Thursday, 13 December 2007
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Donie Cassidy: The Order of Business is No. 1, motion establishing the Joint Committee on Economic Regulatory Affairs, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; and No. 2, statements on the Government’s integration policy, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 and to conclude no later than 1.30 p.m. if not previously concluded, with contributions of spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed eight minutes and the Minister to be called upon ten minutes from the end of the debate for closing comments and to respond to questions from spokespersons.
Senator Liam Twomey: A number of pieces of legislation were rushed through the previous Dáil before its end. These were the Pharmacy Bill and Bills concerning the new Medical Council and new nursing home standards. Could the Leader find out whether these pieces of legislation have even been implemented or if their commencement orders have been signed? There is considerable concern about what is happening in nursing homes and other institutions. We rushed the legislation dealing with these issues through both Houses just before the previous general election but we do not seem to have the standards in place and the work does not seem to be carried out. We have done this to protect elderly and young people in institutions throughout the State yet, even today, we discover reports which clearly state that these institutions are not being inspected. Why have we gone to the trouble of debating these issues and pushing the necessary legislation through only to find out that the Departments involved simply are doing nothing about it? I would like the Leader to find out what is happening in respect of these specific pieces of legislation and these very important issues.
I also wish to raise the link between alcohol and suicide, which has been known about for years. We see reports again today regarding the considerable effect alcohol and binge drinking have on teenagers. Why have we failed in respect of this issue? Perhaps we need to bring the Minister involved to the House to discuss this issue because young people are binge drinking to a greater extent than before and there is a very clear link between binge drinking and suicide. We need to bring the Minister in to discuss that issue and why we are failing so much in respect of it.
Senator Joe O’Toole: The House will be aware that the Minister for Education and Science recently decided to circulate a copy of a book on the first president of Fianna Fáil to every school in Ireland. I will state an interest. The author of the book, Diarmuid Ferriter, is a friend and supporter of mine. I am happy that this was done for him. That is not the issue I raised. I am an Independent Senator who takes an independent view. The biography of the first president of Fine Gael, General Eoin O’Duffy, by Fearghal McGarry is also a very fine book. Is the Minister thinking of circulating this book to schools in the interests of balance? I am sure the Labour Party——
Senator Joe O’Toole: I do not object at all to the circulation of a well-written book, namely, Diarmuid Ferriter’s book on de Valera. That is not the issue here. The issue is that it can and is being perceived as showing a lack of balance. This is important. I fought for many years to get more books into schools so I am not going to argue in this House against sending books to schools. If it is going to be done in this way, however, which is perceived to be possibly biased, we should also balance it in another way by sending the biography of Eoin O’Duffy to schools. I am not sure whether Fine Gael would feel as strongly about it as I would. I am looking at it in the interests of balance.
On a related issue, the cost to schools of water has been raised in the other House and other places. It was raised recently in the Lower House by the former leader of the Opposition in this House, Deputy Brian Hayes. The costs for primary and post-primary schools seem appalling. The books being sent out could be seen to promote Fianna Fáil.
The summer projects for schools is being ended, a matter raised by Senator Buttimer. The Cathaoirleach and I discussed this issue many years ago. When schools needed work done on the buildings they needed to complete a complex procedure. People decided that it would be better if this could be done locally. A new system was set up, where people would have to deal with all the bells and whistles and the different levels of quality. They could then manage it locally, with grants available. In order to do so, engineers’ reports, architects’ reports, builders’ reports and various other reports were needed before the schools qualified for a grant. It worked very well and efficiently, giving quality, value, local involvement and volunteerism. The Minister has pulled the plug on the scheme.
Not only are schools losing out by not having projects completed but they are losing money. They spent the last year getting engineers’ reports, architects’ reports, builders’ reports and various other reports in order to apply for the grant. This is counterproductive and does not save money. Schools will become run down, it will cost more next year and we must undergo the whole rigamarole again. I ask for the Minister to explain this to the House so that we can show her that this does not make economic sense, apart from the lack of education.
Senator Dominic Hannigan: I add my voice to those welcoming the signing of the Lisbon reform treaty. Since Ireland joined the EEC, as it was then, in the early 70s the country has been transformed utterly, largely because of our membership.
