Thursday, 12 December 2013
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Finance (No. 2) Bill 2013 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 11.45 a.m. and conclude not later than 3.45 p.m.; No. 2, Water Services (No. 2) Bill 2013 – Committee Stage (Resumed), to be taken at 4 p.m. and to conclude not later than 6 p.m.; and No. 3, Health Insurance (Amendment) Bill 2013 - Second Stage, to be taken at 6 p.m., with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and to conclude at 8 p.m.
The Cathaoirleach has not started the clock, excellent. I cannot agree to the Order of Business. What is the rationale for taking Committee and Remaining Stages of the Finance Bill? Yesterday we had a decent Second Stage debate with the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes. We have a number of substantial amendments tabled and we will have no-----
Is Senator Paul Coghlan finished? It is not sensible to guillotine the Bill. The Leader is proposing to shut down a debate on the Finance Bill. Yesterday, we highlighted that the Bill contains some serious measures. For example, an increase in the pension levy, a reduction in tax relief on health insurance and a massive change in the one-parent tax credit that will affect about 15,000 families.
Effectively, Committee and Remaining Stages, will be bundled together and, if so, we will have to oppose that. It should be open to us on Report Stage of a Bill, such as this, to resubmit recommendations and to have a proper and reasoned debate. I will raise the issue directly with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan.
Will the Leader confirm whether the Minister, Deputy Noonan, or the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, will take the remainder of the Bill? We had the Minister here yesterday for the Credit Reporting Bill 2012 which was not contentious in any shape or form and was agreed by all parties and the Minister of State came in to take the Finance Bill. I am aware the Minister is busy but I would like to know if the Minister will be here today. We will oppose the Order of Business on the basis that Committee and Remaining Stages are being put through in one sitting.
Has the Leader made any progress with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government in respect of the scheduling of the pyrite Bill? Does he still intend to take all Stages of that Bill on Monday evening? I think it is a Bill on which we can agree. We have done much work on it and I have sought feedback from residents who are affected. I am not trying to be difficult next week. We have not yet seen the Bill but would like to see it. I am sure it is fine but we should be able to debate it properly rather than it being dealt with in an all Stages format. I agree with the Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan, that it is important it is passed before Christmas and we will facilitate that. However, I do not want all Stages taken on Monday.
I spoke yesterday in support of Senator O'Brien on the pyrite Bill. It is important that we do not simply rush through all Stages of the Bill in one sitting, just because it is welcomed. Indeed, it is welcomed by both sides of the House and, in principle, it is a good idea. I know the Leader has made every effort, particularly with the Water Services (No. 2) Bill 2013, to ensure we have adequate time for debate, particularly on Committee and Report Stages.
I agree with the Senator that we had a very good Second Stage debate on the Finance (No. 2) Bill last night. I was in the Chamber for most of it. It was very fair. I felt those on both sides of the House welcomed the job activation measures and the measures in it that will have the effect of boosting consumer confidence. We did also have a robust debate on section 7, on which amendments have been tabled. With the Finance (No. 2) Bill there are different reasons for urgency which the Leader with address. Where possible, we should seek to allow adequate time for debate on amendments. Of course, on the Finance (No. 2) Bill there are only recommendations. It is a very different type of Bill.
I welcome the fact that this weekend sees the exit from the bailout. That issue was discussed last night during the debate on the Finance Bill. It is an historic moment when we will finally see the restoration of our economic sovereignty. The good news of that should boost consumer confidence in the run up to and during the Christmas season. While we will have the opportunity for more debates on the economy in the new year, I thought it was worth mentioning that at this stage, and I know others will.
I call for a debate in the new year on the report of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality on prostitution. Yesterday, further correspondence was published by the Minister and the committee, following on from the report, in which the committee recommended that the Irish law on prostitution be changed to reflect the Swedish approach, whereby only the purchase of prostitution is criminalised and not the sale. Recently, the French legislature moved to make the same change. A number of countries are looking at this model. The Minister, Deputy Alan Shatter, raised some questions with the committee and the committee has responded. Those communications are now published and form a very useful addendum to the report. Colleagues will be interested in this, given that the report was initiated in this House in Private Members' business by the Independent Senators. It would be great if we could have that debate in the new year, perhaps after the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality has met the Minister to discuss his correspondence.
