Wednesday, 25 May 2005
Seanad Eireann Debate
Ms O’Rourke: The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on the current situation in Iraq, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes and the Minister to be called upon to reply not later than five minutes before the conclusion of the statements; No. 2, Statute Law Revision (Pre-1922) Bill 2004 — Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 2.30 p.m. and to conclude not later than 5 p.m.; and No. 19, motion 13, re Sellafield, to be taken from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. There will be a sos from 1.30 p.m. until 2.30 p.m.
Mr. B. Hayes: Yesterday, Senator O’Meara raised the “Prime Time” programme on Monday evening about the tax exiles who pay no tax in this country. The Taoiseach said in the Dáil yesterday that the entire scheme was being reviewed but he said that two years ago. Has the Leader any information as to when that review might be completed? This amendment to the Finance Act occurred when the Taoiseach was Minister for Finance in 1994.
Most ordinary taxpayers are disgusted that a certain golden brigade can get away without paying any tax when most compliant taxpayers do their bit. The Government argues that if we get rid of this amendment to the Finance Act, significant people, in the Taoiseach’s own words, will fly from the country. So be it. If they head off, we will be grand without them. A large group of significant people remain here, God help and protect them, one of them being the CEO of a large airline who manages to get by living here 12 months of the year. If the others head off into the sun, let them do so. Why is the Government so intent on protecting these people? Will the Leader find out from the Government when the review of the scheme will be completed?
No. 13 on the Order Paper is statements on planning. Apartment building represents a major component of the total housing output but there are serious question marks over the standard of design and building in them. Many of them are no better than shoeboxes built on top of each other. I, along with other Senators, came across the case whereby a local authority in Dublin amended its development plan to ensure higher standards and better living conditions for apartment buyers. However, it has found that the Government has not put guidelines in place for the design and the standards of apartments. This means that any builder can now take an action to An Bord Pleanála against a planning permission because there are no guidelines in place on a national basis. Will the Leader provide time for a debate on this issue when we can examine the issue of the standard and quality of apartment blocks, not just in Dublin city, but in all our urban centres?
The Government has already produced guidelines on density, which will ratchet up the number of apartment blocks throughout Dublin city. I understand this is necessary for sustainability and transport. However, we must work hard at improving the standards of building and design of these new developments if we are serious about providing decent homes for people.
Mr. O’Toole: I could not agree more with Senator Brian Hayes on the issue of non-residents. I have raised it many times previously. The House should know the way those people living abroad are playing ducks and drakes with the scheme. If one flies into the country in one’s private jet to do a day’s business and then, like Cinderella, be out of the country by 12 o’clock, it is not counted as a day for purposes of the scheme. One could easily commute in and out of the country on that basis. This is appalling and gives a bad impression about our tax system and the way it treats the wealthy.
The last time I raised this issue, I got two different reactions. I got a stiff reaction from a well-known exile, a non-resident who took grave exception to what I said even though he could disagree with none of it. I also received letters from the chief executive officers of six publicly-listed companies, thanking me for raising the issue. They said they were sick and tired of seeing these heroes, who do not pay their taxes in Ireland, playing ducks and drakes with the system and that it should be changed. I often criticise Michael O’Leary but I always add the rider that at least he pays his taxes in this country.
Rugadh agus tógadh mise i gCorca Dhuibhne agus chuaigh mé ar scoil le muintir na Gaeltachta agus na Galltachta. Bhí sean-eolas againn ar ár ndúiche féin. I cannot find any person from the Gaeltacht or Galltacht of west Kerry who agrees with the daft proposal to change the name of Dingle to An Daingean. It is a form of cultural terrorism to pretend this does some good for the Irish language. Muintir na Gaeltachta believe this is an embarrassment with no sense in it. It is of no help or use to anybody and is counterproductive to the tourism business, the main industry in west Kerry. It only creates confusion and is the kind of daftness that embarrasses those of us who support and use the Irish language.
The Government should do what every local authority does. If a placename is to be changed, a plebiscite of those living in the area is held. If the people want to change it, then it is changed. B’fhearr liom an focal “Daingean” go cinnte. However, I was born and reared in Dingle. That is the way it should stay. Will the Leader invite the Minister responsible to explain why this daft change is necessary?
