Thursday, 2 October 2008
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Donie Cassidy: The Order of Business is an earlier signature motion on the Credit Institutions (Financial Support) Bill 2008, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: The Minister described the Irish banks as orphans who had nowhere to turn except to the Irish State and Government — what a description of our banks — and that this was a firefighting exercise to deal with an emergency situation. The implication was that the situation had verged towards catastrophe. We have dealt with one aspect of our economy, but there are other underlying problems which now need to be tackled and affect people directly.
The live register figures were published yesterday, and they tell a very dismal story, particularly for the thousands of people who have become unemployed in the past few months. Our unemployment rate is now higher than that in the United States, Great Britain, Japan, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Poland. We have a very serious situation on our hands. Since Deputy Brian Cowen became Taoiseach, 55,000 people have lost their jobs, and unemployment stands at 244,500 people, an increase of 9,400. These are extraordinary figures, and for the people facing unemployment and the 10,000 people who were working four weeks ago and have now lost their jobs, this is a traumatic time.
How does the Government plan to tackle unemployment? Where is the retraining programme? We have heard much about FÁS in recent weeks, not regarding retraining for the construction sector, but about their internal problems. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister responsible to come to this House on Tuesday for a debate on the unemployment figures, the initiatives and plans to tackle this problem and on our competitiveness. I note when Áine Kerr of the Irish Independent looked for comments from the Department last night, she was passed between the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, who initially said they would not comment, and the Department of Social and Family Affairs, who referred her back to the previous Department. I hope this is not how the unemployed will be dealt with. We need a comprehensive programme to deal with the serious unemployment rates we now face and we need action. I want a debate on the matter.
This is not a time for self-congratulation because of the legislation put through the Houses last night. This is the time to examine the serious underlying problem of unemployment that affects 244,000 people and is increasing at a dramatic rate of 10,000 every four weeks. Now is the time for action on this underlying problem and we need initiatives, a programme of action, retraining and to know who will be responsible for that retraining. I want the Minister to present his plan to us in this House on Tuesday next.
Senator Joe O’Toole: During the debate last night, we discovered a number of pieces of legislation that will need to be revisited. I ask the Leader to consider the need for a debate on directors’ compliance statements. It is a simple requirement that directors of companies of a certain size, such as PLCs and other various listed companies, would be required to sign a statement of compliance each year stating that, as far as they are aware, they have traded fairly, have not acted recklessly, have conducted their businesses responsibly and are acting within the law. I believe — perhaps in my innocence — that would not place any greater onus on directors than has been the case heretofore.
Lough Ree — that great lake on the Leader’s doorstep — is under threat from Dublin City Council which wants to take water from it. I know this is an issue close to the Leader’s heart and I hope he will support me as he has done in the past. Some years ago Fianna Fáil, in Opposition, and I proposed the Shannon River Council Bill and it passed through Second Stage. I want the support of the Government side to reintroduce the Bill to protect the Shannon. I note that the Senator from Leitrim is anxious to support me on this issue.
Senator Joe O’Toole: I would also expect the Leader to express an interest in having this Bill re-entered on the legislative programme and I will progress the matter further in the coming weeks in consultation with the staff of the House.
I have raised the following matter many times, including with the previous Cathaoirleach, who, every time I raised it, would get upset and state, “This is not the time to discuss it”. The matter relates to the need for legislation for the dismissal of a member of the Judiciary. There is formatted legislation on the books. It is another example of something which has slipped off the agenda. The next time there is a difficulty people will ask why we did nothing about it. We should deal with that legislation and get it through while it is not focused on any individual. We could engage in some retrospective navel gazing and bring forward some of the issues which are parked on dusty shelves somewhere. I seek the Leader’s support on that.
Senator Dominic Hannigan: Yesterday saw the start of the oral appeal held by An Bord Pleanála against the proposed meat and bone incinerator at Nobber, County Meath. Another incinerator is being foisted on the people of the north east when they have clearly stated their objection to the whole concept of incineration. I ask the Leader to clarify with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government exactly what his policy is regarding the incineration of bonemeal. It seems that he personally has one policy, while his Department has a completely different policy.
