Wednesday, 26 November 2008
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Donie Cassidy: The Order of Business is No. 1, Charities Bill 2007 — Second Stage; and No. 2, Stem-Cell Research (Protection of Human Embryos) Bill 2008 — Second Stage. It is proposed that No. 1 will be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and, if not previously concluded, will resume after Private Members’ time at 7 p.m. Spokespersons may speak for 12 minutes and all other Senators for seven minutes; No. 2 will be taken at 5 p.m., to conclude not later than 7 p.m. There will be a sos from 1.30 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Last night, the director general of FÁS, Mr. Rody Molloy, fell on his sword, such was the public outrage about the information that had come into the public domain over the weekend and in recent weeks. It was an outrage which was felt very deeply by the public. We all heard people’s reaction to the information that became public. It was an outrage that the Taoiseach and, indeed, the Green Party, did not seem to share. It appears the Taoiseach, on Monday, defended what was happening. The details that emerged pointed to enormous mismanagement of a State agency.
Reflecting on this, it seems to be fascinating that a public servant, rightly, falls on his sword on the basis of such revelations, but we never see a Minister taking responsibility for serious decisions that have impacted on people’s lives. The Minister for Health and Children continues to hold her seat in Cabinet, despite the withdrawal of the cervical cancer vaccine and the deaths of women around the country through misdiagnoses, with the HSE clearly not being managed properly in its new incarnation. The Minister for Education and Science continues to hold his seat despite the appalling withdrawal of frontline services.
The last e-mail I received last night was from a principal in Lucan who had received a letter from the social inclusion section of the Department of Education and Science. He said it put the tin hat on the damage that has been caused to his school. He was referring to the withdrawal yesterday of the home-school liaison teacher who has been in the school since 1990, on top of other losses in the school. Every county throughout the country is getting letters such as this, yet the Minister for Education and Science maintains his seat at Cabinet. I could go through every Department and it seems there is never accountability from Ministers such as we saw last night in the case of a public servant. This is exemplified by the lack of debate in this House, by the fact that we have not had a debate on the economy in the Seanad.
A report is due today on public sector reform. I insist that report is discussed in the House this week or early next week. It appears the Taoiseach is setting up a committee of four to decide on cutbacks. Is that the right mechanism? Can we have a discussion here about the mechanism the Government is using to decide how to handle critical decisions in the public service on cutbacks? The example I have given is the most recent one in my constituency, but I could quote many others. These cutbacks impact on frontline services again and again. We have seen the waste in FÁS and there must be a better way to manage the public finances, even at a time of cutbacks that impact on frontline services. May we have a debate in the Seanad? I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to the effect that the Minister for Finance should come to the House to discuss the economy, as was promised.
Senator Joe O’Toole: I very much concur with the points made by Senator Fitzgerald. For the record, I am someone who has defended the public service all my life, but that does not mean that I am opposed to public sector reform, rather I am completely and enthusiastically in favour of it. The problem is encapsulated in the example given by Senator Fitzgerald of cutting back on home-school liaison in a disadvantaged area. As far as the public is concerned, that is grand in that it is a cut in public service. That is how it will be interpreted by the media, even though everyone who looks at it will know it is a bad idea.
Overspend is as bad as underspend. Underspend is as bad as overspend. My problem with setting up “Bord Snip” is different from that of other people. My difficulty with it is that it will simply look at budgets and cut back. We need cross-cutting in this regard. For example, I have raised here on numerous occasions the whole question of the building section of the Department of Education and Science. It has caused hassle to Members on all sides in both Houses of the Oireachtas and in every community that is waiting for schools, not knowing how matters will work out. I do not understand why schools are not built by local authorities. I have never seen a county development plan to which the planning section of the Department of Education and Science has made a contribution.
In places such as Balbriggan, for instance, many houses have been built but there is no school. Nobody asked why that is the case. Savings could be made if local authorities built schools, because they are in touch with local needs. They are guardians of the county development plan and they will know what other public buildings are needed. If a school is built, a football pitch and a public library should be built beside it which the school and the local community can use. The planning section, architects etc. can be involved in that. That is what I mean by reform, where a public sector is developed that is leading edge, competitive, productive and shows the way. That is what it was always intended to be and nobody in my position could possibly speak against that.
