Thursday, 11 December 2008
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Donie Cassidy: The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re meeting of Seanad Éireann on Friday, 12 December 2008; and No. 2, the Charities Bill 2007 — Report and Final Stages. It is proposed that No. 1 shall be taken without debate; and on No. 2, the business of the House is to be interrupted between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: The Taoiseach is in Brussels to hammer out a deal with his European counterparts today which, it appears, will almost certainly result in another referendum in this country in less than 12 months. The Government failed to convince the people previously. It is extremely important, if the Taoiseach gets the clarification in Brussels and if the concerns of the people are met, that we have a campaign that convinces the Irish people of the benefits of a treaty, with different and expanded explanations, and meets the concerns which were so clearly articulated. We need to have clear guarantees and messages about a Commissioner and about the range of other social and worker rights issues that were of concern to the people. We are aware, from research, of those concerns. It is important that we have a campaign that convinces the people and that we see leadership on this issue at this critical point for our future in Europe. That has been lacking to date. I hope that we will see the leadership that is needed over the coming months.
I welcome the deal that the Government has done with the food industry, with producers and processors. I am concerned that the industry has been put into crisis unnecessarily, given the kind of information that is coming from the European Food Safety Authority today. However, as I stated yesterday, I hope that the industry can recover quickly and that we will have the sort of international campaign that is necessary to save the industry.
I wish to briefly return to the case of Pamela Izevbekhai, which has been raised in this House by Senator Leyden and others on a number of occasions. Ms Izevbekhai has been granted leave to remain but I hope she will not be deported in the dead of night. This House should agree an all-party motion that would help ensure she is not deported when her hearing is over.
Senator Joe O’Toole: A number of meetings were held with the Leader yesterday regarding No. 1 on the Order of Business. He outlined the difficulties that had arisen for him in respect of last Friday, tomorrow and next Friday and we indicated our difficulties regarding the principle of the proposal. We have managed to reach an honourable compromise or a Chinese bargain, whereby everybody is happy with the outcome. We have conceded the proposal to deal with tomorrow’s business but we will have an Order of Business next Friday. We have agreed to the Leader’s request that it be restricted and he has agreed to restrict his own response. It is his view that this issue will not arise in the future. I am glad this issue has been resolved
Senator Joe O’Toole: Issues arise on both sides in regard to topics and the length of the Order of Business. It is important that we deal with issues pertaining to how we do our business. I ask the Leader to arrange a half-day debate soon after our return from the Christmas break.
I agree with Senator Fitzgerald on the Lisbon treaty. It is a further example of the Oireachtas being left aside. These issues should be discussed by both Houses today. I would like a Minister — I do not care which one — to set out for us what the Government is washing through Europe, what it is bringing forward and the issues it wants addressed. I want to know what is being sought in the areas of sovereignty, neutrality, taxation, conscription and the right to life.  I ask the Leader to bring our comments to the attention of the Government. It is welcome that the Government wants to take ownership of this issue but it also needs the participation of others, irrespective of whether they are for or against the treaty. We need to show leadership by holding a debate in these Houses prior to Christmas. Surely, whatever the Taoiseach discusses with European leaders today should be considered by political representatives in this country.
Senator Joe O’Toole: Senator Fitzgerald correctly pointed out that questions have arisen as a result of the statement by the European Food Safety Authority. However, even with the benefit of hindsight, I think the Government did the right thing. It was necessary to act in the way it did to put us beyond suspicion. While I think the market in Ireland will recover immediately, we will face difficulties abroad. We will need to start eating sausages and ham for Christmas.
I concur with what has been said on the Lisbon treaty and the involvement of this House. We held a reasonably good debate on Tuesday but I note that some of my colleagues felt their contributions were curtailed towards the end. I refer in particular to Senator Donohoe, who has made a significant input into this issue. That was the agreed arrangement for the debate and I am not quibbling with it but I concur with Senator O’Toole on the need to revisit the matter regularly. Apparently a resolution will be considered by the summit of EU leaders over the next couple of days. That resolution certainly should be debated in this House. I call on the Leader to arrange a debate next week on the outcome of the summit because we need to ask whether the resolution answers the genuine concerns of the Irish people. On a first reading, it appears to address all the areas of concern to people. However, while it ticks the boxes of taxation, so-called ethical issues and neutrality, we need more detail on how it is proposed to address these issues.