Senator Dominic Hannigan: The structures in place to run the EEC in the early 1970s are largely outdated and more suited to running a group of ten countries than 27. It must be changed and this is the focus of the treaty. Most people in the House have read the treaty and are generally in favour of it but we must guard against complacency if we hope to have the referendum passed. We see the start of the “No” campaign today, with people selling their message outside the gates of Leinster House. One of today’s tabloid newspapers has started a campaign against the treaty. It has been reported that Mr. Jean Marie Le Pen, of the Front National party in France, has stated he will come to Ireland to fight against the treaty.
Senator Dominic Hannigan: Europe has brought stability, democracy, peace and economic growth. The Leader will agree that it is up to everyone, on both sides of the House, to explain why this treaty will bring benefits to Ireland and to ensure it is passed.
Senator Camillus Glynn: Senator Twomey referred to suicide. A strong correlation has been proved between alcohol consumption and suicide. In many cases there are traces of alcohol present in the victim. Last evening I attended a seminar in the audio visual room, organised by Senator Mary White. It was very interesting and I commend the Senator for her innovative approach. This is an issue for society that will not go away if we close our eyes. We must face facts.
I spent a long time with people who had a suicidal ideation. I must confess that after 30 years in a service that dealt with potential suicide cases, I was as wise beginning as when I left because every suicide is different. The risk associated with young males is seven times that of females of the same age category, a worrying factor. The talk by a member of Meath County Council was very fine, relating her experience concerning suicide. I ask the Leader and Senator White to arranged a debate in the new year. We have had debates here before. I was part of the Oireachtas sub-committee on suicide. Although I do not say so because I was a member, the report we published was worthwhile.
I raised the question of organ donation on two occasions. A gentleman in Westmeath telephones me ad nauseam on this matter. His contention — and he is right — is that our approach to organ donation infers burying life with death. Important organs that could help others live are interred. I know something about the issue, having lost a sister and a brother to road fatalities. The issues to which I refer could be dealt with in the new year.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: In light of comments by Senator Corrigan yesterday and the comments of an eminent person working in the disability sector, Ms Deirdre Carroll of Inclusion Ireland this morning, I ask the Leader to invite the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Devins, for a debate on the inspection of residential homes for vulnerable children with disabilities. It is startling that it is 13 years since Inclusion Ireland called for the introduction of a national standard of inspection of residential centres, which has not been established. I ask that this be placed on the agenda urgently. It is a matter of grave concern to those working in the sector and to parents.
In support of Senator O’Toole’s views on Government’s U-turn on education, I ask that we revisit the education debate. The Minister attended the House before the budget but the landscape has changed since then. The commitment on class sizes has been rolled back, the commitment to the summer work scheme has been lost and it is imperative to have a debate on education.
Senator Cecilia Keaveney: I welcome the 4,000 cultural diversity packs given to primary schools this week to help overcome the idea of segregation and to promote integration. This is linked to class sizes, with 1,800 primary school teachers just teaching English to non-national children trying to integrate in our primary schools. This is putting pressure on existing resources.
I also welcome the library moneys given by the Minister to schools. On the question of whether the de Valera book should be sent to schools, we are trying to promote student interest in politics. Some two-thirds of people polled know nothing about the EU treaty. Not only should we dispense library money and many kinds of books we must examine how to get children to read material relevant to their future and how to make this material relevant to them. We could debate how to make politics more relevant to younger people.
Many schools have done good work on the green schools initiative. Much support is given to domestic homes for wood chip boilers. Many schools are considering installing a wind turbine to reduce energy costs. There is a great deal we could do in terms of promoting, in a positive fashion, the work of schools through our policies on the green agenda. That matter might be worthy of a debate at some stage.
The concept of regional development is close to my heart. This is a matter about which we must have a debate. The north west is pandered to by people discussing developing cross-Border access. At the most recent meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council at which transport was discussed, the Dublin-Derry train service was again ignored. The meeting to which I refer concentrated only on the Dublin to Belfast train service. I was disappointed and disillusioned earlier when I received a letter from Iarnród Éireann, via the Minister, indicating that it still has no real interest in developing a Dublin-Derry train service.
