Wednesday, 20 March 2013
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Council Regulation No. 1346/2000 on insolvency proceedings, to be referred to the committee, without debate, at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, motion regarding Teagasc pig research, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1, without debate; No. 3, Finance Bill 2012 - Second Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2 and to conclude not later than 6.30 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed six minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply not later than 6.20 p.m.; and No. 30, Private Members' business, motion No. 10, to be taken at 6.30 p.m. and conclude not later than 8.30 p.m.
We will not oppose the Order the Business. I wish to raise two issues. I understand the Minister will be present for the debate on the Finance Bill and as there are very important measures in that Bill which all of us wish to discuss I do not want to use up the time. Notwithstanding that, it is important that the Minister come to the House to speak specifically on the implications of the deal in Cyprus which is worrying and sets a very dangerous precedent. One wonders about the talk of Labour's way or Frankfurt's way historically, when under the chairmanship of the Labour Party-Fine Gael Government we were happy for a European deal to be done which does not even burn bondholders, it burns depositors. What are the implications for Irish depositors in the future if this is the case?
This sets a precedent for Europe. What are the implications for the Italians, the Spanish and the Portuguese? What we have now is a further ramping up of the eurozone crisis in which there are implications for Russian investors and Cypriots are having to look east rather than west for a solution. Surely, that is not something we want set as a precedent during our Presidency of the EU. It is more akin to the works of Chavez, the Argentinians or other default nations than those of this country.
Another dangerous precedent being set is that under the Irish Presidency, there has been an insistence in these talks that corporation tax be increased from 10% to 12.5%. What are the implications of that for Ireland where the corporation tax is supposed to be ring-fenced? Can we have some clarity on these issues? A very concerning impression has been created about the eurozone crisis following a botched Cypriot deal which had more to do with placating the election-focused Angela Merkel than on finding an overall solution to the banking troubles of the European Union.
I ask that the Minister for Health be made available to the House at the earliest possible juncture. In the north west we have seen over the last week a senior consultant dermatologist break ranks to admit that he is dealing with waiting lists under which appointments for routine matters cannot be scheduled within three years in one instance and five years in Donegal. This is unacceptable at a time when moneys are supposed to have been made available to provide for consultants. The rebalancing exercise to help hospitals to break even towards the end of last year saw some moneys taken from larger hospitals and given to smaller ones. In Castlebar in the constituency of the Taoiseach and the Cathaoirleach, ¤10 million was provided. Among five hospitals in the north west this issue is at a critical juncture. The consultant in question has said that basic referrals from GPs and the prioritisation of same are now a lottery. I ask the Minister for Health to look to the north west and the financing of these hospitals where critical appointments to consultant posts for acute services have not been made. A consultant is now coming out to admit that the service is unsafe and cannot be managed because he will not be given the necessary resources. This is a very important issue and we will revisit it in the coming days if there is no response.
The Minister for Finance will come to the House this afternoon on Second Stage of the Finance Bill. Colleagues will raise the very worrying situation in Cyprus. The decision by the Cypriot Parliament sets down a marker that the people of Cyprus will not stand for the levy on depositors which was proposed. Senator MacSharry has placed undue emphasis on the Government. While it chairs the European Presidency, the Dutch finance Minister chairs the eurozone group of finance Ministers. I agree with Senator MacSharry, however, that a large part of the impetus for this particular deal and the levy on depositors originates in the concerns of the German electorate and Chancellor Angela Merkel's concerns about the forthcoming German election. It is the wrong way to plan any resolution to the eurozone crisis. Clearly, the deal must be renegotiated and better terms offered to Cyprus. The Cypriot finance Minister has travelled to Russia and there is a lack of clarity about the extent of investment from Russian depositors. Very different reports have emerged ranging from 20% to 50%.
Senator Norris says it is less than 18% which is what I had heard too, contrary to reports which suggest that half of deposits were from Russian investors. In fact, it is less than 20%. In any case, the idea of a levy on depositors was a step too far and the risk of contagion too great. I hope we will see a renegotiation of the deal.
I welcome the publication yesterday of a Bill to reform the courts by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter. It aims to provide for greater transparency in the way family law cases are decided. There has been far too much anecdotal evidence and speculation on the outcomes of family law cases. It will be useful to see some pattern or statistics on the outcomes of family law cases while preserving the anonymities of the parties.
I also welcome the publication yesterday of the Courts Bill by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Deputy Alan Shatter. This aims to provide for greater transparency in the way in which family cases are decided in the courts. There has been far too much anecdotal evidence and speculation about the outcomes of decisions in family law cases. While preserving the anonymity of parties to family law cases, it will be useful for us to see at least some pattern or statistics on the outcomes of these cases.
