Thursday, 23 January 2014
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding earlier signature of the Local Government Reform Bill 2013, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business without debate; No. 2, European Parliament Elections (Amendment) Bill 2013 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of No.1 and to conclude at 1 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, the Minister to be given five minutes to reply to the debate on Second Stage, and Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken immediately thereafter; and No. 3, statements on the recent severe storm damage, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2 with the time allocated for this debate not to exceed one hour, with the contributions of all Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply five minutes before the conclusion of the debate.
We will oppose No. 1, motion regarding earlier signature of the Local Government Reform Bill 2013, because it is not reform but further centralisation of power in Government. We had a good debate on it but we opposed the Bill, so we will oppose the earlier signature motion.
Why has only one hour been set aside for No. 3, statements on the recent severe storm damage? The damage has been extensive throughout the country, affecting coastal communities, in particular along the west coast, and inland areas. I am sure many Senators wish to put specific questions to the Minister, as I do in regard to the area in which I live. Will the Leader extend the time for that debate or, if the Minister is indisposed, could it be rescheduled to recommence at some stage next week?
What contact has the Government Chief Whip, Deputy Kehoe, had with the Leader in regard to the establishment of a banking inquiry? According to media reports, the Dáil Committee on Procedure and Privileges met yesterday evening to agree the composition of and terms of reference for the banking inquiry committee. I welcome the banking inquiry but disagree on the manner in which it is to be set up. A Leveson-style inquiry would be a better idea but having said that, we welcome and will participate in an inquiry. However, from what I have heard, it appears this House will be left out of that inquiry.
The Government and the Taoiseach hold this House in contempt, as does the Government Chief Whip, Deputy Kehoe, which he has proved over the past two years. I remind the Government Chief Whip that the people voted to retain this House, in whatever form, in the recent referendum, and we have discussed reform. This is a constituted House of the Oireachtas. Has the Government Chief Whip been in touch with the Leader? What are the plans in Government to include the Seanad in that banking inquiry, if any? If the Government Chief Whip has not been in touch, can we convene a meeting of the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges to put our case to the Dáil Committee on Procedure and Privileges? I think colleagues on both sides would agree the Seanad has much experience. Senator Barrett has great experience in the financial area. We have a right and the ability to participate in this inquiry.
This weekend marks the anniversary of the despicable murder of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe. It will be a very difficult weekend for his family, friends, community and his colleagues. It is a disappointment to me and my colleagues that no one has been brought to justice for this despicable crime of capital murder. On behalf of my colleagues in Fianna Fáil, I urge those with information on this despicable murder of a very committed garda, carrying out his duties on behalf of the State and protecting the citizens of the State, to come forward with it. Will the Leader convey our concern to the Minister for Justice and Equality, who must provide the Garda with the support required and the resources to bring the perpetrators of this brutal murder to justice swiftly? One year has passed and I know the investigation is ongoing but on my behalf and that of my colleagues in Fianna Fáil, I put on record that we are thinking of his family, colleagues, friends and community in County Louth. We earnestly hope those who perpetrated this despicable murder are brought to justice without further delay.
I agree with my colleague, Senator Darragh O'Brien, that it would be absurd if there was a banking inquiry excluding representation from the Seanad. The finance spokespeople in the Seanad and others who have expertise in that area should be included in any newly constituted committee to inquire into the banking fiasco.
