Tuesday, 26 February 2013
Order of Business
As the Order of Business is Nos. 1 to 13, inclusive, on the Order Paper, I asking for Members' co-operation in trying to conclude the Order of Business at 3 p.m., as the Minister is only available between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. Otherwise, she will not be able to attend until after St. Patrick's Day. I beg the House's indulgence in asking Members' to be brief when raising motions on the Order of Business.
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re the opt-in under Article 4 of Protocol No. 21 to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union to the readmission agreements with the Russian Federation, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, motion re the opt-in under Article 4 of Protocol No. 21 to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union to the readmission agreements with Georgia, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of No. 1; No. 3, motion re the opt-in under Article 4 of Protocol No. 21 to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union to the readmission agreements with Bosnia-Herzegovina, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of No. 2; No. 4, motion re the opt-in under Article 4 of Protocol No. 21 to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union to the readmission agreements with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of No. 3; No. 5, motion re the opt-in under Article 4 of Protocol No. 21 to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union to the readmission agreements with the Republic of Albania, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of No. 4; No. 6, motion re the opt-in under Article 4 of Protocol No. 21 to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union to the readmission agreements with the People's Republic of China, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of No. 5; No. 7, motion re the opt-in under Article 4 of Protocol No. 21 to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union to the readmission agreements with the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of No. 6; No. 8, motion re the opt-in under Article 4 of Protocol No. 21 to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union to the readmission agreements with the Republic of Serbia, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of No. 7; No. 9, motion re the opt-in under Article 4 of Protocol No. 21 to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union to the readmission agreements with the Republic of Moldova, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of No. 8; No. 10, motion re the opt-in under Article 4 of Protocol No. 21 to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union to the readmission agreements with the Republic of Montenegro, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of No. 9; No. 11, motion re the opt-in under Article 4 of Protocol No. 21 to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union to the readmission agreements with the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of No. 10; No. 12, statements on the advisory group on tax and social welfare's report on child and family income support, to be taken at 3 p.m. and to be adjourned no later than 4 p.m. with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed six minutes each; and No. 13, statements on Ireland's Presidency of the European Council, January-June 2013, to be taken at 4 p.m. and to conclude at no later than 5.30 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed six minutes each and all other Senators not to exceed three minutes.
We will not oppose the Order of Business as it is important that the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, is in today. We do not like having a shorter time for people to speak but it is what it is.
I ask the Leader to inquire of the Minister for Public Expenditure, Deputy Howlin, and the Taoiseach the full detail of the Croke Park deal. I know the final document has not yet been made available. One must welcome the indication that there will not be compulsory redundancies, although this is against a backdrop where we have already lost 30,000 people. We should not forget that either, as this has, regrettably, had an impact on front-line services in many instances.
Last night, the Minister of State at the Department confirmed on "Prime Time" that the deal would remove the anomaly for new entrant teachers in terms of a different salary scale for doing the same work. He also implied that because the Psychiatric Nurses Association of Ireland and the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation did not stay in the talks, the same concession was not being made available to newly qualified nurses. According to the Irish National Teachers Organisation website, new teacher entrants will begin a process of equalisation. How is this fair and how can the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, say we can do this for teachers but not for nurses? Is it the case that all people are equal - as we have said here many times - but some are more equal than others?
The Minister of State implied a deal would have been done if the nurses had stayed with the talks. Is that true? If it is true, it is a shocking revelation. If we are prepared to acknowledge that a proposal is unfair and is discriminatory, how can it be alleviated with the spin over the past couple of days? The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, asked people to swallow hard as this is the best deal that could be done and it is the last time the Government will go to the cupboard, however bare it is. How can this be said to nurses who will do 100% of the work with 80% of the pay?
It is unfair and the demeanour of the Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, last night was consistent with the arrogance portrayed by the Government. It indicates to nurses that if they do not play ball with the Government, it will walk over them. That is wrong, and I hope the Leader will ask the Taoiseach to immediately clarify that, at an absolute minimum, the nurses' position will be rectified post haste as the anomaly with teachers has been with this deal.
I am mindful of time constraints and the importance of having a debate on the Mangan report with the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton. I welcome, as I am sure we all do, the conclusion of the negotiations on what has been called "Croke Park II". None of us has seen the final terms of the document and there has been some misreporting of issues. Senator MacSharry has said it is very welcome that the compulsory redundancy issue is not in the final draft. It would be a good idea to have a period of reflection when we get an opportunity to see the terms of the agreement and what exactly is in it.
I welcome the Action Plan for Jobs published last week and which contains 333 specific actions for the Government aimed at generating more jobs. It is very important and a real priority for the Government.
In politics there are some promises that really must be kept. One of these is the promise of the Taoiseach to the late Mr. John Cunningham, former editor of the Connacht Tribune, when he said the shortfall in funding for the Galway Hospice Foundation would be addressed and there would be support for expansion. The commitment was given by the Taoiseach to the late Mr. Cunningham before his death in November 2011, and it was renewed by the Taoiseach some months later when he said:
In due course you can take it that John Cunningham's words meant a lot to me that night when I was out there (visiting John at the hospice) with Deputy Brian Walsh. I tend not to forget things like that. If you like, in a personal sense, to me, it was his last request and it is one that I would like to see we can stand over.
