Thursday, 13 December 2012
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Health Insurance (Amendment) Bill 2012 - Second Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude no later than 1.45 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each, those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply to the debate no later than 1.35 p.m.; and No. 2, Houses of the Oireachtas Commission (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2012 - All Stages, to be taken at 1.45 p.m. and to conclude no later than 3 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, the Minister to be given five minutes to reply to the debate on Second Stage, and Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken immediately afterwards.
Business will be interrupted until 6.45 p.m., when the House shall sit for the purpose of taking a motion without debate for the earlier signature of the Credit Union Bill 2012 upon receipt of a message from Dáil Éireann that it has completed all Stages in that House.
We will not oppose the Order of Business but I have a number of points to make. Will the Leader on behalf of the House raise immediately with the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Gilmore, our concern about the investigation into the death of Mr. Finucane in Northern Ireland? This morning there are additional revelations and claims by a journalist, Mr. Ed Moloney, that he informed the Irish Government of these threats at the time and it in turn allegedly informed the British Government. That raises very serious questions and as a nation we should use all our power and connections, through consular movements in the world, to impress upon the British Government the need for a public inquiry in this regard. That is essential.
I appreciate that the Houses will be very busy in the run-up to the Christmas period but given developments during the night and throughout today in Brussels on the issue of a banking union, the matter should be debated in this House. In particular, we should know what implications this will have for our so-called special status. One wonders when and if there will be a deal on the promissory note or our banking debt as a whole. A Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, at the weekend claimed on television that the promissory note will not be paid. That would be welcome but it is important for us to debate the issues as the Irish people require some certainty about the future in that regard.
It is also important to note, in a week when we are to debate personal insolvency legislation in the House, there is still no measure in place to look after the people in mortgage arrears or give them some options or confidence in a process that an independent authority can oversee. Instead, the banks have absolute control, which is a major concern of ours about that legislation.
I know that next week we will debate the Social Welfare Bill, and I am thankful the Leader will make a substantial amount of time available for that. We appreciate it as that has not happened in the other House. The Labour Party chairman last evening tweeted that the die is cast; it may not be cast fully in the Dáil and it certainly has not been cast in this House. I appeal to all Members, particularly our Labour Party colleagues, to reflect over the weekend and take the opportunity to take the stand which the party's manifesto promised in advance of the last election, specifically regarding child benefit. There is also a very cynical cut to the respite grant.
As we prepare for those votes next week, we can consider how on 1 January the PRSI bill for somebody on ¤25,000 will increase by nearly 40% while the PRSI bill for somebody on ¤200,000 will go up by a mere 4%. How is that fair? It is simply not fair, and I ask Members to reflect on it over the weekend so that in this House at least, in contrast to the comments of the Labour Party chairman, Deputy Keaveney, the die will not be cast. I hope that Labour Party colleagues in particular will seize the opportunity afforded to them on behalf of the people next week.
I agree with the Senator on the revelations this morning that a journalist, Mr. Ed Moloney, provided. Any of us who heard the interview on "Morning Ireland" would have listened with real horror as he outlined very clearly the extent of knowledge that was not referred to in the de Silva report, which suggested that knowledge had come much later to the British authorities. There are very serious concerns which confirm the comments of the Tánaiste in the Dáil last night that the Government will continue to press for a public inquiry. As I noted in response to Senator Ó Murchú yesterday on the Order of Business, that remains the position of the Irish Government and that position is supported on a cross-party basis. It is also being pushed by the family of Pat Finucane and the need has been confirmed.
With regard to a banking debate, yesterday other colleagues sought such a debate in the new year. It would be worth having, particularly in the context of today's summit in Brussels. In January we might consider the issue, and there were a number of concerns raised yesterday. In particular, the former Director of Corporate Enforcement, Mr. Paul Appleby, made comments about the lack of prosecution of bankers in Ireland and the need to consider white collar crime issues. The matter should be examined.