I call for a debate in the new year on school patronage. We had that debate previously. However, there is a passionate article by Kitty Holland in today's edition of The Irish Times in which she describes the serious difficulties parents whose children are not baptised still face where schools run by religious orders or different religions have the right, in law, to refuse those children or to give priority to children of particular religions. That has not changed, despite the strenuous attempts by the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, to move forward a model where there is greater diversity and patronage and where parental choice is respected more adequately. I call for a debate in the new year to hear what progress has been made on this issue.
I welcome the establishment of the National Data Analytic Centre which will be announced later today by the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton. It is the combined effort of four universities, namely, Dublin City University, National University of Ireland, Galway, University College Cork and University College Dublin - to carry out statistical research in a commercial sense. We have a superb tradition in this field. Dr. Roy Geary, the first chief executive of the Central Statistics Office, an international figure, and his successor, Professor Michael McCarthy, became the president of University College Cork. This is a very welcome development.
I welcome the former British Prime Minister, John Major, to Ireland. I gather he gave an inspiring lecture in Iveagh House last night. I acknowledge his role in the peace process and express my best wishes to Albert Reynolds, who was indisposed and could not be present, who also played a major role. During the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and well into the 1960s the two jurisdictions in Ireland rarely spoke to each other. That was the backdrop that Albert Reynolds and John Major had to overcome. Some remarkable secretaries of state for Northern Ireland, such as Willie Whitelaw, Peter Brooke and Patrick Mayhew had to overcome that. We must keep that Northern Ireland connection alive. I note that the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement is meeting today. Perhaps the Leader might consider a debate on Northern Ireland with Northern Ireland participation in the new year. The special request from the former British Prime Minister, John Major, was that we remember also, for their centenary, the 500,000 Irish people who fought in the First World War, including 50,000 who were killed. I think we should keep that request in mind.
At the initiative of the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, the focus of the G8 summit currently being held in London, was on dementia, which is a major problem in ageing societies. Professor Des O'Neill, Trinity College, Dublin, speaking on the radio this morning referred to physiotherapy of the mind. This condition can be treated. I have heard cases of music getting people out of being locked in dementia. I have also heard of an Irish speaker who does not participate in the world but if he hears another Irish speaker he will come back. That is an issue we might also debate in the new year - the new ways of treating dementia and mental illness. One thing about growing old is that we get plenty of notice. This is an area in which it appears there are exciting and interesting policy initiatives which could make a difference. I ask the Leader if we might discuss those improvements resulting from the G8 summit and from research being done in Ireland on the ways in which dementia can be treated. Left untreated, with a growing number of old people, it would become a serious problem.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that No. 15, the Valuation (Amendment) Bill 2013, be taken before No. 1 today.
I join with Senator Sean D. Barrett in welcoming former British Prime Minister, John Major, to Ireland. I agree thoroughly with him that it was a worthwhile account which he gave at Iveagh House last night of his role leading up to the Downing Street Declaration and his work with Albert Reynolds, Dick Spring and others. As he said, there were many players, all of whom played a vital role in knitting the whole together.
May I say to my very good friend, Senator Darragh O'Brien, that we would not want to overstate our role on recommendations in regard to money Bills which are provided for constitutionally as a preserve of the other House in decision making. I say that gently, if I may. Of course, the Deputy had a worthwhile debate yesterday and he will have ample time again today to go through the other Stages.
A Chathaoirligh, the Leader and members will have heard me refer time and again to ongoing problems with the Shannon LNG project whereby liquid gas is imported into the country and is reliquified in a station built particularly for that purpose. This project was mooted in 2004 when I was Mayor of Kerry and director of Shannon-Foynes Port Company on the same occasion.
Every support, goodwill and co-operation have been in evidence on the part of the both the council and the harbour authority. Land was provided for the project courtesy of the State land bank in Ballylongford. It is extraordinary to note that, ten years later, no work has been done and not one job has been created. Up to 650 jobs are at risk. The most recent delay occurred when the Commission for Energy Regulation was insisting on Shannon LNG paying a tariff for the provision of the gas interconnector, even though it had stated it would not be using it. This case was languishing in the courts for two years until yesterday afternoon when a judgment was given in favour of the commission, effectively stopping the project in its tracks. That is appalling. We are not critical of the courts as they have a job to do and will always be right, but it is amazing that in a country that prides itself on being industry-friendly and in an age of buzzwords such as "fast-tracking" and "planning" a very significant project for the region and country in terms of energy security has still not budged.
