Tuesday, 7 October 2008
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Donie Cassidy: The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on the Hunger Task Force report to Government; No. 2, motion re the orders of reference of the Select Committee on European Affairs; and No. 3, motion re the sub-committee of the Select Committee on European Affairs.
It is proposed that No 1. will be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and that it is to conclude not later than 6 p.m., if not previously concluded. Spokespersons may speak for 12 minutes and all other Senators for ten minutes, and Senators may share time, by agreement of the House. Nos. 2 and 3, motions re the Select Committee on European Affairs, will be taken together for the purpose of debate, which debate will be brought to a conclusion not later than 6.30 p.m., with the contributions of the group leaders or spokespersons not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be called upon five minutes from the end of the debate for concluding comments. It is proposed that at the conclusion of this debate I will ask the House for a sos of approximately 20 minutes in order that the Committee on Selection can meet to nominate members to the committee and the sub-committee, and lay its report before the House.
Many members of the public watching the emerging debate on the banking and international financial sector and on the economy in recent days will have been struck by a number of factors. One is that, as I said in last week’s debate, we are not at the end of the situation in regard to the banks; we are still very much at the beginning, and there are many uncertainties out there.
Members of the public will also be struck by the need for the bankers, in particular, to show some humility given the scale of the support they have got from the Irish taxpayer. This has been lacking in the debate in the past few days. The public will be also asking what is the real debt of the banks. Many are still not reassured in this regard and wonder what is the real story about this debt. I do not believe members of the public were hugely reassured by the Financial Regulator’s appearance on television in recent days.
We are at the beginning of a debate that needs to be as rigorous as the debate we had last week on all of these issues. I assume the Government will bring in the regulations in the next few days. Above and beyond this, however, is the question of what is happening in the real economy and what is happening to individuals who are losing their jobs. As I said recently, unemployment is of huge concern. The ESRI talked today of the rate of unemployment being expected to rise from 6% this year to 8% in 2009, with thousands of individuals losing their jobs. Many are concerned this will increase hugely after Christmas, when many small companies will not be in a position to hold on to their employees unless action is taken.
Last week, I asked for a debate on unemployment involving a question and answer session with the Tánaiste, and I spoke about the need for competitiveness and for measures to be introduced to restore competitiveness. While we have had this immediate reaction to the crisis in banking — it was a crisis — it is clear there are longer-term issues in our economy that need to be addressed. We have had very bad mismanagement by Government at a national level. We have had inflationary budgets, a series of wasteful projects and a lack of oversight. The very things we are asking the banks to do now, the Government in many ways failed to do, which are to oversee and manage effectively.
The House is entitled to have this debate today. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business in order that we get the opportunity to debate in the House today the very real issues of unemployment and restoring competitiveness. I hope the Leader will agree to this amendment and ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to come to the House and tell us the specific actions she is taking, whether in the area of retraining or restoring competitiveness for small businesses. I would like to hear what actions are being taken.
The Government should be well aware at this stage of the views of people from all walks of life and all sides of the political spectrum, and within Government itself, that in this situation the banks should be made pay for the commercial costs. I heard the chairman of a bank over the weekend saying it would be very unfair, having said thanks to us, if the banks were to be “crippled” with the demands we have put on them. While I would go along with that and do not want to see them crippled, I would not mind seeing them winded or dunted a bit lower down, so they had to clutch at their privates for a while. There is a mood out there to ensure they would be made feel and share the pain on this one. In simple terms, what that means is people can argue about what it would cost to insure the risk on the marketplace. They can argue about whether it would be 1%, 3% or 4%. However, we should remember it is a very easy sum to do. We are talking about a liability cover of up to €400 billion, 1% of that is €4 billion and 3% of it is three times that figure. There is a lot at stake. Surely 1% is the minimum the banks should be asked to pay over the next two years. We need to bear that in mind as we go along. I look forward to the debate on the matter so I will not say any more, but I thought it was important to make a few points as to what the Government should do before it brings the regulations through the Houses. The House will be aware that neither this House nor the other House will be entitled to make changes to the regulations. We are empowered simply to reject or accept them.
