Tuesday, 24 June 2008
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Donie Cassidy: The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re the risk equalisation (amendment) scheme 2008; and No. 2, the Electricity Regulation (Amendment) (EirGrid) Bill 2008 — Second Stage. It is proposed that No. 1, motion re the risk equalisation (amendment) scheme 2008, which is back from committee, will be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; and No. 2, the Electricity Regulation (Amendment) (EirGrid) Bill 2008 — Second Stage, will be taken at the conclusion of No. 1. Spokespersons may speak for ten minutes and all other Senators for eight minutes. Senators may share time by agreement of the House.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Last week in the House I raised the urgent need for a plan of action from the Government to address the economic situation. I asked what was the Taoiseach’s assessment of the current economic situation and what was the Government’s plan. We still have not heard anything. What we have heard is the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, feeling sorry for himself and talking about the building boom coming to a shuddering end. We have had no economic plan, no outline of how the Government views the situation or how it intends to address it. I wish to move an amendment to the Order of Business today to discuss this important matter facing the country.
Last week also I outlined the serious situation on the economic front, the collapse of public private partnerships, the rapid and sharp decline in the housing market, the Health Service Executive losing €1 million a day according to its own estimates, and cutbacks in front-line services, home care packages, speech therapy and general practitioner services. Schools have been promised accommodation but now schools throughout the country want to know what has happened to those promises. A school in my constituency, Scoil na Camoige, has been left in sub-standard accommodation and it was promised a new school last year. Where does that promise stand now?
I note today a most serious report from the ESRI, and the editorial in today’s The Irish Times refers to the reality of a recession being in front of us. The recession is real, not technical. What is the Government doing about it? Where are the plans? Where is the discussion? We want the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance to come to the House to outline how they intend dealing with the situation.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Every time the matter has been raised by us, we have been told it is due to the international situation. It is instead the result of huge waste across a range of projects and appalling mismanagement over recent years. This needs to be discussed in this House as soon as possible. I ask for a debate in this House before the summer recess on the economic situation.
On a different topic, I ask the Leader to bring the concerns of the House about the situation in Zimbabwe to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and to highlight the all-party motion which was passed by the House. It is an appalling situation in which the opposition leader can no longer contest the election because of fears of violence. We want this country to make every effort at international meetings.
My requests today are for an amendment to the Order of Business to have a discussion on the economic situation so that some reality can be injected into our discussions, and for the Leader to raise the situation in Zimbabwe with the Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Senator Joe O’Toole: Cúpla uair i rith na bliana, dúirt mé leis an Leader gur chóir go mbeadh díospóireacht againn ar staid na Gaeilge agus polasaithe Gaeilge. In particular I have pointed out the discrepancy between support for Gaeltacht schools and for gaelscoileanna or Irish schools outside of the Gaeltacht. Gaeltacht schools nowadays must invite in extra Irish teachers because there are so many children arriving at Gaeltacht schools who do not have Irish from home. They are being provided with Irish language classes at the beginning of the school day. At the same time, Irish language schools in the Galltacht, outside of the Gaeltacht areas, have a more advantageous retention ratio for teachers. This makes no sense. Ba chóir dúinn gach tacaíocht a thabhairt dos na scoileanna sna Gaeltachtaí chun a dhéanamh cinnte de go bhfuil gach seans acu an Ghaeilge a fhorbairt sna h-áiteanna sin. Ba chóir go mbeadh an seans céanna acu is atá ag na gaelscoileanna. Ba chóir don Aire Oideachais agus Eolaíochta nó an Aire Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta teacht isteach anseo chun a mhíniú cén fáth nach bhfuil an seans céanna ag scoileanna sna Gaeltachtaí. Why is the same support structure not available to Gaeltacht schools as for Irish schools outside the Gaeltacht? It makes no sense. It might have made sense at a time when every child coming into a Gaeltacht school had Gaeilge ón gcliabhán acu. Ní mar sin atá an scéal a thuilleadh. Bíonn ar na múinteoirí an Ghaeilge a mhúineadh ó thosach do gach leanbh a thagann isteach. Ba chóir, mar sin, go mbeadh tacaíocht ann dóibh.
