Thursday, 15 November 2007
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Donie Cassidy: The Order of Business is No. 1, Voluntary Health Insurance (Amendment) Bill 2007 — Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business; and No. 2 the Local Government (Roads Functions) Bill 2007 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 12 minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed eight minutes, and on which Senators may share time. The business of the House will be interrupted for 15 minutes on the conclusion of No. 1.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: This morning the chaos for 60,000 bus commuters in Dublin continues. I ask the Leader to bring the concern of the House on the matter to the attention of the Minister for Transport. The Government indecision on transport issues in Dublin has a very corrosive effect on the workers. I refer to the indecision regarding the regulation of the market, combining public and private transport, and the indecision that has led to bus lanes in certain areas without buses for months on end because of a disagreement between the Progressive Democrats and Fianna Fáil in the run-up to the general election. I am sure everybody shares my concern about so many commuters being left on the streets without buses for yet another day. The interests of the commuters are certainly not to the fore. I note that the SIPTU vote on the matter was decided by a majority of 51% to 49%. One must question what is happening within the trade unions in Dublin Bus. Many hard-working employees of Dublin Bus want to give a service to the public. Government policy indecision has a corrosive effect. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Transport to address the House on yet another transport issue causing major difficulties for the consumer.
Many Members across the House attended the launch of the carers’ pre-budget submission yesterday. We were given the disturbing statistic that 5,400 young people aged between 15 and 19 provide unpaid care in the home. In other countries with such young unpaid carers looking after family members new support systems have evolved. While these young people participate in such a loving way, it is a major burden for them. It reflects on the lack of support systems. It is yet another failure of public policy and highlights the lack of emphasis on public services in the past ten years. We need public services to support these families. Some 1,000 of these young people give more than 15 hours per week to caring. The Minister for Social and Family Affairs has not debated the issue of carers in the House. We would like to discuss the matter and seek improvements in the area.
Senator Joe O’Toole: Luaigh mé inné na deacrachtaí atá ag tarlú sa Daingean mar gheall ar ainm na háite sin, Dingle-Daingean Uí Chúis. Tar éis éisteacht leis an mhéid a bhí le rá ag daoine eile agus éá phlé acu, ba mhaith liom an méid seo a rá i mBéarla. Many people believe that people living in the Gaeltacht who speak Irish are a kind of zealot. They are people who love and live their language. They are not bandits or fascists about their language even though some people outside the Gaeltacht may be like that.
This is a classic example of the reason I am always at odds with eagrais sa tír anois is arís mar gheall ar rudaí such as the type of nonsense that required for some time every single national body to produce glossy annual reports as Gaeilge even though nobody read them. At least they can now be published on the web, with which I have no problem. While I believe they should be available as Gaeilge for people who need it, we should be reasonable about it.
A classic example is the lack of understanding about Dingle-Daingean Uí Chúis. Níor chuir sé isteach ar mhuintir an Daingin gurb é ainm Béarla nó Gaeilge é Dingle nó Daingean Uí Chúis. It was nothing to do with that. It was about changing the name of where they lived. If it had been changed to another Irish or English word they would have felt the same. As somebody from the Gaeltacht I ask Senators to understand that point regardless of whether they agree or disagree.
There is an example this morning of the kind of thing that drives people mad and which I support strongly. Muintir na Gaeltachta Connemara are faced with a bypass of Galway city which will directly cross the Gaeltacht area. It was set out in the environmental impact survey but was not available to them as Gaeilge until two weeks before the hearing, whereas it was available to everybody else for six weeks. Gaeltacht people are let down when they cannot do their normal business as Gaeilge. Sin an sort tacaíochta gur chóir go mbeadh ann doíbh. It is not about forcing people to do things against their will; it is chun tacaíocht a thabhairt doíbh siúd atá sé ar intinn acu agus atá ag iarraidh maireachtáil trí Ghaeilge. I ask the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to return to this House, not that he will give us any great sense in what he has to say, but ba mhaith liom an rud a phlé leis.
