Seanad debates

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

10:30 am

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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The Order of Business is No. 1, Further Education and Training Bill 2013 - Committee Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and conclude not later than 1.30 p.m.; as no amendments have been submitted to the Bill, I propose we deal with Committee and Remaining Stages today, if Members agree; No. 2, Thirty-second Amendment of the Constitution (Abolition of Seanad Éireann) Bill 2013 - Second Stage (resumed), to be taken at 1.30 p.m. and adjourned not later than 4 p.m.; and No. 4, Private Members' business, Food Provenance Bill 2013 - Second Stage, to be taken at 4.30 p.m. and conclude not later than 6.30 p.m.

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Fianna Fail)
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We will not oppose that aspect of the Order of Business, but some colleagues may have an amendment to propose. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, are elsewhere in Europe today to consider the issue of youth unemployment and the moneys that will be made available Europe-wide for that purpose. That is welcome and hope it will lead to tangible action on the ground in job creation here, as opposed to some wooly policy that will not deliver on the ground. It is extremely worrying to see Europe-wide the level of youth unemployment as high as it is.

Sadly, yesterday we had further bad news with Ulster Bank announcing it would close a further 40 branches. The Irish Bank Officials Association, IBOA, has stated up to 1,850 jobs are at risk, although the bank has denied this.

The IBOA said up to 1,850 jobs were at risk although that has been denied by the bank. In any event, it is a significant blow. Further redundancies to take place in Hewlett-Packard meant that yesterday was quite a dark day.

The Leader of the Opposition referred to the mortgage arrears crisis in the House yesterday. The Leader of the Seanad mentioned that the Central Bank legislation presented an ideal opportunity to raise such issues but I take issue with that. This is a silent crisis and requires a debate. It requires a rolling debate because what I predicted in 2009 when on the other side of the House and what was predicted at the time by Fine Gael Members, including Senator Healy Eames, is now bringing itself to bear. The Dunne judgment, which found a loophole in the conveyancing and land Acts that prevented repossessions, will now be undone by the Government. The chief risk officer for Ulster Bank implied that the bank intends to plough ahead with repossessions as a matter of urgency, and he estimated that up to 35% of defaulters are strategic defaulters. I do not believe the Leader believes that those families throughout the country who are struggling at present are strategic defaulters. I regret very much that the code of conduct will strengthen the hand of the banks and weaken that of struggling families. The code of conduct prevents the potential for success of aspects of the insolvency legislation introduced by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter. We must have a meaningful debate on this issue and introduce tangible measures that will give real relief to people. We must not leave the fox in charge of the henhouse. The banks cannot be trusted and this has been proven time and again. We have heard tapes in recent weeks and now the banks cannot be trusted to put the people first. They always put themselves first and it is our responsibility to face up to that and do something about it.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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I join Senator MacSharry in expressing great regret over the announcements yesterday of job losses in Ulster Bank and Hewlett-Packard. This is most disappointing and regrettable. However, we are hearing positive news today in terms of the vote that we hope MEPs will support the EU budget, the seven-year budget worth €690 million. The negotiations on this were led by the Tánaiste, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, who is in Strasbourg today to be present for the vote. Critical to the vote on the budget is the emphasis on the youth guarantee. As others stated, this is important across the European Union, which has appalling levels of youth unemployment. The guarantee, which was pioneered by Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, will be very specific. What we are seeing is a front-loading of €6 billion in the EU youth employment initiative. It is to be spent in 2014 and 2015 to ensure the guarantee can be given. The intention is to guarantee those who do not find a job within four months of leaving school further education, a training place or employment under the programmes. It is vital that the budget be passed so we can give effect to the guarantee.

There is another vote in Europe that is of great interest to us here, namely, the vote on the European Ombudsman. I wish Ms Emily O'Reilly luck with that vote. She is the favourite to succeed and would be a really excellent European Ombudsman.

I welcome the passage of Second Stage in the Dáil yesterday of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill. It was an historic day, 21 years after the X case judgment, in that the Oireachtas finally took responsibility for passing legislation to give effect to the Supreme Court judgment. I look forward to the debate in this House.

In due course, we will be debating in this House the whistleblower legislation, the Protected Disclosures in the Public Interest Bill, which the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform is publishing today. One of its objectives is the protection of confidential communication between members of the public and Members of the Oireachtas. This is the kind of measure we need to see put in place to ensure that more robust inquiries can be conducted by the Oireachtas.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I also welcome the publication of whistleblower legislation. It has taken a hell of a long time to come out. I will examine it with interest. Whistleblowers have not been protected. I raised a very serious case about misdoings of the Irish Financial Services Centre that involved international banks and not living up to the regulatory requirements. My whistleblower was correct and I was correct. The story was picked up by a German newspaper but largely ignored here. The man in question was sacked. Recently, a very decent garda was sacked. His position was basically made untenable because he reported the circumstances regarding traffic offences. We really need to address this, particularly given the story of Edward Snowden, which I raised yesterday.

I propose an amendment to the order of business, namely, that instead of taking the first item, we invite the Minister for Justice and Equality to the House to explain Ireland's position on this matter. Mr. Snowden's predicament has apparently caused the private airplane of the President of Bolivia to be diverted out of French and Portuguese airspace. The slobbering referred to by Deputy Clare Daly in the other House seems to have become a European contagion. It is nothing other than an act of air piracy. As individual Members, we should nominate Julian Assange, Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden for the Nobel Prize for peace for what they have done in revealing the military atrocities one of our friends committed against civilian populations in various parts of the world. We must know about these events and that Mr. Obama has betrayed those of us who believed he stood for legality and decency considering the intensity of the drone attacks that murder people without giving them the opportunity to defend themselves in a court of law. In nominating these three brave people, we should ask the Swedish Academy, which gave US President Mr. Barack Obama the Nobel Prize for peace on spec, to strip him of it. Now we know the colour of his money.

