Tuesday, 18 November 2014
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re Protocol No. 21 on the position of the UK and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice annexed to the Treaty on the European Union and to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, referral to committee, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; and No. 2, statements on Horizon 2020, to be taken at 4.15 p.m. and to conclude no later than 6.15 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the contributions from group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply to the debate no later than 6.10 p.m.
Last evening, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, signed two commencement orders to tear apart the pension entitlements of 15,000 members of the Irish aviation superannuation scheme, IASS. All Members will have been written to by retired people in their 60s, 70s or 80s who will lose a minimum of six weeks pay, which is a more than a 10% cut, and will carry the burden of this Government's pension levy which, for them, equates to 2.53% per annum for the rest of the term because €28 million was taken out of this under-funded scheme by the Government to pay for other things. Now these retired members, who worked in Aer Lingus, Team Aer Lingus and the Dublin Airport Authority, will lose six weeks pay.
Many of the people who will have written to Members are long-standing members of the scheme who have 30 years to 35 years' service and who are called the deferred pensioners. They paid into this pension scheme, on a compulsory basis, from the age of 20. They worked tirelessly to return Aer Lingus to profitability and for Team Aer Lingus, SR Technics and the Dublin Airport Authority. What has happened to them? What the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, did last evening will mean up 58% cuts in their pension entitlements. The average is 40% to 50%. There are 5,000 retired members and 5,000 deferred members, some 10,000 people and families. The 5,000 working members, who have been put into an inferior scheme, will also have their benefits cut.
What is really annoying me about this, and what I am disgusted about, is that only last week, the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection met some of the committees here to try to work towards a favourable solution which would not result in a 58% cut in some people's pensions and which would not take hundreds or thousands of euro from 70, 80 or 90 year old people.
What happened yesterday was that the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, signed the commencement orders even though nothing had come back from the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection.
Why did he do it yesterday? He did so because the debate on the Social Welfare Bill will take place in the Dáil this week, to which amendments have been tabled that will effect cuts to the IAS scheme under the State Airports (Shannon Group) Act. This was choreographed. Aer Lingus today announced that an EGM will be held in early December to vote on this issue. The Committee Stage debate here on the Social Welfare Bill will commence on 2 December. All of the amendments we have prepared in relation to that Bill will be negated because the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, has, in my view, subvented this process.
I propose to seek an amendment to the Order of Business. I know that there are Labour Members opposite who have engaged with retired members of the airport scheme and who are also disgusted at what has happened. The Minister, Deputy Donohoe, needs to explain to this House the reason he saw fit to sign two commencement orders yesterday evening.
As the House is not overly burdened with work today, I propose the following amendment to the Order of Business: "That, following statements on Horizon 2020, the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, come to this House to explain the reason he saw fit to sign the commencement orders that have given rise to massive reductions in pension benefits for IAS scheme members." It would be necessary to provide only for a half hour debate with the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, being given 15 minutes to make a statement and the leaders of the different groups being given time to respond. I ask that the Minister come to this House today to make that statement rather than go into hiding between now and the taking of Committee Stage of the Social Welfare Bill.
Also, this has happened in the week when it has been confirmed that €1.1 billion of the €21 billion given to AIB was transferred to its pension scheme.
I hope colleagues across the House will join me in condemning the violence and acts of criminality which arose during certain protests over the weekend and since. These were appalling acts, particularly when perpetrated by a particular elected representative, in terms of the detention of the Tánaiste in her car and the barracking and harassment of the Taoiseach and ordinary members of the public, in particular, the unfortunate 60 people graduating from An Cosan, a project founded many years ago by Senator Zappone who is doing tremendous work in Tallaght. It was unfair on those people who had worked so hard that their graduation ceremony was disrupted in such a way. It was also unfair on the majority of people opposed to water tax who have protested peacefully in the past, as is their democratic right. It is unfair to them when protests are disrupted and hijacked in this way by violent elements. I hope all of those involved, particularly those who are members of parties that are in opposition to water tax, will condemn the violence.
I would also like to put on the record my regret that the secondary teacher unions have taken the decision to strike in relation to junior cycle reforms. Last Thursday, I spoke at length in this House about the compromise offered by the Minister, Deputy O'Sullivan, to the teachers' unions. Many of us hoped at that point that there would be further negotiations on this issue. The Minister, Deputy O'Sullivan, has put forward reasonable proposals that have come more than half way to meeting the concerns of unions around external accreditation of examinations. I hope we will see a resolution of this matter, particularly given parents and pupils have come out in support of the reform.
I call on the Leader to provide time for a debate for gender equality among staff at third level. I do so in light of the ruling this week of the Equality Tribunal, which ruling I very much welcome, in a case taken by Dr. Micheline Sheehy-Skeffington against NUI Galway. The equality officer, in a robust judgment, found in favour of Dr. Sheehy-Skeffington and ordered the university to promote her and to pay her redress of a year's salary. The equality officer in her findings states: "It is clear that male applicants have a one in two chance of being promoted to senior lecture in NUI Galway while women who apply have less than a one in three chance of the same promotion." I spoke today to Dr. Sheehy-Skeffington. As she says, this case raises wider issues about the treatment of women in academia, promotion prospects based on gender and the appalling position of women in all Irish universities, particularly in science. A report from the European Commission in 2009 shows we are second only to Malta in terms of the glass ceiling index.
A debate on this issue would be welcome and I hope we can have such a debate very shortly in light of this ruling.