Next Tuesday, we will have a full-day debate on health, which I welcome. However, I appeal to Senators not to allow it to descend into party political rows or arguments between various parts of the country. I ask that some sort of structure be provided for the debate because I am not interested in seeing the Minister for Health and Children act as a target for a four or five-hour debate. I want to hear what Members have to say about the lunacy of demanding the sacking of a Minister because people cannot keep their hospitals clean or regarding consultants’ contracts and the people who earn €500,000 and more per year despite failing to recognise they use our equipment in our hospitals paid for by our taxes. I want to learn about the benchmarks but I also want a reasonable debate and would appreciate it if a question and answer session could be arranged. I am aware the Minister would also welcome the opportunity to address reasonable questions at some stage during the debate. We have had such an arrangement before and it made for an effective and efficient debate.
Further issues arise, such as the administrative staff referred to by my colleague, Senator Norris, although I disagree fundamentally with him. I would be the first to complain if I saw consultants signing documents or filling in diaries which should have been completed by administrators. I want these issues to be addressed. The Senator may have made a valid point about numbers and I also want to hear a response from the Minister.
Senator Dominic Hannigan: I welcome the launch today of the website for the regulatory authority for auctioneers and estate agents and the opening of its Navan offices. The authority has been established to provide improved protection for those who buy or sell property. Bearing in mind the recent revelations regarding conveyancing solicitors, it is good that the property sector is working to improve its reputation among consumers. Even though legislation has not yet been introduced to put the body on a statutory basis, 2,800 auctioneers have already signed up to the code of practice. That is great news for the sector and I wish the authority the best in its endeavours.
Like Senator Fitzgerald, I noted this morning that up to 5,000 of the nation’s children, some as young as seven years of age, care for relatives in their homes. Studies indicate that although the children achieve tremendous results within the home, their educational achievements are 25% lower than their peers at school, yet no support networks have been put in place by the Government to help them. Glasgow, which has a population of just 600,000, has 22 young carer co-ordinators but there are none in Ireland at present, so I would like the Government to provide at least some such co-ordinators in this country. Will the Leader impress upon the Minister the need to provide assistance for young carers so that the marvellous contributions they make today do not mean they will suffer under-achievement in later life?
Senator Cecilia Keaveney: I previously raised the issue of the North-South Ministerial Council meetings in the context of a different Department. One such meeting took place recently on education. Does a facility exist whereby we can make a contribution before the meetings are held or at least hear from the relevant Minister directly afterwards? After the most recent meeting, officials were asked to bring forward literacy and numeracy initiatives, a subject on which many Senators, as former teachers, may have an opinion.
Much work has been done on cross-Border youth and teacher exchanges, yet a fundamental problem has arisen along the Border of people moving to the Republic but keeping their children in Northern schools. This so-called grannying issue is important enough for the Minister for Education and Science to raise at North-South Ministerial Council meetings. How can we anticipate the number of schools and places needed if people who move to the Republic continue to use the services in the Six Counties? On the other hand, strict implementation of the rules could result in a massive influx and a situation similar to that in Dublin 15 and elsewhere.
I ask for the opportunity to raise these and other issues, such as child protection and teacher qualification recognition. Many schools in County Donegal are unable to recruit French teachers because candidates cannot receive recognition on a North-South basis.
Senator Cecilia Keaveney: I am speaking about education and the relevance of the North-South Ministerial Council to this House. A meeting was held last week to deal with agriculture and different areas will be addressed in the future. We should be allowed an input into the issues that are of interest to us, preferably before meetings but at least afterwards. The next meeting on education will not be until spring, so there is plenty of time to establish a mechanism.
Senator Paschal Donohoe: As a regular bus user, I travelled to the Seanad this morning by bus. Unfortunately, an ordinary experience for me is unavailable to 60,000 commuters in our city for the fourth day in a row. When I raised this matter last Tuesday, I made a suggestion in regard to opening bus lanes. I understand my suggestion was acted upon and a number of lanes were opened.
Senator Paschal Donohoe: I ask the workers of Dublin Bus to be aware of the consequences of their actions. A small number of people are taking actions which have a disastrous impact on their customers. It is their responsibility to come to their senses. However, a similar responsibility rests with the Government. Just as some workers in Dublin Bus lack a sense of responsibility for the impact their actions are having on commuters, the vision is missing on how we can deliver integrated public transport in the city. We have Luas lines that do not link up, ticketing which is not integrated and a bus service that depends on one provider. Nothing illustrates more clearly the need for a proper debate on how public transport can be developed in the country and, in particular, the city of Dublin.
