Tuesday, 11 June 2013
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re Employment Equality Act, 1998, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, motion re Cork prison, to be taken without debate on the conclusion No. 1; No. 3, Criminal Justice Bill 2013, Committee Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 2; and No. 4, motion re earlier signature of the Criminal Justice Bill 2013, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of No. 3. Statements on hospital services and groupings and the recent configuration will take place on Thursday afternoon rather than today because of the unavailability of the Minister.
That does not surprise me. I am disappointed that the Minister saw fit to change today's schedule and give a few hours notice that he will not attend to answer questions on hospital services.
I wish to express my sympathies and that of the Fianna Fáil group on the death of former Senator Tom Fitzgerald, who was buried at the weekend. He served with distinction in the House as Whip. I know that there will be another opportunity to give more detailed statements in that regard.
I commend and congratulate the Taoiseach on the excellent start he has made to his campaign to abolish the Seanad. I encourage him to get as involved as he can because it might have the desired effect. I encourage him to comment regularly and often. His proposals to abolish the Seanad have been met with a lukewarm response from his colleagues. He has done no harm to the "No" side.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform on capital investment and infrastructure. We debated the matter on 22 November 2011 and I specifically raised an issue of concern to 12,000 residents of north Dublin regarding the location of a sewage treatment plant to deal with all of the waste in the greater Dublin area. I mentioned it to the Minister because he is the Minister for public expenditure. I also pointed out that a cost benefit analysis had not been carried out, even though there is an estimated minimum spend of €500 million. On 22 November, the Minister said "I am giving an undertaking now to the Senator that I will have it investigated." In fact, he said it twice. However, he has not investigated the project. He has not asked his officials or anyone else to conduct a cost benefit analysis or an environmental impact assessment.
The people of north County Dublin will have a plant foisted upon them with an outflow pipe that will process 1,000 litres of sewage per second that will be treated to a secondary level, the minimum standard required. The waste will then be put in Dublin Bay and along the east coast, which are important fishing waters, particularly for shellfish. The plant poses an environmental risk and is not just a risk to the quality of life for the people of north County Dublin. It poses a catastrophic risk to the living environment.
I would like the opportunity to question the Minister again, in this regard. On 22 November he twice gave me a commitment, as is clearly stated on the record of the House. Why has he not followed through on his commitment? Perhaps he is scheduled to come here in the coming weeks. I ask the Leader to arrange for him to attend specifically to answer my question today.
The Order Paper contains a motion regarding the construction of Cork Prison that will be taken without debate. I welcome the fact that a new facility will be built on a site that has been condemned for many years for its poor prison conditions by international and national inspectors. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the greater and more general issue of prison building and construction, particularly in light of the recent publication of a report on penal policy by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. It recommended a reduction in the number of people imprisoned, the adoption of a so-called decarceration policy to ensure prison is kept as a sanction of last resort and only for violent and dangerous offenders, the development of non-custodial alternatives for offenders who are convicted of minor offences, and the implementation of the Fines Act without delay to ensure people are no longer imprisoned for the non-payment of fines. A welcome result of the motion tabled is the improved conditions at Cork Prison. However, I want us to debate the bigger picture of prison building, construction and conditions in light of the joint committee report. I have sought the debate before and I know the Leader is amenable to allowing it to take place. Perhaps he will arrange a debate with the Minister for Justice and Equality in attendance before the summer recess.
The Bill to abolish the Seanad was published during the recess and we will debate it over the coming weeks. The Government side of the House has given a commitment to hold a referendum which I support. Personally, I am against the abolition of the Seanad and in favour of reform.
I will be arguing for that, as I always have done, and look forward to making those arguments during the referendum campaign. However, during the referendum campaign on the future of the Seanad, it will be important that both those who argue for and those who argue against its abolition will be respectful in the arguments. I am not in any way casting aspersions on any individual or individual party because some rather tetchy arguments already have been used. It is important that arguments are not personal and that one argues on principle about----
However, given the referendum is proposed and is likely to take place in the early autumn and given there will be a detailed and comprehensive debate on the subject, one must make sure it is conducted in a respectful manner.
In response to Senator Bacik, I totally agree with the last point she made and Members must be respectful. However, I am interested to note the Senator's own favouring of reform, which is not part of the choice that is being given to the people.