However, time and again we have been presented with ridiculous cutbacks which are saving money this week but we are losing out in terms of quality. The public wants better education, health and crime fighting services etc., but it also wants cutbacks in the public sector. It is difficult to have both, especially without increasing taxation. However, it will not be achieved by setting up a board that will look at merely cutting back on budgets. It can be done by cross-cutting across the public sector, seeing where one initiative might help another, without duplication and where planning is an integral part of the exercise. However, I do not believe anybody is ready to do that. I am ready to engage with that.
These are the matters we should be discussing and we should put pressure on governments to make them respond. I ask everybody, when talking about the public sector, to think about their local teacher, nurse, garda, civil servant etc. who are demoralised at the moment by talk of being let down by senior people in FÁS and in other organisations, by which they have been embarrassed. That is the issue with which we need to deal. We need to distinguish between the service and those who misuse it.
Senator Alan Kelly: I, too, wish to raise the issue of the public service. Mr. Rody Molloy was right to resign and took the honourable option. In a time when we have not seen that from many people, especially in politics, it is good to see honour still exists and we did not see enough of it during the Celtic tiger years. If it is coming back into vogue for a person to resign because he or she believes it is justifiable, it is a good thing.
I am concerned about the numerous attacks on the public service and we need to be clear on what we are discussing. I agree with many of Senator O’Toole’s sentiments. We need to talk straight and say that what happened in FÁS was wrong. There may be issues in other agencies. I raised the fact in this House that there is a plethora of tourism agencies and in many cases people do not know the differences between them. I often hear people referring to “Bord Fáilte” or the “tourist board” instead of the relevant agencies. There are overlaps there which need to be looked at in the context of reform, and I am sure there are others.
When we discuss public sector reform, which I am enthusiastic about, we need to be realistic and refer to the OECD report which was debated in the House recently and which stated that the centre in our public service is quite small with large numbers employed in front-line services. Let us be realistic. Does anyone in this House advocate that front-line services be cut? I do not and I would thoroughly oppose such a move.
We need to look at it in a holistic way and need to ensure the plan that is introduced and the “Bord Snip” looks not just at cuts but also at how we can operate more efficiently with the people we have. There are issues at the centre that need to be dealt with. I referred to some agencies and I know of many quangos for which this Government is responsible and may need to be looked at. There is an issue with management in the Health Service Executive that needs to be dealt with. We need to be realistic and ensure the morale of those who work and do a good job for the public is maintained because it is very unfair that they are taking a bashing, as it were.
As someone who worked in the public service for nine years I encourage interchangeability between the public and Civil service. I am convinced that there are many good people in the public and Civil service who feel stymied and blocked in their career progression because of the way the public and Civil service are constituted. Any change in that would be progress. It will not be easy because the plethora of State agencies have different pension schemes, terms and conditions from the Civil Service. This issue was a particular problem in the flawed decentralisation programme where many people could not change and the Government realised this after making the announcement.
It is important to acknowledge that tonight the first national volunteer awards take place. There are 1.5 million people who volunteer for their chosen charities and other activities and it is important that this House acknowledges their contribution. They are fantastic people, I advocate their work and they should be rightly acknowledged tonight.
Senator Dan Boyle: The Leader will be well-disposed towards a debate on public sector reform in the light of the publication today of a Government report. Such a debate is necessary. Some of the things said have already been highlighted in the OECD report and should form the context of such a debate.
Many people mentioned the positive aspects of that report but there were many negative aspects. It discussed the artificial distinction between the Civil and public service, the lack of mobility between the public and private sector and within the public sector itself and the development and existence of restricted practices. All of these need to be examined and eliminated if we are to have a public sector that operates at the highest level.
Regarding the resignation of the director general of FÁS and what was said yesterday on the Order of Business, the right decision has been made. My party issued no statement indicating support and anyone who heard me on the Order of Business yesterday could hardly think I had confidence in the situation pertaining in FÁS. We need to go further. The revelations that brought about the resignation of the director general need to be looked at in the context of the board of FÁS. There is a need to question all activity in State agencies and see if these practices exist, to what extent they exist and who should take responsibility for them. If that means public accountability, that is what it means.
We should be grateful these stories are coming out. They need to be responded to and represent something that no one in political or public life can accept. The sooner we have such a debate and inform better standards and practices in public life, the better.