Senator Phil Prendergast: I concur with Senator Fitzgerald and Senator Hannigan on the pre-budget carer submission, the launch of which I attended. The fact that 3.5 million hours are contributed each week by carers in their own homes should also be taken into account in any debate on the matter.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: In light of the forthcoming budget, I ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance to find ways of supporting hard-pressed families with massive lifetime mortgages. A number of families have brought this to my attention. In recent years they have created huge revenues for this Government and built our economy. For example, they have bought new homes and 42% of the cost of a new home comprises various taxes which go to the Government’s coffers. The Government now has a responsibility to these families who are coming under increasing pressure to meet their commitments with announcements of job losses, food and cost of living increases, including the cost of petrol, diesel and heating oil, and four interest rate hikes in a year. There are threatened cuts in child care support.
The Government is back-pedalling on tax reductions made in election promises. The Government should not be allowed to renege on such major promises around which families have made plans. Can a family renege on a 35-year mortgage and hold on to their home like this Government can renege on an election promise?
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: These are hard-pressed families with large mortgages on which they cannot renege. I ask the Government not to renege on its promises to them. A Minister’s €25,000 per year salary increase alone equates to the average middle income families’ home repayment for one year. In the forthcoming budget, homeowners need to hear real and creative ways for families to benefit. I ask the Leader to convey this message to the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance to come up with some real and creative ways for families to benefit, which I look forward to hearing.
Senator John Hanafin: I join in the calls for integrated ticketing on our transport system. It is possible to travel on different services provided by different train providers in the UK. If one arrives in London by train, one can go on the underground system all on the one ticket. As it stands, we have Dublin Bus, suburban rail, DART and Luas and we will shortly have the metro. Integrated ticketing is possible and we should plan in advance. Will the Leader contact the Minister for Transport to express the concerns about the need for integrated ticketing to facilitate customers? It is possible and is not beyond the capability of what is available. It is available in a limited sense but we need to extend it to ensure it is available across the board.
Senator John Hanafin: Will the Leader write to the Health Service Executive about the proposals for the centres of excellence? Over many years we have directed the public towards their own regions, whether in terms of health, education or economic development. People have become used to that. A glaring example is Sligo which should be one of the centres of excellence. The people of that region deserve it. Since we have directed people towards their regions for so many years, it is logical for us to write to the HSE to ask it to consider Sligo as a centre of excellence.
Senator David Norris: I agree with my colleagues, including Senator Hanafin, that we should have a discussion with the Minister for Transport. I am very concerned about the situation in Aer Lingus. The management there is obviously under pressure from Ryanair and one can understand its difficulties but it is trying to extract a written undertaking from workers that they will not strike. Is this September 1913 or November 2007? There is a clear echo of William Martin Murphy about this and it is completely wrong.
We should have integrated ticketing. It is not a terribly complicated exercise. Senator Hanafin’s party in Government promised it seven years ago, so I do not know what the problem is. Perhaps the problem is the Railway Procurement Agency. I was in Belfast the other day and travelled on the Enterprise. I asked if it was one of the Spanish trains and was told it was. They are the trains on which we spent €85 million but we got the calibre of the bogies wrong. They do not fit so if the train travels over 25 mph, one’s coffee lands on one’s lap and yet we went ahead and bought them. This is the kind of problem with which we are dealing.
Competition does not always work in the interests of the consumer. It is about time we realised that and became a bit more sophisticated and looked at what competition in certain circumstances does, especially in the area of supermarkets, etc.
Will the Leader give me the information he promised me on whether we are going to act sensibly, to use his words, and introduce Second Stage of the Defamation Bill so that Members can have the opportunity to speak on it? This is very important because a series of newspapers are behaving in exactly the same way they did before the Defamation Bill was dropped. They are obviously fairly cocky about the situation. Will the Leader confirm that the Privacy Bill has been effectively dropped and that the Government is not going ahead with it?
I agree with Senator Donohoe that one needs to be careful about what one says because irony is occasionally lost. Yesterday I referred to the explosion of managerial staff in hospitals and I do not retract a single word. I threw in a reference to Chairman Mao and my esteemed and valued colleague, Senator O’Toole, made an ironic aside about Pol Pot. Today I discovered that I am calling for Pol Pot’s policies to be implemented in Ireland. Not really — that was irony, darlings.
