Thursday, 20 March 2008
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Donie Cassidy: The Order of Business today is No. 1, motion re address to the Seanad by distinguished persons, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, Motor Vehicle (Duties and Licences) Bill 2008 — Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: I am delighted he will be here when we return. Having said that, I believe the Government is leaving it dangerously late to set a date for the referendum treaty. It has also been left dangerously late to inform the public of the benefits of the Lisbon treaty because many people are still very unsure what it is all about. There is a risk that it will be defeated if people do not know what they are voting for and are clear about it. That no date has been set means there is not a focus on it as there ought to be at this stage, given the short time left. I welcome the fact that the President of the European Parliament will address the House and that we will spend the day discussing European issues. I am sure it will contribute to a better understanding of what is at stake among the public.
There are many urgent issues to be discussed on our return, one of which is the Lisbon treaty. Another is the economy, which Senators Ross and Alex White spoke about yesterday. There is a very serious deterioration in the public finances and a changed situation from the time of the budget. We have high inflation, the downgrading of economic growth by a huge amount, the public finances are €516 million off target, people are worrying about job security and unemployment queues are growing, which is a sad situation facing people.
I am concerned there has been no statement from the Government on its plan to deal with this situation. While Fianna Fáil Ministers have been very quick to take credit for progress in the economy, yet when there are difficulties they all seem to be caused by international factors which, clearly, is not the case. In the absence of a plan we see cuts in frontline services, day care centres being closed or not being staffed, patients waiting for services and the HSE has said it is not filling any of the posts which were vacant on 31 December. This is having a huge impact on OT services, speech therapy centres and centres for the homeless. All kinds of areas are being affected, without any debate or discussion. Instead of burying its head in the sand, we need a discussion and a plan from the Government. We need to know how the change in the public finances will be handled. We need a discussion to ensure the frontline services will not be affected but rather the waste and the bureaucratic nightmare that we see in the HSE report will be tackled. I seek a debate on the economy in the early days when we return.
We must ensure more topical discussions more immediately. When an issue arises, I ask that the House has an opportunity to discuss it immediately rather than several weeks later. There is no reason we cannot have a discussion when an issue arises, with the views of Members put on the record, even if the senior Minister is not available. We must change that and that must be the decision today: that we come back and discuss issues when they arise so that what we discuss is topical and relevant.
Senator Rónán Mullen: Ba mhaith liom cúpla focal a rá maidir le ríomhairí sna scoileanna, agus an ghéarghá atá le infheistíocht i leith ríomhairí. Is minic a bhíonn muid ag caint faoi cé chomh tábhachtach do chúrsaí eacnamíochta na tíre an saigheas infheistíocht seo i gcomhthéacs an méad atá ag tarlúint i tíortha eile. Caithfimid tosnú leis na scoileanna agus an béim a chur ar chúrsaí teicneolaíochta sna scoileanna. Is léir nach bhfuil aon plan cheart againn don todhchaí.
It is very worrying that a private, confidential report commissioned by the Minister for Education and Science states that the Government’s €252 million plan for computers in schools is insufficient but it is something we all know. According to the joint managerial body, there is on average one computer for ten children in our schools. To reach the OECD average we need to have one for every five. That would require trebling the current spend of €46 per student per year. It is important we start in our schools and provide the necessary equipment and technological know-how if we are serious about competitiveness. It is not enough to trust that many students will have computers at home and that somehow they will have the technological know-how. It will be a shambles if our education system falls behind. According to that report we fall well behind the EU average on information and communications technology in schools. Elsewhere it states that we have one of the lowest rates of information and communications technology usage in education in the developed world. This is in a country that prides itself on its education system and planning for the future.
There has been great success, with institutes of technology a major factor in our competitiveness and our ability to attract investment by providing highly skilled people in the workplace. We must redouble our efforts for the future and it seems that proper computer facilities in our schools would be a basic part of such a plan.
Fianna Fáil in Government has a great record in asserting republican values at certain times internationally. One thinks of Frank Aiken and the courageous stand he took when it came to admitting China to the United Nations. It is regrettable that we seem to be losing some of those values. I wonder whether we can have a truly independent political stance in a globalised world. I accept there are economic pressures and that we must keep good relations with countries such as China as much as possible. None the less, it is tragic that it was left to our Minister for Foreign Affairs to instruct officials at home to make the point about Tibet, while a Minister of State was taking part in St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Beijing. We are losing our moral voice internationally if we cannot assert our core principles in support of the dignity of the person.
I worry about whether we are trading republican values for purely commercial and economic values. How can we have confidence when we are reassured that the Government is ensuring at European level that our values will not be interfered with if the same Ministers of State do not take a stand in China on issues that are obvious to all reasonable people?