I deplore the fact that the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport has supported the drinks industry in opposing a ban on advertising during sport. It is lamentable that it did not call any evidence about the health impact. Some of the members went on the wireless talking about the health impact but they do not know what they are talking about as they received no evidence. They are a disgrace and should reconsider this matter carefully without the interference of the drinks lobby.

Photo of Michael MullinsMichael Mullins (Fine Gael)
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I am pleased to note that the issue I wish to raise this morning is also the subject of an Adjournment debate tabled for this evening by Senator John Crown. I refer to the lack of regulation of sunbeds in the State, despite commitments to regulate them by previous Governments and the current Government. Children under 18 and people with very fair skin can use sunbeds without any proper advice or supervision. There is a commitment in the programme for Government to legislate on this matter. I urge the Government to bring forward that legislation as a matter of urgency. There is evidence that there is a very strong link between sunbed use and skin cancer. In 2009, the International Agency for Research on Cancer placed sunbeds in the highest risk category and listed them as being as carcinogenic as tobacco and plutonium. Young people are particularly vulnerable. They are 75% more likely to develop melanoma if sunbed use starts before the age of 25. For every year that the legislation is delayed, as many as 28,000 people, according to the Irish Cancer Society, put their lives at risk in search of a suntan. I urge the Minister for Health to introduce the legislation in the next session of the Dáil. I am sure it will have the support of everybody in the House.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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I am sure the Members of the House would like to join me in welcoming to the House Mr. Basil McCrea and Mr. John McCallister, Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, namely, that No. 11 be taken today.

10:40 am

Photo of Caít KeaneCaít Keane (Fine Gael)
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I did not get an opportunity yesterday to welcome Senator David Norris back but it is worth doing. While I will not indulge in slobbering, it is worth repeating that he has contributed much to this House, particularly in the area of gender recognition. The Seanad has been noted for the work it has done on gender issues and human rights issues. Only yesterday, Senator Katherine Zappone launched the Legal Recognition of Gender Bill. With regard to gender, human rights and women's issues in particular, and the history of these issues, one need look no further than this House. The innovative ideas which came from this House were taken up by the second House and then eventually passed. This is a point to bear in mind.

On 1 July, the Government announced a national broadband mapping system for the entire country to identify where the black spots and gaps are, and Senator Ned O'Sullivan yesterday raised the issue of gaps in mobile broadband. We have been talking about jobs, particularly for our youth, and nothing is as important in this country as jobs and home-grown SMEs. Very many of these SMEs are in areas of the country which are not served at present by the national broadband scheme. The Government launched the mapping system yesterday, and one could ask why this was not done earlier or why the onus was not on the commercial companies that supply broadband to ensure they mapped where the systems were and how many megabits per second were provided in each area. The Government has asked all of the broadband companies to co-operate, although this is on a voluntary basis and they do not have to do it. I would like a debate in the House on the national broadband scheme. The Government wants to identify where Government intervention will be needed, given that the commercial companies will not supply all services because it would not be commercially viable to do so. The Government has said it will intervene, but it needs help in regard to the mapping system. The Government also said it would work community by community. The community here in Leinster House, including the Seanad, has a role to play in ensuring the black spots are identified as quickly as possible and that broadband services of 30 Mbps are provided, as promised, for every community in the country. That is the way we will get jobs up and running. It is the way we should be going and it should have been done long ago.

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Sinn Fein)
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Yesterday, a report was published which followed an independent audit of the management of child neglect cases in Roscommon, Waterford and the south-east of Dublin. This report was carried out in advance of a national audit, which was one of the main recommendations that followed the Roscommon child care case inquiry of 2010.

As we know, neglect is the single biggest reason children come to the attention of social services. The main finding of the report was that, despite the involvement of statutory services, the circumstances of vulnerable children had not improved. It found many problems still in the system. The report stated: "Words such as "dirty" and "unhygienic" do not adequately describe the situation endured by some children in homes where beds were saturated in urine, there was no heat, there was dog excrement in the living room and bedrooms, a worker's shoe stuck to the carpet, mouldy food had adhered to kitchen counters and the toilet was black with dirt and excrement." That is the reality for children in some homes in this State, unfortunately.

We need to make sure we learn the lessons from what happened in Roscommon and in other cases throughout this State. As this is just an audit of three counties and we have yet to see the national audit, it obviously points to very significant problems that still have not been addressed. We need to make sure that we properly protect children and that the services are in place and are properly resourced. We also need to make sure that, where there are systems failures, as there have been in the past, senior management in the HSE can be held responsible. In the wake of the publication of this report, it is important to have a debate in this House on its contents so we can all make sure we are making the best possible provisions and providing the resources to ensure children are being properly cared for in this State.

Photo of Jimmy HarteJimmy Harte (Labour)
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I would like to extend a welcome to Mr. John McCallister MLA and Mr. Basil McCrea MLA. As a fellow Donegal man from Ramelton, a very good town just outside Letterkenny, Mr. McCrea is very welcome to the Chamber.