We will discuss the Social Welfare Bill over three days next week and the Leader has given a good deal of time to it, as it requires. Many of us are very concerned about the cut in the respite care grant and the impact that will have on significant numbers of carers. What is required and has been sought by the Carers Association is an interdepartmental review of the provision of respite care. Having spoken to carers I know, for many the concern is not so much the grant but rather the provision of services in the area by the HSE. The grant comes from the Department of Social Protection but the service provision by the HSE can be very patchy across different areas, which can be a bigger problem in practice for many carers seeking to have the much-needed respite they deserve. In the new year we should consider a detailed survey of the reality of respite care provision across the country, examining where gaps are and how they can be addressed.
Yesterday I adopted the guise of the great Dean Jonathan Swift. That was possibly a tactical error as some of my colleagues believed I was posing as Shakespeare. The point I was making nevertheless remains relevant, that we must express our outrage as clearly, visibly and publicly as possible at the financial mess in which we now find ourselves. The issue is heightened by the fact that our masters in Europe have instructed us to ensure that people's houses can be taken from them. If anything calls for Swiftian irony, it is this kind of matter. Yesterday I expressed my hope that if the Government sends ¤3,000 million of our money, bled from us and without a vote of the Dáil, we should rise up in our hundreds of thousands and surround the Central Bank as a symbolic protest. I hope the unions will involve themselves in this.
I noted yesterday that a committee of the Oireachtas examined the controversial "The Frontline" programme. The media is inaccurate as I have not spoken about the presidential election; I have spoken about the behaviour of the media, although I have not complained about it. I do not currently propose to speak about the election, as I have a number of legal actions and it would be improper for me to do so. It would not be asking a great deal of the Oireachtas to examine the entire election, particularly media coverage, if there is courage to do so. The programme examined yesterday is but the tip of the iceberg. I am not impugning the election result and the Irish people can be very happy with it as we have a splendid Irish President. Nevertheless, the media process was corrupt and rotten. I would like my colleagues to have the courage to confront the issue, although I know they are cowed by the media when they are not performing or grandstanding for it. We should take a principled stand on this and act the way the British did, to a certain extent, with the Leveson inquiry.
With regard to the distinguished lawyer, Mr. Pat Finucane, it is extremely worrying that it is acknowledged by the Prime Minister of the neighbouring island that agents of the state were involved in moves that led to the murder of a citizen. I hope the matter will be taken very seriously. Mr. Moloney is a very considered journalist and his contribution makes it even more worrying. It appears our then Taoiseach, Mr. Charles Haughey, contacted the British authorities and probably the British Prime Minister to let them know that threats were being uttered with the connivance of the RUC against Mr. Finucane. We should stand firm and press for a public inquiry as no less is required and justified.
The report of Sir Desmond de Silva, QC, underlines the need for a public inquiry because it raises more questions than are answered in its pages.
-----in spite of its being, probably, the most difficult budget in the history of the country. No budget in the next number of years will be as difficult as this one. Great credit is due to all Deputies who stuck together and did the right thing by the country. History will judge the actions of the people who occupy the Houses of the Oireachtas at present, how they behave and how they respond to difficult pressurised situations.
That said, the Finance Bill provides an opportunity for the Government to make incremental changes to the budget if it is desirable to do so. No Government gets it right all the time. There are always things that could be done differently or improved upon. For example, there should be a universal social charge of 3% to 5% on salaries in excess of ¤80,000, increasing incrementally as salaries go up. That would give the Government scope to revisit other difficult areas.
I ask the Leader to bring the following suggestion to the attention of the Minister for Finance. The Budget Statement should be a summation of the deliberations and discussions of Parliament. I commend the Leader for facilitating a number of budget debates in the Seanad before this year's Budget Statement. That should be given a more formalised structure whereby the Dáil would debate the different headings of the budget in the six to eight week period before budget day. Decisions would, effectively, have been made by then and there would be no surprises in the Budget Statement. The Minister for Finance would, effectively, sum up the deliberations and discussions of Parliament, which should have a significant role to play in drafting budgets. It should not be left to the Executive. All Deputies, and indeed Senators, should play a role in identifying ways of improving the country.
