Wednesday, 4 October 2006
Seanad Eireann Debate
Ms O’Rourke: The Order of Business is No. 1, the Local Government (Business Improvement Districts) Bill 2006 — Committee Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business until 1.30 p.m.; No. 2 is the Europol (Amendment) Bill 2006 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 2 p.m. until 3.30 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of other Senators not to exceed six minutes each. The Minister will be called upon to reply no later than five minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage. No. 3, Statements on the Government White Paper on Irish Aid to be taken at 3.30 p.m. until 5 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 12 minutes and those of other Senators not to exceed eight minutes each. The Minister will be called upon to reply no later than five minutes before the conclusion of the statements. No. 27, motion No. 9 to be taken from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. There will be a sos from 1.30 p.m. until 2 p.m.
I wish to make an announcement about a motion for early signature but I do not want it to be misinterpreted because the Bill has yet to pass. There may be an early signature motion later today in respect of the Road Traffic and Transport Bill 2006 when consideration of this Bill has been completed in the Dáil.
Like my colleagues, and I suspect the entire country, I listened carefully yesterday to what the Taoiseach said in the other House about the controversy that has raged for the past few weeks. I have not spoken about this matter since I raised it on the first day we resumed sittings. I find it difficult to believe the then Minister for Finance had no operating bank account in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Cash transactions were the order of the day.
Mr. B. Hayes: The idea that the Taoiseach, all his senior Ministers and the Progressive Democrats can see nothing wrong with one of this country’s most senior politicians taking money personally is a new low in Irish politics.
Mr. B. Hayes: That party, which has significant questions to answer, was established by Mr. Des O’Malley, who was an honourable leader. Like his successor, Deputy Harney, he would not have tolerated the standards which have become evident in the Government. That is the reality of the situation——
A report published by a financial consultant last week showed that house prices in Dublin have become so exorbitant that the average public servant — a teacher, garda, nurse or other public servant — cannot afford to buy a house there. Most young public servants now have to live 40 or 50 miles from the city. Does the Government have a view on the scheme that has been in place in the United Kingdom for the past 15 years? I refer to the London weighting system, whereby public servants who live in the capital city and have to buy a house there are given an additional allowance with their pay as a means of helping them to afford a mortgage. There would be some merit in a proposal to establish a Dublin weighting system, whereby additional support would be given to public servants who work in a range of areas to enable them to purchase a home in this city. If we do not take some action in this regard, public servants will continue to be unable to buy houses in Dublin. Some imaginative and innovative proposals are needed if we are to address this problem.
Mr. O’Toole: The final point made by Senator Brian Hayes, which was important, brings me to the point I wanted to raise. Is the Leader prepared to arrange an open discussion in this House on the operation of the free market? I was flabbergasted yesterday to hear two decent people — Senator Leyden and a Fine Gael Senator — arguing that the decision to cut off Smart Telecom’s customers was appalling, unfair and should not have been allowed to happen. They said the Government should intervene. I thought we had that debate five or six years ago, when Eircom was privatised. Perhaps the Minister can explain it further. We knew what was going to happen. We explained to people that there would not be broadband in Belmullet and that they could not expect to get any additional help from the State. I would like Members to understand that those who invest in Babcock & Brown by buying shares in that company — the investors could be from anywhere — do not really care whether a small business in south Dublin or a domestic household in Athlone will suddenly lose their service. That is what it is about. I would say that it is close to hypocrisy if I did not know that those who raised the issue yesterday did so with the best of intentions. I do not accuse them of that at all. We need to understand how the system works.
I assure Senator Brian Hayes, who spoke about the price of houses, that if somebody manages to reduce the price of houses there will be an outcry from the main political parties. If somebody manages to get extra money for decent public servants who could do with it to help them to buy houses, as Senator Hayes has suggested, we all know the money will end up in the hands of the same developers and builders who are getting all the money at present. I have made those points, but I do not want to go further with them. It would be useful if those who support the market in one instance recognise their support will have outcomes and consequences at a later stage. It is difficult to listen to people who enthusiastically and energetically supported certain decisions in the first instance now complaining about the negative fall-out from those decisions.