I also wish to raise another issue, which I have raised previously. It concerns the matter referred to by Senator Fitzgerald. Whatever about the party political issues that arise in this respect, I suggest in a non-political way that we need to know where we are going on this matter. Senator Fitzgerald made one point that goes without argument, which is that the Taoiseach should tell us exactly where this matter is going. I am speaking as someone who has been involved in the social partnership process over the years. There was much discussion about whether the social partnership process could continue in good times and if we needed it. I do not know what the answer to that question would have been, but it is certainly the only way forward at present. Social partnerships cannot bring this forward without a clear political decision. There must be political leadership in this regard. The Taoiseach must put his cards firmly on the table and outline the problem. He must also state whether he wants another national agreement as part of the solution or if he wants to go another way. Let us get the cards clearly on the table, however, and see the scale of the problem. Let us investigate and map the various options available to move our way out of it. Let us find the compromises and agreements within the social partnership model that will bring matters forward. There is no point in flagging stuff on the front pages of newspapers day after day with unions saying they will not agree to a pay freeze, employers saying we must have a pay freeze, and the Government saying nothing because Ministers are worried about their positions. Let us put the matter on the table in order that we can deal with the problem.
There is no problem that does not have a solution, but solutions will be found only when people are given the information in order that they can then chart the way to a solution. It is not rocket science, it just means assuming leadership, grasping the matter and moving forward. It also means putting responsibility and pressure on every group in the country and then finding a solution.
Senator Alex White: In order to have any relevance, this House needs to debate the ESRI’s recently published quarterly economic commentary. I support, and am happy to second, Senator Fitzgerald’s amendment to the Order of Business to provide for such a debate. We are talking about the first recession in this country for 25 years. We are not talking about speculation but about a clear forecast of an increase in unemployment and emigration. Two significant aspects of the current situation emerge from the ESRI report. First, the current recession is almost entirely home-grown. That is the factual position as outlined by the authors of the ESRI report. The alibi, explanation or excuse — that it concerns external, overseas factors — that is sometimes given in this House is not true. Therefore, we must leave that aside because it has been proven to be incorrect.
Senator Alex White: If Senator O’Malley wishes to read the ESRI report she may not like it, but we are talking about factual material which we need to understand before we can have the debate. The factual material, which is not speculative, points without question to the reality that this is a home-grown recession caused by developments over which this country, and the Government in particular, have substantial power to change. Members on the Government side may not like it but we need to face the facts first and then have the sort of debate Senator O’Toole seeks.
Senator Alex White: We had an opportunity to do otherwise. We had years of self-satisfied, smug commentary from the Government, including from the then Taoiseach, about cranes in the sky, saying that everything was going to be great. We missed the opportunity, however. I want a debate on this report.
We blew it in the sense that we passed up the opportunity we had to set down the basis for dealing with a downturn when it came. We did not do that. We simply decided not to do it. We did not fix the roof of the house when the weather was good and now we must face the bad times. Clearly we need an opportunity to debate this in the House.
If I can reflect back on what is sometimes regarded as the Taoiseach’s Angola moment when he was upset about having to deal with the Department of Health and Children, it would appear now that the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, is having an Angola moment about having to deal with the challenges in the Department of Finance. They need to get together quite lively to put together a clear proposal on how we will proceed in the matter. They first need to face up to the fact that it would be unthinkable for them to go ahead and take pay increases in the face of a situation where they demand that people face pay cuts. Clearly, we need a debate on the matter.
Senator Jim Walsh: The Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy Seán Haughey, attended last week when the Christian Brothers order transferred its land banks throughout the country to an independent trust. It would be remiss of us in these Houses if we allowed that go without commenting on, and giving due credit to, the Irish Christian Brothers for the contribution they have made to Ireland over the past 150 years. Generations of young Irish boys would never have got an education but for the selfless service of many people of that order. I would like the House to join me in complimenting them on that and to see that this initiative will continue in a different way the contribution that they made previously to society.
I support the call by Senator Fitzgerald for a debate on the economy, not today but before the summer recess. Undoubtedly, there is a need for the Members to have an opportunity to discuss this important issue. There is also a real danger. There are people around, many of whom are in the media, who almost wished we had a recession in order that they would have something negative about which to write.
Senator Jim Walsh: When one looks at the growth of approximately 4.5% last year, it means that now over two years we will have had 4% growth in the economy when we have had unprecedented growth for the past decade.
Senator Jim Walsh: It is important for us to be responsible. If we try to talk down the economy, we are doing an injustice to young people who expect better from people of a more senior age in these Houses who are cosseted by being members of the public service.
Senator Jim Walsh: There are issues such as inflation and the public finances. One such issue, on which we ourselves can give a lead, as I stated in the House three or four weeks ago, is pay restraint in the public service. It is my belief that we should consider an 18-month pay pause, right across the economy generally but definitely in the public service which has benefited enormously in the past decade when times were good. It is important now that we play our part and that we do not just leave it to those in the private sector to take the pain of what is happening in the economy. I support the call for a good constructive debate on the economy in the course of the next few weeks, something to which the people are entitled.
