Wednesday, 5 March 2014
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on the reform of further education and training and the apprenticeship system, to be taken at 11.45 a.m. and to conclude not later than 1.30 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply to the debate not later than 1.20 p.m.; No. 2, statements on the Action Plan for Jobs, to be taken at 3 p.m. and to conclude not later than 5.30 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply to the debate not later than 5.20 p.m.; No. 45, motion 6, Private Members' business, to be taken at 5.30 p.m. and conclude not later than 7.30 p.m.
I ask the Leader to outline what stage the legal services Bill has reached. It has been promised for the past three years but seems to have been sidelined for whatever reason. When will it come before the House?
My primary reason for rising to speak is to ask the Leader to recognise that the Government, last evening, accepted on principle the protection of residential mortgage holders Bill and allowed it to pass Second Stage in the Lower House. That is an important acknowledgement of the work done by Deputy Michael McGrath. My difficulty is with the commitment that the Minister and the Government have given to introduce the legislation in 2015. Due to the urgent nature of this matter and my desire to protect vulnerable mortgage holders I ask the Leader to give a clear commitment and convey a message to Government that 2015 is too late to introduce such legislation. The sale of Irish Nationwide is imminent and Danske Bank, the Royal Bank of Scotland and the ACC Bank are all in the process of exiting the Irish market. What about their customers?
The danger here, which is acknowledged by senior Government figures, is that these vulture capitalists - most of whom are neither European nor American - are buying the loan books. The kernel of the Bill, which was introduced by Deputy Michael McGrath in the Lower House, is that the code of conduct on mortgage arrears currently applied by the Central Bank will also apply to those taken over by these vulture capitalists. They must be protected. Even though the Government accepted the principle of the Bill in the Lower House, it is too dangerous to kick it to touch for another 12 months. That will be too late for many concerned mortgage holders. Many of them are beleaguered and under pressure so they need such protection. As bad as things are at the moment, at least there is some protection under the aegis of the Central Bank. There will be no written guarantee until the Government's proposed legislation is introduced in 12 months' time and passed to ensure that such mortgages are protected. It is an extremely serious issue.
I ask the Leader to comment on how the Water Services (No. 2) Bill 2013 applies to rural water schemes. Many such schemes have not been taken in charge by the local authority, so they appear to be in limbo. Perhaps the Leader could enlighten me about what is available for those schemes for which trustees were established. Hundreds of people have got water from some excellent schemes but they have not reached the final stage whereby the local authority takes charge of them. They are now the responsibility of Irish Water. Unfortunately, those schemes that are three-quarters baked are not currently under the control of a local authority or Irish Water, so that limbo situation should be addressed. Perhaps the Leader could acknowledge the difficulty and tell us where these people stand.
Like others, I wish to call on the Leader again to organise a debate on Ukraine. At the moment, things are at a very difficult stage. I commend the Tánaiste, Deputy Gilmore, for calling in the Russian ambassador yesterday to make clear Ireland's view that a peaceful resolution is essential. Anyone who saw the extraordinary footage last night of the unarmed Ukrainian soldiers bravely confronting heavily armed Russian troops in an attempt to take back their bases on their own territory in Crimea, will know just how commendably the Ukrainian armed forces are responding. They are not being provoked by the extreme provocation they are facing from Putin's policies in Russia. We all very much hope that there will be a peaceful resolution. We also hope that the European summit this week will have an impact on Russian policy and that the Ukraine will manage to hold onto its territory.
Following the National Women's Council report, I also wish to ask the Leader to arrange for a debate on the creation of a gender-balanced and women-friendly Oireachtas. My colleague, Senator Hayden, raised this issue yesterday. Many of us attended the launch by the National Women's Council of its publication entitled A Parliament of All Talents: Building a Women-Friendly Oireachtas, which features Senator Susan O'Keeffe. It was launched yesterday by the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton. The National Women's Council has done a huge amount of work in preparing this report which makes recommendations on how the Oireachtas could become more women-friendly, and how we could see more female parliamentarians coming forward.
The electoral amendment legislation we have passed, which provides for gender quotas, will have a transformative effect in the next general election in ensuring that we will see more women elected to the Dáil and hopefully also to the Seanad. The report's recommendations would make the Oireachtas a better place for all of us, both men and women, to work in. I previously put similar recommendations before the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges, and might do so again. Following discussions at the CPP, we could then have a debate to see how we can examine our own internal working procedures to make them more family-friendly.