I join with what the Leader of the House said about Jack Tobin, a former Clerk of the House. I only knew him for a month while he worked here although I met him a few times afterwards. It was a very difficult month because my colleagues, Senators Ross and Norris, in conjunction with Senators Brendan Ryan, John A. Murphy and Mary Robinson gave me the very attractive task of trying to sort out office space with Mr. Tobin and the Superintendent. He spent a month arguing with me before he took retirement in 1987. I found him a very decent man to deal with but a very difficult man.
Senator Joe O’Toole: In that regard, he would know him far better than we did. He certainly was a man of extraordinary intelligence, cultured and interested in music in particular. He knew the rules backwards. If he were here today, he would have some interest in the point I raise next, which relates to the second item on the Order Paper.
Since that month 21 years ago, in all my time in here, I have no recollection — I stand to be corrected on this — of the House ever establishing a sub-committee of another committee. It never happened before. The Dáil did it last Thursday but I believe it went beyond its jurisdiction in doing that. It was ultra vires its own Standing Orders.
I will outline why that is the case. We set up a Joint Committee on European Affairs. I have no objection to the committee. I refer to the procedure establishing it. Last October we set up a select committee of Members of this House who would join the other select committee to form the Joint Committee on European Affairs. We empowered the select committee comprising Senator Donohoe, Senator Quinn, Senator Prendergast, and some Members from the other side of the House to establish sub-committees under the terms of Standing Orders 70(1) to 70(9), inclusive. We also established a joint committee. We gave the joint committee the powers as defined in Standing Orders 70(1) to 70(9), inclusive. Standing Order 70(3) refers to the “power to appoint sub-committees”, etc. We have given away the power to establish sub-committees of the Joint Committee on European Affairs by a decision of the House. It is a regulated decision and it is the normal way of doing business. We are overriding that. At this point we do not have the power to establish a sub-committee. We could establish a special committee or other kinds of committees but we do not have the authority to establish a sub-committee of either the select committee, which we appointed last year, or the joint committee that was formed by the two select committees. I do not raise the matter to create a difficulty for the Leader but this is ultra vires. I have never seen it happen before.
Senator Joe O’Toole: Apart from the points I have made, in terms of normal parliamentary convention or organisational convention, the power to establish sub-committees has always been vested in a committee. The only people who can be members of a sub-committee are the existing members of the committee. What we could do today is appoint additional members to the select committee and, accordingly, to the joint committee, and then let the joint committee set up a new sub-committee, which is perfectly in order. Our actions today are open to challenge. They are not within our powers under Standing Orders or under the Standing Orders of the Dáil. One cannot give powers and then take them back, unless the option is to take from the joint committee the power to establish a sub-committee.
I do not wish to create a problem for the Leader or the Cathaoirleach, but there is a significant problem with this issue. Last year we gave away powers to establish committees twice in the one motion, first, to the select committee, comprising Seanad Members and then to the joint committee, made up of the two select committees meeting together. We are purporting to set up a sub-committee of the joint committee despite having giving away the power to do so. It will not work. There is another technical way to deal with this matter. It should not prove difficult if we simply appoint additional people to the joint committee and take it from there.
Senator Alex White: I endorse the tributes paid to the late Mr. Jack Tobin. Senator O’Toole appears to have a compelling point. The notion that the Houses could set up a sub-committee seems odd. The Houses may set up a committee and it, in turn, may set up a sub-committee. We should have some guidance from the Leader on this matter and perhaps we should take advice from the Committee of Selection. Perhaps the Parliamentary Counsel could also be asked to advise us on this serious matter. Since it been raised, it may be appropriate to consider, in light of the banking crisis last week, the possibility of a committee established to deal with banking.
Senator Alex White: It would be an odd way to proceed, under Standing Orders, if we proposed a sub-committee on banking to be set up from the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service. How could that work? Clearly, it is a matter for that committee to set up a sub-committee. If the House is now in a position whereby it can establish sub-committees over the heads of committees, as it were, then Senator O’Toole is right in saying that it is an issue that needs to be addressed.
I appreciate the Leader communicating to leaders of the other groups in the House before the Order of Business that statements on banking are to be discussed tomorrow. The Leader has indicated we will not debate the matter until we have sight of the Government scheme, which is reasonable and which I appreciate. It would be odd to proceed with the debate without having sight of the specifics of the Government’s intentions.