The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, was good enough to come to the House to answer questions on an Adjournment matter raised by me some time ago. He was reasonably sanguine at the time in the belief the project would flourish. The matter must now be elevated to a level requiring the consideration of the Cabinet. I call on the Taoiseach to appoint a Cabinet subcommittee, involving himself; the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte; the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, the Minister in the constituency; and, perhaps, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, on the legal side. I want the subcommittee to meet immediately for the sake of the project. The Taoiseach did fantastic work last week in Japan and did great work for the agriculture sector in creating jobs. Meanwhile, however, 1,000 jobs are falling off the scale between Ballybunion and Listowel. The Mayor of Listowel, my colleague, Councillor Jimmy Moloney, asked for this before and I join him in making his call. What he desires is urgently required. I ask the Leader to raise this issue as a matter of urgency immediately after the Order of Business; otherwise we will be facing the loss of 1,000 badly wanted jobs.
In February 2012 I introduced the Wind Turbines Bill in the House and it was passed with flying colours. Eight months ago, as a result of the legislation, the Department decided, with the help of the Minister, to review the wind energy guidelines. Hundreds of submissions were made to it, mostly about the setback distance of wind turbines from family homes. The Department addressed the flicker issue in that it was stated the monstrosity would be turned off when there was a flicker. The noise levels were dealt with, but this will still prove contentious in that it will be a case of one man's word against another's. However, the Department did not deal with the setback distance. In 2006 the setback distance was decided based on the height of the turbine multiplied by ten. At the time the height of a turbine was 50 m. Turbines are now being developed that are 200 m high. Logic would dictate that these turbines should be 2 km from people's homes. Despite this, they are still set at 500 m. Not one metre was added to the setback distance after the making of hundreds of submissions. Everyone was listening to the departmental drivel that we would not reach our targets if the setback distance was 1 m farther than 500 m. I am sick and tired of listening to this. That information is being fed to the Department and the Minister by the big wind energy developers, nobody else.
It is said this is a local issue. However, between wind turbines and pylons, it is a local issue everywhere right now. We need to engage in cross-referencing with regard to the members of each relevant board. We need to ask who has been on the boards of SEAI, Mainstream, Coillte, EirGrid and An Bord Pleanála and determine where they have come from, where they have ended up and who is driving this project. The simple people are asking simple questions, but they are not receiving the required answers. That is not acceptable.
Yesterday I said in this House that we were creating another bubble. It is ready to burst. There is only one way to deal with it, namely, by way of a political decision. There is no point in waiting any longer for civil servants to solve this problem. A political decision must be made. The politicians who need to make the decision had better be aware that this House could be a very volatile place in which to be in the next couple of years.
Ba mhaith liom tréaslú leis an Seanadóir Kelly. Tá an ceart ar fad aige. He is absolutely right in what he is saying about wind turbines and I agree with much of what he has said in the past two and a half years. We need a serious review of policy in this area and a very serious debate on what is taking place, particularly on the membership of the boards of the various organisations he mentioned and the role the boards have played in the development of policy. This issue certainly needs to be scrutinised.
I commend all those who stayed outside the gates of Leinster House from 9 a.m. yesterday until 9 p.m. this morning to highlight the campaign for justice for the undocumented, supported by the MRCI. Many of us went out and spoke to the campaigners who were fantastic people. Considering they were willing to spend 24 hours in the cold outside the gates of Leinster House, it would be a great gesture and only fitting to have a debate on their plight at some stage.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing our Adjournment matter on the issue of An Coimisinéir Teanga to be raised this evening. I am still very disappointed that we have not had a comprehensive debate on it. My asking one question on the Adjournment does not constitute a sufficiently comprehensive debate, given the seriousness of the resignation of the language commissioner. I will not ask the Minister to be called in because the Leader will state he has told me a number of times that this will not happen. However, we have a facility-----
We have a wonderful facility in this House that has been well utilised, namely, the facility to invite distinguished guests to contribute. We have heard from MEPs, Mrs. Mary Robinson and Mr. Drew Nelson. I ask the Leader to consider talking to the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges about inviting the language commissioner to address the House to give us an overview of his ten years in office, how he feels the Official Languages Act has been implemented and how he would advise and, possibly, direct us on its future implementation. He might also outline his thoughts on the issue. Bheadh sé an-tábhachtach agus an-tairbheach dá n-iarrfaí ar Seán Ó Cuirreáin, , teacht os ár gcomhair sula mbeidh sé imithe as oifig i Mí Feabhra le léargas a thabhairt dúinn ar na deachrachtaí a bhí aige, an méid a d'fhoghlaim sé, an méid a cuireadh i bhfeidhm le deich mbliana anuas agus an bóthar chun cinn. Tá súil agam go dtógfaidh an Ceannaire ar bord an moladh seo.