On Tuesday, I raised the issue of SUSI and a student who had been suspended from Queens University Belfast. I resolved that issue. We often hear Senators saying they do not have much power or influence. I can tell them we have. It is a matter of using it.
There is confusion in the communication between SUSI and Queens University Belfast. The university has asked me to intervene, but that is a matter for the Minister. I thank the Minister's office for being so helpful. SUSI has also been helpful. One official, however, told me he could not communicate with me because that would breach the Data Protection Act. This was despite the fact that the student in question is my godson. Any public representative who makes representation does so in the interest of an individual. Communications between a public representative and a Department or agency should be exempt from data protection regulations. I put this to the office of the Minister for Education and Skills and I think they may resolve the matter.
I also thank Ms Orla Russell of Queens University Belfast. The good news is that the suspension has been lifted and the student is restored to his studies, as of this morning. As I raised this matter on Tuesday, I am grateful for the opportunity to thank all who influenced the situation, including the Leader and his staff.
I wish Senator Norris every success with his book which is doing well at present. Of course, former Senator Mary O'Rourke's book is also doing well. Senator Norris is a Member of the House. His book is unique and would make a wonderful Christmas present for family and friends.
It will be difficult to follow that one.
Senator MacSharry and his colleagues may have forgotten how difficult it is to be in Government and to try to govern responsibly, or perhaps they never knew.
The Labour Party is one third of the Government and not the whole Government.
The balance of power is exactly that. In the budget, the Government has managed to reduce the cuts in social protection by ¤150 million, not an insubstantial sum, and by another ¤150 million in the health budget. What has happened is exceptionally difficult but that achievement is worth noting.
We are sick and tired of being called the Government when we are one third of it but are working, in fact, as 50% of the Government.
I add my voice to those calling for a public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane. I pay tribute to his wife, Geraldine, for the dignity and fortitude she has shown over 23 years. She is still fighting the fight. She understands that the only way is to keep going. I am reminded of the recent Hillsborough revelations. I hope Mrs. Finucane and her family do not have to wait another 23 years, that a public inquiry will be granted and that whatever information is on this side of the Irish Sea will be made available to such an inquiry.
I support Senator Bacik's call for an interdepartmental review of the provision of respite care services. Observations have been made about how patchy they are. As we concentrate on the cuts to funding for respite care we forget about the provision of the care itself. Such a review might assist the targeting of the provision more accurately.
It is disingenuous an hypocritical of Government representatives in the House to commend themselves and talk about their courage and bravery in voting for an unfair and unjust budget while, in the same breath, saying how welcome an increase of 3% in the universal social charge on incomes over ¤80,000 would be. That provision was not in the budget. The Government had the opportunity to apply the increase but failed to do so. Instead, it cut child benefit, the respite grant and the back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance, and made all the other painful decisions that Labour and Fine Gael say were very tough. If they are genuine in their view that these higher taxes should be put in place, the time to do that is before the budget. It is disingenuous of Senators to commend their own bravery and courage but speak from two sides of their mouths and say they would have liked to increase tax on higher earners, when they failed to do so.
I support calls for a debate on the need for proper regulation of the banking sector. The failure of banking regulation, in this State and across Europe, led to the collapse of our banking system and to the huge debt that is on the shoulders of taxpayers of Ireland and Europe.
The failures of the European Central Bank were front and centre in this. We must be circumspect in giving more powers to the European Central Bank. Sinn Féin would support stronger and more robust supervision of our banks. We must remember, however, that the European Central Bank is the single most important impediment to this country getting a deal on our banking debt. I support the call for a debate on the banking situation, in this State and in Europe, early in the new year. It would be unreasonable to ask for the debate before the end of the year. We have only one sitting week before that.
We need to see the detail of what was agreed last night in Europe. Oireachtas Members need to have the opportunity to scrutinise what was agreed and how it will impact on the future of the banking sector in this State.