I hate to say "We told you so" but for two years, Members on both sides of the House have been warning that it would only take one serious issue in the charity sector, or one bad egg, to do untold reputational damage to the entire sector, which is crucial. Unfortunately, it seems we have more than one bad egg and may have dozens of them. What is unfolding across the charity sector appears to be only the tip of the iceberg. People are using charities to line their own pockets, to provide themselves with gilt-edged salaries and golden handshakes and to set up companies to provide consultancy services at a premium. This is doing untold damage to the entire charity sector. There are 8,500 registered charities, which is an extraordinary number, and they have resources of between €6 billion and €8 billion annually at their disposal. This issue has been raised in the House time and again and we cautioned that we should proceed without delay in the appointment of a charities regulator, so that we could have full accountability and transparency. This situation is doing untold damage to volunteers, to people doing tremendous work, to service providers and to those who require those services. In many cases, we have seen cutbacks in service provision in organisations whose CEOs are paid more than the Taoiseach, who runs the country. It is unacceptable. Will the Leader bring some clarity as to whether the Government can expedite the establishment of a regulatory office for charities?
Will the Leader arrange a debate, at the earliest possible opportunity, on our energy policy and strategy? Yesterday, the European Commission scrapped renewable energy targets so the basis of our entire energy policy is in tatters. The grounds on which it was predicated in 2006-2007, when it was devised, are no longer in place. Britain, Germany and France are moving away from wind energy as it is too costly, heavily subsidised and is driving energy prices off the charts for consumers and industry. We cannot put our heads in the sand and say it has nothing to do with us and we are going to plough ahead. What is a no-brainer is that we cannot proceed with our current energy policy. We must change course because we will not be the tail that wags the dog. We must take into account what is happening on world markets in terms of the price of oil and gas and what bigger players like Britain and Germany are doing in this sector. It would be foolhardy for this House not to feed into that debate and for us not to revisit our energy policy.
I support what Senator Darragh O'Brien said about the anniversary of the murder of Garda Adrian Donohoe. I extend our sympathies to the people of Lordship and Ballymascanlon and to the Garda and hope people will come forward to the Garda and the PSNI, because it is a joint investigation, to bring the perpetrators to justice.
I wish to express concern over the banking inquiry. As reported by Stephen Collins yesterday it is understood that one of the key elements of the Standing Orders will be that no member of the committee should have made any public comment about the banking crisis that could be regarded as biased. Is it a requirement that all Members of the Oireachtas should have been dumb when €64 billion walked out of the country's Exchequer? Would we require that somebody investigating the Great Depression in the United States should not have even known it happened? People have read dozens of books and thousands of articles about this affair. It would be a bad sign if people who had said nothing about the banking crisis were put on the committee. I do not know what the legal advice has in mind - perhaps senator Robinson Crusoe and deputy Man Friday on some desert island who, coming to the topic of the collapse of the Irish economy without knowing anything about it, would be suitable to serve on the committee.
This is on legal advice. There were many lawyers in Government Buildings on the night the €64 billion walked out the door and they should be questioned. There were no Senators, Deputies or economists there as far as I know. If there are objections by the banks, their accountants and bank regulators, let them do it openly as lawyers do in court when they can object to members of the jury. Doing it behind the scenes to try to reduce the level of expertise available to the committee is not appropriate. We have seen the fine work of Deputies Ciaran Lynch and McGuinness on these committees. It should not be restrained by this legal advice, given that the legal advice got us into this trouble in the first instance.
I welcome this morning's announcement of €332 million for roads. In particular I welcome that local authorities are now permitted to use up to 15% of their allocation for LISs, which is very important for minor roads leading to farms that are in bad condition. The local people there can make a contribution of up to 20% to have that good work carried out.
We will discuss the recent storm damage later and there has already been considerable discussion on the matter. A lot of damage has been done in north County Sligo. Rosses Point golf course has been badly damaged and there is great danger that some of the golf course might be washed away. The local people brought this to our attention some time ago. In 2006, I visited Rosses Point and was shown the danger that the sea was presenting to the golf course. We would like to see some work done on it.
A lot of damage has been done to Lissadell beach in north County Sligo. While Sligo County Council should be responsible for that, money will need to be made available to it to clean up all the debris that has been washed in. Many people use that beach and it is important that work is done to tidy it up.
