Order of Business.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Seanad Eireann Debate
Vol. 191 No. 11

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Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on the provision of child care services, which will be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and which will conclude not later than 6.30 p.m. Spokespersons may speak for 12 minutes and all other Senators seven minutes, and Senators may share time by agreement of the House. The Minister will be called upon ten minutes from the end of the debate for concluding comments and to take questions from spokespersons or leaders.

[632]Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  I have just come from a meeting that was held in a church that was attended by hundreds of elderly people. They were not there for prayer or mass, they were there to defend their entitlement to a medical card, their basic right to universality, a right the nation gave them seven years ago but that has been taken away from them. It was one of the most uplifting meetings I have attended, in terms of seeing the power of the elderly people there and their willingness to come along and to fight for what they feel is right. It was also one of the saddest meetings I have ever attended because people were driven to go along to it to defend their rights. That raises enormous questions about what we value in society and what are the values we want to underpin by our legislation and our approach to health policy.

What was announced this morning does not restore the peace of mind that has been taken away from elderly people. The attack on the over 70s remains in place. There has been no discussion about the problems of means testing, the huge attrition rate from it, the number of people who do not apply, and the humiliation people feel. The scheme outlined this morning will create a number of problems, but above all it will create a two-tier system for the elderly, namely, those who were eligible before the budget and those eligible after the budget. It has taken peace of mind away from the elderly.

Fiscal policy could have been used instead of taking that approach. When the elderly consider what has happened to many high rollers and the tax reliefs they got over many years, they are entitled to ask where is the equity in the recent proposal from the Government. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Health and Children to the House today. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to discuss the withdrawal of the medical card from the over 70s. We should be discussing the matter in the Seanad. The whole country is talking about it.

Senators:  Hear, hear.

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  Anybody who was at the meeting this morning would be appalled at the situation in which elderly people find themselves, and the fact that they have to congregate outside the gates of Leinster House tomorrow to get their point across to a blunt Government that is not listening and is not responding to what the Irish people want.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  Hear, hear.

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  It is not just the elderly that will be affected, but their families and young people also. The attack on universality is being done without any debate or discussion. It was not part of the election manifesto. Universal health cover for the over 70s was introduced in 2002 to buy an election but it was not part of the election manifesto last year. It was introduced without any discussion or mandate and because of a lazy approach to the budget. The Government could have targeted many other areas. We all know about the areas where there has been extensive waste.

The Government is playing around with the figures at the moment. It was going to save €100 million when the medical card was to be withdrawn from 120,000 people and now it is going to save €100 million when it will be withdrawn from only 20,000 people. It is not 5% of 120,000 people that are involved, it is 14% of them, and eligibility will be based on gross income rather than net income. When the fine details of the scheme emerge people will not be happy.

Who knows what will be the outcome of the negotiations the Government will enter into with the Irish Medical Organisation or anyone else? It is all uncertain. The principle of universal health care for the elderly as a value, which the elderly now expect, has been taken away. What the Government has announced this morning has gone no way near restoring the peace of mind the elderly want.

[633]Senator Joe O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  I agree with the points made by Senator Fitzgerald. How many times have we discussed the importance of the Upper House and that it should be relevant, topical, responsible, caring and retain a connection with ordinary people? That is what this is about. If it is being discussed on every radio talk show, in every lounge in every pub and at every dinner table in every house, it is daft not to discuss it here. If everybody in the whole country is debating the issue, we should debate it too. I have tabled the following motion:

I recognise that it is not possible to take the motion at this time.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  It is not in order.

Senator Joe O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  I suggest that the Order of Business be amended so that we can take statements on the three issues mentioned in my motion — the need to exclude the minimum wage from the income levy, to restore the universal entitlement of people over the age of 70 to the medical card and to reverse the proposal to reduce class sizes. I ask the Leader to provide for such a debate immediately. We need to examine the fact that we are being misled, rightly or wrongly. I do not believe that just 20,000 people over the age of 70 earn more than €36,000 a year. That is what is suggested in a document I downloaded from the website of the Department of Finance an hour ago. I deeply resent the manner in which members of the Government have referred to people who earn €36,000 a year as “well-off” or “highly paid”.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  Hear, hear.

Senator Joe O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  I do not know how anybody in this House would live on €36,000 a year. There seems to be a suggestion that elderly people can live at a cheaper rate. It is not on. I would like to mention another thing that has been done in a sneaky way. The budget proposal in respect of medical cards was based on one’s net salary — one’s salary after the costs associated with housing and various other things were deducted. The new proposal in based on one’s gross income, however. Would Senators believe that this change has apparently been made — I ask my colleagues on the other side of the House to listen — because it has been decided that it is easier for people to know what their gross income is? Come on.

Senator Geraldine Feeney: Information on Geraldine Feeney  Zoom on Geraldine Feeney  It is a question of pension income, rather than occupational income.

Senator Joe O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  I do not suggest that Senators on this side of the House are any better than our colleagues on the other side of the House.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  The Senator has made his point. The Leader may well agree.

Senator Joe O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  I ask Senators on the Government side to go back to their parliamentary parties and lift out of it those who are making proposals of this nature. Certain facts need to be checked. There are arguments against the universal approach to the over 70s. I was prepared to listen to some of those arguments last week. However, I heard over the weekend that the Government is reconsidering the principle of universality in many other areas. It is just a step away from taking away the travel pass, the television licence or the telephone allowance.

[634]Senator Geraldine Feeney: Information on Geraldine Feeney  Zoom on Geraldine Feeney  Rubbish. That is not true.

Senator Joe O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  Okay.

Senator Geraldine Feeney: Information on Geraldine Feeney  Zoom on Geraldine Feeney  The Senator is scaremongering again.

Senator Joe O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  While I fully accept the good offices of my colleagues on the other side of the House, I do not believe they are being told about what is being thought up.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  Hear, hear.

Senator Nicky McFadden: Information on Nicky McFadden  Zoom on Nicky McFadden  It is obvious.

Senator Joe O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  They were misled in the past. I ask them not to allow themselves to be misled again.

Senator Geraldine Feeney: Information on Geraldine Feeney  Zoom on Geraldine Feeney  We are not that stupid over here.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  They are only mushrooms.