I ask that we debate the future of retail banking in rural areas. I have an office in a small town, Raphoe, where at one stage there were three banks, two building societies, a post office and a credit union. Now, there is just one bank, Ulster Bank, and the news in the past few days is that Ulster Bank is closing branches. We all know the structural problems and the debts of the banks. On the ground, however, where banks are part of the community, we have to maintain at least one of the pillar banks in small towns that have businesses. For example, Raphoe has two secondary schools, a cattle mart and departmental offices. It is important that the banks, which have been supported by the community, now support the community. I ask that the Minister come to the House to outline some kind of roadmap for the future of the small retail banking offices that are in every small town in the country. If Ulster Bank closes in a small town like Raphoe, all that will be left is the credit union, which, while it will have an opportunity to develop, is a different type of banking facility, and the post office, which provides a different service. I ask that the Minister for Finance or the Minister of State at that Department come to the House to tell us whether they have a roadmap for rural towns, which need banks to help to promote their areas. I ask that we get some clarity from Ulster Bank on what closures it intends to implement.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I want to second the amendment proposed by Senator Mary White in regard to her parental leave Bill. I commend and compliment her on preparing this Bill and putting so much work into it. I hope it will get the support of the House in transferring the matter back to the Government to show that the Seanad can introduce private Members' legislation that is worthwhile and successful.

I would like to ask the Leader to arrange an early debate on volunteerism. A wonderful example of community spirit in my own village of Castlecoote in Roscommon is the success of the tidy towns committee in winning Ireland's Best Kept Town competition. Castlecoote also won the best kept village category. Truly, this is the Sam Maguire cup of tidy towns and villages - it is an All-Ireland win. I congratulate Castlecoote tidy towns committee, Roscommon County Council, all the young boys and girls involved, Active Age and the whole community and commend them on their hard work, pride and dedication in maintaining their community. Indeed, as local councillors are sometimes not mentioned, I would like to mention Councillor Orla Leyden of Roscommon County Council for her input. A councillor who went before her was very active in the area too-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Senator, as you well know, you are not supposed to mention names on the record of the House. People are not here to defend themselves.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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Would it be in order to mention my own name? In any case, I will abide by the ruling of the Chair. Nothing happens by chance but through dedication and commitment. I want, finally, to compliment one of the longest serving members of the Castlecoote tidy towns committee, Mrs. Mainie Delaney, and her late, great husband and my dear friend, Mr. Mark Delaney, RIP, on their dedication.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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You cannot mention names.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I ask the Cathaoirleach and every Member of the House to come and visit us in Castlecoote, and we will give them a night to remember. They can view our village and-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Is the Senator calling for a debate?

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I wish the tidy towns committee in Castlecoote, the winner of the best kept village category in County Roscommon and now the best in Ireland, well with regard to winning the overall Tidy Towns competition for 2014.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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You can make those points during the debate.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Cathaoirleach for his indulgence and I hope he will take me up on my invitation in the near future and come and visit me, maybe in a hostelry.

Photo of Michael ComiskeyMichael Comiskey (Fine Gael)
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I will certainly take up my colleague's invitation to visit the town of Castlecoote. Perhaps when we are finished there, we could take Members on into north Leitrim and give them a tour to see some of the very good scenery there.

I call for a debate on the issue of wind farms, which has been called for previously. There are a number of problems in some areas where wind farms have been developed. I see a number of positives at present.

A wind farm is being developed in north Leitrim at present and up to 100 people have started working there in the last two weeks. This could be a huge opportunity for local communities and for people who want to get work in their local area. Also, when the wind farms are being developed it will put money into the local communities and help them to build community centres, football fields and the like. I acknowledge that where people are living close to wind farms there can be problems with noise and so on, but the hills in the west and north west of Ireland, far away from where people are living, are the places to develop those farms.

10:50 am

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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I welcome Mr. Basil McCrea, MLA, and Mr. John McCallister, MLA. Their hospitality in Stormont is so good that it will be hard for us to live up to that standard.

Will the Leader take account of what happened in the House last night in addressing the issue of bank regulation? The Department of Finance and the Central Bank closed ranks against even the mildest reforms in banking regulation in this country, as if the banks had not done enough harm to us. That illustrates the direction in which the banking inquiry should go. The Fianna Fáil part is done. It lost 58 seats and there are 42 new Members of the Seanad. The real part is to examine the collusion with the Department of Finance, the way the Department treated its whistleblowers and its refusal to countenance any form of bank regulation that would take account of reform based on the whistleblowing or, indeed, regulation that would take into account the views of the National Competitiveness Council or the Competition Authority. This is about bankers running banks of the type that got us into so much trouble. We must get away from that. It should not be a political witch hunt but it must concern the officials and the alleged banking regulation we had in the past, which caused so many problems in this country. We must achieve that emphasis because, as we saw last night, the officials will not do it of their own volition. The House must insist that we examine their role in the disastrous events of September 2008.

The independence of the Members on these benches is a highly prized part of this Seanad. It will be replaced by committees, according to the Taoiseach, but, as we know from events today, if one does not agree with the Taoiseach, one will be expelled from committees-----

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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-----and that is no substitute for the independence that these benches bring to the House.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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All power corrupts.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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I welcome a former Member of the House, Mr. Paddy Harte, and his wife to the Seanad. I call Senator Kelly.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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On a point of order, while I also strongly support the welcome to Paddy Harte, I wish to inform the House that the congratulations that were offered in advance to Emily O'Reilly are now applicable. She has now been elected European Ombudsman and I am sure the House will wish to congratulate her.

Photo of John KellyJohn Kelly (Labour)
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I, too, pay tribute to the tidy towns committee in Castlecoote on the great work it has done. It is a beautiful village. The committee has put Castlecoote and Roscommon on the map. Roscommon has always been the forgotten county when it comes to tourism, but many villages such as Keadue, Ballintober and Castlecoote have a great deal to offer tourists. Indeed, Senator Leyden is preparing to open a hostelry in Castlecoote to further entice people to the village. However, the Senator forgot to mention that along with his daughter on the tidy towns committee, Councillors Dominick Connolly and Martin Connaughton have been very active in the village as well. He might not like to admit that, but fair play to all concerned.