I second Senator John Kelly's proposal. At the earliest juncture, the relevant Minister, be it the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, or the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, should be invited to the House to discuss, as a matter of urgency, the so-called new planning guidelines for wind turbines. I do not know how we can call them new draft regulations because the setback distance began at 500 m and is still 500 m. It was not that we did not gain a metre but that we did not gain an inch. It is no wonder communities around the country are questioning the point of engaging in the consultation process when there seems to be a loaded dice and a stacked deck before it starts. It is clear to me now that the wind energy lobby, the wind energy project developers, have won round one. However, I have a message for them and anyone else who is going to push the case: this is going to go 15 rounds and the people will not be defied in this matter. Putting a 200 m turbine 500 m from someone's house is just not tolerable and will not be accepted. As Senator John Kelly said, this is not a local or midlands issue but a national one. The consequences of the proposed travesty, that is, the erection of 2,500 giant turbines, 4,000 pylons and 800 km of power lines to facilitate the exportation of wind energy, are considerable. Those responsible are going to turn the country into a pincushion for pylons and turbines. They are going to turn it into an offshore wind farm for the United Kingdom. Of course, we must have wind farms and renewable energy sources, but we must look past tomorrow. This is not just about a few loads of readymix and saying this amounts to real jobs. We went down that road once before and saw what happened to the country. This is not an economic or environmental proposition and it is not socially acceptable. We must have a plan that works for the economy and communities. We need an urgent debate on this issue. As Senator John Kelly said, we require political intervention at the highest level to change course, strategy and policy. The people will rebel against what is happening and it will not be accepted.
I ask the Leader to ascertain for me when the €10 billion that Europe has siphoned from us since 1973 will be repaid to the Irish people, particularly to the fishermen. Approximately, €10 billion of valuable fish has been take from Irish waters in that 40 years. I note the Minister, Deputy Coveney, will go to Europe, next week or in the early days of the following week, to renegotiate our quotas which is where one takes with one hand and gives away with the other. The simple fact is that of all sectors of Ireland, the fishermen were the forgotten sector when negotiation took place in 1973. They were not properly represented. Successive Governments - I say this against my party's Governments in the past - neglected to seek proper quotas for Irish fishermen.
I ask that at some stage some Minister would have the bravery and audacity to challenge Europe at the highest level and state that what we got in 1973 was wrong, it was an injustice and it is about time there was a fair adjustment for the Irish fishermen. Until such time as that is done, whatever Deputy Coveney will do next week or the following week about getting 20 tonnes extra, and losing a few tonnes of monkfish or gaining it in sole, megs or whatever, is only the stuff of Tweedledum and Tweedledee. We are always praising him. In the past I have said, against Ministers of my own party, that it will be so until such time as we properly renegotiate the quota allocated to Ireland.
We in this House must remember what many do not know, that Ireland has almost 25% of EU waters and only 4% of the quota. That is one of the greatest injustices to befall this country.
We have lost €10 billion out of our waters. I ask the Leader whether it is at all possible that at some stage a Minister, Taoiseach or Government would have the capacity to take on Europe on these issues because previous Governments have failed. Somebody at some time must grasp it. After 40 years, we can still rectify the injustice created and give us at least 10% as the fish quota for Ireland. Recently, we gave away thousands of tonnes to the Faroe Islands and Iceland, neither of which is even in the European Union. Those countries get a far greater proportion of the quotas, particularly for mackerel, than Irish fishermen do and we are left holding the can. It is a brave challenge. If the Minister, the Taoiseach or the current Government can do something on that issue, fundamental change to the fishing quotas must be tackled sooner rather than later. It has been far too long. Previous Governments and previous Fianna Fáil Ministers neglected the issue and kicked it to touch. The fishermen and fishing sector is a forgotten sector of Irish society.
Following on from the meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts yesterday on the organisations which are getting State funding, I raised this issue in the Joint Committee on Health and Children on 17 October where there was an acceptance by the HSE and the Department of Health that there were irregularities in their three-page reply to me. Of the Health budget of €13.3 billion, €3.27 billion is paid out to 2,680 non-HSE or non-Department of Health organisations. Such a budget, 25% of the total Health budget, warrants a debate in this House. I would ask that the Leader consider including that in as one of the items for debate in the new year.