The plot is thickening in the Irish Water fiasco as it appears from the latest reports that Irish Water staff will not be paid any bonuses for 2014 and that the entire pay structure is to be reviewed. We have had the Minister, Deputy Kelly, expressing a personal view in the Dáil that the charges for fitting a water meter are too high and we have had the Tánaiste express what was subsequently called "a personal view" that the water allowances for families are too low. I was not aware as a matter of law or otherwise that Ministers speaking on the record of the House on matters of public interest could give personal views as opposed to the views of the Government of the day. Moreover, the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, stated last night that the enforcement mechanism against those who refuse to pay water charges has yet to be determined. It is time for the Government to admit that the confusion and public anger over the Irish Water fiasco is largely due to the fact that the Government has no clear idea what has gone on. The Government is like a car skidding on ice, it does not know whether to press the brake or the accelerator or whether to turn left or right and that has contributed to public frustration and contempt among families. It is time for the Government to clarify exactly what the average family can expect to pay, what the installation of water meters will cost and what enforcement mechanisms are proposed.
I agree with Senator Bacik's comments in that it is utterly unacceptable for any groups in civil society or trade union leaders, the spokesperson of one of which I heard interviewed this morning, equivocating in any kind of way about unacceptable tactics when it comes to public protest. We deserve much better leadership. It is quite possible to show and demonstrate legitimate public anger without detaining other people, striking at their vehicles or using foul and unacceptable language. I have no sympathy for this Government and its many bad decisions and unacceptable leadership in a number of different areas, but we should all unite in condemning unacceptable tactics of protest. We should expect the best from trade union leaders and other convenors of public protests.
I wish to raise briefly an issue I have had to raise previously, that of the allocation of judicial resources. A disgraceful situation occurred two weeks ago in Galway where Circuit Court civil hearings for November were cancelled because no Circuit Court judges were available to hear cases due, in the main, to the fact that judicial vacancies were not being filled promptly. Apart from the obvious problems this causes litigants in terms of both their time and costs, the real story is that it could have been avoided. Six specialist judges of the Circuit Court appointed to deal with insolvency applications under the 2012 Act are operating currently with very little to do, as the thousands of insolvency actions expected never materialised. While the flaws in the 2012 Act are a matter for another day, the judges, each, earning salaries of more than €140,000 a year, are reportedly frustrated because they have so little work to do. It is unbelievable that court sittings are being cancelled in one area while judges costing the taxpayer close to €1 million, when pension entitlements are included, are under-utilised. I sympathise with the judges in question. This situation is not of their making and it must be depressing for them to have so little work to do. Will the Leader, for the sake of the judges in question as well as for the sake of the long-suffering court-using public and taxpayers, ask the Minister for Justice and Equality that these judges be redeployed as a matter of urgency, and if that is not possible, to explain why it is not?
I wish to raise the matter of the newly released InterTradeIreland report, which notes that small and domestic firms throughout Ireland are reporting a recovery and, most important, these small firms are non-exporters and are reliant on the domestic market. Among the notable statistics are that 88% of these firms are reporting they are in a stable or growth mode and 43% have reported a rise in the last quarter. These are the most positive results since 2008 and it shows that firms of all sizes and in all sectors are experiencing a recovery. Put simply, approximately nine in ten businesses are stable or growing and this is the highest figure since the recession. It is welcome to see these figures in regard to domestic demand and it shows signs of a true recovery taking place.
The right to peaceful protest has been long established going back to Gandhi, Martin Luther King and the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association.
Senator Rónán Mullen: The plot is thickening in the Irish Water fiasco as it appears from the latest reports that Irish Water staff will not be paid any bonuses for 2014 and the entire pay structure is to be reviewed. We have the Minister, Deputy Kelly, expressing a personal view in the Dáil that the charges for fitting a water meter are too high. W, we have the Tánaiste expressing what was subsequently called a "personal view", that the water allowances for families are too low.
It is interesting that all three of those were quite successful in their protests, which were peaceful. It is with regret that I say how disgusted I am with the type of heavy-handed thuggery that went on over the weekend vis-à-visthe virtual kidnapping of the Tánaiste and the abuse the Taoiseach had to put up with. I do not care whether they are members of Fine Gael, Labour, Fianna Fáil or any other party, they are the leaders of our country and members of the Cabinet. All Oireachtas Members are entitled to be protected from that kind of behaviour. It appals me to see what is happening. It has become commonplace for Members of the Oireachtas to go among the crowds with megaphones. In fact, they have the greatest megaphone of all; in that they have the immense privilege of being Members of Dáil Éireann where they are one of 166 people who can stand up and fight their corner, but instead they are resorting to street politics and inciting people. It is very revealing that Sinn Féin is now trying to distance itself from that. Its members were experienced agents provocateurs themselves at public rallies. That illustrates how serious the situation has become, in the sense that the scene on the extreme left has become so crowded parties are trying to race each other to the bottom in terms of their behaviour.
To turn to a totally different subject, I wish to raise the problem of Japanese knotweed in the country. This is an invidious plant which has begun to take over in many scenic areas. It is highly aggressive and it is killing many native species, in particular in some of the most scenic tourism areas. I ask the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to address the problem. He must work with county councils and local community groups on how best to eradicate this insidious plant. In some jurisdictions, for example, in the UK, they take the problem so seriously that when someone applies for a mortgage the approval includes a compliance clause on Japanese knotweed. Senator Paul Coghlan is aware of the situation long ago with the dreaded rhododendron scourge in Killarney which threatened to take over a beautiful park there. The situation there fades to nothing in comparison with what Japanese knotweed is capable of doing. I urge the Leader to bring the matter to the attention of the Minister. I second the amendment to the Order of Business by the leader of the Opposition.
I too wish to raise the disturbing scenes that took place in Jobstown on Saturday. I agree with the Tánaiste's comments that the protest and antics surrounding it overshadowed the achievements and importance of the day for the graduates who had worked and studied long and hard to get to that point. I was also particularly shocked when looking at the scenes on television on Saturday night by the amount of children that were dragged into the situation. It was no place for children to be involved and I was very disappointed to see so many of them present. As Senator Ned O'Sullivan said, many of the people involved in protests have gone on to become public representatives. Last year when the Taoiseach came to visit Dundalk, my car was attacked and placards were placed on it. The incident shook me up. There was much pushing and abuse was hurled at public representatives as we went about our work.