Mr. McCarthy: I agree with the sentiment expressed by Senator Brian Hayes. In the past two weeks, the Seanad has taken a very measured approach to the issue of the payments which were made to the Taoiseach. Nonetheless, it is clear an outstanding question remains glaringly unanswered.
Mr. McCarthy: I ask Senator Callanan to cease interrupting for a moment. Can anyone explain where the £50,000 was held? The Taoiseach has admitted he did not have a bank account of his own in this jurisdiction between 1987 and 1993.
Mr. McCarthy: Throughout all this controversy, that question has remained glaringly unanswered. Many myths have been thrown out and many red herrings have arisen, but that question still remains unanswered.
Mr. McCarthy: It is a wonder the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform got so animated and emotional on national television last Thursday evening about the £8,000 the Taoiseach received in Manchester, whereas he rejected out of hand yesterday the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report, which clearly states the Government paid almost twice the market value when buying 150 acres of land at Thornton Hall as the site of the prison that will replace Mountjoy Prison. Where is the value for money for taxpayers in the latter instance? The Tánaiste needs to come to the House to explain how such a squandering of money can be justified. How can he spend €30 million on land that is worth just half of that amount? I am talking about the same man who was annoyed, emotional and upset last Thursday evening when he was asked about £8,000 that was received in Manchester.
I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, to come to this House to discuss local government. The Minister has arranged to meet Whips in recent times to speak about the service given to Members of the Oireachtas by local authorities. I am not certain how the service works in most other counties, but I find it to be increasingly inefficient. I have to wait for replies from county managers and directors of services. I understand a great deal of money is being wasted on using Oireachtas facilities, such as e-mails and faxes, to contact people who are blatantly taking advantage of the fact that Members of the Oireachtas are no longer members of local authorities. Such people do not have to bump into us as often as they used to. The service we are getting has not improved. During the debate in this House on the abolition of the dual mandate, the then Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Cullen, gave a very clear commitment that Members of the Oireachtas would enjoy the same level of service after the abolition of the dual mandate as they enjoyed when they were members of local authorities. I cannot say that has happened, certainly in the cases of some of the officials with whom I have to deal. I ask the Minister, Deputy Roche, to come to the House to explain his plan, which was publicised in the media in recent times, to allow Members of the Oireachtas to attend special sittings of local authorities and to get a better service from local authority officials.
Mr. Morrissey: The Minister for Transport announced last week, after much debate and public comment, that he intends to publish legislation, which will come to this House in time, establishing the Dublin transportation authority. He mentioned during his announcement of the reform of Dublin Bus that the new authority will have the power to dispense the State subsidy that is given to Dublin Bus and to monitor all the routes used by private and public operators of transport services. He also announced that Dublin Bus will get 100 buses and Bus Éireann will get 160 buses. More importantly, he pointed out that the Dublin transportation authority, upon its establishment, will introduce 100 private sector buses to the Dublin bus transport market. I would like the House to debate the establishment of the new authority and to discuss the powers it will have. I ask the Leader to arrange for the legislation I mentioned to be brought to the House in this term.
Mr. Finucane: Senator O’Toole spoke about the telecommunications issues being faced by Eircom and Smart Telecom, which is an issue I raised yesterday. As Senator O’Toole said, people should not be surprised by the attitude and approach being taken by Babcock & Brown in this regard. I am surprised by another aspect of the matter, however. Regulators have been established across a wide basis. As I understand it, regulators insulate Ministers against criticism about various issues. In this instance, it seems the regulator was warned four weeks ago about what was likely to happen with Smart Telecom. In the past two years ComReg has had ongoing arguments with Eircom on opening up the telecommunications market. The regulator has failed. The events with Smart Telecom will lead to its dismantling and its customers will return to using Eircom. Rather than liberalising the marketplace, it has had the opposite effect. It shows the weakness of the telecommunications structure that there has been no success in unbundling the local loop and opening up the market. People have made massive moneys out of the privatisation of Eircom. Have consumers got better value? It is questionable that they have.