It is a great deal of money that taxpayers are paying where we seem to have no control. For instance, according to the Department of Health or HSE, the top eight organisations get over €100 million. They get €1.69 billion between them and the HSE or the Department of Health have no power to appoint to those boards of management, and that warrants a debate. It also warrants a debate when more than 131 organisations are getting between €1 million and €10 million per annum. Those are section 39 organisations on which we do not have the same level of scrutiny or the right to go in to cross-check how those moneys are being used. It is important that we debate these issues and highlight where there are inadequacies in the system of issuing this money and where there is a lack of systems for scrutinising how it is spent. While we should not interfere in any way with the work of the Committee of Public Accounts, this warrants a full debate in this House. We should have the Minister in, and even the Department of Finance, as regards the scrutiny systems that are in place for all organisations that get funding from any Department because serious questions need to be answered.
There are days where we should have good news stories. There is a good news story being announced at 11 o'clock today. We passed Second Stage of the Public Health (Availability of Defibrillators) Bill 2013 earlier this year and it has been announced today at 11 o'clock that HIQA has been asked to form an advisory board to look at best practice on defibrillators and what should be done, how often they should be checked and how the training should take place. They must report back by September. That is something that was initiated in this House and I am delighted to say it is now taking place.
Another Bill that was introduced in this House, which was taken over by the Minister some years later, provided for a ban on passports for sale. Twenty years ago there were scandals about passports being sold by Government. We initiated a Bill in this House, which later became law through a different Bill, to ban passports for sale. However, Malta has just announced that it plans to sell passports for a figure of €650,000. These passports will be not only Maltese but European, entitling the bearer to have a passport for all of the 28 countries in the European Union. That is a dangerous development. Three other countries, Greece, Cyprus and Portugal, sell a residency permit if one invests in a property in those countries. That is not quite a passport, but the Maltese one is a passport and creates a competitive situation for the future. We should voice an opinion in that regard. It is not a correct way to proceed.
I will add a word of thanks for the debate on the Critical Utilities (Security of Supply) Bill 2013 last night. I found it an interesting debate. While we adjourned it at the end rather than pushing it to a vote, it means that we will be able to discuss the matter in the future. I appreciate all those who got involved in the debate. It adds to the stature of the House.
I take the opportunity to acknowledge the work of the National Board for Safeguarding in the Catholic Church and the reports it produced this week. There is clear evidence that some progress has been made and some of the orders concerned have made progress in terms of listening to persons' allegations. Of course, the concerns are two fold. The first is the low rate of conviction for those who may have been involved in abuse. Second, we now have put figures on the number abused. My worry is that in so doing, we forget the numbers of people who were never able to come forward whose lives were blighted by being abused as children and who never had anyone to turn to. By quantifying it in this way, while it is welcome, on the one hand, as a sort of audit, I trust that it will not fix in people's heads that such was the only level of abuse. There were many others. Part of our history and part of who we are relates to the number of people who could not come forward.
While I pay tribute to the board for the work that it has done, there is still a significant amount of work to be done in order to keep those measures going, to keep that control going and to find ways - that is the big question - of having a higher rate of convictions for this crime. I thank the board for its work. I hope that much work will continue to be done and that this is not seen as an opportunity to draw a line under what has been a sad, long-term and horrific part of our history.
I ask the Leader about an issue that has come up that warrants raising here on the Order of Business. As Members would be aware, the remuneration and expenses paid to Members of the Houses are now fully vouched, which, of course, we all welcome as a much more transparent system and one that was needed for a long time. There is, however, a situation that remains with regard to the representation allowance that will be paid to Senators next year.
The audit criteria for the allowance have been approved for the coming year, with the agreement of the Minister. The criteria are prohibitively narrow in the view of most Members and need to be altered and adjusted to ensure they can do their work fully and claim the appropriate expenses in line with the legislation and existing statutory instrument. It seems the Minister is not prepared to issue a statutory instrument to take cognisance of and give effect to the necessary parameters pertaining to eligible expenses. For the past year and a half many of us have pursued this matter privately with the Minister, the Oireachtas commission and administration committee. I ask the Leader to arrange with the Cathaoirleach and relevant authorities an immediate meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. A delegation should meet the Minister to seek the introduction of the necessary statutory instrument before the recess. Failure to do so will have unintended consequences for all Senators, which will impinge on their ability to successfully perform their duties.