I am also seeking a debate on diversity in the workplace generally. Yesterday, I attended the launch of a report by GLEN, the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, supported by Ernst & Young and Trinity College. The excellent survey examines diversity in light of the experience of LGBT employees in the workplace. The survey of 600 employees describes their experiences of difficulties with coming out and discrimination at work. It commends employers who have managed to achieve a good experience of diversity in the workplace and who have benefited as a result. A lot of work has been done on the benefits to employers of ensuring inclusion and better diversity in the workplace. I am therefore seeking a general debate on diversity in the workplace, based on both reports.
Once again this week we have practically no legislation coming through this House. We have had very little in recent weeks and I gather that we might not have much coming next week either. We have to do something about that dearth of legislation. The Leader could grasp some of the procedures we have suggested and recommended for Seanad reform. We could do it without waiting for somebody else to do it for us. Could we not do something about European legislation ourselves, rather than waiting for the other House or the Government to day, "Yes, here's what you can do"? It is in our own hands, so we should do it.
Today's newspapers report that Ireland is in ninth place for innovation of the 28 EU member states, so we are way down the line. There is no place in business for those who wait for somebody else to do something. That applies not just to the business sector, but also to this House. We must stand up and do it ourselves. This is a real opportunity for us to do something like that and I suggest that we could do it with European legislation on that basis. The Leader should grab hold of this proposal. If we are not going to be given legislation, let us grab hold of it ourselves and do something about it. Let us be the innovators and set an example of what we can do. It does not only apply to business or Government, but is also a way of life. If Ireland is going to succeed, we have got to do it ourselves. This is a real opportunity to do something in this House by introducing legislation or examining European legislation. That is part of what we have proposed in the Seanad Reform Bill. If we are to have a healthy and successful Seanad in future, we must do it ourselves. I urge the Leader to do something about this in the immediate future.
I wish to make one point about the sale of the INBS loan book. I congratulate Deputy Michael McGrath for introducing legislation to try to protect the interests of mortgage holders who have mortgages with the Irish Nationwide Building Society. It is important to remember that the latter company was the original sub-prime lender in this country and there is a serious impairment on that loan book. However, the proposed legislation will not be enough to protect mortgage holders with the INBS. Appearing before the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, the liquidator said in defence of why they would not include compliance with the code of conduct on mortgage arrears as an essential part of the sale of the loan book, that it would impair the value they would get for the sale of that business. He also made the point that any prudent pursuer of the loan book would want the loans to be performed and therefore there was no real issue to address. The bottom line, however, is that there is absolutely no protection for those mortgage holders because that loan book is going to be sold off in bits and pieces. The most profitable bits of the loan book will clearly be the first to go. There is no follow-on protection for those mortgage holders when, not if, that loan book is sold on.
More important, there is no protection against increases in interest rates beyond what we would regard as normal for those mortgage holders. In this respect, changing the law is not enough. No domestic mortgage under State control, as the INBS loan book is, should be sold off at all. It should be transferred to NAMA and administered as such in future. With due respect to Deputy Michael McGrath, no real protection can be offered to those mortgage holders unless the mortgages remain within the control of the Government.
Last week, I raised the issue of what I believed to be a trend in the Irish hospitality sector to increase prices across the board. I instanced a personal experience I had which in some quarters was received with tongue in cheek. I was, however, trying to make an important point which it seems has now been borne out by the most recent statistics published in today's media. They show that Ireland has moved from being the 34th most expensive country last year to the 21st this year.
I regret to say that one of the premier tourist locations in this country - I would say it is the premier one outside of Dublin - namely, Killarney, has not come out of that survey very well. I would suggest to the hospitality sector not to be tempted, because there is an upturn in the economy, to increase its prices. Costs have been kept down in recent years and, given the current fragile state of the Irish economy and particularly in light of a slight improvement in tourism revenue and numbers in the last year, there is no justification for the sector to increase its prices at this stage. There should be a period of patience and waiting. If there is any justification for it, I would like to see it. I would like to hear from the Irish Hotels Federation and the tourism interests why they are justifying these increases in prices. It will damage the Irish tourism industry, perhaps not so much in Dublin, where tourism is booming, but in other parts of the country that are struggling. This is particularly the case in my own area, the north west, which traditionally has had to fight very hard and go that extra mile to increase and attract more visitors. In this I include the entire north west and the Border counties.