I have two questions for the Leader, the first of which pertains to the Taoiseach's recent comments on the issue of assisted suicide and the fact he does not intend to legislate for it. First however, I pay tribute to Marie Fleming and her family, as other Deputies and Senators have done, and recognise her bravery and determination. However, acknowledging her situation and sympathising with her is different from looking at what Members, as legislators, can do regarding this issue of assisted suicide. I also note, in light of the concerns I raise today, that only today, her husband has been quoted as continuing to be deeply concerned about her deteriorating health. The Irish Human Rights Commission appeared as a friend in court in the case, highlighting a blurring in the case between the two distinct areas of assisted suicide and euthanasia. Assisted suicide differs from euthanasia in that the former is when a competent person makes a rational decision to end his or her own life and is assisted in so doing. Death is achieved through the final direction or actions of the deceased. In cases in which a mentally competent person is terminally ill and his or her quality of life is significantly diminished and that person takes the rational decision to end his or her life, he or she would not be breaking any laws. However, if such a person is unable to end his or her life because of a physical disability and requires assistance, the person assisting him or her would be committing an offence at present. Members are well aware the Supreme Court has indicated the rejection of Ms Fleming's case is not a bar to them legislating for such situations with appropriate safeguards. Consequently, I call for a debate with the Minister for Justice and Equality on the specific issue of assisted suicide.
I have referred to the subject of my second question previously, namely, the issue of corporate tax rates and Ireland's taxation policies for multinationals. I asked for a debate leading up to the G8 summit, at which Ireland will be in the spotlight in respect of its taxation policies and particularly with regard to how it can attract multinational companies here. Grant Thornton recently highlighted a variety of factors beyond our corporate tax rates, including our European Union membership and our English-speaking and highly educated workforce. This weekend, the chief executive of a Swiss pharma group expressed the view that even were we to raise our tax rate to 20%, there would not be a net loss of multinationals from the State since there are so many other attractive reasons to invest in Ireland. Given the pressure that is building up and in particular with regard to the brand of Ireland, I again seek a debate on this issue as soon as possible.
Members on all sides of the House have been concerned with improving the standard of mathematics in this country. Based on the statements made this morning on "Morning Ireland" by Ms Catherine Lewis of Rathdown School and the Irish Mathematics Teachers Association, yesterday was not a great day for anyone. The House is united on this issue and has assisted the Minister, Deputy Quinn, and the Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, with suggestions on how to improve standards in this regard. In the higher level mathematics leaving certificate examination that took place yesterday, question No. 8 was not doable. The 36° angle should have been 32.8° while the 124° angle should have been outside and not inside the triangle. This affected question No. 9, thereby demoralising the students, and this was a no-choice examination, in which one could not avoid the problematic question No. 8. Moreover, the Project Maths syllabus, which Senator Quinn has promoted strongly, was examined in 24 schools and I am informed that questions Nos. 5(b) and 5(c) were not on the syllabus. As for the ordinary level leaving certificate exam paper, question No. 6(a) on constructing an axial symmetry was not on the syllabus.
In the junior certificate, "-14" should have read "1-4" . We must get an adequate standard of mathematics teaching. There are unqualified mathematics teachers. We also need such an approach to the printing and proofing of examination papers.
I urge the Leader to draw those matters to the attention of the Ministers, Deputy Quinn and Deputy Bruton and the Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, because promoting ourselves as a high-technology economy and making those kind of mistakes - to the demoralisation of young people - is damaging to the country. We are all agreed on that. There is expertise in that the Minister himself is an architect and Senator Clune is an engineer. We should not be making such mistakes at the expense of so many young people doing exams.
I also ask the Leader to welcome the G8 to County Fermanagh next week. Councillor Alex Baird is the chairman of Fermanagh District Council. I thank Prime Minister Cameron who has brought this great summit to this country.
I note that the library in the summit venue is named the Senator Gordon Wilson Library. I am sure the G8 will be as inspired by Gordon Wilson as we were when he was a Member of this House. I wish the summit every success. Having Gordon Wilson so honoured by the G8 in the choice of venue and the naming of the library after him is a tribute to a great man whom we sorely miss in our deliberations.
As Senator Barrett said, the State Examinations Commission has confirmed there was a mistake in the leaving certificate higher level maths paper 2. Senator Barrett referred to other errors. I understand that people can make mistakes but I was very disappointed with what happened in that regard. We must ensure that greater care is taken in compiling leaving certificate examination papers. I heard of a Wallace & Gromit film called "The Wrong Trousers", but in this case we have the wrong triangle. That is unacceptable in this day and age.