I agree with the comments of Senators Fitzgerald and O’Toole that some humility is called for from the banking community, especially its leaders. We have all suffered from sleep deprivation in recent days given the onerous task which was before us. However, I had to rub my eyes when I heard that one of the individuals concerned made a series of demands regarding what the Government should do with universal child benefits, which he believed should be attacked, State pensions, and the abolition of medical cards for those aged over 70. This proposal comes from one of the people who was saved and whose bank was in some difficulty last week. If this person has trouble with his day job, which appeared to be the case last week, perhaps he could have a future in the entertainment industry as a comedian of some sort.
Senator Alex White: For this person to suggest to the Government that it should consider such cuts when he has been the beneficiary of such largesse, the extent of which we do not yet know, seems extraordinary.
Today the Irish Congress of Trade Unions sponsors a very important event called the world day for decent work. I wish to mention it briefly to the House because while such days come and go and frequently they do not mean much, this is important in the current context of the banking crisis. The notion and principle of regulation have been dirty words for two decades. However, they are suddenly back in vogue in certain quarters. Aer Lingus announced today its intention to chop off, as it were, whole sections of its operation, replacing reasonably well paid jobs with what inevitably will be lower paid jobs. In those circumstances, it is timely that we should draw attention to the fact that approximately 200,000 people in this country earn less than €10 an hour. That is the reality of what an army of low paid and low skilled employees are facing. Senator Fitzgerald was right to call for a debate on unemployment but we must look to see what we are talking about in that regard. It is not just a notional issue. These are real people who face real challenges in terms of living their lives on low pay and without much hope being offered to them by the Government. We should have that debate.
Everybody is now coming around to the view held by those on these benches that regulation is something that should be examined again. I ask the Leader to outline what will happen in respect of the different Bills that have been agreed in the transitional agreement recently agreed with the social partners? I refer to legislation on employment rights, temporary agency workers, employee representation rights and all of those areas that are vitally important for employees, workers and taxpayers. When will that legislation be brought forward?
Senator Terry Leyden: Will the Leader arrange for a debate to be held early next week on the Government’s decentralisation programme in light of the forthcoming budget and, in particular, the role of decentralisation in the redevelopment of regions throughout the country? It has been a successful campaign and we are looking forward in particular to the decentralisation of the former Land Registry, the Property Registration Authority, to Golf Links Road, Roscommon town, which was agreed last April. It is hoped the contracts have been signed. Permission has not been granted by Roscommon County Council and I call on it to grant it as quickly as possible to ensure we will achieve a major decentralisation of over 250 jobs——
Senator Nicky McFadden: Last week we witnessed an historic debate in the late hours in the Seanad. We in Fine Gael supported the Government’s financial Bill in the interests of the State but with many reservations. We should not forget those reservations especially, as Senator Alex White said, in light of the Government scheme, which is to be announced later in the week.
Senator Fitzgerald spoke about humility. I did not see much humility being demonstrated over the weekend by these so-called bankers but my concern was about what the regulator was doing. On “Prime Time” he appeared to be praising the Government for the wonderful job it was doing. He said the status quo remained, nothing had changed and he stood over everything he said three months ago. I do not have much confidence in him as a regulator of our institutions.
The chief executive officers of these institutions must be accountable. We were told that one of them earned €3.3 million in bonuses. The compensation culture must come to an end. The bank charges that low paid workers, older people and those who are not so well off will have to endure to maintain the standards to which bank chief executives have become accustomed cannot be imposed. I ask the Leader to convey to the Minister that, as Senator Fitzgerald said, the bankers have to be humble. Our people cannot suffer because of the way the bankers have carried on.
Senator Cecilia Keaveney: I would like the Leader to ask the Minister for Transport to clarify the current situation in respect of Valentia and Malin Head coastguard stations. The Minister of State, Deputy Roche, indicated on “The Week in Politics” that the Government’s preferred option is to develop the Shannon facility. The Minister of State, the Department of Transport and the Tánaiste do not seem to be clear on this matter. I had been led to believe that no decision had been made.
My main concern relates to Malin Head station which, like Valentia station, is working very well. We should maintain what we have during the economic downturn, rather than creating greater expenditure in this manner. It makes sense, from an economic, emotional and infrastructural perspective, to upgrade what is in place at present. Nothing more complicated than that needs to be done.