The issue I wish to raise, like Senator MacSharry, is the code of conduct for the banks. I raised this issue a week ago as I feel very strongly about it. The point I made a week ago was that when we were voting on the Personal Insolvency Bill, if we had been privy to what was happening in Anglo Irish Bank and other banks, as we have heard from the tapes, we would not have given the banks a veto. Now that they have the veto, the code of conduct will give them all the power they need to repossess homes. If a personal insolvency practitioner works out a plan with somebody who has a distressed mortgage and the person sticks to that plan, the recommendations the practitioner makes should be enough for the banks to agree to deal with the person. However, having looked at the newspapers today and hearing what Senator MacSharry has said, it appears that if somebody cannot-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Do you have a question for the Leader?

Photo of John KellyJohn Kelly (Labour)
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I have. It appears that if somebody cannot acquire the type of money required to satisfy the bank - in other words, if he or she has a debt of €150,000 and the most he or she can come up with is €90,000, and the bank realises it can get more by selling the person's home, it can sell the person's home. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Finance to intervene personally in these cases, because people will lose their homes. The banks have proven that they will do whatever it takes to get their money.

Photo of Brian Ó DomhnaillBrian Ó Domhnaill (Fianna Fail)
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The issue I wish to raise is one I raised last week and also in a recent Adjournment debate, but I got no satisfaction. It pertains to two specialist preschools in County Donegal, one in Ballaghderg, just outside Letterkenny, and the other, St. Agnes's, in Donegal town. The direction given by the Minister for Health to local HSE management is that both preschools should close. This will affect children with very severe disabilities. These include children with epilepsy, children who cannot drink fluids and children who need to be closely monitored or need the full-time services of a nurse. They require sensory toys and specialist equipment. These children deserve an opportunity for educational advancement as well.

I received an e-mail from a parent of one of the children. It states that as the child is unable to voice his own opinion, the parent must do it for him. From him she gives the following three lines: "I am disabled but I am here. I am disabled but I want to attend school. I am disabled but I would like to live my life." Why are the Minister for Health and his Department not allowing for those three basic principles in the case of that child and other children at the two schools? Yes, there is a cost. The cost of the two schools in 2012 was €600,000. That is €600,000 for 25 to 30 children who will have short lives, according to the paediatricians at Letterkenny General Hospital, but whose lives should be cherished equally. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister for Health come to the House today and answer the basic question of why he is directing one of those schools to be closed this September. Parents who tried to enrol their children this week were told the school will not be open in September even though there has been no consultation with the parents.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Can the Senator give me the name of the school?

Photo of Brian Ó DomhnaillBrian Ó Domhnaill (Fianna Fail)
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The Minister should come to the House to explain this to us and give us the opportunity to ask questions about both schools.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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We need the names of the schools.

Photo of Brian Ó DomhnaillBrian Ó Domhnaill (Fianna Fail)
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They are Ballaghderg specialist preschool and St. Agnes's specialist preschool. A third preschool in County Sligo is experiencing similar difficulties and Senator MacSharry has been raising that issue with the HSE.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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I join the Cathaoirleach and others in extending a very warm welcome to our esteemed Northern colleagues and to our good friend Paddy Harte and his wife.

There was a very measured contribution from Senator MacSharry this morning, and I agree with much of it. All Members would agree with it. It is very disturbing that Ulster Bank will let approximately 1,800 people go and close a number of branches. That is certainly very bad news for provincial towns in Ireland, which have suffered so much in many other respects. Some time ago I asked the finance committee to invite the chairmen and chief executive officers of the non-Irish banks to appear before the committee so we could learn something concrete about their plans for the future of those banks in this country. It goes without saying that it is very important to have competition in banking. However, it is more disturbing to hear that they and others have lined up so many repossession orders.

Society simply cannot afford to turf so many people out on the side of the street. Has the suite of options been fully exhausted? It looks like it has not.

11:00 am

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Fianna Fail)
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Absolutely.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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As I said, the banks have to suffer some pain for what they have inflicted on so many people by virtue of their actions. They have to face up to their responsibilities, and allow people to remain in their homes and pay a proper market rent or whatever is in accordance with the suite of options and the code of conduct. I know the Leader is prepared to facilitate such a debate. Perhaps he will comment on when it can be arranged.

Photo of Feargal QuinnFeargal Quinn (Independent)
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We recently passed Second Stage of the defibrillator Bill. It got quite a lot of attention. I was approached by a number of people in regard to it. A young man was mentioned by Senator Power as somebody who had experienced a heart attack, was taken for dead and was rescued because a man in his club had the ability and knowledge to operate a defibrillator. He was saved. He suggested it would be very easy for everybody to learn how to use a defibrillator. It does not take very long and it could be part of the transition year programme. Apparently the training takes half an hour. Within a couple of years everybody in the country would be able to use the equipment. I wish to pass my suggestion to the Minister for Education and Skills. It would be a worthy exercise.

About four years ago the House debated the issue of presumed consent for organ donation. The matter was shelved and nothing has happened since then. Wales yesterday passed a law with the same intention we had some four years ago. I understand the law was passed by a vote of 34 to ten. It is a worthy step. One can automatically opt out if one does not want to participate.