I will be asking for permission to publish a Civil Registration (Marriage Equality) Bill that I launched yesterday in Ashbourne in County Meath with Counsellor Eoin Holmes, the Labour Party candidate for the by-election. We would like to see that Bill on the Seanad Order Paper.
The death of our town centres is a continuing nightmare and it is happening before our eyes. Last week I spoke about retailers who represent 90,000 jobs in 4,000 family-run businesses. There are inconsistencies around the country in local authority business rates, parking rates, parking fines and the threat of clamping in town centres. This poses a real problem for these businesses because consumers drive to large out-of-town shopping malls where they can park for free and shop in giant multinational stores. After five austerity budgets our businesses are under threat. Will the Senators here today who come from different parts of the country think about their local authorities and come up with some solutions to create consistency, such as guidelines, free parking days, or a levy on parking in the out-of-town shopping malls.
I use the American word 'mall' because this trend started in America. Almost all of the Senators have visited America; they have certainly visited England and have seen the death of town centres and high streets there. That is what we are presiding over here. Most of the Senators will hopefully visit some part of Ireland over the Easter holiday. I was in Claremorris over the weekend, and drove through Roscommon. Our town centres are dying. I would like the Leader to include this subject in our upcoming debate on action for jobs and advise us when that will happen. Will he also advise us which Minister is responsible for this problem? Is it the Minister with responsibility for tourism? What will tourists see in Ireland if there are no town centres left? Will they see shopping malls outside towns and towns with tumbleweed rolling up and down the street and a few charity shops and bookies' premises? That is all that will be left in town centres but people have to pay to park there and place their bets. Should we invite in the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, or the Taoiseach? That may sound over-dramatic but these towns are the life and breath of Ireland.
As an honorary Cypriot I send a message of praise, congratulations and support to the courageous people of Cyprus. Brave little Cyprus, small as it is, is unique in standing up to the thugs and bully boys of the Eurocracy. We lay down and let them bulldoze all over us. Not one member of the Cypriot Parliament voted for this disgraceful thing. Our abolitionist Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, could not wait to get out and say that this was good for Europe, good for Cyprus, good for all of us.
That is rubbish. It is rotten and the morons in Europe do not have the wit to realise they have no strategy. They stagger from crisis to crisis, in dribs and drabs. They are responsible for the crisis in Cyprus because what they did to Greece, at the behest of those involved in international finance, triggered the crisis in Cyprus. We should address this issue with honesty. I could not believe my ears when I heard the Minister of State, Deputy Lucinda Creighton, on the wireless last night. She had the sheer effrontery to say the bank guarantee in Ireland had been introduced to protect small investors. That is an insult to people here and it is an outrage to have it said by a responsible person. We were told by the European Union, the IMF and the ECB that we could not name the bondholders, but I am glad I did so in this House. We certainly could not burn them because they were protected. In the same breath we were told the investors, the people who had put their savings into the bank, who were not gamblers, were supposed to be protected even more. Of course, the contagion will spread all over Europe. The penny still has not dropped.
Yes, I am. The system has cracked from top to bottom. Five years ago - please God someone will start to listen now - I started saying this and will now put it as simply as I can. The mistake being made is that all over Europe half-baked politicians, analysts and economists are saying we must preserve the system. Good governance starts with the welfare of the people and one then adjusts the system to the requirements-----
Will he accept that in raiding the National Pensions Reserve Fund, through the pension levy and the property tax they have their fingers in our pockets, just as they have in Cyprus? Do Members remember the advertisement in which someone was pickpocketing------
That is what they are doing. We lay down, but thank God for the Cypriots. They are courageous and a great little people and I am proud to have a house in that country. We have one person in this country of whom we can be proud, Mrs. Mary Robinson, in terms of what she has been elected to do.
I welcome the news about the CAP reform deal agreed last night. It is good news for all farmers. It has been in progress for two years or more and I congratulate the Minister on it. There will be a redistribution of funds from farmers in receipt of very high payments to those with lower payments. This is welcome because we all know farmers who are struggling as in recent years they have been in receipt of low or no payments. I also welcome the news for younger farmers who will be able to receive a top-up payment. That will encourage more of the young people in agri-colleges to enter the business of farming.
Like previous speakers, I welcome the news about the CAP deal entered into by the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, whom I congratulate, although the CAP budget is to be reduced. It is the first time that the budget has been reduced. Having said that, I am concerned about the divergent statements on what the new CAP proposals will mean from the president of the IFA, Mr. John Bryan, and the Minister. If my colleague, Senator Michael Comiskey, is correct, I welcome the redistribution of CAP funding to prevent the continuation of the status quo, whereby 2,000 farmers receive the same amount of money as 52,000 others on the lowest payments.