Senator Paul Coghlan: I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Fitzgerald, that we have a debate on the economy with the Minister for Finance present. We also need a debate on public sector reform, which I believe it has been indicated will be granted.
We had a resignation and the right action has been taken in light of the circumstances but the question arises on the corporate governance practices of the board of FÁS. There are other related issues and questions within other agencies. It is disgraceful that this State board, when dealing with the Committee of Public Accounts, blacked out information. How prevalent is that practice? I assume someone else will appear before that committee tomorrow to answer those questions.
The practices within all State agencies and boards need to be looked at urgently. I would like to hear from the Leader on this matter as there many other issues and one does not want to focus on something specific. There are other practices in other agencies which are highly questionable. Accountability has been missing and perhaps the Leader could tell the House what is intended regarding the political accountability of these agencies.
Senator Terry Leyden: I ask the Leader of the House to arrange a debate with the appropriate Minister on the availability of skilled workers due to the downturn in the building industry and to raise with the Minister the need for a survey on the availability of those skills. They could be utilised in the provision of hot water in schools through the use of solar panels. I carried out an initial survey of 3,300 primary schools and my initial results are that 82% have only cold water in their bathrooms and toilets and 12% have hot water. In 1,000 post-primary schools approximately 53% have hot water and 41% have only cold water.
It is a basic requirement for the proper management and control of hygiene in schools. Most students come from homes that have hot water to wash after going to the bathroom and they now have to use facilities of a lesser quality at school. We could use the summer works scheme——
Senator Terry Leyden: ——and demonstrate the green agenda to young people, that hot water can be provided through solar panels without any cost. I received numerous representations during my survey from schools on staff numbers and prefabs and in a situation where there are difficulties in schools this may not be the most appropriate survey. However, it is a question of matching skills, availability and the needs of the people. This would be a worthwhile exercise in the interest of the health and well-being of pupils and teachers throughout the country. Furthermore, there are job opportunities involved for the manufacture of solar panels and wind turbines. There are tremendous opportunities and manufacturers should look at the opportunities presented now through this wonderful Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government.
Senator Feargal Quinn: The British Government decision yesterday to reduce the VAT rate to encourage more spending will act as a further incentive for people south of the Border to travel north to buy goods affected by that VAT rate. The rate does not apply to basic foodstuffs. One company to which it applies and to which we lose much business is IKEA. It opened last year in Northern Ireland and I understand significant numbers of our people travel to it.
As I drove along the M50 the other day I saw the new IKEA in Dublin. It appears ready to open, but cannot open yet because the planning permission given to it must wait until the work on the M50 finishes. Approximately €20 million in VAT could come to us if that store were open and 500 people would be employed. Therefore, there is a real incentive for us to look again at the situation regarding the planning, which will probably delay the opening of the IKEA store by a full year and affect Government income from VAT and income tax from 500 jobs. It would be worthwhile to look at the situation again and I urge the Tánaiste to do so. She is probably working on this, but she should inquire whether we can do something and overcome the problem.
I am aware there will be much pressure on incomes and on the moneys we have to spend in the coming years. An interesting document was presented yesterday entitled: Global Development: what can you do? Starting points for Members of the Oireachtas. I will read one paragraph:
I mention this document because we will be under severe pressure for money over the next few years and there is a danger the support we give to the Third World will fall. We are still a rich country and still have more people employed than we had three years ago. We are regarded by these people as wealthy and should be aware of that. Let us ensure Members of both the Seanad and the Dáil have a look at this booklet.
Senator Jim Walsh: There has already been mention of public sector reform. I welcome the announcement to be made by the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance today. Hopefully, it will chart a way forward towards improving cost effectiveness and efficiency throughout the public service. The announcement is predicated on the OECD report, but many people were disappointed with that report and the lack of impetus in it to achieve real reform of the public service. We need a culture change at middle management level in the public service so that those at that level see management of human and financial resources as a significant part of their role. In that way we maximise the potential of people and get best value for money. It would be good to have a debate focused on this area.