I agree wholeheartedly with what Senator Barrett said about the banking inquiry. It seems foolish in the extreme that we cannot have the appropriate people on these committees. I would say that legal advice is coming from one of those big firms - we all know their names - between the two canals here in Dublin. They were responsible for all the legal advice that got us into the crisis and it now seems they will be responsible for all the legal advice on examining their own poor legal advice back in the day.
While we all welcome a banking inquiry and look forward to the public getting answers for the questions which they deserve, apart at all from the Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas who will make up the committee I have a concern over whom they will be allowed to question. For example, it has been suggested that we will not be allowed to examine people from IBRC, the former Anglo Irish Bank, or any matters that may be before the courts. If that is the case, whom will we question? What will we find out? I do not want to be part of a superficial inquiry that examines nothing, concludes nothing, costs a lot of money and supplies easy copy for lazy journalists. I ask the Leader to take that on board when talking to the Government Chief Whip.
I wish to raise a matter that this House and the other House are sick of raising, which is the matter of mortgage arrears. Regardless of how often we put forward the facts and regardless of how often we warned in advance of the crisis what would happen, it has all been ignored. It has now been reported that more than half of the people who borrowed from the four or five lenders in the sub-prime sector are in arrears. According to the ESRI these are the people most impacted by the recession. We are talking about the lower working-class community who had struggled with financial issues in the past and had managed to secure mortgages from sub-prime lenders. Now those sub-prime lenders are not affording the full suite of solutions to those borrowers. I am acting directly as a go-between on behalf of some people who are threatened with the loss of their homes.
The Government stands idly by while nothing is being done. As has been said previously here and in the other House, the fox maintains control of the henhouse and the people suffer. While we all celebrate the relatively good news from Europe and the ESRI, along with party leaders' national addresses, the reality on the ground is that nothing is being done for the people. I implore the Leader to raise this issue with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, and ask him to come forward with tangible measures to put the people in charge of the henhouse and not the foxes.
I support Senator Whelan's call for a charities regulator to be put in place as soon as possible. I raised the issue in the House yesterday when I pointed out that for every Rehab scratch card that was bought for €1 only a quarter of a cent got to the charity, which is why this matter is urgent.
I also support Senator Whelan's call for us to revisit our alternative energy targets. I had predicted yesterday's announcement that the targets were no longer legally binding. I ask the Government and the civil servants to desist now from blaming Europe. When we raise the issue of green energy they blame Europe and say we have targets and so on. As we no longer have them and they are not legally binding, they should get off that space and start looking at the real issues. If they continue to blame Europe I would wonder what are their individual agendas.
Senator Darragh O'Brien spoke about the how the banking inquiry is so slow in coming about and that people are so angry. Nothing is happening, it is business as usual for the banks and the people are paying. It is vital that this be dealt with. In addition, the insolvency legislation is not working.
The Insolvency Service of Ireland employs 90 staff at its offices on the Conyngham Road and there has been one resolution to date using the insolvency legislation. It appears that only people with money can access the service. Nobody in authority can tell us who pays for the personal insolvency practitioner. The reality is that personal insolvency practitioners will take on cases where - to paraphrase an expert - there is meat on the bone, in other words something in it for them. The real people who are affected are getting no service whatever from it. The experts are saying that the big problem is the banking veto, which must be removed. Members should watch this space because this will be a major issue over the next year. Some 132,000 families are threatened with losing their homes and nothing is being done for the real people on the ground.
Ag leanacht ón díospóireacht sin maidir le cúrsaí tithíochta, some 10,000 men, women and children are waiting for homes in Galway city.
A recent report has shown that there are 3,593 households waiting for homes, including 159 applicants from the county area. Of these, some 2,799 households are waiting for two-bedroom accommodation while 554 are waiting for three-bedroom accommodation, etc. We have a crisis in housing.