There are deep concerns about how the flexibility issue will be dealt with within this country. I, therefore, call on the Minister to come to the House for a debate on what has been agreed to date. There are mixed messages coming from the farming organisations and, contrary to what my learned colleague, Senator Michael Comiskey, said, Macra na Feirme representatives stated earlier that they were concerned about the way they might benefit from the new deal. The devil is in the detail, but it is an important day for Ireland. The future of Irish farming is at stake and an urgent debate is warranted sooner rather than later.
I welcome Senator Mary Ann O'Brien's contribution and fully support her call for a debate on the death of town centres. I am sure everyone has noticed how they are dying. I have a business in Letterkenny and in the past six or seven years many shops have closed. Car parking has become expensive on main streets, whereas free parking is available outside shopping centres. Multinationals which benefited from lax planning by previous Administrations that decided to expand towns the wrong way and destroyed town centres by granting planning permission to multinationals to set up on the outskirts of towns have a role to play. Those that set up in town centres were beneficial. We should have a special debate on how we can address the death of town centres. Every Member knows main streets are being populated by bookmakers and businesses that close on Friday evening and do not open until Monday morning, which does not benefit tourism. I encourage shopkeepers to put signs outside their premises written in both Irish and English. I have done this and it has proved to be an attraction, as it implies there is a different culture and the main street is not the same as Main Street, Manchester. We should also debate how rates are worked out. They should be to the benefit of a business rather than to its detriment.
I welcome the meeting between President Obama and the Taoiseach. In addition to maintaining warm relations between Ireland and the United States, some serious business was carried out. Yesterday's international aircraft order was the largest in history. The Ryanair model of doing business is based on that of Southwest Airlines. President Obama will be most welcome to Ireland next summer. Some of those involved in the media seem to think Fermanagh is not in Ireland, but it is. I hope the free trade project between the Taoiseach, the President of Europe, and the US President will not be slowed by bureaucrats.
I support Senator David Norris's comments on the Cypriot crisis. Will the Leader bring up with the Minister for Finance - we may do so ourselves later - the issue of deposit insurance? Professor Christopher Pissarides, the Nobel Prize winner for economics in 2010, who has addressed the House asked a number of relevant questions on "Bloomberg Businessweek". If deposits of less than ¤100,000 were insured, what happened to that insurance? How could the Eurogroup agree to tax deposits as small as ¤1? What is the meaning of deposit insurance in the eurozone? Megan Greene who attended a major international conference on finance in Ireland last year and whom I introduced to the Minister for Finance stated, "The Cyprus bailout deal makes a mockery of deposit insurance in Europe. This doesn't bode well for the credibility of a European Union-wide deposit guarantee, one of the basic tenets of a banking union." Will the Leader stress to the Minister the importance of deposit insurance and the need to call it in as soon as possible?
Had that been done, the present crisis might not have occurred. There is deposit insurance but what has happened to it? Is it the umbrella that does not work when it is raining?
This year's St. Patrick's Day celebrations have come and gone. I was proud of the images of Ireland beamed across the world, as well as seeing many iconic buildings throughout the world, including the White House, being lit up in green. It was a marketer's dream to promote such a positive image of Ireland.
St. Patrick's Day this year was also a great celebration for mná na hÉireann. We already have had Katie Taylor and Fionnuala Britton being wonderful in winning Olympic gold medals and European championships. The ladies rugby team on St. Patrick's Day provided a wonderful image for women's sport in Ireland. I congratulate the Irish women's rugby team on their grand slam win. It was not until they defeated England for the first time that they came into the wider public domain. I was pleased RTE decided to broadcast the game against Italy live. The women's rugby team outstripped the men's rugby team, if one will excuse the pun.
The first Irish rugby team to win a grand slam was captained by Karl Mullen and the second by Brian O'Driscoll. It was mine and Senator Paul Coghlan's namesake, Fiona Coghlan, who captains the women's team. Yesterday, in an interview I heard her say how she was inspired by the likes of Sonia O'Sullivan, Katie Taylor and Fionnuala Britton.
She was inspired by these wonderful women. The message the women's rugby team brought back is really good for all women's sports in Ireland. I congratulate the Irish Rugby Football Union, IRFU, for its announcement yesterday of a ¤1.1 million annual investment in women's rugby with the view to qualifying for the 2016 women's rugby sevens at the Rio Olympic Games. I would encourage the Irish Sports Council to continue its investment in women's sport in Ireland which has proved to be successful with the investments made to date. Well done to the Irish women's rugby team.
I support the call made by Senator Darragh O'Brien for a debate on town and village centres. A pop-up policy has been put in place in Carlow which looks at encouraging enterprises to take up opportunities in vacant properties. It is a pilot scheme and is worthy of debate.