Barrier free tolling has been in operation for a month on the M50 and it is clear the system the NRA has put in place is not up to the job. People throughout the country are being levied for fines because of misreading of tags and number plates or simply because of human error. The newspapers report that between 200 and 10,000 people each day are being wrongly fined. Could we put in place a system whereby people who are wrongly fined by the NRA get compensation of €50? People have to fight to clear their names. As anybody in this House knows, dealing with a body like the NRA takes up a lot of time. These are hard-pressed commuters going to and from work and they really do not have time to spend trying to right wrongs because of the NRA’S ineptitude. I ask the Leader to make that point to the Minister.
I compliment the port of Cork on the €8 million investment in Cobh Harbour. As the port’s commercial manager, Captain Michael McCarthy, said yesterday, it has allowed the port to take larger ships. In July they had one of the largest cruise ships in the world and yesterday they saw the final voyage of the QE2. This is proof that investment in tourism will lead to additional jobs and help to offset the negative impact of closure of local factories. I ask the Leader to impress on the Minister the importance of tourism receiving the investment it needs.
Senator Ned O’Sullivan: I ask the Leader to put a question to the Taoiseach as to whether it is Government policy that county councillors are untrustworthy or inferior in some way as a species. Is it the settled opinion of Ministers and Departments that county councillors are not suitable for consideration for appointment to State bodies and semi-State boards? This has been mentioned previously by me and a number of others. It is an ongoing blight on our system that people who have given sterling service at local level, the best group of men to handle a given problem at any time, are excluded.
Senator Ned O’Sullivan: Women too. They are entrusted with the task of electing more than two-thirds of the membership of this House. Many members of the Cabinet should remember that they started on the greasy pole as councillors themselves.
I raise the matter because in the past couple of days a particular example has come to light. A number of appointments had to be made to Shannon Foynes Port Company, a body of which I was proud to be a member for 18 years. For the first time, no member of Kerry County Council was appointed to that body, at a time when the biggest single energy project is about to take off in Ballylongford. If there is such a settled opinion, let the Cabinet say so and we will deal with it. If there is no such settled opinion, let that be clarified. It is time to bring this to a head. There is much disquiet about it.
Senator Eugene Regan: Regarding the discussion this morning, I want to remind Members of the basic principles on which that debate took place. I have a question for the Leader. We have confirmation from the Minister that the Government only took action faced with a collapse in the banking system. We know how that came about and it is something on which the Government could have acted earlier. Once the announcement was made in respect of the guarantee to the banks, it was a fait accompli. To have caused any difficulties from the Opposition would have unsettled the financial markets. It is a Government scheme and it is the Government’s responsibility. We have taken a lot on trust in our debate regarding the details of the scheme. All we have is a framework. The Minister has to come back with a scheme in terms of the detailed nature of the guarantee, the costs, the fees and the oversight provisions. We have taken a lot on trust and the support is qualified. It is the Government’s responsibility to get it right and we will be revisiting that issue again. I ask the Leader if provision will be made for further discussion on that subject.
Senator Ivor Callely: I ask the Leader to clarify the position regarding young people in the 14 to 16 age category who may or may not be deemed to be troubled or who run into some form of difficulty at school and on making a fresh application to another school experience some difficulties in getting back into the education system. I ask the Leader to find out from the Department of Education and Science the protocols for leaving school under the age of 16 and re-enrolling in another school, particularly where the child may be seen as troublesome. The Tánaiste might be asked to outline the procedures when a person wishes to enrol in training and upskilling programmes.
I support Senator Fitzgerald’s call to have the appropriate Minister in the House next week. The Senator portrayed a situation which was dark and gloomy, with the lights going out. I have a more optimistic view of where we have been and where we are and I have a certain confidence in the system. While I accept the unemployment figures Senator Fitzgerald outlined, I recall that for a number of years we have been creating 1,000 new jobs every week. We should look at both sides of the picture and see what we are creating. There are approximately 2 million people gainfully employed in Ireland today. I pay tribute to those in the Departments and State agencies such as Enterprise Ireland, IDA and other bodies who did trojan work in a very competitive field to get Ireland where it is in terms of employment. Let us acknowledge that we are in difficult times and must re-focus. I have every confidence we can meet the challenges in the competitive field in the 12 or 24 months ahead.
Senator Michael McCarthy: I agree with Senator Fitzgerald about the number of people who have lost their jobs due to the collapse in the construction industry. We must remember that people were lured onto building sites because of the highly remunerated jobs there and they are now in need of upskilling and re-training. We must look at FÁS and the State agencies that are obliged to respond to the present employment deficit. We must be mindful that their educational schemes reflect a different generation and must be restructured to suit the current economic and political crisis. Those on the dole queues must not be there for long. We can accomplish this only by the immediate re-structuring of these schemes.
