Tuesday, 27 January 2015
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding the draft order of the commission of investigation into mother and baby homes, to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and to be concluded no later that 6 p.m. with contributions from all Senators not to exceed six minutes; and No. 2, statements on the national broadband plan, An Post business development group and the White Paper on energy, to be taken at 6 p.m. and to be concluded no later than 8 p.m. with contributions from group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, contributions from all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to be called on to reply no later than 7.50 p.m.
An amendment has been tabled on No. 2 in the names of Senators Power and Wilson, which I believe is in good faith and will help the inquiry. I hope the Government will see its way to accepting it, although I am sure the Minister will address that at the correct time.
I wish to raise the issue of the potential sale of the Government's stake in Aer Lingus and the takeover approach that is being made by IAG or British Airways. I have raised this with the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton on a number of occasions. I do not think it is coincidental that we have had €750 million written off the deficit in the pension fund that was doubled over the past two years. The Government passed that legislation, and this month all the pensioners within the scheme are losing six weeks' pay while the deferred pensioners are losing over 50% of their income. The deficit in the fund is gone and, lo and behold, we have had three offers seeking to take over a company, which has over €400 million cash in the bank, for €1.3 billion. I am aware that the Minister, Deputy Donohoe has said he will very carefully consider this offer, and I welcome that. However, the Minister also said he would very carefully consider the proposals to change the workers' pension schemes within Aer Lingus. That leaves me very little faith in what this Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport will actually do.
Under the terms of the Aer Lingus Act 2004, any potential sale of the Government stake will go before the Dáil, but it will not come to the Seanad. The purpose of keeping the 25% stake was to ensure that the strategic interests of the country were always to the forefront of decisions being made by Aer Lingus. The Act gives the State the ability to appoint representatives to the board and make sure that we maintain our connectivity with the main transport hub in Europe, Heathrow.
As a result of the IAG takeover of Iberia, more than 4,500 jobs have been lost at that airline. There is no question that if this takeover is permitted hundreds if not thousands of jobs will be lost within Aer Lingus. IAG will then get its hands on €420 million in cash reserves built up by Aer Lingus.
They are getting a very good airline very cheaply, if the Government permits this. I listened with interest to some Ministers who were, rightly, commending the staff over the years who have made supreme sacrifices to turn Aer Lingus into a profitable, viable airline that carries more than 11 million passengers a year. They are the same staff, many of whom are retired, from whose pensions this Government has taken six weeks' pay and whose future pension entitlements it has reduced.
The Aer Lingus Act does not allow the Seanad to have a say in the disposal of the shareholding. That is fair enough. That is the law. I ask that before a decision is made by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe - I do not know what his and the Government's timeline is - the Minister, who has been a very good attender here, would come to the House and allow a debate here. There is no point in talking about it after the event. Many of us, myself and my party colleagues, want to clearly put to the Minister our absolute opposition to the sale of the 25% Government stake and the takeover proposal by IAG. This is of fundamental importance to this country. I will not table an amendment to the Order of Business today, but I ask the Leader to seek assurances that the Minister will come to this House to take statements on this proposal.
I want to mark today's date, the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp. It is being marked in different ways across Europe today, but I thought it was worth marking it in this House, particularly at a time when we see anti-EU sentiment coming to the fore in many countries. It is important to remember the impetus that brought what are now the European Union nations together in the wake of the Second World War.
I also support calls for a debate on the issues around Aer Lingus, and particularly the suggestion that the remaining 25% Government stake in Aer Lingus might be sold. I oppose that. There are serious concerns about job losses among the 3,500 people employed in Aer Lingus and about connectivity and the preservation of flight routes out of Ireland. The concern expressed by Fianna Fáil on this rings somewhat hollow, given that it was Fianna Fáil and the PDs who floated Aer Lingus in 2006, which is why the Government only has a 25% stake.
We must be mindful of the historical context for this, but I support the idea of a debate on the matter in advance of any decision being made.