I raised the issue of workers’ rights with the Minister for State at the Department of Foreign Affairs during Tuesday’s debate. I was surprised that he did not mention the issue in his statement given that it was near the top of the list of concerns of those who were surveyed in the aftermath of the referendum as to why they voted “No”. That is a central concern to many people. I agreed with the Minister of State’s assertion that the charter is a great achievement in that regard but many people are wondering whether the Government would produce the domestic legislation needed to implement it. The Taoiseach will have to address that issue and not merely because he was asked to do so by the leader of SIPTU. I remind those Senators who wonder about the relevance of this issue and whose eyes glaze over at the mention of the right to collective bargaining and trade union recognition that President-elect Obama is addressing the issue. Robust legislation is planned in the United States, the citadel of capitalism, to allow for a genuine system of trade union recognition so that people can have their voices heard. That is what people in this country are seeking. The charter appears to provide for this goal but it needs to be addressed in this State in the context of our debate on Lisbon.
There has been a lot of talk about respect for those on the other side of the Lisbon debate but those of us who supported a “Yes” vote also deserve respect. We should not be told we are part of a conspiracy to push through a treaty without proper debate or to have our way by way of a second referendum. This accusation was made by some contributors to Tuesday’s debate. All of us want a genuine and open debate. Let us start that debate now with a campaign that lasts a year so that the issues can be properly addressed.
Senator Ivana Bacik: I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the representation of women in politics. It is appropriate that I renew my call this week given that we are celebrating the 90th anniversary of the first election in which women in Ireland had a vote. It is also the anniversary of the election of Constance Markiewicz as the first woman Deputy or Member of Parliament. It would be appropriate to hold a debate on this issue early in the new year. I thank all my colleagues who participated in Tuesday’s event, which was a wonderful celebration of women’s achievement and the Oireachtas. I also wish to express my gratitude to the Cathaoirleach and the Ceann Comhairle for their support. However, we should also note the low level of representation of women in the Houses of the Oireachtas. Only 13% of Deputies are women, although the Seanad has a better representation at almost 22%, or 13 women out of 60 Senators. It would be appropriate, therefore, to hold this debate in the Seanad. I acknowledge that the Leader has previously expressed support for this proposal.
I also ask the Leader for a debate on education cutbacks and the effect they will have on the sort of activities we have seen this week in the schools which participated in the celebration of this important anniversary. I spoke to a class of girls from St. Laurence O’Toole girls’ national school on Sheriff Street in the north inner city, an area which has been in the headlines this week for all the wrong reasons. It was wonderful to see the enormous spirit of contribution and public service that the teachers demonstrated in hosting a week of events to commemorate Constance Markiewicz’s election. They invited women politicians from all parties to address the students. We were given an enthusiastic reception and asked great questions by the girls. Teachers are often not given sufficient credit for this sort of extra-curricular activity. Unfortunately, these activities will diminish if the cuts in education are implemented.
I join Senator Fitzgerald in seeking a cross-party motion in support of Pamela Izevbekhai, who might be deported from Ireland. I hope she and her daughters will be able to stay in Ireland and most of us, from both sides of the House, have expressed support for her personally. It would be appropriate for us to have a cross-party motion of support for her in the Seanad and this would be a nice time to do it, given that we are commemorating this important anniversary for women this week.
Senator John Ellis: As with the other Members, I compliment the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Taoiseach on the way in which they dealt with the crisis over the past week. They proved they would not stand idly by and probably went past what was necessary, but when dealing with people’s food and health, one must err on the side of caution rather than take risks.
The incident poses a question on the future of how our food is developed, which I indicated in the debate yesterday evening. I ask the Leader to consider having a debate as soon as we return after Christmas on why primary producers are being forced to produce food at uneconomic prices. The net result is what we saw last week. There is an economic level in the production process.