If we are serious about North-South co-operation, INTERREG funding and funding for projects in locations where there is more than one Government involved, we should engage in a debate on true North-South co-operation by encouraging our northern counterparts, who are responsible for the current lack of progress, to promote an all-Ireland train service. In that context, there is a need to invest in the Derry to Coleraine section of the Derry-Dublin line. Colleagues do not realise that it is possible to travel by train from Dublin to Derry. The difficulty, however, is that there has been such a lack of political will to upgrade the line, particularly that section to which I refer, that there are not enough passing points to make the line a reality. That is all that is involved.
Senator David Norris: In the context of the first non-Government motion on the Order Paper in the name of the Independent Senators regarding the status of charities etc., perhaps the Leader will indicate when legislation will be forthcoming. We were promised legislation to make charities more accountable, to regulate their activities and so forth. In saying this, I am not trying to be a Scrooge. I have just posted ten cheques to various charities. However, I strongly object to being unable to walk the streets of this city without being ambushed on every corner by those collecting for charity. Between my home at one end of O’Connell Street and this House, I am frequently the subject of seven or eight demands for money. Today, the ISPCC is collecting. Serious concerns were previously raised about that organisation and its attitude towards money. I am not impugning those who currently run the ISPCC but we must examine the possibility of regulating this area.
I wish to refer to the extremely sensitive intervention of Senator Glynn on the subject of suicide and to place it in another context. I refer here to the impact of bullying on young people. The tragic case in Cork was raised on the Order of Business earlier in the week. A number of Members on all sides have highlighted the fact that a serious situation regarding bullying has arisen in the context of people using gay or homophobic slurs. The victims of such bullying may be neither gay nor homophobic. However, 80% of bullying in primary schools carries a homophobic element and in 80% of such incidents the school authorities do nothing. The reason for the latter is that the schools are covered by the exemptions gained by all the churches from the provisions of the Equality Act. In circumstances where young people are being driven to suicide, that is not acceptable.
On a slightly lighter note, my colleague and esteemed and dear friend, Senator O’Toole, was being slightly mischievous when he suggested that copies of the biography of Eoin O’Duffy be circulated. I do not believe the Senator has the best interests of Fine Gael at heart in this regard. I would strongly object to the book being circulated because O’Duffy was an egomaniacal, alcoholic, sexually confused person who had a long passionate relationship with the late Micheál MacLiammóir.
Senator Déirdre de Búrca: A great deal of debate is taking place at present regarding the European reform treaty. I welcome the coverage in the media today which suggests that the Government is willing to back Pat Cox, former President of the European Parliament, as the chair of a group to which President Nicolas Sarkozy referred as a council of wise men on the future of Europe. However, I ask the Leader to convey a number of concerns I have about this matter to the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Roche.
One of the concerns to which I refer relates to the fact that we are referring to a group of wise men. The idea that a small group of men in suits might decide the future of Europe smacks of elitism and it is a far cry from the gender and other equality policies the European Union has advocated for so long. I ask that the Leader convey to the Minister of State the fact that Ireland and its Government should clearly seek balanced gender representation on any council debating and discussing the future of the European Union.
We should also convey our concerns regarding the potentially elitist nature of this process of deliberation on the future of the European Union. Why should a small group of experienced politicians decide the future of Europe in the absence of meaningful consultation with its citizens? The purpose of the reform treaty is to improve matters and bring citizens closer to the European Union. This process will not do any such thing unless parallel processes that actively involve the national Parliaments and civil societies of each of the member states are built in. Will the Leader convey my concerns to the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, and request that the Government raise the points I have made with the Council of Ministers in order that there might be a more balanced gender representation on the group to which I refer and also that there might be more involvement on the part of citizens in any deliberations on the future of the European Union?
Senator Eugene Regan: On Senator de Búrca’s final point, the group in question is referred to as a “reflective group”. There seems to be a suggestion that this group might be somehow undesirable. In that context, one need only consider the achievements of the group chaired by Jim Dooge, former Cathaoirleach of this House. The Dooge report, which was produced by that group, formed the basis of the Single European Act, which transformed the European Union. I accept the Senator’s concerns on the issue of balance. However, to suggest that there should not be a reflective group is really to suggest that we should not engage in research on any issue concerning Europe or otherwise. It would be an extremely positive development to have a group of experts to look forward to the end game in respect of the European Union.
