Wednesday, 2 July 2008
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Donie Cassidy: The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re Planning and Development (Amendment) Regulations 2008, back from committee, without debate; No. 2, Nuclear Test Ban Bill 2006 — Second Stage; No. 3, statements regarding the OECD report on integrated public service reform and, No. 22, Private Members’ business, motion No. 40 re national cancer strategy. It is proposed that No. 1 will be taken without debate on the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, will be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 and will adjourn not later than 2.30 p.m., if not previously concluded. Spokespersons may speak for ten minutes, all other Senators for eight minutes, and Senators may share time with the agreement of the House. No. 3 will be taken not earlier than 3 p.m. and will conclude not later than 5 p.m. Spokerspersons may speak for eight minutes, all other Senators for six minutes and Senators may share time with the agreement of the House; the Minister will be called upon ten minutes before the conclusion of the debate for concluding comments and questions from spokespersons. No. 22 will be taken at 5 p.m. and conclude not later than 7 p.m. No. 2 will resume at 7 p.m., if not previously concluded. The business of the House will be interrupted from 2.30 p.m. to 3.00 p.m.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: We have agreed that the Planning and Development (Amendment) Regulations 2008 will be taken without debate. I wish to raise the matter, however, especially given the news this morning that an incinerator is going ahead in County Meath. In my constituency in Rathcoole, an application for an incinerator by a private developer has gone straight to An Bord Pleanála in line with the changes to legislation under the essential infrastructure rules. What is the Fianna Fáil-Green Party policy on incineration, and how many incinerators does the Government believe are necessary in this country? We must ask serious questions about waste management policy given that exempted development and essential infrastructure are being used in this way to fast track planning applications for private developers. I would like a response from the Leader on the matter.
I wish to return to yesterday’s discussion about the expenditure of €200,000 on an office for the former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern. Concern was expressed on all sides of the House about the amount of money involved. I hope that when it comes to dealing with the economic situation, that the most vulnerable will not be targeted and that the issue of waste will be dealt with seriously by the Government and reformed. I previously brought to the attention of the House statistics on waste in recent years. Much concern was expressed yesterday about the expenditure of €200,000, which is unacceptable, and gives us a bird’s eye view of the waste of public money. The cost of the decentralisation programme is €1.27 billion. What will happen in that regard in the weeks ahead? The overruns on the East Link and West Link toll bridges ran to €407 million. The computer system PPARS cost €186 million. I hope the other side of the House is as concerned about these enormous amounts of waste as it is about the amount we discussed yesterday. In any review of the economy the question of managing waste in Government-financed projects should be prioritised as opposed to attacking front-line services. We want to see a new approach to the management of public money in the months ahead.
At a conference last Friday the Director of Public Prosecutions highlighted his concern over legislation on children. The headline from The Irish Times to a report written by Carol Coulter was “DPP warns of major difficulty in taking underage sex cases.” He is extremely concerned that cases are not being taken now that should be taken. Clearly children are not being protected. I am a member of the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children. I am concerned that the Government is not clear about its direction regarding an amendment on children’s rights or legislation. If the DPP is warning of major difficulty in taking these cases, it effectively means that children are not being protected and there is a gap in the law which is of great concern to us. There have been quite a number of high-profile cases in recent months where children were not protected.
This issue is of great seriousness. We need the Leader to tell us the line the Government is taking. Will it proceed with an amendment or has it got cold feet following the experience with the referendum on the Lisbon treaty? Will it introduce legislation that might deal with the issue to a degree? One way or another, we need immediate action on the issue. The DPP is extremely concerned about the lack of protection for children in these cases. He has said it is “immensely more difficult” to take cases now than it was before. This is a very serious legislative issue that may need emergency legislation before the end of this Dáil term. If there is to be emergency legislation next week, it should be in this area.
Senator Joe O’Toole: The point raised about children’s legislation is crucial. We need to give it broader consideration. I received a communication from the National Youth Council stating that the recently issued regulations regarding alcohol and young people were put together without consultation with any youth organisations, which is appalling. In addition the matter should be addressed through legislation and not by way of guidelines. It is a matter to which I would like to return.