I make a plea to the Leader that the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, or the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, or both, would come before the House and indicate what is Government policy in this regard. They are the first out of the blocks, as any Minister would be, whenever there is good news to be imparted to the public. This is not a good news story; it is a bad news story for Ireland. I would like to hear from the Ministers responsible as to what it is they believe should be done to encourage the Irish hospitality sector to hold the line on this and not to be tempted to increase prices just because there is a slight upturn in the tourism sector.
I would like to counter what has been said because I am in touch with the Irish Hotels Federation, including Conor Hennigan and others who are leaders in that regard in Killarney. I recently had to make inquiries about a conference coming up in September. I know that for four star hotels in Killarney - I can discuss two of them afterwards with Senator Mooney - the value people are getting for the week they want to spend there is outstanding. I do not accept and do not understand the survey. It may be a once-off-----
We should not just be flying off and frothing at the mouth, although I am not accusing Senator Mooney of that. We have to be careful about what we say here. As I said, I am not aware of the survey but I will look into it. I do not believe it because I know from my practical experience it is not true.
I presume the House would welcome President Clinton to Ireland today. He is in Derry at lunchtime to honour John Hume, he is then launching a new Clinton Institute at Queen's University Belfast this evening, and, of course, he is renewing his contacts to this country through the Cassidy family in Fermanagh. I propose to the Leader that we debate Northern Ireland. The peace process has to be worked at and we have not discussed it for some time. I also suggest it is again time to look at the issue of the absence of an American ambassador in this country since December 2012. Ireland and the United States have one of the closest international friendships in the world and it should be graced by an ambassador here. I do not know why the US authorities have been neglecting that important role.
I also note the views of Frank McDonald, a distinguished environmentalist and expert on buildings and architecture, that the ESB buildings near here, mentioned yesterday, should be restored as residences and that there are many available office blocks where the commercial aspects of what the ESB does in the Fitzwilliam Street could be carried out. It would be a better project to restore the residences on that street rather than have an office block behind a Georgian facade. I recall, a long time ago, when the then Minister, Erskine Childers was in charge of that area, he said the drawings that were presented to him of what those offices would look like differed a lot from what was constructed. I believe it is time for some vigilance to ensure that a piece of Dublin's Georgian mile can be restored in harmony with its surroundings.
I wish to raise the issue of the new service for the provision of national driving licences. Last year the Government decided to take the provision of the service from the local authorities and set up a new organisation. A contract was given out, centres were set up across the country and people had to attend these centres during working hours to get their new driver licences. This has turned into a fiasco in some areas. In the early weeks of last year the system stalled and nobody could get any work done despite the fact people had taken time off their employment to go to the centres to have their licences issued.
The issue was raised in the Lower House in December with the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, who has responsibility for this service. In response to the issue raised, the Minister intimated that it needed time to bed in and that, if the difficulties continued, he would look at the matter. In the last week, in my own county of Tipperary, the system again stalled and people who had taken time off work to go to the new driving licence centre wasted their day. It is time the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, took a serious look at this.
The other difficulty is the location of the centres. For example, in all of Kerry, there is only one centre, in Tralee, and in all of Cork, there are only two, in Cork city and Skibbereen. In my own county, the biggest inland county in the country, there are only two, in Clonmel and Nenagh. People have to take time off work and travel to these places to discover, in some instances, that the service does not work. They then have to go back again, wasting time when they should be at their workplace. It is time the system was looked at and time the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, did what he said he would do, that is, to review and make changes if necessary.
In the last week we have had a lot of discussion in regard to the role of post offices, particularly in rural Ireland. I see this as an opportunity for post offices to play a part in the provision of the new driver licence system. Post offices could be used in the areas I have outlined and in other parts of the country where there are large gaps in the provision of this service. This could help to enhance the role of post offices across the country. I ask the Leader to raise this matter with the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, with a view to involving the post office in the provision of this service.
Ba mhaith liom moladh a thabhairt do na Seanadóirí atá ag úsáid na Gaeilge an tseachtain seo. B'fhéidir go dtabharfaidh said spreagadh do dhaoine eile beagáinín Gaeilge a úsáid sna díospóireachtaí a bheidh againn i rith Seachtain an Gaeilge an tseachtain seo agus an tseachtain seo chugainn.