I wish to address the e-flow system. I registered for a tag which did not work in the first week. We were told that one of the selling points of the scheme was that it was inter-operable. It is not. Last week, the fourth week I have had a tag, I almost drove into the barrier on the Fermoy bypass because it did not lift. The barrier had two lights, the first of which went green but the second one stayed red and the barrier did not lift. I contacted e-flow because I was afraid that credit might have gone from the card details I submitted. I was told my account was in credit but that there was difficulty with other tolls. I was just feet away from driving into that barrier and I got no satisfaction from e-flow. There was no explanation of why my tag did not work that day while this week it happens to function. Somebody must be held to account for that system. Any type of collision or fatality on these tolls must be prevented. The system is clearly not inter-operable.
Last night “Oireachtas Report” carried proceedings of Dáil Éireann only. Business had not concluded there nor had it done so in this House. I do not accept the argument that may be put forward by RTE, namely, the Seanad had not concluded business because we were debating an issue. RTE has never covered legislation in this House, only the Order of Business. The programme might easily have selected its clips from business in this House at 11.30 yesterday morning but it did not even mention Seanad Éireann, which sat throughout the night. If we are serious about trying to save the body politic from cynicism and are doing our best to ensure that there is a correct perception about politics, that politicians work hard and that this House is serious about its business, then we must ensure that the national broadcaster gives us equitable time alongside the Dáil on “Oireachtas Report.”
Senator Marc MacSharry: Like Senator Regan, I look forward to a robust debate on the aspects of this scheme as soon as they are available and am sure that will supersede any issue we might raise. That situation is the most important facing us.
I join Senator Fitzgerald in calling for a full debate on our competitiveness. One must welcome the announcement by the networking website, Facebook, that it will locate in Dublin. This is positive news in the face of a downward trend in employment figures but it is opportune now to focus on competitiveness, increasing our marketability to foreign direct investment and ensuring that we have the appropriate supports to harness our entrepreneurial flair. The creation of our own intellectual property and indigenous industry is most important in the current international economic scenario.
I join Senator McCarthy in what he said about coverage of the Seanad. We must re-invent ourselves and engage with the media so that they do feature us. It is true that they only cover the Order of Business from time to time. I have been in the House over six years and the people involved will forgive me for wondering if it is necessary to be a former general secretary of the INTO, Senator David Norris, or a Sunday Independent correspondent in order to get coverage during the Order of Business. Perhaps a committee might be established from the Seanad to engage with the media and seek to improve our image. In turn the media might choose to cover other aspects of the Seanad rather than the soundbites of the Order of Business.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: Will the Leader facilitate a debate next week on employment and the employment strategies the Government may have? Last night the Minister for Finance said that the banks of this country were orphans that had nowhere to go but to the State. It is time that the Government began to mother its people. The Irish need to be mothered now and they need a Government to show leadership. It is back to basics time. For 11 weeks during the summer the only contribution made by the Minister was to talk to Joe Duffy and blame him.
As Senator Fitzgerald eloquently pointed out, unemployment is now at its highest level in 11 years. Many people in the electronic assembly sector in Cork city are losing their jobs. We have not addressed that. We must have a debate on unemployment, re-training and the cost of doing business in this country. If we have that debate next week what may be achieved is that the Government will put action before rhetoric. I hope the Leader will allow this debate because we need action. Thousands of people are now unable to survive as a consequence of a lethargic, arrogant selfish Government.
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: I echo the sentiments of Senator Fitzgerald with regard to focusing on the requirement for training for those who have lost employment, and not merely those who have recently done so. In the future people will wish to diversify. Senator Fitzgerald is right. Out of the debate we had on the legislation, in particular the impressive discussions here, it is clear that a sense of urgency has taken hold of all of us now. We must all make a positive contribution.
In recent times the distracting and somewhat contrived controversy regarding FÁS was not helpful. That was not the FÁS I knew nor was it the FÁS that many people throughout Ireland knew. I have always found the organisation to be particularly responsive whenever fire brigade action was required. It was always pragmatic and there was none of the usual bureaucracy that sometimes goes with big bodies. It identified what was needed in any given community at a particular time. If there is a need for an examination of structures, management or otherwise, so be it. We live in changing times. I am confident that, ultimately, the bottom line will be that FÁS has served the nation well and that it has given us precisely the type of action we needed at any given time.