I call for a debate on the whole issue of public and private debt, the significant issue which has not been sorted out in Europe. Our European and this State's leaders simply have not learned the lessons of the real reason why this country is in crisis. We have a huge mountain of banking debt that was taken on by this State. We also have significant levels of personal debt with families in mortgage arrears and having other loans they cannot service. Since the Government came into office, we now have twice as many people, some 185,000, in mortgage distress with 1,000 families every month falling into mortgage arrears. Of that 185,000, according to the Central Bank, up to 145,000 will not be able to pay their mortgages now or into the future unless their circumstances change. The bottom line is that as long as a family or an individual is servicing debts they cannot repay, then the economy will not be able to grow and the family's or individual's circumstances will not change. Unless we have a write-down of the private banking debt, taking it off the shoulders of the taxpayers and a restructuring of domestic mortgages to include a suite of interventions including mortgage write-downs, families will not be able to get out of the dire circumstances in which they find themselves and, accordingly, spend. So far the Government has not put in place any tangible proposals to help people in mortgage distress. The Government's latest initiative is to set targets for the banks to deal with mortgage resolution but the banks will retain a veto and can simply disregard the targets as they have done in the past.
I am calling for a debate on the whole issue of debt.
There is a need for the Government and the European Union to get serious about the real problems which are bearing down on ordinary working people, including the unsustainable levels of private and personal debt.
En route in the Connacht final they beat my home team of Ballaghaderreen. It is great that there are two teams in County Roscommon playing at such a high level in all-Ireland leagues. Fair play to Shane Curran, Frankie Dolan, Senan Kilbride and the rest of the lads. I am delighted for them and we are all proud of them.
I support the call made by Senator Mary Ann O'Brien on the regeneration of town centres. I raised this issue with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, at the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation three weeks ago when I suggested we needed to provide incentives, as town centres were dying. Senator Mary Ann O'Brien has rightly pointed out that all we see are bookmakers and charity shops, with the greatest of respect to them, opening in town centres. The reason town centres are dying is purely the bad planning of the past.
I listened to the media coverage during the weekend and on the way here in the car today about the chief executive of Bank of Ireland who is on ¤900,000 a year. Have we not learned anything at this stage? It was absolutely outrageous to listen to the debate and hear that he was on that kind of money. When I switched to another channel, I had to listen to a girl who had gone to see to a community welfare officer this morning. She is a qualified health professional who, because of illness, has had to give up work. Her husband was self-employed, but his business went to the wall. They have lost their home and are surviving on social welfare payments. They do not have the price of a pair of shoes for their children. It is chalk and cheese. There is no problem in looking after those who are running the banks with losses of ¤2 billion a year, but we are doing nothing for people at the lower end of the scale who have absolutely nothing. It is time the Ministers in question looked up and smelled the coffee.
On several occasions I have commended the ICTU and the trade union movement in general for the mature manner in which they have responded to the fierce challenges that they have faced in recent years. I have said before that when we eventually get out of the hole we are in, it will be noted that the trade union movement played a serious, important and positive role in that regard. Everyone on both sides of the House accepts this point. The unions are balloting on the tough and difficult deal negotiated recently. In that context, I express my horror and dismay at the unprecedented intervention of the Catholic Primary School Management Association yesterday which communicated by letter with national school principals effectively, advising them to oppose the deal. This is placing the INTO in a difficult position. That union had the courage to stay in the talks and negotiate. It declared that the deal it had received was not the one it wanted. Is the Catholic Primary School Management Association suggesting national school teachers should now take further pay cuts and work even longer hours? This is an unprecedented intervention in the democratic process and should be condemned. I declare an interest. I am a former national INTO activist and had the honour to be nominated by the INTO to the Labour Panel to contest the Seanad elections on the last two occasions, but apart from this, this is unprecedented. I call on the Leader to join me in agreeing that the trade union movement has behaved responsibly and that we should ask people with no say or hand, act or part to play in the actual ballot process not to get involved. Certainly, the organisation mentioned has a valid interest in education, which I do not deny, as itt has done tremendous work, but it was not a party to the deal and, therefore, should keep out of it.
The CAP agreement was referred to. I congratulate the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, on it. It is an honour for Ireland because we have held the Presidency of the European Council since January and will hold it until June. That the agreement was reached under the Minister's stewardship is unique and I congratulate him on it because I do not believe the deal would have been driven through without his energy.
I ask the Leader to arrange for a debate on the CAP agreement. This is important, because the CAP agreement is not about redistributing funds, but about supporting active farmers, young farmers and new entrants into farming. It is also about providing flexibility and I believe the Minister has managed to get flexibility with regard to how funds are distributed. Senator Comiskey said it would be about redistributing funds from larger farmers to smaller farmers on small payments, but that is not what it is about. It is about active farmers, young farmers and new entrants.
I congratulate the Minister with regard to the agreement reached on sugar quotas. We exited the sugar regime in Europe a few years ago and it was a sorry day for Ireland when that happened. Agreement has been reached now that sugar quotas will disappear in September 2017. We have companies, such as Beet Ireland, which are actively trying to encourage the growing of beet here again and perhaps we will announce the site for a new factory within the next two months. Sugar beet was a very important industry for agriculture in Ireland and I believe it will fit in well with the new CAP regime. That is part of the reason I asked for a debate on CAP.