I found it galling in the extreme to hear a Senator on the national airwaves talking about homelessness this morning when the same Senator is party to the Government policies that are creating the situation that is causing the crisis. We need transparency and we need to ensure that the public is aware of our political affiliations when we are making statements in public. I seek the Leader's views on the matter. It is incumbent on everyone to make it clear when making statements. If a person is party to a third-party group or an NGO, etc., and speaking on its behalf, and if that person is the Whip of a Government party, then the person should make that known. This is relevant to the debate and people need to see where we are coming from politically on these issues. I content that Government policies are causing the problems to which the Senator referred. I call for a debate on homelessness. It is long overdue and I do not disagree with the points the Senator was making. I agree with Senator Kelly on many of these issues but we need to see that Government policy is part of the problem rather than the solution.
I wish to draw attention to the chaos in the ambulance services in the west. Last week or the week before, five ambulances were stuck in the accident and emergency department at University Hospital Galway at the same time due to delays in the hospital. The average waiting time for the ambulance waiting crews was from two to three hours and they were unavailable to respond to emergency calls, regardless of how serious.
I am told a stabbing incident took place on the Headford Road in Galway and there was no ambulance available in the city. The person involved had to be brought to the hospital in a Garda regional support unit car because the nearest ambulance was 20 minutes away. A new base was opened in Tuam last year but the base is empty 98% of the time. There is no cover for sick leave or holiday leave during the day. Therefore, when a person gets sick there is no one to cover for him that day and there are no new paramedics coming in.
The ambulance services are in chaos. People's lives are being put in jeopardy. The issue gets kicked to touch any time we raise it. We need a serious debate on the matter. Lives are at stake. People who are working in the services and trying to make ends meet are being put under pressure. This is a tragedy waiting to happen. We need an urgent debate on the state of our ambulance services. It should cover how they can be reinforced, how more resources can be put in place to ensure that everyone, no matter where they live geographically, has access to the services and how ambulances are being held up in the way I have outlined.
I, too, agree with calls to urgently establish the office of the regulator of charities. I understand it will happen quickly and that is appropriate. There are many walks, runs, 10 km events and mini-marathons organised in the country, especially in rural parts and tourism areas. They are organised by charities with good intentions. They promote healthy lifestyles as well as raising money for good causes. Unfortunately, it has been brought to my attention that a small number of these mini-marathons, walks and 10 km events are being operated by companies for their own good reasons and causes. What happens is that a 10 km event is organised and a small donation is made to a charity for the use of the charity's name. Unfortunately, the vast bulk of the money raised goes to private interests.
This scenario could easily happen anywhere and it is happening. Up to 1,000 people may register or pay a registration fee to take part in a 10 km or mini-marathon event. However, all that goes to the charities is a few hundred euro for the use of their names.
I call on charities to ensure if they allow their names to be used for any sporting occasion, whether it is a charity walk or cycle or whatever, that the vast majority of the money raised goes to the charities. Unfortunately, the sins of a few are doing damage to the entire industry. It is another aspect of the way money raised by ordinary decent people for good causes, unfortunately, cannot be stood over. This is why it is imperative that the charities regulator is put in place as soon as possible and that we bring in proper protocols for sporting walks and cycles done in the name of charity.
I wish Senator John Whelan well in his new position as acting leader of the Labour Party. It is something of a shock that he is there this morning after all his statements about the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, and members of the Fine Gael Party. These are voices crying in the wilderness.
I compliment The Irish Times and two of its writers, Colm Keena and Arthur Beesley, on an exposé today on the goings-on at Rehab. It relates to the activities of a director who has a dissolved company but billed Rehab for €66,000 in 2012 and €11,000 in 2011. As the Taoiseach said, he is lifting stones and the maggots are coming out. They are not Fianna Fáil maggots, but they are Fine Gael maggots in a big way.