Dr. Mansergh: It would be useful if the House had a pre-budget financial and economic debate. I was astonished to read a comment from a former editor of London’s The Times which stated that as a result of its tax policies, the Republic has become much wealthier than the North and is wealthier than its neighbouring islands for the first time since the Dark Ages.
Dr. Mansergh: This is a tribute to the management of the economy over the past ten years which has made it the envy of the world. As confirmed in the Exchequer returns published yesterday, stamp duty and capital acquisitions tax have reached their full——
Mr. Quinn: In response to what Senator Mansergh said on Ireland becoming one of the wealthier nations, may I quote a report in today’s issue of The Irish Times in which the European Environment Agency singles out Ireland, and in particular Dublin, for urban sprawl. The agency’s report states, “We’re using it as an illustrative case for cities in eastern Europe to show what can happen if you let the money flow without having a vision of balanced development.”
Ms White: I call for a debate on equality in the workplace in light of yesterday’s ruling by the European Court of Justice. As reported in The Irish Times and the Irish Independent, this ruling stated length of service is a good enough reason to pay one employee more than another, even if they are doing the same job. In practice, women who take time off to care for their children can end up earning thousands of euro less than their colleagues when they return to work. Too often women are held back in their careers because they rightly put the care of their children first. I will publish in autumn my report on a new approach to child care which highlights the importance of parental involvement in early childhood care. I suggest several ways to help balance work with family life.
Ms White: The European Court of Justice ruling also discourages fathers from taking time off work to care for their children as they could end up falling behind their colleagues in the pay stakes. The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment must come before the House to discuss legislation that will guarantee that parents who put their children first are rewarded and not punished.
Ms Terry: I want to raise the same issue as Senator White. We share many interests. The decision of the European Court of Justice is a serious blow for women. A woman must take time off work to spend at least three months with her baby. We have fought for extended maternity and parental leave. In taking maternity leave, women will be discriminated in the workplace on the grounds that their length of service is less than that of their male colleagues. It also discriminates against fathers who wish to take time off to spend with their children as they are growing up. This is retrograde step and one which will have serious consequences for many women and parents. The European Court of Justice took a narrow and discriminatory view when it focused on length of service. What about equal pay for equal work?
The Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment must inform the House on how they can address this issue. Will unscrupulous employers discriminate against women because they must take time off to be with their children? Will the Leader organise a debate on this serious matter as soon as possible?
Mr. Lydon: I call for a debate on migration, immigration and integration in light of a high level conference held on the matter in the UN and two reports from the National Economic and Social Council. The ESRI recently pronounced that workers from Romania and Bulgaria should be banned from Ireland or at least limited in the numbers who can come here. A Gallup poll conducted in September in Bulgaria showed that of 36,000 Bulgarians who wanted to work abroad, only 550 wanted to come to Ireland. We have not much to fear of the Bulgarians swamping us. It is a good subject for a debate.
The Leader of the Opposition raised the issue of Senator Norris’s Civil Partnership Bill. The Oireachtas must legislate for contentious and divisive issues. If we do not, we will be handing over the ruling of the State to the courts.
Mr. Norris: Not unnaturally I agree with part of what Senator Lydon has said. Although I have been long a supporter of women’s rights, I do not see the European Court of Justice ruling as a women’s rights issue. What we have heard in the Chamber this morning is political correctness gone utterly mad. The debate should be on length of service and not on an aspect of discrimination. If one accepts length of service as a criteria, then it is ludicrous to reward people for not being at work. I never heard anything so bizarre in my life.
Mr. Norris: Yes and if one accepts equal pay for equal work, then the court is right. Of course women must take time off work to have children. What is also being considered is taking a year off for child-rearing. Why should employers be required to pay on the basis of experience that is simply not there?
Mr. Norris: I always enjoy Senator Mansergh’s contributions but I ask him — a historian who comes from a stable of historians — whether he will tell the House when the last Exchequer reports for the Dark Ages were issued?