Senator Eugene Regan: I raise an issue in regard to the Tribunals of Inquiry Bill 2005, which I understand is being restored to the Order Paper. Section 10 of the Bill provides that the Government can close down a tribunal of inquiry when it deems it fit. I question the timing of the restoration of this Bill to the Order Paper. It seems rather strange, if not sinister, given that the Taoiseach has already appeared at the Mahon tribunal twice and is due to appear again.
Senator Eugene Regan: According to recent opinion polls, a majority of people do not believe his evidence at the tribunal. Indeed, the remarks of the judges at the tribunal, where they speak about polar opposites in evidence and contradictory evidence——
Senator Eugene Regan: The Taoiseach is in the middle of giving evidence to this tribunal. There are serious questions about moneys received and lodged in bank accounts between 1994 and 1995 which the Taoiseach has yet to answer convincingly and comprehensively. A Bill is being reintroduced on which the Oireachtas will have to decide and which allows the Government to close tribunals. The Mahon tribunal has not been ruled out. There is a Government briefing paper on the restoration of the Bill. It states that an issue which may require consideration——
Senator Eugene Regan: I have a question for the Leader. An issue is raised about the publication of confidential material in the possession of the tribunal, whether it is required to be circulated to interested parties and the legal obligations in regard to disclosure of information. What is the basis of this statement? Is it an attempt to target The Irish Times or is it some form of retaliation against that newspaper? I address my question to the Leader and the Deputy Leader because in the other House, the Deputy Leader indicated that there would be a radical review of this Bill before it was reintroduced. However, the briefing paper merely refers to some minor technical adjustments. Our leader and I have tabled a motion which has not yet been taken.
Senator Eugene Regan: I would like the Leader and the Deputy Leader to assure the House that the restoration to the Order Paper of the Bill I have mentioned does not represent an attempt to undermine the tribunal and that the Bill, if adopted, will not be used to close the tribunal before it completes its work of inquiring into the Taoiseach’s finances.
Senator Eoghan Harris: Although I left Marxism behind in 1989, I continue to believe strongly that there is a great deal of class discrimination in Ireland. Trade union leaders need to examine carefully the question of class. I strongly condemn the conduct of the current Dublin Bus dispute. The manner in which it is targeting working people is contrary to the best traditions of Irish trade unionism. The leader of the dispute is coming across on radio and television like a caricature of the union leaders we had in the bad old days. I refer to people like Tom Darby of the National Busmen’s Union. I thought we had left those days behind. The current dispute is being conducted against working people. The dispute is a matter of total indifference to Dublin 4. When James Connolly said that unions should never bring workers out in the winter — they should be brought out in the summer — he meant that the effects of industrial disputes should be felt by the rich, wealthy and affluent. He was referring to the Ross O’Carroll-Kellys rather than the working class of Dublin, in this case the hard-working people of west Dublin.
Senator Regan is trying to run the general election again every day when he sneaks in a reference to the Mahon tribunal. The public’s feelings about the Taoiseach were made clear at the general election.
Senator Eoghan Harris: Even if that were not the case, it is a joke to ask the House to have confidence in all aspects of the Mahon tribunal. That Vincent Browne, who has been the scourge of the Taoiseach in recent times, does not have confidence in the Mahon tribunal is clear from his website and his articles. It is ridiculous to ask us to give blanket confidence to a tribunal that has leaked like a sieve.
Senator Shane Ross: I want to respond to something Senator Regan said yesterday. He raised a serious issue in the context of remarks about the Taoiseach which were not relevant. Perhaps it would be appropriate for the House could discuss the new EU treaty at an early stage. It has nothing to do with the Taoiseach’s suitability. Senator Regan’s comments yesterday were based on the assumption that all parties in the House are in favour of passing the treaty, which may or may not be true. The EU is not treating Ireland very well at present. Some member states are continually trying to undermine the basis of Ireland’s economic success — our corporation tax rate of 12.5%.
As Ireland is the only nation that will have a referendum on the treaty, we will have a hold over the EU during the referendum campaign. We are in a pivotal position in the European context because we are holding a referendum. Everybody in this House knows that the economic success of this country is being threatened by EU leaders, including the leaders of some of the big nations of Europe, who would like to remove the 12.5% rate. It is not satisfactory to say simply that the veto will do the trick, because they will go ahead without us. When the Taoiseach comes to the House, perhaps we can ask him to send an early warning to the EU not to take Ireland for granted, as Senator Regan said. I ask the Leader to respond to that proposal when he is summing up. If the EU wants to play hardball or dirty tricks with us, we can make it clear that we are prepared to defeat the treaty.