Senator Paudie Coffey: I support my colleague Senator Fitzgerald and second the proposed amendment to the Order of Business for a debate the economy. It is only eight months since we held a debate on housing in the Chamber when Deputy Batt O’Keeffe attended as then Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government with responsibility for housing. At that time it was outlined to the Minister of State the excessive dependence on the property and construction industry that had been indulged in by the Government for the past ten to 15 years. All the eggs were put in one basket. Any economist or anyone with a financial brain will say one should not put all one’s eggs in one basket.  However, that is essentially what this Government has done for the past ten to 15 years. It has depended hugely on the construction industry and when that went flat, everything else went with it.
All of today’s newspaper editorials indicate that there is a recession, something which is frightening for the younger generation, about which Senator Jim Walsh spoke. Many of those young people are now laboured with the large mortgages propagated by the high cost of construction which was not controlled by this Government. It is high time we had a serious debate about our economy and the serious challenges facing citizens. Schools are half built and half of pupils attend classes in prefabs. The health services——
Senator Paudie Coffey: These are the issues facing the people but we do not have the answers to them. The Government is sitting on its hands. We call on the Minister for Finance and the Taoiseach to come to the House to show real leadership in terms of how we propose to deal with these challenges.
I refer to the health service and palliative care in the south east. Someone who is terminally ill should be afforded privacy and dignity in their dying days. The south east does not have a hospice to provide citizens with that fundamental dignity. Before the last general election, promises were made by Government that funding would be allocated for the provision of a hospice in Waterford. That funding, however, has been re-allocated to other areas in the health service and all kinds of excuses are being made. That is a scandal affecting those people who are most vulnerable. The Government needs to wake up and show real leadership.
Senator Denis O’Donovan: I raise the old chestnut I have raised from time to time. Will the Leader arrange a debate on the fishing industry? Unfortunately, the industry is in deep crisis. There is a major problem and some fishermen are on the verge of bankruptcy. We can talk about the rising cost of fuel, other costs in a tightening economy, such as payments for boats, etc., but in my lifetime — I come from a coastal community — I have never seen the industry so swamped. It is swamped with regulations and it is sinking fast. Unless something is done in the coming weeks rather than months, the fishing industry will collapse. Trawler men have said to me they face deep financial crisis. Recently a man told me a ten-day trip cost him €18,000 in fuel alone and that the five crewmen on board got €25 per day. They would have received more than that 40 years ago.
Fishermen recently protested and they were against the Lisbon treaty, which I can understand. I plead with the Leader to arrange an urgent debate on the fishing industry for which I called approximately six weeks ago. I know many industries face issues but the one industry which is facing wipe-out and is sinking fast is the fishing industry. It is like the perfect storm. I would like an immediate response.
The Minister is in Luxembourg but teetering around the edges and telling us the Cawley report is the panacea is like throwing crumbs at a bear. I cannot emphasise enough the seriousness of the situation. The coastal communities will rebel. What we saw in Clonakilty a couple of a weeks ago will have been small scale compared to what will come down the tracks if something is not done. Places like Killybegs, Castletownbere, Kilmore Quay, Dunmore East and Rossaveel will be ghost towns in a couple of years if we do not do something. The industry is crying out for help and Members of both Houses and successive Governments have ignored the fishing industry for the past 30 years.
Senator David Norris: Last Thursday, with the permission of the Cathaoirleach, I raised the question of a person whose human rights were seriously violated with the collaboration of official agencies here. I did so at his request and followed the etiquette of the House by not putting his name on the record. He has since attempted to get this case taken up by our courageous journalists, financial and otherwise. However, not a single one has taken it up with the exception of our own Jimmy Walsh who, as usual, was splendid in the matter. I wish now to say to those investigative journalists, “Let them start investigating” and I will tell them and the House on the record his name is Mr. Frank Mulcahy and he was the head of the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association, ISME——
An Cathaoirleach: The Senator is out of order in naming people who are not present in the House and I do not want it to continue. I have made this clear on numerous occasions and if Senators are going to persist with this I will not call them on the Order of Business.
Senator David Norris: I understand the Cathaoirleach’s feelings, but I am sure he will understand mine where a man cannot get justice because of the gutlessness of the media and it uses this as an excuse. I have now removed that excuse from them with the permission of the person involved.