The margins being taken by some of the multinational retailers in this country are completely out of line with what is going to the primary producer. Something must be done if we are to ensure we have people producing food. We all know the biggest scare facing the world over the next ten years will be a food shortage. This must be considered constructively rather than in the way it is being considered currently by the multinationals, who seem to have taken over the bulk of the retail trade in this country to the detriment of producers. We have seen it happen in the UK and it is now spreading to here.
On Tuesday’s Order of Business I raised the question of roads being gritted around the country. I compliment the Minister for Transport who wrote to all local authorities yesterday, instructing them that they had a responsibility to carry out this work as they are being funded for it by the NRA. I appreciate the action taken by the Minister. Is it possible, following the Christmas recess, to have a debate on the road infrastructure, its development and the need for continued investment in our national road and rail network to allow us emerge from the current economic recession in a better position with regard to infrastructure?
Senator John Hanafin: I request the Leader to make inquiries of the Standards in Public Office Commission in connection with the ongoing investigations of Libertas. The last referendum on the Lisbon treaty was lost but there is still some outstanding business from it. I have knowledge of fund-raising and know how difficult it is to bring in €500,000 to fight a referendum. This new group was able to spend €1.3 million, or to take the lower figure it claims of €800,000, including a €200,000 loan that came to light only after the event. This group has been looking for transparency from Brussels but once the question was raised by the Standards in Public Office Commission, a solicitor’s letter was immediately sent to ensure no answers could be given. It is a simple question of whether any outside money was sent to fight the campaign here.
Senator John Hanafin: What was the source of that outside funding? With the right-wing links that the group apparently has, we need to have this information. It is incredible that the very people who are fighting the “No” campaign and looking for transparency are not now turning to Libertas to ask it to explain itself, as it is doing the “No” campaign no benefit by not explaining itself.
Senator John Hanafin: When one looks back at those past times, they were totally inappropriate. Should such newspapers have to declare their agendas? The Daily Mail appears to have an agenda and one of the few redeeming factors of the newspaper is that Senator Rónán Mullen writes for it and gives some balance in that area. Other than that, there is very little to redeem the Irish Daily Mail. It is a partisan paper and should perhaps be obliged to register as such.
Senator Eugene Regan: Decisions will be made in the European Council in Brussels today which are outlined in the The Irish Times article by Jamie Smyth, the correspondent in Brussels, who refers to the draft conclusions of the European Council. It sets out the date committed to by Government — a second referendum on the Lisbon treaty will be held before 31 October next year. The article also outlines the assurances the Irish Government will receive on neutrality, social rights, ethical issues, taxation etc.
That is misleading. If the referendum on Lisbon II is to succeed, there must be co-operation between Government and Opposition parties in support of our place in Europe. It seems the Taoiseach, Deputy Brian Cowen, does not learn from his mistakes — on the first referendums on the Nice and Lisbon treaties — and he in going alone on this issue and not informing this or the Lower House of what was planned for this European Council meeting.
Senator Eugene Regan: It is an important question for the Leader. These were prepared quite some time before the meeting of the European Heads of State, as they do not go into that minutiae. That is agreed before the European Council, and the Government has clearly agreed and given a commitment on these areas. It has sought and got assurances. I welcome the result but the Government is failing in not informing this House and the Oireachtas in general as to what it is doing on the Lisbon treaty. A price will be paid for that when the Lisbon referendum process gets under way.
I welcome the U-turn by the Leader in allowing debate on the Order of Business where there is an extension of sittings. I make reference to the Bill put forward by Fine Gael regarding admissibility of evidence and the exclusion rule that applies, particularly in criminal law cases. I know it is the practice of the Government to reject any Bill that comes from this side of the House. The Labour Party put forward a Bill seeking to have a witness protection programme put on a statutory footing. What is unique in this case is that the issue of dealing with this exclusionary rule was part of the programme for Government, yet it chose to reject the Bill. In his statement, the Minister outlined why there is a need for change in the rule.
I appreciate there are issues and concerns expressed from all sides of the House, which could have been addressed if the debate had been extended. I have no friends in Government, but it is rather perverse that it seeks to reject out of hand further debate on an issue that is part of its own programme for Government. Will the Leader comment on that?