Senator Jim Walsh: I support the call made by Senators Donohue and Hanafin for a debate on the transport situation and the need for a more integrated system in particular. The argument in favour of such a debate has been well presented. We could talk about restrictive practices, for example, or the anti-competitive policies which prevent private operators from providing transport services.
Senator Jim Walsh: In the past, some people from that party presented themselves to this country as potential taoisigh even though their mismanagement of the economy had left a generation of Irish people with no option other than to go abroad.
Senator Jim Walsh: Can I look for a debate on the seriousness of the dereliction of duty of a number of previous taoisigh who did not deal with obvious misappropriations within their own parties, or did not manage the economy properly?
Senator Jim Walsh: I have been making the point for many years that we should bring the various tribunals to a close. The former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael McDowell, introduced legislation to enable these matters to be examined by commissions of investigation in a much more cost-effective and efficient manner. I can understand why people who are involved in the legal trade want the gravy train to continue,
I would also like to ask the Leader to consider having a debate in this House about a local government matter that is mentioned in the programme for Government. I refer to the need to limit the expenditure of candidates in local elections. Some people working in non-productive sectors of the economy, such as barristers, are able to use their exploitative incomes to win seats on local authorities. I would like Senator Regan, who spent over €50,000 on getting himself elected——
Senator Alan Kelly: I would like the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to come to the House to update Senators on the roll-out of telecommunications services. The outgoing chief executive of Shannon Development, Mr. Kevin Thompson, recently said that if we do not improve our performance in this area, the infrastructural problems associated with the Red Cow area of Dublin will be mirrored in the telecommunications sector. I am concerned that basic broadband services have not yet been rolled out to between 15% and 20% of the country. The broadband roll-out programme is behind schedule and may not be completed for another year and a half.
Successive Governments have invested €2.5 million in the education system to train graduates to work in high-tech sectors of the economy. We are aware of the recent slowdown in the housing market and the reduction in manufacturing output. It is clear from the comments of people on all sides of this argument that the future involves developing jobs in areas like telecommunications and information technology. I speak with some knowledge in this regard because I worked as an e-business manager before I was elected to this House. Over a number of years, we have invested in educating people so they can work in communications, etc.
Senator Alan Kelly: We have lined people up from an education point of view, but it appears we will not have the required telecommunications infrastructure or the investment that is needed to help start-up companies. I am glad that Enterprise Ireland and InterTrade Ireland, along with a number of start-up e-business and software development companies, are going to Silicon Valley this week or next to search for investment opportunities. I hope the Government and its agencies will help these companies to find investment opportunities at home otherwise many potential jobs will go outside Ireland.
Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: I wish to raise the issue of the undocumented Irish in the United States and to ask the Leader when the Minister for Foreign Affairs will attend the House to have a wide-ranging discussion on this subject. This House should adopt a cross-party approach to champion their cause.
I do not agree with the statements made by Kevin Myers on “Questions and Answers” when he referred to the undocumented Irish as being illegal. I am sure all Members of the House agree that we have an obligation to defend and represent those people who left these shores in difficult times because there was no employment available to them.
Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: ——successive Governments were unable to provide them with opportunities that should have been available to them here on these shores. During the bad old days of the 1980s, thousands of people left these shores every week to avail of employment opportunities which could not be provided by Governments which were not under the leadership of Bertie Ahern and Fianna Fáil.
Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: I wish to raise the issue of teams participating in the 2012 Olympic Games in London coming to Ireland to train. I ask when the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism will come to the House for a wide-ranging discussion on that matter. I also ask for the Minister to address the House on the national swimming pool programme which is due to begin in the next few months. I would like the programme to begin as soon as possible in order to allow local authorities make applications for swimming pools in rural areas. The Dolmen centre in Portnoo in my own constituency, in conjunction with Donegal County Council, is anxiously awaiting that programme.
Senator Pearse Doherty: I concur with Senator Ó Domhnaill. Last week I asked that the House approve an all-party motion on the undocumented Irish, as happened in the Dáil. I do not wish to apportion blame for the 40,000 Irish who had to go to America. Such a motion would send a signal to the US Government that we are fully united on this issue. I ask that such a motion be facilitated as soon as possible and even as a motion without debate. We are all singing from the same hymn sheet. I do not wish to speak on this issue because all we need to do is send a signal to both the undocumented immigrants and their families at home and more important, to the American Government.