Senator Alan Kelly: I agree with Senator Fitzgerald regarding the House discussing topical matters, on which there is a consensus. When the Seanad returns, working collectively to ensure topical discussions would be a plus for the Chamber.
As I did not have a chance yesterday to speak on an important issue, I will discuss it today, namely, the plight of the undocumented Irish in the US. I accept that all Senators have concerns in this regard and that they want a successful outcome, but the record must be put straight. The Taoiseach and the Government are all over the place on this issue. It does not bother me whether Senators agree, but it is the reality and is the opinion of most people in the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform in the United States.
Senator Alan Kelly: Yesterday evening, I spent nearly two hours speaking with members of the ILIR and others. I spent some time in Boston with a number of my friends who are in the US illegally. Their plight is scary. They are disgusted and bewildered by the Taoiseach’s latest comments and do not understand why he would make them.
Since the failure of the US Congress to pass immigration reform legislation last June, the ILIR and others have been working closely with the Irish and US Governments to introduce a bilateral agreement. This is achievable because the Irish have a strong lobby in the US. If agreements can be made with Chile, Singapore and Australia, surely an agreement can be reached with Ireland. The idea is to have a permanent swap of work visas. I will not go into the detail too much because a certain amount must remain confidential.
When the ILIR met with Ed Gillespie, President Bush’s closest adviser and the son of a Donegal man, he admitted that the American Government had never heard of Bruce Morrison’s proposal. That the Irish Government, despite claiming to be pushing the proposal, has never lobbied in respect of it is unbelievable. Why would it not pursue the proposal? This is a cause of concern for everyone. Subsequently, the Taoiseach made his insulting comments on the most pivotal day for the Irish diaspora. He should apologise, as they were unacceptable. When the Taoiseach stated that people do not really know what they are talking about, did he mean Niall O’Dowd and Bruce Morrison? The comments regarding people sitting on bar stools beggar belief.
Senator Alan Kelly: I agree and I thank the Cathaoirleach for his comments. We should have a proper and timely debate on this issue. A good move would be for us to meet members of the ILIR when they visit the Seanad to get their opinions. The Taoiseach should apologise for his comments and reiterate his and the Government’s support for a bilateral approach to the issue. In one month’s time during his address to the joint Houses of Congress, he will have a chance to leave a legacy of support for the people in question and the work to date.
A number of times, Senator Ross raised the issue of the country’s finances. I agree with his comments yesterday because a debate in the House is necessary. The Minister for Finance has not attended the House yet and was not present for our discussion of the Finance Bill last week. All the measurements and key indicators pertaining to the economy are going in opposite directions, which is scary. While obviously there is an international dimension, the handling of the economy also is at issue and the competence of the Minister must be examined.
Senator Dan Boyle: The Leader did not have an opportunity to respond to two issues I raised yesterday and I wish to reaffirm them today. The first was raised by Senator Mullen this morning, namely, the question of Tibet, and the House has an opportunity to speak with one voice on this issue. While No. 17, motion 8 on the Order Paper in the name of the Independent Senators does not refer directly to current events, it might provide the bones of an all-party motion, having been checked by the Department of Foreign Affairs, and could come back before the House at an early date. It is important that the House should speak on an issue of concern as the 50th anniversary of the annexation of Tibet will take place in 2009.
I also agree with the need to have consistency in foreign policy. Ireland recently recognised Kosovo, which is a country that has nothing like the territorial and national integrity of a place like Tibet. We must be truly consistent in our foreign policy actions.
The second issue pertained to the community development support programme on which the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs is making a decision that will come into effect at the end of May. The House should be given the opportunity to discuss the impact of that decision in respect of the community development support programme.
As for the ongoing programme of the House, it is clear that two major themes will dominate proceedings on Members’ return from the recess. The first is that of the Lisbon treaty while the second is that of the economy. In respect of the Lisbon treaty, I also welcome the impending visit of the President of the European Parliament and the promise of contributions from Members of the European Parliament who represent Ireland. This will be a useful exercise in its own right. It is especially important that those members of the European Parliament from Ireland who have an alternative view should participate in such a debate in the House. Members must have an open and rounded discussion regarding the benefits or otherwise of the Lisbon treaty.
On the question of the economy, Members would benefit from having a number of debates. In particular, I would like to hear the views of Opposition Members as to what they would do differently. Would they raise taxes or how would they order public spending in different ways?