Senator Terry Leyden: The outcome of the deliberations in Brussels on the pork industry is very welcome. The Cathaoirleach will be glad to know the Rosderra plant in his home constituency of Edenderry will re-open within the next three hours. The €180 million rescue plan is very welcome indeed. Decisive action by a decisive Government is welcome too. I also wish to commend the work of the Green Party Minister of State, Deputy Trevor Sargent, in this regard.  It is good to have the support of the Green Party, which has been a great help. Following yesterday’s Order of Business, I met with the Oireachtas restaurant manager, Mr. Don Rice, to discuss the matter. I want to see the big breakfast on the menu tomorrow morning, including bacon, sausages and black and white pudding. I want to see everybody there and I hope they will come.
Senator Terry Leyden: I commend Ryan Tubridy’s radio programme this morning which supported the Irish bacon industry. That is what we want to hear on radio. Perhaps Joe Duffy will also come out in support of the industry at 1.45 p.m. today.
Senator Terry Leyden: Thank you for your courtesy at all times, a Chathaoirligh. I ask the Leader to request the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, to take up the case of Pamela Izevbekhai again.
Senator Terry Leyden: I had a brief meeting with the Minister yesterday, and Senator Norris was present. The European Court of Human Rights will make a decision in this case but we should make a decision now, ahead of that court’s decision in Strasbourg.
Senator Terry Leyden: I am saying this without prejudice to the case. Ms Izevbekhai and her children have been in the country for four years and we should all support her. I know there are two sides to the story but there is black propaganda going on about her. They are trying to undermine her case. If she is deported now, after the publicity she has received here, her children will be in jeopardy in Nigeria. That is a fact.
Senator Terry Leyden: Ms Izevbekhai lost her eldest daughter, Elizabeth, when she was just 18 months of age. In the circumstances and because of the publicity surrounding her case, she will not receive justice in Nigeria. It is our responsibility now, so I ask the Leader to call on the Minister to act in the spirit of Christmas and as a gesture to the 60th anniversary of the UN universal declaration of human rights, which we marked yesterday.
Senator David Norris: I have already spoken extensively on the Lisbon treaty issue and I do not intend to rehash the arguments as it would be inappropriate to do so. However, the reason I will oppose the second referendum is the inclusion for the first time in the architecture of the Union of the European armaments group, which is committed to the development of a massive munitions industry in Europe, centralised and for export. If people wonder why Mr. Ganley is interested, they might look at his apparent links to the American military-industrial complex. I was unaware of this before the matter arose. Of course these manufacturers of bombs, tanks and war planes in the United States do not want us to go into competition with them. I would have thought that was perfectly obvious. A disengagement from the European defence agency could be secured by being included in the treaty incorporating Croatia, which would be legally binding.
Yesterday, I spoke to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform about the case of Ms Pamela Izevbekhai. I was accompanied by Senator Leyden who initiated that meeting. I have placed a motion about this matter on the Order Paper and some weeks ago I offered to substitute an agreed motion for the Leader. I would be happy if this could be done, and I think it should be.
I congratulate the Government on acting quickly, effectively and decisively on the pigmeat issue. Had it not done so, the critical Opposition voices would be slaughtering the Government for not acting appropriately. I commend the Government on having done so.
Earlier this week, Senator Hannigan sought a debate on planning, which I strongly support. We should examine planning issues. One matter has been drawn to my attention concerning the Frawley site at 32-36, Thomas Street in central Dublin. The developers of the site, which contains one of only five remaining twin Dutch Billy houses — an early 18th century architectural phenomenon — have been granted planning permission for a completely unsympathetic development.
To return to Europe, I am delighted that the Government was robust there yesterday. Its proposals on changing the question of freedom of movement were firmly rejected by the Union. The Government wanted to amend a key part of the directive that gives non-EU spouses of European citizens the right to live in Ireland. What an extraordinarily inhumane attitude. I am glad the Government was quashed on that.