Mr. Norris: Under the Cathaoirleach’s severe rulings, we cannot have a debate on this matter now. As somebody who has supported women’s rights all my political life, I will be happy to bring some plain common sense to it when it takes place. When one gets into political correctness, one is on a sticky wicket.
I support my colleague Senator Quinn, who raised the important issue of how urban sprawl affects this city. I will pass a bouquet to the other side, however, by pointing to the conference, A New Heart for Dublin, organised by Senator Morrissey, a Government Member, for 20 October in Dublin Castle. I hope Members who are concerned about this issue will attend and I congratulate Senator Morrissey on this initiative.
I applaud the Taoiseach for the extraordinary neatness with which he arranged the money in his sock. If it were me, I would probably have ended up with £47,579.14 and a halfpenny. The Taoiseach, however, managed to achieve the target of €50,000 exactly and put it in the sock. This was well done. It is the type of financial credibility that has made this country great.
Mr. Norris: This matter raises a serious issue which the House should debate. This is the sinister attempts that have been made to undermine politicians. I condemn absolutely the attempt to impugn the reputation of the Taoiseach by offering forged documents to the tribunal.
My final point relates to Babcock and Brown, Eircom and so on. Consumers are getting a lousy deal. We must all do something about this, including Fianna Fáil, the Republican Party, which was effective on ground rent and in getting rid of landlordism. Why are we still paying rental money to Australia, France and pension funds all over the world for lines put in by this State, paid for by us and itemised in every telephone bill we receive? We must eradicate landlordism in the telecommunications business by putting an end to line rent.
Mr. Kitt: I support calls for a debate on local government reform, particularly in regard to the provision of housing. A considerable number of people are repaying local authority loans which were taken out in the 1970s and 1980s at interest rates up to 11% or 12% over 25 or 30 years. There should be a major information campaign to inform such persons that they can remortgage at lower rates and for a shorter period with the financial institutions. I have just discovered that in County Galway alone, for instance, 500 people are still paying off local authority housing loans at those high rates over 30 years.
I hope we can include this issue in the debate on local government reform. I understand these loans also include mortgage protection policies which cover only the principal earner, even though there may be two names, for example, a husband and wife, on the policy. This is an issue I have raised with the Director of Consumer Affairs and I will come back to the House when I get a reply. It is most unfair that policies which benefit only the principal earner are included in these loan arrangements. Moreover, I understand the policy is dead if the person is more than 70 years of age.
Mr. Coghlan: Senator O’Toole asked yesterday about No. 12 on the Order Paper, the Privacy Bill 2006, but I understand he was more concerned with it being abolished rather than when it will be taken. No. 11 is the Defamation Bill 2006, which is ordered for this session. When does the Leader believe this will be taken?
In the past several days, the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland has referred to the outrageous cases of invalidation of planning applications in different local authority areas. It has described some of the authorities as dysfunctional in this regard. There are allegations that applications were invalidated because site notices were the wrong colour, for example, or the application form, though provided by the relevant council, was out of date. This points to a crazy situation.
No. 24 is the resumption of statements on planning and related issues. Will the Leader bring forward this debate and ask the Minister to come to the House? May those of us who have already contributed to this debate be allowed do so again? This is a serious matter and all of us agree that uniformity in these matters should be in evidence nationally.
Mr. Leyden: I have already called for a debate on prices and other consumer issues and ask the Leader again to consider such a debate. I hope Fine Gael has updated its website on rip-off Ireland because it is a year out of date. The price of diesel has dropped to 99.9 cents in the Leader’s constituency, for example. This is a major change.
Mr. Leyden: Yes. Why will there be an increase of 20% and 33%, respectively, in ESB and gas charges from 1 January next? The lame duck that is the National Consumer Agency has made some bleating about these difficulties. This body was set up as a new quango to support consumers.
This may be a good opportunity to review the issue of ethics in public office. I am appalled by the hypocrisy on the part of Fine Gael and Labour in this regard. I have a long memory. Do other Members recall the “Dear Boris” letter from Prionsias de Rossa, MEP, to the Soviets?