It has been suggested primary legislation is required to give effect to the necessary changes, but that is not the case, as officials confirmed to me this week. A statutory instrument is required and I hope the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, following its meeting, will impress on the Minister the need to introduce a statutory instrument as a matter of the utmost urgency. I reiterate that primary legislation is not required. What is required is the political and ministerial will to give effect to something that is necessary for Members to do their job effectively.
People are justifiably outraged by media reports and the information emerging from the Committee of Public Accounts on the salaries and top-ups being paid to the chief executives of various organisations. Complete transparency is required from all organisations in receipt of State aid. I am seriously concerned about the impact these developments are having on charitable organisations which provide vital services for vulnerable people and aid for people in the most deprived and underprivileged parts of the world. I ask the Leader to arrange a major debate early in the new year to identify what the Oireachtas can do to get the public back on track with various charitable organisations. If some of these organisations continue to experience the decline in income they are reporting, many vulnerable people will not receive a service next year. It is vital that the Seanad take a proactive role in trying to undo the significant damage being done by a handful of greedy people who have abused their positions, aided and abetted by boards of management which have not do their job.
I support Senator Denis O'Donovan's position in challenging the European Commission's proposal to reduce the fishing quota available to Ireland next year. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, will attend the Fisheries Council which will be held on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday next at which he will represent the country and fight for a more equitable quota. In monetary terms, the reductions proposed to the mackerel quota on the pelagic side and the prawn and whitefish quotas would cost the fishing and processing sector approximately €70 million. If implemented, these outrageous proposals will result in the direct loss of between 400 and 500 jobs, according to Bord Iascaigh Mhara. I wish the Minister well next week and do not propose to call for a debate on the issue as he is busy. However, the Seanad must send a clear message that we are not happy with the European Commission. The Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine sent a similar message yesterday. The Commission has bowed before the Faroe Islands and Iceland by allowing them to illegally fish in waters off the north-west coast of Europe at the expense of the Irish fleet. I ask that the Seanad agree to send such a message today.
The issue of wind energy has been raised again this morning. Outrageous developments in the wind energy sector are the scandal of our time, one which is costing taxpayers colossal amounts of money. In England, for example, wind turbines are being erected that can only generate energy valued at £5 per month. These turbines are being grant funded through electricity bills. Similarly, the sector is being funded in Ireland through various schemes run by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland and two major funding schemes operated by the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, namely, the alternative energy requirement programme and REFIT scheme. Capital allowances and tax write-offs are also available. The system is a farce and does not make sense. We must also take account of local concerns about wind energy. The renowned economist, Professor Gordon Hughes, has been writing on the issue.
I agree with the comments made by Senators opposite. An open-ended debate on wind energy is required. Let us bring facts to the table. International evidence shows that wind energy is a farce that does not make sense. Consumers will face colossal electricity bills in five or ten years if we allow wind energy projects to proceed. It is unacceptable that ordinary taxpayers will be required to fund multi-million euro developers.
I second Senator Paul Coghlan's amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 15 be taken before No. 1.
I ask the Leader to list in order of priority a number of serious issues raised by Senators. I agree with Senators Brian Ó Domhnaill, John Kelly and John Whelan on the issue of wind energy. It is not often that Senators are all on the same page on an issue. I have a problem with the wind energy industry and its value to the economy. I have raised this issue repeatedly. What will Ireland and taxpayers get from the sector? Rather than a return, all I see are many blots on the landscape where turbines have been erected. These turbines are not built or serviced by an Irish company and the energy is sold on at a profit for the wind energy company. If someone can convince me that Ireland will make money out of wind energy projects, I will run with the current proposal. Senator Sean D. Barrett and I have debated the issue. I want a Minister to state - it is of no concern to me which one comes to the House - what value wind energy projects will deliver for Ireland and indicate the return to the taxpayer for the next 50 years.
On a much lighter note, I compliment Michael O'Leary and Ryanair on the Santa project they are running out of Shannon Airport. When 300,000 passengers were announced for Shannon Airport, Mr. O'Leary was asked by a journalist how he would promote the airport. He has literally pulled the answer out of the skies. Some 4,000 children will fly for 40 minutes above the clouds on 24 flights out of Shannon Airport in the next two weeks. This is a fantastic promotion for children in the region and the airport. Well done to Michael O'Leary and Neil Pakey, chief executive of the Shannon Group.