We need greater checks and balances. I ask the Minister to set up an internal investigation to report on how those errors occurred in the maths papers, in particular when we are encouraging more students to do maths.
Before I conclude I wish to refer as well to the fact that in the CSPE exam a question referring to the Referendum Commission mistakenly stated the commission presented arguments for and against. I cannot understand how anybody in charge of civics in this country would not be aware of the position. My daughter, who is brilliant, did the exam but she might have thought Referendum Commission was the name of a boy band. However, such mistakes should not be made.
I found the Taoiseach's comments in launching the Bill quite offensive when he said the Seanad did nothing to challenge the unsustainable policies of the Celtic tiger. Will the Leader of the House invite the Taoiseach to argue his case in this House, bearing in mind that in 2007 the published manifesto of Fine Gael and the Labour Party was to protect progress? What an endorsement. It is like accusing the steerage passengers on the Titanic of being responsible for the ship hitting the iceberg. It is a groundless accusation. At the time the Seanad debated and passed legislation with the Government. We were not the Government. Whatever Government is in place, the Seanad is not the Government. It was a most offensive and unfortunate comment.
It is offensive to Fine Gael Members of this House, to previous Leaders of the House and to previous Senators. I am very disappointed in the Taoiseach. I have high personal regard for him as someone from the west. If I was in Fine Gael, I would have voted for him to retain his position as leader of the party at that stage, although I am not sure I would do it now.
In the general election of 2011, a commitment was given to keep the accident and emergency unit in Roscommon Hospital open. It is now closed. The Taoiseach made a commitment to reduce the Dáil by 20 seats. Since then he has said it would require a constitutional amendment but he will not have a referendum on that topic. He also said he would not introduce abortion, and he is introducing a Bill to bring in abortion. All the commitments made by the Taoiseach at the last general election have been broken and it is an extraordinary situation.
-----the Constitutional Convention in Malahide, that beautiful part of the constituency of our leader in the Seanad. I asked the chairman, Tom Arnold, if it was ignoring the elephant in the room and how a convention that costs €60,000 for each meeting could not and would not discuss the most important change in the history of the State, the abolition of Seanad Éireann. I told him why the convention was ignoring it - because the Taoiseach was afraid the convention would not recommend the abolition of Seanad Éireann but its reform and he was afraid to put that question to the convention. If the convention cannot discuss that most important issue, why is it meeting at all?
I share the concerns raised by Senators Barrett and Jim D'Arcy about the leaving certificate paper. My daughter is sitting the leaving certificate and she and many of her friends are hanging on, their nerves in shreds, particularly this week. For many of these children, their whole futures are riding on this; that is how they perceive it. It is particularly troubling to hear the Irish Mathematics Teachers Association in dispute with the Department of Education and Skills as to whether some of the questions were even on the syllabus.
It is ridiculous in this day and age to have everything hanging on one exam like this. For an exam to go wrong in this way for students does not just affect that exam, but every subsequent exam the students sit because it will undermine their belief in how they are getting on during those exams. We should ask the Minister to deal with this and to bring forward a reform agenda not just on the setting of papers, but on how the entire leaving certificate is formulated, putting such pressure on young people. In the past 20 years no one has asked me what I got in my leaving certificate but that makes no difference to the way students sitting that exam feel today.
I welcome the changes announced by the Minister for Social Protection in her review of rent supplement limits. She has introduced higher limits in some urban areas. The Opposition was concerned about rent supplement levels in Fingal and they have been adjusted. I welcome that, particularly the rent supplement limits for single people, who have had real difficulties in accessing accommodation. It is, however, a concern that these limits are only being reviewed every 18 months. It is evident to all of us that there is an increasing demand for housing, particularly rented housing, in larger urban areas. Reviewing rent supplement limits every 18 months is not sufficient to keep up with what is happening in the market.
I have stated before and I am stating again my belief that there will be a significant and acute housing shortage in the country in the near future. I ask the Leader to have the Minister of State with responsibility for housing come into the House to talk about national strategies on this shortage.
Senator Barrett referred to the G8 summit taking place on Lough Erne next week. This is a wonderful opportunity for Ireland and I agree entirely that it was Prime Minister Cameron who arranged for it to take place in Ireland, in Northern Ireland, and close to the Border. We could do with a debate on tourism. Senator Mooney has often talked about the opportunity to have a debate on tourism. There are significant opportunities in this sector.