Without wishing to query the good intentions of Senator Butler on the points he made yesterday, I feel he should look back at what has happened in the past 20 or 30 years. I listened to members of the Government in 1987 telling us how bad the country was, that it was going to the wall and that there was not a shilling in it. It took a couple of hundred million pounds worth of tribunals over the following 20 years to find that the country was overwhelmed and rotten with money at the time, most of it going offshore and most of it being accumulated without tax having been paid on it.
Senator Joe O’Toole: We need to discuss the matter. I am not putting this in any assertive way to Senator Butler and I do not query his good intentions. However, people need to understand why we need the facts before us this time. I agree we need to share the pain. We should have a view that anybody who speaks in this House should propose a solution that covers everybody. Income and wage restraint are fine. However, we need to remember that is called profit for some people, wages and income for others, and all sorts of fees for others again. We should look to the people who got us into this mess, the bankers and the builders. There should be an extra tax on bankers who are still making €1.7 billion profit this year. We should consider a means to protect people at the lower end on the minimum wage to ensure those outside the tax net are not brought inside it. Everybody would be prepared to consider the introduction of taxation for people earning more than €100,000 a year — or whatever figure. I am sure the trade union movement will not be found wanting in supporting that kind of progressive programme.
In any discussion we have on the matter there should be an objective. Why would people have a pay pause? Why would we share the pain? What are we trying to achieve? What we are trying to achieve can be articulated, quantified or measured by benchmarks through interest rates, economic growth or inflation. People would then know when we reach that point we have achieved the target and then the pain can be relieved. People need to be clear about the state we are in at present, what we need to do to achieve our target in a way that will be shared by everybody and how we will know when we are out of it. We have none of that information at the moment. We should not buy into listening to bankers’ economists telling us how bad things are. They are the people who told us how good things were not that long ago and guided us into this mess in the first place.
Senator Alex White: I agree with Senator O’Toole about the basis on which we should have the debate on the economy, which I understand the Leader proposes to hold next Wednesday. That debate needs to be based on the facts. We can see clearly the facts. While we may differ in our opinions, we must have some level of shared understanding of the facts. I am less than hopeful in that regard when I hear some of the statements made in this House and elsewhere as to what the facts really are. What the Taoiseach said yesterday shows that he is persisting in the sham and untruth that our economic difficulties at present are wholly based on the international situation. He again said in the Dáil yesterday that tax revenues were down because of the international situation. Tax revenues are not down because of the international situation. Tax revenue is down and will continue to be down because of the collapse in the holy grail of the construction industry into which so much trust was placed by his colleagues and him in recent years. That is not an opinion; it is a fact. I raised this matter in the House last week and some colleagues opposite described it as an idiotic idea. It is not an idiotic idea because it is factual to point to the reality that our economic difficulties are almost wholly domestically generated.
We had a difficulty during the Lisbon treaty referendum campaign, when certain Ministers and others said they had not read the treaty. I ask Ministers and Members of this House to read the documentation available to them before the debate next week. I ask them to read the ESRI medium-term review, which makes clear that these difficulties are domestically generated. They are not based on what is happening internationally. If colleagues read the information first, we can then have the facts-led debate that Senator O’Toole correctly requested.
I wish to comment on the matter Senator Fitzgerald raised regarding the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children, of which I am also a member. Whereas I understand where she is coming from regarding the DPP’s statement, I respectfully disagree with anybody who would advocate emergency legislation in this very difficult and sensitive area. We have had emergency legislation in this area and in related areas in the past, which has left us with difficulties.
Senator Alex White: We need carefully considered debate on the matter in that committee and if necessary in this House — I have no difficulty with a debate in this House. It is not clear to me that the only way to resolve this matter is through another constitutional amendment. There is a real doubt as to whether that would be a sensible way to proceed. My party is considering the possibility of the matter being addressed through legislation. I presume the Government is also considering the various options. I know Senator Fitzgerald would always support a calm and reasoned debate. This is classically not an area for emergency legislation.
Senator Dan Boyle: I support the approach advocated by Senator Alex White on whether the children’s rights issue should be dealt with by legislation or through a constitutional approach. The Oireachtas has established this committee which is due to report and all options are being considered. Nevertheless the views of the DPP form an important part of that process.
No. 1 is a motion on the Planning and Development (Amendment) Regulations 2008, which have been discussed in depth at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. It largely relates to new procedures that allow small measures such as solar panels and wind turbines to be erected on domestic dwellings without going through the full planning process, which most people will welcome as a speeding-up mechanism in ensuring more renewable technologies are used.