I wish to raise the question of rendition, which emerged in Amnesty International’s report. I am asking for a discussion on this matter and an end to the characteristic, continuing and deliberate dishonesty by the Department of Foreign Affairs. It has been made clear that on three instances, which I and others have put on the record in this House on numerous occasions, aeroplanes involved in an unbroken rendition circuit used Shannon Airport with the complicity of our authorities. It is like somebody who is asked, “Why did you poison your wife?” and the answer given is, “I never took a hatchet to her in my life”. It is deliberately answering the wrong question in order to obfuscate. Let us stop it, because that kind of hoodwinking of the public is exactly what happened when the vote on the Lisbon treaty was lost. The truth would not be told and Mr. Sarkozy is still at it. I understand he is coming here. I hope he gets a robust response here and I hope somebody tells him that we have had enough Marie Antoinettery about the place——
Senator David Norris: ——from Austro-Hungarians. He might well end up with his head in a bucket underneath the tumbrel if he goes on saying that the Irish people fed their faces with their money for long enough——
All Senators received the circular about the amount of correspondence and so on we receive. The material in my hands is what I got in terms of reports and the same in terms of letters. Why are we getting so much rubbish? Why do we not do something if we are worried about the environment? This volume of material is not going to help.
Senator Marc MacSharry: I support Senator Norris on that point, which I have raised many times. I welcome that the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission started a process whereby it might reform the amount of material sent in the post and we could get the material electronically instead.
I support my colleague, Senator Denis O’Donovan, in his call a debate on the fishing industry. We have a real crisis on the western seaboard which has been substantially ignored because the rest of the country seems oblivious to it. However, on the western seaboard and indeed in all our coastal communities there is a serious crisis.
On the economy generally I call, as so many of us have in recent weeks, for a rolling debate on the economy. We have been living in changed economic circumstances for several months now. It is no surprise to see the information contained in the ESRI report this morning. I refute the idiotic suggestion that this problem is entirely home-grown. Let us use some international statistics, for example——
Senator Marc MacSharry: In the United Kingdom mortgage activity is expected to be down 47% this year. How did the Fianna Fáil Government manage to achieve this in another state? In the United States there is a reduction of 30% in activity in planning permission and building permits. Is the Irish Government also responsible for this? No, it is the result of an unprecedented international credit crisis, an unprecedentedly low oil supply and unprecedentedly high demand for oil. Is it a Fianna Fáil Government that is responsible for——
Senator Marc MacSharry: I note there are people referring to so-called Angola moments. Our Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, and his Cabinet colleagues look forward with great eagerness and determination to steering this country through the current difficulties.
Senator Alan Kelly: I would like to support the call made by my colleague, Senator Alex White, for a debate on the economy. Unlike the previous speaker, I believe this is a domestic problem, in the main, that has been created by this Government. While it is easy to suggest that people are talking up or down the economy, it is time to deal with the reality. It is easy for those on the other side of the House to laugh it off. That will not help young people with big mortgages. It will not help small and medium-sized enterprises, which we purport to support.
Senator Alan Kelly: We have to deal with the reality. We are in a recession. That is the fact of the matter. The good growth rates we enjoyed between 1995 and 2001 were based on exports and a sound economy. The reality is that between 2001 and 2008, we were living in a false economy, based on a cosy relationship between Fianna Fáil and the construction industry. That is the reality. Everybody here knows that, irrespective of whether they will admit it.
Senator Alan Kelly: That relationship was facilitated by the current Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen, as Minister for Finance. We have had a huge multi-billion turnaround in the economy. It is obvious there are external factors. The reality, as this report shows, is that this is being caused by mostly domestic factors.
Senator Alan Kelly: The previous speaker asked for suggestions. I have some suggestions. It is obvious that the new Minister for Finance will argue that cutbacks are needed in certain areas of the national development plan. We look forward to hearing what he has to say in that regard. I do not see how the national development plan can be cut. When the Minister is taking such action to facilitate the economy, perhaps he might finally outline what he will do to roll out broadband services and give workers new skills. He needs to make some positive statements on those matters. I do not know what the Government plans to do in those two key areas to turn around the economy. It needs to deal with the damage it has caused since the turn of the century.