Ms O’Meara: I am pleased an inherent unfairness in our taxation system has been revealed. It has become the subject of general discussion in the House. Yesterday, I asked for a debate on the taxation system, specifically on the matters raised in Monday’s “Prime Time” programme. The comments of my colleagues on this side of the House say it all. Why are some people facilitated by our laws — in particular those brought in by the Taoiseach when Minister for Finance — in not paying their fair share of tax and not making a contribution in this country, against the background of a promised review which has never taken place? We want to know why the review has not been undertaken or published.
My colleagues on the other side of the House may be unaware that the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, stated in a letter to her Government colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy
Killeen, that she had asked the National Hospitals Office to implement the recommendations of the task force on medical staffing, which used to be known as the Hanly report until it became a severe cause of embarrassment, concern and controversy. Members should be aware that the Minister for Health and Children intends to implement the Hanly report, so that 26 general hospitals around the country will be downgraded.
Ms Ormonde: I support Senator Brian Hayes in his call for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, to return to this House and revisit the guidelines for residential development. I recently attended a meeting where there were complaints about the quality of apartment blocks, which are now of high density in less space, yet cost more. Local authorities work to different guidelines in this area, whereas there should be national guidelines. I spoke about this issue two weeks ago, and it should be revisited.
Mr. Finucane: It was their appraisal of the situation in An Post, and of the way forward. There is tremendous tension between unions and management in An Post. Postmen and other workers have had no pay increase since February 2003. They are not extremely well paid. While An Post points to the economic necessity of making profits, I ask the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to recognise the social dimension in An Post in the application of profit and loss accounting, and to ask ComReg to quantify that social dimension and give an appropriate recognition to An Post with regard to its role.
I would like the Minister to focus on such issues. I am not sure that changing the postal codes and addresses will make a significant impact, other than involving a substantial financial cost. There are many more important issues for the Minister to tackle. Perhaps he might attend this House and allow us to discuss An Post and its services.
Mr. Dooley: I join Senators Ormonde and Brian Hayes in calling for a debate with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government with a view to developing standards in the building sector. I am concerned not only with apartment blocks in cities and towns, as there is a major problem with virtually all houses and apartment blocks currently being built. As a result of the construction industry boom, builders are moving to the next site before they properly finish the one on which they are working. Work of appallingly poor quality is being completed. The Government needs to review the building standards because a problem will arise within ten to 15 years. The current poor level of construction will lead to great difficulties with regard to maintaining property at a later stage.
Mr. Norris: I thank the Leader for arranging a debate on Iraq, which is timely. I agree with my colleague, Senator O’Toole, on the subject of Irish placenames. I too love the Irish language. I do not have Senator O’Toole’s facility with the language but I occasionally try to use it. Nobody uses names such as Ceannanas Mór, Ráth Luirc and Cúl an tSúdaire for Kells, Charleville and Portarlington. People have the right to name their own places rather than being bullied by some nit-wit in Dublin.
We need to examine the tax break situation. Some of the incentive schemes are very good. I am delighted that Cork has acquired a wonderful early 19th century view of the city, which was made possible by tax incentives. However, it is obscene that people who make enormous amounts of money, some of the wealthiest people in the country, pay no tax whatsoever, while simultaneously we see elderly people being pursued by the Revenue Commissioners because they put money into pension schemes 20 years ago. There is a sharp contrast in that scenario.
I ask for a debate on junk mail. There should be a ban on unsolicited material being pushed through people’s hall doors. Under the Data Protection Act, an individual can opt out of receiving such material. We should re-examine the legislation.
Mr. Norris: It is funny in one sense, but outrageous in another. If one is away for a few days, one’s letterbox is stuffed up and any passing thief knows well that the house is empty. Apart from that, it is an invasion of people’s own space. Very often young lads are hired to deliver the leaflets, they want to get rid of them, so they shove 20 or 30 into each letterbox.
Dr. Mansergh: I agree that it would be useful to have an in-depth debate on tax breaks before decisions are made in the next budget. The recent “Prime Time” programme raised important issues. I took particular exception to the description by one individual of this country as “worse than communist China”. The same individual made a profit of €250 million in two years from the sale of State assets and misled listeners to the “Pat Kenny Show” that he would pay €50 million in tax on that profit.