Travelling through Dublin Port recently, I noted with interest that of the 100 cruise ships that will visit Dublin this year, 30 will pass through the East Link bridge and sail 340 m further into the city. This will enable passengers to walk from the dockside into the city centre. Some 4,000 people work in Dublin Port and a new service is operating twice daily between Howth and Dún Laoghaire. These developments are a reminder of how much we can do ourselves. Tourism offers substantial economic and employment opportunities. The Government's role is to provide encouragement, open doors and remove barriers or bureaucracy where it impedes the realisation of these opportunities.
Barriers to genetically modified foods could also be removed. The Seanad has not debated this issue for a significant period, during which changes have taken place in this area. If we do not avail of the major opportunities presented by genetically modified foods, we run the danger of being left behind by other European countries. Some other states have taken steps to embrace this technology which is being developed around the world.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on tourism as quickly as possible. We should also have a debate on genetically modified foods to allow Senators to hear both sides of the argument. Ireland has opportunities to develop business.
I welcome the appointment last week of Deputy Tom Hayes to the position of Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I look forward to working with the Minister of State in the months and years ahead. Agriculture has come through a difficult period but thankfully the weather has improved. I hope, with the appointment of the new Minister of State, the sector will improve further.
A number of speakers referred to the G8 summit that will be held in Enniskillen, which is good news. Many of those who will attend will stay in the north west, including counties Fermanagh, Sligo and Leitrim. The event has implications for tourism and we could do much to promote tourism in the region once the meeting has concluded.
The failure of the Constitutional Convention to discuss the Seanad is not the fault of convention members. We should not call into question the value of the Constitutional Convention on the basis of the remit set down for it by the Oireachtas. We must make clear that the fault lies with the Government. As a previous speaker noted, the Government was afraid to allow the convention discuss Seanad reform. It is not, therefore, the fault of the convention members that they has been precluded from addressing the issue. The convention has done much good work.
I call again for a debate on taxation in the run-up to the budget. As the Leader will be aware, Sinn Féin has tabled a Bill in the Lower House to repeal the property tax. The Seanad needs to have a proper and full discussion on all aspects of taxation as the budget approaches in October. The Leader may be aware that the revaluation of commercial rates in our home area has caused serious problems for small retailers whose rates will double or treble if changes are not made to the current proposals. Industry and the hospitality sector, including hotels, have been given a welcome break through substantial cuts in their rates, whereas small retailers who must cope with a decline in footfall are expecting an increase in rates. Any such increase would create further difficulty for retailers, many of whom would be placed in an unsustainable position of their rates were to double or treble. The House should debate all aspects of taxation as the budget approaches. We should examine alternative and fairer ways of levying commercial rates and discuss corporation and income tax and the various forms of indirect tax. In recent years, there has been a shift from progressive taxation to indirect taxes. We should return to a system of income taxes based on the ability to pay. I hope the Leader will arrange such a debate as we approach the budget.
I refer to the future of Coillte, an issue raised by colleagues from all sides. There is consensus in the House that Coillte should remain in public ownership.
As my colleague, Senator Comiskey, has pointed out, the Government has moved to appoint a new Minister of State in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Tom Hayes, and I wish him well in his work. He will have responsibility for Coillte, and in that context, I ask the Leader to invite him to come before this House and to finally make a categoric statement on the matter. We have had some interesting mood music about this issue, including various winks and nods that the hills will remain free to roam on, but I would like to see that in writing to be sure that is really the case. Approximately 7% of our land is covered in forestry. It is an important resource, in a strategic sense, as well as being an important tourism, recreation and leisure amenity for people throughout the country, not least in counties Laois and Offaly and the midlands in general. The Government must finally lay to rest any uncertainty regarding the future of Coillte in order that the company can get on with strategic planning and development. The question should be laid to rest before the summer recess.
I also ask the Leader to address the question of when the Government proposes to hold the referendum on the abolition of Seanad. We do not have a definite date or knowledge of the timetable. It was sharp practice for the Bill to be launched last week when the Houses were in recess. That left a lot to be desired in terms of public discourse and providing Members with an opportunity to engage on the issue. Whoever came up with that idea knew we were not sitting last week. In the same regard, it would be pre-emptive and unfair if the Seanad were to be shot in the nest. Even pheasants know when the shooting season starts. There are rumours circulating that the referendum could be held as early as 11 September, immediately after the summer recess. If that is the case, it would stymie fair and public discourse on a matter that is very important. Even a condemned man before the gallows is allowed a few last words. The Seanad should be permitted at least to make a case for its future. An early referendum is unnecessary, given this Seanad will run its course until the next general election. A stand-alone referendum in the autumn will cost the taxpayer €30 million-----
I support Senator Quinn's call for a debate on tourism. Indeed, we should have regular debates on tourism in this House. Given that the six-monthly figures will be published shortly, now is an ideal time for the Government to outline the impact of The Gathering so far. Indications are that it is proving very positive, with the exception of the British market, which seems to be the Achilles heel of Irish tourism.