I have repeatedly asked the Leader for a debate on the aviation industry, not just in the context of Cork Airport. Union members working for Dublin, Cork and Shannon airport authorities have voted to take industrial action from 2 July next on foot of their concerns about deficits in pension provisions. Industrial action would have a profound effect on the travelling public and on workers at various airports. The Minister, who might not have responsibility for the Dublin Airport Authority, gave certain commitments when he took office. I want a debate on aviation matters. We have not had such a debate. The aviation industry is in huge crisis, not least because of the cost of fuel.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Finance and the Taoiseach to the House for an urgent debate on the national development plan and the programme for Government. As the Cathaoirleach is aware, the ESRI report was published today. Let us cut out the bull — the reality is that ordinary people are suffering. Home care packages are being cut, the school building programme is not going ahead and motorways are not being built. The reality is that people are suffering——
Senator Ivana Bacik: I support my colleagues on this side of the House who have called for a debate on the economy. It is clear we are in recession. We have had enough of the patronising words of those on the other side of the House who suggest we are talking down the economy, and that we should not do so because it is harming the economy. It is clear who has caused the harm. It is interesting that Government speakers are trying to blame the current state of the economy on the international context. They were not slow to take credit for the boom years. When we had the boom, they did not point out that it had an international context. It is clear the Government has blown the boom, as other Senators have said.
I would like to be constructive, as the Minister for Finance asked us to be in his moment of self-pity last week. I suggest we should have a debate on what to do about this problem. Are there obvious ways in which the Minister for Finance could save the Exchequer money? As others have mentioned, an obvious way to do that would be to reverse the roll-out of the decentralisation programme. The programme, which has run into the sand, in effect, is costing the Exchequer a large amount of money without any discernible benefit.
Senator Ivana Bacik: Perhaps we should examine crime policy as an area in which money could be saved. That is especially relevant this week, as we debate the enormous super-prison site in Thornton Hall in north Dublin. We have seen the move in recent years from a due process model of criminal justice to a crime control model. That costs a considerable amount of money and the benefits to us, and to victims of crime, are minimal and have yet to be proven empirically.
We can look at ways of saving money and improving the economic situation but I do not think we need to hear either whingeing from the Minister for Finance or pomposity and patronising from the Government on this.
Senator Eugene Regan: We have had a number of attempts to have a debate on the economy in this House. When we discussed the economy the Leader and his colleagues generally referred to the past ten years and the level of growth. The reality is, as with so many other things, that Fianna Fáil has been caught out on this issue. It is now official because the report comes from the ESRI, not from Fine Gael, although it confirms what we said. We do not talk down the economy but if we refuse to debate and analyse it no lessons are learned and no measures will be taken to correct the situation.
Senator Eugene Regan: It must face the facts. That Government left inflation of 1.5% with a growth rate of 7.8% and an increase in productivity that has not been excelled since then. Damage has been done to the national debt which is rising in a return to 1980 levels, Government spending——
Senator Eugene Regan: I believe it is important because the message has not got across that we must debate this issue and not revert to the standard denials as Senator MacSharry attempted to do. The reality is that we left an economy in top shape to the Fianna Fáil Government——
Senator Eugene Regan: In conclusion, it is the primary responsibility of the Government to manage the public finances. It cannot do everything but it has a responsibility to manage that area. When we see a budget surplus of €6 billion in 2006 and a deficit of €3 billion this year, that is not good management. That is where——
Senator Eugene Regan: ——the Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen, and this Government have failed. The important question is whether the Government will start by reversing its own ministerial salary increases. That would be a first and most obvious step for the Government to take.
Senator Feargal Quinn: I agree that we must debate the economy and we should do so quickly though perhaps not today, because the ESRI report came out only today. I fear, from words used in the House already, that we are talking ourselves into a bigger recession than we might otherwise have had.
Senator Feargal Quinn: We must be careful not to do that. We need optimism but also realism. Things have changed in the 25 years to which the ESRI report refers. We no longer have control of our interest rates in the way that we had control of our currency 25 years ago. We have greatly benefited from the euro and control from the European Central Bank but we do not have our own control any longer. We must debate these changes and very soon.
In its programme for Government the Government included a referendum for children’s rights. The Minister of State for Children, Deputy Barry Andrews, seemed to suggest last week that such a referendum might not take place. I do not know if there has been a change of mind and perhaps it makes a lot of sense to solve this problem, or attempt to do so, by legislation rather than by referendum. I ask the Leader if we might have a debate on this issue. It is under discussion at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children but I believe it is also worthy of debate in this House.
As an employer for many years, I would have liked to have known about what is called “soft” information. I had not heard the term before but soft information applies to grave doubts about the suitability of persons to be in charge of children although they may not necessarily have been found guilty of an offence. An employer would like to know there are such doubts. I can understand the difficulty that arises and it is worthy of debate. We are here to protect children’s rights and to determine the best way of doing so. There is not full agreement between the different parties but it is possible to achieve, be it by way of referendum or legislative change.
Senator Camillus Glynn: I support Senator O’Donovan’s call for a debate on the fishing industry. I exhort the Leader and our spokesperson, Senator Carty, to arrange an early debate thereon. It is a very important industry, especially to the maritime counties.