Senator Dominic Hannigan: Since the introduction of post-leaving certificate courses 20 years ago, hundreds of thousands of students have taken advantage of the opportunities offered to go back to school and retrain. Last year, I spoke in this House about the McIver report, which was completed four years ago. The report was published as part of an attempt to strengthen the adult education sector and increase the number of students who take post-leaving certificate courses. It dealt with issues like teaching, class sizes and accommodation. The Minister of State, Deputy Haughey, told this House last year that he would examine the report, but we have heard nothing about its implementation since then. As other Senators have said, it is important in the current economic climate to invest in aspects of education such as retraining and upskilling. Will the Leader ask the Minister of State for an update on the McIver report?
Senator Mary M. White: I would like the Leader to ask the Minister for Health and Children to come to the Seanad as a matter of urgency for a debate on how the HSE will address the issues of suicide and self-harm. Today’s Irish Examiner publishes the results of a survey of people between the ages of 15 and 19, which was conducted by the newspaper in conjunction with RTE. Half of those surveyed said that they know people in their own age group who have died from suicide, or have attempted suicide. I am seriously concerned that the HSE is not giving the issue of suicide the priority it deserves. On average, 500 people die from suicide every year. A further 11,000 people present to accident and emergency departments having tried to kill themselves. The National Suicide Research Foundation claims that 60,000 people harm themselves each year. I am concerned that the serious recession we are entering——
Senator Paul Coghlan: I second Senator Fitzgerald’s proposal for a debate on unemployment, in the presence of the relevant Minister. When the Leader was cogitating over the weekend, perhaps while in his bath——
Senator Paul Coghlan: ——did he not consider, on mature reflection, that his assault on the media may have been somewhat over the top? I refer to his comments about RTE radio, in particular. The Leader’s comments were unbalanced and unbecoming of him.
Turning to more serious matters, I refer to the Credit Institutions (Financial Support) Act 2008. In view of the admission by the Minister for Finance, having met the relevant Commissioner in Europe, that some tweaking will be necessary to fit the framework agreed at European level, will amending legislation be necessary? I thought it was cheeky of the German Chancellor to say she was not amused at the Irish action when she then promptly proceeded to do the same herself in Germany.
Senator Paul Coghlan: Absolutely. Everybody in the Government parties should be glad that we in the Opposition almost unanimously agreed to the scheme, and that it will have to be brought before both Houses. Some of what is intended will be put into the scheme, but I would still like to know if amending legislation will be necessary. Can the Leader tell us when this House will debate the scheme? I understand that it is to be signed off at Cabinet this evening.
The markets are taking a very different view to what the Financial Regulator and the governor of the Central Bank have been saying. The 2007 stability report stated that around 85% of new lending was related to property. We should be demanding——
Senator Ned O’Sullivan: I raised a matter on the Adjournment last week concerning difficulties which have arisen in Mayo about finalising the draft development plan in the county, as well as the ongoing exchanges between the council and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Since then, I have been inundated with correspondence from councillors in other counties, predominantly but not all from Munster, where it seems the same level of difficulty is being experienced. Can the Leader arrange for the Minister to attend the House and clarify his position regarding section 31 of the Local Government Act 2000? What does he feel are his powers and what are the powers, if any, of elected county councillors? What is the position of county managers? They now seem to be in the invidious position of having to take orders from the Minister, while at the same time being legally bound to carry out the wishes of their councillors, as expressed at county development planning stage.
Ar ábhar eile, tréaslaim le TG4 as ucht na poiblíochta a thug an staisiún do Rásaí Lios Tuathail na mbliana seo. Bhí na cláracha úd ar fheabhas. Bhain a lán daoine — lucht na gcapall agus daoine eile nach iad — taitneamh astu. I ask the Leader to convey the thanks of the racing public to TG4 for covering live all five days of the Listowel Races last September, something which RTE——
Senator Ned O’Sullivan: On the Order of Business, I would like the Leader to convey to TG4 the appreciation of the House for responding to public demand and for having a sense of community. There was more money and more bets made at the Listowel Races than at some of the classic meetings in the Curragh this year, which were given blanket coverage by RTE. There was the hardest betting and the hardest racing.
Senator David Norris: I welcome the fact that we are having statements on the banking system tomorrow, which may or not be replaced by the detail of the Bill. The debate in this House on the detail of the Bill will be critical because the Minister got a blank cheque last week. It is now very important that we use the wisdom and expertise in this House, including on these benches, which can help to guide the progress of this scheme.