Senator Geraldine Feeney: Information on Geraldine Feeney  Zoom on Geraldine Feeney  Senator O’Toole might think we are stupid, but we are not.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames  Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames  The Government should listen to its backbenchers.

Senator Geraldine Feeney: Information on Geraldine Feeney  Zoom on Geraldine Feeney  The stupid ones are in front of Senator O’Toole.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  I ask Members not to interrupt one another. I can afford as many Senators as possible an opportunity to speak if we do not have any interruptions.

Senator Alex White: Information on Alex White  Zoom on Alex White  Can the Leader indicate how many more changes, reversals or climbdowns are likely to result from the Budget Statement the Minister for Finance made in the other House last week? Does he agree that our community and society is a laughing stock, internationally and domestically, because the budget, which is the major economic statement of the year, has degenerated into such a shambles over recent days? I agree with Senator O’Toole that this is a question of candour, honesty and clarity. When will the Taoiseach look the Irish people straight in the eyes and tell them, in a clear, honest and candid manner, what precisely is happening to this country’s economy? Why are we getting a drip feed of information, for example in the statements which are made in this House?

I would like to mention the most shocking — I use the word advisedly — experience I have had since I was elected to this House. Last week, the Leader, reasonably, ordered a debate on unemployment in this Chamber. When the Minister of State came in to the House, his so-called statement did not contain a single new proposal to deal with what looks like the greatest crisis this country has faced for many years. I do not mean that there were very few new proposals in it, but that there was not even one. The point has been made previously that the budget contained no proposals on how to deal with the scandal of unemployment that is about to return to this country. If we are to have serious debate in this House, that kind of treatment of the Seanad is disgraceful and should never be repeated.

There is an issue of confidence in the Government and especially the Taoiseach. He is an able and experienced man, but is not levelling with the public. Scrappy interviews in the second part of the 9 o’clock news on television, early morning press conferences and rushes out to RTE are not the way to engage with the people in this sort of situation. We need serious engagement and while I accept that we in the Opposition also have a responsibility, the principal responsibility rests with the Government and particularly with the Taoiseach.

[635]There will have to be a political reckoning down the road for what has happened in recent months regarding when the Taoiseach and his predecessor knew what was coming down the line, what he knew and when he knew it. All those issues will have to be reckoned with in due course. For now, we urgently need leadership, honesty and candour from the Government regarding the banks and the economic situation, and we are not getting it. We need Goodbody Stockbrokers to tell us there will have to be a second budget some time early in 2009. We are not being told what the situation is. It is the same approach that unfortunately was taken by the Government on the Lisbon treaty referendum. One cannot treat the people in this way. They are angry, frustrated and concerned and have a right to be so. They demand, and are entitled to, a straightforward approach and account for itself by the Government, and they are not getting it.

Senators:  Hear, hear.

Senator Ann Ormonde: Information on Ann Ormonde  Zoom on Ann Ormonde  I would be delighted to have this debate and would welcome the Minister here for a full debate so all these problems can be teased out. I welcome the Taoiseach’s decision and statement this morning that 95% of over 70s holding a medical card will keep it. People in the 5% will be able to apply to the Health Service Executive for concessions in certain areas. These people are in the higher echelon of our society. I see nothing wrong with that. We have come a long way. There was an information deficit and a full debate is necessary so we can tease it out in this House.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins  Zoom on Maurice Cummins  There was a decision deficit.

Senator Ann Ormonde: Information on Ann Ormonde  Zoom on Ann Ormonde  I am listening to the points raised in the debate and it is so media driven that we do not stand a chance because we are not getting accurate information.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames  Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames  That is unfair.

Senator Ann Ormonde: Information on Ann Ormonde  Zoom on Ann Ormonde  That is our problem. The information is being driven through the media. We do not stand a chance.

(Interruptions).

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  Senator Ormonde, without interruption.

Senator Ann Ormonde: Information on Ann Ormonde  Zoom on Ann Ormonde  We are not allowed to finish any statement we make.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  Joe Duffy did not write the budget.

Senator Ann Ormonde: Information on Ann Ormonde  Zoom on Ann Ormonde  The Taoiseach should be given a chance to clarify the situation but every time he opens his mouth, he is interrupted. We will get it right. The debate is necessary and I look forward to it. It will be a big debate in this House and the sooner we get it, the better.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  Hear, hear.

Senator Alex White: Information on Alex White  Zoom on Alex White  Senator Ormonde will support the amendment.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  No interruptions now, please.

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan  Zoom on Paul Coghlan  Following what Senators Fitzgerald, O’Toole and Alex White have said, we have had an extraordinary situation today. People who were almost defenceless came out fighting. People we would not expect to be were driven to speak out, defend themselves and fight for their rights as they see them. What is the Government doing about our mega-[636]wealthy tax exiles? These people are as Irish as the rest of us, many are very good in their societies, but they are outside the scope of Irish tax law. While there is no levy for them, we expect some of our poorest citizens and relatively poor people to pay this levy. In these straitened times it is time for the Government to ask these wealthy people to play their part and I hope many will.

Senators:  Hear, hear.

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan  Zoom on Paul Coghlan  In light of past decisions of the High Court and Supreme Court, it is time for the Government to examine urgently how these people can be brought within the scope of tax law, especially regarding the levy.

The Property Services (Regulatory) Bill has been promised for some years now and mentioned in this House a number of times. We are all aware that we have in Navan a still-born authority or rather, a body functioning without any legal framework because no Bill has appeared before either House of the Oireachtas. I ask the Leader what the staff employed in Navan are doing, how many are in place and what has been achieved to date. In these difficult times, it is disgraceful that such a situation is being allowed to continue. I ask the Leader to determine whether the Government intends to bring forward a Bill or drop the matter entirely.

Senator Eoghan Harris: Information on Eoghan Harris  Zoom on Eoghan Harris  Last week I said in the House that I could not, in conscience, support the budget because it had failed to deal with the public sector. That is intimately related to the kind of Civil Service mind which came up with the medical card scheme. I also said that I could not, in conscience, support the main Opposition party because it is compromised by the presence of Deputy James Reilly as its spokesman on the matter who——

Senator Joe O’Reilly: Information on Joe O'Reilly  Zoom on Joe O'Reilly  The issues are not related.

