explain and clarify his position on primary care centres once and for all. Ten days ago I was shocked to read on the front page of The Irish Times that Oranmore, where I live, was bumped off the list of primary health care centres. I sought an explanation for it and have been told that it was due to a lease, etc. Whatever it is, we need to know the facts. We need to hear the clear facts. We need transparency and we need to move on. We need to source ways to fund primary health care centres. We also need them to be located around the country if we are to move care provided by hospitals to the community. I ask the Deputy Leader to arrange the debate in the interests of transparency and moving on.
Today is budget day but I was delighted to read one good news story in The Irish Times on The Ireland Funds. I do not know if many Senators have read it. The organisation set up a young leaders programme to encourage people between the ages of 25 and 40 years to get involved in philanthropy. All of the facts show that this is the age group that has been most tackled and challenged by the recession. There are 500 young leaders in the country who have risen to the challenge and raised over ¤1 million this year alone. They thought of others and have given back. These are terrible times and we are experiencing doom and gloom yet there is so much positivity in our world. We need to bring positivity into the House more often.
I will finish on the following. I have asked the Leader to organise a public consultation on Change Nation and he agreed to do so. The meeting would bring solution makers to Ireland. Some of them attended a large conference here last year and earlier this year. I want us to invite them to the House to share some of their solutions with us, and ones that can solve our problems in terms of health and the economy. When will it happen?
I join with Senator Clune and agree with her comments on alcohol. I ask the Deputy Leader to invite the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Alex White, to come here to discuss the Bill, his policies, minimum pricing, point of sale issues and, in particular, the off-licence trade and the availability of alcohol as mentioned by the Senator. We cannot discuss the alcohol industry here enough and I am blue in the face mentioning it. We could have a useful debate on it in the new year when people will be in the humour for it.
In the context of the remarks on alcohol pricing, a report appeared in the media in the past few days that seems to have slipped under the radar. Gabriel Byrne, the actor and former cultural ambassador, experienced some difficulties due to his comments on The Gathering. He also made some comments to students in Dún Laoghaire a few days ago which are worthy of being repeated and are pertinent for a debate that I hope will take place. He described "Arthur's Day" as a marketing tool dreamed up by a marketing company. We raised the issue at a meeting of the British-Irish interparliamentary body with Guinness representatives in Glasgow some months back who, of course, justified it. Perhaps the Senators would unite in condemning the company now and well in advance of next year's so-called "Arthur's Day". Without putting a tooth in it, and I am putting the matter on the record because it was reported in the newspapers, the actor, Mr. Byrne, said that "Arthur's Day" was nothing more than an excuse for a "p... up" and he is right. His comments come at a time when we must deal with the most outrageous abuse of alcohol, particularly among the young.
I have just returned from a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications. I ask the Deputy Leader to arrange, some time in the New Year, for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, to come here to outline his strategic plan for the airports in the west of Ireland.
He made a decision on Shannon Airport that will have a severe and detrimental effect on Knock Airport and Kerry Regional Airport. I am a proud west of Ireland man and when I say the "west" I mean the area that stretches from Donegal to Kerry and covers half of the country. It is quite obvious that there is a systemic attempt being made by the Department to dismantle and deconstruct the excellent work that has been done by airport management to make Knock Airport viable. They have made it not so much a strategic asset but a valuable asset in terms of the social, economic and tourism development of the west and northwest of Ireland. The work is vitally important. The management of Knock Airport, despite their good relations with the officials in the Department, has been unable to engage with them on the Government's strategic plan.
Putting it bluntly, the Minister has, as the chairman of the Knock Airport authority, Liam Scollan, said, put Knock and Shannon airports into a 1,500 m race and given Shannon half a lead before the race even starts. These are fundamental issues which need to be addressed. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Leo Varadkar, must attend the House to debate this matter as the future of the west, from Donegal to Kerry, is at stake and we need to find out the Government's thinking in this regard.
Senator Darragh O'Brien struck a chord when he called for a debate on An Bord Pleanála and planning in general. It was supported by several other colleagues and is a good topic for a debate in the new year. On 6 February, the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, is scheduled to speak on housing and the private rented sector in the House. We might also cover planning issues in this debate given the concerns raised this morning.
Senator Darragh O'Brien, along with every other Member, said he would not speak about today's budget but mentioned it later on. There will be statements on the budget later. There is a general consensus on both sides of the House that the hallmark of this budget should be fairness. We all very much hope that this will be the case. Senator Darragh O'Brien also sought a debate on palliative care. The Leader had previously given a commitment on this and I will speak to him on it.
Senator Paul Coghlan again mentioned the budget and the need for fairness, a point which is generally agreed.
Senator van Turnhout called for a debate on the new child and family support agency. Previously, the Leader and I had given a commitment to have the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs attend the House after the children's rights referendum for a general debate on forthcoming children's rights legislation and child protection. I will speak to the Leader again about organising that debate early in the new year.
Senator Norris called for fairness in today's budget. Senator Hayden raised the issue of the UN climate conference in Doha and rightly pointed out how it is pertinent concerning the appalling tragedy that has occurred in the Philippines with 230 people presumed dead as a result of flash flooding with a school and an evacuation centre among the buildings that have been wiped out. This brings home the potential impact of climate change, particularly in developing countries. I agree we should have a debate in the new year on climate change. Colleagues will be aware that in 2007 I initiated the first climate protection Bill as a Private Members' Bill in the Seanad. Legislation in this area is a commitment in the programme for Government. It is important the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government attends the Doha conference on the UN framework convention on climate change, particularly as it will fall to the Irish EU Presidency to lead the EU's follow-up work on it in the first half of 2013.