The banks have shown a contempt over a long period for their ordinary customers. I am not referring to the counter staff but rather to the people leading the banks and devising policy, those sorting people into very long queues and reducing staff at the counters, making their lives difficult as well, and showing that they really did not want the little people. However, now they have come to the little people to be bailed out by their tax revenues.
I said last week in the House and I said it before this crisis arose that there are people, in particular young people, on critical mortgages who need to be protected. People both here and in America have taken substantial bonuses. I refer to the obscene spectacle of the chief executive officer of Lehman Brothers who took $500 million in the past year in bonuses, share issues and such like. Such people have had their snouts stuck in the trough while repossessions have been taking place. The House should address that point, either in that context or separately. I suggest the question of house repossession should be taken as a separate item. I have been raising this matter consistently. I note in today’s newspaper that a senior judge has raised concerns at the increase in the number of repossession orders presented in her court as we speak.
This is completely obscene. This is where neo-liberal economics, deregulation, privatisation and outsourcing leads. I was one of a small minority which opposed the privatisation of Aer Lingus. I had a feeling where such a move would lead and now we have outsourcing. I share Senator Alex White’s concern that perhaps this is an attempt to jump the gun legislatively, so to speak, because some legislative protections were in the process of being introduced in the aftermath of the disgraceful manner in which Irish Ferries treated its Irish employees and brought in so-called yellow pack workers. This is not acceptable. I note also the number of people contacting the money advice and budgeting service for advice.
I support strongly my colleague, Senator Joe O’Toole, in his reservations about the second item on the Order Paper. What is the need for this extra number? Who are they and have they been contacted directly? This is a Minister interfering in and politicising the work of a committee of both Houses of the Oireachtas. This is not the first time this Minister has done this and it rings alarm bells for me. I do not like this kind of interference in the work of the committees. The strength of the committees is that they are non-partisan and operate collectively.
In light of our concerns about oversight of spending and decentralisation, will the Leader find out the state of the proposals to develop new government offices in Carlow on a car park which for many years has been subjected routinely to flooding to such an extent that the new proposed buildings would have to be built on stilts 7 ft. above the ground? There is no indication that this will be done after the €20 million flood prevention scheme has been installed. Are we still wasting money in this profligate manner with no thought——
Senator John Hanafin: Will the Leader arrange a debate on the economy with a particular emphasis on FÁS, not with reference to the difficulties in FÁS but rather the benefits of the community employment schemes and the need to extend them, and on the subject of training and retraining? I am conscious of the ESRI report published today which indicates that unemployment will reach 8% over the next few years. In that eventuality it would be important to place ourselves correctly for the future. It is interesting to note that even during the 1930s, there were growth areas in economies, in the new technologies of the time and in electronics. It is important that people who have been earning very good money in the construction sector in particular and who need to retrain would be given that opportunity. The House should debate this issue with an emphasis on what needs to happen for the future.
I agree with other speakers who are amazed at a person who can receive bonuses higher than the gross domestic product of some countries, sums of $500 million in bonuses, salaries and packages, in a year in which they have brought the world economy into recession. I am thinking in particular of the CEO of Lehman Brothers. There should be a clawback on people like that who have caused such misfortune for us by repackaging loans that were inherently unstable and without any responsibility for undertaking the management of those loans by selling them forward. It must be wrong for people to have received such sums. One wonders if that CEO had received the full $1,000 million would we now be heading into a depression.
Senator Eugene Regan: I support Senator Fitzgerald’s amendment to the Order of Business. I also support her statements on the banks. The House had a comprehensive debate last week and took on trust the Government’s proposal, lending it qualified support. We know it is only a temporary reprieve as we can see from the market movements this week. In respect of the capitalisation of banks, the distinction between liquidity and solvency — as well as the quality of the assets the banks hold and the manner in which they value them — has been missed in all this, and the Minister must provide clarification. Statements by the banks and the regulator in recent days suggest that it is just business as usual with the State guarantee and that everything will continue as before. One can rebuild capital by postponing dividends and increasing margins. We must be concerned, however, that when such a State guarantee is given the banks will not use it to build up their capital reserves in a way that is damaging to ordinary taxpayers who stand by this guarantee. If the regulator and the Minister cannot get to the bottom of this and set out a plan as to how banks can recapitalise given the comfort of this State guarantee, the Comptroller and Auditor General may investigate and report where there is prima facie evidence of substantial risk to State revenues. There is therefore a case to be made for the Comptroller and Auditor General to review the risk, liquidity and capitalisation of banks and report to the Dáil on the matter. Such reports could be prepared periodically as long as this guarantee lasts. Perhaps the Minister can make a statement to the House at some stage this week on the issue of capitalisation of the banks, as well as the idea of the Comptroller and Auditor General investigating the matter. Unlike the Financial Regulator, the Comptroller and Auditor General is answerable to the Dáil.