I also call on the Leader to ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to sign the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating both violence against women and domestic violence before the end of the Irish Presidency of the EU. We are one of 18 countries in the 47 member Council of Europe that have not yet signed that convention. A great deal of lip service is paid by this Government to the injustices that are being meted out to women every day. Now it is time for action. There is a short window left and the Government would send out a very powerful message, domestically and internationally, by signing the convention.
I also wish to bring to the attention of the Leader my disquiet, and that of many others, at an article that appeared last week in the Irish Independent written by a journalist who decided that he would use the criteria of the first quarter to highlight what he believed was the absence of Members of this House during the sitting periods. The facts of the article are not in dispute. However, two women Members of this House were highlighted and photographed. The journalist knew that one of them, in particular, was severely ill during that period but he still went ahead with his heartless article. The other female Member, Senator Imelda Henry, who is a very dear friend of mine and a good colleague to everyone here, had very traumatic personal experiences during that same period, which meant that she was unable to attend this House as often as she would have liked. These are just two examples.
In light of all the attacks that the media have made on the current Government and the previous Government about any attempt to stifle, muzzle or restrict them in anything they say, are they not firing shots themselves through such an article? The article was heartless in the extreme and it was added to by an equally heartless editorial on the same day in the Irish Independent, which effectively said, "Oh yes, we are aware that there were legitimate reasons for some Members of the House not being able to attend but really they should get out of their sick beds and come in and save the Senate". That was essentially the message. Does that journalist have any humanity or compassion in him when he goes to bed at night? Politicians are citizens of this Republic and have rights the same as every citizen in this Republic. He should pause and reflect on the emotional damage he does to people. They are real people; they are not just cyphers in this House. Will the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources during his next appearance in the House outline the Government's proposals to curb this type of nasty, insidious journalism?
I salute Longford in the Visitors Gallery. I agree with my good friend Senator Darragh O'Brien's tribute to the late great Tom Fitzgerald of Dingle. He was a thorough gentleman who never allowed political differences to interfere with friendship, a bit like the good Senators opposite. I had the honour of serving with him on Dingle harbour board for nine years, Kerry County Council for a period and in this House between 1997 and 2002. We will have another opportunity to say a few more words on another day to tell a few of his witty stories and so on and I look forward to that.
Will the Leader provide an early debate on the Law Reform Commission's report on mandatory sentencing and, in particular, its recommendations that judges be allowed to provide for whole of life sentences, including 35 years for murder, and that the Judicial Council be empowered to publish guidance and guidelines for judges? This detailed document was launched earlier and it would be worthy of debate in early course.
Cé go raibh seachtain aimsir bhreá againn, tá an aimsir beagáinín briste inniu. Le linn na haimsire breá, chuaigh cuid mhaith daoine amach ag baint móna arís, mar a dhéantar de ghnáth. The turf cutting season has commenced. Even though we have had bad weather, we had a respite last week and some people got out on to the bogs to cut turf. I have called on a number of occasions for a debate on the future of turf cutting. It is important that we have that debate because my understanding is no agreement has been reached with the Turf Cutters and Contractors Association, TCCA, about turf cutting on bogs. I have been told by its representatives that there has been no meaningful dialogue with them, even though the deputy EU Commissioner who deals with this area told Deputy Brian Stanley and I when we met him a number of months ago that the future plan for the development of bogs in Ireland needed to be based on the plans the TCCA put forward. I am concerned that there will be an escalation of conflict between the turf cutters and the Government apparatus over the summer and I hope that does not happen. It is important that the outstanding issues be resolved. It is also important that the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht should come to the House to fully debate the issue and to examine both the TCCA and Government proposals to see if a resolution can be found in the near future. Bheadh mé an-bhuíoch dá bhféadfaí é sin a dhéanamh go luath mar go bhfuil an séasúr tosaithe.