I accept people have the right to protest and I support peaceful protests, but I am not in favour of people intimidating others or in my case having placards placed on the windscreen of the car, pushing the car and hammering on the roof of the car. Such behaviour is very frightening. On the day in question I was in the car on my own and I had to wait for what felt like an eternity before a garda came along to move the protesters on. Such bullying is totally unacceptable. It leads me to last week's debate in Leinster House on Maíria Cahill. I had the good fortune to sit beside her for most of the debate in the Gallery, and it was fantastic to witness the strength and fortitude she displayed last Wednesday. It was great to see so many public representatives and staff support her. However, I found the questions were not answered. People from political parties spoke about not getting answers. We certainly did not get any answers during the debate last Wednesday even though it was five hours long.
I call on the Leader to arrange a debate in the Seanad on the allegations regarding sexual abuse by members of the republican movement. That debate should be held as soon as possible because we need and deserve answers, particularly when we see more stories every week about sexual abusers being moved across the Border into our towns. We need to get an answer on that as soon as possible.
The Leader will note that Mr. Draghi of the European Central Bank, ECB, said today that he does not wish to appear before the banking inquiry here but he might participate informally. He went on to say that they had to pull the plug on what was happening in Ireland because the equivalent of 85% of our GDP was being given to enhance the liquidity of the Irish banking system. That is why he should participate and give evidence because that was putting fuel on the fire, and the bills had to be collected by Irish taxpayers. Why did the ECB give so much money to banks, which eventually brought down the country? I hope he will reconsider that decision and that there will be support in the Oireachtas that he should appear before the inquiry.
I refer to the Garda Inspectorate report. There has been an emphasis on statistics but there are problems with that. I gather it is an issue with the New York Police Department that turning policemen into people gathering statistics tends to erode public faith, and it erodes community policing. Some policing may require no statistics at all; it just works. There are problems with public service morale also. A former member of the NYPD, Professor John Eterno, has drawn attention to that. More importantly, however, are the numbers that emerge from the report. That a significant proportion of gardaí are engaged in administrative and non-operational duties is noteworthy, according to the inspectorate. Twelve per cent of members are engaged in detective duties but they perform much less than 12% of the investigation of crime. The norm in other jurisdictions is that they should perform more than that percentage. The amount of time spent on operational policing and criminal investigation in the Garda college is only a quarter, which is much less than the amount of time spent on language skills. We have 700 untrained detectives. Only about 31% of fingerprints, which are needed to solve cases, are actually taken.
I hope the Minister for Justice and Equality would come into the House to address the issues. Let us leave the statistics to the statisticians. There are serious managerial and operational issues highlighted in this report.
I have two points to put to the Leader, the first of which concerns the ISPCA. The ISPCA, which is involved in six to eight dog pounds in the country, is withdrawing from those. I believe it has already withdrawn from Offaly and Roscommon, and is now withdrawing from Kilkenny. That has serious implications. I ask that the Leader would write to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to request it to ensure that the funding to run these pounds remains in place through the county councils. We discussed the Animal Health and Welfare Bill in this House for numerous hours and one of the issues that arose was the neglect of dogs. If dogs are being neglected and we do not have the ISPCA involved, we will have a serious problem. Farmers will have a serious problem also because ewes are being put in lamb at this time of the year and if dog worrying occurs, the lamb crop will be affected. It is important that the funding for these dog pounds continues to be made available.
The other matter concerns what we saw over the weekend. I ask the Members opposite for their views. I heard the views of Senator O'Sullivan but I would be interested to hear the views of Senator MacSharry. He is not present but I presume Senator Wilson, as acting leader of the Opposition or Fianna Fáil, will pass on the message. I believe Senator MacSharry attended the protest last night in Sligo during which the Taoiseach's car was stopped entering a hotel. When we came into Government we had to sort out this country and one of the jobs we did was to get rid of Garda drivers at a saving of €6 million. We saw at the weekend the Tánaiste imprisoned in her car for three hours, the Taoiseach stopped from entering a hotel to attend a Fine Gael meeting, the Minister, Deputy Noonan, being intimidated in his own town of Limerick, and the Minister, Deputy Kelly, receiving a bomb threat to his office.
Are we coming to a stage at which we must reintroduce Garda drivers for the safety of Ministers, because no Minister deserves what has happened to them over the weekend? I have a request for Members opposite with regard to Senator MacSharry, whose antics Members saw in this Chamber last week in the disruption of the Irish Water debate. It appeared to me that he was more into intimidation than into peaceful protests and he hijacked the debates in the Chamber. He should make a statement in the House with regard to his views on protests, whether peaceful or by intimidation, which appears to be what is happening.
At the outset, I thank Senators Bacik, Moran and others for their comments on what happened over the weekend and for that support. Just as I was walking into the Chamber I met Deputy Twomey, who asked me whether it was as bad as it looked. I replied that it was.
However, I wish to raise an issue today related to the Central Bank of Ireland's proposed mortgage rules, which I believe all Members are aware are scheduled to take effect from 1 January. Members also are aware that these measures will require that most people put down a 20% deposit when buying their new home. There has been some discussion about this proposal subsequent to that statement but I welcome the Central Bank's efforts to prevent another overheating of the credit and property market.
I applaud its intent and acknowledge the need for regulation and prudence. However, I am concerned that the proposed changes could be devastating to an entire generation of young people seeking to buy their first homes. As Members are aware and as many have raised in this House, rents are soaring and this issue also must be addressed urgently. However, most working couples are not in a position to save up to 20% of their home mortgage. They are struggling to pay mounting bills ranging from debilitating child care costs to ever-increasing everyday expenditures, as well as water charges when they ultimately come down the line. Moreover, one particularly important point is the proposed rule changes could create a market for cash buyers that is inaccessible for normal working people and which may foster greater inequities in Irish society. As for the wider implications, Members regularly raise the issue of pensions here but how could young people invest sufficiently in their overall financial future, such as saving money for pensions or retirement, if they are struggling to meet hefty mortgage deposit requirements? Is that outcome desirable? I acknowledge that the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, has suggested the introduction of mortgage insurance in Ireland as a possible solution to the issue. Such insurance would protect banks against default of mortgages that go beyond 80% of the value and I welcome his innovation in this area as in many others. Consequently, I suggest to the Leader that he might perhaps invite the Minister, Deputy Noonan, or even perhaps the Minister of State, Deputy Harris, to the House to update Members on the Minister's progress with regard to mortgage insurance, which I am aware will be considered by the finance committee.