I also ask the Leader for a debate on developments in the EU, in light of the Syriza victory in Greece and the quantitative easing package that was announced last week and which I welcomed in this House on Thursday. The victory of Syriza may point to a change of tack across the EU. We all hope to see Greece pull itself out of the appalling recession it has been in. The fact that the victory of Syriza may strengthen the hand of François Hollande, who came to power in France as a socialist Prime Minister, promising a different approach at EU level to monetary and financial policy, is also cause for hope. There has not been enough of that, but we saw a very welcome development last week with quantitative easing. I would like us to have a debate at that macro level of EU policy about what those recent developments mean for the future.
I echo Senator Bacik's call for a debate on quantitative easing, which I also raised last week.
The Greek election of the Syriza party into government is another prime marker of the surge of people power in democracies and its resulting impact on the exercise of politics and the use of power. These are shifting dramatically and creativity is being unleashed. As Irish people and as Europeans, we need to find ways to tap this innovation and bring it to bear on the problems of the 21st century, rather than following old, dead formulas of the traditional business cycle to map economic and social recovery. Does Europe need a debt conference? This is what I want the Leader to ask the Minister for Finance. He is quoted today as saying, "No, not yet". That was echoed in this House earlier by the Minister of State, Deputy Simon Harris, in response to Senator Bradford. All bailout negotiations so far have been conducted within the context of the euro group. He and other members of Government argue vigorously that Irish negotiations have been successful and the economy is recovering.
It has been said that because the Irish negotiations were successful the economy is recovering but our people do no think so. Again, is this not what the water protests were about? Although Ireland is creating jobs, increasing exports and decreasing unemployment, which is good and the Government deserves due credit for it, alongside those statistics are the CSO statistics that point to the shocking rise in poverty, children in poverty and poverty among those in work, some of whom in all of these categories are from the middle classes. Other statistics demonstrate hard evidence that the gap between the rich and poor is increasing. This means Ireland's debt solutions are not having a sufficient impact on poverty and inequality. It is not true that with more time the economic recovery will reach everyone. I do not agree. Tens of thousands of children will lose a happy, nourishing start in life due to poverty, which cannot ever be recovered.
Can Dublin host a debt sustainability conference, as proposed by Dr. Tom Healy, director of NERI? Dr. Healy argues that Europe would then begin to face up to the delicate balance of democracy, markets and debt. Such a conference could consider a range of progressive resolutions to the crisis which is not going away. If the answer is no then let me propose another idea. If this Government will not do it I call on the citizens of Ireland to organise a debt conference. Let us call it a people's debt conference or a civic forum on debt sustainability, to which Heads of States, finance Ministers and others could, along with progressive economists and policy-makers, be invited. The empowerment of the people in any democracy does not happen in their silence. A people's debt conference would be a way of breaking the silence and allow the emergence of a new and mutual vision between those in leadership and the people they govern.
I echo the concerns of Ministers, Deputies Donohoe and Howlin and Senator Darragh O'Brien regarding the proposed takeover by British Airways of Aer Lingus. In remote parts of the UK such as Scotland, which has a population of 5.3 million - a half million more people than in this State - there is six times more capacity on the North Atlantic out of Dublin than there is out of Glasgow and Edinburgh combined. British Airways is a Heathrow-based organisation. It wants to divert traffic there and has done so from Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Belfast. We were trying to develop direct links with North America and did so very successfully. The takeover is not by a dynamic airline, rather it is by a traditional European national airline that specialises in colluding with other national airlines. In its own jurisdiction, it is completely over-shadowed by Easyjet and Ryanair.
I note that no worker directors are attending the meetings and neither are two important directors, Christoph Mueller and David Begg, whose terms I understand are expiring. We seriously need to consider the implications of doing in Dublin Airport with British Airways control of Aer Lingus what British Airways has already done in virtually all the UK non-Heathrow Airports. This is a Heathrow-based airline which will funnel everything through Heathrow.