Regarding the query on the Government position on waste management, the Minister has indicated that a review of international best practice will be completed by this month. That will be made public and will inform the debate. The programme for Government indicates that incineration is not a preferred waste option but mechanical and biological treatment are. The situation regarding the incinerator in Meath has gone through all existing processes but is being promoted by a company that says it wants an economic advantage over landfill for its operations. However the programme for Government is clear that such an economic advantage will not be offered, so that raised questions.
I had severe qualms about the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Bill when it was introduced in both Houses of the Oireachtas during the last Government but I have had experience of one of the first uses of it regarding an application by the Port of Cork company to relocate elsewhere in Cork Harbour. Having seen that turned down and public concerns addressed by An Bord Pleanála’s refusal, I am more at ease with the use of that legislation and how it is being applied. Nevertheless, we must monitor the situation and any attempt to foist unnecessary incineration due to the capacity that such operations would require to run will be strongly opposed by Government policy.
Senator Eugene Regan: The Taoiseach and Minister for Finance, in building up as a major event today’s presentation of the Department of Finance Exchequer figures, are playing for time on the economy. It is not a unique event. The Department of Finance produces Exchequer figures every month and they have shown, since the beginning of the year, a deterioration in tax receipts. Talk of corrective action and mini budgets and the proposed press conference today is just masking the inactivity that has taken place. Senators O’Toole and Fitzgerald mentioned the economy. The Taoiseach refuses to diagnose and admit what has gone wrong. The economy was based on a property bubble. In 2005 the IMF warned that this bubble was unsustainable.
Senator Eugene Regan: I have a question for the Leader. On foot of that property bubble, taxes on construction and housing related economic activities rose from 6% in 2001 to 20% in 2006. That was unsustainable. The Taoiseach, as Minister for Finance in 2006, said property prices were anchored on sound fundamentals in the Irish economy. If we do not analyse and diagnose, and if the Taoiseach and Minister for Finance are not prepared to face the facts and properly diagnose the problems in the economy, they will not be able to steer this economy out of the recession that is staring us straight in the face. I ask the Leader to address that question.
Senator Terry Leyden: ——has proposed that the accident and emergency unit at Roscommon hospital will be open only from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. and will close at weekends and that acute surgery will be removed.
Senator Terry Leyden: Only 12 months ago, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney gave commitments to Deputy Finneran that this would not happen and she should come into the House and explain the situation. Professor Drumm and the HSE are issuing these diktats. Professor Drumm would not come to Roscommon to meet the staff last week but instead went to Galway to meet staff there. As a former Minister of State at the Department of Health 21 years ago, I was in the position to stand alone and save Roscommon hospital from being turned into a district hospital.
Senator Terry Leyden: Despite a lack of support from members of the Health Board from my county, who voted against the compromise proposal, Roscommon was retained as an acute general hospital with surgery, medical and psychiatric services and we have built it up to a fantastic set up. It is a good hospital and works very well. It is very regrettable for me to see what is proposed for a hospital for which we fought so hard and for so long.
Senator Terry Leyden: The Members shouting and roaring do not realise the blood, sweat and tears that went in to keep Roscommon as an acute general hospital. If they want to say anything, they should say it on the Order of Business. There is no point in heckling me about it.
Senator Feargal Quinn: Senator Fitzgerald raised the issue of the protection of children. I draw the Leader’s attention to an item I read during the week disclosing that a leading British bank, which I do not believe operates in Ireland, is in the habit of sending debit cards to children as young as 11 years without the consent of the parents. I do not know if it is possible to do this in Ireland and I do not know if it happens here but we must be very careful of it. When we talk about protection of children we are not talking just about their protection in the normal manner but in other ways too. The possibility of these children being able to buy alcohol, cigarettes, pornography, etc. is causing quite a concern in the UK and I would like to ensure we have some stipulation against this. Senator O’Toole mentioned the banks. Their representatives are coming into a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance and Public Service, of which I am a member, and I intend to raise this. It is a reminder that legislation on children is required not in just one restricted area but in a varied range of areas.