Senator Mullen may have left the House but he made a remark in which he likened the Government, in respect of Irish Water, to a car skidding on ice. The Senator appears to have forgotten entirely that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly, already has stated clearly that mistakes have been made by the Government and that it is his intention and that of the Government to try to repair those mistakes and to have listened to those who marched peacefully in recent weeks - not to listen to the spitters and missile-throwers or to those who believe this is the way to make an impact and this is the way to protest, as it clearly is not. I believe and trust that tomorrow, the Minister, Deputy Kelly, will unveil measures showing that listening has been done, learning has taken place and at the very least, matters such as the bonus culture will be removed and the board of Irish Water will be dissolved.
As for the cost of Irish Water, I trust that certainty will be given for a number of years, that the level of charges will be affordable for people and that assistance will be given for those who cannot afford them. Such measures will show that the majority of people, who believed that something was not right and who went out and exercised their right to march, have been listened to because ultimately, there are billions of euro to be invested in the production of clean and healthy water in Ireland over the next ten years. It is not an exaggeration to state this will cost billions of euro.
There are already 40 towns, both small and large, that need real work done to their water infrastructure. Remedying the lack of investment in this infrastructure over the past ten years is what is at the heart of this debate. In light of what happened in this House about the debate on Irish Water and when the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, has given his indication of his new package for Irish Water, it would be appropriate we invite back him back here - I hope he feels able to come back - so we can have a proper, full and uninterrupted debate in which we can give our views on what he has to say.
I, like other colleagues, join in condemning the imprisoning - no other word can be used for it - over the weekend of the Tánaiste, the Deputy Leader of the Government, by so-called democrats carrying out what they called a protest. Unfortunately, it was not a protest. It was an orchestrated event that intimidated not only innocent bystanders, but put members of An Garda Síochána and the public in danger, not to mention the effect it had on the Tánaiste. I also condemn what happened to the Minister for Finance yesterday and the Taoiseach last night.
It is unfortunate, however, that Senator O’Neill has tried to politicise what happened in Sligo last night by mentioning a colleague of ours in this House, Senator Marc MacSharry. I have no idea if he was at that protest. If he was, he was entitled to be there as a public representative. As in all democracies, people are entitled to demonstrate in an orderly manner. I have no doubt if Senator MacSharry were present at last night’s demonstration that is exactly what he would have done. There is a long-standing precedent in this House that a colleague is not mentioned in the Chamber in his or her absence. I would like to see that continue. I would not like to see Members sinking to the same level as some people outside on so-called protests.
This morning, 800 nurses and midwives took part in a protest in Blackrock, County Dublin. It was effective, constructive and peaceful. That is the way a protest should be conducted. These are hardworking nurses and midwives protesting against the doubling of the mandatory registration fee with the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland. They have been subjected to cut after cut, like ordinary workers across the length and breadth of the State. Doubling their registration fee is a step too far. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Health to intervene in this matter?
We, as a Government, are entitled to take criticism for the way the whole Irish Water issue has been handled. I am glad we have listened to the people who have marched and demonstrated peacefully, and who have contacted each and every one of us as public representatives. I hope tomorrow when the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, rolls out the plan and the charging regime for Irish Water, as well as clarifying all aspects of its governance, that most people will be happy.
We are all happy we live in a democracy. However, it is very fragile and needs to be tended. There is a responsibility on elected representatives to act responsibly and ensure our democracy is not put at risk.
It is wrong that a Member of Dáil Éireann would be out with a megaphone among people who were angry, inciting them to hatred and possibly putting many young people, gardaí and other adults at risk. Those public representatives should reflect on their actions to ensure that legitimate protest will always be part of our democracy and that people will be able to protest without fear of being injured. What happened in Jobstown was a personal insult to another Member of the Oireachtas, Senator Zappone, who with colleagues has done much for the educational system in Tallaght and who deserved respect as did the Tánaiste who turned up to acknowledge the fine work being done there. What happened is to be regretted and I hope we never see a repeat of it.
I join in the condemnation of the appalling attack on the synagogue in Jerusalem today in which four people were brutally murdered as they worshipped in their place of prayer. As the US Secretary of State, Mr. John Kerry, said it was an act of pure terror. I call on Hamas and President Abbas to immediately condemn those horrific killings. I am very worried about a statement from the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Netanyahu, who has vowed to respond with a heavy hand. World leaders, EU representatives and our Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade need to do everything possible to redouble their efforts to get the peace talks going. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to come to the House at the earliest opportunity to update us on progress in the Middle East.
I follow the words of Senator Mullins, who referred to Senator Zappone's balanced words that I heard on the radio the other day following what we had seen in Jobstown. The Senator was just one of those who brought a balance to the words and expressions made. If there is to be a change tomorrow in regard to Irish Water - I hope there will be - it will come about because of the strength of feeling of the large number of people who marched and expressed their concerns and upset over what was happening. It will not have come about because of the violent tactics used by a very small number of individuals.
Last week the Leader immediately responded and allowed me to introduce a Bill, which by tomorrow or Thursday I hope I will be able to withdraw again. Its purpose was to ensure that Irish Water would not obtain people's PPS numbers. Based on all the reports we now have, I believe Irish Water will not be given those numbers and on that basis, I hope tomorrow or Thursday I will be able to stand up and withdraw the Bill I had introduced last week. I am sure the Leader will respond to me in that way.