I know of situations where the placement rate in jobs was as high as 90% or 95% coming from some of the training schemes. I speak mostly from a background and experience of rural Ireland. As one commentator colourfully put it on one occasion, if anything happened to FÁS one could virtually close down rural Ireland. The organisation has not always had a fanfare of trumpets for the work it has done. This went to the very roots of community and there is not a single community in rural Ireland that has not benefitted in the past from FÁS.
I agree with the speakers who said it is time to have a comprehensive debate in the House on training and employment. If we are to do that, however, let us look at the track record of FÁS and let us not be distracted by what I consider some very contrived controversies. Above all, let us maintain the morale which has been in the organisation up to now. If we do not do so are we going to create new structures? Do we realise the cost of re-inventing the wheel?
It is now time to recognise what FÁS has done, its success and the value for money it has given. One can talk to hundreds of thousands of people who have benefited from its training and who were taken from their homes and given a sense of pride and worth. Were we to begin to undermine or distract from that in any way, we would not be responding positively to the present downturn in the economy.
Senator Paul Coghlan: Senator O’Sullivan raised an important issue this morning with which I wholeheartedly concur. I wish to ask the Leader pointedly whether this is Government policy. As a conduit between this House and the Government, the Leader must keep Members informed and no doubt he intends to so do. He should answer that question because during my 11 years as a Member, this House has steadfastly stood up to that issue whenever it was encountered. It even impinged on Members of this House and perhaps the other House. It appears to me that this is a policy of the permanent government of the Civil Service. I ask the Leader whether the Government is going along blindly with it. It is completely wrong and constitutes a slight on the people in question.
On the specific point regarding harbour boards, although the Harbours (Amendment) Bill 2008 has been postponed, I understand it contains such a provision. I wish to return to this issue during the debate on that Bill.
As for last night’s proceedings, Members are aware it was only a beginning and await the details of the scheme the Minister will lay before the House, which he has promised for next week. The legislation dealt with last night was a framework and a good start in the national interest and Members went along with it for that reason. However, they must now get into the detail of the scheme the Minister intends to put before them. Everyone is delighted with the huge inflows and what has happened as a result of the Government’s announcement, arising from the visit last Monday of those people who put a gun to the heads of the Minister, the Taoiseach and the Government. I do not blame the Government, which acted correctly.
Senator O’Toole raised an important and allied matter in respect of directors’ compliance statements. This matter also must be examined because shortcomings and failings arose and the Minister has admitted as much. This House should call for the strengthening of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement. It has done so previously or, to be specific, Senator O’Toole and I have done so. At the time, it received only a few additional staff. While I do not know how it is fixed at present, the Joint Committee on Economic Regulatory Affairs should invite the director before it in the near future to follow up in this regard. As a member of the joint committee, I will try to deal with it myself.
Senator Mary M. White: My nominating body to the Seanad is the Irish Exporters Association. As co-founder of a company in Navan, County Meath that employs 150 people I wish to remind my colleagues that this week, I twice have stated in the House that a debate on Ireland’s competitiveness is needed. I am sorry to disagree with Senator Callely. I believe he has not been watching what is happening on the radar.
Senator Mary M. White: Our growth in recent years has not been in the export-led productive sector. It has been in the construction sector and in public services. I pleaded with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan on this issue last night. I will repeat for the third time this week in the Seanad what Dr. Whitaker stated in his speech celebrating the 50th anniversary of the programme he produced in 1958 on the economic development of the country that is, we should prioritise our competitiveness. Our productive sector is not competing internationally. Regrettably, only some Members present in the Chamber know what I am talking about. Our country earns no money unless we sell goods and services abroad that other people want to buy.
Senator Mary M. White: I have to hand the Forfás annual report for 2007, which deals with competitiveness. I seek both an urgent debate on this issue and to have cross-party support in calling on the Government to make it its priority. A strategic approach should be taken and the task of Members is to improve Irish competitiveness. I could name many facets this morning in which we are not competitive. Our costs are extremely high and are among the highest in Europe. Another serious issue pertains to the disconnection between the second and third level education sectors in Ireland. Many international companies such as Google must bring in people from abroad to work because we lack suitably skilled people who are capable of working in them. During the debate last night, I kept thinking to myself that Ireland is in the middle of a recession that I fear will get worse and worse unless the Government grasps this issue by the neck, in the way it did this controversial banking issue this week. I thank the Cathaoirleach for his patience.