I asked for this debate previously in the context of the policies of the parties in the Opposition, Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil, and their position on the CAP payments. It is important to have a debate in the House on CAP reform so that we can hear the policies of the Opposition. They cannot play both sides all the time.
Aontaím go hiomlán le mo chomhleacaí go bhfuil géarghá le díospóireacht maidir le cúrsaí CAP agus mar sin de. Ach ar dtús, ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas a ghabháil le peileadóirí Chumann Peile Naomh Bríd, Roscomáin, as ucht an chraobh a thabhairt siar, thar An tSionann leo. Ba mhaith liom freisin comhghairdeas a ghabháil le iománaithe Chumann Naomh Thomáis a thug leo an chraobh iománaíochta siar go Gaillimh. Gabhaim comhghairdeas le foireann rugbaí ban na hÉireann as an éacht a rinne siadsan chomh maith.
I would certainly welcome a good robust debate on CAP in the Seanad. We would have a good debate on the proposals here because we welcome and accept the need to redistribute the CAP funding more equitably among farmers. Sinn Féin supports more equitable support of the smaller, rural farmers. We also hope that during that debate the Minister would be able to honour his commitment to limiting CAP payments to ¤100,000, with a view to lowering those payments to ¤50,000 by 2019.
We will be calling for that during the debate.
I commend the Cypriot parliamentarians who stood up for their citizens last night in a very robust manner. I hope our Government will support them at European level to negotiate a fairer deal for Cypriot citizens. I add to the calls for the Minister for Finance to come in and debate the EU decision to impose the proposed deal. Did he agree with the smash and grab tactics employed by the troika, which the Cypriots wholeheartedly turned down? Fair play to them for having the gumption to do that. It is a shame we did not have a much stronger, resolute way of dealing with the troika when it came to dealing with our financial crisis and that we did not make it go back to look at the European nature of the crisis and the real debt issues, rather than impose all of the burden on our citizens.
A number of speakers have supported Senator Mary Ann O'Brien on the issue of town centres and the retail sector. I would like to support that, but I believe town centres have not died yet and that there are tangible and real ways we can help. I wish to raise one of these ways this afternoon, one I raised about three months ago, namely, the proposal by Government to centralise the issuing of new credit card style driving licences. The effects of this could be the loss of up to 4,000 jobs in small towns among pharmacists and professional photographers.
The Road Safety Authority was charged with rolling out the new system, which will come into play in September. It went to tender on the system and a Swiss based company, SGS, won the tender. Initially, this company agreed photographs could be taken at local level, in chemist shops and by local photographers, and sent to the company with the driving licence applications. However, now confusion reigns on the issue, but everybody seems to have gone to ground, including the chief executive of the Road Safety Authority. This is not good enough. This same system was tried in France and the SGS centralised system was scrapped because of public opinion.
We have a real and tangible opportunity to save jobs in small towns in rural Ireland by allowing photographs for the purposes of the new service to continue to be taken locally. I am asking the Leader to call on the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Leo Varadkar, to provide clarity and direction for the Road Safety Authority on this issue. This is an example of something we could do to ensure small towns in rural Ireland do not die.
An dtuigeann an Seanadóir é sin? I intend to speak about two matters that have already been mentioned. I congratulate the ladies international rugby team on their achievement at the weekend in Milan in unbelievable and abominable conditions when they added the grand slam to the Triple Crown they had won last month.
There is no way any man or woman could justify the payment of a salary of ¤900,000 per annum to a CEO or any boss. We have discussed these obnoxious salaries on many occasions in the House and I wonder whether there is anything we could about them. I was annoyed to read in a newspaper today that the man about whom I am speaking had signed an agreement in 2009 whereby he would receive a salary of ¤623,000. I cannot believe how it increased from ¤623,000 to more than ¤800,000 in just three years.
We will have to do something about it. We should debate the issue of salaries. Nobody can deny that there are men and women in this country and Irish men and women in foreign fields who might be willing to come back who are capable of running the banks or working as the CEOs of various companies for less than the outrageous salaries being paid. No man or woman could justify being paid ¤2,000 a day. I am calling for a debate on why certain salaries in banks that have failed the people and taxpayers have increased by 33% in the times that are in it. We urgently need a debate on the payment of such outrageous salaries to CEOs.
Last week I mentioned Senator Eamonn Coghlan's famous ancestor, the Kerry-born engineer John Coghlan, when I was saluting some of his achievements in another context. I join the Senator in warmly congratulating another of our namesakes, Fiona Coghlan, on her team's tremendous victory at the weekend. As Senator Terry Brennan said, to win the Triple Crown and the grand slam is a tremendous achievement.