Senator Camillus Glynn: I support the comments of Senator Mary White on suicide. In the last Seanad, I was a member of the Joint Committee on Health and Children, which established a sub-committee that reported on suicide. There were some startling revelations in that report. Young males are particularly vulnerable in this respect and are seven times more at risk of suicide than females of the same age group. The problem is that while young females will return home and tell their parents about problems, young men will not do so. That is because they think it is not manly. When I was a member of the Midland Health Board, along with the Leader and your good self, a Chathaoirligh, we had a help line motto, “Don’t get down, get help”. It was very useful and is still in operation. I strongly advise anybody who is feeling down to make good use of that help line.
I support what Senator O’Sullivan said earlier. As a member of the Joint Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government I supported the proposal to have members of Mayo County Council appear before that committee to give their views on the matter. I await with interest what they may have to say. Without prejudice, I strongly support the powers of councillors and, whatever about increasing those powers, I would certainly not subscribe to reducing them. This area may require clarification because there is much concern among local representatives in the run up to next year’s council elections. There are signs in all parties that not as many people are coming forward.
Senator Alan Kelly: I agree with the Senators who requested a discussion on the decentralisation programme. While in Clonakilty in west Cork recently, I saw the fine new premises that has been put up for BIM and the wanton waste in that the volume of staff moving into it will be only a fraction of its total employment. It raises questions about the entire programme, which was put in place for the benefactors of the Fianna Fáil Party and the construction industry.
I agree with Senators who have requested a debate on unemployment. It has been raised by a couple of Senators already today. Aer Lingus has in the past two days again given the two fingers to the Irish people who made that company and who created the circumstances by which it could be successful. It has also given the two fingers to the workers who made sacrifices in the recent past to make the company what it is today. It is disgraceful that the chief executive will not speak publicly about the need for what he is doing.
Senator Alan Kelly: It is disgraceful that he will not say why he cannot use some of the assets to leverage against the cost-cutting that he wants to put in place and that he has indicated that even with the changes in the fuel prices, he will not change his mind on the volume of redundancies he seeks.
The management at Aer Lingus has done it again. It has acted in this way since the company was privatised. It was the wrong decision. Market forces do not always work. We live on an island. Unfortunately, a price will be paid, especially by the tourism industry. When the cabin staff are gone, the first impression for those arriving in Ireland will be totally different. Unfortunately, the move over the past two days symbolises a bigger one that Aer Lingus is planning, that is, the removal of other slots for commercial reasons from Ireland to probably Britain and the United States.
Senator Paschal Donohoe: I support the request from my colleague, Senator Fitzgerald, for an early debate on the economy and banking matters. It is important that when we are spending a great deal of time here properly casting a verdict on what happened last week, we bear in mind what the financial markets are saying about this plan. I do not want to spend too much time listening to what they are saying, given the difficulties that we are talking about. Nonetheless, since the Government announced its scheme shares in the large banks on the Irish, European and American stock markets have continued to slide. Yesterday was a cataclysmic day in terms of the performance of stock markets throughout the world despite the work of governments in all countries in stating what they will do about the challenges facing the banking sector. We would not be seeing these falls in share values if there was not severe doubt about the principles of the plan and the commitment to make it work.
Senator Paschal Donohoe: There is an air of unreality about any calls for humility in the banking sector. God knows it is needed but there is humility needed on behalf of the Government as well to acknowledge that while we have a plan we will need more plans. If they are not under preparation then what we saw last Monday and last weekend could be a sign of things to come. We put faith in the Government being willing to address this crisis and we need to see it discharge its responsibility.
Senator Shane Ross: I wish to be associated with the remarks from all sides of the House on the death of Jack Tobin. I remember him very well, as a different type of clerk from the current ones. That is not pejorative or complimentary. He was a rather distant, severe and very traditional man. On my first day in the House I put down a motion on Seanad reform.