I also support the calls for a public inquiry into the death of Pat Finucane. No family should have to endure what Geraldine Finucane and her family have endured in having to wait all those years for the truth about what happened to her husband. It is incumbent on the Government to keep the pressure on the British Government to ensure a public inquiry is held without further delay.
As we agonise over and discuss the cuts many of us find unacceptable in the budget, it is incumbent on us to review on an ongoing basis where we are losing revenue, much of which is happening under our noses. We have discussed on many occasions illegal activity such as the illicit trade in tobacco. So far this year, 90 million cigarettes have been seized and confiscated by the Revenue. One in four cigarettes smoked in Ireland is illegal and this percentage is as high as 45% in some areas. This means a major revenue loss for the State. The sanctions imposed on those who are caught are inadequate. I call on the Leader to invite the Minister for Justice and Equality to the House early in January to discuss illegal activity and how systems can be put in place it. The fines regime needs to be reviewed. Fines as high as ¤10,000 need to be imposed on those who are caught. A clampdown on illegal trading at fairs and markets is also needed and, because much of this activity is carried out by highly organised criminals, there needs to be greater public awareness about the loss of revenue to the State and the serious health implications. Illegal cigarettes contain arsenic and other poisonous substances which are more lethal than the contents of normal cigarettes. Diesel laundering and the black economy also need to be addressed. We need to examine all means of increasing revenue in order that we can limit the impact of cutbacks on the most vulnerable in our society as we try to balance the budget in difficult times.
Pat Finucane was murdered by the British state and his death demands a full public inquiry. That the report leads to more questions than answers and leaves the family no better off in its understanding of the truth behind his murder tells us we need such an inquiry. The British Government signed the Weston Park Agreement, under which all cases involving murder and collusion by the British state and British forces were to be investigated. This has been done in every case except that of Pat Finucane. What has the British state to hide? We all know in our heart of hearts that he was killed at the behest, and with the knowledge, of senior members of the British establishment.
When a British Government signs up to an international agreement, one would hope it would abide by it. The Weston Park Agreement was signed by the Irish and British Governments and murders in which collusion was suspected were to be investigated. No Member would disagree with the implementation of an international agreement. The issue of "on the runs" is part of the agreement and, to date, only one person, Gerry McGeough, who supports the Good Friday Agreement, has been arrested, despite the number of people wanted for crimes in the North. This is bizarre considering there was collusion in many of the murders of nationalists in the North.
That is a concern to anyone who believes we need a resolution and to put the past behind us. As the British establishment continues to refuse to investigate itself, we can only draw one conclusion, which is Pat Finucane was murdered at the behest of, and with the approval of, senior people in the British Government.
Yesterday, Senator Ó Domhnaill made outlandishly outrageous allegations about the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA. Before Members speak on any matter in the House, particularly those relating to State institutions, they should at least make the proper checks. From what I have ascertained, no former HSBC official is employed by NAMA. He further alleged that of two former senior officials employed by NAMA-----
-----one had managed to have his company awarded a lucrative contract. This is totally untrue and unfounded. I remind Members that we have a duty, as legislators, to check the facts and to exercise more caution and less haste in levelling criticism such as this.
I support the calls, as I have done on a number of occasions previously, for an official inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane. That has been the consistent position of the Taoiseach and the Government as they have urged Prime Minister Cameron and his colleagues to hold such an inquiry. Ed Moloney reminded us on radio earlier of the issues that need to be addressed in an inquiry to put beyond all doubt established facts because we must deal only in facts.
I very much welcome the agreement reached yesterday by EU Finance Ministers. This is the first concrete step on the road to a banking union, which will be important for stability and for the currency. I wish the Taoiseach and his colleagues well today in further enhancing that agreement.
Contributions are rightly focused on the British Government's decision not to hold a public inquiry, which contravenes an all-party motion passed in these Houses in 2006. I compliment the Taoiseach on holding the line on that and he was supported by our party leader in the Dáil yesterday. I remind those who talk about a lack of balance that the revelation that 85% of loyalist killings of innocent people in Northern Ireland were the direct result of information provided by state forces is chilling. It also raises other issues enunciated by Eamon Mallie, the respected Northern Ireland journalist, during a radio programme on which I appeared with him last night. He said he believes this is only the tip of the iceberg and that it is almost certain there was state collusion in many of the atrocities attributed to one side in Northern Ireland and perhaps across the entire political and religious divide. It raises the question of how much UK collusion there was in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, the single greatest tragedy that happened as a result of the troubles on this island.