Mr. Coghlan: Aontaím le Seanadóir Ó Tuathail mar gheall ar Chorca Dhuibhne agus an t-ainm “An Daingean”. As Senator O’Toole has said, removing Dingle from all of the sign posts is slightly comical but mainly crazy. There is no support in the Gaeltacht, the Galltacht or County Kerry for this move. It is painting us as backward people. What is officialdom trying to do? Is it trying to hide the place from foreign tourists?
Mr. Coghlan: This will send tourists on unintentional mystery tours, clogging up the roads, which are narrow and windy enough without having confused drivers trying to find their way about with maps that are in English.
There is a simple solution to this problem. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to the House and allow the people of Corca Dhuibhne and An Daingean to have a plebiscite on the matter.
Mr. Scanlon: It was stated that the Taoiseach introduced some of the tax breaks referred to earlier when he was Minister for Finance. That was 14 years ago, when this country was staggering, with interest rates at 15% to 17%.
Mr. Scanlon: That is not relevant. Some of the tax breaks were introduced before 1994 and some were introduced after that. They have made a substantial difference to the economy. I come from a rural area in the north west and because of tax breaks, there is blood in the veins of rural areas. Now there are people living in rural areas, where previously they could not get work or have a house. It would be a bad idea to throw out the baby with the bath water. We do not want to do that ——
Mr. Scanlon: We opened a development in Sligo recently that cost €45 million, providing 200 jobs and including a multistorey car park. Were it not for tax breaks, that development would not have taken place.
Mr. Bannon: Last week ten countries voted in favour of GM corn going on sale. This corn is being forced into our food chain despite warnings that it harmed rats during trials. This is a matter of concern to us all. The results of the trials have alarmed the French commission on genetic engineering, German Government advisers and the British. I am concerned by the fact that the results of the trials are being kept secret by the EU food watchdog. It is important that we have a debate on the issue as soon as possible because the issue of GM foods and the manner in which it is handled in the European Union, America and other countries should be of concern to us all.
Ms White: I would like to remind colleagues that on one of the last occasions when former Minister for Finance, Mr. McCreevy, was here, I asked for a review of tax breaks. The then Minister said sharply that there would be no changes in the tax breaks.
I attended the launch of A New Vision by the four unions of An Post. The unions include the Association of Higher Civil and Public Servants, comprising principal and assistant principal officers. Will the Leader invite the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey, to the House to explain why while there is 11% growth in postal services in Italy and 8% in Finland, An Post has experienced a decrease of 1.3%? The management of An Post and the unions must work together to improve industrial relations and resolve their difficulties through dialogue rather than through the Labour Court.
The report states that Ireland is the most dynamic country in Europe, it has the fastest growing population and, therefore, there should be a growth rather than decrease in postal services. The report confirms that the unions agree there must be a change in the overtime work culture of the company. I found the launch yesterday invigorating. We must get the Minister here to discuss the issue as some 13,000 are employed in An Post.
Mr. Quinn: Last week I asked for a debate on the Prison Service. There are a number of reports on which the debate could focus. I would like the Minister to come to the House to speak on the matter. There is a report issued in Britain today that a large number of prisoners re-offend on release. I do not know what the Irish figures are, but we saw some encouraging figures recently which claimed that one system reduced the number of those who re-offend. I would like to return to that issue. It would be useful to have a debate on the Prison Service.
Labhrás Ó Murchú: Aontaím go mbeadh sé cabhrach cuireadh a thabhairt don Aire Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta, Éamon Ó Cuív, teacht isteach agus cúrsaí Gaeilge a phlé linn. Tá an-chuid rudaí dearfacha ag tarlú i láthair na huaire agus ba chóir dúinn machnamh agus díospóireacht rialta a bheith againn maidir leis na rudaí sin.
It would be helpful to invite the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Éamon Ó Cuív, into the House to discuss aspects of the Irish language. So much is happening with regard to the language that we need an ongoing opportunity to debate the issue here. In my lifetime I have not seen so much official activity on the promotion of Irish, particularly in this House. We have a good record here and can take credit for much of the debate in the Oireachtas. I would not like to see a peripheral distraction introduced at this stage.