Laragh Consulting Limited was dissolved in 2009. Yet it could bill Rehab in 2011 and 2012. It is an extraordinary event for anyone in the country that a dissolved company could bill a national organisation for such money. I know that there are dirty tricks operating within Fine Gael and that some media are rather compliant when it comes to the activities of the dark forces behind the Government. These are ensuring that all the spin is coming out at certain times to deflect from the debacles at Irish Water, at the HSE and at other ministries.
I call on the Minister for Health to come before the House to explain what he is doing. He is the Minister in charge of sections 38 and 39 of the relevant legislation. He should know what is going on. If he does not know what is going on, then he should not be Minister.
Mr. Flannery said that having destroyed their business, the Minister was now making accusations against them and that it was like breaking a man's leg and then attacking him for not walking. It is a matter of a house divided and there is more to come. As I stated yesterday morning, it will be shattering when it is all over. The attack on the Central Remedial Clinic was carded to be somehow linked to some previous Government.
This, even though the decision to pay Mr. Kiely was made by the Minister for Health because he knew what was going on. We should be careful about what is going to happen. The Government may have been upset when it discovered that a former director of elections for Fine Gael is now in the middle of a major controversy.
I wish to devote my time to my contribution rather than rebukes to comments made by the previous speaker. I, too, call on the Leader to seek further reassurances from the Minister for Justice and Equality that the appointment of the charity regulator will be in place before Easter, as announced last week. I fully agree with Senator Martin Conway that money raised for charities in the name of charities should be totally given to charities. It should be likewise with services where the money is given for that charity or service. The money should go exactly to the people who need it most. We are looking at cutbacks, cuts in services and long waiting lists. Yet the top executives are getting the money. It is an issue I have raised continuously in the past two years. I remarked on Tuesday that this is opening another can of worms. In the past two years I have highlighted continuously the reluctance I have found having made inquiries and sought information from services. We need full transparency. This is our opportunity to get the matter in order and to have open and transparent accounts of what is taking place.
I extend my sincere sympathies yet again to Caroline Donohoe and her children, Amy and Niall, as we approach the first anniversary of the death of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe, who was brutally murdered on 25 January last year.
I understand that tomorrow evening, 24 January, a memorial service, a candlelight vigil and moment of silence will take place outside Lordship credit union where the brutal murder took place. I commend the Garda in the area and throughout the country on its dignity and diligence in the pursuit of justice following the brutal murder of Detective Garda Detective Adrian Donohoe. I am aware from speaking to members of the Garda and friends of Adrian Donohoe throughout the year that the dignity and courage they have shown has been outstanding. I too urge that all resources that can be made available should be made available to apprehend the culprits for this heinous crime as soon as possible. This murder rocked the country to the core. I will never forget the air of stillness at his funeral last year among every member of the Garda and Dundalk community far and wide. I was reminded this morning while listening to a radio interview by the chairperson of St. Pat's of the community spirit felt in the clubrooms at the time. The Garda has been relentless throughout the year in exploring every avenue and has given up all its spare time and overtime. I welcome the fact that progress has been made, although it is slow. I understand that when these people are apprehended, they will be punished as the case is watertight. However, more information is needed for the perpetrators to be brought forward. There are people out there who know what happened but who have not come forward.
Having listened to the speakers, I am reminded of the anniversary of that terrible tragedy which took place last year and the fact that we are the worst users of cash and cheques in Europe. We do not use modern technology in regard to financial transactions of various kinds. No other country in Europe still uses cheques to the extent that we use them or require the same amount of protection in regard to cash being stolen from banks and elsewhere. Let me give one example. France is introducing a €5 coin rather than a €5 note. That appears to make sense given that it costs the State a huge amount of money to issue notes that have to be replaced now and then whereas the coins do not have to be replaced. A great experiment took place in Wexford to remove one cent and two cent coins from currency because they are generally not used to any extent as people do not value them on that basis. I have not heard the result of that experiment. We are not using technology in the manner that we could. I mentioned yesterday that Britain is no longer issuing a car tax disc because it has found a more modern way. Perhaps we could find time for a debate on modern technology and what is happening around the world from which we can learn, and not only in regard to the instances I have given. However, they are examples of what we can do to save the State money and also to avoid some of the other problems that they create.