Senator Paudie Coffey: Information on Paudie Coffey  Zoom on Paudie Coffey  The Senator is trying to muddy the waters.

Senator Nicky McFadden: Information on Nicky McFadden  Zoom on Nicky McFadden  The Senator is just looking for an excuse.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  Senator Harris, without interruption.

Senator Eoghan Harris: Information on Eoghan Harris  Zoom on Eoghan Harris  ——who negotiated the scheme——

Senator Joe O’Reilly: Information on Joe O'Reilly  Zoom on Joe O'Reilly  That was his job at the time.

Senator Eoghan Harris: Information on Eoghan Harris  Zoom on Eoghan Harris  ——to which the public——

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins  Zoom on Maurice Cummins  That was his job.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  I will ask the next Senator who interrupts to leave the Chamber. This has to stop. Members are bringing the House down to a very low level——

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins  Zoom on Maurice Cummins  The Senator should not be naming people from the other House.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  People——

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins  Zoom on Maurice Cummins  Is it in order for Senator Harris to be mentioning the names of people from the other House?

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  Members on all sides of the House like others to listen to them when they are speaking but are not prepared to listen to the contributions of——

[637]Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins  Zoom on Maurice Cummins  On a point of order, is it in order to mention people from the other House in this House?

Senator Eoghan Harris: Information on Eoghan Harris  Zoom on Eoghan Harris  He is the party spokesman on health. Of course it is in order.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins  Zoom on Maurice Cummins  It is not in order.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  Members can refer to the proceedings in the other House. My apologies, Members cannot mention the proceedings——

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  The matter to which Senator Harris is referring did not take place in the House. It was a matter of negotiations outside the House and had nothing to do with procedures in the other House.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  I do not want the names of anyone mentioned and I have said that on numerous——

Senator Joe O’Reilly: Information on Joe O'Reilly  Zoom on Joe O'Reilly  The Government’s incompetence was not his problem.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins  Zoom on Maurice Cummins  The Senator should correct the record.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  Senator Harris, without interruption, on the Order of Business please.

Senator Eoghan Harris: Information on Eoghan Harris  Zoom on Eoghan Harris  I strongly recommend that Fine Gael, from a tactical point of view, thinks about the wisdom of having somebody ballyragging the Government about medical cards who, in his previous capacity, negotiated these outrageous profiteering charges for the IMO. How could any normal human being——

Senator John Paul Phelan: Information on John Paul Phelan  Zoom on John Paul Phelan  The Senator is engaging in a personalised attack.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames  Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames  That is totally unfair.

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  It is a distraction.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  The Senator should withdraw his remarks.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins  Zoom on Maurice Cummins  The Minister was supposed to be negotiating for us.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  We are not discussing the IMO.

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  It was a Government decision.

(Interruptions).

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins  Zoom on Maurice Cummins  Who was the Minister negotiating for us?

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  Senators, please.

Senator Paudie Coffey: Information on Paudie Coffey  Zoom on Paudie Coffey  These are just deflection tactics.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins  Zoom on Maurice Cummins  Had we a Minister with the same ability we would not have the current problems.

Senator Joe O’Reilly: Information on Joe O'Reilly  Zoom on Joe O'Reilly  Deputy Reilly would be negligent if he——

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  On today’s Order of Business——

[638]Senator John Paul Phelan: Information on John Paul Phelan  Zoom on John Paul Phelan  It is a purely personal attack.

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  It is also an extraordinary diversion.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  ——we will move on to questions to the Leader. Please give the Leader an opportunity to respond.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins  Zoom on Maurice Cummins  It is a pity we did not have a Minister with the same ability to negotiate on our behalf.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  Senators, please.

Senator Eoghan Harris: Information on Eoghan Harris  Zoom on Eoghan Harris  The Senators are not letting me make a perfectly reasonable case which——

Senator John Paul Phelan: Information on John Paul Phelan  Zoom on John Paul Phelan  A personal attack is not a perfectly reasonable case.

Senator Eoghan Harris: Information on Eoghan Harris  Zoom on Eoghan Harris  It is not a personal attack.

Senator John Paul Phelan: Information on John Paul Phelan  Zoom on John Paul Phelan  It is a personal attack.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  I ask Members to refrain from interrupting those who are speaking. I am trying to control matters. I ask Members to stick to the Order of Business.

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  It was a Government decision at the time.

Senator Eoghan Harris: Information on Eoghan Harris  Zoom on Eoghan Harris  I repeat, I have a real problem with this budget both in terms of the public sector and the medical card scheme but I find it very hard to support the main Opposition party rolling all of these other issues into it, given that its spokesperson on health is not coming to it with clean hands.

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  Neither is the Minister.

Senator Paudie Coffey: Information on Paudie Coffey  Zoom on Paudie Coffey  The Senator is out of order.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  Senator Harris should withdraw that remark. He is attacking a very good man. That is a scurrilous remark.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  Senator, in relation to that——

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  On a point of order, Senator Harris should withdraw that remark.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  I ask Senator Harris to withdraw that remark about a person not coming to it with clean hands.

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  That remark is not worthy of Senator Harris. He should not cast that sort of aspersion on a person.

Senator Eoghan Harris: Information on Eoghan Harris  Zoom on Eoghan Harris  I do not remember interrupting when other Members of the House were speaking.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  In reference to the remark regarding a Member of the House coming to a matter without a clean pair of hands, I ask Senator Harris to withdraw it.

[639]Senator Eoghan Harris: Information on Eoghan Harris  Zoom on Eoghan Harris  I am happy to do so. What bothers the public about the changes to the medical card scheme is above all the grudging and graceless way in which the Government has handled it.

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  It was ungracious.

Senator Eoghan Harris: Information on Eoghan Harris  Zoom on Eoghan Harris  Up to today I considered it to be grudging and graceless. However, the public does not wish to commit itself to universality at any level. I do not believe in universality for medical card schemes or child benefit allowance because it favours the rich and privileged rather than the great mass of people.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik  Zoom on Ivana Bacik  What about access to education?