I fully support what Senator Mary Ann O'Brien and others have said about town centres. Retailers in towns throughout the country have suffered and are suffering. To a large extent, vibrancy and vitality have been robbed from town centres. I hope Senator Denis Landy is right when he says everything is not yet lost. The planning departments of town councils wreaked havoc in many towns when they allowed out-of-town developments to be built.
I am concerned about our much sought after wild venison. There should be a ban in this regard. I am, therefore, calling on the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, whom I salute for what he has achieved with regard to the Common Agricultural Policy, and the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, who is in charge of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, to take action in this respect. Sadly, the poaching and night shooting of stags, in particular, are on the increase.
Sadly, this poaching is on the increase. I must declare, if one likes, a non-declarable interest. I am a lifelong member of the Kerry Deer Society, which is concerned with conservation. We were never poachers or were never into culling. Whatever about management issues, we would not want to see the native Irish red deer - the Kerry red deer - seriously under threat, and I am not talking about the deer in Glenveagh and other parts because they are different strains. Members are very welcome to visit the national park with me. There is a threat in that people are hunting the stags for their antlers and for the meat. Although we talk about traceability and so on, wild venison should not be bought by any restaurant or hotel. The Ministers, Deputy Coveney and Deputy Deenihan, have to come together to devise a system to ensure this is stopped.
Like others, I welcome the initial movement on the CAP negotiations. I am sure the Minister, Deputy Coveney, has been working extremely hard to try to get countries to agree to anything at all. I would like to join with others to say "Well done" on that front, particularly in regard to the ending of the quota for sugar beet, which raises a very real opportunity for the Irish sugar industry. Obviously, this CAP negotiation will have to go through the European Parliament, and it is the first big test for the European Parliament in terms of its responsibility on this negotiation. I join with others in asking for the Minister to come to the House so we could have a debate on CAP, particularly the greening aspect, which is still causing concern and will undoubtedly be reorganised through the European Parliament.
If the Minister is coming in to discuss CAP, I make the point that we see more reports today of tonnes of desinewed lamb being found in France, having been imported from the UK. Desinewed meat has been illegal in Europe for some ten years since the BSE scandal, so for it to be discovered in the human food chain is quite a concern. While I hope the Minister will be able to draw breath following the CAP negotiations, I ask that we would have him come to the House to discuss the whole horsemeat and now lamb difficulties. There are still big concerns with regard to what is happening in the food industry, the meat industry in particular. In short, I am asking for two debates, one on the meat industry and one on CAP.
We have proven again we are the best in the world on the sporting field. The ladies' wonderful victory in achieving the rugby grand slam has been referred to and we cannot forget the 14 winners at Cheltenham last week, which highlights the strength of Irish racing and how important the Irish horse industry is to our country.
On the economic and business front, Ryanair has proven what a fantastic business it is, given the huge order it has placed with Boeing for new aircraft. Its plans will see an additional 3,000 jobs created, which will bring its workforce worldwide to 14,000. It is to be congratulated. It is a major Irish company and this is a major achievement. I hope the visits of the Taoiseach and Ministers throughout the world over the St. Patrick's weekend will result in many jobs being created in this country in the years ahead.
I support the call from Senator Mary Ann O'Brien and others for a debate on the problems facing town centre businesses. We are all acutely aware of this, and coming from a small rural town in the west, Ballinasloe, I can see my own town being decimated. We need innovation and we need to think outside the box in regard to how we might revive town centres. This Chamber has a lot of knowledge and expertise, and can contribute to a very constructive debate. I ask the Leader to put that on the agenda. It has been discussed at the Oireachtas committee dealing with jobs but this House should have an opportunity for all Members to contribute to helping to revive our town centres.
I cannot let the opportunity go without referring to two great sporting achievements by west of Ireland teams - St. Thomas's hurling club from County Galway and St. Brigid's from Roscommon who brought the two senior club championships across the Shannon over the weekend.
Like the other Senators, I congratulate the ladies team. Maybe the men could learn something from them in that sphere, as in every other sphere. I support Senator Brennan's comments on bankers' salaries. The only bank in Iceland that did not fail was governed by a lady. We should widen the debate to gender experience worldwide and how it is a valuable asset not only in sport but in every sphere. It is a lesson well learned and well taken.
There must be something in the Coghlan gene but we are about to throw away and destroy 1,000 samples in the national archive of the heel prick test taken from every baby born in every hospital. Iceland, Norway and Sweden preserve these samples for 1,000 years. Why do they do this? They do so because of the valuable genetic material stored in that system. It has been used in the past to confirm that Ireland has the highest frequency of haemochromatosis. It has been used for various other things, including identifying vulnerability to sudden adult death syndrome. All of this will be lost. I am asking for a debate on this issue before it is too late. The samples have not been destroyed yet. Professor John Crowe, president of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, has called for the samples to be saved from destruction because they are a valuable and precious resource for future genetic studies on the Irish population. Why are we doing it? It is not just being done for fun, obviously. In 2011, implied consent was agreed-----
I join with my colleagues in congratulating fellow Corkman, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, for the work he has done on CAP reform. It also goes back to his own experience of working in the European Parliament and the mechanism that works in Europe about negotiation and compromise. In achieving that compromise, he has done a good deal for Ireland.