Senator Dan Boyle: No one wishes to see a return to the time when our debt-gross domestic product ratio was 140% of what was being collected in taxes in any given year. Many factors can be considered in respect of the economy’s future that will put us in a better position in an uncertain world and global economic climate. I would like the opportunity to discuss such matters in the House when Members return after Easter.
Senator Paul Coghlan: Senator Fitzgerald made some interesting points on how Members should proceed on their return after Easter, with which I concur completely and I am sure the Leader will take them up. All Members wish to keep the House topical and entirely relevant.
As Senator Boyle noted, yesterday the Leader inadvertently overlooked or did not have the opportunity to respond to some points he made. The same is equally true of some points I made regarding No.3 on the Order Paper, the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. My understanding is that this Bill will provide for a legal services ombudsman. However, in the Dáil last week, the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Brennan, who was deputising for the Taoiseach, mentioned the criminal justice (miscellaneous provisions) Bill. While I do not believe he was talking about the same Bill, the Leader should clarify this matter because the Minister spoke of the necessity for some restructuring. When is it intended to introduce the Bill? Is it true that it is being restructured and, if so, what is the reason?
The second point pertained to the matter of the national property services regulatory authority Bill, which also is promised. As Members are aware, that authority is in being run on an interim basis without statutory effect at present. This is a matter on which Senator Ross initiated debate in this House in 2005 and it had the support of the House. It is largely as a result of that debate that the Government took action. We now have this authority and a Bill is promised to give it statutory effect. I understand that approximately half of auctioneers have already signed up to the code of conduct. Given the importance of proper standards for public confidence, I ask the Leader to indicate when the Bill will be forthcoming.
Senator Terry Leyden: In regard to Senator Fitzgerald’s comments on the Lisbon treaty, the Government should have an open mind on a date for the referendum, although it should announce one as soon as possible. I personally favour a date in September. Last night I attended a function in County Meath at which a number of people asked me to explain the treaty. We all have had opportunities to read the treaty, yet nobody in this House could provide a detailed analysis of its implications for the development of Europe. Irish voters will have a wonderful but enormous responsibility because we will sign the contract for the treaty on behalf of 500 million Europeans. We are all equal in that regard because every voter has the same influence as the Taoiseach or the President. A major educational campaign must be undertaken throughout the country to explain the treaty in detail and time for this is of the essence. By holding the referendum later, the parliaments of the other 26 EU member states will be more likely to have signed up to the treaty. We would therefore be at the centre of Europe as far as this decision is concerned.
I commend the Leader on inviting the President of the European Parliament, Mr. Hans Gert Pöttering, MEP, through the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, although I understood the President of the European Commission, Mr. Barrosso, was to address us instead. I would have preferred the latter because I had a number of questions to ask in regard to the activities of the Commissioner for Trade, Mr. Mandelson. The motion inviting Mr. Pöttering, which we cannot discuss, refers to him as “Commissioner” although he is President of the European Parliament.
I support the request made yesterday by Senator Mary White regarding the Chris Flood report on the 1,000 Irish people in prisons throughout the world. She asked that a dedicated unit be established in the Department of Foreign Affairs. I reiterate the call made by the Most Reverend Seamus Hegarty, Bishop of Derry, in that regard. Rather than condoning the crimes these people have committed, we want to support their families. With the support of this House, I travelled to Greece in 2003 to visit one of our people who was imprisoned there and assisted in having him released. He was found innocent of the charges made against him. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate with the Minister for Foreign Affairs on this matter to make people aware they should avail of the services of Members when contacting their loved ones abroad. In some cases, prisoners could be brought back to serve their sentences in Ireland.
Senator Paschal Donohoe: I support Senator Fitzgerald’s call for a debate on the economy. I would like the debate to focus in particular on the impact of the international banking sector on Ireland. In recent weeks, a major European bank, Comerzbank, announced a €450 million exposure to the sub-prime market. This week Morgan Stanley suffered a 42% drop in its earnings for the first quarter and this Monday the share price of Lehman Brothers dropped by 35% on its closing share price on Friday. What all these organisations have in common is that they are clearly in difficulty. However, they have another factor in common. Two are based in the IFSC and are major suppliers of local employment, while the third, Lehman Brothers, is a major stakeholder in the IFSC given the amount of business it directs towards it.
We are in a place where the new economy upon which this country has built its recent success is in clear peril. We need clear and substantial direction from the Government with regard to recognition of this situation and what it is going to do about it. When the Seanad returns after the break, it is incumbent on us to recognise this issue and to hear from the Government what it wants to do about it.