Senator Shane Ross: It is a tribute to him. It was Jack Tobin who put me right on this and told me I was unlikely, in that session, to make a great deal of progress. That was 28 years ago. He was not particularly enthusiastic about the motion, and he got his way. In many other ways he was robust in his views which he could convey in a particularly subtle way. He was never party political in any sense of the word, and he was very likeable. He also had a great way of dealing with the Cathaoirleach, which did not involve whispering in his ear at every possible opportunity. He briefed him well before he came into the House and never needed to brief him in the House. He was a distinguished, distant and extremely loyal, and loyal to the procedures of this House. We should recognise that. I express my sympathy to his family.
On the Order of Business, I am struck by the words of Senators Fitzgerald, Donohoe, Coghlan and other. On the issue of banking, which we will discuss tomorrow, what is striking is that this crisis is not over. That is worrying. I am also struck by the fact that everybody is beginning to be critical of the regulator. The regulator should resign because he has equal responsibility with others for what has happened. The issue of most concern, as Senator Donohoe mentioned, is that the guarantee which we gave is not convincing the markets that it has a great deal of credibility. What the Government did was not wrong; it was a good pre-emptive strike. To give a guarantee of €400 billion when one cannot possibly ever pay it defies people to see what it entails. The national debt is approximately €43 billion. We have given a guarantee on which we cannot possibly deliver, especially now when we are not a particularly healthy economy. We are not expecting to ever have to deliver but it is very unusual, in banking or commercial terms, for anybody to accept a guarantee from anybody who cannot pay it.
The credibility of this scheme is now in serious danger. I call on the Government to present the details of it to us immediately, not next week, or it will land us in more trouble than we expected. It does not matter what happens on the stock market, but the inability of the banks to borrow on the money markets is continuing. The details of the scheme need to be outlined immediately before things get out of hand. The markets continue to fall, which is an indication of what people think of what we have done, although that does not mean it is a reflection on what we have actually done. Nevertheless, it is important.
An Cathaoirleach: I also wish to be associated with the tributes to Mr. Jack Tobin, former Clerk of the Seanad. He served as Clerk and Seanad returning officer for a long number of years. He was also appointed by the then Taoiseach as the first secretary to the newly established New Ireland Forum, which signified how highly regarded he was held by the Government and the Houses as a civil servant and an officer of this House. I extend my sincere sympathy to his daughter Monica, friends and extended family on their sad loss.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senators Fitzgerald, O’Toole, Alex White, McFadden, Coghlan — the deputy leader of Fine Gael in the House, Norris, Hanafin, Regan, Donohoe and Ross expressed their concerns and gave the House the benefit of their experience with regard to the proposals for dealing with the banking situation. The guarantee that was given by both Houses last week is not free; the State will charge for it. We will have a better knowledge of the position when the regulations are brought before the House later this week. I thank the leaders of the groups in the House for their support. I will inform Members on the Order of Business tomorrow when it is proposed to put the regulations before the House, and I will allocate a full amount of time for Members to express their views on them.
Senator Fitzgerald also proposed an amendment to the Order of Business to provide for a debate on employment and competitiveness. Senator Hanafin and other colleagues suggested that FÁS and the economy also be discussed in that debate. The House will be aware that the budget is to be introduced next week. On Wednesday night following the Budget Statement and during Fianna Fáil Private Members’ business, I intend to afford Members the opportunity to express their views on the economy, competitiveness and all matters related to employment, as Senator Fitzgerald mentioned today. I will propose to extend the time for Private Members’ business by an hour to provide for a three-hour debate on the economy, and Members will have the benefit of knowing the content of the budget from the previous day.
This is a difficult time for ordering business in the House. We have an obligation to ensure legislation is processed. Before the end of this week the regulations must be agreed and passed by both Houses. I thank the party leaders in the House, the Whips, the Cathaoirleach, the clerks, the staff and all my colleagues for their understanding and support in this regard. It makes my job a great deal easier.
Senator O’Toole and Senator Alex White highlighted their concerns about No. 2 and the establishment of the sub-committee. The business has been ordered and is proceeding, but I will convey the Senators’ concerns to the Minister after the Order of Business.