I welcome the opportunity to draw attention to the aviation conference which is taking place in Dublin. The figures being presented are huge. Ireland is one of the two largest aviation centres in the world. A little country like Ireland has a tradition of aviation ever since Alcock and Brown crossed the Atlantic for the first time from west to east. These are the issues that have established Ireland as a centre of aviation authority. The conference has attracted people from all over the world who are talking about very successful developments. A company called Avalon produced a film last night showing the tradition of aviation in Ireland and how successful it has been. It will be shown on RTE next month. I mention it because it is a reminder of the success stories in Ireland, some of which we hide and do not shout about. It is probably worthy of a debate at some point in the future.
Senator Darragh O'Brien made some very interesting points this morning on the proposed banking inquiry, followed by Senators Whelan, Barrett and MacSharry who also made interesting points, particularly on the possible exclusion of the Seanad. It is important to remind the House that my opposite number in the Dáil, the Government Chief Whip, Deputy Paul Kehoe, said this morning on "Morning Ireland" that this is not a Government inquiry, it is an Oireachtas all-party inquiry. He also said that some proposed terms of reference have been shown to all parties. He stated that the new Standing Orders will come before the Dáil by 4 February and the Seanad by 13 February. Therefore I assume we will have a say in the matter. More importantly, I appreciate very much what Senator Sean D. Barrett said, that if we are to find people who have no public bias whatsoever, it will not be possible to find any Deputy or Senator------
-----because we have all certainly commented. Maybe some of us were more judgmental in the views offered than others. I am sure it is appreciated by the Government or the Dáil Committee on Procedure and Privileges, which I understand has already had a meeting, that clarity is needed on the legal advice. I think it will not be possible to set it up and that a committee of experts will be required
I agree with previous speakers. I cannot believe it is one year almost to the day when a man whom I knew very personally, Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe, was callously taken out of this world. He lived eight miles from my home and gave more than the call of duty to the Garda force and made major contribution to the youth in his local community of Lordship. It is my wish also that the perpetrators are brought to justice as soon as possible. I commend the Garda on its work and the success it has had and I hope the perpetrators will be brought to justice in the not too distant future.
I welcome the revised code of practice for the design, construction equipment and operation of small fishing vessels for fishing boats less than 15 m. The new code of practice will come into operation on 3 March 2014. Small fishing boats are currently required to carry emergency position indicating radio beacons. This revised code will require them to carry automatic float-free emergency position location beacons. Also, all fishermen on board will be obligated to wear personal locator beacons.
Every small fishing boat must be in compliance with the new requirements. Those requirements are in line with the safety initiative for Irish fishing industry vessels that was launched six or seven months ago by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Leo Varadkar, and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, at Union Hall in the Leas-Chathaoirleach's native county of Cork. On the same day, the Ministers announced a new enhanced safety equipment grant aid scheme to help with the cost of installing the new equipment, which will undoubtedly prove valuable in accelerating response times. As a person who hails from a seaside fishing lough, I have witnessed several tragedies at sea. The new equipment will help crew members who get into difficulty and thereby help to reduce the number of tragedies off our coasts in the future.
I support colleagues' comments in regard to the proposed banking inquiry. What has been mooted is absurd, because there is no politician who would not have commented on the issue in recent years. On the other hand, a "Coghlan inquiry" has a certain ring to it. Perhaps Senator Paul Coghlan, in his quasi-judicial role in the Oireachtas, might play a pivotal role in any investigation.
I join with other speakers in raising the issue of the proposed charities regulator. That body must be established without delay, and I hope it will be done next month, as indicated by the Minister. I have referred before in this House to the damage done by recent revelations to the public perception of the charities sector. The introduction of a quality standard mark similar to the Q mark for Irish products might be useful in terms of assuring the public that a particular charity adheres to certain standards, such as publishing annual accounts, using a fixed amount of donations to pay for administration and ensuring all salaries are transparent.