I have concern over another Bill - a Bill that was passed 480 days ago - the Construction Contracts Act. It was passed here and in the Dáil. It passed through a number of Minister's hands from the late Mr. Brian Lenihan Jr., to Mr. Brian Hayes, MEP, and others. Some 480 days ago it was signed by President Higgins but has not come into operation yet. It has been passed again to different Ministers to see how we can go about doing it. The Minister of State, Deputy Nash, was given responsibility for it last week. I urge the Leader to do something about this good legislation. The subcontractors were delighted with it and are crying out for it. The Government got considerable praise for allowing the Bill to pass - it does not always accept Bills from Independent Senators - yet nothing has happened since then. While there may be valid reasons for the delay I have not heard them. I hope the Minister of State, Deputy Nash, will now grab hold of the situation and bring the legislation into force right away.
It would be remiss of me today not to pay tribute to the Tánaiste, Deputy Joan Burton, and to commend her and our colleague, Senator Katherine Zappone, for their dignity, courage and composure and for the consideration they showed at all times for the welfare, well-being and safety of others, with no regard for their own welfare. It is sufficient to say that what we saw and what was witnessed has no place in our Republic or in a democracy. It did a grave disservice to the people of the Jobstown and Tallaght community and is not representative of those people and the people from that working-class area. They deserve better leadership. We saw great leadership from two courageous women as the horror and intimidation unfolded to our disbelief.
We are at a critical juncture in our country as the year draws to a close in terms of our tentative and fragile economic and social recovery. Therefore, I appeal for the intervention of two Ministers into two potentially hazardous and destructive strike actions which are looming. Members of the POA in the Prison Service have been forced to go on a work to rule which will escalate in the next fortnight to a full blown strike unless there is some resolution, some common-sense. The Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald is a very sensible person and a level-headed Minister who can intervene. Working in a prison is not like doing any other job. It is a very dangerous job. People working in the Prison Service work in a confined, "Love/Hate" environment on an ongoing basis. They are family men and women. Certain elements within the Prison Service management system are trying to goad and provoke them through the unilateral introduction of new work practices which are outside the scope and terms of the Croke Park and Haddington Road agreements. I ask the management to withdraw these new work practices in the interest of safe and sensible management of our prison service because these new work practices which are being introduced are vindictive and tantamount to bullying of the prison officers.
I appreciate that and I will conclude. I would also like to extend the same invitation to the ASTI and the TUI leadership to withdraw from the proposed strike action with regard to reform of the junior cycle. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, has brought forward very fair concessions which have not been put to the membership. Many teachers I have spoken to are not interested in strike action; they want a resolution of this issue and at this stage, strike action would be excessive and disproportionate to the issue. It would not be in the interest of teachers, students or their parents.
On the issue of what happened at the weekend I was appalled by what I saw. I believe there is still a crime of incitement in this country and I believe that those who bring people onto the streets have a responsibility to ensure that those people behave themselves properly. What went on at the weekend in this country does not reflect the democracy in which we live. I am sick and tired of champagne socialists taking people onto the streets and talking about the poverty in which they live, when they know sweet damn all about that poverty. I ask that not only do we condemn it but that the Garda Síochána should investigate what happened at the weekend to see if a crime was committed.
I wish to address Senator Zappone's issue with the Central Bank. I, too, have concerns about the Central Bank and the limitations that will be set on mortgages. I am very concerned that we may in some way soften what the Central Bank is trying to do. What we do not want in this country again is another bubble appearing as a result of a lack of discipline in our lending system. Most people in this Chamber had to raise a 20% deposit in order to secure a mortgage back in the good old days when we had some bit of sense of how to run our country.
Ultimately, if there is a demand for the 20% deposit, pure economics will kick in. As people will be unable to buy the houses, the prices will fall and the market will regulate itself. I would be reluctant to soften anything. We have seen what softening has done. It has denied an entire generation the possibility of ever buying a house. Before we rush to try to loosen what the Central Bank is trying to do, let us take the time to look at the damage we might do to the next generation.
I agree with all of the Senators who said, in effect, that what happened over the weekend is clearly a threat to our democracy. Indeed, it might be more than just last weekend. There are small groups of people who are hijacking peaceful protests for their own purposes and sinister agendas. They have done it on several occasions, as we have seen. Clearly, they do not believe in democracy. As one newspaper put it today, they believe in class envy, venom and the mob. It behoves all of us in this democratic Chamber to condemn these unacceptable practices in the strongest possible terms. That is something on which this House can easily unite, please God.
I echo all the comments made about the sinister development in protests. I believe that Members who have been elected to the other House are intent on subverting democracy. They believe in the Trotskyite and Marxist-Leninist ideology of agitprop - agitation, propaganda and continuous revolution. They have tried and failed for the last number of years to get the people onto the streets. How many Members recall comments made by those on the hard left questioning why the people were not adopting the same tactics as the people of Greece, Spain and elsewhere? They have got the people onto the streets on this issue, however, and now that they have them there, they want to keep them there. As has been said by Senator Coghlan and others, they want to use the good people who were genuinely protesting - and every Member has defended the right to lawful protest - to subvert democracy.
What will the Government do in response to this? This is not just about the water issue. This is about a very serious threat to the democratic institutions and structures of this country. It is time for the Government to analyse what is taking place on the streets and to take the necessary action. I am afraid it will be a problem to take that action because the most recent report on Garda resources indicates that, despite I and many others thinking it is a police force that uses state-of-the-art technology to combat crime, it is a police force that in many instances still has practices that date back to the early part of the 19th century, for example, in respect of fingerprinting. There should be a debate in the House on that report and on what the Government plans to do to resource the Garda.
It is ironic and a little sad that the main party in the Government, Fine Gael, which has put itself forward since its foundation as the party of law and order, finds itself on the back foot with regard to this report on Garda resources. Irrespective of whether we have the money, the overwhelming majority of people in this country see crime as a major issue, notwithstanding the other issues that have brought them onto the streets. That is especially the case in rural Ireland. I hope there will be a debate on that report and that the Government will bring forward proposals to protect democracy in this country and ensure we do not have a recurrence of the incidents that occurred last week.