When the House discussed the road safety issue yesterday I spoke about dangerous roads. Shortly after the conclusion of the debate, I am sorry to say another life was lost on the roads of County Donegal, outside the village of Manorcunningham. A set of unique circumstances resulted in the loss of a life. The local politicians including my Sinn Féin colleagues, have been lobbying both the Government and the county council to put road safety measures in place on that stretch of road.
The local Lough Swilly bus operates from Letterkenny to Derry. It used to travel through the village of Manorcunningham. However, because its subvention was withdrawn by the Government, it was forced to take a direct route on the N13 which is a very busy stretch of road. The person died while attempting to cross that road from the village of Manorcunningham.
I applaud the work of the Road Safety Authority in its efforts to reduce the number of road deaths. Local communities and politicians and local authority officials in Donegal County Council know of the danger to life on the roads but no action was taken and Mr. O’Gorman lost his life.
Senator Pearse Doherty: I wish to extend my sympathy to the family of Mr. O’Gorman. I ask that the Minister for Transport come to the House to discuss the issue of public transport in rural areas rather than the issue of road safety as the subject is of importance to Malin and west Donegal and many other areas.
People have very short memories. I stated in1991 on Pat Kenny’s show that two events in my lifetime deserved a tribunal of inquiry, the Whiddy Island disaster where 50 lives were lost and the Stardust disaster. I said at the time that a better way must be found because inquiries such as the Mahon tribunal have become soap opera. In 2005 one senior counsel earned more money than all the Members of this House would earn in two years. This inquiry is a gravy train for lawyers. Another mechanism must be found for such matters because this is a joke and there is significant public apathy. One cannot equate the Mahon tribunal with disasters such as the Stardust or Whiddy Island. The tribunals which investigated those disasters were merited. I also said on the Pat Kenny programme that the beef tribunal inquiry would cost the taxpayer and the economy much more than it would ever achieve and I was proven right.
Last week I called for a debate on the fishing industry. I ask for a debate prior to Christmas, if possible, on the status of Irish agriculture. I ask that the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food come to the House either before Christmas or else early in the new year, to discuss the state of Irish agriculture. It is an important industry which is rarely discussed in this House.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: ——I will join with my colleagues in asking for a debate on transport. Given the comments made in the House this morning I wonder what the late and great James Connolly would think of Senator Harris defending the Government both here and in other fora.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: It is an important issue which affects the lives of every community in this country. I join with Senators Ó Domhnaill and Doherty in welcoming a resolution on the undocumented Irish in the US and there is broad consensus on the matter on this side of the House. I appeal to the Leader to ask the Minister to come to the House as this is a very serious issue. The House will be aware that the GPA ballot was carried last weekend.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senators Fitzgerald, Donohoe, Hanafin, Norris, Harris, Walsh, Doherty and many others called for a debate on transport. Senator Hanafin called for a debate on integrated ticketing, in particular, which should have been introduced long ago. I have no difficulty in having a debate with the Minister for Transport on this serious matter. I hope, like all Senators, the bus strike will end as soon as possible, particularly given that the 60,000 people are inconvenienced by it. The mechanisms are in place for that to happen and everybody would like the dispute resolved.
The Carers Association launched its pre-budget campaign yesterday. On the first or second day of the session, I stated carers should be one of our priorities. They are the unsung heroes of our society and they make an immeasurable contribution 24 hours a day seven days a week. We should be wholeheartedly behind everything they do. As Senator Fitzgerald and others said, 5,400 young people provide care, which will stand them in good stead in the long term. During my lifetime, anyone who has looked after senior citizens has never gone too far wrong. They appreciate the value of what they are doing and they could not be doing something better. However, I hope these young people are not providing care at the expense of their education. One could not put one’s spare time to better use than by looking after the older generation in our society.
Senator O’Toole sought a debate on the Irish language and he raised a number of issues. I made a commitment in this regard on the Order of Business yesterday. I could not agree more with him that when planning applications for infrastructure in Gaeltacht areas are made, they should be published in both languages at the same time on the same day. It is an insult to the people and to us in the Oireachtas that this does not happen. I will pass the Senator’s views on to the relevant Minister immediately after the Order of Business and I will reply to him at the earliest opportunity.