I welcome Ann Pettifor's interview on "Morning Ireland" this morning in which she pointed out that in 1953 half of Germany's debts were written off by the rest of us. She makes an important contribution to the policy debate, as Senator Zappone has done. There were faults in Frankfurt and Brussels. It is not always down to the Greeks being indolent, the Spanish taking long lunch breaks or Irish bankers gone a bit crazy. The design faults in the euro currency have to be addressed. We need a debt summit. I hope that the Government will move towards asking some of the people they meet in Brussels and Frankfurt where they were on 29 September when Irish banks needed rescuing. The lenders of last resort did not turn up. There are faults on both sides. The election of Syriza presents the rest of us with an opportunity to redress that balance. There has been so much misery and impositions on people all around the peripheral countries because the Franco-Germany common currency was translated into a Europe-wide currency, with massive design faults.
I agree with Senator Darragh O'Brien's points in relation to the sale of the State's 25.1% share in Aer Lingus. It should not be forgotten that the remaining 74.9% was sold off when Fianna Fáil was in government. Interestingly, yesterday a caller to an RTE radio show blamed this Government for the sale of Eircom.
Senator Darragh O'Brien's party was responsible for the sale of that company.
At the time of the sale of Irish Sugar, now known as Greencore, the Government retained a golden share. When the possibility of surrendering the sugar quota arose, a number of key players put together a package worth €150 million to buy sugar juice from the Mallow factory with a view to keeping it open and retaining employment. However, the Government of the day, which was led by Senator O'Brien's party, decided to surrender the sugar quota, resulting in many job losses in the factory and among growers, harvesters and transport companies. The Government did not use its golden share, which gave it the power to prevent the off-loading of the sugar quota.
I have serious reservations about the sale of the remaining 25.1% State share in Aer Lingus. The issues are jobs, connectivity and the need to retain the advantages that accrue from having access to key locations from Cork, Shannon and Dublin airports. The House should debate the possible sale of Aer Lingus as it is an issue that requires serious consideration.
I share the opposition of Fianna Fáil to the full and final privatisation of Aer Lingus. To take one fact about Aer Lingus, it has treated its pensioners in a grotesque manner. Despite being in profit, the company has shafted its own pensioners, cutting some of their pensions by 60%. That decision was intolerable. I hope the Government will carefully examine the issue.
With regard to Auschwitz, I endorse the comments made by Senator Bacik. Auschwitz is an important memorial, particularly as the people who survived it are now few in number. I note that Alfred Hitchcock made a film about Auschwitz, which has never been seen but is about to be given a showing in London. I hope it will also be made available here as I understand it contains some quite extraordinary scenes.
With regard to the election in Greece, I welcome completely the decision of the Greek people and hope it marks an end to the period when German leaders went around Europe deposing duly elected leaders of different countries and installing eurocrats to do their bidding. It is time the people of Europe stood up. While they are showing some signs of doing so, albeit in a kind of random fashion by voting for independents and so forth, something more concentrated, a real opposition, is needed because there is a complete disconnect between the people who are governed and the governing parties. Governments are totally out of touch, although they are in touch with the financial system, which they are doing everything to preserve at the expense of their own people.
A debt conference is needed. It is ludicrous for the Government to argue that we do not need one. If any country needed a debt conference, it is Ireland because we were massively swindled by European institutions. Of course, we should demand a debt conference.
I am pleased with today's discourse regarding the sale of Aer Lingus. The Seanad should voice its unanimous and stout opposition to any attempt to sell the national carrier from under us for a pittance. The State would receive €300 million for its share in a company that has €400 million in its bank account. The sale of Aer Lingus would be the final straw for many people. As other Senators pointed out, we need only consider what happened to the beet industry and the loss in employment in rural areas that followed its closure or the privatisation of Eircom, which left swaths of the country without decent broadband or connectivity, to use a word that is often applied in the context of airports.
Now we are told that this has been taken out of our hands. It may well be that the Government does not have a strong hand in that it only retains 25% of Aer Lingus. I believe we should retain that stake to maintain our claim and influence over the national carrier and all it holds. If the Heathrow slots are of such significance, we should retain them and use them to develop from the regional airports our tourism and other industries. I do not believe it would be a good day's work for Irish workers or the economy if Aer Lingus were sold.