I encountered a protest group last night in Dundalk and what was not said to me was not worth saying to anybody. I was not accosted or hit with a bottle or water balloon or held in my car for two and a half hours, but it was noisy.
I must say some of the people protested quietly but, as usual, there is always a few. I spoke to the Tánaiste yesterday and I must say there was a quiver in her voice, even hours after this happened. I commend her and our colleague, Senator Katherine Zappone, on how they handled the situation, and also the Taoiseach, who was accosted in Sligo last night.
To conclude on a good news story, I read at the weekend that Shannon Heritage, which operates several tourist attractions in the south west of the country, including Bunratty Castle and King John's Castle, has seen a 12% increase in tourism numbers at these sites in the first ten months of the year, and this is most welcome. Shannon Heritage employs more than 300 people at peak tourism times. The Gathering was very positive and a tremendous tourism success in all parts of the country, including the south west, but the figures for the first ten months of this year have surpassed everything. These figures are being attributed to rise in visitor numbers due to the increase in capacity through additional services provided at Shannon Airport and the Wild Atlantic Way initiative. It should be noted that this year, for the first time, more than 1 million people visited the world-famous Cliffs of Moher. Tourism is alive and well in the south west region, which is to be welcomed by us all.
Two weeks ago I called for a debate on our wind energy policy and the Grid25 project in light of the ESB entering the fray. It has questioned the need for Grid25. When an organisation such as the ESB questions the need for Grid25, which is an expensive project, we need to have a debate. I read in The Sunday Business Postthat Eddie O'Connor's Mainstream Renewable Power is in financial trouble and has asked the State for a bailout to the tune of between €100 million and €200 million, something to which I certainly hope the State will not accede. It proves wind energy is not able to wash its own face and is a dead duck project. This is why I call on the Leader to bring about a debate in the next four weeks on both of these issues. I hope the Minister, Deputy Alex White, will come to the House to deal with them.
I was very annoyed at how elements in the extreme left treated the water issue at the weekend, particularly the terrifying threats to personal safety. Water has united everyone in the country, which is unique. It is an issue for the Government to resolve, and my appeal to those elements is to let the Government do so and do not distract from this job.
I ask the Leader to arrange two important debates . Last night in Galway I met a number of entrepreneurs and employers who told me about genuine and open approaches from the UK Government to Irish SMEs to offer them six months free rates and free rent to establish in the UK. This is a very attractive enticement. Some businesses may use it to open an office to test the market initially, but we know what the UK is at; it is trying to bring the businesses over there. The Government must wake up to this, otherwise it will sleepwalk us into a crisis where we are not just leaking graduates but SMEs. I call for a debate with the Minister, Deputy Bruton, on our attractiveness and tax competitiveness for Irish businesses. This leads me to my second request.
The House needs an urgent debate on tax reform. We must consider reducing taxes across the spectrum from the USC to employer's PRSI and from the outrageous new family tax to the pensions tax. We must start putting money back in people's pockets. The water protests are not just about water charges. Rather, people have had too much austerity. Let us move towards reducing their taxes in an orderly way by using the money the State is accruing.
Like Senator Brennan, I attended last night's Fine Gael constituency executive AGM in the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Dundalk. There were protestors outside it. They were cacophonic, but they treated people with respect and did not interfere with where one was going or what one was doing. I was happy about that and congratulate the young man in charge.
In contrast, Saturday in Jobstown saw a middle-class, privately educated, pretend socialist who saw his chance and grabbed it with both hands. He is leading people astray, but he will not be there when the you-know-what hits the fan. When it comes to what happened to the Tánaiste, I will remind him of what Synge wrote in "The Playboy of the Western World", namely, "there’s a great gap between a gallous story and a dirty deed". Let him put that in his pipe and smoke it whatever way he will.
With others, I attended the GPO on Wednesday for the launch of the 1916 commemorations. The men and women who fought and "hurled the little streets upon the great" "in bloody protest for a glorious thing" would turn in their graves to see such a carry-on in our State. Shame.
I will add my voice to the concerns expressed by nurses and midwives about the recent increase in registration fees, representing an 88% increase in the retention fee in just one year. Among my colleagues, there is a distinct feeling that there is no justification for this increase and none has been proposed by the Irish Nursing Board. I raised this issue in the Chamber with the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, last week and with the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, the previous week. The responses I received were less than satisfactory. Will the Leader ensure that the Irish Nursing Board addresses the concerns of the 89,000 nurses and midwives on the active register and fully engage with them? I do not see why such an increase is required. Perhaps there is a justification. If so, the board should enter into proper and effective negotiations with the nurses' and midwives' representatives to explain it. When I raised the matter with the Minister of State and Minister, it was drawn to my attention that every registration board must be responsible for its own finances, but that is hardly a sufficient reason to expect nurses and midwives to pay an increase of 88% in one year. It is not on. Will the Leader bring this matter to the Minister's attention in order that he might engage with nurses and midwives immediately? I commend the nurses and midwives on their effective, peaceful and orderly protest in Blackrock this morning. My colleague, Senator Wilson, referred to it.
I also commend Senator Zappone on the dignified, fiercely independent and determined stance she has taken in her work in the Tallaght area and regarding the protests. It is important that the House acknowledge her work.
I left a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht to come here because I felt I had to after what happened at the weekend in my constituency of Dublin South-West and in Jobstown. At the location there is a fine educational establishment which started off trying to help, and continues to do so, the people of Dublin South-West, Tallaght and Jobstown. It started off as a small project in the shanty which aimed to empower people and show them what democracy was, to educate people who had not received an education and to develop the community. It has done so much for people, empowered them and shown them the right way to get their message out. It gave them a voice and encouraged people to say what they think.