Senator Keane just referred to the proposed destruction of the Guthrie cards which record the result of the heel prick test. Senator Bacik raised this issue last week. Some medical consultants contacted me this morning. They are looking for an immediate meeting with the Minister. I ask that this meeting be arranged. The people in question are Professor John Crowe, the president of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, and other key people who were not consulted when this decision was arrived at by the Department, the HSE and the Data Protection Commissioner. I ask that this meeting be held within the next seven days because 31 March 2013 is the deadline. I have already had an Adjournment debate in this House on the matter. There has been no compromise from the Department. The destruction of these cards will be very significant. We will not be able to get this information back again in 12 months' time if these cards are destroyed. The minimum I am asking for is a meeting within the next seven days between the key players in this area - the Department and HSE and the medical consultants who are very upset that they were not consulted when this decision was arrived at.
I support my colleague, Senator Keane, in again seeking a debate on this matter. She is correct in stating that Denmark, Norway, Sweden and New Zealand have made legislative provision to the effect that these cards cannot be destroyed in their jurisdictions. There is no reason we cannot do likewise or why the Data Protection Commissioner's decision in this regard should be taken as gospel.
I also wish to share in the positive vibes wafting through the House in respect of what occurred during the St. Patrick's Day Festival and in subsequent days. I am pleased to report from County Clare that The Gathering is working. I was out and about in Lahinch last evening and the restaurants there were full of Americans who were openly discussing The Gathering. The latter is currently our major tourism initiative and it is going to be our most successful ever. Bright and early this morning eight busloads of Americans departed a beautifully sunny Lahinch to visit the Cliffs of Moher. That is a very positive sign that we are seeing more than just green shoots in terms of tourism. Coupled with our sporting achievements and the phenomenal parades which took place throughout the country, this shows that the fighting Irish spirit is alive and well and that we are being successful in fighting back and regaining control over our country and over the pride that exists in the hearts of its citizens. I am very uplifted and joyful about that.
Everything I have just said relates very well to the discussion on town centres. When tourists visit any city or town, they like to see what is at its centre. Countries throughout Europe are famous for their beautiful plazas and, as we refer to them as Gaeilge, sráideanna. It is awful to see "For Sale" and "To Let" signs on empty buildings in beautiful towns throughout the country that are famous for their history and architecture. What is required in respect of our town centres is action. There is a need for a properly constituted, constructed and targeted tax incentive scheme for our town centres. I refer here to the centres of small and large towns and also those of our cities. We followed the British example of moving shopping centres, etc., out of our towns, which was a mistake. We need to reconsider the position in this regard and take appropriate action.
I understand that a concert is due to be held in the Phoenix Park. In the aftermath of the tragedies which occurred during one of last year's events there, I am surprised this is happening. I am sure proper procedures and precautions have been taken and that there are new health and safety guidelines in place. Will the Leader make time available, if possible, for the Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW to come before the House to outline what has been done to ensure that there will be no repeat of what occurred last year?
Senators MacSharry, Norris, Ó Clochartaigh and others raised the issue of the proposed Cypriot bailout. Despite any irresponsible innuendo to the contrary, I wish to make it clear that there will be absolutely no impact on Ireland, on Irish depositors or on our corporation tax rate as a result of this proposed bailout. There are no signs of contagion in respect of Ireland. In that context, Irish bonds continue to trade at their lowest yields in many years. Unfortunately, and as a result of the catastrophic policies pursued by previous Fianna Fáil Governments, Irish people are far too familiar with the cost of rescuing banks.
We are all aware of Fianna Fáil's light regulatory approach to the banking sector in the past. Ireland is certainly in a completely different position to Cyprus. We have already recapitalised our banks, unfortunately at great expense to taxpayers and the people in general. We have moved from the crisis mode which obtained in 2008 to one of stability in the past couple of years. We are now in a position where we are recouping as much money as possible by selling financial sector assets such as Bank of Ireland contingent capital notes and Irish Life.
In addition to the promissory note agreement which has improved our deficit and our debt position it is very important for the people of Cyprus that a sustainable programme of assistance is agreed and implemented in order to bring economic and financial stability to Cyprus. I am sure we all hope that a proper bailout for Cyprus will be agreed soon.