There were heated exchanges over the legitimate fears that Irish Water might be sold off by another Government down the road at some later stage. Why would anyone believe us that this would not happen if we turn a blind eye and allow Aer Lingus to be sold out from underneath us, for what are really 30 pieces of silver? The €300 million windfall is mere pocket money when compared to the real investment, real money and the long-term advantage we would get in retaining Aer Lingus. At least we should retain our stake and influence if we do not have outright control. We should not support the sale of Aer Lingus.
I commend Greece’s Syriza party on its fantastic election result and wish it well in its work. I also support the calls for a debate on a debt conference which I believe Ireland should host. It would be a good initiative to come out of the Greek election results. I too am opposed to any sell-off of Aer Lingus because of its importance.
In Waterford city, over the past couple of nights there have been several arson attacks on community sporting facilities. A local GAA club and a local youth resource centre were burned to the ground while a local boxing club had much damage done to it. I spoke with a Garda chief superintendent in Waterford city this morning. He was clear that a small criminal element is trying to exercise control and intimidate a community in one part of Waterford city. It is essentially putting it up to that community because it has been challenged over criminal and anti-social behaviour in which it has been involved for a long time. If it is putting it up to this community, there is an obligation on all of us, politicians included, to respond.
When the Leader was a councillor, he was based in the part of Waterford city in question. I am sure he is aware of the significant level of community and sporting work done by volunteers on the ground there. People in the community are concerned over these incidents but they are also angry. They want a holistic response from civic and political leaders and An Garda Síochána to comprehensively deal with this issue for once and for all and to take on those who are putting it up to decent people. I am sure the Leader will agree with me on this.
There will be a need to rebuild the facilities and buildings damaged. Accordingly, there may be resource issues. I hope the various Departments and organs of the State will be in a position to help financially the community in question as it tries to rebuild those buildings fire-damaged by those criminals.
I believe Senator Darragh O'Brien made very valid points on the remaining 25% stake the State holds in Aer Lingus. Despite the offers from IAG, International Airlines Group, incorporating British Airways and Iberia, I do not believe it is an attractive offer. We must remember we are not joined by land or a tunnel to any other landmass. The State has no shareholding in the ferry companies operating out of this country. It only has this 25% stake in Aer Lingus which is very important.
The significance of that 25% holding is that we have the Heathrow slots. I believe that connectivity is all important, it is everything as far as we are concerned. It is far more important than any short-term cash because of what it enables us to continue to earn through business -----
-----through tourism and all other activities. I join in the earnest request that this House would in due course debate the issue. I accept that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Donohoe, and the Cabinet will give careful consideration to the matter. They are duty bound to consider the recommendation of the board of Aer Lingus itself. I am sure that the market rules will be adhered to.
It is very important for the State to hold what we have in the short and medium term - maybe even in the longer-term. Other matters will develop. This is of major importance. I urge the Leader to facilitate a debate on this issue in due course.
The Leader has listened very carefully to Members in the past year. Ever since the people of Ireland voted to maintain this House, the Leader has responded in the ideal way. That we are having a debate on the post office network this evening is another example of the Leader's response.
We need to discuss the various topics to do with economics. The issue of quantitative easing, the question of debt and the election in Greece warrants a discussion. Today, Aer Lingus is an issue. I have always argued in general that the State does not do as good a job in running businesses as private business and enterprise, but to say that in this case can be too simple an answer. Let us make sure we have that debate and discuss the question of Aer Lingus early. If the people of Ireland voted to maintain this House, it is precisely to debate topics such as this so that they can get a viewpoint that can be of benefit. I urge the Leader to have that debate sooner rather than later. I think Senator Darragh O'Brien was correct when he said it was not the duty of this House to make those decisions, but we can advise, consult and give an opinion which would be useful for the Government to hear.
Several years ago we passed legislation on organ donation in this House but the Bill was never enacted. The Irish Kidney Association published figures this month which show that the donation of kidneys was the second lowest since it started compiling figures. Clearly something needs to be done in this area. I believe the new system of signalling one's intention about organ donation on the driving licence is a step in the right direction but it is only one of the steps we can take. The Irish Kidney Association is not enthusiastic about the opt-out system but let us debate the issue. The Joint Committee on Health and Children has voted in favour of an opt-out system as long as the family would have the final say. That is a debate we should have shortly.