Senator Boyle is correct. If are to comment on this situation, we should say what we will do about it. We will do so. We will discuss what we want to do with regard to the national development plan, the opportunities presented to Ireland because of changes in the UK taxation system and the opportunities for us to grow our country’s share of business aggressively in the Asian and Chinese economies. We have an opportunity to do all this, but the Government has an obligation to govern. It has an obligation to recognise the seriousness of this situation and to come to the House to talk about it and tell us what it is going to do. That is crucial for consumers and the ordinary man and women in the street who find themselves in a situation where forces beyond their control are beginning to influence how their banks treat them.
I support Senator Coghlan’s point and plead with the Leader to give us clarity in regard to the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. I raised this matter in the House previously. A number of the sections in that Bill have a huge impact on the ability of small businesses to lease commercial property from landlords. Due to the non-implementation of the Bill, the ability of those small businesses to survive is being threatened. We are spending time in the House talking about forces that are beyond are control. Some are within our control. Businesses are being threatened because we are not implementing this legislation. I ask the Leader to tell us what is happening with this Bill. He should use his influence to make sure that small businesses and their viability are not threatened because this legislation has not come before the House.
Senator Jim Walsh: Ba mhaith liom aontú go hiomlán leis an méid a dúirt an tSeanadór Leyden inné. Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to raise the matter yesterday as my time was running short but I would like to support and compliment Senator Leyden on the stand he took in regard to the Council of Europe and the abortion issue. When we have the President of the European Parliament here, will the Leader arrange that appropriate questions be put to him on the need for the subsidiarity principle to apply in regard to social legislation? We have seen the European Commission write to Germany about its civil partnership laws and the European Court of Human Rights overruling the courts in France with regard to gay adoption. Those are issues which should be left to the countries themselves to make their decision on. While there are different views in this country and in these Chambers, it is up to us to decide those issues in our own time and in our own way. I am a strong proponent of this position. If Europe begins to interfere in this area, as a lifetime proponent of the concept of European union, I would begin to have reservations.
I support the call by the deputy leader of Fine Gael in the House, Senator Coghlan, for a debate with regard to the forthcoming legislation on establishing a legal ombudsman and an overarching system for the legal profession. A report in the past week showed that with regard to the non-deafness cases in the Department of Defence, of all the millions paid out in compensation, 40% of the total cost went to the legal profession. That is greed on a grand scale and nothing has been done about it. It is time an independent body, not a self-regulating body which would be absolutely ineffective——
An Cathaoirleach: The group leaders will have to indicate to me in advance who will ask questions of the President of the European Parliament. That should be sorted out in advance so we do not find ourselves at variance with one another on the day.
Senator Jim Walsh: On a point of information, my main point is I do not seek to be one of the speakers but I ask the Leader to ensure those important questions are put to the President of the European Parliament because——
Senator Rónán Mullen: I am sorry to interrupt. I am not sure whether it is a point of order or a point of clarification or if there is any facility for me to ask whether we will be given an outline of what will be the format of Mr. Pöttering’s address to the House.
Senator Joe O’Reilly: Senator Fitzgerald aptly and correctly put the Lisbon treaty on the agenda today and sought a response from the Leader. I consider it of significant national importance that we pass the Lisbon treaty. It goes without contradiction that our membership of the European Union has had enormous social and economic implications for this country.
I wish to raise with the Leader one issue that is a backdrop to the Lisbon treaty, that overshadows it and puts it at risk but, more importantly, puts the country’s entire interests at risk. I refer to the Mandelson negotiations on a world trade agreement that are in progress. They are of critical importance for this country’s agriculture industry and related employment sectors.  In excess of €1 billion has been spent in this country, and rightly so, on farm waste management grant schemes. It is good to see it but that expenditure will be the greatest waste of public money in the history of the State — a white elephant — if the Mandelson proposals are accepted. The implications of the Mandelson proposals would result in the complete closure of Irish agriculture and would render wasteful the expenditure on these grants. That is critical.
I ask the Leader to convey to the Government the need for a major national diplomatic offensive on a scale never seen previously against the Mandelson talks to protect Irish agriculture. I acknowledge and welcome the participation of the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in the European Council talks last week and her stance there but we need involvement at all levels of Government, including the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste, in a diplomatic offensive on the EU stage from capital to capital and from Commission to Council to get a change in our position on the talks.
We need to do this for two reasons. One is to show to the public that we are standing up to this development because if the public do not perceive that, the Lisbon treaty will not pass. We also need to do it in the hope that we will have a level of success because Irish interests are at risk. It is a little like Nero fiddling while Rome burns. We could be fiddling around with other issues and miss the main point, namely, that this is the greatest threat to our country we have faced for many a day and we need to do something about it urgently.