Yesterday, I called for a debate on the national debt and the nation’s finances. I wish to correct the Leader, who acceded to a debate on the budget, because I requested that the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, come before the House to engage in a debate on the national debt and the nation’s finances. I wish to outline the motivation behind my request. Under the Tallaght strategy put forward by Alan Dukes and in the form of the Government led by John Bruton in the 1990s, we worked hard to get the national finances in order and to reverse the near bankruptcy the country experienced during the Haughey era.
Senator Eugene Regan: We have been successful in that regard. However, loose budgetary discipline and uncontrolled expenditure in recent years have brought us back into an era of deficits and increases in the national debt, both in absolute and percentage terms. It is this aspect about which I am specifically concerned and I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on it.
I previously called for a debate on standards in public office and I understand the Leader has acceded to my request in this regard. I do not propose to mention the Mahon tribunal because I know that doing so upsets certain people in the House.
Senator Eugene Regan: However, I wish to raise one point regarding a statement made by my constituency colleague, the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Hanafin, who stated that Ministers must be paid well in order that they will not be susceptible to outside interference. I was surprised and disturbed by this statement because we have been assured on many occasions that the bad old days of Fianna Fáil corruption were gone. However, the Minister was speaking in a current context and she raised the issue of outside interference. What is the objective basis of her statement?Are there cases where Ministers were approached with suggestions of offers of moneys to corrupt decisions?
It is important to know what gave rise to this comment. The Minister, Deputy Hanafin, is saying, in reality, that Fianna Fáil Ministers must be paid in order not to accept bribes. I question whether that is official party policy or official Government policy.
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: Christmas is a particularly joyous occasion for most people. However, for those who have lost loved ones it can be a very sad and lonely occasion. It is a particularly difficult time for one group of people, the families of missing persons. Those families are in limbo. They obviously hope for the best but perhaps fear the worst. In the main, they have had to carry out their own inquiries and investigations. They have travelled to bus stations, railways stations and other public areas and put up posters in the hope that they will get some information. The posters are pretty faded but the torment still continues.
Ireland has had a particularly high proportion of missing persons. There must be people who have information on some of these cases. Would it not be a lovely Christmas present for a family if somebody came forward with good news or even if it is bad news, it would give the families an opportunity to grieve properly? We cannot continue to bury our heads in the sand on this issue. It is not only a question of one or two cases.
I have been in communication with one family for quite a long time. They lost a daughter. She was on her way from Dublin and disappeared. The lives of the members of that family have completely and utterly changed. It is important for us to do anything we can to help these families. In the past I called for resources from Government and they were provided. A missing persons task force was set up and resources were provided to the Garda. Some individuals, not necessarily the people who were directly involved, must have some information. If this message gets out, I make an appeal that at least somebody would come forward to try to help to resolve some of these cases.
Senator Phil Prendergast: We learnt recently of the introduction of long-stay charges applying to intellectually disabled people in a residential or community setting. A charge of €120 per week in a residential setting and €90 per week in a community setting applies when a registered nurse attends the person concerned, even if it the nurse’s attendance is only of five minutes duration or if it is a regular feature of the person’s treatment. Such charges do not apply when a health care assistant or social care worker attends the person concerned. I call for a debate on this issue with the relevant Minister. To deny intellectually disabled people treatment by a professional nurse because a charge applies for that service is not the correct way to proceed and it does not represent equal treatment. I would be pleased if the Leader would allow a debate on this matter.
Senator Ivor Callely: I support the Senator’s call for a debate and some of what he said about the former Fine Gael Leader, Alan Dukes’s Tallaght strategy and the sea change we saw in the country at that time. The Senator seems to have forgotten about other people, one being the former Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, who set up the most important mechanism to deal with the national debt, the National Treasury Management Agency.
I wish to raise another issue. We had a good debate on small and medium-sized enterprises yesterday. The Minister of State provided us with all the positive developments happening in the marketplace. We recognise that there are many positive developments but the challenges globally and other developments have created problems in 2007. We have not enjoyed the level of growth we enjoyed in the 2000-06 period. It is likely that this turbulence will continue into 2008.