Senator Eoghan Harris: Information on Eoghan Harris  Zoom on Eoghan Harris  I do not believe it should be slipped in under cover. However, although the Government’s handling has been grudging and graceless the Opposition is compromised by the fact that its spokesperson on health is a member of the medical profession.

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  We are not compromised and the Senator should withdraw that remark.

Senator Nicky McFadden: Information on Nicky McFadden  Zoom on Nicky McFadden  That is nonsense.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  I call Senator White on a point of order.

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  People have lives before they become Members of the Oireachtas.

Senator Alex White: Information on Alex White  Zoom on Alex White  There is more than one Opposition spokesperson on health.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  That is not a point of order. Will Senator Harris conclude his remarks?

Senator Eoghan Harris: Information on Eoghan Harris  Zoom on Eoghan Harris  The Labour Party is compromised at another level. The party refuses——

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  Will the Senator withdraw the remark?

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  We do not want a Second Stage speech. There should only be points for the Leader to consider. That is all I will hear from anyone.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  The Senator should withdraw the remark about the Fine Gael spokesperson on Health.

Senator Eoghan Harris: Information on Eoghan Harris  Zoom on Eoghan Harris  I withdraw the remark. The point I want to make concerns the failure of the Opposition to point up the need to reform the public sector. Only Deputy Ruairí Quinn of the Labour Party has been brave enough——

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  These are priority issues for Fine Gael. Deputy Richard Bruton has consistently spoken about public sector reform. The senator is incorrect to say Fine Gael has not consistently demanded it.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  Through the chair, please.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik  Zoom on Ivana Bacik  I support the amendments to the motion proposed by Senators Frances Fitzgerald and Joe O’Toole. It is vital to debate these issues on the budget——

[640]An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  Is the Senator seconding the amendment of Senator O’Toole?

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik  Zoom on Ivana Bacik  I second it and I support the other amendment. It is vital that we debate this budget. In years to come this will be know as Brian’s botched budget——

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  Hear, hear.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik  Zoom on Ivana Bacik  It is the first time ever that anyone can remember a budget that was open to negotiation after it was announced in the House. The people on the Government side should hear themselves this week, as they are saying something very different now——

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  I will only hear questions for the Leader, please.

Senator Ned O’Sullivan: Information on Ned O'Sullivan  Zoom on Ned O'Sullivan  The former Taoiseach, Dr. Garret FitzGerald, re-negotiated a budget with Mr. Jim Kemmy.

Senator Paudie Coffey: Information on Paudie Coffey  Zoom on Paudie Coffey  He did not.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik  Zoom on Ivana Bacik  Will the Leader call the relevant Minister to the House to answer valid questions, which are being asked by everyone in the country, about what exactly will happen with medical cards for the over 70s? We should defend the principle of universality of access. Senator Harris claims it is indefensible, but what about universality of access to primary schooling and waste services?

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  All comments should come through the Chair and not directly across the floor to any other Member, please. I will call up the next speaker who ignores this rule. This is the Order of Business.

  3 o’clock

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik  Zoom on Ivana Bacik  We need a debate on universality as the Government has clearly placed the principle under attack. The Minister for Finance declared last week that he was reviewing the universality of child benefit payment. He has already tried to change the universal provision of medical cards for the over 70s in a botched and haphazard way. The European principle is that we supply public services to people on the basis of their ability to pay, through income tax, and we then supply these services on the basis of universal access. People pay higher taxes and this funds national primary schooling which is accessible to all, in the same way that medical cards should be accessible to all and child benefit should be payable to all children, irrespective of their parents’ income. This important principle should be defended. It is disgraceful that the Minister for Finance has placed it under attack.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  What about the ten richest people who did not pay any income tax at all last year?

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik  Zoom on Ivana Bacik  The principle of equity of taxation is important and should be examined. If the Government asks for our suggestion, why not take those on the minimum wage out of the 1% levy and instead place a higher levy on those earning more than €150,000 or €200,000——

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames  Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames  Hear, hear.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik  Zoom on Ivana Bacik  ——instead of a blunt instrument of 2% for everyone over €100,000, irrespective of the fact that there are people in the country who can well afford to pay more than 2%, and who are earning well in excess of €100,000? I support the amendment and it is very important that we have this debate and we should closely examine what the Government is really about, which is attacking the poorest and the most vulnerable in society.

[641]Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  Hear, hear.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  The point is made.

Senator Geraldine Feeney: Information on Geraldine Feeney  Zoom on Geraldine Feeney  I support the call by my colleague, Senator Ann Ormonde, for a debate on the over-70s medical card issue. I must inform Senator Ivana Bacik that this side of the House is saying this week exactly what it said last week.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  The Senator must address her remarks through the Chair and put questions to the Leader.

Senator Paudie Coffey: Information on Paudie Coffey  Zoom on Paudie Coffey  No, we are not going to buy that now.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  That side of the House is certainly not saying the same as it said last week.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  I do not want any Member referring to other Members across the floor.

Senator Geraldine Feeney: Information on Geraldine Feeney  Zoom on Geraldine Feeney  I hope the Leader allows for the debate on the issue.

What is upsetting and exercising the Opposition today is that it is disgusted the Government has come up with such an equitable solution that will work.

Senator Paudie Coffey: Information on Paudie Coffey  Zoom on Paudie Coffey  The people decided that.

(Interruptions).

Senator Geraldine Feeney: Information on Geraldine Feeney  Zoom on Geraldine Feeney  The solution means that 95% of the over-70s will be covered by the medical card scheme. Last week, I asked the Opposition did it support the principle that those who can pay, should pay. The answer I received was, “Yes”.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  The Senator should address her questions to the Leader.

Senator Geraldine Feeney: Information on Geraldine Feeney  Zoom on Geraldine Feeney  Today, however, I know the Opposition does not support that principle.

Senator Alex White: Information on Alex White  Zoom on Alex White  It is about tax.

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  It is about fiscal policy.

Senator Geraldine Feeney: Information on Geraldine Feeney  Zoom on Geraldine Feeney  The 5% of those who will not be covered can well afford to pay.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik  Zoom on Ivana Bacik  It is certainly not 5%.