An article in The Irish Times reports that Ireland is one of 14 European states that restricts the rights of gay partners, so the Government is pretty inflexible in that regard. Another article in that newspaper is the most regrettable item of all.
Senator David Norris: I want to quote directly from the article and ask people to reflect on this as an appropriate Christmas message. It states that “the Vatican attacked an EU proposal for the UN formally to condemn discrimination against gay people”. So the Vatican is openly advocating discrimination and is frustrating attempts by the European Union to resolve situations of discrimination and condemn them. The largest Christian church wants to discriminate against some of their fellow human beings. What a Christmas message from the Vatican.
Senator Cecilia Keaveney: I note there is a proposal to make gift vouchers compulsorily valid for five years. This follows concerns that such vouchers, which are offered as Christmas gifts, can expire if left unused. The Leader should ask the relevant Minister to move with the same speed on party pills, which is an issue that Senator Wilson and I have raised in recent months. Coming up to Christmas, party pills constitute a potential life and death matter. It is as serious as the problem concerning pork products. By March 2009, we must introduce a compulsory ban, so those steps should be taken now. Following an Adjournment debate on this matter last week, there was an indication that such a move could be made by ministerial order or regulation, rather than by legislation. Therefore, I ask the Leader to seek clarification on whether it is possible to do so before Christmas. In that way party pills can be banned, thus averting a danger to young and old alike.
I welcome the agreement on pork products that has been reached in recent hours. Will the Leader ask the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to confirm that this will be an all-Ireland agreement? The Minister and Minister of State should examine the all-Ireland dimension which is relevant for pig producers, processors and markets in Donegal and other Border counties. Whatever success we may have achieved in this regard, we also want to have it on an all-Ireland basis.
While supporting the resumption of consumers eating pork and bacon products, and following Senator O’Toole’s request to examine how our days are structured, if we all eat a big breakfast, as Senator Leyden wants us to, will the Leader look at one or two options? The Oireachtas gym is open from 1 p.m. until 3 p.m. If, like yesterday, our sos is from 2.30 p.m. until 3.30 p.m., we will miss the opportunity to run off our big breakfasts. Will the Leader ensure that the sos coincides with the gym’s opening hours or that those hours are extended? In that way we could have the benefit of the big breakfast with pork products while retaining the option of running it off afterwards.
Senator Paul Coghlan: I welcome the agreement reached concerning the Order of Business on Fridays. I support the comments of Senator Fitzgerald and others regarding the Lisbon treaty. It is important that the Taoiseach and the Government bring their plans to both Houses. The declarations or protocols on abortion, euthanasia, neutrality, military alliances and so on were more important than the Commissioner issue, but everyone has a view on that. We look forward to the Leader’s response to this issue.
What is the Government prepared to do to bring about a level playing pitch between the North and the South, particularly in Border areas in terms of the VAT differential of 21.5% and 15%. This large differential has saved consumers going to the North approximately 30%, notably in terms of clothes, groceries, alcohol and other goods. These recessionary times are difficult, but we do not want to put more small businesses to the wall. Given that they have been badly hit, what we are doing is unfair. I urge the Leader to ask the Government to do something and I look forward to his response. If the situation is allowed to continue, the people in question will be levelled.
Senator Camillus Glynn: Recently, the Garda Commissioner, Fachtna Murphy, redrew the Garda divisions to coincide with county boundaries. That is an important development in the effective working of joint policing committees. Will the Leader and our spokesman, Senator O’Donovan, arrange a debate on those committees early in the new year? The public and elected representatives can play a role in policing.
Senator Feargal Quinn: After 5 p.m. yesterday, the Revenue Commissioners published directions on their website regarding how companies should handle the 1% income surcharge after 1 January. It is eight weeks since the budget’s announcement in that regard and only about two working weeks are left to implementation of that measure. The instructions are directed at the payroll sections of software manufacturers. As most companies use software to organise their payrolls, they have little time in which to put this into operation. Is it possible for the Revenue Commissioners to consider the difficulties that will be created in this regard?