I call on the Leader to ensure the Government maintains its pressure on the British Government. A coalition spokesman is quoted in today's newspapers as stating, "It is a definite rift between the two countries. We enjoy a close relationship but there are some principles on which we must make a stand and this is one of them". I would not go so far as to suggest the report is a whitewash but considering the emotions stirred up by this in the Finucane family, it is understandable that this should be their reaction.
The revelations are chilling and I do not believe they have been absorbed by the general body politic here in the South of Ireland. It is important that the Government hold the line and now press again for further information to be provided by the UK Government on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. It is clear from the de Silva report that there is more evidence out there, given that widespread collusion was discovered. How was the de Silva review able to conclude that so many state representatives - police, army and the spooks in MI5 - were directly involved and running agents both in the republican and loyalist movements unless the British also know more about collusion in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings?
While it is not my style of politics, I have listened for the past seven or eight days to discussions on the budget. I did not open my mouth to speak on the budget. I took the time to look at the last two budgets of the previous Government and considered the facts as they were. All sides might call for debates on cuts to the carer's grants, the respite care etc. However, we need to consider what happened under the previous Government. I had thought they did not hear of respite care until last Wednesday's budget. It is useful to recall the cuts in the basic carer's grant made by the previous Government. The budget for 2011, introduced by the Fianna Fáil-led Government, made cuts to the carer's allowance and the carer's tax relief. It also cut the widow's pension.
I was not here but some of my colleagues were, including the Leader of the Opposition, who was in the other House when these were all agreed. The previous Government opted for across-the-board cuts to all payments. It underlines Fianna Fáil's utter hypocrisy.
I firmly believe there will be a public inquiry into the murder of Mr. Pat Finucane. This is because of the tenacity of the Finucane family and because the Pandora's box has been opened and the British State admits there was collusion in his murder. I find there is great generosity in the British media on this question. I also believe the Government is committed to pursuing the matter until there is a public inquiry. I do not believe it will be possible for the British Administration to continue to act as an honest broker internationally, pointing out the importance of the state in issues of human rights and fair play, because its credibility internationally will also suffer.
This morning I listened to a radio programme in which a British journalist pointed out that it was not just Mr. Pat Finucane, but other nationalist solicitors were also mentioned as possible targets. Death threats were made against them and they were not notified of that. From a number of contributions we have had from British journalists, it is also obvious that the names of the agents that are known publicly are at the lower end of the scale. There are bigger names up the political line who were also involved in this. It beggars belief that all of this was happening whether through the British intelligence service or its agents on the ground without people at a very high political level being aware of that. It just could not happen. That is one of the reasons the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, does not want witnesses brought before a public inquiry where they could be interrogated.
I understand how the Finucane family feels today. Of course, every other family would feel the same. However, we are dealing with one issue at the moment and it represents the tip of the iceberg. Considering the terrible times we had in Northern Ireland, it now transpires that a major part of what was happening at that time could be laid at the doorstep of the British State, which is frightening. We have raised the question of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and the same situation applies - we requested co-operation from Britain, but were refused. Is it acceptable that innocent people should be selected for murder with collusion by a state, in which we are to have confidence and with which we are to have co-operation? It is in the interests not only of human rights, the Finucane family and the future of this island, but it is also in the interest of the British Government to do the right thing and do it now. I support the Government statements made in the Dáil yesterday because I believe the Government feels as we do on this issue. It helped to underpin the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process. It expects more from the British Government - we might even say our partners in Britain - and we should get that quickly. I hope we will all support the Government in that regard.