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  It is more like 14%.

Senator Geraldine Feeney: Information on Geraldine Feeney  Zoom on Geraldine Feeney  I would also like the debate to focus on a matter raised by Senator Alex White. He claimed An Taoiseach, Deputy Brian Cowen, came out in a shoddy way and ran out for the last half of last Friday night’s news. Senator Alex White knows the Taoiseach was out of the country until Friday. He was in his office then meeting members of the Northern Ireland Assembly——

Senator Eugene Regan: Information on Eugene Regan  Zoom on Eugene Regan  Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  He did not meet Deputy Joe Behan though.

[642]Senator Geraldine Feeney: Information on Geraldine Feeney  Zoom on Geraldine Feeney  ——and running the country. When he got out to RTE, that was the only time he could be taken. I, along with all my colleagues on this side of the House, am proud of the job he did for us on Friday night.

(Interruptions).

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  Where the Taoiseach was on Friday night is not relevant to the Order of Business.

Senator Geraldine Feeney: Information on Geraldine Feeney  Zoom on Geraldine Feeney  I also hope the debate will cover the amount of savings that will be taken into account without affecting medical card eligibility. The thresholds given are €36,000 for a single person and €72,000 for a couple. It is only the interest on any sum over that which will be brought into question.

I was rather surprised, but interested, to hear Senator Joe O’Toole claim €36,000 was not much of a pension. Is he confusing a pension with an occupational income? A teacher retiring after 40 years of service will have a pension of €36,000. It was Senator Joe O’Toole who would have negotiated that. I look forward to debating that.

Senator Joe O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  Absolutely, I said that. Every retired teacher, civil servant and other public servant should be eligible.

Senator Geraldine Feeney: Information on Geraldine Feeney  Zoom on Geraldine Feeney  Absolutely, they are delighted with that.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  I call Senator Nicky McFadden on the Order of Business, without interruption.

Senator Nicky McFadden: Information on Nicky McFadden  Zoom on Nicky McFadden  I second the Fine Gael amendment to the Order of Business. The Minister must come to the House to debate this issue.

The introduction of the free medical card for the over-70s has allowed elderly people to continue living in their own homes with dignity, their health has been restored and a large amount saved for the State. Through this, they also have not been exposed to contracting MRSA in hospitals and have had the use of facilities such as public health nurses, physiotherapy and occupational therapy. The unpleasant jobs which must be done for elderly persons with dementia or who cannot look after themselves have also been covered. However, for those over-70s who may lose the medical card, the facility of incontinence pads for free, for example, will no longer be available to them. Many of these people came to my clinic in recent days, terrified they will lose their medical cards.

Senator Geraldine Feeney: Information on Geraldine Feeney  Zoom on Geraldine Feeney  This will be explained to all this week.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  Through the Chair and no interruptions.

Senator Nicky McFadden: Information on Nicky McFadden  Zoom on Nicky McFadden  Many of them have lain awake every night terrified since the budget was introduced. I am glad the Taoiseach listened to his backbenchers and to my colleagues on the other side of the House. However, universality of services must be continued for people who are sick. The relatives of many people who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease have been in contact with us in recent days. People have died prematurely because they have not been able to access health services as they do not have medical cards. In this day and age in a First World country like ours, we must care for the people who have put us where we are today and who have built this State. I ask us in this Chamber to have a level-headed debate about this. It is not about personalities or us individually or politics. It is about the Minister coming to the House and talking in a straight manner to Members about caring for our elderly.

[643]Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: Information on Labhrás Ó Murchú  Zoom on Labhrás Ó Murchú  The Taoiseach has expressed regret for the anxiety which has been caused to so many people.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  Crocodile tears.

Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: Information on Labhrás Ó Murchú  Zoom on Labhrás Ó Murchú  We all are well aware of that anxiety because we live in the community and would have spoken to many people. I would not have expected any less from the Taoiseach because he is an honourable and decent man.

I honestly do not think we are helping the situation by trying to demonise any side. It is quite clear we have a very difficult economic situation with which to contend. We knew it the night we sat for 23 hours to deal with a guarantee of €400 billion to the banks. We all knew full well that the difficulty existed.

I do not subscribe to the concept of universality when it comes to public service. If we have any little bit of socialist conscience left at all, we must look at the most vulnerable people.

Some of these were anxious, and that is quite true. Senator Fitzgerald is quite correct. It must have been a sad situation this morning to have met 300 or 400 people who were genuinely worried.

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  One thousand.

Senator Nicky McFadden: Information on Nicky McFadden  Zoom on Nicky McFadden  One thousand.

Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: Information on Labhrás Ó Murchú  Zoom on Labhrás Ó Murchú  I accept that, but I also accept that the Government acted once it became evident this anxiety existed. It has now reversed the situation.

I will say something which might seem a little unpalatable. I honestly believe that people who have done well from the Celtic tiger should be prepared to put their hands in their pockets——

Senator Eoghan Harris: Information on Eoghan Harris  Zoom on Eoghan Harris  Hear, hear.

Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: Information on Labhrás Ó Murchú  Zoom on Labhrás Ó Murchú  ——and pay for certain services when we are under economic pressure. If we do not do so, the people at the end of the line will continue to suffer. We are talking about us all being just that little bit more balanced in our comments and focusing on the specific issues with which we are dealing, not all the global issues which can be discussed specifically in their own time and under their own particular heading.

I am glad that the medical cards situation has been resolved.

Senator Nicky McFadden: Information on Nicky McFadden  Zoom on Nicky McFadden  It is not resolved.

Senator Ann Ormonde: Information on Ann Ormonde  Zoom on Ann Ormonde  It is resolved; come on.

Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: Information on Labhrás Ó Murchú  Zoom on Labhrás Ó Murchú  I would not like to think that owing to lack of finance, anyone’s health would suffer in some way. I would not like to see that happening.

I would say this much genuinely. Unless as people and legislators we are prepared to rise above the partisan position we all can adopt at any given time——

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  They did not do without the dividends themselves.

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  They did not listen to suggestions for budgetary change in recent years.

Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: Information on Labhrás Ó Murchú  Zoom on Labhrás Ó Murchú  ——then I honestly do not believe we are doing justice to the mandate which we have received from the people. I do not believe those who would suffer [644]most will thank us at the end of the day if that is the easy road we decide on going at this particular stage.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  The Senator should talk to his party’s backbenchers.

Senator Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly  Zoom on Alan Kelly  I support the proposed amendment to the Order of Business. I also support my colleague, Senator Alex White, in asking how many changes there will be to the budget. How many more climbdowns will there be?

Contrary to the previous speaker for whom I have great respect, I do not believe this medical cards issue has been sorted. It simply has not. Frankly, I do not believe the statistics I heard this morning.

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  Exactly.

Senator Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly  Zoom on Alan Kelly  If it were only 5% who would be affected by this and who would lose their medical cards, from an administrative point of view it would be hardly worth doing.

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  Exactly.

Senator Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly  Zoom on Alan Kelly  The calculations that have been done suggest approximately 14% will lose their medical cards. I would not like to accuse the Taoiseach of misleading the people, but in the next few weeks we will certainly find that out. We may have to come back into the House and say so.

The other aspect is that there is a fundamental change in that the Minister can use a ministerial order to change the thresholds. This is a principle. We are talking about the principle of universality and perhaps we should debate that at some stage, but that is a massive change in the principle. The Minister can decide next year that the thresholds will be changed again.

I do not believe this issue is solved. The discussions with the Irish Medical Organisation still must be undertaken. Until they are, we will not know how far they have proceeded and how much they have succeeded in dealing with this issue. This is just one issue; there is a plethora of others. Undoubtedly, within the next couple of weeks there will be hundreds, if not thousands, of teachers and parents outside the gates of Leinster Houses protesting at the scandalous way schools, particularly secondary schools, have been treated in this budget in terms of class sizes, the changes in funding for resource teaching and the transport costs being imposed on parents throughout the country. It is ridiculous. I guarantee that in the next couple of weeks there will be massive debate on this issue and that it will be the subject of serious debate on the floor of this House.

Another sector that has been very badly treated, although this point might not yet have been raised, is the group of children between the ages of 16 and 18 who have disabilities. The threshold for the disability allowance, which amounts to approximately €204, has been moved from 16 to 18 years while the domiciliary care allowance has increased to €299 and been moved from 18 down to 16 year olds. However, in reality, families with children or young adults in this situation are losing up to €7,000 per year. That is huge. It must be highlighted and reversed. These people are using this money to bypass the long waiting lists for services such as speech and language therapy and occupational therapy.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  The Senator has made his point.

Senator Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly  Zoom on Alan Kelly  I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on this issue in the near future. This sector must be examined carefully, particularly in view of how the Minister has treated it in the budget.

[645]Senator Ivor Callely: Information on Ivor Callely  Zoom on Ivor Callely  I listened with interest to the call to invite the Minister for Health and Children to the House to debate these matters. I support that call. I have participated in debates with the Minister in this House on a couple of occasions and I have found her interaction with Members of the House and her frankness on issues most helpful. Of course, there is the issue of whether she is available today, if one can add a little realism to this debate. I presume Members are realistic that there will be some negotiation between the Leaders to agree a suitable date and time when the Minister will be available to participate in such a debate.

A number of speakers have put questions to the Leader. I listened intently to Senator Alex White but I am not sure whether it is that he does not have political support for the Taoiseach and Minister or there is something more deep-rooted or he has simply not asked people the right question, but he indicated that there is a certain amount of untruth circulating. If that is what he means, and he appears to be nodding in agreement, I urge him, in the interests of everybody’s good name, to spell this out so we can ascertain whether he is correct or incorrect. In fairness to the Taoiseach and the Minister, if Senator Alex White has an issue, he should state it clearly and let us await the answer to it. I invite the Senator to take me up on that offer or go directly to the people with whom he has a problem and discover the answers for himself.

I have heard his colleague, Senator Alan Kelly, state previously in the House that the Minister should have responsibility for different aspects of the health issue. Today, he is contradicting himself. What the Minister has done is a welcome move with regard to the guidelines for medical cards. She has taken back power and ensured she has control over the establishment of thresholds. Heretofore, it was the responsibility of an authority outside the Houses. All Members of the House should welcome that. Indeed, I have heard the Senator’s party ask for such a move in the past. There are some contradictions in what is being said on this issue.

On the other hand, Senator McFadden referred to the elderly at home. I have some experience with this issue and it is wonderful that over the years Fianna Fáil has delivered a tremendous package of home supports, be they care assistants, home helps, meals on wheels, day care services, residential services, the home adaptation grant and the home improvement grant.

(Interruptions).

Senator Eugene Regan: Information on Eugene Regan  Zoom on Eugene Regan  Ask the Leader a question.

Senator Ivor Callely: Information on Ivor Callely  Zoom on Ivor Callely  Need I mention social welfare improvements, free travel passes, free travel companion passes and other benefits? I would welcome our having the Minister present to debate these and related issues as soon as possible.

Some Senators might see where I am coming from in asking the Leader my next question, which is related to what I have heard today. It concerns the fact that there is some confusion over waste waiver charges. It is rubbish——

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  There is a lot of rubbish in here.

Senator Ivor Callely: Information on Ivor Callely  Zoom on Ivor Callely  That is why I am saying it. Maybe the Leader will clarify this issue.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  A number of Senators are offering but there are approximately three minutes remaining. Once the time is up, I will be obliged to call the Leader. I call Senator O’Reilly.

Senator Joe O’Reilly: Information on Joe O'Reilly  Zoom on Joe O'Reilly  It should be accepted as a principle that we no longer set about solving budgetary difficulties on the backs of the weak and poor, which was attempted last week. Happily, the public outcry has reversed this. It is incumbent on the Leader to seek clarity from the Government on the 1% levy and announce that the many employees on the minimum wage [646]and those engaged in home help, baby-sitting and such jobs will no longer be subject to it. It is absolutely inequitable and it is important that the money be found elsewhere.

My colleague Senator Healy Eames would agree that the position on class sizes needs to be reversed.