It is appropriate that I put that on the record because it is a matter of great concern to the Galway Hospice Foundation, the Cunningham family and others in Galway that there still has not been movement on this important and sensitive commitment. It is important that there would not be a cut in funding, as is feared, for Galway hospice this year. There is talk of a cut of between 1.6% and 5% but that must not happen. Galway hospice does a great deal of work. It has never received capital funding and it is being forced to draw on its own reserves. It does considerable funding of its own to cover its home-care services. Funding from the HSE, which amounts to 70% of it funding, covers its inpatient services. The hospice hopes to expand and it must be allowed to do that and not have to cut back. We should remember that hospice care saves the State a great deal in what it would otherwise have to spend caring for people in hospitals. I have no doubt that the Taoiseach was sincere when he made that commitment but it is important that he or his office would communicate with the Cunningham family and the hospice and that the Government's will would be made known to the HSE, through the Department of Health, in this instance because it is important that some promises be kept.
I am conscious of the time and I will postpone until tomorrow the other comment I was going to make.
I am also conscious of the time constraints and I will be brief. I would not like this day to pass without passing comment on the very moving tribute to Garda Adrian Donohoe at his month's mind mass in Dundalk last Sunday. I welcome the fresh appeal that is being made this afternoon by an assistant commissioner and superintendent Gerard Curley which I understand will focus on two new lines of inquiry. I also welcome the ¤50,000 reward that remains in place. I appeal again, as I believe everybody in the country would, for people with information to come forward as soon as possible.
I would like to express my solidarity with the people who are protesting outside the gates who work in the emergency services - the fire service, the ambulance service, medical people, nurses and so on. I would like if the Leader could request the Government to inform this House and the Irish people exactly how it expects people who are so hard-pressed already to find the money. They have been squeezed dry - there is no more blood left. I receive voluminous correspondence, in e-mail form, all the time from people who tell me that they are in the public service, they cannot pay their mortgages and that the next item will be their own and their children's food. What way are we looking after the country? The prime responsibility of the Government is to the welfare of the people. Are we going to be expected now to pick up the tab because the Italian people have been foolish enough to give Mr. Berlusconi sufficient support to cause the Italian Government to collapse. The stock exchange in Italy has collapsed today. Are we expected to pick up that as well as the bill for the German and French banks?
I am adding to my check list all the time - evictions, soup kitchens, hedge schools, rack-renting, informers and now the spy in the sky, which has come from the 19th century to the 21st century with George Orwell's big brother. I think it is time this Government was got rid of by the Irish people and we put in people who would put the people of Ireland first.
Ba mhaith liom tacú leis an méid a dúirt an Seanadóir Mullins maidir le hOspís na Gaillimhe agus an tacaíocht atá ag teastáil ansin. We need to have a debate as soon as possible on what transpired over the weekend, last night and the night before on the Croke Park agreement. These negotiations were a golden opportunity to finally tackle the inequity in the public service where people at the top end of the scale are on huge wages in comparison with their counterparts across Europe. This deal has been cobbled together and is again hitting those on lower and middle incomes. It is no surprise that the CPSU, the INMO, the IMO and UNITE walked out of the talks when front-line workers are being disproportionately targeted. Nurses, gardaí and firefighters, as has been said, are essential.
It is imperative that we have a debate on this issue as soon as possible and find a more reasoned way of approaching public sector pay which will treat these workers fairly.
We know that repairing the national finances requires us to address the two problems of debt and public pay. I commend the Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform on showing no lack of effort in that regard. There remains, however, the problem of ensuring efficiency in public expenditure.
Last week, the Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Mr. Robert Watt, told the Committee of Public Accounts that ¤30 million has been wasted on stalled transport projects in the Dublin area and the entire expenditure on projects that have never been discussed here or subjected to independent cost benefit analysis is ¤227.8 million.
We need to have proper appraisals of capital projects, not prepared by the promoters but published independently at least a year beforehand and debated in Parliament. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, to the House to lay down criteria to prevent a recurrence of hundreds of millions of euro being wasted on projects with which we are not going to proceed.
I realise the restraint on time, but it would be remiss of me not to commend the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, my nominating body on the labour panel for election to the Seanad, on its responsible contribution to the recent Croke Park talks. I congratulate the chairman of the ICTU public services committee on his very clear, precise and informative interview on national radio this morning. It was very fair, and a clear synopsis of the Croke Park discussions over the weekend. I commend him and congratulate him.
I thank Members for their help in having the Order of Business conclude at 3 p.m.
Senator MacSharry referred to the "Croke Park II" agreement, as it is being called. The Labour Relations Commission document will become available to the Government, the trade unions and everyone else involved only today. People need time and space to go through it. The least we can expect is that people be given time to digest what is in the document.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh mentioned people at the top of the salary scale not being tackled. We can go into that matter on another day when we have a debate. The trade unions need time and space to examine the document. When they have decided what to do, we can have a debate on the document in the House.
Senator Bacik spoke about the action plan for jobs. That comprehensive document was issued last week. We will try to arrange a debate with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, on the document in early course.
Senator Mullen raised a specific item relating to the Galway Hospice Foundation. I suggest that he seek to raise that matter on the Adjournment of the House when he can hear the exact up-to-date position from the Minister.
Senator Moran referred to Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe. We all join in the appeal for people to come forward and give the Garda any information they might have on the brutal murder of the detective garda.
Senator Norris mentioned people in the emergency services who, obviously, do a tremendous job. However, the country is spending ¤12 billion more than we are taking in and the Government must address that problem in the fairest way possible.
The people will have their say in three years time as to whether the Government has done well or not. That, thankfully, is the democracy in which we live.
We can have a debate on the Labour Relations Commission document, which was raised by Senator Ó Clochartaigh, when the trade unions have examined it and made their position clear on it.
Senator Barrett raised the matter of efficiency in public expenditure and proper appraisal of capital projects, some of which are not going ahead in the transport area. I will certainly raise that issue with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, with a view to having him come to the House to discuss the matter.
Senator Terry Brennan complimented ICTU on its endeavours with the Labour Relations Commission.