In addition, Ireland is involved in a large number of meetings at Doha, apart from the main convention, working with the current EU Presidency of Cyprus, the Council secretariat and the Commission while conducting bilateral engagements with delegations from other parties. We are all very hopeful for an international agreement on climate change but we also need to move forward on our commitments at home.
Senator MacSharry raised the issue of primary care centres. The Leader previously gave a comprehensive answer on this issue.
I will speak with the Leader about this issue because it was also raised by Senator Healy Eames.
Senator Conway raised the matter of An Bord Pleanála's decision on a pier at Doolin and the Aran Islands. This might be a matter more suitable for the Adjournment.
Senator Cullinane proposed an amendment to the Order of Business seeking a longer debate tonight on the budget. We have allocated two hours. As the Senator is aware, we also have to resume Committee Stage of the Personal Insolvency Bill after these statements, so time is tight. I am also told that last year two hours was allocated for the debate on the budget but only 12 Senators contributed, most of them Government Senators.
Two hours is more than adequate and I cannot agree to this amendment.
Senator Gilroy, along with other colleagues, called for debates on banking policy and debt. We could have those in the new year, so if Members do not get to speak tonight, they will be able to contribute at a later date.
Senator Landy spoke on the need for the enforcement of planning regulations. This might be covered in the debate in the new year with the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan.
Senator O'Sullivan asked about the report on the boundaries for local elections. I understand that the commission is due to report at the end of March. He also raised the issue of gangland crime. I agree entirely with his concerns, particularly after yesterday's shooting in broad daylight in Clontarf. We might arrange a debate on crime and the approaches to gangland crime in the new year.
Senator Mullins asked for a debate on job potential in the restaurant and hospitality industry, a good idea especially in light of next year's The Gathering. He also raised the matter of the shortage of chefs and the potential for job creation in this area.
Senator Quinn raised the issue of the delay in the introduction of the post code system. I was not aware that that much money had already been spent on it. It is worth checking the reasons for the delay with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. He also raised the delay in the Construction Contracts Bill which has been raised as a matter on the Adjournment by Senators Higgins and Heffernan.
Senator Gilroy called for a debate on banking and debt strategy in the new year. This would be useful as it is often presumed there is a link between promissory notes and today's budget. This shows a lack of understanding when people make an automatic conflation of those two matters.
Senator Ó Domhnaill spoke about property tax and supported the proposal for a debate on climate change. Senator Clune spoke of the need for a debate on the sale of alcohol which was supported by Senator Noone. The Minister of State with responsibility for this area, Deputy Alex White, could attend the House on this matter in the new year. We had a debate with the former Minister, Deputy Shortall, but it would be worth having a debate with the Minister of State, Deputy White, to see where the proposals for legislation are at.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh called for a debate on corruption in light of today's Corruption Perceptions Index report. This would be useful and I commend the work of Transparency International in highlighting this issue. Again, it is another debate we could have in the new year. I am not sure who would be the appropriate Minister to take such a debate. It might be the Minister for Justice and Equality.
We had the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, in specifically on the Mahon tribunal and issues around corruption and planning. So, there are several different Departments which have responsibility in this area.
Senator Brennan raised the matter of sports capital grants which he might raise directly with the Minister of State with responsibility in this area, Deputy Ring. Senator Daly raised the promissory notes and displayed a certain amnesia through his comments on the property tax which Senator Keane pointed out. It is interesting that Fianna Fáil seems to conveniently forget it was in power when the troika came in and it signed over our economic sovereignty.
Senator Keane supported the call for a debate on climate change and giving a positive news story on a conference on energy in 2013 supported by Fáilte Ireland, a welcome and positive initiative.
Senator Walsh raised the budget, on which I have already spoken. Senator Healy Eames spoke about inviting Change Nation to discuss solutions and positive initiatives that can be taken in job creation, a call we all support.
I was not aware of Gabriel Byrne's comments about Arthur's Day but we would all share the concerns he expressed. The music element is important in this celebration and has made a contribution to cultural tourism. There is, however, a real concern over abuse of alcohol on the day itself. We will have a debate about the strategic plan for airports in the west with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport in the near future but I will raise it again with the Leader.
- Thomas Byrne
- David Cullinane
- Mark Daly
- Marc MacSharry
- Paschal Mooney
- RÃ³nÃ¡n Mullen
- David Norris
- Darragh O'Brien
- Ned O'Sullivan
- Trevor Ã“ Clochartaigh
- Brian Ã“ Domhnaill
- Averil Power
- Feargal Quinn
- Jillian van Turnhout
- Jim Walsh
- Mary White
- Diarmuid Wilson
- Katherine Zappone
- Ivana Bacik
- Terry Brennan
- Colm Burke
- Deirdre Clune
- Eamonn Coghlan
- Paul Coghlan
- Michael Comiskey
- Martin Conway
- Jim D'Arcy
- Michael D'Arcy
- John Gilroy
- Jimmy Harte
- Aideen Hayden
- Fidelma Healy Eames
- James Heffernan
- Imelda Henry
- Lorraine Higgins
- CaÃt Keane
- John Kelly
- Denis Landy
- Marie Maloney
- Tony Mulcahy
- Michael Mullins
- Catherine Noone
- Susan O'Keeffe
- Pat O'Neill
- Tom Shehan
- John Whelan