I refer to what Senator Barrett said about yesterday's debate. It was very interesting but, as he said, the Minister did not accept any amendments. He gave the impression that the amendments pertaining to banks would be accepted.

Senator Barrett drew attention to one particular amendment, namely, that the Central Bank may consult different bodies for advice. He tabled an amendment which stated among those which would have to be consulted would be the Competition Authority-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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We cannot discuss yesterday's business.

Photo of Feargal QuinnFeargal Quinn (Independent)
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Senator Barrett was correct to say not having this House would be a huge threat to our democracy.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Denis LandyDenis Landy (Labour)
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The Carers Association of Ireland plays a very important role in society. It provides services for family members in their homes and ensures their quality of life is improved on a daily basis. Today it made its prebudget submission in the audiovisual room. I am cognisant of the fact that as a result of the promissory note deal it is aware there is an opportunity for it to push forward many of its needs in next year's budget.

It raised a number of issues today, including the protection of the rates of carer's allowance paid and the household benefits scheme. It is calling for an improvement in the appeals process to reduce the waiting period for applicants to 12 weeks. It is also calling for increased transparency in eligibility criteria, specifically financial assessments. It has asked for the abolition of the double charge for medical card holders in receipt of prescriptions whereby the same drug may need to be dispensed in different weight units and patients are being charged twice.

The Carers Association needs and deserves the support of the people in this House and of Government in general. I support it wholeheartedly. Its prebudget submission is reasonable. It is cognisant of the current economic situation. I ask the Leader to put his support behind the submission and the House to do likewise.

Photo of Trevor Ó ClochartaighTrevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Fein)
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I dtosach báire, ba mhaith liom cuidiú leis an leasú atá molta ar an Riar Gnó ag an Seanadóir Norris.

I second Senator Norris's amendment to the Order of Business. I would also like to make a correction to a statement I made yesterday. When I mentioned Senator Whelan I inadvertently said he made an address to a group of turf cutters at Camross. I would like to correct that statement because it was actually Tullamore.

Photo of Denis LandyDenis Landy (Labour)
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Is that an apology?

Photo of Trevor Ó ClochartaighTrevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Fein)
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No, it is a correction. The statement was made to about 2,000 people in Tullamore and he gave his full support to turf cutters there.

I also congratulate Emily O'Reilly. She has been a fantastic Ombudsman and will be a hard act to follow. I congratulate her wholeheartedly on her appointment as European Ombudsman.

I concur with Senator Landy. I was at the Carers Association presentation. It was a practical and essential submission. I hope when we vote on the social protection Bill he will follow through on his commitment today.

The Leader agreed that there should be a series of prebudget debates in the House. We should not leave that too late because the budget will be announced in October. He indicated he hoped we would have a number of such debates before the recess. I suggest a debate on social protection be one of the starting points because it is one of the most contentious areas of the budget. We could take all of the suggestions made by the Carers Association on board. I call for a debate on prebudget submissions on social protection before the recess, if possible. It would be timely and would give the Minister, Deputy Burton, food for thought over the summer recess to take all of the suggestions in the House on board.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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I congratulate Aer Lingus on its terrific announcement that there will be services all year round between Shannon and Chicago and New York. It is further indication that the Government's aviation policy of giving Shannon Airport its independence is working. It is a further boost to the good news we have had this week about the increase in tourism throughout Ireland, in particular from the North American market. When there is good news we should acknowledge it and acknowledge the senior management in Aer Lingus.

I call for a debate with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade on rebuilding our international reputation following the tapes from hell which horrified all of us last week. The Minister needs to come to the House and outline to us what he is doing to restore our reputation internationally. We are being pilloried in the German media. One of the more conservative newspapers in Germany suggested some of the people involved in the tapes should be beaten with a stick until such time as they are senseless and not to stop beating them until the screams become too much for the Irish people to bear.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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That is not a very good idea from that particular country, is it?

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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I am not advocating that.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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It sounds as though you are.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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That is what is being written about this country internationally. We have a problem. In the past two years the Government has done serious work to rebuild our reputation. We need to redouble our efforts in continuing that. I commend Shaun Connolly of the Irish Examiner-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Are you calling for a debate on this issue?

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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-----on his article today. He outlined in detail what is being said in Germany and German publications about what happened under the previous regime and in Anglo Irish Bank. There is a lot of work to be done. It would be useful to hear what our embassies throughout the world are doing to address this serious problem.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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I second Senator Ó Domhnaill's amendment to the Order of Business. I join with Senator MacSharry in wishing the Taoiseach and the Minister, Deputy Burton, good luck today in their negotiations on the youth guarantee scheme.

The scheme which was agreed by the Commission and is awaiting approval by the European Parliament proposes a ring-fenced allocation of €9 billion in the next seven years to combat youth unemployment. Areas of this country with a youth unemployment level of more than 25% will be eligible for funding under the scheme, but I hope it will cater also for regions with levels of 15% or 20%. Experts on this issue throughout Europe maintain that a minimum of €25 billion is required up to 2020 to tackle the problem of youth unemployment. I wish the Taoiseach and the Minister well in their negotiations to secure as much as possible for Ireland of the €9 billion allocated.

I join the Cathaoirleach and other speakers in welcoming my three Ulster colleagues to the Visitors Gallery. I particularly welcome former Deputy Paddy Harte from County Donegal who reached out to our nearest neighbours when it was neither popular nor safe to do so. I wish him and his wife well.