Senator Cecilia Keaveney: I endorse what Senator Leyden said and what Senator Mary White said yesterday. At one time I did a great deal of work on the issue of prisoners in Britain. Under the European Convention on Human Rights, they are entitled to serve their sentences at the point closest to their homes. We need an expansion of that concept here. Whatever about the person who committed the crime, the families did not commit the crime and that is the thrust behind the convention.
I agree with Senator Fitzgerald about the need for a date for the Lisbon treaty. Nothing will focus the mind quicker than a date. When one has a long time to think about something, one does not think about it until the date is pressing. I am not sure if the date is as important as getting a date. People will be bombarded by information at that stage.
There are two issues on which we must focus after the break. The issue of alcohol and drug abuse is an important topic with which we dealt in the first half of this year. That should not go off the agenda, because it is central to our social difficulties. I commend the GAA for reclaiming its sporting events back from the drinks industry, as was announced last night. We could have a debate with the Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism. It could be based on the committee report carried out a few years ago which highlighted the links between alcohol sponsorship and sports. We should keep addressing this topic so that in the future we can point to what we did.
The other issue is related to the economy. The Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ahern, should come before the House after the break to debate this issue. Senator Mullen spoke about schools and the need for computers. It is not that long ago when schools did not have any computers, while they have a basic facility now. There has been a lot of investment in primary and secondary schools, and particularly in research and development at the institutes of technology. We should be looking at the link between the investment in education and the needs of our economy. The Minister of State works in both the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Department of Education and Science. He has a policy statement due, if it has not already been published.
Senator Ivor Callely: It is with interest that I listened to the calls for a debate on the economy. There is much focus on what is happening in the markets, but it is important that the House is satisfied that the Government is monitoring the situation closely. While we can exert no influence over external developments in the markets, we should be satisfied that we can ensure that our economy absorbs shocks which emerge from the international marketplace. We must also ensure that our financial institutions continue to fuel the necessary investments required to keep our economy ticking over. This is an issue I raised with the Leader on the Order of Business some time ago.
The current global financial crisis is the most severe since the end of the Second World War. There are few safe havens in times of such financial crisis and market uncertainty. It is very important that we as legislators show confidence in our economy and that we are satisfied that we have proven economic policies that are well thought out. We must be satisfied that the basis of our economy remains strong and that tax revenue and public finances are solid. Our medium term growth prospects remain very favourable and we have achieved one of the lowest levels of debt in the EU. While one may criticise where we are today, sometimes because it affects one’s constituency, we should still look at the bigger picture.
I noted with interest the concern expressed over the human rights violation in Tibet. I note also Senator Mullen’s comments on the changing global environment. I hope he and other Senators are in favour of taking all available opportunities to engage in constructive dialogue, exchange views and highlight areas in which progress can be made on human rights. I wholeheartedly support any Minister raising with the Chinese authorities concerns about Tibet.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to indicate at an early stage what amendments will be made to the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill on Committee Stage? While it welcomed the legislation, the Irish Human Rights Commission also raised concerns regarding many of its provisions, as have many other eminent authorities.
Previous speakers did not refer to the fact that today marks the fifth anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq. I do not propose to discuss the issue in detail other than to state, and I believe the House will support me in this regard, that the war has been a disaster. Iraq is in a sad position especially in terms of the entrenched conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims. It is likely the war will continue to produce large numbers of body bags at immense cost. Five years down the road, I am very concerned.
Senator Larry Butler: I support the call for a debate on the economy to allow the House to recognise the strength of the economy. As Senator Callely stated, it is important to acknowledge the external influences over which we have no control. Despite these, the economy is in a strong position to respond to inevitable problems. This is an opportune time to have a debate on the issue.
Yesterday, on the Order of Business, I raised a local issue, specifically how the actions of a local authority are affecting business. This appears to have given rise to a criticism that I was too parochial. When local authorities behave in a manner that affects business, it is the job of Senators to raise the matter in the House.
Senator Larry Butler: Senators from all sides, including Senators Callely and MacSharry, have raised this issue. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate to examine the option of breaking up the HSE. Some of the measures it has taken have had a disastrous impact. The organisation is undemocratic, unaccountable and has no mandate. The Eastern Regional Health Authority managed health services in Dublin and part of Leinster. A similar model should be put before any review of health services organisation. If we are to review the largest spend of public moneys, at approximately €15 billion, it is important to lay our cards on the table and examine where money can be saved. There is an opportunity in this regard.
Senator Eoghan Harris: I strongly agree with a point made on the Opposition side and strongly disagree with a point made on the Government side. In both cases they should be non-partisan issues.