Like others, I am concerned about the revelations about the leaving certificate examinations. One of the flaws of the leaving certificate is that young people only get one opportunity. They work hard and a great deal of advice is given to students and parents about preparing for the examinations such as about getting enough sleep, drinking water, not staying up half the night and not cramming. Are we now to advise our children that they should look out for mistakes in examination papers? How are they supposed to know which is their mistake or the examiner's?
If we are going to give a lot of advice to young people on how best to achieve results, what advice are we going to give examiners on how best to achieve good examinations? It is disgraceful. I am heartbroken on behalf of all those children. As stated by Senator Hayden an error does not only cause upset in respect of the question concerned but in respect of all questions. It causes students to struggle and lose heart, leading to the whole examination going down the tubes for them. I cannot believe that no one has apologised for this.
The thousands of children who struggled all last year and this year in respect of this examination have been let down. I cannot find words to described how upset I am. I do not know how we can ensure this does not happen again but we should at least have an opportunity to discuss the issue with the Minister. Perhaps the State Examinations Commission should be called to appear before the relevant committee to answer questions. Many documents are published without errors. It is not beyond our capacity to do that.
On tourism, I ask that the Leader excuse me from the Seanad on Thursday so that I can help to celebrate Yeats Day in Sligo, which along with the Lily and Lolly Craftfest is our contribution to tourism. We will be doing our best to draw tourists to Sligo and to entertain local visitors on behalf of one of the greatest Senators who sat in this House.
I am sure Senator MacSharry might be able to assist Senator O'Keeffe in that regard.
I join with colleagues in again welcoming that the G8 Summit is to take place in the Lough Erne resort outside Enniskillen over the course of next weekend. It is very much appreciated not alone by the people of County Fermanagh but by people from Cavan, Leitrim, Donegal and Monaghan from a tourism perspective. The focus on the entire world will be on this part of our country. What a beautiful part of the country it is.
It is very relevant. It is important to inform the House that CNN is coming all the way from America to film the Ulster quarter final match between Cavan and Fermanagh. It is hoped that on this occasion, as the eyes of the world are on us, Cavan will win this important match on its journey to the All-Ireland this year.
I agree with Senator Bacik on the need for a balanced debate on the proposed referendum. However, I do not believe the Government side has gotten off to a good start.
Comments such as "surplus to requirements", "wasters", "not fit for purpose" and "irrelevant" are not balanced. Today, a senior member of the Labour Party referred in the Irish Examiner to Senators as "fossils and meaningless artefacts". He also said that the Seanad "adds no fundamental value to politics".
This is outrageous and unacceptable. It is not fair to blame only the Taoiseach. The Taoiseach has nailed his opinion to the mast. The Tánaiste, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, and the Labour Party, regardless of what they are saying in off the record briefings, are fully supportive of abolishing the Seanad. That is the reality.
Yes. Like Senator Leyden, I call on the Taoiseach and Tánaiste to come into this House to answer questions from Members of this House. What are they afraid of? They should put to the people the question on whether to abolish the Seanad or reform it. What are they afraid of?
While I do not always agree with Senator Cullinane I support his call for a debate on taxation prior to the budget.
There is a need for such a debate. I refer in particular to taxes that relate to the creation of employment. On the one hand, all of us have seen how small businesses are struggling in our towns and, on the other, a change in the VAT rate made a significant difference to tourism related activities. We must examine the impact of VAT rates on retailers. Over the weekend I met a number of business people who believe the 2% increase in the VAT rate had a severe impact on the spending power of customers in the retail sector.
I again ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to update the House on the programme for job creation. In a positive development, Ireland has been rated as being in the top ten in the latest International Chamber of Commerce open market index, which ranks countries by their openness to trade. We are ranked eighth out of 75 countries and come fifth in Europe, behind Luxembourg, Belgium, Malta and the Netherlands. Given that the Taoiseach set a target of making us being the best small country in which to do business by 2016, we have a bit of work to do.
I note the Minister for Health is not available today. We need a debate on men's health in light of the report that men are more likely to die of cancer than women. This might be a surprise to many people.