Senator Larry Butler: I want to raise a few matters that arose yesterday morning. I agree with most of what Senator O’Toole said. Yesterday morning I did not do a very good job of getting across the point that we must protect those who need protection in this economy when there is a downturn. It is the responsibility of unions, employers and all who have power at the table. That was the point I made yesterday morning. The responsibility is there. I will not dwell on that. Senator Coghlan, for whom I have great regard, raised some questions on the construction industry yesterday morning. This is an important part of our country’s industry. The local authority budget for 2008 is very substantial. I got a few figures before I came up and I want to read them to the House.
Senator Larry Butler: There is €74 million for affordable housing, €51 million for rental accommodation, €40 million for Traveller-specific accommodation and €1 billion for social housing. Something is going wrong. If the local authorities are not getting together these contracts for the development of this programme for 2008, we have to wonder whether the county managers in each county are up to doing the job. These are questions I want dealt with.
Senator Larry Butler: Members complain in the House about the construction industry and the drop in housing business. There is a bright side to this in that the customer will benefit. There has been a drop in average housing prices from €320,000 in 2007 to €255,000. That has to be——
Senator Larry Butler: We will debate the economy on Wednesday and I hope it will be a constructive debate and not one in which Members shout each other down. We are letting down the tenor of debate in this House by shouting across the Chamber at each other. It is not good enough.
Senator Paul Coghlan: I accept Senator Butler’s bona fides with regard to his concerns about the contractions taking place in the construction industry. As the Senator said, something is wrong in this area and the managers are being strait-jacketed by the Department with regard to this, that and the other programme. I have seen major programmes cancelled and I know something is wrong. That is all I will say on that matter. The Leader can respond if he wishes.
Senator Paul Coghlan: Today, the good people of Valentia and Malin are before the Joint Committee on Transport and I have no doubt they will get a good hearing. We must remind ourselves that these people have a sterling record of first class service to this State. In these straitened times of sharp economic downturn, we need to conserve resources and not waste what is available. If further specialised equipment needs to be installed, I suggest we have suitable premises for that at both Valentia and Malin. I look forward to today’s meeting.
Senator Paul Coghlan: Finally, a very important subject with regard to the protection and rights of children has been touched on in the House. The law is lacking. It is a most serious issue when it is taken up by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr. James Hamilton, the most senior law officer in the State. Senator Fitzgerald referred to a report in The Irish Times which states:
Senator Jim Walsh: I concur with the concerns expressed about the comments of the DPP. I share his concerns with regard to the current difficulty in prosecuting cases. I was a member of the Joint Committee on Child Protection in the last Dáil and Seanad. We recommended that absolute protection would be reintroduced by way of a referendum. I hope the current committee, under the able chairmanship of Deputy Mary O’Rourke, will come forward with that.
I concur to a very large degree with everything Senator O’Toole said about the economy and what needs to be done. There needs to be restraint everywhere and everybody needs to play his or her part, as I have said, with regard to the public service and having a pay pause for a period of 18 months. It is absolutely essential we do this.
With regard to comments on the construction industry, anybody who knows anything about economics and house building will know that maintaining 80,000 to 90,000 units per year is unsustainable and that a more natural figure would be 40,000 to 50,000.
Senator Jim Walsh: Due to the huge increase in the past few years, we have approximately a 70,000 unit overhang which will probably take a couple of years to wind its way through the system. When that is gone, we will be back to more normal production of units. However, we should not become negative, be it for political reasons or due to those in the media who have been predicting doom and gloom for the past five years and now seem pleased the economy is getting to the stage where growth rates are beginning to wind down.
Senator Jim Walsh: With the permission of the Cathaoirleach, I want to make some reasoned comments on some of the derogatory references made in this House, in particular yesterday, with regard to a motion which I and others had at our parliamentary meeting.
Senator Jim Walsh: We had a very good debate, everybody was very happy and the wording and content of that motion was very fair and balanced, and accepted by the meeting and by the Taoiseach and the Minister. I would encourage other parties to look at the heads of the Bill——
Senator Jim Walsh: I was amazed that members of the media paid no attention to that debate in this House. Yet, everybody was looking for me on Friday and since in order to comment. If more attention was paid by the media in general, with the exclusion of Mr. Jimmy Walsh and The Irish Times, they would have these stories well in advance.
In response to an article in The Irish Times, which I thought had a terrible heading, the republican ethos that is engendered in this House and particularly in my party would ensure marginalised people in society need have no fears that their issues will be addressed.