11:10 am

Photo of Aideen HaydenAideen Hayden (Labour)
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I join colleagues in expressing my frustration at the comments yesterday by the chief executive officer of Ulster Bank. They seemed to imply that responsibility for the high level of mortgage arrears should be laid at the door of the media, on the one hand, for their comments on debt forgiveness and, on the other, the mortgage arrears resolution process, MARP, and the Dunne judgment. There is a very worrying change of tone emerging from the banking sector which is seeking to assign the blame for the high level of mortgage arrears to others and, moreover, to intensify the debate around the cannot pay versus will not pay debacle.

I reiterate the call I have made on several occasions for two separate debates in this House. The first should focus specifically on the new code of conduct on mortgage arrears. I am particularly concerned at the emerging information on what is to be considered a sustainable or affordable debt and at the level of power the banks now have under the new MARP system to determine the fate of borrowers. The second debate should be a more general discussion on the banking system. It was not possible or feasible to accommodate either of these debates in the context of our consideration of the Central Bank (Supervision and Enforcement) Bill 2011. I ask the Leader to allocate time for two stand-alone debates as a matter of urgency.

The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 passed Second Stage in the Dáil yesterday. Many Members welcomed the announcement of the co-location plans for Holles Street and St. Vincent's hospitals during a debate in this House some weeks ago. Anybody who attended the hearings of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children on the Bill would have been struck by the successive comments by representatives of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and individual specialists on the inadequacy of maternity services. Will the Leader accommodate a debate on this specific issue? If we are truly to protect the lives of women and children, we must prioritise the provision of maternity services.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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On the issue raised by Senator Martin Conway, the less said about the comments made in that particular German newspaper the better. References to violence, even in jest, are unhelpful. People say certain things will never happen, but then they do.

I support the comments made by my colleague, Senator David Norris, on the decision of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications on alcohol sponsorship. As a person who is very concerned about the so-called Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, I wish advocates for the unborn had the same clout with the Government as the drinks industry seems to have. The transport committee is, apparently, being used to push back against the Government's stated commitment in regard to alcohol advertising and sponsorship. It is chilling to read about the way in which the drinks industry hints at withdrawing business if Ireland is seen to be anti-alcohol. That type of language beggars belief when one considers the problem we as a nation have with alcohol. It is also disturbing to see the Government piggy-backing on this image, tweeting images to the world of the Canadian Prime Minister holding a pint of Guinness. As Brian O'Connell puts it in The Irish Times today: "The interesting question though is how did we get to the point where it was OK for the Government to support the stereotypical boozy image of Ireland through such blatant product promotion". It is a question that is well asked and to which we must have an answer.

Will the Leader allow the same ample time for Second Stage of the so-called Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill as he has promised for the debate on the legislation to hold a referendum to abolish the Seanad? It is very important that we have an open-ended Second Stage debate. I understand Members in the Dáil were allowed 20 minutes each and I hope Senators will be given the same scope. I congratulate the 24 Deputies who followed their conscience in voting yesterday for the protection of unborn children.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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That is not relevant to the Order of Business.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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I am almost finished. There are many more who share their views. It is about time we had a debate on the capacity to vote in accordance with one's conscience, particularly on life and death issues. I certainly would not be able to live with my conscience if I voted for such legislation. Everybody should have maximum freedom on issues such as this.

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Fine Gael)
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I join colleagues in welcoming the appointment of the Ombudsman, Ms Emily O'Reilly, as European Ombudsman. Ms O'Reilly played a major role in identifying, more than ten years ago, the inadequacies and irregularities in the procedures for charging nursing home residents. Unfortunately, the Department of Health ignored her advice. The news of her new appointment is very welcome.

Will the Leader arrange a debate on the problem of staff absenteeism in the Health Service Executive? The average rate of absenteeism was 4.7% in 2010, 4.9% in 2011 and, as we learned in recent days, 4.79% in 2012. This means that last year 4,790 people were absent from work in the HSE every day. The target rate of absenteeism is 3.5%. Absenteeism represents a huge cost to the taxpayer and one that must be tackled. I accept that people are working under significant pressures and that there has been a failure to review and improve working practices. Nevertheless, the figures are very worrying. In February this year, in one area alone, the rate of absenteeism among medical staff was 0.85%, whereas the rate for general support staff was 7.97%. That is a huge difference in the incidence of absenteeism among different categories of worker in the same organisation. We must have a debate on this issue. If there are work practices which do not suit employees, there is an obligation to see how they might be amended. A situation in which 4,790 people are absent every day cannot be allowed to continue.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the announcement by Aer Lingus of its intention to restore the route between Dublin and San Francisco. Even though 40% of all international investment in Ireland comes from the bay area of that city, since 2009, when Aer Lingus shut down the route, we have had no direct link with it from this country. It seems that Facebook, Google and the other Internet companies with European headquarters in Ireland have been successful in their negotiations with the airline on this issue. There will now be four flights a week connecting us to what is essentially our largest trading partner. I compliment all those who played a part in this success, including the Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade who led a delegation to San Francisco last year. The importance of this trade link was impressed upon us all during the course of that visit. The issue was raised again at a meeting of the committee last November and on several occasions on the Order of Business and the Adjournment in this House. The re-establishment of the route will be welcomed by everybody in the Oireachtas.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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I join colleagues in welcoming the election of Ms Emily O'Reilly to the post of European Ombudsman. She did a fantastic job as Ombudsman and will be a hard act to follow.

I support Senator Rónán Mullen's comments on Ireland's international image as a nation of drinkers.

I regret that we must constantly see images of leaders of other countries who visit Ireland drinking a pint of Guinness. That irritates me every time I see it happen.