Westmeath is known as the lake county and has serious problems with the manner in which its stocks are being poached. I have made this point several times before and “poached” is the nicest word I can use. I am deeply concerned about this issue, which has made the headlines in at least one local newspaper on several occasions. It is time something was done about it. We have talked the talk and now it is time we walked the walk.
I would welcome an early debate on the fishing industry. The Leader has already indicated he is disposed to having such a debate and I therefore thank him. Perhaps the debate on the problems affecting the inland counties of Roscommon, Longford, Westmeath and Cavan, Senator Wilson’s county, which has many fine lakes, can be held in tandem with that requested by Senator O’Donovan. This would be useful and I hope it would lead to positive proposals to address the problems, especially those affecting my own county.
Senator Paschal Donohoe: ——the scale of the issues we are facing. There is one point we will never allow this Government to forget, namely, it was lucky enough to be in office during an unprecedented global boom and never missed a single opportunity to take credit for it. Now, when we find we are not doing as well as we would like, the Government regards it as somebody else’s fault.
Senator Paschal Donohoe: When the economy is doing well, it is the Government’s responsibility but it is also its responsibility when it is not. We want a demonstration of political leadership in this House and to hear it in the debate for which Senator Fitzgerald is calling.
Senator Paschal Donohoe: We want the Government to recognise the scale of the issue and to outline its response. As the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, is taking time today to contemplate his own misery, he might take time to reflect on the 600 workers from a single company who lost jobs today. He might take the time to think about the people in O’Devaney Gardens and Dominic Street whose projects cannot now be delivered due to the framework the Government imposed on local authorities.
Senator Paschal Donohoe: It is now apparent that, as difficult as the economic circumstances are, we are facing a political crisis. We are not witnessing any recognition on the part of the Government of the scale of the issues faced by the people it claims to represent.
Senator Paschal Donohoe: ——the people we are trying to represent want the Government to recognise the scale of the issue. We want to hear every Minister say what he or she will do to deal with it and demonstrate the leadership he or she was elected to provide.
Senator Déirdre de Búrca: I participated in the Dublin Pride parade in Dublin on Saturday. It was a very enjoyable experience and very good humoured, but there were several references to the hope that the civil partnership Bill would be introduced as soon as possible.
Members had a good debate in recent months on the Civil Partnership Bill and there seemed to be consensus around the House on the importance of introducing this legislation, which forms part of the programme for Government. I ask the Leader of the House to provide an update to Members on the status of the legislation’s preparation and when they can expect to see it brought before the Houses of the Oireachtas.
The other issue I wish to mention is the World Trade Organisation negotiations, which are continuing, and the issue of agriculture. While there was much discussion on this issue during the run-up to the recent referendum, the World Trade Organisation negotiations continue. This morning I noted reports in the national media that the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Brendan Smith, has made it clear that neither he nor the Irish Government is happy with the implications for agriculture of some of the recent positions taken in those negotiations. I wish to emphasise that as a country that had and still has a strong agricultural base, we must be proactive at a European level in highlighting the vulnerability of the agricultural sector as the issue of food production and food security move to the top of the agenda.
Together with the looming energy crisis, the issue of food security will be immediate and the European Union must ensure it retains its capacity to produce its own food. One must examine the world trade system and must take issue that food is treated within it in the same manner as a manufactured product, that is, simply as another commodity for trading. I ask the Leader of the House, to whom the same request has been made in recent weeks, to invite the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to the House to address the issue of the ongoing negotiations, their future impact on the agricultural sector and the position Ireland is taking at an EU level to try to protect our capacity for food production in future.
Senator John Paul Phelan: I agree with Senator de Búrca’s points on food security. Members have been calling on the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to come to the House for some time and I hope the Leader can arrange such a discussion before the summer recess. It would be apt and timely to so do. A number of issues have arisen, particularly regarding the production of bio-fuels and the consequential impact on the price and availability of food around the world. It now is a moral question in that as a First World community, we have pumped resources into the development of bio-fuels at a time when many people throughout the world still live in hunger. These two positions cannot be reconciled and Members should have a debate in this regard. When does the Leader believe the Chemicals Bill will come before the House? While it was scheduled for today, I understand it is still before the other House. Perhaps the Leader will indicate when the debate is due to take place.