On a happy note, I beg the Cathaoirleach’s indulgence to allow me refer to the fact that the Irish Business Against Litter league has, in its most recent tranche of results, placed Cavan town first among the towns with more than 6,000 inhabitants. I ask the Leader to acknowledge this in his response, as I know he will. This tremendous result is a testament to the work of the town clerk, town engineer, county manager, executive of the council and, in particular, the outdoor staff. We are very proud of the result in Cavan and it would be nice to have it acknowledged unanimously by the House and to have it conveyed to the relevant authority.

Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  Well done.

Senators:  Hear, hear.

Senator Fiona O’Malley: Information on Fiona O'Malley  Zoom on Fiona O'Malley  I will be very brief in the knowledge that the Cathaoirleach is under pressure. I, too, support the call for a discussion on the medical card for people over 70. We need clarity and, as Senator McFadden stated, should not play politics with this issue. However, this is exactly what is being done. In a calm environment, when tempers have cooled somewhat——

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  Has Senator O’Malley’s temper cooled?

Senator Fiona O’Malley: Information on Fiona O'Malley  Zoom on Fiona O'Malley  ——it is very important that we discuss the real details of what is now available to the over 70s. Many were very surprised to learn the annual sum of money per medical card being paid to general practitioners under the gold card scheme. It amounts to €640 rather than €130 and this is not sustainable.

We also need to recognise other realities in the longer term, irrespective of whether we agree with the principle of universality. The Opposition politicians will be taking a hostage to fortune, and certainly did so when I was at the meeting in the church this morning, in arguing the case for the recipients who have signed up to the scheme. Believing in universality is fine when one is in Opposition and the money is rolling in, but when one must face hard choices——

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins  Zoom on Maurice Cummins  The Senator’s party was in Government in 2001.

(Interruptions).

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  Senator O’Malley without interruption.

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  The Senator should have said that to her Minister in 2002.

Senator Fiona O’Malley: Information on Fiona O'Malley  Zoom on Fiona O'Malley  ——that allow people who are in greater need——

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  The Senator did it in 2002.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  Senator O’Malley without interruption.

Senator Fiona O’Malley: Information on Fiona O'Malley  Zoom on Fiona O'Malley  ——have use of the resources of the State.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  The Senator’s ideology is failing. She lost the election, she is now paying the price for it and cannot take the heat. She is playing politics with the elderly.

[647](Interruptions).

Senator Fiona O’Malley: Information on Fiona O'Malley  Zoom on Fiona O'Malley  The people who are most in need should——

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  The Senator has a failed ideology.

Senator Fiona O’Malley: Information on Fiona O'Malley  Zoom on Fiona O'Malley  ——get served by the resources of the State before the very wealthy. That was what was sought to be achieved today and in the budget. That is what we have achieved.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik  Zoom on Ivana Bacik  Tax the wealthy.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  There are still a number of Senators who wish to contribute but the time has concluded and I therefore call the Leader to reply.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  Will the Cathaoirleach assure me that I am still visible in this House? I have had this problem before, but apparently not with the Cathaoirleach.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  I call the Leader to reply to the Order of Business.

Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  Senators Frances Fitzgerald, Joe O’Toole, Alex White, Ann Ormonde, Paul Coghlan, Eoghan Harris, Ivana Bacik, Geraldine Feeney, Nicky McFadden, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Alan Kelly, Ivor Callely, Joe O’Reilly and Fiona O’Malley all expressed their serious concerns and views regarding the various items in the budget. There were statements on the budget in this House last Wednesday, and Fianna Fáil gave Private Members’ time, and added time to it by leave of the House, which I very much appreciated.

Over the weekend there was much concern and alarm, and many of our senior citizens were deeply hurt and concerned about their plight regarding the medical card. To put everything in context, as Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú said, there is a massive economic downturn worldwide and we, as Senators, have a serious challenge and considerable obligation to deal with the facts and challenges as they arise for the Government. The assistance of the Opposition has always been appreciated, regardless of who has been in Government. The difficulty and challenge are not just our own; they are universal. They are being faced by strong nations — I do not have to name them — from the United States of America down.

On returning from the summer recess, the Government had to call an early budget. We were also faced with the challenge of the banking dilemma which was occurring worldwide. On the Order of Business, I stated as one of the three longest serving in the House that Senators met and excelled in that challenge in an extraordinary way. The people acknowledged that, as did the media, and I respect that.

The time allocated for Government deliberations on budget matters may not have been the longest or fullest. That said, I am trying to reassure the people, especially those over 70 years of age because I know dozens of such citizens who were very annoyed and hurt and had many sleepless nights since the budget was announced last Tuesday. This must be acknowledged because we are the representatives of these honest people who have placed their trust in us to come to Parliament to see what we can do to assist them and their families for the future.

The Government has worked hard over the past two days, as was stated by Senator Feeney. The Taoiseach was in Brussels for two days, came back and met the leaders from the North of Ireland to see how he could assist with their challenges and difficulties. The earliest opportunity he had to address the matters of concern to all Senators was on Friday. He has been giving every minute of his time until the Order of Business and Question Time in the Dáil today.

[648]The statement made by the Taoiseach this morning, which allows 95% of all those over 70 to retain their medical card, will be of great assistance. A statistic that has come out from the deliberations since the budget is that discretionary medical cards are held by 70,000 people. This is an area where discretion has been left with area representatives of the Health Service Executive and general practitioners. Speaking as a person who was a member of a health board for more than 18 years, and the Cathaoirleach and Senator Glynn will have considerable experience of this as former chairpersons, when we went as public representatives to a representative of what is now known as the Health Service Executive with a genuine case for a discretionary medical card, we were always listened to, and long may that continue. I will do my utmost to accede to the request for a full debate in the Seanad at the earliest opportunity I can get a date in the diary of the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney. That is a commitment to the House. I have always found the Minister very forthcoming in giving us a date in her diary and giving us all the time we needed to deliberate on the challenges that faced us then in terms of the HSE, including the medical card issue and all other issues pertaining to the health services that are of concern to Members in regard to the budget.

I wish to inform the House that the Taoiseach has announced that the 1% levy will not apply to the minimum wage. I welcome that——

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  Big deal.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  Another flip-flop.