I pay tribute and express my sympathy to the family of the late Mr. Michael Lambert of Clooneygrasson, Ballintubber, Castlerea, County Roscommon. He, a near neighbour of mine, was the oldest man in Ireland. He passed away yesterday at the age of 107. This man lived through two world wars and was married for 60 years. He lived a very healthy lifestyle right up to his death. In the past he often cycled 60 miles to Croagh Patrick, climbed the mountain and cycled home. Only last year his son told me his father was in good health and had been at the mart in Castlerea that day. He will be remembered. May he rest in peace.
I get a sense of euphoria, that in some way the Greek election result will change debt all over Europe. I was somewhat disappointed last night because I thought some of the finance ministers were less than equivocal in their statements on the news.
While I support the call for a debt conference, I ask the Leader to arrange a debate in the House on debt and quantitative easing - more of a briefing than anything else - in order that we have some idea of where we are going. I have a horrible feeling a little deal will be done behind closed doors to keep Greece in the euro area.
On the sale of Aer Lingus, I was utterly disgusted to learn this morning that a small number of senior managers were likely to benefit to the tune of €30 million if Aer Lingus was sold. That is reprehensible when there are people who have taken a massive hit to their pensions, as Senator Darragh O'Brien pointed out. Not only are we giving away a purse of some €400 million to a likely buyer, we are also giving a hefty handshake to a small number of people who between them own 11.7 million shares in the company. In a country that is on its knees that is totally unacceptable; therefore, I support the call for a debate on the sale of Aer Lingus.
I also join in the call for a full, open and frank debate on the sale of Aer Lingus in advance of any decision being taken. Irish people have a huge attachment to brand Aer Lingus which has served us well since its establishment many decades ago. It has flown many of us to many corners of the world and we need to tread very carefully before we make a final decision. A significant number of jobs in Dublin, Shannon and Cork are linked with a possible sale. The issue of connectivity has been well addressed. The value of the Heathrow Airport slots cannot be underestimated and I presume this is what makes the company particularly attractive to new pursuers. Before any decision is taken, this House should have a full, frank and open debate on the matter. While we do not have a controlling interest in the company, we still have a very significant shareholding. Many of us would have preferred if all those years ago a decision to sell had not been taken, but, as the saying goes, we are where we are. Let us hope that whatever decision is taken is very much in the best interests of the country.
I also wish the incoming Greek Government well, as it has a major job of work to do. We all want to see stability in Greece and throughout Europe. We also want to see job creation. Greece has a huge issue with unemployment, with 25% of the population unemployed, a 50% youth unemployment figure and huge debt issues. It is in all of our interests, therefore, that the Greek Government succeeds. The issue of debt will be centre stage in the coming weeks and months. Like Senator Thomas P. Craughwell and others, I would like to see the issue of debt and quantitative easing discussed in the House during the coming weeks in order that we will all be better informed. Quantitative easing is a difficult issue for many of us to understand and having an opportunity to engage in a good debate with experts would be of great benefit to all Members of the House.
I am delighted that there is general consensus across the House about the potential sale of Aer Lingus. The question I have concerns the advantage there would be in selling the 25.1% stake in Aer Lingus. I do not see many advantages. The key element is not the value of €300 million that we would reap for the State which, let us face it, is very little. The Minister for Finance said that in the last quarter he had taken in €1 billion more in taxes than he had expected; therefore, it is nice to hear that we are on the up. Unless it was very convincing, I would not see the raising of €300 million as a very god reason to sell, given the key issue of connectivity, not just with Dublin but also with the regions, particularly the west and the south west.
Up and down the west coast there are families with a member who commutes to London every week and uses these flights. They work in London and rear their families in Ireland. That connectivity is worth gold, which is why IAG wants the slots. It is stunning to see that Aer Lingus is the fourth busiest airline at Heathrow Airport. Any deal contemplated by the Government must guarantee the retention of these slots and connectivity with the regions, not a reduction of flights. I heard an analyst speak yesterday about Cork and Shannon airports and he said it was quite reasonable that they get rid of a few flights. He seemed to know something about it. Therefore, let us have that debate. I am delighted that the Government is thinking long and hard about this issue.