Senator Jim Walsh: I will finish by making the point that in doing this, there is no need to, and it must not happen that we need to, redefine marriage from its intrinsically heterosexual nature, which is for the propagation of society and the welfare of children, into one which is purely for an adult sexual relationship. That is essential and important.
Senator Dominic Hannigan: I wish to refer to the situation in Abkhazia in the Caucasus. Many will have read about the involvement of the Russians inside Abkhazia and the developing situation regarding the border with Georgia. I ask the Leader to impress upon the Minister for Foreign Affairs how important it is that the European Union makes some noise about this situation. The Minister should meet the Russian ambassador to discuss Russia’s intentions regarding Abkhazia.
An announcement was made this morning that Indaver Ireland is about to begin construction of an incinerator outside Duleek. The site is two miles away from where I live and I am very concerned about the impact of the incinerator on the people of County Meath. I am also very concerned to see that the Green Party has washed its hands of this issue. Members of that party have argued that the issue has been through the courts and that there is nothing they can do, but they are wrong. They can roll out the brown bin strategy. Fingal County Council has managed to reduce waste significantly by introducing a pilot brown bin programme in the Fingal area. I would like to see that rolled out nationwide. That is something that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government can do. Let us see him do it.
Senator Denis O’Donovan: I thank the Cathaoirleach who is a most indulgent and patient man. I ask the Leader if there is any possibility, given the difficult situation in the fishing industry, of having a brief debate on the issue before we conclude this session next week. In particular, I am concerned about the fact that most, if not all, crewmen are self-employed and they seem to have been ignored by the Cawley report. The fact that they are self-employed means they are facing a bleak future. It probably suited some of the trawler owners that the crewmen were self-employed but sin scéal eile.
I chaired the Oireachtas committee on the Constitution which examined the issues of children’s rights. It is an extremely sensitive issue. I support the concept of a referendum on the rights of children but if we do not get it right, we could create a legal quagmire and a minefield of problems. I would urge caution, with all due respect to the leader of the Opposition. I know she means well but we must be cautious. I urge Members to wait for the concluding report from the current committee and following that, I suggest that a cross-departmental committee should examine closely the wording of any amendment to the Constitution. If such an amendment is not worded correctly — forget about Lisbon — we could have a major headache in this country in the future.
Yesterday the cost of refurbishing the former Taoiseach’s offices was mentioned. In that context, I wish to share an anecdote with the House. I met a man who is building a house on an island off west Cork, the name of which I will not mention.
Senator Denis O’Donovan: It is an inhabited island off west Cork. The man in question is getting his house built for €127,500. In that context, are we getting value for money? I believe the point speaks for itself.
An Cathaoirleach: I wish to make a point to the House. On the Order of Business, Members may request clarification of the Leader’s proposals for today’s business or seek alterations or amendments to the times allocated. A Member may also ask about forthcoming legislation or request that the Leader provide time for a debate on a particular matter or topic. Members do not need to give a very detailed reason for requesting such a debate as that information can form part of the debate when it takes place. Contributions should be brief and to the point to enable the Chair, within a reasonable time, to facilitate any Senator wishing to ask questions on the Order of Business. We should not return to issues we discussed yesterday.
I will circulate this information to Members, in case they are not up to speed on procedures. People have been drifting totally off the point. We may be nearing the end of the session and I might be a little more lenient with people than usual but there are approximately seven minutes remaining with ten or more Senators wishing to make a point. I do not have a hope of being able to accommodate them all. Unfortunately, some Senators who may have important points to make will not be able to do so. To be fair to the Leader, I often wonder how he manages to pick out the actual point raised by Senators, given the length of some contributions.
Senator David Norris: I support my colleagues in calling for a debate on the economy. I understand that debate will take place shortly, which I welcome. As a neutral, non-party observer, I note an amazing sea-change in the political atmosphere of this House in just one week. Last week, Senator Alex White made some very trenchant points about the economy. He was howled down and political charges were shot at him from the Government side of the House. This week he made precisely the same points, equally trenchantly, and he was listened to in silence. That tells us something about the seriousness of the situation which we all have finally grasped.