On the meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts yesterday, I am astonished by the ongoing revelations concerning the Central Remedial Clinic and the constant drip of damaging information, for want of a better phrase, that is harming the charities sector and hurting donations to many charities at this crucial time of the year. Yesterday was a particularly dark day in this saga, as we learned that €660,000 was paid last year and in each of the past ten years towards maintaining a pension fund that was or was not in place.
This money for old rope, or in this case, money for the maintenance of a rope that does not exist is incredible. However, the bigger issue is how we regulate the charity sector generally. In the new year we should make it our priority to debate how charities are regulated. While I believe the board should resign, in the shorter term it should make itself available to the Committee of Public Accounts to answer its questions. The board should remain in place until the investigations have been completed but it should resigned immediately afterwards. Things are bad enough without eroding public confidence in charities. I only hope people realise that the vast majority of charities are not engaged in this unscrupulous behaviour and are using their funds properly and wisely. It is most regrettable that the front-line users of services, particularly in the case of an institution like the CRC, will be the ones who ultimately suffer.
I join my colleagues in congratulating the members of the Committee of Public Accounts on the work they have undertaken to investigate the debacle in the charities sector. However, none of us should be surprised about this debacle because, tragically, what is being unearthed is symptomatic of a culture which existed in this country for decades. This culture exhibits an unwillingness to organise business in a proper and transparent fashion. We have had tribunals with no outcomes, quangos which were to be abolished and top-ups of all kinds. I trust my colleagues will agree this culture has been a cancer on our society and needs to be tackled. However, as we will not miraculously find a solution to this problem overnight, I appeal to the public to continue giving to the charitable organisations which have done such good work in this country. Every €1 euro that the public does not give to these charities will have to be replaced by the taxpayer if services to very needy people are not to be affected. We need to have a debate on how we conduct public business at all levels.
Several weeks ago we passed legislation dealing with the funding of political parties. Let us be honest in asking what checks and balances exist in the legislation to prevent taxpayers' money from being used to add to politicians' salaries. There is absolutely nothing. What is sauce for the goose must be sauce for the gander; a root and branch review is urgently required of how we conduct our political and private business.
I agree with those who spoke about the Central Remedial Clinic. All I will say is that the board should resign immediately. Yesterday's committee hearing lasted five hours. What went on was despicable.
I hope there will be a debate on wind energy in the near future. An article written by Colm McCarthy for the Irish Independent was quoted at length in the Chamber yesterday. I read the article. Everybody, whether supporting or opposing wind energy projects, should make a submission to the consultation process. The process should be advertised in the newspapers. I have a problem in that it deals with noise, flicker and distance. A report on the economic factors has been commissioned but it has not yet been published. The question arises of whether it makes economic sense. All of those who spoke today expressed negative opinions about wind. One could say I am fine because I live in Dublin but the community has a major role to play in this matter. A person who was asked if he would like to live beside a wind turbine said "No" but he went on to say that he would not mind if it was located a certain distance away. The environment, the economy and communities should be our first priorities. Communities have to be given the facts. A new type of turbine has been developed that when hooded can increase wind capacity by 15% and reduce height by 50%. All of those factors should be in the open. Half-baked submissions will be made if the consultation is not publicised. The subsidies that wind energy companies receive should also be published. I will read the submissions but I call for the economic report to be published. I will quote what Colm McCarthy wrote in his article.
The quote is only two sentences but it is important. He stated:
I am all for wind.
The Government commissioned a report on these issues last year, but it has not yet been published. There should be no further government support for wind generation until a full technical and economic analysis of costs and subsidies is available.
There is a lot of hot air on all sides of the House. Senator O'Brien referred to the Finance (No. 2) Bill 2013. We had a comprehensive debate on Second Stage that lasted three hours. I have allocated four hours today for Committee and Remaining Stages. I understand the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, will be taking the debate. We have afforded a considerable amount of time to the Bill.
I will keep to the order I have outlined and I hope the majority of the House will accept that. I might have better news for the Senator on the Pyrite Resolution Bill 2013. I think that Bill should be broken up so that we can take Second Stage separately. I will be suggesting that we take Second Stage of the Bill on Monday, with Committee and Remaining Stages on Tuesday.
That is the best I can do for the Senator. It would be welcomed by everybody if the Bill went through both Houses by Christmas. Senator Bacik noted that we will shortly be exiting the bailout and getting back our economic sovereignty. That is to be welcomed by all and the people will recognise it as a milestone.