I support the reasonable call made for a debt conference when every aspect of our debt would be examined. Is it not a practical proposal? I was struck by what Senator Sean D. Barrett said that if we were to examine every aspect of our debt, we would at least see that while 50% of it was our fault, the other 50% was definitely attributable to the European side. We must never forget that the Irish saved the European banking system. It is a valid call and it would be wise to have such a debate. Perhaps the Greek elections have caused the matter to be raised again, but we need it for ourselves as part of the European project.
Last Sunday marked the second anniversary of the brutal and callous murder of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe. At the weekend a vigil was held at Lordship, the site where he had been callously murdered, while an anniversary mass was held in Dundalk, both of which were attended by throngs of people from all around the area who had come out to support the Donohoe family and gardaí. I commend the dignity of the Donohoe family throughout this ordeal and of An Garda Síochána for which this has been a very difficult time. I call for all possible resources and support to be provided for Dundalk Garda station in order that the excellent and hardworking local force will be equipped to apprehend the callous murderers of Detective Garda Donohoe. I acknowledge the support all of the people gave to the Donohoe family by attending events at the weekend, as well as in doing things in their own private way. I was delighted to see the Garda Commissioner, Ms Nóirín O'Sullivan, in attendance on Sunday when the words of Fr. Michael Cusack were poignant and strong. He said we had to root out the badness and evil in our world. Detective Garda Donohoe's family have been dealing with his loss and deserve closure by having the murderers of this brave and honourable man brought to justice. Every garda, not only in Dundalk but also across the country, wants to them being brought to justice. I call for all support and resources necessary to be provided to support the dedication and commitment of gardaí in seeking justice for the callous murder of Detective Garda Donohoe. I reiterate the many calls made for anyone with information, no matter how small, to come forward. People know who was responsible for this murder.
On a separate matter, the House must have an urgent debate on the reports of contaminated water being pumped into County Louth. This morning we had another episode of diesel sludge being dumped, with 6,000 litres being dropped at Stephenstown Pond just outside Dundalk. In the past two months alone, more than 74,000 litres of toxic diesel sludge has been dumped there at huge financial cost. The abuse by people with republican connections of Maíria Cahill and the murder of Paul Quinn are other things that have been mentioned.
There is a common thread across all of these matters - it was mentioned this morning when the mother of Paul Quinn was interviewed on radio - that people in Sinn Féin know what is going on and have information on all four items I have raised. I ask that where people offer to be mediators, those with information come out publicly and provide it.
I echo everything Senator Mary Moran said. I was glad to stand shoulder to shoulder with her and the people of parish mentioned the other night when they marched with dignity to show huge support and solidarity. I was glad to be there to show the solidarity of the people of County Limerick because we experienced this horror when Garda Jerry McCabe was murdered in cold blood while going about his daily business. I commend the Donohoe family and the members of St. Patrick's GAA Club, the most fantastic, decent, honest and welcoming people I have met in a long time. I support Senator Mary Moran 100% and will continue to support the people of the area to the same level. The criminals involved have no place in modern, civilised Ireland. They are animals. They are callous, murdering, sadistic animals who need to be put out of business. As Senator Mary Moran said, they are destroying people's lives. When I met the Donohoe family, it struck me that their lives had been destroyed, but it is not only their lives which have been destroyed. Adrian Donohoe was the coach of the under-14s, the under-16s and the juvenile teams in St. Patrick's GAA Club. He was a huge man, had a huge presence and was a huge figure in the parish and community. The children used to flock to him and run after him in training in all weather conditions. God forgive me, but I feel like swearing when I think of the effect the people responsible have had on these children and the lives of all the people of the parish and Deputy Gerry Adams on television last night smirking at the people of Ireland. He has denied that he was ever involved in the Provisional IRA. It is a sick joke.