I agree with the point raised by Senator Coffey regarding palliative care and the lack of provision in the south-eastern region. I also agree with Senator O’Donovan, who raised the issue of fishermen, as he has done on a number of previous occasions, and a debate should be held in this regard. Although I do not come from a coastal community like other Members, the fishing industry should be protected. No other industry has lost out more since Ireland’s entry to the European Union and a debate on this issue should be held as soon as possible. Moreover, as part of that debate or perhaps in a subsequent discussion, Members should debate the ongoing increase in the price of fuel, which I also mentioned last week. This has knock-on effects for fishermen, for contractors of different sorts and, obviously, for hauliers. The latter are considering taking drastic action which, were it to happen, would have highly detrimental effects nationwide.
I join with Senator Fitzgerald and nearly everyone else who has spoken on the Order of Business who has raised the issue of the economy and the need for a debate on that subject. Members have been calling for such a debate for months. I was spokesman on finance for almost four years during the lifetime of the last Seanad and at every possible opportunity, I raised the economy’s over-reliance on the construction sector. The Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen, was Minister for Finance for most of that period and his then Minister of State is the head of the Construction Industry Federation at present. They repeatedly came before this House, denied that Ireland was over-reliant on anything and stated that everything would continue rosily into the future. It is appalling that the Government has moved from the position of the past 18 months, in which it denied we have a problem, to the remarks of Deputy Brian Lenihan last weekend, when he sank to new depths of self-pity in his position as Minister for Finance. If anybody is in danger of talking the economy into recession, it is the Minister with his shocking comments last weekend. I urge the Leader to have that debate before the summer recess. If possible, we should have it this week.
Senator Paul Coghlan: I join other colleagues in calling for a debate on the economy. I especially support Senator Frances Fitzgerald’s point that the most urgent item on our agenda is today’s ESRI report. It confirms everything that we had privately suspected and feared for some time. Owing to the domestic factors highlighted therein, we need to know urgently the Government’s proposals for our way out of this. Have the highlighted talks between the Government and the banks taken place? If not, when are they taking place and what is intended to come from them? There will be complete stagnation if the banks freeze up, so there must be agreement. The Government and the banks must be on the one wavelength, with an agreed agenda between them. That is the most immediate of the urgent matters that need to be dealt with.
I agree with Senator Quinn that we must be realistic. We do not want to talk ourselves into anything worse than what might happen but the ugly truth is that cranes are disappearing off the skylines throughout the country and building sites are shutting down. Unfortunately, that is the reality on 24 June.
Senator Nicky McFadden: I also want to share in a debate on the economy, and the Leader should facilitate it as urgently as possible. There are two facets to this. Senator de Búrca referred to food production and food security, but I would go further and point out how prescriptive we have become. I met a man at a function to commemorate the golden jubilee of a wedding last weekend, and he spoke about not being able to rear a duck, kill a goose or kill a lamb without having them tagged. This is overly prescriptive and with the way our economy and the cost of food are going, it is something we should examine. People feel downtrodden and this is a reflection on the way they voted in the Lisbon treaty. They voted because they are fed up with being told what to do. This man told me that soon we will have to ask permission to go to the toilet.
Economists say that oil will cost $200 per barrel by Christmas, yet there is an idea out there that people in rural Ireland will not be able to cut turf. This is the other facet to the debate on the economy. If the Government had listened to the people of rural Ireland before the referendum on the Lisbon treaty, their fears could have been allayed that these issues were not part of the treaty in the first place.
Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: I support Senator O’Donovan’s call for a debate on the fishing industry. I raised the issue last week and I hope the Leader will facilitate such a debate in the next few weeks. It is an industry on its knees at the moment and we need to be seen to support it.
I also support Senator de Búrca’s point on the World Trade Organisation talks, especially the proposal from Peter Mandelson to reduce the production of food through agriculture within the EU by 21%. This proposal is occurring at a time when a child dies every 30 seconds in the world from hunger. I do not agree with proposals like these and I get the feeling from the Minister and the Department that they are not in agreement with them either.
It also would be timely to have a debate on agriculture prior to the recess. I was not going to contribute on the issue of the economy. Listening to the debate, however, I believe we are trying to talk ourselves into a recession.
Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: ——let us have a realistic structured debate that will achieve some purpose for the people we represent rather than trying to attack each other across the Chamber. It is not going to achieve anything.
Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: It might achieve the effect that some may desire, namely, the recession going back to 1983. However, I do not want to go back to 1983. I want to go forward and I take it everybody on the Government side of the House wants to do the same thing.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senator Donohoe should know that I was smiling at someone in the Visitors Gallery. I apologise if he got the wrong impression. Senators Fitzgerald, O’Toole, Alex White, Walsh, Coffey, MacSharry, Kelly, Bacik, Regan, Quinn, Coghlan, McFadden, Ó Domhnaill and Donohoe all called for a debate on the economy. I have given my word to the House that this is going to take place. Now that the ESRI report is out today, we shall give the Minister for Finance the opportunity to come to the Seanad for a lengthy debate. I have no difficulty in holding a half-day debate in the House on the economy. It is something to which each one of us wants to make a contribution. I do not want to get involved in the pros and cons of what has been said. The people have acknowledged and recognised the good job that was done for the past ten years in endorsing the Government in three general elections.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senator Buttimer is not in a council chamber any longer. He has been uplifted and I am sure his family and parish are very uplifted along with him. I know he has an onerous task in living up to this responsibility.
Senator Donie Cassidy: No shouting and roaring from the other side, please. Senators Norris and Fitzgerald quite correctly have asked me to raise the matter of Zimbabwe with the Minister for Foreign Affairs in the context of the agreed all-party motion. I certainly will do that on the conclusion of the Order of Business.
Senator O’Toole highlighted the difficulties being experienced with funding for Gaeltacht schools. This is urgent and I shall convey the Senator’s serious concerns to the Minister immediately after the Order of Business.
Senator Jim Walsh offered his congratulations to the Christian Brothers on the magnificent contribution they have made and asked that the House be associated with it. I join the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy Haughey, and everyone else in congratulating the Christian Brothers on the 150 years of tremendous service they have given the people of Ireland.
Senators O’Donovan, MacSharry, Glynn, John Paul Phelan and Ó Domhnaill called for an urgent debate on the fishing industry. As I said to Senator Ó Domhnaill last week, Senator Glynn the previous week and Senator O’Donovan many weeks ago, this is a debate that must take place before the summer recess. This industry needs urgent attention and support, and it is one area to which each one of us can make a contribution. I have no difficulty in responding to Senator O’Donovan’s request, and this matter will be given all the time needed for views to be aired as soon as the Minister returns from Luxembourg. I understand the Senator is meeting the Minister tomorrow in this regard. I have given a commitment to Senator Glynn on fish stocks in the midlands. This could be included in the debate on the fishing industry.
Senator Norris called for a debate on rendition. I have no difficulty in having time set aside for such a debate but the difficulty is there are only three weeks to the summer recess. He might consider raising such a debate in Private Members’ business.
I must differ with Senator Norris’s comments on the French President, Mr. Sarkozy. As far as I am concerned as Leader of the House, Mr. Sarkozy is most welcome in our country. When France holds the EU Presidency in several weeks’ time, he will be welcomed as any other president has been.
Senator Buttimer called for a debate on the aviation industry. I have already said a debate can take place on this issue. He also called for a debate and update on the national development plan. This is very timely and should take place, hopefully, before the summer recess.
Senators John Paul Phelan and Ó Domhnaill called for an update and debate on agriculture and its importance to the economy, particularly food processing. Such a debate would be timely and I have no difficulty in setting aside time for such a debate.
The Chemicals Bill will be on the Order Paper next week. Senators John Paul Phelan and McFadden called for a debate on energy costs and the rising price of oil. Senator McFadden pointed to difficulties in the midlands with turf-cutting. The agreement on allowing domestic turf-cutting to continue is supposed to expire in the next 12 months. With oil costs going through the roof, this should be extended for at least another ten years. I support the pleas of the midlands Senators on this matter.
|Bacik, Ivana.||Bradford, Paul.|
|Burke, Paddy.||Buttimer, Jerry.|
|Coffey, Paudie.||Coghlan, Paul.|
|Donohoe, Paschal.||Fitzgerald, Frances.|
|Hannigan, Dominic.||Kelly, Alan.|
|McFadden, Nicky.||Norris, David.|
|O’Toole, Joe.||Phelan, John Paul.|
|Quinn, Feargal.||Regan, Eugene.|
|Ross, Shane.||Ryan, Brendan.|
|Boyle, Dan.||Brady, Martin.|
|Butler, Larry.||Callely, Ivor.|
|Cannon, Ciaran.||Carty, John.|
|Cassidy, Donie.||Corrigan, Maria.|
|Daly, Mark.||de Búrca, Déirdre.|
|Ellis, John.||Feeney, Geraldine.|
|Glynn, Camillus.||MacSharry, Marc.|
|Ó Domhnaill, Brian.||Ó Murchú, Labhrás.|
|O’Brien, Francis.||O’Donovan, Denis.|
|O’Malley, Fiona.||O’Sullivan, Ned.|
|Ormonde, Ann.||Phelan, Kieran.|
|Walsh, Jim.||Wilson, Diarmuid.|
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