There are great people in Jobstown who can get out there and show that democracy prevails. People should be allowed to protest but they do not need the likes of Deputy Paul Murphy to stand with a megaphone, a "champagne socialist" as he was called earlier, to lead them astray. I canvassed in Jobstown and can attest to the fact that they are the best and nicest of people. They say what they want in a vociferous manner but they say it well. They do not need to be led astray by a man with a megaphone. Incitement to hatred was mentioned by a previous speaker. I commend the Tánaiste on the dignity she showed by putting up with the situation and remaining in her car for two and half hours. She had no choice in the matter and was forced to remain in her car. The matter must be investigated and I call on the Garda to ensure it investigates the matter. Obviously everything must be investigated.
I ask that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government comes to the House to ensure we have a proper debate on the new proposals for water charges. Nobody can say that the issue was handled properly but the Government has listened to the proper democratic voice of the people. I ask the Minister to come in here for a debate on the new charges. There are people who cannot afford to pay the charges and the Minister and Government have listened to their plight. I ask the Leader to tell us when the Minister will come here for a debate.
As I said, I left a committee meeting to attend here. Water conservation is one of the issues that we must tackle and we must educate people about the matter. The people out on the street with megaphones have also asked people not to pay bin charges and the property tax. Those people walked away when the people who refused to pay charges got into trouble and that is what will happen again.
I wish to add my voice to those who congratulated our colleague, Senator Katherine Zappone, on her ongoing work in Tallaght with An Cósan. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate at some point on second chance education.
I would also like to say that as a Labour Party member I am proud of the dignified way in which Joan Burton handled herself on Saturday. There is nothing much more to say on the subject.
I ask the Leader for a report on findings shown on daft.ie yesterday of very significant rent increases, not just in Dublin this time but all over the country. As a matter of urgency, we need to have a debate on the whole rental sector, in particular on a recently published report by the PRTB on the future of the private rented sector in Ireland.
I support Senator Healy Eames in her call for a debate on the taxation system. She echoed what I said here a fortnight ago to the Minister for Finance when we debated the universal social charge. I raised the matter with him on the basis that I vividly recall, both the Government when introducing the USC and the Opposition in responding to its introduction, all saying that the tax would be a temporary measure. Now it has been firmly put on record as a permanent part of our taxation system yet we wonder why people have lost faith in politics, in politicians and in the democratic process. I also came in here because I heard many colleagues mention the threat to our democracy. Once politicians do not live up to their words and deeds that is the beginning of the ruination of democracy. Therefore, I support the call for a debate on taxation.
I join with my colleagues in condemning the excess shown at the protest at the weekend. I agree very much with our learned colleague from County Louth, Senator Jim D'Arcy, and share his views on the champagne socialist who headed the march.
Last week, I mentioned the fact that we were celebrating the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I am sure Deputy Paul Murphy and his colleagues in the Socialist Party and that ilk wish that the Berlin Wall and all it stood for was still standing.
They, in their Trotsky, Marxist view of the world, have absolutely nothing in common with genuine, working class people on this island.
I hope everyone will learn lessons from the water bills crisis. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly, has said that major mistakes have been made. We will have an announcement tomorrow from the Government. However, I hope that as part of that announcement - if we respect democracy and the democratic process - the mistakes the Minister is referring to and the people who made those mistakes will be identified. We must learn from this disaster. We all stand shoulder to shoulder with the Tánaiste and, indeed, anyone who is being put under unfair pressure by mob rule. We must never give in to mob rule in this country. We did not give into the mob rule of the provisional IRA in the 1960s, 70s or 80s.
We must not give into the mob rule now of extreme, left-wing socialists who look to the Soviet Union and North Korea for a panacea. That is their aspiration for our island. It is not an aspiration that I, or the vast majority of people on this land, share.
I too wish to raise the issue of the incident in Jobstown over the weekend. I wish to praise the fortitude in which An Tánaiste and our colleague, Senator Katherine Zappone dealt with a very unsavoury and unpleasant incident. Thank goodness we do not live in a mobocracy. We do not give into mob rule and the mob do not rule. It is a good thing that is the case.
I am glad the public have had a glimpse of what the mob would do and have had a glimpse of the actions of these dozens of hard-left, hard-nosed independents who are against austerity - as if anyone else is in favour of austerity. Is there any one of us who is in favour of austerity? I do not believe there is. I am pleased that we have got a glimpse of what they would do if they were in charge and if 30, 40 or 50 of them - God forbid - were elected to the other Chamber. There would be election after election, protestation after protestation and who knows who will be Taoiseach or Tánaiste in the future.
A Leas-Chathaoirligh, on a point of order. Earlier during the order of Business, Senator O'Neill made some serious and unfounded allegations about Senator MacSharry regarding the protest that took place in Sligo town last night.
The Leader to respond. I ask Senators to respect the Chair. I gave many Senators a lot of latitude in the House today. We are 15 minutes over time. When I give latitude, I get less respect. In future, when Senators come in late, I will say they were not here in time. Let the Leader respond and let us have order in the Chamber.
I think we had about half the Members of the House contributing to the Order of Business today. This is rightly so given the important issue raised by many of them.
Senator O'Brien has raised the plight of pensioners and deferred benefit pensions. An amendment to the Order of Business has been proposed. I wish to propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the statements on Horizon 2020 would now conclude at 6 p.m. and that the Minister would be called to reply no later than 5.50 p.m. and that the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, would come in to the House for statements as requested by the Senator from 6 p.m. to 6.30 p.m. I presume this will be accepted.