Senator David Norris: It is highly interesting and revealing that there are voices, including some from the Government benches, indicating that choppy waters still lie ahead and this must be taken into account. The Oireachtas acted yesterday and earlier this morning to address all it could, which are the local symptoms of an international difficulty. I believe it all goes back to neoliberal economics. I refer to people such as Margaret Thatcher, who stated that one has an economy and who downplayed the role of society. To her, the economy, rather than society, was the important thing. It is not. The building societies here and in Britain demutualised, lost such social responsibility and opted for profit. At the back of much of this is greed and gambling.
The problem is that we live in a highly sophisticated world. Money is nothing other than the symbolic representation of energy. In the old days, one worked for a farmer and was repaid with a sack of corn, services or something similar. Society then moved on to the point where symbolic representations were used, such as a pound note, ten shillings or whatever it was. While that symbol represented a reality, unfortunately I believe it has become divorced from reality. Instruments have been developed such as derivatives, whereby even the bank executives did not understand with what they were gambling and this situation has arisen as a result.
I will return to a point I made yesterday, namely, that in the light of the increasing number of repossessions, we should act decisively to ensure the rights and well-being of ordinary citizens who are caught in this crunch which is not of their own making. It is important that the aforementioned detail from the framework will be monitored in order that we can examine such issues. I compliment my colleagues on ensuring the amendment from this House, of which Members can be justly proud, went through.
While I agree with my colleague, Senator O’Toole, when he raised the question of water, the focus may have been somewhat narrow. It is not simply a question of the Shannon. Major issues exist concerning water quality nationwide. This morning information emerged regarding a highly serious situation in the Drogheda and Dundalk areas in respect of a significant element of lead pollution, which apparently was up to four times the level of safety. I ask the Leader to facilitate a debate on water quality as a national issue, rather than being confined to the Shannon.
Next Sunday will mark the 40th anniversary of the attack by the authorities in Northern Ireland on the civil rights march in Derry and this will be commemorated. In that context, would it not be appropriate to review developments in the North of Ireland in the form of a Seanad debate? There is much to be welcomed. The agreement between extremely opposed parties in the North is something that astonishes those who, like me, lived through the Troubles. However, there is some way to go because yesterday I was shocked to read, on my return from abroad, that Unionists on Limavady Borough Council have blocked the extending of the freedom of the borough to a former Presbyterian minister, the Reverend David Armstrong.
The proposal was made to commemorate the fact that on Christmas Day nearly a quarter of a century ago Reverend Armstrong walked across the road from his Presbyterian church to give Christmas greetings to the Roman Catholic congregation of the church of his friend, a Roman Catholic priest, Fr. Kevin Mullan. I come from a Southern Unionist background and as an Anglican and, I suppose, Protestant, I cannot understand how, in terms of decent Unionism or anything approximating to decent Protestantism, the Unionist members of Limavady Borough Council could refuse to give consent to this proposal and effectively block it. There is nothing in my understanding of Unionism and certainly Protestantism that one would put oneself in the corner of the bully boys without at least providing an adequate explanation of one’s actions. I hope the House will call upon the Unionist members of the council to do so.
Senator Ann Ormonde: Many speakers raised the issue of competitiveness in the economy and the role of FÁS in the world of work. As someone who has considerable experience of dealing with FÁS, it must refocus to address its lack of co-ordination with the vocational education committees. FÁS should focus on students who are not academically orientated and wish to pursue a technological course. The organisation has moved beyond its brief and needs new terms of reference on upskilling and training. It should enhance co-operation with teachers of students who wish to move from the education system into training.
FÁS departed from its original role and began competing with second level schools. While I accept the organisation did good work, it has wandered off in the wrong direction and should concentrate on working in communities with local schools and business people. We need co-ordination and co-operation in communities to ensure upskilling reflects workplace needs. I hope the House will debate this issue soon in order that we can address these issues to the Minister.
Senator Paudie Coffey: I support calls made by previous speakers, including Senator Fitzgerald, for a debate on competitiveness, one of the greatest challenges facing the economy. Many of the current job losses are occurring in high-end industries rather than low-end manufacturing. Honeywell, a company in County Waterford, is facing serious challenges which it has indicated are caused by competition on international markets.