Dr. Henry: I support everything Senator O’Toole said. There is no point in encouraging the privatisation of public utilities only to complain when they fail and, worse still, expect the taxpayer to reimburse those who invested in them. The Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, proposes to build private hospitals adjacent to public ones on public land. This scheme has not been discussed in either House but the contracts for construction are currently out for tender. What will happen if these private hospitals fail, as similar facilities have done all over the world? Will the Leader arrange a debate with the Minister for Health and Children to discuss this extremely important issue?
Dr. M. Hayes: I welcome the report of the Independent Monitoring Commission, IMC, which will be published later today. I understand it will report remarkable progress in terms of people separating themselves, albeit belatedly, from criminal and other activity. It is encouraging to see people delivering on their undertakings. I hope this proves sufficient for the Democratic Unionist Party to move the process along.
I support Senator Brian Hayes on the issue of the inability of people who are required to work in cities to live in those cities. The report states that, in this respect, every city except Limerick is too expensive. We must find a way to accommodate in their city of employment gardaí, municipal workers and others essential to the working of that city. I look forward to a debate on this matter.
Mr. Bannon: Yesterday provided unvarnished proof that the Progressive Democrats are in the spin tent of their Fianna Fáil masters. Where are Progressive Democrat watchdogs such as the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Michael McDowell, and Deputies Liz O’Donnell and Tom Parlon?
Mr. Bannon: They went into Government under the banner of political correctness. They met behind closed doors to fix things for the Taoiseach over the weekend and their actions have done nothing to reclaim the nation’s respect for and trust in our political system. Shame on them for what was done in the other House yesterday.
Mr. Bannon: I would support a debate on local government and housing. I also ask the Leader to organise a debate on measures that must be taken to address the issue of radon gas. There are an estimated 92,000 homes affected by radon gas and only 4% of these homes have been identified following proper testing. This issue shames the Government and must be addressed.
Labhrás Ó Murchú: There are times when major issues of public interest get lost in the midst of peripheral debates. I would like a debate on the following issue with the appropriate Ministers present.
Two members of the Oireachtas received confidential information on certain events in Donegal. They put this information in the public domain as a matter of public interest and a tribunal insisted they reveal their sources, which they were reluctant to do. The matter went to the courts where it was ordered that they reveal their sources and they were compelled to comply.
A newspaper also received an order from a tribunal to reveal its sources of information. The newspaper destroyed the evidence and refused to give the information on the basis that its priority was the protection of its sources. I understood the priority was to obey the law.
Does the media enjoy a superior position under the law than members of the Oireachtas, who have a mandate from the people to act on their behalf? Newspapers have no mandate from the people. I consider this issue relevant to the status and responsibilities of the Houses of the Oireachtas and would like to see it debated very soon.
Mr. Feighan: On the subject of regional development, I wish to pay tribute to Ryanair in its facilitation of people flying in and out of the country. However, Ireland West Airport, Knock, has seen corporate bullying go too far. Ryanair opened a successful route between Knock Airport and Stansted Airport and easyJet opened an equally successful route between Knock Airport and Gatwick Airport. Ryanair then opened a route between Knock and Gatwick in competition with easyJet which forced the latter out of the market. Ryanair then stopped its service between Knock and Gatwick.
On this occasion Ryanair has overstepped the mark. What can we do, as legislators, against corporate bullying? If Ryanair continues to function in this fashion we will find balanced regional development difficult, especially in and around Knock Airport. Should the Competition Authority be involved? Can we legislate to ensure this does not happen again?
Mr. Hanafin: I support my colleague, Senator Ó Murchú, in connection with his comments on the breaking of a court order by The Irish Times. If a politician had broken a court order and destroyed evidence, what kind of mayhem would have been created by the media? I recognise that sometimes the media can create its own mayhem, a storm in a thimble, but, regardless, this is a serious issue.
Mr. Coonan: I support Senator O’Toole in his call for a debate on the telecom regulator. The difficulties facing Smart Telecom have been mentioned in this House this morning and I would like to see other problems included in the debate.
Last Saturday week thunder storms in my area caused Perlico customers to lose telephone services. Since then businesses and residences have been unconnected, without telephone lines and broadband. As Senator O’Toole pointed out, one is likely to have trouble with picture quality if one does not get a television and aerial from the same company.