I was impressed by Senator Donohoe’s contribution on the economy. It was in the great tradition of Alan Dukes’s Tallaght strategy. There is an economic recession in the US and we have little control over economic structural matters. This economic crisis should not be a partisan affair. As this is a small country, we need all the intelligence and talent on all sides of the House to rally the troops.
I use the word “troops” deliberately because it is like a war. When one is winning in battle, it is easy to lead a charge or rout from the front. It is difficult, however, to rally troops when matters are poor. Senator Donohoe’s contribution was made in a non-partisan spirit. In the same spirit, I want more activity by Ministers. It is not just the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance who should be out front. I want to see all officers on the battlefield rallying the troops out front in tackling the economy. Nothing else bothers the people but the economy —“It’s the economy stupid.” Everyone knows there is a recession and is nervous. We do not need Ministers to go missing at a time like this during battle. We need to see the officers on the battlefield.
Senator Eoghan Harris: I strongly disagree with Senator Callely’s contribution on Iraq. Iraq was under the control of a very evil dictator which it is no longer. The latest opinion poll taken there showed the people of Iraq are very hopeful about the future. We should not talk down Iraq either.
I will not say the Iraq war was worth it but it was not an ignoble war. It was a war to depose a dictator and the people of Iraq seem more confident that it was worthwhile. The other night I watched Jon Snow and all the other trendies on Channel 4 news discussing this poll. Every bit of good news to come out of Iraq seemed to put another line on his face. If, like Jon Snow, one spends all one’s time predicting economic collapse, one cannot take it when the indices are positive. The people of Iraq are increasingly in control of their destinies, and a good thing too.
Senator John Hanafin: I support the calls made on yesterday’s Order of Business for a debate on the pro-life issue and the important point made concerning a recent report from the Royal College of Psychiatrists. The psychological effect is the very argument used by those who support abortion. The report, however, has clearly shown that abortion is a strong probability as a cause of suicides and depression among women. The psychological effect argument has been trotted out for many years. Surely at last it can be put away.
I also support calls for a debate on the economy. Part of the problem and reason for current economic difficulties is due to greed running riot. Where the pennies were watched with a microscope, billions were allowed to be traded, used and abused on financial markets without checks. There is not just one example of this; there is a litany. Nick Leeson brought down Barings Bank. John Rusnak caused problems for Allfirst in Maryland. Recently in France, €55 billion of a bank’s money was traded out on a position. Nobody else in the bank indicated he or she knew what was going on. It is incredible.
What is equally as bad is that on Wall Street traders were being paid a percentage of the total amount packaged in loans and those repackaged loans were called “securitised”. If somebody is getting commission on a securitised loan to the effect of millions and hundreds of millions, as some traders were getting, that person would not care if there were vital life signs in the mortgages as he or she would still get the commission.
It is surely time to guarantee this does not happen here and the regulator should be asked to account, in every fashion, for all major trades and positions taken by banks so people are not affected. White collar crime is not victimless and thousands will lose their jobs because of greed.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senators Fitzgerald, Boyle, Kelly, Walsh, O’Reilly, Keaveney, Callely, Butler, Harris and Hanafin all called for an urgent debate on the state of the economy after the Easter recess. I fully agree with the sentiments expressed and there is no difficulty in having the debate. Senator Keaveney also asked that the Minister of State with responsibility for innovation, Deputy Michael Ahern, be invited to the House. It is an opportune time to do this and I will endeavour to have the Minister of State present for part of this debate also.
The Government, and the Minister for Finance in particular, was very wise to ensure the anticipated downturn in the economy, or the realignment which was very badly wanted after 12 or 14 years of growth, is taking place. It is possible we have gone past the halfway stage and we are well on the way to the second half of this downturn and realignment. I congratulate the Government on increasing its spend on national development plan projects, particularly in essentials such as the roads, hospitals, schools, water and sewerage systems by 12.5%. It is keeping a major part of the construction industry going.
The construction industry is being affected by the downturn currently but there is demand for agricultural facilities, such as slatted sheds, etc. There are quarries where cement is being manufactured that are in huge demand, and these will be very fortunate to get most of the orders looked at and attended to in the coming 12 months. That is on the positive side.
Unprecedented events are happening in the United States of America and even in the UK this morning, the rumour machine is ripe. It is a dangerous time. Senators should realise that banks only survive if they loan money; essentially they survive on credit. The Governor of the Bank of England was correct this morning, as I heard on a dispatch on the radio that he would be at pains to point this out.
There is no point in the institutions not opening their books for the next year or two years and hoping the entire world will stop for them. We owe them nothing and they owe us quite a lot. The shareholders of these banks and everybody associated with them make money on the endeavour of the entrepreneur and the hard-working decent men and women of every country that is making the economy function.