11:20 am

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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President Obama got stuck with it, but the Queen was cute enough. Breeding will out.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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However, I am not going to get into a debate on alcohol now because I would feel like a killjoy. I want to highlight something I mentioned yesterday regarding the CSO figures and the increase in the number of tourists from emerging markets such as China and India. While conducting some research, I discovered that Fáilte Ireland and the Irish Film Board had succeeded in enticing six top Hollywood producers to visit Ireland at the end of this month, with a view to making more movies here. The Bollywood movie, "Ek Tha Tiger", which was filmed in Dublin last September was one of the highest grossing movies in India where it was seen by no less than 100 million cinemagoers. The equivalent exposure in advertising terms for future blockbuster Bollywood movies filmed here is incalculable. Such exposure sends powerful images of Ireland to far flung parts of the world.

Another innovative initiative-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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I am getting to it. Another noteworthy point concerns a Fáilte Ireland initiative involving a celebrity Chinese couple. This may sound frivolous, but it is interesting and important. The couple spent their honeymoon in Ireland last November and generated approximately €500,000 worth of publicity in China, for the meagre investment of €8,000, because they blogged and posted pictures of themselves in Ireland. Initiatives such as this are seriously worthwhile. While we need to keep value for money as a key factor in tourism initiatives, ingenious initiatives such as these are something for which we need to give huge credit to Fáilte Ireland and the Department responsible for tourism.

Photo of John CrownJohn Crown (Independent)
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I inform the House of the sad death this morning, in his 91st year, of Mr. Dermot Clarke who for many years was director of operations in Aer Lingus, in which job he toiled dutifully for a long time. His curriculum vitae began at a much younger age. When he was a young man and a recent graduate of the college on Kevin Street in the new field of electrical engineering, he took to sea in 1941 with the British Merchant Navy, at a time when there was great peril associated with that job. His ship was bombed and torpedoed by the Nazis. He was present in Bari Harbour in 1943, in one of the greatest disasters of the Second World War, when the Anglo-American invasion fleet was bombed by the Luftwaffe, resulting in a major escape of mustard gas which the Allies had brought with them to be used in retaliation if the Germans used chemical weapons first. Chemical weapons were not used much in the Second World War, but the Allies used to bring them with them in case the Germans used them. The mustard gas brought by the Allies was released and, tragically, 1,000 young men and women died. As a result of the medical observations made in the post mortems-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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It is not usual for us to allow this type of tribute to be paid on the Order of Business.

Photo of John CrownJohn Crown (Independent)
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We have done it before.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Only following a proposal from the Leader and for former Members of the House.

Photo of John CrownJohn Crown (Independent)
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May I ask for the Leader's permission to continue for 30 seconds?

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Okay.

Photo of John CrownJohn Crown (Independent)
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The observations made as a result led, in many ways, to the discovery of cancer chemotherapy. I think it is appropriate that this man who lived such a wonderful and heroic life, who gave such great service to the State and who in the post-war years, after his part in the downfall of the Nazis, took part in the relief of the Berlin blockade by the Soviet communists should be remembered. He did his bit against despotism in the 20th century. I would like the record of the House to reflect our appreciation of what he did and our sympathy to his wife, Margaret, and wonderful family.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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I, too, wish Emily O'Reilly well on her election to the position of Ombudsman for Europe.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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The acting Leader of the Opposition, Senator Marc MacSharry, raised the question of youth unemployment and mentioned the visit of the Taoiseach and the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, to Strasbourg today. It is very important that we get our share of the funding voted through by the European Parliament. The matter was raised by Senator Diarmuid Wilson and others and we all wish the Taoiseach and the Minister well in their deliberations and negotiations on the funding to tackle youth unemployment.

On the issue of mortgage arrears, this is a matter which has been raised by a number of Senators. On a number of occasions I have made a request for the relevant Minister to come to the House to discuss it, but I have not yet received a positive reaction from the Department. I will continue to seek the attendance of a Minister to discuss the issue, but all I can do is ask. I will do my best to push it again and arrange for a Minister to come to the House to discuss the issues of the code of conduct, banking and mortgage arrears, as requested by a number of Senators.

Senators Ivana Bacik, David Norris, Catherine Noone and the Cathaoirleach have all expressed good wishes to Emily O'Reilly on becoming European Ombudsman. We all wish her every success in her new position.

I note the points made by Senator David Norris on the whistleblower legislation. Yesterday the issue of asylum for Mr. Edward Snowden was raised. The position is that asylum applications are not generally accepted from persons resident or present in other countries as our refugee status determination process is based on applications for asylum being made within the Irish jurisdiction. Asylum applications made at Irish embassies abroad are not accepted. Therefore, I do not propose to accept the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by the Senator.

The Senator also mentioned the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications on the issue of alcohol sponsorship. This matter has been raised by a number of Senators. The Minister of State, Deputy Alex White, indicated he would come to the House when the committee's report was published and I am sure we can arrange a debate on the issue soon.

Senator Michael Mullins raised an issue which has been submitted as an Adjournment matter regarding the use of sunbeds and the need for legislation. Senator John Crown has also raised this matter. Perhaps after the Adjournment debate we might know more about what the Government intends to do in that regard and might then address the matter.

Senator Mary M. White proposed an amendment to the Order of Business to allow her Bill on parental leave to be published. I have no problem in that regard and will agree to her amendment to the Order of Business.

Senator Cáit Keane raised the issue of the national mapping of broadband and the identification of black spots. This is a matter Senator Ned O'Sullivan raised in connection to mobile phones. There is certainly a need to act on and address this issue. If necessary, we will ask for the relevant Minister to come to the House to update us on it.