Like Senator Martin Conway, it is my experience that for every substandard charity there are 100 good ones. However, after rugby matches and other events in Dublin, one often sees people engaged in dubious collections. We all must be prepared to request identification in such instances. The provision of a quality mark would offer reassurance to the public that moneys given are going to the designated charity. The issue Senator Conway raises in this regard is important. I have participated in several 10 km runs and so on, and one does wonder where the money that is raised actually goes. In raising these concerns I do not seek the deny that there are many charities making a positive and worthwhile contribution. The introduction of a regulator will be very welcome. I repeat my call of last week for a debate on the charities sector in the coming weeks.
I join colleagues in calling for a balanced approach in regard to the proposed banking inquiry. Any such inquiry should include Members from both sides of this House. There is no Member of either House of the Oireachtas who has not commented on what happened with the banks. That reality must not prevent anybody from sitting on the proposed inquiry.
As other speakers said, it is difficult to accept that it is almost 12 months since the murder of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe, who was a native of County Cavan. It is important that we remember him at his time, as well as his wife, two small children, parents and wider family. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to every member of the Garda Síochána, all of whom risk their lives on a daily basis to protect the people of this State.
I join other Senators in remembering the awful tragedy in County Louth 12 months ago when Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe lost his life. I hope media reports in recent days suggesting there might soon be a breakthrough in the investigation are accurate, for the sake of Detective Garda Donohoe's family, the gardaí who lost a trusted colleague and the community around Lordship in County Louth. We must all give our full support to members of the Garda, many of whom operate in very dangerous circumstances in many instances.
I hope the membership of the banking inquiry team will include Members of this House as well as the Dáil. One could not find a person in this country who has not expressed strong views on the manner in which the banks operated in the past decade. It is ludicrous to suggest that a public representative who uttered strong statements on the matter should be precluded from membership of the inquiry. I am sure every citizen holds and has expressed strong views on the difficulties into which the banking industry placed this country.
I very much welcome the announcement in recent days by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, that the regulatory office for charities will be established in the coming months. The entire charities sector is an amazing mess, with major irregularities being perpetrated on an ongoing basis throughout the country. As Senator John Whelan observed, it is an industry worth €6 billion to €8 billion and it is time we got to grips with it. The Government has cleaned up a great deal of mess since coming into office. The mess that is the charities sector will be addressed by putting the sector on a proper footing so that the people who depend on the moneys raised by legitimate organisations continue to benefit from them and we can all have confidence that the money given voluntarily by people out of their income is used for the purposes intended. I urge the Minister to proceed without delay to sort this area out once and for all.
I had reason today to publish a report which indicates that the number of people presenting as homeless to services in this country has more than doubled in recent years. I understand a reference was made to me, perhaps not directly, by Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh. I will not respond to it because I was not here when it was made. I will say, however, that I am proud of the fact that this Government, in successive budgets, has protected funding for homeless services. I am proud that it has committed to ending long-term homelessness by 2016. I am proud, too, of my own role in the Government's commitment to a housing-led approach to ending homelessness, which has proved very successful in several other jurisdictions. It is important to remember that the current level of homelessness is a result of the collapse of the Irish economy, the banking sector and the construction industry. No amount of posturing by Senator Ó Clochartaigh will change that.
Solomon would not have the answers to all the queries I hear every day on the Order of Business. Several speakers referred to the proposed banking inquiry, and rightly so, following a number of queries yesterday regarding the potential participation of Members of this House in any inquiry.