I ask that we examine the situation regarding the forthcoming visit of President Sarkozy. I understand he has indicated he is interested in meeting groups who had conscientiously voted and campaigned against the Lisbon treaty. On that point, reports in various newspapers indicated that 75% of those who voted “No” were really concerned about increasing militarisation and our neutrality, the reduction in the number of European Commissioners and the protection of our tax regime, while approximately 50% of people were confused about abortion. The newspapers headlined abortion as the main issue. Why? I hope this House can be instrumental in ensuring the real concerns of people on the “No” side are made clear to President Sarkozy.
I note the preliminary Order Paper references a debate on health once again. While the issue is very important, I wonder at the lack of imagination which means that we have such a debate almost every Wednesday. Then I noticed what seemed to be a quotation in classical Greek. I wondered if it was from Homer, Aristotle or Plato. Then I looked more closely and could not understand it. I thought my Greek had failed me. I read, “cals on te” but then I realised that it should read “calls on the Government to”. Is this the European dimension overtaking us here in Leinster House?
Senator Cecilia Keaveney: I wish to draw the Leader’s attention to the fact that the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy John Moloney, announced that the Health Service Executive is rolling out its planned disability developments. The additional €50 million provided for the service plan will be spent on new places for children with autism who are leaving school, on preschool places and on extra therapies. Would be possible to bring the Minister of State before the House next week to outline how we can ensure the spirit of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act is implemented and to confirm that his role is to deal with health and disability issues in schools, as well as in the pre and post-school settings?
Currently, if one needs special needs assistance or help in school, the Department of Education and Science will tell one that many of the therapies are the responsibility of the HSE but if one talks to the HSE, one will often be told that it is the responsibility of the schools. There is a difficulty in determining whether the issues are to be dealt with under health or education. It is about time the two Departments worked together and the Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, is well placed and has the resources to progress that.
I believe the Intoxicating Liquor Bill will be before the House next week. If that had not been the case, I had intended to call on the Leader to invite the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to the House to end our session in the same way in which it began, with a discussion on the important issue of alcohol abuse and misuse in our society. Such a discussion could include issues such as that raised by Senator Joe O’Toole, namely, voluntary codes of practice, as well as the positive work that is going on in organisations such as the GAA in the promotion of healthy lifestyles. If the Intoxicating Liquor Bill is before the House next week, such issues can be dealt with in the course of the debate on that legislation. However, if the Bill is not due before the House, I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to the House to conclude the session in the same manner in which we began it, that is, prioritising the issue of our cultural abuse and misuse of alcohol.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: In light of the comments of the Director of Public Prosecutions last weekend and the report published yesterday by the Ombudsman for Children which claimed that the State is falling short in its duty to protect vulnerable children and highlighted a 43% increase in demand for that office’s services, will the Leader arrange an urgent debate on children, before the summer recess if possible?
I join Senator Hannigan and others in calling for a debate on civil unions. The legislation due before us is very important. The debate must be devoid of emotion. I respect the views of everyone but there are people in this country who are being marginalised and who are vulnerable. We must treat all our citizens equally. We urgently need a debate.
Senator Camillus Glynn: Yesterday the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government was addressed by the Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland, the Local Authorities Members’ Association and the Association of County and City Councils in respect of the Green Paper on local government reform. I very much welcome the Minister’s policy of having briefing sessions around the country.
The Leader has indicated that he is prepared to take a debate on this matter, which I assume will happen after the recess. I welcome that because time is needed. I watched a programme recently that dealt with teenage gangs in another country. They were not using baseball bats or hurley sticks; they had guns. While I am not saying that this is the case in this country yet, we are getting there.
In tandem with that report, I ask that the management of estates be put centre stage. People have been forced to leave their houses on the advice of the local authority and the Garda. The culprits were not asked to leave but the decent people who could not live their lives in peace were asked to leave for their own safety. It is a damning situation that must be addressed. In the context of this debate, I ask the Leader to put the management and the performance and behaviour of tenants top of the agenda. If people misbehave and make life difficult for others, there is only one way they will go, which is out without a return ticket. It is as simple as that.
Senator Pearse Doherty: There has been much discussion about the economy and how it is going into recession. When we face difficult times, we need to invest in our infrastructure. I have called for numerous debates and numerous Senators have called for a debate on what is happening in respect of the national development plan, particularly the areas which have not seen the benefit of the Celtic tiger over the past ten years.