In regard to the report on prostitution by the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, I will arrange for a debate when the report issues. We have had a number of debates on school patronage but if there is a need for further debate in the new year we will facilitate it. Senator Barrett welcomed the establishment of the data analytics centre, which was announced this morning, and outlined the benefits that will accrue from it. He also mentioned John Major's speech in Iveagh House last night to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Downing Street Declaration. I had the pleasure of attending that event and I thought his address was excellent. The event was also attended by George Mitchell and many other dignitaries.
The efforts of John Major and Albert Reynolds were highlighted. Everybody involved should be complimented on their efforts that dated, as George Mitchell stated, from the Anglo Irish Agreement and all of the way up. They were all stepping stones to the restoration of peace on the island.
I accept Senator Paul Coghlan's amendment to the Order of Business, to debate No. 15 before No. 1 in order to allow the Bill to be printed.
Senators O'Sullivan and Mulcahy mentioned the Shannon LNG project. I shall bring the matter to the attention of the relevant Minister. However, I cannot give a guarantee to Senator O'Sullivan that a sub-committee, or anything like it, will be set up immediately.
Senator Kelly and several Senators mentioned wind energy guidelines, various aspects of the technology, cost benefit analysis and so on. We have had several debates on the issue with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, in attendance. I suggest that the relevant Oireachtas joint committee is best placed to have a detailed debate. We can debate the issue again when the committee has produced a report, or a further report. I note the genuine concerns of many Members but we have debated the matter and changes. I suggest that the Oireachtas joint committee is the correct fora to tease out the details and then we can debate the matter in the House.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh mentioned the issue of justice for the undocumented in Ireland and referred to the matter yesterday. He also raised the issue of the Coimisinéir Teanga again today having done so on four occasions over the past two weeks. He has tabled it as an Adjournment motion for today and the Minister will be in the House to deal with the matter.
The Coimisinéir Teanga is standing down. As I said yesterday, a new commissioner should be put in place, as a matter of urgency, in order to replace the commissioner who is stepping down. I am sure that the Government will act, as a matter of urgency.
Senators O'Donovan and Ó Domhnaill mentioned fishing quotas. The Minister has said here that very difficult negotiations will take place in the next week or so. It is a bit much to request that the goalposts be changed after 40 years. It is asking a lot from a Minister when, as he said, successive governments did not act on the matter. I am sure that the Minister will, as he did last year, negotiate the best possible deal for Irish fishermen. He was complimented on last year's quota negotiations. He emphasised here that this year's negotiations will be a lot more challenging.
Senator Quinn mentioned that HIQA will examine best practice for defibrillators which is welcome. He also mentioned the decision by Malta to sell passports which a worrying. I am sure that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is aware of the matter but I shall bring it to the attention of the Tánaiste.
Senator O'Keeffe mentioned the report on safeguarding children. The matter was dealt with yesterday. A number of Senators have raised the matter and we will continue to debate it, as we have done so over the past 12 months.
Senator MacSharry mentioned the qualifying criteria for parliamentary allowances and the audit system. Many of the matters were raised with the Minister during the passage of legislation but I shall continue to make representations to him.
Senator Michael Mullins and other Senators referred to the meeting between the Committee of Public Accounts and the CRC. Without doubt, the revelations have done untold damage to the charity sector. There is a need to restore confidence in the sector, particularly in the many worthy charities that have been badly hit by the revelations. We should wait for the committee to compile its report. Yesterday we heard that €660,000 was paid to the Mater to maintain a pension fund that did not exist. It is mind-boggling to think that can happen. Let us wait for the committee's report. I understand the concerns about the impact the revelations have on other charities. It is important that people continue to give to the many worthy charities. Senators Bradford and Noone also mentioned the CRC.
Senator Mulcahy complimented Ryanair on its Santa project that will bring 4,000 children on flights. I shall finish on that good note.
- Ivana Bacik
- Terry Brennan
- Colm Burke
- Deirdre Clune
- Eamonn Coghlan
- Paul Coghlan
- Michael Comiskey
- Martin Conway
- Maurice Cummins
- Jim D'Arcy
- Michael D'Arcy
- John Gilroy
- Aideen Hayden
- Lorraine Higgins
- Caít Keane
- John Kelly
- Denis Landy
- Mary Moran
- Tony Mulcahy
- Michael Mullins
- Hildegarde Naughton
- Catherine Noone
- Susan O'Keeffe
- Pat O'Neill
- Tom Shehan
- John Whelan