There has been much mention of FÁS in the House. I have some sympathy for the former director general, Rody Molloy. I do not condone the expenses culture within the organisation, but it is only symptomatic of what is happening across the public service where people are entitled to travel first class or business class. Why is this? I worked in the private sector for many years and in that time I do not remember ever travelling business class. I went abroad a number of times and travelled economy class. I would choose to travel economy because the astronomical cost of business or first class is not justified. We need to change the culture and this is just one example of an area where we can effect economies.
I worked with people in large public companies with the clear cut policy of travelling economy class unless travelling long distance with an important business meeting on arrival. In such cases people need to arrive in good shape to be at their best for their meeting. Those companies had a common-sense approach to travel. We need to inject this attitude across the range of public sector activity. Many people in the public sector would welcome this because they want to be part of a dynamic organisation. I hope all sides will support the efforts of the Taoiseach — who has been strong on this over the past 12 months — and the Minister for Finance who have the responsibility to ensure the implementation of cost-effective measures.
I hope the public service unions will rise to the game. They have not done so to date, unlike their counterparts. Some of the unions straddle the public and private sector. In the private sector in the 1970s and 1980s, there was a complete sea change in thinking by senior personnel and those in the unions because they realised the job security of their members was at stake unless they had flexibility, productivity and a modern approach to running businesses. We need that in the public service. Nobody need have fears in that regard, except those in the service who never intended to do the work in the first place.
Senator Eugene Regan: The lesson from the FÁS debacle is a lesson for the Government. It is the issue of value for money. Although he reversed his opinion yesterday, the Taoiseach, in standing by the expenditure initially, shows he has not appreciated the issue of value for money. The lesson for him and the Government is to stop paying lip service to the issue. They must stop commissioning new reports and establishing new committees and do something about ensuring value for money in public expenditure.
With regard to the debate on the economy, one of the most important issues is whether the Government will intervene in the recapitalisation of the Irish banks. This is a legitimate issue for debate in this House and the Oireachtas in general. The Minister should come to the House and give his views on the issue because we do not want a situation where we are bounced into new emergency legislation and crisis measures without any dialogue, debate or scrutiny of the thinking behind such measures.
Currently, private equity funds are circling the banks, but these do not appear to have credibility as a solution. The Minister will have to face the challenge of State intervention. David McWilliams has suggested that if it must come to it, the nationalisation of the banks would be better than the types of schemes being mooted over recent days. I ask the Leader to encourage and invite the Minister to the House to discuss the issue. We are aware that with regard to discussions and considerations of the best option for the Government, economy and country, it is the Cabinet that must decide such issues. However, I believe the Minister will come back to this House with new legislation. Therefore, it is a legitimate issue for debate and I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister to come in to address it.
Senator John Hanafin: Will the Leader request the Minister for Finance to come to the House to discuss the issue of the recapitalisation of the banks? The banks have stated clearly they do not need recapitalisation, but commentators suggest they might need it. There is a question of what type of recapitalisation might be required and who would provide the capital. I am aware there is talk of some hedge funds being involved.
I would not be in favour of a hedge fund taking an equity stake in any Irish bank. I would much prefer State involvement or, failing that, European involvement, or even involvement by some of the ethical sovereign wealth funds. For example, the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund already invests in Ireland through Bank of Ireland, Allied Irish Banks, Cement Roadstone Holdings and Ryanair. Obvious spin-offs and beneficial trade could emanate from allowing a sovereign wealth fund to invest in a strategic asset in Ireland. However, it may not be in Ireland’s best interest to have another scenario like Eircom.
It is not good for any Member to comment on rumours and yesterday there were discussions that a former leader may have made representations. As a councillor, I often was asked to make representations on behalf of a particular person for a house, only to be asked subsequently by someone else to do the same thing. In such circumstances, one makes representations to the best of one’s ability on behalf of everyone who seeks the house in question. I see nothing wrong with a former leader giving assistance to people. However, imputing negative or incorrect motives for so doing does not do this House a service.
Senator John Hanafin: The Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment should come before the House because a serious issue has developed as a result of cost differentials north and south of the Border. Although no VAT is levied on food, it is significantly cheaper north of the Border. Two further changes have taken place recently in respect of goods north of the Border. First, VAT rates have been reduced in the North and, second, sterling exchange rates have declined significantly. If and when the economy is rebooted, I suggest we work in tandem with the British Government. Moreover, adopting similar VAT rates would have the positive effect of having an all-Irish dimension. Taking the opportunity to reboot the economy in such a fashion would help the Border counties and might appeal to people’s fervour for their country. Nevertheless, many people still will cross the Border if a bottle of whiskey costs €14 less in the North. To be realistic, we must take practical steps and must be able to move quickly. I believe the Government has the capacity to move and to do the right thing, without being caught by ideology, in respect of what is practical and good at all times for the State.