I agree with the call for a public inquiry into this murder. As a member of the legal profession, I know that one of the roles in acting is to ensure that while the role of the people employed by the state, whether it is the police or the army, is to uphold the law from the point of view of the state, the role of the solicitor is to ensure that the state, itself, is upholding the law in the way it deals with prosecutions and in the way it deals with the arrest and charging of people for an alleged crime. The reality is that someone signed a death warrant for Mr. Pat Finucane. As a member of the legal profession, I find it appalling that this happened to someone who was acting in upholding that the state complied with all the legislation relating to prosecutions and making sure the courts acted in a proper manner in dealing with those prosecutions. It is outrageous that this occurred and that we do not have an open and public inquiry on the matter. I fully support the Government's demands. It should continue to demand that inquiry until it is held in a proper manner.
We are about to take up the Presidency of the European Union. Since I became a Member of this House I have frequently mentioned our role in the European Union. The Leader has indicated that there will be certain changes over the coming six months because of our Presidency. The European Commission has just published its programme for 2013. I suggest that we pick a number of items from that programme and have a debate on at least five or six of them so that we know what is planned for the next few years. I ask that the Leader bring forward that as part of the programme for us in this House in 2013.
I support the Taoiseach in his call for a full public and independent inquiry into the death of the solicitor, Mr. Pat Finucane. It seems as though the British Government is going around it every way and any way other than facing up to the truth. I am shocked by a statement in the de Silva report that he found there was no over-arching British state conspiracy to murder Mr. Finucane but that a series of positive actions by employees of the state "actively furthered and facilitated his murder", and that in the aftermath of the murder there was a relentless attempt to defeat the ends of justice. It is little wonder that the family are calling it a sham.
Last week in DCU I listened to the US Secretary of State, Mrs. Hillary Clinton, who is about to finish her term. She spoke about the role of her husband, former US President Clinton, in the North of Ireland and her own interest in it. She has since spoken about her interest in that area and her willingness to get involved. I was thinking of the impasse we are at in this inquiry. It would be quite useful to consider enlisting the support of Mrs Clinton as a peace broker in this matter. I call on the Taoiseach to talk to the British Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron, about enlisting the support of Mrs. Clinton to see whether we can move this on to a solution that is needed after 23 years.
I want to draw the attention of the Members of the House to an article in the front of today's Irish Examiner entitled, "HSE to restrict 20 most common surgeries", which states that access to hip replacements and skin operations will be restricted. I would be insistent that the Leader would ask the Minister to clarify for us, preferably in this House, exactly what is this change in policy. Apparently, in the State which has the smallest number of surgeons per head of population of any country in the western world and where, as a result, waiting lists balloon, there has been an increased demand for operations of approximately 22% over recent years. If one thinks this one through for a second, the HSE will decrease the demand by instructing general practitioners not to refer patients for surgeries which the general practitioners think they may need. This is as bizarre an idea as I have ever heard. One bureaucracy of the State, the HSE, is engaging another bureaucracy of the State, HIQA, to assess the appropriateness of surgeries which are referred by a small number of general practitioners to a tiny number of consultants in the country which has the longest waiting lists in the western world. This is crazy economics and crazy medicine. It is administration gone mad.
The surgeries they are talking about include the removal of skin lesions. I would remind the Members of this House that Ireland has become one of the leading countries in the world for skin cancer and malignant melanoma. The number of cases and the number of deaths doubled between 1998 and 2008 and likely will increase further. When general practitioners look at a spot and wonder whether they should refer it to a surgeon to be removed, they now will have their hands stilled by the bureaucrats who are telling them not to do it. We really need urgent clarification on this.
This is a far-reaching change in policy.
Let me add parenthetically, not apropos of this, that as someone who has been a frequent trenchant critic of the role the Provisional IRA and its Sinn Féin wing had in propagating the Northern Ireland conflict for 30-odd years beyond the Sunningdale Agreement because they thought they could be dumb enough to bomb the majority living in Northern Ireland into its point of view, I join the calls for a public inquiry into the depth of collusion in the death of Mr. Pat Finucane. For someone who has been an opponent of that terrorist position, it is important we know how dirty were the hands of those who in many cases we thought were less culpable in the entire problem.