Ours is one of the top countries in the world and we are very proud of it, especially on an Easter weekend. Look at what we have achieved since 1916. We will commemorate the 92nd anniversary on O’Connell Street at 12 p.m. next Sunday with the President, Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Ministers. I would like to see a big turnout by Senators to participate and acknowledge the forefathers who gave us this great nation and brought us where we are today.
Senator Donie Cassidy: On the discussion of the Lisbon treaty, the format I have already discussed with the various leaders of the groups in the House is that the visiting dignitary will address the House first. The leaders of the various groups will make a contribution for ten minutes and we have agreement on this side of the House that spokespersons will then ask a question of the visiting guest at the end, and the guest will conclude with a five-minute contribution on the questions asked. These arrangements were agreed among the leaders but I must obtain agreement in respect of them from the Cathaoirleach and the Clerk of the Seanad. It is hoped the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Roche, will come before the House in the afternoon of the same day for a three-hour debate. With the agreement of the House — this matter must still be discussed with the Cathaoirleach — it is hoped that a day will be set aside every second week to debate European matters.
As Senator O’Reilly pointed out, members of the farming community are extremely concerned with regard to the Mandelson proposals. Some of those present are aware — I refer, in particular, to Senator Bradford in this regard — that we have been engaged in a struggle in respect of these proposals since the WTO negotiations three years ago. Senator Leyden made a number of valid points in respect of this matter. I intend, in conjunction with the leaders of the other groups and with the agreement of the Cathaoirleach, to put forward proposals to CPP to see how we might keep Seanad Éireann centre stage in the context of informing people about what they are voting for and the pluses and minuses involved. We should, with the agreement of the Cathaoirleach, as Chairman of CPP, invite Members of the European Parliament who have views for and against the treaty to come before the House to debate this matter and answer questions.
Many Senators have indicated their grave concerns with regard to the HSE. Deputy Moloney, Chairman of the Joint Committee on Health and Children, has the ideal opportunity to follow the example of the former Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Small Business. The Deputy’s committee should take on the challenge, carry out an in-depth analysis over the next four years and — in view of the fact that €15 billion has been provided — assist in the creation of a state-of-the-art, patient-led health service. Everyone would love so see the emergence of such a service.
I call on Deputy Moloney to consider my proposal that legislators in the Dáil and Seanad provide him with assistance in respect of this matter. For example, we could invite those on all sides to come before the joint committee to discuss and tease out matters. People could, before the joint committee and live on television, make their allegations or statements and representatives on the others side could answer questions, etc. That is how the former Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment made progress with its inquiry into the insurance industry, which led to a reduction of between 30% to 40% in the cost of premiums and made our roads safer. It was a win-win situation. Something similar could be achieved by the Joint Committee on Health and Children. I will make time available in the House to debate, and, where possible, assist in, improvements to the service provided to patients. As already stated, everyone wants to see the emergence of a patient-led health service.
Senators Fitzgerald and Coghlan referred to the need to discuss certain urgent matters. Since the Seanad commenced its business last September, a practice has been established whereby Members can engage in question-and-answer sessions with Ministers and Ministers of State. This is a wonderful step forward and I thank all Senators, the leaders, the Whips and everyone else involved for the understanding they have shown in the context of trying to establish such a practice. We could never put such a system in place heretofore but, under the stewardship of the Cathaoirleach, we have now done so.
We are taking a step-by-step approach to this matter. As Leader, I have an open mind with regard to how the business of the House will be conducted in the future. Any measure that will place Seanad Éireann centre stage will have my full support. I have views on this issue and I have discussed with one or two colleagues how certain matters, some of which were brought to my attention by Senators this morning, might be addressed. I am looking forward to the deliberations of the administrative committee and the commission on the possibility of live broadcasting of the affairs of this House. I would like to see the Order of Business broadcast in a regulated way, with each Member having one minute to make his or her point to the Cathaoirleach. There is too much repetitiveness.