I would like to commend a theatre production that a number of us saw last night, which is produced between Garter Lane Arts Centre, Everyman Palace and Project Arts Centre. It is "Dreamland" by Jim Nolan, which is a very good production and well worth a visit this week, if people get a chance to see it. It deals with the rise of fascism in the 1930s in Ireland, which is a theme I was discussing in Bilbao over the weekend. I was lucky enough to be invited to a conference there which was to coincide with the visit of the IMF to Bilbao and was focused on the impact of troika economics on a number of states and regions across Europe.
One of the themes that came across from a number of the speakers was the rise of fascism across Europe, which is becoming a very serious problems in places like Greece, Portugal and Spain. The state of their economies and the impact socially of troika programmes was under discussion especially given that in many regions and states the negative impact of what has happened has been very serious. There was a huge protest in Bilbao, with tens of thousands of people on the streets.
It is important for us not to forget that even though we are apparently out of our own bailout programme, bailouts are still happening across Europe and are having a massive negative impact in places like Greece, Portugal, Italy and Spain. We even had speakers from Germany highlighting the difficulties in that country for people in lower income brackets. Now we have the news that the troika is coming back to check our copybooks in the near future. We were told we were out of its grasp, but it is clear now that we will be under its tutelage until 75% of the banking debts are repaid. It is important to have a debate on the impact of troika economics and austerity policies throughout Europe, including their social impact in member states that are still in bailout programmes. Those countries are dealing with serious unemployment and social problems, cutbacks in health services and so on. It would be a useful debate and a reminder that we must not forget our comrades across Europe.
I congratulate the manager of the Clare hurling team, Davy Fitzgerald, on his openness and frankness in his speech to students at the Limerick Institute of Technology in recent days on the issue of alcohol and other substance abuse in sport. He is in a great position to demonstrate that when a group of players decides to pursue a path of abstinence from alcohol and other substances, it can achieve something very significant.
Mr. Fitzgerald's speech dovetails nicely with the launch yesterday of the all-party Oireachtas group on alcohol misuse. I attended a very powerful presentation in the AV room by four people - a nurse from University Hospital Galway, a paramedic with the National Ambulance Service, a person working in the drugs and alcohol service, and Mr. Alastair Campbell. The nurse, Ann Burke from Galway, asked a very relevant question, namely, whether politicians really know what is happening in emergency departments late at night when we are all safely tucked up in our beds, the level of violence nurses have to endure and the horrific injuries with which patients present. Other speakers spoke of eight and ten year old children looking after their brothers and sisters while their parents are abusing alcohol. In short, a very frightening picture was painted. I applaud Alcohol Action Ireland for organising the seminar in conjunction with the all-party Oireachtas group on alcohol misuse.
It would be appropriate, in advance of the publication of the public health (alcohol) Bill, for the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Alex White, to come to the House for a frank discussion on the urgency of addressing these issues. The number of lives that are being destroyed and the increasing cost to the health service are a matter of national urgency. The sooner the legislation is brought forward and the recommendations of the various groups that fed into the Bill are implemented, the better. I ask the Leader to organise that debate in the coming weeks.
I support the call by Senator Ivana Bacik regarding the situation in Ukraine. It would be very worthwhile to have the Tánaiste come in and brief the House on the situation. It is still very tense in the region and there is no evidence of a united approach from the European Union. This morning we heard the Foreign Minister of Spain complimenting the Russian Foreign Minister on oil agreements, tourism from Russia and other issues which are not of paramount importance in the context of the situation in Crimea. A house divided will not stand and it is imperative that we see a more unified approach from the EU. Meanwhile, a tape played on "Tonight with Vincent Browne" last night showed the influence of the United States Department of State, with the ambassador in Ukraine recommending applicants for ministerial positions in the interim, unelected, Government of Ukraine. The situation is very tense but we hope it will be resolved peacefully. It has repercussions globally, including for us in Ireland.
Given that this is International Women's Week, will the Committee on Procedure and Privileges consider inviting Ms Anne Brasseur from Luxembourg, the newly elected President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, to address the House?
I am sure he will do so. It is interesting to note, this being International Women's Week, that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has elected a woman as President for the first time in some 30 years. It is a clear indication of progress. I was delighted to support Ms Brasseur's nomination, as she was the outgoing president of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe of which I am vice president. I am delighted we were successful in securing her election.