That a person, in this day and age, can be without a telephone line for ten days is a serious issue that needs to addressed. Up to last night services had not been restored and I support the call for a debate on this matter.
Mr. McHugh: I agree with Senator Maurice Hayes on the Independent Monitoring Commission’s report. It has not been published yet, but initial soundings in Northern Ireland suggest it will be a positive step forward.
This House must keep a sharp eye on the deadline of 24 November and the prize is to get the institutions up and running again. We must do anything we can in our jurisdiction to assist in this process, therefore, I call for a debate on Northern Ireland prior to the deadline. This debate should relate not only to the institutions but to the wider prize of benefits for border areas and the rest of the country.
I ask for the Leader’s intervention on quota restrictions that are to be placed on the pelagic fleet. We have 23 vessels and the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources has indicated that these restrictions will apply for the autumn period. This is dangerous and would mean the vessels might not be allowed to fish for this period. Already a major Donegal crab boat fishes out of Holland which means the ports, such as Greencastle, Killybegs and Downings Harbour, lose out on ancillary benefits. Small industries and small shopkeepers are losing out and the benefits are being lost to other ports. We must focus on this matter and I ask for the Leader’s intervention.
Ms O’Rourke: Senator Brian Hayes, the Leader of the Opposition, raised the matter of the Taoiseach’s statement yesterday and referred to a particular point therein. No matter what one said and regardless of whether one prostrated oneself on the floor or flew to heaven, somebody would keep pursuing a particular point. That involves a never-ending quest.
I know people are becoming quite fed up with the whole matter. The Senator knows well that we have all received phone calls thereon, not all of which were from supporters. I received phone calls from people quite early this morning and later with a view to telling people to stop pursuing the issue. I do not know why the Opposition is continuing in this regard. It is like a dog with a very bad bone that——
Ms O’Rourke: Fair enough, but Senator Brian Hayes and other members of his party should wait for the report of the Moriarty tribunal. One will find that we do not engage in the type of head hunting in which the Opposition is engaging.
Ms O’Rourke: I have no sources at all. I am just saying we should wait until there are many more revelations. One will find we are not shouting and roaring and following bones with the same acuity as the Opposition.
Ms O’Rourke: Senator Brian Hayes also raised the relevant matter of house prices. He stated middle-income earners who must live in London city for the sake of their jobs receive a special allowance to help them to afford a mortgage. I do not know if that is being considered in Ireland. All the Senators have sought a debate on housing and we will endeavour to have one.
Senator O’Toole was amazed at how we do not seem to understand how the free market works and stressed that if one opts for privatisation, issues such as that concerning Smart Telecom, which was mentioned yesterday and which continues to feature, will arise. He was correct. I heard Isolde Goggin, the telecommunications regulator, on the radio this morning and noted that she was trying to broker an arrangement. However, the companies in question operate in a free market and in free markets people pay their commercial bills. One must and that is one of the issues. The Senator also raised the matter of housing, and we must therefore have a debate on it.
Ms O’Rourke: I feel this constant baiting is leading nowhere and I guess Senator McCarthy’s heart was not in it. The Senator asked about the findings of the Comptroller and Auditor General on the new prison site. I understand that matter will be debated by the Committee of Public Accounts and any Senator is entitled to attend.
The Senator wondered if there is a proper way in which Oireachtas Members can have matters dealt with by local authorities. The treatment they receive seems to range from very good to awful and the system should be regularised. It is all very well that we have a very good system in Westmeath, as Senator Glynn will confirm, but it seems this is not the case in many other local authority areas. We will ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to address this when he is before the House.
Senator Morrissey raised a matter last week but I discovered on poring over my notes afterwards that I did not reply to him. I apologise to him for this. The Senator referred to the setting up of the Dublin Transport Authority and asked if the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, could attend to have a pre-legislation discussion on the authority. This would be very good. The Senator also referred to the buses for Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann and the private sector, which will be given.