We all agree that the Irish language is very descriptive. Senator Norris used the word “lúdramán” and I cannot think of any word that is more descriptive. I was impressed by the manner in which the word flowed from the Senator’s tongue, like honey from a hive.
Labhrás Ó Murchú: The Senator may have unintentionally underlined the difference between having a particular word in Irish and in English. I would not like us to become distracted by this discussion. I agree with Senator O’Toole that the fundamental aspects of the Irish language issue are much more important. No Minister is more capable of arguing his case than the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. I do not think any Minister is more sincere about the Irish language.
Ms Terry: I support Senator Brian Hayes and others who have called for a debate on the quality of the construction and design of apartment blocks. It is important that the necessary guidelines be put in place as quickly as possible. I ask the relevant Minister to concentrate on the management of such apartment blocks.
Ms Terry: We need to focus on the management companies which look after apartment blocks. Those who live in such apartments are facing a crisis at present. The concept of management companies is a new one for most people. That many people are failing to pay the necessary costs to such companies will have an enormous effect on the maintenance of apartments. If this problem is not tackled and legislation to deal with it is not enacted, there will be many tenement blocks in this country quite soon. I support the request for a debate on this matter.
Mr. Kitt: I am sorry I am not a little taller, as then I could be called a “lanky lúdramán”. This is an important issue. The Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs should be asked to come to the House to discuss the new placenames regulations which have been introduced. We are supposed to have a bilingual policy in respect of placenames, but I do not think that is the case at present. I notice that officials have decided to change some Irish names. Plebiscites should be organised in such instances. The town of Gort in County Galway used to be known in Irish as “Gort Inse Guaire”, but the reference to King Guaire has been removed from signposts. The Irish language form now used is “An Gort”. People in many towns are annoyed about the watering down of the Irish language versions of placenames. Many of the amended placenames do not give the history of towns and villages. This aspect of the matter should be included in any debate.
Mr. U. Burke: Creidim go mór leis an méid atá ráite ag an Seanadóir O’Toole maidir leis na logainmneacha ar fud na tíre. If the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs comes to the House, we should ask him why he has insisted on imposing the new regulations on local authorities. I did not realise that one Minister can impose his particular wish on another Minister. The Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, has insisted that local authorities, for which the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is responsible, should act immediately. The underlying level of vindictiveness is unbelievable.
If the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, comes to the House, we should ask him to review the areas which are classified as Gaeltacht areas. Senator Kitt has mentioned the relevance of this issue to County Galway. If one is driving on the N18 from Tuam to Galway, one will see a big hoarding saying “An Ghaeltacht” when one is approximately 12 km from Galway. I do not think anyone will disagree with me when I say that one would not find a person who speaks Irish on a daily basis within ten miles of that sign. The Minister must review the boundaries. There has been controversy in this House about the election to Údarás na Gaeltachta of certain people who cannot speak a word of Irish.
Mr. U. Burke: I beg your pardon, a Chathaoirligh. The Minister behaves like that yet thinks he is doing some good for the Irish language. He has a lesson to learn. I hope the Minister will come to the House and speak realistically of what he is trying to do. If he is truthful, there will be many revelations on this issue.
Mr. Feighan: Does any Department keep an eye on those who avail of such schemes? This would be difficult as most politicians and members of the public are out of the country for more than 139 days. We could all claim we are tax exiles.
Mr. Feighan: I wish to refer to a serious issue associated with the Good Friday Agreement, namely, cross-party and cross-Border co-operation. Many football teams from Northern Ireland recently competed in the successful Setanta Cup. However, the match in Dublin last Saturday night was marred by violence because of a premeditated plan by people wearing Shamrock Rovers and Glasgow Celtic shirts. They wanted to cause trouble and had no right to be at the game. Is there a national hooligan register to deal with such young people?
Of the Linfield supporters who travelled from Northern Ireland, one man was glassed in the face. If, for some reason, the hooligans and mindless thugs killed one of the supporters from Northern Ireland, would it not have serious repercussions for the Good Friday Agreement? The Minister should meet the Football Association of Ireland and the clubs to ensure this serious situation does not recur.