Senator Shane Ross: It probably is a little late to ask for a debate on FÁS. We should have had such a debate some time ago. The Seanad is particularly strong on post-mortems but not on anticipating or discussing topical issues. However, I ask of the Leader to allow time to address this or an allied subject rapidly. While I welcome the resignation of Rody Molloy, it would be wrong to happily regard him as some sacrificial lamb who can be thrown to the wolves after which the issue is over. Others may be equally culpable and should be answerable to a House of the Oireachtas or an Oireachtas committee. I am talking about boards. I refer to a serious issue, to which Senator Fitzgerald referred, regarding the boards of semi-State bodies. Those who serve on such boards are well paid, with five figure sums and more, and it is extraordinary how they behaved in this case. Members are entitled to ask how they behaved and whether they behaved properly or represented the taxpayer properly.
The boards of semi-State bodies are appointed by the Minister. The boards seem to be extraordinarily and cosily happy with what is going on and do not appear to be very critical. One never knows what goes on because the minutes of boards never are released to the public. I am not sure whether the Committee of Public Accounts or the Seanad should not seek those minutes and ask that they be seen by the public to ascertain what was happening. If the people in question knew what was happening, they should have stopped it. It appears that at least one member of the board of FÁS travelled very expensively; he made a transatlantic return trip that cost €7,300. If board members did not know this was going on, they also are culpable because they ought to have known.
One must ask the reason social partners constantly and automatically are appointed to certain State boards. Is it simply a nice little gig for them as they sit there, receiving €10,000 plus a year, rising to €20,000 plus a year for the chairman? It appears as though they nod through expenses or do not know about them, attend board meetings every month and then go home. It seems that these people did not know what was happening. One former board member stated on radio yesterday that he was not aware of such practices. If that is the case, he also is culpable.
Senator Shane Ross: FÁS is riddled with political appointment and has been politicised and protected for years. There are signs that the Government again is appointing its cronies to semi-State bodies and State agencies, which simply is unacceptable. This kind of disease will infiltrate, if it has not done, other semi-State bodies and similar situations will arise, although perhaps not on the same scale. This issue must be attacked on a very large scale. It no longer simply pertains to FÁS, it is a matter of politicising semi-State bodies and removing politicisation from the political arena. Certainly, one must ensure that such appointees are checked and double-checked and are subject to some scrutiny and accountability by which they are not simply appointed by Ministers.
Senator Ivor Callely: I welcome Dublin’s successful bid to host Euroscience Open Forum in 2012, which will provide a tremendous opportunity to showcase the progress Ireland has made in the fields of science, technology and innovation.
Notwithstanding the current international market turmoil in the financial services market, Dublin now is well established as a centre for international financial services activities, with the world’s leading names established here. However, one strategic issue warrants Government support, that is, a world-class payment system that facilitates business and personal banking requirements. As Members are aware, electronic payments are the most efficient, effective and secure means of payment. I ask the Leader to outline the role that is envisaged for the Government, the Central Bank and the Financial Regulator in promoting and facilitating a highly efficient world-class payment system that will meet the rapidly changing needs. I refer in particular to communications infrastructure regarding the availability of broadband speed and so on. Perhaps the Leader will provide a briefing to Members in that regard.
I wish to raise two further issues that mainly pertain to the capital in which I reside, Dublin. First, I refer to the recent rate increase on Dublin business houses, at a time when everyone is under pressure regarding the economy, and its impact on the city. Second, will the Leader outline the schedule for the proposed metro for Dublin city as well as the impact of and support that prevails for this development?