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  A U-turn.

Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  ——and I know that in their hearts all Senators, those vocal and unvocal, will be delighted with the news of which the Taoiseach has just informed the Dáil.

Senator Alex White: Information on Alex White  Zoom on Alex White  There will be more tomorrow.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  Members should respect the Leader when he is replying to the Order of Business.

Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  Senator Alex White expressed views regarding employment and unemployment. On that, I want to wish the Taoiseach, Enterprise Ireland and its excellent chief executive officer, Frank Ryan, and all the Irish team, well on their mission to China. I had the great opportunity of being on the last trade mission led by the then Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern. There are very many companies whose brand name products, and I include the town of Mullingar, are able to survive in the world of competition because of joint ventures in China. I wish the Taoiseach well.

I remind the House that while the unemployment figures are increasing, Ireland still has 2 million people employed compared to 1987 when the figure was only 1.1 million. That is an advantage in this difficult time——

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames  Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames  A different population.

Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  And the Senator was attending the national school.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames  Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames  Thank you very much.

(Interruptions).

[649]Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames  Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames  Will the Leader announce a change on the pupil-teacher ratio?

(Interruptions).

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  The Leader to reply to the Order of Business.

Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  The deputy leader of Fine Gael, Senator Coghlan, called for an update on the property services Bill. I will make inquiries into that and inform the House in the morning.

Senator Callely asked for an update on waste charges. I join with Senator O’Reilly, who highlighted the achievements of Cavan town. My colleague, the Government Whip, informed me only yesterday of the great achievement, and I know Senator O’Reilly shares his views in that regard. I offer congratulations to all concerned in Cavan town.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  There are two amendments proposed to the Order of Business and I will deal with them in the order in which they were proposed. Senator Fitzgerald has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: “That statements from the Minister for Health and Children on the Government’s decision to withdraw medical cards from people over age 70 be taken before No. 1.” Is the amendment being pressed?

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  Yes.

Amendment put.

The Seanad divided: Tá, 20; Níl, 24.

Information on Ivana Bacik  Zoom on Ivana Bacik  Bacik, Ivana. Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  Buttimer, Jerry.
Information on Paudie Coffey  Zoom on Paudie Coffey  Coffey, Paudie. Information on Paul Coghlan  Zoom on Paul Coghlan  Coghlan, Paul.
Information on Maurice Cummins  Zoom on Maurice Cummins  Cummins, Maurice. Information on Pearse Doherty  Zoom on Pearse Doherty  Doherty, Pearse.
Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  Fitzgerald, Frances. Information on Dominic Hannigan  Zoom on Dominic Hannigan  Hannigan, Dominic.
Information on Fidelma Healy Eames  Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames  Healy Eames, Fidelma. Information on Alan Kelly  Zoom on Alan Kelly  Kelly, Alan.
Information on Nicky McFadden  Zoom on Nicky McFadden  McFadden, Nicky. Information on Ronan Mullen  Zoom on Ronan Mullen  Mullen, Rónán.
Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  Norris, David. Information on Joe O'Reilly  Zoom on Joe O'Reilly  O’Reilly, Joe.
Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  O’Toole, Joe. Information on John Paul Phelan  Zoom on John Paul Phelan  Phelan, John Paul.
Information on Fergal Quinn  Zoom on Fergal Quinn  Quinn, Feargal. Information on Eugene Regan  Zoom on Eugene Regan  Regan, Eugene.
Information on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  Zoom on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  Ross, Shane. Information on Alex White  Zoom on Alex White  White, Alex.



Níl
Information on Larry Butler  Zoom on Larry Butler  Butler, Larry. Information on Ivor Callely  Zoom on Ivor Callely  Callely, Ivor.
Information on Ciaran Cannon  Zoom on Ciaran Cannon  Cannon, Ciaran. Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  Cassidy, Donie.
Information on Maria Corrigan  Zoom on Maria Corrigan  Corrigan, Maria. Information on Mark Daly  Zoom on Mark Daly  Daly, Mark.
Information on Déirdre de Búrca  Zoom on Déirdre de Búrca  de Búrca, Déirdre. Information on Camillus Glynn  Zoom on Camillus Glynn  Glynn, Camillus.
Information on John Gerard Hanafin  Zoom on John Gerard Hanafin  Hanafin, John. Information on Cecilia Keaveney  Zoom on Cecilia Keaveney  Keaveney, Cecilia.
Information on Tony Kett  Zoom on Tony Kett  Kett, Tony. Information on Marc MacSharry  Zoom on Marc MacSharry  MacSharry, Marc.
Information on Lisa McDonald  Zoom on Lisa McDonald  McDonald, Lisa. Information on Brian Ó Domhnaill  Zoom on Brian Ó Domhnaill  Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
Information on Labhrás Ó Murchú  Zoom on Labhrás Ó Murchú  Ó Murchú, Labhrás. Information on Francis O'Brien  Zoom on Francis O'Brien  O’Brien, Francis.
Information on Dennis O'Donovan  Zoom on Dennis O'Donovan  O’Donovan, Denis. Information on Fiona O'Malley  Zoom on Fiona O'Malley  O’Malley, Fiona.
Information on Ned O'Sullivan  Zoom on Ned O'Sullivan  O’Sullivan, Ned. Information on Ann Ormonde  Zoom on Ann Ormonde  Ormonde, Ann.
Information on Kieran Phelan  Zoom on Kieran Phelan  Phelan, Kieran. Information on Jim Walsh  Zoom on Jim Walsh  Walsh, Jim.
Information on Mary M. White  Zoom on Mary M. White  White, Mary M. Information on Diarmuid Wilson  Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson  Wilson, Diarmuid.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Maurice Cummins and John Paul Phelan; Níl, Senators Déirdre de Búrca and Diarmuid Wilson.

[650]Amendment declared lost.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  Senator O’Toole has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: “That Seanad Éireann strongly recommends that the Government excludes the minimum wage from the proposed income levy, reinstates in full the universal entitlement of the over 70s to a medical card and reverses the budget proposal to worsen class sizes in primary and post-primary schools.” Is the amendment being pressed?

Senator Joe O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  Yes.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Order of Business agreed to.


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