Senator David Cullinane referred to the HSE's report on neglected children. This issue was raised by a number of Senators yesterday when I responded on it. The Government is acutely aware of the neglect for decades of Irish children and has sought to take real action to address the serious inadequacies in the care system. It is only an initial report. It is on phase one of the audit and there is a lot more to be done in that regard. Everybody must realise the Government is very serious about the matter. A new model for family based multi-agency assessment and early intervention has already been trialled in two regions and is being mainstreamed in the establishment of the new child and family agency. Last summer, after the report was completed, HIQA published inspection standards for the HSE's child welfare and protection services.

The Children First guidelines have been updated and it is intended to make them statutory. The referendum on children was passed. These are positive actions in the area, but we must continue to be vigilant where the care of children is concerned. I note Senator Cullinane's points. Senator Harte asked for a debate on the future of retail banking in rural Ireland in particular. I have requested the Minister for Finance to come to the House to debate that issue. A debate on the post office network will be held tomorrow and some of the issues can be discussed then. Senator Leyden asked for a debate on volunteerism. We had that debate previously but I will see what can be arranged. He lauded Castlecoote on its success, as did Senator Kelly, who also referred to tourism in Roscommon. Many Senators praised their own towns, and rightly so. Some of them will probably be auditioning for jobs in Fáilte Ireland if anything should ever happen to the Seanad.

11:30 am

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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Tip O'Neill said that all politics is local.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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Of course.

Senator Comiskey spoke about the advantages and disadvantages of wind farms. He highlighted the benefits for local communities in his area, where more than 100 jobs have been created. Senator Barrett asked for a debate on bank regulation or the lack of it. He referred to the position of officials in the Department of Finance and the need for a change in attitudes. I listened to last night's debate. I agree that some of the amendments proposed by Senator Barrett, particularly that which proposed to replace "may" with "shall", should have been accepted. However, that is a decision for the Government. I note Senator Barrett's point. I do not propose to accept Senator Ó Domhnaill's amendment to the Order of Business. He tabled a matter on the Adjournment and perhaps he may need to table a further matter if the response was not satisfactory.

Senator Paul Coghlan called for the chairmen and chief executive officers of the non-Irish-owned banks to be brought before the finance committee. I am sure the committee will arrange such a meeting. I agree with Senator Coghlan that banks must suffer some of the pain that mortgage holders and people in arrears are suffering and that banks should be brought to book at the finance committee. Senator Quinn made an excellent suggestion about the defibrillator Bill and transition year students being taught how to use defibrillators. I will bring that matter to the attention of the Minister for Education and Skills.

The question of presumed consent for organ donation was raised in the House by Senator Quinn. This has been lying to one side for a number of years. Similar legislation has been passed in Wales this week. I have inquired of the Department its intentions with regard to such legislation. I will revert to the Senator when I know when the Department intends to publish legislation. Senator Landy spoke about the pre-budget submission from the Carers' Association. I agree with Senator Landy that we should all praise the excellent work of carers all over the country. Senator Ó Clochartaigh spoke on pre-budget submissions to the Department of Social Protection. The Minister for Social Protection has agreed to come to the House when we return in September. Senator Conway praised Aer Lingus on its winter and summer services from Shannon to Chicago and New York. This is welcomed by everyone in the mid-west in particular.

There has been negative publicity in some countries as a result of the Anglo Irish Bank tapes debacle, which I am confident the Government is attempting to redress. Senator Wilson asked for a debate on youth unemployment and the €6 billion fund. Experts have said there is a need for €25 billion. In my view, €6 billion is a good start and perhaps that sum can be increased in the future. Senator Hayden called for a debate on banking. I have addressed that matter. I have asked the Minister to come to the House but I have not received a positive response in that regard. She also called for a debate on maternity services. I will ask the Minister for Health to come to the House for a debate on that subject. In reply to Senator Mullen, I have stated on many occasions that ample time for debate will be afforded to the House. As with the arrangements for the Seanad referendum Bill, I propose that ten minutes be allocated to every Senator on Second Stage and that ample time be afforded on Committee and Report Stages. I hope the debate will be conducted in a very dignified manner and that points will be made once and not rehashed a hundred times. I hope we will not have a filibuster on the Bill. I can assure the House that adequate time will be afforded to all Members to make their points. I hope that making a point once will be sufficient for everyone.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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Ten minutes would not be ample on Second Stage.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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That is what I am proposing and that is what will be happening.

Senator Burke asked for a debate on the level of absenteeism in the HSE and the need, if necessary, for a change in work practices. Senator Daly welcomed the news that Aer Lingus proposes to resume flights to San Francisco. This is a very important proposal. The matter was raised at the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade. Everyone wanted this to happen and it is welcome. Senator Noone referred to the positive CSO figures on tourism and the importance of the film industry and other initiatives. These demonstrate the importance of niche activities that the Senator mentioned as being important for the tourism industry. Senator Crown referred to the death of Dermot Clarke. I extend the sympathies of the House to his family.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Senator Norris has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 1 be deleted and a debate on the position of Mr. Edward Snowden be substituted therefor." Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put:

The Seanad divided: Tá, 20; Níl, 31.

Tellers: Tá, Senators David Norris and Trevor Ó Clochartaigh; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden..

Amendment declared lost.

11:40 am

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Senator White has moved an amendment to the Order of Business, "That No. 11 be taken before No.1." The Leader has indicated he is prepared to accept the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Senator Ó Domhnaill has moved an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate on the proposed closure of Ballaghderg and St. Agnes's specialist preschools in County Donegal be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put:

The Seanad divided: Tá, 18; Níl, 32.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.

Amendment declared lost.

Order of Business, as amended, agreed to.