In light of the likely sins of one or two individuals involved with some of the major financial institutions, the banking organisations, I understand that new regimes, regulations and processes are being put in place, which may cause further difficulties for people who will require finance to fuel their entrepreneurial spirits and ideas. An important ingredient of small and medium-sized enterprises is the availability of appropriate finances without the burden of unnecessary bureaucracy that may prevent such finances becoming available. I ask the Leader to examine whatever is the most appropriate mechanism to provide assurance in this regard to the banking organisations that may or may not have been stung by the likely or unlikely sins of two solicitors, the outcome of which cases we do not yet know. Given the turbulence being experienced in the economy, it is important to ensure that necessary finances are available to entrepreneurs.
Senator Paul Coghlan: Senator Norris raised an apparently appalling situation yesterday regarding the Refugee Appeals Tribunal. He stated that a member of it had a 100% record in declining all cases that came before him or her. I would like the Leader to advise how that tribunal is constituted. Was that person allowed to sit alone in considering these cases and, if so, how many cases did he or she hear? This is extremely damaging to the supposed fairness of the system.
Senator Paul Coghlan: As a democracy based on laws, we have always prided ourselves on upholding the highest standards. This is a serious blemish on the record which must be addressed. I, too, would like to hear from the Leader as to the Minister’s view on this matter, if that alleged situation is true, and I do not doubt what Senator Norris said.
Senator Joe O’Reilly: I strongly support Senator Twomey’s remarks about nursing homes and about the enactment of legislation. It is an extraordinarily serious matter. We need a well resourced inspectorate and regular inspections. We owe that to our old people. We all know that there are wonderful nursing homes and wonderful people working in them. Great work is being done in most of them but that in no way removes the need for an active and continuous inspectorate. Properly run nursing homes will have nothing to fear from such an inspectorate.
We have heard of many dreadful horrific abuses in children’s homes that are painful to recall, but at least the children who were in them lived to tell the tale. Much abuse in nursing homes unfortunately dies with the victim, and at Christmas we should be very mindful of that. We owe it to our older people to do this and I ask the Leader to come back to us on it on specific terms. We need the number of inspectors and the resources of the inspectorate. It must happen instantly. It is a serious matter and Senator Twomey could not be more correct to raise it.
I also support the remarks of Senator Buttimer on residential homes for children. There are 400 children involved, but there is no inspectorate. This is a related issue and I ask the Leader to address it also. We had a horrific catalogue in the Galway home recently, which was beyond description. It is tragic enough that old people are being abandoned in our modern society, where the emphasis is on materialism and wealth, but if we going to abandon old people to homes, the least we can do is ensure a standard of quality care for them. It is a very urgent matter and I want the Leader to be very specific on how we deal with this.
Senator Ivana Bacik: I wanted to raise an issue that the House has already debated. On a day that we are due to debate integration, it is appropriate to ask the Leader to convene a debate in the new year on the Government’s child care policy, in particular the changes proposed to subventions to the community child care scheme. I and other colleagues from both Houses attended a very helpful briefing yesterday organised by the Irish Childcare Policy Network, which is a national group of child care providers from all over the country. We were briefed on the clear consequences of the changes that will come about if such changes are implemented next June as proposed. The group is concerned that community child care providers all around the country will be forced to close as a result. Even if they do not close, there will be serious implications for integration in communities, as it will mean effectively the segregation of children of persons on social welfare——
Senator Ivana Bacik: The ICPN made a very specific request that this decision be deferred until the end of next year to enable further negotiations and consultations to take place with the Minister and other interest groups. We could help that process in this House by debating it.
I would also like the Leader to respond to the motion that was agreed on Ingrid Betancourt. I know the deputy Leader of the House had emailed Members about it and I wanted to know what had happened to that motion and whether we could bring it before the House to ensure consensus on it.
Senator Eoghan Harris: At the risk of introducing a premature note of Christmas cheer to the proceedings, I would like to inform the House that a former Senator of this House, Professor Murphy, had lunch with myself and Senators Ross, Norris and O’Toole.