I raise a second issue on behalf of a section of a society who are often not heard, namely, children with special needs who urgently require speech and language therapy services. It is widely acknowledged that early intervention is essential for successful outcomes in the development of such children. Heretofore, we heard that we did not have a sufficient number of qualified professionals in this field to deal with waiting lists. According to the information available to me, those obtaining professional qualifications in this area are finding it impossible to secure employment and must leave the country. This is scandalous and disgraceful. I appeal to the Leader, a reasonable man who cares about vulnerable people, to ask the relevant Minister to come before the House to debate this important matter which requires time and attention.
The terms “climate change” and “energy security” have become buzzwords. It is vital that we give them serious attention as they present major challenges for the economy and the Government across many sectors. We do not realise the impact climate change and energy security will have across the board. The Government is about to roll out a national energy efficiency plan and challenging targets will be set for all bodies and sectors, specifically the public sector, in achieving energy efficiency in their daily operations. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to appear before the House to outline the Government’s plans in this regard.
Schools are a perfect example of a sector in which public institutions will have to improve energy efficiency. The outcome in this sector will be interesting because, as Senators are aware, many schools are housed in substandard buildings, including prefabricated buildings. Prefabs lose heat easily and are among the most inefficient structures one can find, yet we have the audacity to set targets without resourcing schools. I appeal to the Leader to arrange a debate on this key issue.
Senator Larry Butler: I bring to the Leader’s attention the recent report from the Comptroller and Auditor General which noted that local authorities are holding approximately €1.2 billion in funds collected from developers to provide services and infrastructure. One hears daily about water and sewerage problems in Galway and other areas. These funds were collected for the purpose of providing such infrastructure. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister to take urgent action in this regard.
The local authorities are supposed to spend development levies at local level but are failing to do so. Fine Gael Party Senators should note that their party is in control of many of the local authorities holding these moneys. What is it doing to manage local authorities? Government Members get it in the neck from the Opposition every day, yet Fine Gael Party members are failing to meet their responsibility to govern in the local authority areas where they have been elected. Action is needed in this area.
Senator Paschal Donohoe: According to a front page article in one of the national newspapers today, the banks, the subject of considerable debate in the House in the early hours of this morning, are actively considering increasing charges on credit cards, current accounts and other savings and investment accounts held by taxpayers. This morning the Minister for Finance painted a picture of banks as powerless, homeless orphans abandoned in the wilderness looking for someone to take care of them.
Senator Paschal Donohoe: Those are the words used by the Minister for Finance. These same orphans are telling taxpayers who are prepared to underwrite them at some point in the future that they may need to charge more for the privilege of banking with them. It is vital that we organise regular debates on the organisation and delivery of the banking system, given the radical new regime under which they will work. I know I am asking for too much but it would be wonderful if the banks took this opportunity to demonstrate a little grace and an awareness of their obligation to the State and taxpayers when they are considering schemes such as that referred to in the newspaper.
One of the provisions of the Credit Institutions (Financial Support) Bill 2008 makes it clear that the Government is expecting radical consolidation and change in the banking sector. We need to ensure we have proactive plans in place to ensure this does not result in greater unemployment, less competition and less generous banking terms.
Senator Maurice Cummins: The policy of the Government regarding the participation of members on State and semi-State bodies is clear. There is no need to ask the question. The record will show that Members on the other side of the House have voted on several Bills which have excluded local authority members from participation in the make-up of these boards. The Harbours (Amendment) Bill 2008, due to be debated in the House next week, proposes that local authority membership on port authorities be reduced from three to one. The debate will afford Members on the other side of the House to express their views on this issue. The Government will get the answer it needs only if Members on the other side support the local authority members who elected them to this House. That is when the chickens will come home to roost. Until then the Government will continue to treat local authority members with contempt.
I fully support the request for a debate on unemployment and competitiveness. It is easy to refer to an increase of 45,000 on the number of people who are unemployed. We must identify with the individuals behind these figures. I was recently approached by a couple who are both working with a company that is closing down. They have been married three or four years and have bought a new house. We must take an imaginative approach in devising strategic policies to help these people. We are haemorrhaging jobs and we must devise proper policies to address the issue. The mantra is to wait for the budget on the 14 October. Let us hope that the correct policies are announced then.