I certainly did. Will the Cathaoirleach, as Chairman of the CPP, recommend that Ms Brasseur be invited to the House to address us? I have no doubt she will make a very interesting and worthwhile contribution. I hope my female colleagues will be supportive of my proposal.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, notwithstanding his attendance here yesterday, come to the House again today to discuss the position of mortgage holders with what was the Irish Nationwide Building Society and is now the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation. While the other House accepted the principle of the Fianna Fáil Bill to give protections to this group, it is vital that we have a debate on the issue in this Chamber. Like universal health insurance, this issue is being put on the never-never by the Government. We are told there is agreement in principle with what my party has proposed, but the issue is effectively being kicked down the road, to be looked at, perhaps, in a year or so. As Senator Hayden said, this simply is not good enough.
The banks' balance sheets show that 1,500 houses have been repossessed, two thirds of them owner occupied properties and one third buy to lets. We have no regional breakdown of these figures. What is the Government's plans in terms of follow-up actions? Of the 1,000 families that are now out of their homes, how many are on housing lists, in rented accommodation or homeless? We do not have anything in place to determine their status. I agree wholeheartedly with Senator Hayden that the right protections are not in place. Notwithstanding Members opposite wrestling with their conscience three years ago in regard to our Family Home Bill, which would have given very specific support to families in respect of the family home, the decision was made to leave the banks in absolute control. The secret stairs to which Senator Barrett often refers that allows access for bankers and developers to the Department of Finance seems to exist no matter who is in government.
The reality is that the Government is taking a hands-off approach to all of this. Pointing out this inaction is not to absolve previous Governments any more than it is to absolve the current Government, but inaction it is. Being placated with assurances that we have brought forward a worthwhile proposal is not good enough. Having a Private Members' Bill accepted on Second Stage is merely an empty victory if the Government is simply going to push the issue onto the never-never. It is not good enough. Principles and talk are cheap; what we need is action to protect family homes. Where are the 1,000 families whose homes have been repossessed? We know nothing about them. As Senator Hayden rightly observed, the number of repossessions will only increase. We had a very respectful debate with the Minister yesterday, but it is worth nothing.
I was here and spoke very respectfully while making my political points. While I appreciate having the Minister here, five minutes is worth nothing. As finance spokesman on the other side of the House, I recall speakers being allowed 20 minutes each in certain debates on finance and the economy. Yesterday, I had hardly started my contribution when it was time to finish.
I am proposing that the Minister come to the House to indicate specifically what the Government's plans are to follow up on the issue of mortgage arrears, particularly in respect of mortgages taken out with the Irish Nationwide Building Society.
Ba mhaith liom aontú leis an Seanadóir Ó Clochartaigh i dtaobh an dualgais atá orainn an Ghaeilge a chur chun cinn anseo, go mórmhór i rith Seachtain na Gaeilge. Is mór an náire é nach bhfuil suim níos láidre ag an Rialtas seo inár dteanga dúchais a phlé agus a chur chun cinn.
I second the amendment proposed by Senator MacSharry on the IBRC loan book. I fully concur with Senator Hayden's comments in this regard. It is, as I stated last week, an abrogation of our duty, obligation and mandate as elected representatives to abandon the people we are supposed to represent, many of whom are in a highly vulnerable position. I refer specifically to mortgage holders, some of whom are in arrears and experiencing great difficulty meeting their repayments and keeping a roof over their heads. It is appalling that the Government has suggested deferring addressing this matter until 2015. A number of mortgage books could be sold in the meantime, which would place tens of thousands of people at risk of losing their homes. I remember the House sitting through the night in recent years to rescue the banking system. Could we not do the same for citizens who have suffered as a consequence of the lack of prudential banking and the irresponsibility shown by the banks, the Department of Finance and our regulatory authorities?
I support the call for a debate on Ukraine, which is a serious issue with many ramifications and implications. I would like Europe to follow the approach taken by Chancellor Merkel who has engaged directly with the Russian President to resolve the matter amicably through a de-escalation of the situation. The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs appeared before the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade yesterday. He should come before the House for a full debate on this important European topic.
I support the call for the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, to come before the House again. While his visit yesterday evening was very useful, I was only allowed to speak on the issue of economic recovery and job creation for one minute. I would like the Minister to return to the House to discuss mortgage arrears.