I raise the issue of part-time workers and how unfairly some employers are treating their staff. Many people work 15 to 25 hours a week. In the past such employees had the opportunity to condense their work timing into three days. It has been brought to my attention that some employers, mainly the multiple supermarkets, in particular Tesco and Dunnes Stores, are forcing their staff to come in for three hours a day five days a week. This is unfair, as it adds to the cost of travelling to and from work and also child care. On top of this, those working part time are disallowed from claiming social welfare payments for the days they work, although for a shorter time period. The hours could be worked in a shorter number of days. This practice is particularly unfair for those on lower pay. I, therefore, ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Social Protection to discuss the issue of social welfare payments, as well as the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to discuss what we can do about this issue which has a huge impact on many thousands of people. Up to 25% of the people employed in the State work part time. This practice is unfair, unreasonable and inequitable. If we could do something about it, it would have a significant impact for many.
A lot has been said in recent days about maternity services at Portiuncula hospital in Ballinasloe. One of the issues that has emerged concerns the fact that hospital staff have had to send children to maternity hospitals in Dublin within six hours of birth to start life-saving treatment. I am talking about baby cooling treatment which is used in the case of babies born in a distressed condition.
If they suffered a lack of oxygen during labour, the cooling, which lasts for two or three days, reduces the risk of subsequent disability by 50%. This baby cooling, or therapeutic hypothermia, is a revolutionary method to treat babies who suffer a lack of oxygen reaching the brain at the time of their birth. It has been used extensively in the UK and major studies from the University of Oxford and Imperial College London have shown that baby cooling can dramatically decrease the risk of brain damage. The fact that there are no baby cooling treatment services west of the Shannon places huge pressure on doctors to deliver the baby and then decide, within a tight timeframe, whether the vulnerable newborn should be sent to Dublin by emergency ambulance. I have spoken to staff in both University Hospital Galway and Portiuncula Hospital and have been told that an internal report called for baby cooling treatment to be made available in Galway, but nothing has been done.
While we rightly examine, as we ought, any situation where shortcomings might arise in maternity services, it would be a disgrace if newborn babies in the west were put at unnecessary risk simply because of geography. It would be unacceptable if this life-saving treatment is only available in Dublin. In fact, it is a scandal if calls from doctors for baby cooling equipment to be installed in Galway maternity units have been ignored up to now. Newborn babies and their families west of the Shannon deserve much better. As we rightly seek to ensure that any shortcomings in practice are overcome and best practice is put in place, it must not be a case of using difficulties that arise in medical care from time to time as a stick to beat the provision of high quality maternity services in the west or in any other part of Ireland. It certainly would be a scandal if there were calls for such baby cooling treatment to be made available in the west and those calls have been ignored up to now. I would be grateful for a response from the Department of Health on this matter.
Also, last week I raised issues in respect of the HSE investigation into the procurement of services by Saolta. I would be grateful to hear if the Leader has received any response for me on that.
Like most people in the mid-west, particularly in County Clare and specifically in Shannon, I note the bid which has been submitted to Aer Lingus by International Airlines Group, IAG, for a takeover of the airline. I also note with interest and some concern that Aer Lingus is accepting that bid. However, I welcome the fact that the Cabinet and the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, have decided to engage with IAG to seek clarification. In many ways Aer Lingus is like Eircom in the mid-1990s, when not just the business but the network throughout the country were sold. Had that been retained in public ownership, every home in this country would have broadband. Similarly, Aer Lingus holds very important slots, not just for the mid-west region and Shannon but for this country in terms of connectivity. It is not just connectivity to Heathrow but to the many parts of the world that are served from Heathrow.
While Aer Lingus is a fantastic brand and the management and staff have done wonders to turn the airline around and make it profitable, I humbly suggest that at €1.4 billion the airline is probably slightly over-priced. One must wonder if it is the Heathrow slots that make it so attractive for an organisation such as IAG to make such a lucrative bid. We must move with extreme caution before accepting these gifts from the east, as it were. We must think of the future business of this country and our connectivity with the rest of the world. The world is a global village and, most importantly from our perspective, we can get to the global village more quickly than others. Those Heathrow slots are part of our make up. They are part of the tourism and business product in this country and I would wish to know a great deal more before I would be happy with the sale of Aer Lingus.