Senator Nicky McFadden: Dublin City Council is currently exploring ways of extracting several hundred million litres of water from Lough Ree. Those who know me know I am not a mean person; I would not begrudge anybody a drop of water. However, it is important that we have a say in what is happening. This is likely to result in a ministerial directive which means it will be taken out of the hands of the relevant local authority. It is therefore incumbent we have a proper debate on this issue and that we be fully briefed on what is involved in extracting water from Lough Ree.
Senator O’Toole will join with me in raising this issue. We met people involved in saving amenities in the Lough Ree and Lough Derg area. The authorities in Dublin should find ways to save their water supplies and should stop wasting it.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senators Fitzgerald, O’Toole, Regan, McCarthy, MacSharry and Donohoe expressed their views on the legislation which we debated late last night and in to the early hours of this morning. I again thank all those involved in processing the legislation. I omitted to thank the ushers, the Superintendent, the Captain of the Guard and all the staff involved in the Houses, including our own staff and especially Deirdre Lane and Jody Blake for all they have done for us. I also thank the Chief Whip and the other Whips who excelled themselves. They all did the House proud.
I have met a number of members of the public since we passed the legislation. They appreciate the work we have done as a Parliament, including the efforts made by the Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance and all Deputies and Senators, including their determination to give leadership at this critical economic time for the country.
There is an onus on the media to play their part. They are also affected by the current employment situation. TV3 has let go 15 of its staff while RTE has mooted a downturn in advertising revenue. What do they expect if they spend all day telling a bad story? I was involved in a magazine venture which did nothing but talk down things. It eventually went out of business. The television licence payers, who pay €160 for their annual licence, are entitled to balance. RTE Radio One, the whinger’s channel, starts at 7 a.m. and, with the exception of Ronan Collins, continues until late in the afternoon. The middle aged population deserve a balanced output but RTE Radio One is not providing it.
Senator Donie Cassidy: While we have some say in what the national broadcaster produces, we have no say in what local or private radio produces. RTE will seek an increase in the licence fee. We must have a say on that.
Seanad Éireann was not referred to in “Oireachtas Report” which was broadcast last night. That is totally unacceptable. As Leader of the House I send best wishes to Michael Conway who has been a great servant of “Oireachtas Report”. He is a decent and honourable man and is ill at present. We wish him a speedy recovery.
The omission of any reference to Seanad Éireann on “Oireachtas Report” last night may have been an oversight. However, while Senators ask questions of the Leader on the Order of Business every sitting day, “Oireachtas Report” never makes reference to this. The Leader is totally ignored. I am the Government representative in this House. It must be asked how those in Dáil Éireann would react if the Leader of the Opposition was to ask questions of the Taoiseach but the Taoiseach’s response was not reported? Some balance and fair play is required.
I made a commitment to the House regarding issues of great importance brought to my attention by Members on the Order of Business to have them debated for at least a half a day within a week of them being raised. I have given a commitment this week to hold a debate on banking next Wednesday, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. A request has been made of me to arrange a debate on competitiveness, FÁS and the employment situation. Given that we served here yesterday and early this morning for 21 and a half hours, including sitting up until 8.30 this morning and returning here at 12.00 p.m. — we are doing our bit for the national interest — it will be necessary to defer such a debate until the week after next in view of our scheduling requirements.
I will endeavour to have the Tánaiste present for the opening of the debate so that we may treat it with the seriousness it deserves. We salute FÁS for the work it has done and for what it has achieved. However, it is now going to have to meet the challenges in the period ahead. It has huge resources to retrain and upskill some 60% of the population that badly needs it. When I was a Member of Dáil Éireann I chaired the former Oireachtas Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business. The Government and the Minister will have to look at the whole areas of science and technology, which present us with great opportunities.
Senator MacSharry referred to intellectual property where we are a world leader. We must look at the possibility of increasing the points awarded in the leaving certificate examinations to mathematics and the science subjects. If we do so, we will attract students who will obtain qualifications in the areas in which jobs will be created in the future. Senator Mary White, who has spent a lifetime working in industry and creating jobs and who has great experience in that regard, identified the areas in which such opportunities will come into existence.
I have always acknowledged on the Order of Business the contributions of those many colleagues who have practical experience in particular areas. One knows when they are speaking, they are using their many years of experience to enlighten other Members as to the areas in respect of which the Seanad can provide assistance and act as a conduit to the relevant Minister or Department, or to the Government.