The acting Leader of the Opposition, Senator MacSharry, and the majority of Members of the House raised the question of the murder of Mr. Pat Finucane, and rightly so, and referred to this morning's interview with Mr. Ed Moloney. The murder of Mr. Finucane was one of a number of cases which gave rise to allegations of collusion on the part of the security forces, and the British and Irish Governments agreed in 2001 to appoint a judge of international standing to investigate these cases. Judge Peter Cory recommended a public inquiry in five of those cases and, on foot of the recommendation, the Smithwick tribunal was established by resolutions of the Dáil and Seanad in 2005. The Smithwick tribunal, as the House will be aware, is concluding its work. It is a matter of public record that the Government disagrees strongly with the decision of the British Government last year not to conduct a public inquiry into the murder of Mr. Finucane, and that remains the position of the Government. While welcoming the apology from the British Prime Minister, the aim of the Government is to pursue what was agreed, that there would be a full public inquiry into the murder of Mr. Finucane. That is the unequivocal position. The Taoiseach relayed that to the British Prime Minister prior to him making the announcement in the House of Commons yesterday. The House can rest assured that the Government will continue to pursue the British Government to honour the agreements that were made on this issue a number of years ago. It is necessary for there be a public inquiry and for all the facts relating to the murder of Mr. Finucane to come out. The Government will pursue that matter.
Senator MacSharry also raised the banking debt and promissory notes and the Social Welfare Bill. There will be ample opportunity next week to discuss the Social Welfare Bill in the House. On the banking debt and promissory notes, which other Members raised, as soon as we are back I will try to arrange a debate on the question of banking and, hopefully, by that time we may have reached some agreement on the banking debt and the promissory notes. I am sure such agreement will be welcomed by every Member of the House when that happens. It is not a question of whether it will happen; it is a question of when it will happen.
Senator Bacik raised the respite care grant and the vital need for a thorough examination of the health service plan on the provision of respite care. I agree with the Senator in that regard.
Senator Norris called for an investigation into the conduct of the media during the Presidential election and other issues. It is a matter the Senator should raise with the Oireachtas joint committee that is dealing with that. The committee may decide to hold an investigation into it. That should be the forum for such an investigation.
I note Senator Conway's comments on the budgetary process. We will see what we can do in that regard.
I am glad to note that Senator Leyden sorted out the student grant for the student whom he mentioned on Tuesday last. Of course, I do not know whether the Senator has received fees from Senator Norris for the promotion of his wonderful book.
In response to Senator Cullinane, I think I addressed the points on the budget. The Social Welfare Bill will be discussed next week.
Senator Michael Mullins raised the illegal importation of cigarettes and having the penalties fit these crimes. It is a matter which has been raised with the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter.
We need to have debates with the Minister and I shall arrange one for early in the new year.
Senator Paul Coghlan referred to allegations made by a Member of the House in regard to NAMA. He asked that people would check their facts first and I am sure everybody agrees with his request.
Senator Colm Burke mentioned the Presidency of the EU for the next six months and that the Commission's work programme has been published. As the House is aware, I sought extra resources for us in order that we could deal with the work programme and select a number of items from it. While we have not been granted the resources, I still intend to arrange a debate on the work programme and to select a number of items for discussion. We must inform ourselves and we will have to reach an agreement. If the resources will not be provided we will have to provide them ourselves and I shall see what I can do in that regard. I have invited the MEPs to address the House during the Presidency, and I am confident a number of commissioners will also attend. European affairs will have a greater hearing in the House over the next six months.
Senator Crown referred to a proposed change announced in a newspaper. However, Members should not believe everything they read in the newspapers. If the announcement is true, it is a serious situation which needs to be clarified by the Minister for Health. The message would interfere with the duties of GPs. It would be deplorable if such a missive were given to GPs urging them not to refer their patients to certain consultants. I am sure the Minister will clarify the matter. He will be in the House later and perhaps he will clarify the matter during the debate. I have covered the majority of items raised.