Ms O’Rourke: Senator Quinn mentioned urban sprawl and stated the European Environment Agency is to issue its report on this matter shortly. He also referred to second level education, about which, commendably, the ASTI is writing to relevant parties. The Minister, I hope, will take heed of this.
Senator White referred to the ruling of the European Court of Justice. I would like a very full explanation of that ruling because, from what I read today, it appears Senator White and Senator Terry are correct. We might be missing something about the ruling and we should have a proper debate on it to discover its exact nature. The old canard is still true, that is, women, because hormones are at work, want to have babies and must take time off to have them and care for them. This also applies to fathers where there is joint parental care. If women are to be penalised for having children or if men who wish to adopt the parental role in a more firm way are to be penalised, we should address the matter. It is a question of ensuring social order in society.
Ms O’Rourke: Senator Terry referred to the finding of the European Court of Justice. I do not know if it is a matter for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment or the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, because the latter has responsibility for equality, but we will try to cut through this and find out. I agree with Senator Terry and Senator White on the matter and it is amazing that it still takes women to address the issue publicly.
Senator Lydon called for a debate on migration and stated that only 550 Bulgarians wish to come here, despite all our fears of being swamped. He stated, in a very robust way, that we should attack the civil partnership legislation ourselves rather than wait until the European Court of Justice makes a ruling.
Senator Kitt called for a debate on local government and housing. Once upon a time, a long-term loan from a local authority was the prize thing to have, but times have now changed and interest rates have decreased. However, we simply must have a debate on housing.
Senator Coghlan asked about the defamation Bill. All that I can tell him in that regard is that I have been told it is intended for this session. He spoke of the validation of planning applications, which is a major issue. When a couple or single person submits a planning application, it can be three or four weeks before the validation notice is issued. The whole thing starts to move only after validation, adding to the time involved. The Senator asked for No. 24, statements on planning and related issues, to be resumed.
Senator Leyden contended that ESB charges should now be reduced because of the falling oil price. However, one must remember that some supply contracts are historic. He also dealt with certain other matters. Senator Henry raised the question of the Minister for Health and Children’s plans to build private hospitals on public land and asked if we might discuss the issue. We are endeavouring to get hold of the Minister for Health and Children among others. Like me, Senator Bannon wished to discuss the Abbeylara report, but it is a matter of prevailing upon the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, who is involved in legislation in the other House, to attend.
Senator Maurice Hayes asked that we discuss the IMC report once it has been issued as part of a general Northern debate. On the matter of middle-income earners being penalised and allowances for living in cities, Senator Bannon gave a fine speech about the Progressive Democrats. He has one in his own area now, and I am sure she will show great gusto in dealing with him.
Ms O’Rourke: Senator Ó Murchú raised the issue of two Members, one from this House and one from the other, who had to obey the law by revealing the source of their information, asking why that same law does not apply to journalists.
Senator Feighan brought up what he called corporate bullying, asking how a route to Gatwick initiated by easyJet could be purloined by another airline that went on to drop it. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Nothing changes, and that type of carry-on remains a feature. We have spoken much of the free market today, and it is true such behaviour is part of it. I know such incidents have happened before.
Senator Hanafin mentioned the hue and cry in the newspapers, agreeing with Senator Ó Murchú. Senator Coonan supported Senator O’Toole, speaking of a certain telephone service that had not been restored. I wish that Perlico would stop ringing people. Representatives from another group — I believe called Gaelic Telecom — have now also begun doing so. They want one to change one’s telephone service.
Senator McHugh brings a distinctive northern voice to matters raised here. He spoke of the quota restrictions, particularly on pelagic fish, and their effect on Greencastle and other ports in his area. Perhaps we might have a word on the matter. I am sure the fishing organisations have made a robust case, but I thank the Senator for raising the issue.
Ms O’Rourke: At our party meeting yesterday, Senators unanimously asked that we agree to the Private Members’ motion without tabling an amendment. The office of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, telephoned me and said he would talk to me at the party meeting. However, owing to the prolongation of events in the other House, we did not have a meeting, and I must ring him on the conclusion of the Order of Business.
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