Senator MacSharry also raised the question of the delays in the waiting lists for consultants in the north west. He referred to a statement by a consultant in the north west. I will raise that matter with the Minister for Health. He has been dealing with waiting lists. Significant progress has been made by the new special delivery unit in reducing waiting lists, as evidenced by the performance in 2012. If there are problems in the north west I am sure they will be addressed by the special delivery unit. It is obvious that this is a cause for concern for the consultant. I am sure his concerns will be addressed by the Minister and the HSE.
Senator Bacik advises me she will be introducing a Bill soon. I will certainly allow it to be published on the Order Paper. She welcomed the Courts Bill which will be before the House soon.
Senators Mary Ann O'Brien, Harte, Conway, Landy and others, referred to the decline in town centres. This matter was raised last week by Senator Quinn and other Senators and it was dealt with at length. The question of parking fees is a matter for local authorities. I am sure that chambers of commerce, business associations and traders throughout the country make representations about parking fees to their local authorities. It is in the interests of all towns and local authorities to be competitive where parking fees are concerned.
Senator Kelly also raised the question of incentives for town centres. The Finance Bill will be in the House today. I am sure Senator Kelly will raise the matter with the Minister.
Senator Comiskey and several Senators welcomed the agreement on CAP reform. Senators Comiskey and O'Donovan said it is a good deal for young farmers. There will be some who will lose out because the budget has been reduced. Senators O'Neill, O'Keeffe and others mentioned the flexibility of the payments. They welcomed the disappearance of the sugar quotas in 2017. They complimented Beet Ireland. Hopefully we will be in a position in 2017 to renew and restore our beet industry which has been a great loss to the country and to farmers. Other Members called for a debate on the CAP reforms. The Minister had agreed to come to the House after Easter to discuss the horsemeat and food labelling situations. I suggest that rather than having the debate on those issues, we could have the debate on reform of the CAP when the Minister comes to the House after the Easter recess.
Senator Barrett asked for a debate on the free trade negotiations. Last week, Members raised the issues of the EU-US trade agreement, the undocumented Irish and job creation. Those negotiations and visits are continuing this week. An Taoiseach and other Ministers are in the United States.
I hope that the negotiations will bring much needed jobs to our citizens here.
Both Senator Coghlans saluted the Coghlan clan-----
-----on their women. Ms Fiona Coghlan captained the successful Irish women's rugby team. We all salute their efforts. It is a wonderful team and they did the country proud.
Senator Cullinane again called for a debate on public and private debt and mortgage arrears. We have had numerous debates here on the subject and I am sure that we will have more with the relevant Minister in attendance. The Government has directed banks to address the mortgage arrears problem and targets have been set that must be met. The Central Bank and the Government will ensure that they are met in order to address the important issue.
Senators Kelly, Mullins and others complimented the success of club teams from west of the River Shannon, St. Brigid's and St. Thomas's, on winning their respective All-Ireland trophies over the weekend.
Senators Kelly and Brennan raised the issue of the Bank of Ireland's remuneration for its CEO and his terms and conditions of employment. Those matters were decided in 2009. As part of his appointment, the previous Government approved his salary of ¤623,000 as an exemption to the Covered Institution Remuneration Oversight Committee. Since the Government came to office restrictions on remuneration levels at covered institutions have been tightened. No appointee may receive an aggregate all-inclusive remuneration, excluding pension contributions, of ¤500,000 per annum. The Government has been seen to act in that regard with the appointment of new CEOs in AIB and PTSB. It should also be noted that the State is a minority shareholder in Bank of Ireland at 15%.
Senator O'Sullivan raised the item of the Irish Catholic schools managers association's, as he stated, unprecedented intervention. I agree with him that it was an unprecedented intervention. I compliment the INTO and the trade union movement for playing a responsible role in the talks on Croke Park II.
Senator Landy referred to the new driving licence and the proposed centralised system. He sought clarity on same from the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. I will try to discover the up-to-date position on the new driving licences.
Senator Paul Coghlan referred to the conservation of red deer which is an important item for Killarney and the country. We all believe in conservation and condemn the increase in poaching and night shooting of stags and deer.
Senator Mullins complimented everybody involved in the success of the 14 Irish winners at the Cheltenham race festival. Their success is a great advertisement for Horse Racing Ireland.
Senators Colm Burke, Keane and others referred to the Guthrie cards. Again, the matter was debated last week when it was raised by Senator Bacik. I am sure that the Minister for Health will facilitate a meeting with the consultants if they have sought same. It is an important issue so if we can do anything to arrange the meeting then we will do so. The matter has been raised here by Senators on a number of occasions.
Senator Martin Conway spoke about the positivity of the St. Patrick's Day parades throughout the world and stated The Gathering was working. Obviously, it is working in County Clare, with many tourists flocking to the Cliffs of Moher and many other destinations the length and breadth of the county. It is good to end on such a positive note. We will check with the Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works on the question of concerts in the Phoenix Park and the increased health and safety measures that will be taken in that regard.