It brings me no pleasure to call for a debate on the conduct of the Taoiseach in recent weeks. My comments refer to all those who serve in this House, particularly those who served in the previous Senate, such as the Leader, who is the best Leader I have seen in my 11 years here, the Cathaoirleach, Senator Bradford, Senator Healy Eames, Senator Norris - the father of the House - and others who have been here for more than ten years. It is objectionable in the extreme to hear somebody who has as much to do with the lack of reform in this House through the generations as anybody else accuse the Seanad of doing nothing to stop the excesses of the Celtic tiger era. Even as a Fianna Fáil person, we in the north west, and Connaught in particular, were never so proud to have a Taoiseach from our part of the country. Since then, however, his contribution has effectively set Knock airport on the path to destruction. We see him clowning around Europe, acting like a clown it has to be said, and turning the Government and the office of Taoiseach into a circus ring.
I think it is important to state that, out of respect for this House, you are a close confidante of the Taoiseach that he would acknowledge the contribution that you made during your time here, and that of the Leader, or else, frankly, ye should bloody well resign because he is undermining the contribution you and the Leader have made over the years.
How dare he clown around Europe accepting the accolade due to the late Brian Lenihan for putting this country back on the road to recovery.
He then stated on radio and television and in Europe that the Seanad was the cause of the economic crisis. Hello? Does anyone in the Taoiseach's office have a brain? At least Senator Whelan stood up to be counted on Sunday last on radio. Some others on that side of the House need to do likewise. I refer, in particular, to the Cathaoirleach, who is the closest confidante of the Taoiseach.
The Senator referred to how long he has been a Member of the House. I would have thought that by now he would be aware of the need to show respect to the Chair. Senator MacSharry has not shown respect to the Chair and he should not, therefore, speak about the need to show respect.
I wish to add my sympathies to those already offered to the family of the late Senator Tom Fitzgerald.
I take this opportunity to condemn the State Examinations Commission for its shoddy work in respect of this year's examinations. It should never have allowed incorrect questions to be included on examination papers and must be called to account. I request that the Minister for Education and Skills call the commission to account in respect of this matter. The leaving certificate is by far the most difficult examination anyone will every sit. My son studied medicine. He attended medical school for five years and GP training college for four and he informs me that the most difficult examination he ever sat was the leaving certificate. How can the State Examinations Commission possibly expect students to provide correct answers if incorrect questions are posed? Somebody must be called to account in respect of the shoddy work relating to this episode. As Senator O'Keeffe stated, someone should apologise to students throughout the country with regard to what they have endured. I call on the Minister to come forward and apologise because it is not good enough that students were obliged to deal with flawed questions.
I take a somewhat different approach from Senator Hayden in the context of welcoming the revised maximum rent supplement limits. The relevant committee spent a number of hours informing officials from the Department that the rent supplement limits throughout the country were too low. I informed them that there is life beyond the Red Cow Roundabout but they obviously did not listen. All the increases which are being introduced relate to the area inside the Red Cow Roundabout. There is nothing for people elsewhere. Let everybody remember that there is life beyond there. I ask the Leader to call on the Minister to further revise the rent supplement limits. Rents in Killarney are extremely high and there is no way that the new supplement limits reflect this. People cannot afford to pay rent at those levels.
Senators Darragh O'Brien, Paul Coghlan and Marie Moloney expressed their condolences to the family of former Senator Tom Fitzgerald on his death. I am sure we would all join our colleagues in offering our sympathy to the late Mr. Fitzgerald's family.
Senator Darragh O'Brien requested a debate on capital investment and infrastructure with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, with specific reference to the wastewater treatment plant at Clonshaugh. I will endeavour to have the Minister come before the House to discuss that matter.
The preferred site has been identified and the council will prepare detailed plans and complete an environmental impact statement. The EIS, together with the planning application under the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act 2006, will be submitted to An Bord Pleanála. The board will carry out the statutory public consultation report at that stage. In advance of that, the project team is holding public consultations over the next eight weeks to seek feedback on what should be considered in the EIS. Open days are being held by Fingal County Council in Swords on 26 June, 29 June and 3 July. This is the information I can give the Senator on the matter.
Senator Bacik called for a debate on penal policy. I will try to arrange that debate as soon as possible.
Senator Zappone spoke on a number of issues. She called for a debate on branding Ireland in the context of tax in particular. We will try to have the Minister in to address that matter. The Government has indicated it will not be legislating on the question of assisted suicide in early course.