A great deal was stated earlier regarding the 244,000 people who are unemployed at present. Some 93% of the members of the workforce are currently in employment. I accept that 244,000 people out of work is far too many. However, I hope that the action taken by the Dáil and Seanad during the past 48 hours will assist those who are in employment in retaining their jobs. These people were concerned with regard to what would happen because banks were not loaning money to each other, credit was not available and matters were in a downward spiral. We have taken action, for which there has been widespread acclaim throughout Europe and in America, and we should stand back and see how the banks are going to proceed. There will be a debate on banking on Wednesday next and this will allow us to reassess the situation. If there is a need to spend half a day debating banking every month and if Members request it, I have no difficulty making time available.
Senator Donie Cassidy: We face a challenge in respect of our competitiveness. I stated on many previous occasions that wage costs must be monitored. The social partners have dealt with that matter and made recommendations, which I hope the unions will accept.
Senators O’Toole, Norris and McFadden referred to Lough Ree and the need to revisit the Shannon River Council Bill. The late Seán Doherty, may the Lord have mercy on him, was Chairman of the relevant committee at the time and was instrumental in dealing with this matter. I have no difficulty in facilitating a debate on it.
Senator Hannigan expressed strong views in respect of incineration and the proposed incinerator at Nobber, which is located not too far from where he and I live. I will pass on his views to the Minister and inquire as to the Department’s policy in respect of this matter. I will communicate directly with the Senator regarding the matter.
A number of Members referred to barrier-free tolling. I am aware that there have been great improvements and that traffic is moving extremely swiftly on the M50 as a result of the introduction of such tolling. Those of us who travel here via the N4 or the N6 can see evidence of the latter on a daily basis. I have no doubt that the position will improve further. Drivers should be careful in the places where the old toll barriers are still in existence because it is not always the case that those barriers rise automatically. I am informed that these barriers will be removed in the coming months.
Senators O’Sullivan, Coghlan and Cummins highlighted the serious situation regarding Kerry County Council and representation on a particular board. When my party was in opposition, it made a strong stand because the permanent ministry, as it was then referred to, was really pushing the case. We will support, in any way possible, having public representatives who are accountable to the people elected to boards of this nature every five years in order that there might be accountability in respect of their activities. Senators should raise at forthcoming meetings of their parliamentary parties the fact that not one of the seven members of the board in question, which is located on the border of the Kerry area, is a public representative and we will return to the matter in two weeks’ time to see how matters have progressed. This issue could also be addressed in the context of the Bill being taken in the House next week.
Senator Callely referred to students between the ages of 14 and 16 who may, for one reason or another, get into difficulties in the schools they are attending and who encounter problems when they try to transfer to other schools. I will communicate the Senator’s strong views to the Minister and try to elicit a response. This is a difficult matter and I hope what he described will not occur too often.
A number of Members requested a debate on education. I earlier expressed an opinion on that matter in the context of the points relating to mathematics and science in the leaving certificate examination.
Senator Norris reminded the House of the 40th anniversary of the historic events that took place during a civil rights march in Derry and which people at the time witnessed on their television screens. So much has been achieved in the interim, particularly on the northern part of the Ireland. I congratulate everyone involved — Protestant or Catholic, Nationalist or Unionist — on their steadfastness and commend them for the work they have done during the past 40 years. I welcome the fact that we are in a position to consider the massive improvements and terrific progress that have been made and the understanding that has come about. Education has proven to be a wonderful instrument in the context of many of the achievements that have taken place. Successive Taoisigh and Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Justice, Equality and Law Reform worked hard with their counterparts in order to bring us to the point at which we find ourselves.
Senator Coffey referred to children with special needs and those trained personnel who are available. I will pass on his strong views to the Minister. If the Senator requires a debate at some future debate, I will make time available for it.
Senator Coffey requested a debate on climate change and energy efficiency in schools. Senator Bacik made similar request on yesterday’s Order of Business but I neglected to reply to her. I have no difficulty in arranging such a debate on such a worthy matter.
Senator Butler, a long-standing and experienced public representative, informed the House that not all of the financial allocations made to local authorities are being spent on time. Senators who have served in the House for a long period or who have close contacts with local authority members could tease out that matter to discover whether what Senator Butler referred to is happening in a few counties. I do not believe it to be the position in County Westmeath. However, the issue has been brought to my attention and I will discuss with Senator Butler how we might debate it at a future date.
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