Senator Alex White and Senator Kelly expressed their concerns about the situation in Aer Lingus, employment, employment rights and, in particular, the matters that have been agreed in the national agreement. It is certainly a challenge for the Government and, indeed, everyone. It has crossed my mind on numerous occasions over the past week how the challenges we face are changing and are doing so by the day. Formerly, there was an interval of a week or month between challenges but now they are arising by the day. Ireland is not alone in confronting problems in the banking industry; it is a worldwide challenge. Other countries, especially our European colleagues, must face up to what we have had to do and respond in the same way. It is a liquidity problem and has nothing to do with stocks and shares. Our European colleagues must confront the challenges. Some of them have done so since the last sitting of the House.
Senator Keaveney voiced her concerns about Malin and Valentia. I compliment Senator O’Toole on his stance during “The Week in Politics” programme on this matter. Senator Mark Daly has also been a champion on the matter in the House, as have all colleagues from the Kingdom and Donegal.
Senator Donie Cassidy: All Senators would wish that Malin and Valentia would have quality, essential services with all the equipment necessary and appropriate to the 21st century, along with the two new locations. Ireland has a huge coastline and I will convey the Senator’s views on the matter to the Minister.
Senator Hannigan outlined his concerns about education and called for a debate on the issue. I intend to arrange for a debate on education after the budget, when Senators will be better informed on the allocation for education.
Senator Mary White and Senator Glynn asked for a debate on suicide. Senator Mary White, who is a champion in this area, put an alarming figure before the House when she said that up to 60,000 people harm themselves each year. This is an alarming statistic, especially now when people are under pressure for one reason or another, and particularly given the various challenges in business and employment. We must do everything we can to deal with this. I will allocate time for a debate and invite the Minister, Deputy Mary Harney, to attend. It will be an opportunity for her to receive an update on the Senators’ experiences and views and for her to give the up-to-date position on this issue.
Senator O’Sullivan and Senator Glynn spoke about the development plans of various counties and supporting local authority colleagues. This is most important, and I thank the Senators for bringing the matter to our attention. I have no difficulty with inviting the Minister to the House at an opportune time to debate section 31 of the Local Government Act and to examine how we can assist the members of local authorities. We are their representatives. They are obliged to meet the challenges they confront in the best possible way and they will have a difficult time over the next few years.
Some Members will recall the downturn in the economy during the 1980s and how difficult it was for members of health boards, vocational education committees and local authorities to strike the estimates. I proposed the estimates in 17 of my 18 years on Westmeath County Council. I recall that my colleagues at the time were very concerned and worried, but we had a duty to fulfil. I wish everyone well in this regard and we will assist local authority members in every way we can. I am proud and privileged to have been elected so many times. Most of my colleagues in the House are here at the behest of the local authority electorate and we will do everything we can to assist those members. I certainly will invite the Minister to the House at the earliest opportunity.
I agree with comments about the coverage of the Listowel Races on TG4 and support my colleagues in that regard. Finally, I wish to acknowledge that a distinguished former Lord Mayor of Dublin, Mr. Sean Dublin Bay Loftus, was in the Visitors Gallery earlier today.
|Bradford, Paul.||Buttimer, Jerry.|
|Coffey, Paudie.||Coghlan, Paul.|
|Cummins, Maurice.||Donohoe, Paschal.|
|Fitzgerald, Frances.||Hannigan, Dominic.|
|Healy Eames, Fidelma.||Kelly, Alan.|
|Mullen, Rónán.||Norris, David.|
|O’Toole, Joe.||Phelan, John Paul.|
|Prendergast, Phil.||Quinn, Feargal.|
|Regan, Eugene.||Ross, Shane.|
|Boyle, Dan.||Butler, Larry.|
|Callely, Ivor.||Cannon, Ciaran.|
|Carty, John.||Cassidy, Donie.|
|Corrigan, Maria.||de Búrca, Déirdre.|
|Ellis, John.||Feeney, Geraldine.|
|Glynn, Camillus.||Hanafin, John.|
|Keaveney, Cecilia.||Kett, Tony.|
|Leyden, Terry.||MacSharry, Marc.|
|McDonald, Lisa.||Ó Domhnaill, Brian.|
|Ó Murchú, Labhrás.||O’Brien, Francis.|
|O’Malley, Fiona.||O’Sullivan, Ned.|
|Ormonde, Ann.||White, Mary M.|
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