Senator Donie Cassidy: If the proceedings of this House were broadcast live, as they are in the European Parliament and the US Congress, but Members only had one minute to make their proposals to the Leader of the House, the affairs of this House would be enhanced. As one of the two Houses of Parliament, that is the direction in which we should go. I have always been proud of the proceedings of this House, but unfortunately the public is not given an opportunity to see them at first hand and appreciate what is taking place. Members of the commission who are represented in this House, including the Cathaoirleach, should do everything in their power to ensure that two dedicated channels are allocated to this. At one stage, when I was a member of the Joint Committee on Broadcasting and Parliamentary Information, the European Commission was considering the allocation of channels 61 and 62 to our affairs. I am prepared to propose to the House, under your stewardship, a Chathaoirligh, a change in the time of the Order of Business to allow the proceedings to be broadcast live to the people of Ireland.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senator Mullen made his views known on education. I will pass his views on to the Minister. I welcome yesterday’s announcement by the Minister for Education and Science of €58 million in funding for the refurbishment of research facilities at various universities and institutes of technology. This is money well spent. The secret of our success and the Celtic tiger is that the ITs have played a major role. I also welcome the donation of €24 million by Mr. J. P. McManus to allow two students from each county who qualify for medical cards to access third level education. I can identify with these students and I congratulate him on his generous donation. I also thank the Minister for enhancing the fund and proceeding with the proposal. If we take these two Holy Thursday allocations together, they give a total of €72 million being spent on education. There has been a big change since this day 20 years ago, when we were in a difficult situation with regard to the then Department of Health. Most of us came home from a health board meeting in Tullamore after protective notice was given to two thirds of the workforce of the Department. We have come a long way, although a realignment is occurring.
Senators Mullen, Boyle and Callely expressed their strong views on the situation in Tibet, which I will pass on to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. The Minister will be in the House after the Easter recess and Senators can also avail of that opportunity to express their views. Senator Kelly expressed his strong views on the undocumented Irish in America. As I said yesterday, when I covered this issue comprehensively, we all want to see the same result. Copies of the Taoiseach’s address to the President of the United States will be placed in Members’ pigeon holes after the Order of Business so everyone will know at first hand what the Taoiseach actually said.
Senator Donie Cassidy: While we on this side of the House have been in Government, 45,000 or 50,000 people have returned to Ireland from all over the world, but during the Opposition’s time in office from 1982 to 1987——
Senator Donie Cassidy: Yes. The creation of 40,000 to 50,000 new jobs a year in this country is encouraging the undocumented Irish to return home, an achievement of which I am proud, even if Senator Kelly is not.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senator Boyle spoke about the community support programme. I will allow time for a debate on the matter. I apologise to Senator Boyle that the House did not have time yesterday to address this matter.
On Senator Coghlan’s query yesterday in respect of the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2008, it is intended the House will deal with this Bill following the Easter recess. A section removed from the Bill when first drafted now forms part of the legal services ombudsman Bill which is listed on the Government’s legislative programme. Senator Coghlan inquired yesterday as to the up-to-date position in this regard. The position is as outlined. I also congratulate Senator Coghlan on his appointment as deputy leader of his group.
Senators Leyden and Keaveney called for a debate on the Flood report. As stated by Senator Mary White yesterday, I have given a commitment to the House that time will be provided for such a debate following the Easter recess.
Senator Keaveney called for a debate on alcohol and drugs. As I have stated many times in the House, I have no difficulty in providing time for such a debate following the Easter recess. I will communicate later today with Senator Callely in respect of his query on the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill.
Senator Butler outlined to the House his serious concerns in respect of support by local authorities for business and, in particular, small businesses. I have a gut feeling he may have something in mind for his particular area. We all support Senator Butler’s call that appropriate infrastructure be put in place in every county to ensure all counties can attract major investment and employment to their areas. I have no difficulty in allowing time for a debate on the issue.
Senators Hanafin and Walsh once again made known their views in respect of the abortion issue. This issue was also mentioned in the House yesterday by Senator Leyden. I have no difficulty in this topic being included during our discussions in this House on 8 April. Members may, if they so wish, consult me following the Order of Business as to the content of my address on that day and in respect of this matter being included in our discussions on the day.
Senator Donie Cassidy: I thank the Cathaoirleach for his assistance during this session and wish him and his family a happy Easter. I wish Deirdre Lane, Jody Blake, the Captain of the Guard, ushers and staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas a happy Easter. I thank John Flaherty for his co-operation and assistance in meeting Members’ needs and requests. I thank the Superintendent who looks after our requirements and in particular for his assistance in respect of the relocation of the Seanad during the next 12 to 18 months.
Senator Donie Cassidy: I thank Jimmy Walsh of The Irish Times and express to him our appreciation of his coverage of Seanad affairs. I thank also the producers of “Oireachtas Report” for their bringing to the people of Ireland the message in respect of what takes place in Seanad Eireann. I thank Members’ staff who work hard in ensuring we receive the best service possible. I also thank the leaders of the group for their help, understanding, assistance and co-operation and I particularly thank the Deputy Leader, Senator Dan Boyle, as he has been a great help to me during the session. I thank the Whips, who have difficult jobs, and particularly thank the Government’s Chief Whip as he has been terrific, to say the least.
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