Many Senators called on the Minister for Health and Children to come to the House for a debate on health issues. I have no difficulty with this and I will announce the business for the coming week at the conclusion of the Order of Business.
Senator Hannigan raised the launch of a new website for a regulatory authority for auctioneers and the opening of its new offices in Navan today. That is more good news for our constituency and I am pleased to be associated with it. I am heartened to hear the good news from the capital town in our constituency.
As Senator Healy Eames will be aware, budgets are confidential. The Minister for Finance attended the House, as did his Minister of State, and Senators had an opportunity to make pre-budget proposals and submissions, which were very much appreciated, considering the time restraints on the Minister currently. I will pass on the Senator’s views to him.
Senator Hanafin proposed that Sligo should be added to the list of centres of excellence and called on the HSE to give this consideration. He can make this proposal next Tuesday when the Minister for Health and Children attends the House.
With regard to Senator Norris’s request yesterday for an update on the status of the Defamation Bill 2006, I contacted the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform who stated he is completing his consultations with the various interested bodies and intends to deal with the Bill in the near future.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senators Harris, Walsh and O’Donovan expressed serious concerns about the tribunals of inquiry. Many eminent Senators involved in the legal profession made their views known. I will ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to come to the House because if only wealthy people can be elected to councils on the basis of the enormous amounts they are prepared to spend, that might be unhealthy. We do not want that to happen. That issue must be taken up as a matter of urgency and I will endeavour to invite the Minister to the House. All sections of our community and all strands of our society should have an opportunity to be elected. We must not go down the road of another nation where one cannot become a member of a local council unless one has deep pockets. Our forefathers never intended that to happen here when they drafted the legislation more than 100 years ago.
Senator Ross called for a debate on the European treaty and he raised an important issue. The 12.5% corporation tax rate is of the utmost importance to the future of our economy and it is the main attraction for multinationals that have made Ireland the headquarters of their European operations. I will have the Minister in the House as soon as possible to debate this.
Senator Kelly sought an update on telecommunications services, e-business and Enterprise Ireland. I compliment Enterprise Ireland and Frank Ryan, its chief executive, for all they have done on job creation, with 60,000 new jobs being added annually in recent years. A total of 600,000 jobs have been created over the past ten years, which is an incredible achievement, and I have no difficulty asking the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to come to the House to update Senators on where Ireland Plc is headed over the next ten years and to hear the views of Senators.
Senators O’Domhnaill and Doherty called on the Minister for Foreign Affairs to come to the House for a debate on the undocumented Irish and I have no problem arranging this. Senator Doherty made an excellent proposal regarding the teams competing in the Olympic Games in London in 2012 whereby Ireland could be used as a training base for many of our friendly nations. As Ireland is a friendly nation, this would be an ideal opportunity for this to happen. I have no difficulty scheduling a debate on that.
I thank and congratulate the many Senators who participated in the road safety debate yesterday, which had to be extended. Like us all, the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher, will be shocked by the latest road fatality in Donegal. I am sure he will help Senator Doherty regarding the difficulty faced by Donegal County Council with roads.
Senator O’Donovan called for debates on the fishing and agriculture industries, to which I will refer shortly. Senator Buttimer referred to the GPA-GAA dispute again. We have expressed our views on this throughout the week. Common sense must prevail but the Gaelic Athletic Association’s contribution to Ireland has been immense. I am heavily involved in hurling in Castlepollard, north Westmeath, and the GAA is the only club that cared about young boys and girls through the generations. It is nice to see the students of Castlepollard Community College in the Visitors’ Gallery. Their arrival during the Order of Business was very timely.
Senator Donie Cassidy: I am pleased to inform the House that the proposed business for next week will be as follows: the Local Government (Roads Functions) Bill 2007 — Committee and Remaining Stages; statements on cancer services, statements on the challenges and opportunities for the Irish labour market in a global economy; statements on the Cawley report on agriculture and fisheries; and statements on education, as requested by the party leaders and various senators in recent weeks.
Senator Eugene Regan: On a point of order, will the Leader give an assurance that the Tribunals of Inquiry Bill, when restored to the Order Paper, will not be used to undermine and close the Mahon tribunal——
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