The discussion on the Order of Business was dominated by three issues - Aer Lingus, debt and quantitative easing.
These issues were raised by quite a number of Senators.
Senator O'Brien raised the matter of Aer Lingus. As he stated, the 2004 Act indicated that any sale would be discussed by Dáil Éireann. It did not mention Seanad Éireann but I have requested that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Donohoe, would come to the House to discuss the issue. As Senator O'Brien has rightly pointed out, the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, has been here on many occasions and I am confident that he will agree to the request from many Senators to debate the whole Aer Lingus situation.
The Government will do what is in the interests of the country in weighing up all options. The strategic importance of competition and connectivity in the Irish market remain vital considerations, as many Senators have stated. I am hopeful that the Minister will come to the House to debate the issue with us.
Senator Bacik and Senator Norris reminded us of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. It is a reminder to all of us of the evils of what happened in that period and that we should never forget.
The question of debt and quantitative easing was raised. I will endeavour to have the Minister for Finance come to the House and address those issues. Last week, Members requested a debate on quantitative easing and I have asked the Minister for Finance to come to the House to discuss the matter.
Senator Cullinane commented on the arson attacks in the community in Waterford city over the weekend. I was in Ballybeg estate on Saturday morning and I was joined by the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey. What greeted us was sheer devastation at the GAA club. The ground floor was burned out completely, while the first floor, containing gear and everything else, was damaged beyond repair by smoke. We also visited the family and community resource centre, which was also completely burned out.
It is absolutely appalling to think that again this morning in the same estate or community an effort was made to burn down the boxing club. This was an attack not only on the people and community of Ballybeg but an attack on the Garda and all the people of Waterford by these criminals. I know the Garda is doing everything possible to apprehend the culprits and the force has the full support of the community in this regard. I understand a meeting on the matter is going on in the community as we speak. This community is strong and resilient. They are proud of their parish and rightly so and I believe they will not bend to this type of intimidation. I am confident that they will come out of this stronger than ever.
Senator Cullinane mentioned the question of resources. Obviously, the insurance companies will examine the situation as regards rebuilding. They will rebuild and be stronger than ever. Anyway, I assure Senator Cullinane and the community that the Government will not be behind the ace ball. Certainly, the Government will help with any capital grant aid that is necessary to support the community in Ballybeg. Everyone decries the despicable acts of these criminals, who are only a small number of people within a very decent community.
Senator Quinn commented on organ donations. As he mentioned, we had a comprehensive debate on the opt-out system.
Some people in this House disagreed with the idea. We had a good debate on the matter but perhaps it is time to consider holding another debate. I shall try to arrange such a debate.
Senators Moran and Heffernan raised an issue which was raised last week by a number of Senators. They included Senators Heffernan, Brennan, Jim D'Arcy and others. I refer to the second anniversary of the murder of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe. This morning, Senator Heffernan also recalled the murder of Jerry McCabe. The Senator laid all his cards on the table last week and comprehensively blamed the Provisional IRA which he believes is still active in the Border areas and is responsible for diesel laundering, the dumping of sludge and many other criminal activities. We need the help of the community in this regard. People know who is involved in these crimes. I know intimidation has taken place but I call again on anybody with any information whatsoever, especially in regard to the killing or murder of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe, to come forward and give it to the Garda as soon as possible. These criminals must be brought to justice. As I said, this matter was discussed last week on the Order of Business as well.
Senator Michael D'Arcy mentioned the hours of work to which some employers subject their employees and the way these hours are ordered prevents employees from claiming social welfare. I know the matter will be dealt with by a low pay commission that is being set up. Perhaps we can have a debate in the House at that point in time. I totally agree with the sentiments expressed by the Senator in that regard.
Senator Mullen mentioned the advantages of baby cooling treatment and the lack of such facilities in Galway and the west of Ireland. I shall bring the matter to the attention of the Minister. I will revert to him on the matter when I receive an answer and also in terms of the matter he raised last week.