Senator Paudie Coffey: I also support the calls of my colleagues for a debate on public sector reform. I empathise with the front-line staff in many of our public agencies, many of whom are demoralised by the prevailing comments in this regard. It is not their fault as they try to deliver services on a daily basis. However, it is the idea of the public service, its bulk and management that requires attention and Members certainly should have a debate in that regard. There are examples of reform that has been undertaken by agreement with unions and workers and I will cite one. The ESB is one of our largest semi-State organisations and while some people criticise it, I give it much credit. During the years of the Celtic tiger, it went from a workforce of more than 12,000 to 7,000 and introduced considerable efficiencies. It connected unprecedented levels of domestic and commercial users and proved that there is a way to reform efficiently through agreement. I compliment the ESB on doing so and hope that model will be used by other State agencies. It would be a worthwhile debate in the House.
There are concerns regarding specialist services in Waterford Regional Hospital, a group A status hospital serving a region of more than 450,000. There is a threat to many of the specialist services and I will give examples. Only one vascular surgeon serves the region because, while a second post has been approved, the Health Service Executive has not advertised it. There has been a drain of consultants from the hospital. For example, it has lost one dermatologist, three orthopaedic surgeons and one cardiac surgeon in the past year or two. People of this status leaving because the HSE is not managing the situation and appointing full-time replacements is a blow to the hospital’s morale and its development. It is not good enough that temporary consultants operate in a regional hospital with group A status serving an entire region. Patients and the hospital are suffering and there is a lack of confidence in the situation. Will the Leader invite the Minister for Health and Children to the House to debate this important issue, which affects an entire region?
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Since the budget, there have been constant calls for debates on the economy and education. Why has the Leader not acceded to them given they are serious issues? I express my outrage and congratulate Senator Ross on his good work in unveiling a sickness at senior management level in the public service. I could not believe my ears when I heard Mr. Molloy’s interview on Pat Kenny’s show the other day. It was a throwback to the interview given by ex-Commissioner, Mr. Pádraig Flynn, on “The Late Late Show”. I have since heard calls, as I am sure the Leader has, for Mr. Molloy to be sued for abuse of public money. This might be right or wrong, but——
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: I thank the Cathaoirleach. I am seeking a debate on public sector reform, especially in respect of State bodies and appointments made to them. The culture of arrogance endemic in those organisations must be rooted out.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Some 4,500 people at junior certificate level and 2,100 people at leaving certificate level are given spelling and grammar concessions during those exams. These concessions are difficult to get because many of those involved are dyslexic, meaning that there is a significant difference between their intelligence and their performance in terms of spelling and grammar. Today, a confidential report has indicated that the withdrawal of the concessions is under consideration. It would be an outrage. Without the concessions, these children would fail. In particular, the withdrawal would kill the Irish language.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: The Minister for Education and Science should make an urgent statement on his position this issue. The concessions should not be withdrawn from young people who should be encouraged to stay in school.
Senator Joe O’Reilly: As others have mentioned, people travelling to the North to shop pose a significant problem along the Border. There are tailbacks into Newry and we have heard stories of people leaving overcrowded shops in Enniskillen for health and safety reasons. This serious matter has been worsened by the reduction in the UK rate of VAT and the corresponding increase in our VAT rate. It has implications for jobs in small businesses along the Border.
Will the Leader, a member of the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment, suggest to the Cabinet a support package for small businesses along the Border because they are in trouble? Price control must be kept in mind and we must ensure there are no abuses or disincentives to business, but there must be a support system. If VAT rates cannot be harmonised — it is probably pie in the sky in the short term — something must be done, whether in terms of rate supports or other practical measures. Jobs are being lost, businesses will close and there will be ghost towns along the Border this Christmas. It is a serious matter.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senators Fitzgerald, O’Toole, Kelly, Boyle, Coghlan, Regan, Hanafin, Ross, Healy Eames and O’Reilly called for various debates. The Tánaiste has issued a statement confirming that she had received notice of the resignation of the director general of FÁS, Mr. Rody Molloy. She thanked him for his many years of public service in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and as the director general of FÁS for the past eight years. She stated that his major contribution to the development of FÁS included significant changes in the organisation as the State’s employment and training agency.
I wish to inform the House that the debate requested of me in recent weeks will occur next Tuesday afternoon after the Order of Business. I also wish to inform the House that an all-day debate on the economy will occur on Friday, 5 December.
Senator Donie Cassidy: ——and developments therein. Senator O’Toole made a good proposal on local authority and county development plans and various inputs into schools building projects, including sites for new schools, community involvement, playing pitches and other elements of a successful community. I support the proposal and will endeavour to arrange time for a debate in our busy schedule, but legislation takes preference, especially the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill and the Finance Bill.