Ms O’Rourke: Senator Brian Hayes raised the matter of the review of taxation schemes. When the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, came to the House on the occasion of his first budget last year, he stated he was putting in place a review of all schemes. He stated he would have the outcome of that review before his next budget, which would be informed by the review.
Ms O’Rourke: The Fine Gael-Labour Party coalition introduced the scheme in 1985. I do not know if it was Mr. John Bruton or Mr. Alan Dukes who did so but they fell out over something with Dick Spring, although I cannot remember the details.
Ms O’Rourke: The rural renewal scheme was introduced in 1998 by the then Minister for Finance, former Deputy McCreevy. If one wishes to speak of equity, one should remember that these three schemes were introduced by Fine Gael, Labour Party and Fianna Fáil Ministers, respectively.
Ms O’Rourke: The Senator asked when it was announced. It was announced in the budget and the review will be reannounced before the next budget. He also raised the issue of new apartments, and I agree that many of them are little better than shoeboxes and that no guidelines have been issued. No. 13 on the Order Paper stands to be resumed and we can ask the relevant Minister to come to the House and address the issue of planning, which would be useful.
Senator O’Toole talked about tax exiles who enter and exit the country before midnight. That issue is also in line for review. The Senator always mentions a particular aviation businessman who stays overnight in his bed in Ireland, which is good.
Senator O’Meara mentioned people who avoid taxation. She also said that the Minister for Health and Children, in a letter to a colleague, said that the report of the task force on medical staffing, previously called the Hanly report, will be implemented. This issue arose two weeks ago when the Minister was berated over decisions regarding capital expenditure. However, this is such a decision and I say good for her.
Senator Ormonde wishes us to revisit the guidelines on apartment blocks and I agree. Senator Finucane mentioned the postal unions, the social dimension of An Post and the fact that workers have not received their incremental payments under Sustaining Progress. We will ask the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey, to come to the House.
Senator Dooley outlined the type of apartments being built at present. Senator Norris raised the matter of the immense amount of spam he receives in his letterbox. However, he can ask that it not come through. There might be four inserts in a newspaper on a Friday.
Ms O’Rourke: The matter is a nuisance. Senator Mansergh mentioned the various tax schemes and that the Minister is issuing his review before the end of the year. Senator Coghlan spoke about Dingle and its Irish name Daingean. Well done to the Senator on his knowledge of the Irish language. He described the present situation as farcical.
Senator Scanlon reminded us that many of these tax breaks are the lifeblood of rural areas. Senator Bannon raised the issue of GM crops being used in our foods and recommended a debate on the matter. I agree it would be interesting.
Senator White asked whether we remember her raising the issue of tax breaks with the former Minister for Finance, Mr. McCreevy. She then went on to speak about the launch by the four An Post unions and suggested that we invite the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to come into the House, which we will do.
Senator Quinn asked for a debate on the Prison Service. Senator Henry also wished for such a debate and we will try to find the time for that. Senator Ó Murchú asked that we invite the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and praised Senator Norris’s use of Irish.
Senator Terry also raised the issue of the construction of apartments and management companies. The older blocks of apartments have such management companies and I reside in one that was built in the 1960s. It is a fine size and is cared for by a management company. All of the residents go to the meetings, pay up and speak up.
Ms O’Rourke: The new apartments do not have such management companies, but the older blocks did and some of them still operate. It is a good point because one knows that the money is being spent on tending the grass, cleaning and painting, etc.
Senator Kitt asked that the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs be invited to the House to discuss the new placenames regulations. Senator Ulick Burke raised that issue also and asked for the matter to be clarified in respect of the Gaeltacht areas. He said the Minister had a lesson to learn in that regard. Senator Burke also mentioned a particular magnate and a headline about a particular election.
Senator Feighan raised the tax exiles issue also. He also mentioned the Good Friday Agreement and cross-party and cross-Border co-operation. I agree that the disgraceful behaviour of fans at the match about which he spoke might be considered a breach of the Good Friday Agreement and that meetings should be held with the FAI to address that issue.
On yesterday’s Order of Business I referred to the Disability Bill. It is hoped the Bill will be introduced to the House on Tuesday evening. I wish to inform Senators also that it is intended to have a full debate on aviation next Tuesday afternoon.
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