Senators Barrett, Jim D'Arcy, Hayden, O'Keeffe, Moloney and others raised the issue of the errors that arose in examination papers. What happened in the case of these papers is unacceptable. Pupils sitting examinations are under enough pressure without having examination questions put to them that are not framed properly. It is always unfortunate when these errors take place but I suppose our first obligation is to ensure we maintain as calm and supportive an environment as possible for all the examination students who will be sitting other examinations today and throughout the coming days. One of the core principles under which the State Examinations Commission operates is that students cannot be disadvantaged as a result of an error on an examination paper. Therefore, the impact of this error on students' answers will be taken into account by the chief examiner when finalising the marking stream for this examination. It is unacceptable that pupils are put under such pressure because of these errors. It should not happen; it is as simple as that. I will raise the matter with the Minister. Steps should be taken to ensure these types of errors will not happen again.
I note Senator Barrett's comments on the G8 summit. I share his views regarding the late Senator Gordon Wilson, who was such a wonderful Member of the House.
Senator Jim D'Arcy spoke on the need for greater care to be taken in the preparation of examination papers and called for an investigation. As I said, I will raise the matter with the Minister for Education and Skills.
Senator Leyden raised the matter of the forthcoming Bill to abolish the Seanad. I have stated to the House that I will afford ample time for the Bill to be discussed in the House. I will invite the Taoiseach to come in here on Second Stage to see what the Members have to say about it.
Senator Hayden raised the issue of rent supplement limits, a matter raised by Senator Moloney as well. I understand we will have the Housing (Amendment) Bill within the next week or two and that may be the opportunity to raise the points that the Senators wishes to make on the matter.
Senator Quinn called for a debate on tourism and outlined the fact that Dublin Port will host more than 100 cruise ships this year. This is a growing trade. We will have in excess of 25 cruise ships coming into Waterford and even more coming into the Port of Cork.
It is an important area of tourism that generates quite an amount of spending in these areas. I will invite the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to come into the House for a debate on tourism, which has been requested by Senator Mooney also.
With regard to genetically modified food, we have a new Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, as Senator Comiskey stated. We can give him a couple of weeks to read up on his brief but I will certainly put that on the agenda and hope he will come into the House and discuss the matter with us.
Senator Cullinane and Senator Mullins called for an overall debate on taxation, including the revaluation of properties which small businesses in Waterford and in other areas are finding difficult. Senator Mullins also called for a debate on the impact of VAT rates on spending.
Senator Whelan called for a debate on forestry. I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, will be willing to come into the House soon to address that matter.
With regard to the referendum date, I have not been informed of the date the referendum will take place. There have been rumours that it may be held in October and others that it will be in September. As Leader of the House I can assure the Senators that I am not aware of the date planned at this stage.
I will bring any information in that regard to the attention of the House.
Senator Mooney raised the issue of tourism and the impact of The Gathering. I will ask the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, to come into the House to give us an update on tourism figures for the first six months of the year.
Regarding the convention on violence against women, I will bring that matter to the relevant Minister and hope that we will sign up to that convention.
Regarding the Senator's condemnation of an article in the Irish Independent on the attendance of some Members of the House, I thought it was appalling that some Members who were quite ill were mentioned in that article.
It is regrettable that we have stooped to that type of journalism.
Senator Coghlan called for a debate on the recent Law Reform Commission report on mandatory life sentencing. I will ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to come into the House to address that matter.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh raised the issue of turf cutting. I understand the law is clear on that issue, and I hope the Senator would support upholding of the law in this issue and every other issue where the law must be upheld.
Senator O'Keeffe spoke about Yeats Day on 13 June, which celebrates another great former Senator, William Butler Yeats.
I am glad that Senator MacSharry also will be attending that Yeats Day event in Sligo.
Senator Wilson raised the issue of the G8 Summit and sang the praises of the tourism product available in the north west.
Regarding the Seanad referendum, I can assure the Senator, as I have assured other Senators, that there will be no time bar in regard to debates on that subject, particularly on Committee and Report Stages. We will have a comprehensive debate on it. I understand Second Stage of that Bill will come into the Lower House on Thursday and will probably be with us in about three weeks' time.
Senator Mullins raised the issue of the impact of the VAT rates on spending, and also called for a debate on the Action Plan for Jobs. I have asked the Minister, Deputy Bruton, to come into the House and address that problem and to outline to us the success of the Action Plan for Jobs.
I remind Senators the House debated for a number of hours ideas on job creation which fed into the Action Plan for Jobs. Quite a number of the ideas which came from the House were included. Others may choose to forget this but it is worth recalling this was the situation.
Senator MacSharry called for a debate on men's health. I reject totally the disgraceful comments regarding the Taoiseach.