I ask the Leader for a debate on broadband. A survey on communications by the European Commission showed that, again, Ireland lags well behind with the highest costs and lowest speeds. We are the only country in Europe where more people used narrowband or dial-up than broadband. This is a serious issue if we wish to be a knowledge-based economy and want to get out of the recession.
Senator Pearse Doherty: We need a debate on it. Members of the Labour Party previously raised the topic during Private Members’ business but we need a debate, in particular because an international advisory committee has been set up to deal with next generation networks. Countries like Japan are not even looking at next generation, they are looking at next-next generation. We need to catch up fast.
There is a way for us to help regional development. I spoke to the experts who were here last week. In respect of areas like Donegal, we could, with only a couple of hundred thousand euro, test pilot next generation networks. Can one imagine what that could do for places that have 18% unemployment? In light of the growing demands for a debate on the economy, I ask that we deal with the issue of broadband and next generation and that the Minister come to the House to give us an update about what is happening and what can be done in the short term.
Senator John Hanafin: I ask the Leader to request that the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources come to the House. Oil has now reached $142 per dollar. We are now hearing from the markets that speculators are not causing most of the problems, that there is shortage in light of the demands coming from China and India, that we are into a number of supercycles of demand for commodities from those nations and that there is a production capacity problem, which is not necessarily a shortage, which could continue for a few years. In light of all this and Ireland’s unique situation in Europe, with unique possibilities, we should request EU funding to provide clean energy offshore from wind and tidal energy with major support from the EU in light of its correct claim that it has a competence in the energy field.
I also note that an abusive term was used again in the House. Yesterday, the term “rump” was used by somebody referring to members of the Fianna Fáil Party. One finds that some of these people who call themselves liberals are very intolerant. The term “dinosaurs” was used this morning. This is not the Jurassic or the Triassic age.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senators Fitzgerald, O’Toole, Alex White, Boyle, Buttimer, Coghlan, Butler, O’Donovan, Norris and Doherty all raised pressing issues which have been raised on the Order of Business over the past number of weeks. I viewed the programme on RTE last night which was a credit to the station. It was a profile of Ian Paisley for which I congratulate Tommy Gorman, Ed Mulhall and others associated with it. It showed the tremendous achievement that took place in our country in our time. I was very proud to see our former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, the current Taoiseach and everyone from all political persuasions who played their part over the years to bring us to where we are today in respect of what we have all known for years as the national question. I include leaders of all parties, both North and South, in our congratulations.
In respect of the planning and development issue highlighted by Senator Fitzgerald and many other Senators, we all share her concerns in respect of the protection of the environment and our people. In respect of anything we can do in this House to help and assist the Government and Minister formulate policy, time will not be a problem. I agree fully with many of the concerns that have always been raised here in respect of planning issues.
The Deputy Leader of the House, Senator Boyle, raised a point about the motion to be taken without debate. It is to enable solar panels and energy-saving systems to be placed on houses. I know that all colleagues of all political persuasions fully support this which is why we are asking the House to proceed with the motion, which was approved by the relevant committee.
We all know that a debate on the economy is taking place here next Wednesday. In respect of the challenges faced by the Government — I include Senator Regan’s question in this — the procedure is very clear and has been established by all Taoisigh down through the years during my membership of the Oireachtas. The Department officials give a six month report in their own style without spin and give the facts to the Irish people, politicians and the Government. The Government and the Minister for Finance then assess that and the Minister, on the first subsequent sitting day of Cabinet, which in this instance is next Tuesday, makes his proposals in respect of the information he has received from the Department officials. The Cabinet then approves it or sends it back again.
I am sure the Cabinet will approve the Minister’s proposals next Tuesday. At the first available opportunity, we will discuss them here on Wednesday. The Minister for Finance will be here and in the Dáil on Wednesday. Colleagues in the Dáil and Seanad can then express their opinions or concerns and make their proposals to the Minister and Ministers of State who will be taking the debate and who will address the serious challenge facing the country over the coming six months. At that point, we must again assess the situation as a Government and take the necessary corrective measures in the budget, as has happened in the past. Those are the facts.