Senator Kelly referred to the first national volunteer awards today. I join him in congratulating everyone who has made the event possible. In excess of 1.8 million or 1.9 million people are actively involved in volunteerism. The Irish have been noted for their great community spirit, be it in terms of local organisations of all kinds or turnouts at funerals and removals. Volunteerism is of the utmost importance, particularly during an economic downturn. Now that people have more spare time, they can be encouraged to enjoy their quality of life in their communities. I commend everyone involved with the first annual national awards ceremony for volunteers.
Senator Leyden requested a debate on the possibility of solar power being used in schools. As the Senator indicated, only 12% of primary schools have hot running water. The proposal he put forward is good and I will communicate his views to the relevant Minister. I am sure the Senator will raise this matter again when the House engages in a debate on the economy next week.
Senator Quinn referred the new IKEA store being built in north Dublin. He stated that work is being delayed as a result of stipulations in the planning permission relating to the project. The Senator also indicated that the Irish Exchequer could benefit to the tune of €20 million per year in VAT income from this store. This is a major issue and I will communicate the Senator’s views to the relevant Minister following the Order of Business.
Senator Quinn also referred to a particular document which indicates the difference that can be made by Deputies and Senators. Members on this side of the House have not yet received copies of this document. Perhaps the Senator might assist us by ensuring that copies are circulated. The proposals contained in the document appear to be good and I would like to be in a position to support the call made by the Senator.
Senator Hanafin requested that the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Mary Coughlan, come before the House to discuss both the difference in the cost of particular items north and south of the Border and how we might promote the all-Irish dimension in respect of this challenge. I have no difficulty in arranging a debate on this matter.
As Senator Quinn did yesterday, Senator Callely welcomed the fact that Dublin city has been chosen as European city of science for the year 2012. I congratulated all involved on yesterday’s Order of Business. This development represents a tremendous opportunity for the country and for the city of Dublin, particularly in the context of the interest to which it will give rise.
Senator Callely also referred to the roll-out of a world-class payment system which facilitates business and personal banking requirements. I will pass on the Senator’s views in this regard to the relevant Minister. I share his serious concerns, and those of Dublin city business groups, regarding the appalling increase of 3.3% in respect of rates and services. In the current economic climate, everyone should provide an example. There should be no increases of any kind — regardless of whether they relate to ESB or Bord Gáis, wages or whatever — during the coming 12 months. There should be a pay pause in the national interest. Everyone must play his or her part in providing assistance to those who need it during the economic downturn.
Senator Coffey referred to special services at Waterford Regional Hospital. In light of the raft of legislation the House must process in the coming weeks, if the Senator is willing to raise this matter on the Adjournment, I will arrange a debate on it with the Minister for Health and Children following the Christmas recess. If Senator Coffey wishes to make progress on this matter, I strongly urge him to consider doing so by means of the avenue to which I refer.
|Bacik, Ivana.||Bradford, Paul.|
|Burke, Paddy.||Buttimer, Jerry.|
|Coffey, Paudie.||Coghlan, Paul.|
|Cummins, Maurice.||Doherty, Pearse.|
|Fitzgerald, Frances.||Healy Eames, Fidelma.|
|McFadden, Nicky.||Mullen, Rónán.|
|Norris, David.||O’Reilly, Joe.|
|O’Toole, Joe.||Phelan, John Paul.|
|Quinn, Feargal.||Regan, Eugene.|
|Ross, Shane.||Twomey, Liam.|
|Boyle, Dan.||Brady, Martin.|
|Butler, Larry.||Callanan, Peter.|
|Callely, Ivor.||Carty, John.|
|Cassidy, Donie.||Corrigan, Maria.|
|Daly, Mark.||Ellis, John.|
|Hanafin, John.||Keaveney, Cecilia.|
|Leyden, Terry.||MacSharry, Marc.|
|McDonald, Lisa.||Ó Murchú, Labhrás.|
|O’Brien, Francis.||O’Malley, Fiona.|
|O’Sullivan, Ned.||Ormonde, Ann.|
|Phelan, Kieran.||Walsh, Jim.|
|Last Updated: 06/09/2010 20:00:38||Page of 9|