Senator Eoghan Harris: In the course of the lunch, Professor Murphy, who otherwise spoiled the lunch by his argumentative nature, remarked that this Seanad seemed to be more sparky, more lively, more entertaining and more to the point than when he was around. He said that with some kind of nostalgia and regret. There was a general consensus at the table that much of this was due to the influx of new, opinionated and sharp Senators from all parties, along with the fatherly and completely competent service given by the Leader of the House, plus your own generous and liberal chairing of proceedings, a Chathaoirligh. I thought you should know that.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Health and Children to come in here and talk to us about the inclusion of illnesses such as lupins, asthma and hypertension in the long-term illness scheme? What is the difference between diabetes and hypertension when it comes to paying bills? The drugs payment scheme has increased. A person I know suffers from lupins and is trying her best to work and not be on disability, but she is a middle income earner and is being penalised. It seems most inequitable that a person suffers from a particular illness and is penalised.
Has the Leader had an opportunity to speak with the Minister for Transport on the debate I demanded last week on the Mullingar to Athlone rail link and the Killucan railway station? I concur with Senator Keaveney on how important rail transport is for regional areas.
Senator Maria Corrigan: I would like to raise again the point I made yesterday about the proposed inspectorate for residential homes for children with intellectual disability, as well as the residential settings for adults with intellectual disability. Can the Leader ascertain the timeframe for the commencement of this? It is absolutely essential. I would also like him to convey to the Minister the need for the inspectorate to have the expertise to ascertain from the individuals in receipt of service their level of satisfaction with that service. It is important to note that the State is funding the service.
Any organisation that provides a service for either children or adults with intellectual disability should have in place procedures for investigating allegations of non-accidental injury or allegations of abuse. It is not a requirement at the moment in the existing contracts between the Department, the HSE and the various services. Those contracts are due for renewal in 2008 and there is a timely opportunity to ensure that those contracts include that requirement. Other services are not funded by the State and there also should be a requirement for those services to have in place a procedure for the investigation of non-accidental injury and sex abuse.
Senator Shane Ross: He was speaking about the issue of talent in the Seanad. That was the only issue at lunch about which there was any consensus. I am very grateful to him for painting such a selective picture of what actually happened. His introduction of Christmas cheer was as premature as was his own exit from that lunch yesterday. As Members can imagine, there was agreement among the selected diners about absolutely nothing, apart from the fact that this is a tremendous Seanad and it has been very stimulating so far. The influx of new people has been a really great injection and has lifted this House to a level which I have not seen in all the time I have been here.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senators Twomey and O’Reilly inquired about legislation for the future. The Bill in question is on Committee Stage in the Dáil. On the urgent matter of nursing homes, I will do everything possible to have this legislation before the House as soon as the Government orders so.
Senators Twomey, Glynn and Norris expressed their strong concerns on suicide, alcohol and bullying. We have seen an unfortunate tragedy in the past few days. As a lay person, it strikes me that we could have CCTV in schools, school yards and other areas where bullying takes place. If CCTV is used, all the activity will be there for everybody to see. No student, boy or girl, at any level should be tortured by bullies. When the Minister for Education and Science comes to the House we will ask her how best to address that problem.
On suicide and alcohol, 13 Senators who are very concerned about drug abuse attended my office yesterday at 2.30 p.m. and we will have our first all-party agreed motion on that next Wednesday from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. Thereafter we will have whatever sittings are necessary, beginning on 6 February 2008, to allow every Senator to make his or her contribution. I will endeavour to have as many Ministers, whether for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Health and Children or Education and Science, present at various sittings in order that the Seanad can play a meaningful role on substance abuse and the plague of suicide. I thank the Ministers for their concerns. We witnessed terrible events in the past few weeks. Hopefully we can play a part in assisting the Government and its agencies in the challenges ahead. The health services and the Garda Síochána have an important role to play and we want to lead the way on an all-party proposal. I thank everybody who gave up time to attend that meeting. It was a difficult day with so many committees and meetings. Senators made a terrific effort to attend the first meeting under the chairmanship of Senator O’Donovan.
Senators O’Toole and Keaveney expressed their views on the Minister’s support for books in schools. It is nice to see so many students in the Visitors Gallery. While Senator O’Toole may not be pleased with the book the Minister sent out for Christmas, called Judging Dev——
Senator Donie Cassidy: I will pass on to the Minister the Senator’s views on this and on the cost of water in schools. I have been asked to invite the Minister for Education and Science to the House as soon as possible in order that we can have a debate on education.