In respect of Senators’ concerns regarding the statement by the DPP, we were all used to hearing about him and his powers but none of us ever knew him or the type of person he was until he took part in a very famous and informative interview on RTE radio. As a citizen of Ireland, Member of the Oireachtas and Leader of Seanad Éireann, I was proud when I heard the DPP talk to the interviewer that evening on RTE radio. The more the DPP can be interviewed and make known his views to Ireland, the more we can have total confidence in the judicial system. The challenges the DPP faces daily are among the most difficult in the land. If there is anything we can do to assist the DPP, I want to hear the views of colleagues on all sides on the suggestions made this morning by people who are very professional and know what they are talking about, especially those in the legal profession.
Senators O’Toole and Keaveney referred to the alcohol legislation, which will be in the House next week, when colleagues will have the opportunity to express views and justifiable concerns, as they have done over recent months.
Senator Leyden expressed his concern at the fight of the people of Roscommon for that very good facility, Roscommon County Hospital. The motion during Private Members’ time is proposed by the Fine Gael and Labour parties and concerns a serious issue. Senators will make known their views on health, particularly on the cancer strategy, with the Minister present.
Senators Butler and Coghlan highlighted the difficulties in the construction industry. Building more than 600,000 houses in ten years is a marvellous achievement. As Senator Walsh said, there is an overflow at the moment and it will take two years to catch up. An auctioneer said to me yesterday that it is too late to sell and to soon to buy. That seems to be the attitude of most people. I will be delighted to see young couples purchase when the banks start lending money again. No matter what price one could purchase at, the banks do not seem to lend money.
The banks are appearing before the joint committee today and the Chairman of the committee is the very experienced Deputy Michael Ahern, who was the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and who knows minutely everything that has taken place anywhere in the world over the past ten years. I hope we will do with the banks issue as the then Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business did with the insurance industry, working hand in hand with banks as a conduit of Government and the Oireachtas. The banks need to continue to make the immense contribution they have made over the past 15 years. We want them to do so.
Senators Coghlan and O’Donovan referred to the people of Valentia and Malin Head who are appearing before the Joint Committee on Transport today. Many Senators will be present to make their views known. I have no difficultly allocating time for further debate if it is requested. I will pass the views of Senator Hannigan on the Russian ambassador to the Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Senator O’Donovan called for a debate on the fishing industry. This will take place next week. The Senator referred to self-employed people in the fishing industry and it is an area of serious concern. The Minister will be in the House next week to hear the debate.
I will pass the views of Senator Norris on the French President to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Taxation, the loss of the Commissioner and neutrality were the three issues to which he referred and which were of serious concern to the “No” voters in the electorate. It would be a great idea if public representatives met the French President to tell him at first hand why they were so strong in their views of the electorate voting “No”. It would be of immense help to the process of getting a successful conclusion to this major issue.
Senator Keaveney welcomed the €50 million the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children allocated yesterday. I join her in that and I am willing to help and assist in any way I can. I will pass on the views of Senator Buttimer concerning civil unions. Senator Glynn called for a debate on the Green Paper on local government reform. I have no difficulty allowing this to take place early in the next session. Funding for local government is dear to the hearts of Members and we want to play our part in having the issue debated and making our views known. Unfortunate people in some housing estates are having a serious challenge. It is a challenge to society, the behaviour of a small number of residents which has the maximum effect in these housing estates. I have no difficulty in providing time to have this matter debated.
Senator Doherty called for a debate on the national development plan, especially the roll-out of broadband. Everyone joins the Senator in his request for that. Some 100,000 homes were connected in the past three months but we are coming from a low base. I will do everything I can to set time aside in the first week or two after the summer recess, if not before the recess.
Senator Hanafin called on me to allocate time to debate energy costs and energy from oil. With oil so expensive, energy costs are more expensive which creates higher food costs. In an effort to facilitate the Senator’s request, I propose that Fianna Fáil Private Members’ time will have a motion to debate and discuss alternative energy uses that do not include oil. I look forward to the views of experienced Senators and their proposals to the Minister. I refer particularly to wind energy and tidal wave energy, which seems an ideal opportunity for Ireland, with its geographical location. Perhaps we have an advantage for this proposal. I have no difficulty with this and I will discuss it with Fianna Fáil colleagues and spokespersons and our colleagues in Government, the Green Party and the Progressive Democrats. We will discuss how we can table this motion in the House to assist in what is a serious challenge. I welcome assistance from all parties in dealing with Private Members’ business next week.
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