I have noticed a conflict between the position on the ground in respect of mortgage arrears and the position suggested in media reports. Last Monday week, I was at a meeting in Oranmore with 90 people who are experiencing difficulty with debt. They included people who have been in arrears for five years and are deeply worried they will lose their homes. Two people have disclosed at private meetings that they plan to take their lives as a result of mortgage arrears. There is not a more important issue. I concur with Senator Jim Walsh on this occasion.
If we must sit through the night to help people in mortgage arrears, as we did in the case of banks and the public finances, let us do so.
I invite all Senators to visit the Members' private dining room where we are hosting Hand in Hand, the only dedicated childhood cancer charity in the country.
Senator O'Donovan, the Acting Leader of the Opposition, inquired about the Legal Services Regulation Bill. I understand the legislation went to committee on 12 February. As the Senator is aware, it is a lengthy Bill and it will take some time to dispose of it in committee. Report Stage must also be taken in the Dáil before it is introduced in the Seanad. As such, it will be some time before it comes before the House.
A number of Senators raised the issue of mortgage arrears and referred to a Bill introduced in the other House last evening. As Senator O'Donovan stated, the Government agreed in principle to expedite legislation. However, the wheels of government grind slowly where legislation is concerned. I will raise with the Minister the concerns expressed by Senators with a view to expediting the legislation. I will also inquire on behalf of Senator O'Donovan about the position regarding rural water services and the water services Bill.
Senator Bacik and other Senators raised the issue of Ukraine, on which I provided a comprehensive report yesterday. I have invited the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to come before the Seanad, even though he addressed the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade on this matter yesterday. Senator Bacik also raised a report published yesterday by the National Women's Council. I agreed to ask the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, to come to the House for a discussion of the report.
Senator Feargal Quinn referred to the dearth of legislation before the Seanad. It is regrettable there is so little legislation before us. We have recourse to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, which I hope will hold a lengthy meeting next week. The Government has made proposals to change the procedures of the Houses. Senator Quinn also referred to the possibility of the Seanad examining the European work programme. There is no European legislation as such, although there are EU directives. We could certainly move on the issue of the European work programme as soon as possible. I presume a Minister would have to be present if we were to perform that role.
I note the strong points made by Senator Hayden on the issue of mortgage holders.
Senator Mooney referred to the hospitality sector, an issue that was also raised by Senator Paul Coghlan. It is important the sector remains competitive. I will ask the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, or the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, to come to the House to outline tourism policy. We have been highly successful in this area, with tourist numbers increasing in the past year or two.
Senator Barrett expressed concern that the United States has still not appointed an ambassador. I hope the matter will be addressed in the next week or two, perhaps on St. Patrick's Day. I also note the Senator's comment on the ESB building on Fitzwilliam Street, a matter which was also raised by Senator Norris yesterday.
Senator Landy called for a review of the current position regarding driving licences to assess the possibility of using post offices for driving licence renewals. I will bring the matter to the attention of the relevant Minister.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh referred to the impact of troika economics on Ireland and the rest of Europe and called for a debate on same.
Senator Mullins raised the issue of alcohol and substance abuse. The all-party group on alcohol abuse met yesterday and Senator Noone provided a report to the House on the Order of Business yesterday. I agree a debate is needed because alcohol abuse is a scourge on which action must be taken. The Minister of State, Deputy Alex White, has been asked to come to the House to debate the issue.
I note the points made by Senator Leyden on the current position in Ukraine. I am sure he will raise at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges the possibility of inviting the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to address the House.
On the Irish language, which was raised by Senator Jim Walsh, the Government is committed to the promotion and use of the Irish language. The Minister of State, Deputy McGinley, will come to the House on Wednesday next to discuss the 20 year strategy for the language.
I do not propose to accept Senator MacSharry's amendment.
Senator Marc MacSharry has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Minister for Finance on the steps the Government proposes to take to protect mortgage holders, including those with Irish Nationwide and those in arrears, be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
- Sean Barrett
- Thomas Byrne
- John Crown
- David Cullinane
- Mark Daly
- Terry Leyden
- Marc MacSharry
- Denis O'Donovan
- Ned O'Sullivan
- Averil Power
- Feargal Quinn
- Kathryn Reilly
- Jim Walsh
- Diarmuid Wilson