Senator Donie Cassidy: I compliment the Minister on his contribution in the House yesterday on the Lisbon treaty. I was disappointed with last night’s “Oireachtas Report”. Yesterday we had two excellent contributions from Deputies Roche and McGuinness. I will take up with RTE the coverage this House is getting on “Oireachtas Report” and the imbalance in that regard. Yesterday the Minister spoke here on the reform treaty and today he went to Lisbon to discuss it and witness the leaders of Europe signing up to it. The debate was timely. There is more to the Houses of the Oireachtas than the Order of Business.
Senator Donie Cassidy: ——the uplifting contributions made here yesterday and not some of the antics that arise from time to time. This is a serious House, not a House of entertainment.  While it might be perceived as a more serious form of entertainment, it is not. I do not want the people of Ireland to think that. If we are going to have Seanad reform it will be serious and meaningful.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senator Glynn again called for a debate on organ donation. I already made a commitment on this and am endeavouring to arrange it. Senator Buttimer spoke on the Minister for Health and Children and the inspections were mentioned by Senators Prendergast and Corrigan. We must have the Minister for Health and Children in the House on this and I will allow time after the Christmas recess. Senators Buttimer and Keaveney spoke on the Minister for Education and Science and I have already covered that. Senator Keaveney was at pains to point out the green agenda and called for regional development of the North-South, Derry-Dublin train service. This is a worthwhile call and we will discuss it after the Christmas recess. Senator Norris inquired about the Charities Bill. This is on Committee Stage in the Dáil and as soon as I am ordered to take it, I will have no difficulty doing so. It will be after the Christmas recess.
Senators Regan and Callely called for a debate on the national debt and I have no difficulty allowing time for this. The Tallaght strategy was proposed by the then Taoiseach, Mr. Charles Haughey, and supported by the then leader of Fine Gael, Mr. Alan Dukes. Senator Regan meant well when he mentioned the Tallaght strategy, but from 1983-87 national debt doubled and emigration increased by 1,000 per week. It is a bad time to use as an example.
Senator Donie Cassidy: On Senator Regan’s call for a debate on standards in public office, we can have a debate on it but it will not be for just one party. As Christmas approaches and we think about angels and religious expressions, we will include all parties in that debate.
Senator Ó Murchú spoke on the families of missing persons at Christmas and I agree with his call on anybody who has information that might help a grieving family to come forward. Senator Callely called for the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment with responsibility for small business to speak in the House on the challenges that will meet his Department in the coming years. The Minister of State excelled in his first contribution to the House yesterday.
Senator Donie Cassidy: It was a star performance and as there were so many events, meetings and committees in the House on that day I will allow time for the Minister to return early in the new year and continue yesterday’s debate. Senator Coghlan spoke about the Refugee Appeals Tribunal. I shall have inquiries made for the Senator in this regard. Senator Bacik raised the matter of Government child care policy and wanted the Minister to come to the House to debate this. As the Senator knows, an extra €11 million was allocated last week in the budget for this, and I am sure she was pleased to hear that. There is no difficulty in setting time aside for this.
After the Order of Business this morning, the party leaders will meet to discuss matters arising for next week. I hope the wording of the motion regarding the Green Oxygen Party leader in Colombia will be agreed at that meeting and will be on the Order Paper for next week. I understand Senators Harris and Ross had a very joyous meeting yesterday. The occasion must have been for a certain type of Senator since neither the Cathaoirleach nor I was invited. I understand that now that we are in their book of good news, however, we may be at their Christmas party next year. I wonder what is coming down the track, but it is the good news slot in the Seanad this week and I thank the Senators for their kind remarks and comments.
Senator McFadden called for the Minister for Health and Children to address the House on the long-term illnesses support schemes. That is a very reasonable request and there is no difficulty in having time left aside for this. I still await an update on the matters she brought to my attention for the Minister for Transport about the Athlone-Mullingar railway line and also the reopening of the Killucan railway station, which would be a big help to commuters in the midlands region.
Senator Eugene Regan: I have a point of order. The question I asked the Leader was about clarification of the statement of the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Hanafin. I ask him to address that rather than the general point——
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