I am surprised that Senator Darragh O'Brien did not raise the question which most other people raised here today about the protests. Last week, he asked why Garda resources were being wasted. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government was attending a function and the Senator questioned the need-----
Senator Bacik and many other Members have condemned the violence which took place over the weekend. They commended the Tánaiste and Senator Zappone on the dignity they displayed then and since. What we have witnessed at the weekend and in several instances since was totally unacceptable. Oireachtas Members have a responsibility to act responsibly at all times. We did not witness that over the weekend. It is the duty of the Garda to ensure that we have peace and that people respect public order. The attacks, intimidation, bullying of gardaí, the targeting of them on social media and the threatening of them is totally unacceptable in this or any state and should be condemned by all. Every type of excuse should be thrown aside. The gardaí are the guardians of the peace and their actions must be given full support. We cannot tolerate the hijacking of peaceful protest that we have seen in recent days. No right-thinking people want to see these incidents repeated. I commend the 100,000 people who walked and protested a couple of weeks ago in peaceful protest but that was in marked contrast to what we witnessed in recent days.
Senator Mooney mentioned Marxist and Trotskyite protesters. They used to be called the Socialist Workers Party and Young Socialists and so on but many are now aligned to the Anti Austerity Alliance and other such alliances. The type of conduct we have witnessed from people latching onto these protests cannot and will not be tolerated in this State.
Senator Bacik also expressed regret at the decision of the Teacher’s Union of Ireland to strike. Other Senators also raised that matter. There is a need for all the industrial resolution mechanisms of the State to come into play with the teachers and with the prison service, on the issue that Senator Whelan raised. This should be done before Ministers intervene and I am sure the Ministers will intervene if necessary.
Senator Mullen and others spoke about water charges. The Government will clarify these tomorrow.
I am sure the vast majority of the people will accept what the Government proposes tomorrow. Senator Mullen also suggested that some judges have little or nothing to do and should be diverted elsewhere. I will certainly bring the matter to the attention of the Minister for Justice and Equality.
Senator Naughton referred to the InterTradeIreland report and the positive indictors for Irish business. Senator O'Sullivan referred to peaceful protests being hijacked. He also outlined the fact Japanese knotweed is causing major damage to native Irish species. I will certainly bring that matter to the attention of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. Senator Moran referred to the abuse targeted at public representatives. She also commended the strength and fortitude of Mairía Cahill, spoke about the need for answers from Sinn Féin on that matter and called for a debate. I will certainly try to organise a debate on that issue.
Senator Barrett spoke about the need for Mr. Draghi to answer many questions on the bailout. He raised points about the Garda Inspectorate's report, which other Senators addressed also. We will try to have a debate on that report in early course. Senator O'Neill spoke about the ISPCA and the need for funding to keep its offices in several areas open. Senators Zappone and Craughwell spoke about the Central Bank's proposed mortgage rules and mortgage insurance. I have invited the Minister for Finance to come to the House to debate that matter but have not yet received a reply, so I do not have a date for it.
Senator O'Keeffe said the Government is certainly listening to people on water charges and we will see the proposals tomorrow. She also called for the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, to come to the House to debate this matter next week. I have already been in contact with the offices of both the Minister and the Minister of State and I hope we can have a debate on the Government's proposals next week. Senators Wilson and Gilroy spoke about the peaceful protest by 800 nurses and midwives against the increase in registration fees, a matter which has been raised in the House by a number of Senators over the past number of weeks. They called for the Minister for Health to intervene and I will certainly bring the matter to his attention.
Senator Mullins condemned the attack on a synagogue in Jerusalem and the deaths of four people and spoke of the need to redouble our efforts to reactivate the peace process in the Middle East. He called for the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan, to come to the House to give us an update. The Minister will be in the House next Thursday to report on the Middle East, which he indicated he would do when we were called back during the summer recess. Senator Quinn referred to the question of PPS numbers and hopes he will be in a position to withdraw his Bill tomorrow. We will see what the Government's proposals are in that regard. I advise some Senators to take a leaf out of Senator Quinn's book. There are a number of motions and Bills on the Order Paper which are out of date and perhaps they might consider withdrawing them.
On the construction contracts Bill, the Minister of State, Deputy Nash, will be in the House tomorrow, at which time Senator Quinn can raise this issue.
Senator Craughwell raised the issue of incitement and the need for An Garda Síochána to investigate that crime. He also called for time to reflect on the mortgage rules of the Central Bank.
Senator Coghlan spoke of the threat to democracy and the hijacking of peaceful protests, which was also raised by Senator Mooney. I agree with the Senators' sentiments in that regard. Senator Mooney also called for a debate on the Garda Inspectorate's report and the provision of greater resources for the Garda. I agree with him in that regard also.
Senators Brennan and Jim D'Arcy spoke about the protests in Dundalk last evening. Senator Brennan also spoke about the success of the Shannon Heritage Group which had a 12% increase in business this year, which augurs well for tourism figures into the future.
Senator Kelly called for a debate on wind energy. On the last occasion the Senator called for this debate, I raised the issue with the Minister, Deputy Alex White. However, I have not as yet received a response from the Minister. I will renew my efforts in that regard.
Senator Healy-Eames spoke about incentives from the UK to Irish SMEs. This is a matter which can be raised during the debate tomorrow with the Minister of State, Deputy Nash, on financing for SMEs.
Senator Bradford called for a debate on tax reform. I have asked the Minister for Finance to attend the House on that matter. However, I have not yet received a date in that regard.
Senator Michael D'Arcy condemned the violent protests, in some instances, last week at the GPO during the 1916 commemorations which were attended by the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and other Ministers. Senator Keane spoke about the success and benefits of An Cosan for Jobstown and Tallaght. It is a pity its graduation ceremony on Saturday was hijacked by people who had little interest in its work.
Senator Hayden called for a debate on second-chance education and on the private rented sector. Senator Bradford also advised us that we should learn from our mistakes. I am sure the Government and all other people will learn from their mistakes. The Senator also spoke about the dangers of mob rule. Senator Michael D'Arcy also condemned the unsavoury incidences witnessed in this regard.
The Leader has stated that the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, will be in the House at 6 p.m. today to make a statement on the cuts to the airport pension scheme and to take questions in that regard. I am very grateful to the Leader. I will try to remember to mention other items tomorrow. I was more concerned about 15,000 workers having their pensions cut than by the Tánaiste being detained in her car for two hours.