At the request of a number of Members of the House, I wrote to the Government Whip, the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, yesterday as follows:
I am writing to you regarding the proposed Oireachtas inquiry into banking matters.That was sent yesterday at 2 p.m. The Minister of State only received it this morning and so I have not had any response as yet from him. I echo the words of a number of speakers this morning. I do not believe it will be possible to find a person in the country who has not made a remark about the banks - and rightly so - in the past five or ten years. While the legal advice might be to exclude people who made comments on banks, I believe common sense should apply. What the people need at this stage is common sense rather than legal jargon. The people want us to get to the bottom of what happened. We need the right people who are best qualified to sit on that committee of inquiry. It would be my wish that some Members of this House would be included on that inquiry team.
Prior to membership being decided, I would ask you to consider nominating an appropriate number of Senators to this Committee of Inquiry.
The matter was raised with me today by a number of members of the House, from all parties and I undertook to raise the matter with you.
I would be grateful for a reply at your earliest convenience.
Senator Darragh O'Brien and others raised the question of the anniversary of the death of Detective Garda Donohoe. I am sure we are all thinking of his widow and family at this time. Like other Senators I urge anyone with any information to come forward. The Garda is dedicating all the resources necessary in order to bring the perpetrators of this vile crime to justice, as is the wish of every right-thinking person in the State and beyond.
Senator Whelan raised the issue of charities. This is the third day this week that it has been raised in the House and rightly so. It was also raised last week. The recent revelations about certain organisations in the charity sector have understandably damaged public trust and confidence as alluded to by a number of Members this morning. The commencement of the key measures in the Charities Act will provide the increased transparency and accountability to allow trust to be rebuilt. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, will issue a call next week for expressions of interest from suitably qualified persons who wish to be considered for appointment to the board of the new charities regulatory authority with a view to making appointments before Easter to allow the authority to come into operation at that time. Arrangements are also being made to fill the post of CEO of the new authority on an interim basis by the end of February. I hope that updates all the Members who were seeking that this would happen as a matter of urgency. I can assure them the Minister is acting accordingly.
Senators Whelan and Kelly spoke about the changes in the EU energy policy announced by the Commission. They called for a debate and a review of the Government's position on the matter. I will invite the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resource, Deputy Rabbitte, to come to the House to discuss the effects the European Commission's proposed changes will have on Government policy.
Senator Barrett made comments on the banking inquiry and I have dealt with that matter. Senator Comiskey welcomed the road grants. Local authorities will welcome the 15% flexibility that has been afforded to them. In the past local authorities were concerned over the rigidity in how they could spend those road grants. The flexibility afforded to them will be welcomed.
Senator MacSharry also spoke about the banking inquiry. I also note his points on mortgage arrears. I have addressed that matter previously.
Senator Kelly spoke about the energy policy and also called for a review of the operation of the insolvency legislation. I believe we should give it some more time before having a debate on its effectiveness.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh spoke about social housing and homelessness. I hope to have the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, in the House in the coming weeks to address that matter. I also note Senator Hayden's comment in that regard. Senator Ó Clochartaigh also sought a debate on the ambulance service. I hope the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, will come to the House soon to address a number of health matters. He has been requested on a number of occasions to come to the House.
I also note Senator Conway's points about charities. I believe I addressed that in my earlier response on the matter. Also on charities, with respect, I think Senator Leyden was acting the maggot in what he was saying.
Irrespective of which charity or organisation is involved, the Government will investigate thoroughly any wrongdoing by any charity or organisation and it will be done without fear or favour.
Senator Quinn spoke about Ireland's greater use of cheques and cash in comparison with other countries. It is regrettable that the Oireachtas is encouraging us, as Members, to use cheques on practically all occasions. The matter needs to be examined. I agree with the Senator that the use of modern technology should be encouraged. I also note his points on the aviation conference being held here and our successes in that area.
I believe all other Senators, including Senators Brennan, Noone, Wilson, Mullins and Hayden referred to the banking inquiry, the anniversary of the death of Detective Garda Donohoe and charities, all of which I have already addressed.