I am concerned we have not held a debate on Ryanair’s takeover bid for Aer Lingus. While they are private companies, the State has a substantial stake in Aer Lingus. I imagine that this matter has been debated by the Joint Committee on Transport, but I am not sure. As Senator O’Toole stated, many issues need to be debated here that we have not had an opportunity to debate. Although we referred to Europe and other matters today, we should take the opportunity to debate matters such as that. We all have views on whether the country would benefit more from a single large airline, whether it is called Ryanair or whatever, or from having greater competition.
Senator Feargal Quinn: Last night, we held a short but good debate on that matter with the Minister of State, Deputy Sargent. Considerable harm has been done to our export market, although not to a great extent to our home market. The majority of Irish people will have full confidence in the market. Some 33% of our pork products are exported. When I visited Brussels on Tuesday, it was clear that our pigmeat competitors would use every opportunity to ensure that we do not regain our business.
Approximately 15 years ago, the Austrians experienced a significant problem in the form of de-icer used in wine and they have not recovered from that. A couple of years ago, the Belgians faced the problem of dioxins in meat and they have not recovered either, so let us not relax. We need to have a blitz on the marketplace and our customers, be they hoteliers, supermarkets, processors or consumers, because regaining our market will not be easy. Let us take out all the stops. It will not be enough for the Minister to convince someone in Europe. Bord Bia is the appropriate body to deal with this, but it needs everyone’s support.
Senator Ivor Callely: I welcome the European Food Safety Authority’s endorsement of the quality of Irish meat produce, particularly pork and bacon. I support Senator Quinn’s views. Like him, I understand the importance of shelf space, particularly in our export markets, and the difficulties that we will encounter in trying to win back that space. I have raised this matter with the Leader. While I appreciate that we all have lessons to learn from last weekend’s recall, will the Leader determine what protocols are in place for a recall of product? I congratulate everyone involved in putting the produce back on the market. The work of the IFA president, Mr. Padraig Walshe, and the producers must be acknowledged. Everyone has made an effort in this regard.
Has the Leader made any progress regarding another matter that I raised with him? Dublin city business houses are under pressure in that footfall has decreased, commercial rates have increased and so on. What supports and options are under consideration to assist the Dublin city business associations and commercial entities?
Senator Jerry Buttimer: I welcome the decision to reintroduce pork. As Senator Quinn stated, it is important that we show confidence not just in Ireland but abroad. Therefore, the Government and Bord Bia have an obligation to market pork aggressively and to show leadership.
It appears that three Ministers are fugitives from this Chamber. Will the Leader arrange a debate on unemployment? The Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment has been absent from any such debate in this House. Given the record levels of unemployment, why has she not attended the House? The Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, refused to attend this House following my request on a number of occasions to discuss the separation of Cork and Dublin airports. Yesterday and today’s newspapers carry reports to the effect that the Minister is to abandon that plan. Why has he not attended the House?
Eight weeks have passed since budget day. The Minister for Education and Science presided over cuts in respect of the most vulnerable people. Applied leaving certificate, Youthreach and learning support programmes are being cut. What does it tell us about the value the Government places on education when those who are in need of education and support are being deprived of them? Why has the Minister for Education and Science not come before the House to answer questions from Senators on this side?
The budget was introduced eight weeks ago and the three Ministers to whom I refer have failed to come before the House in the interim. The Leader should be held personally accountable for their failure to appear in the Seanad. The three issues to which I refer affect all sectors of society. More importantly, however, that which relates to the workers at Cork Airport is of fundamental importance to the people of Cork and the economic well-being of the entire region.
Senator Ann Ormonde: I am particularly interested in the Lisbon treaty. There is a need for an ongoing debate on this matter. Last week we engaged in a worthwhile discussion on the recommendations of the Sub-Committee on Ireland’s Future in the European Union. I welcome the way the Government is dealing with this matter in Europe. We should not play politics to any great degree on this extremely serious issue and everyone should sing from the same hymn sheet in respect of it. This matter is too important for people to split hairs and argue as to whether we should be informed, before or afterwards, with regard to what is happening. The debate on this matter should remain on the agenda for the foreseeable future. If we cannot discuss it next week, we should do so immediately after the Christmas recess.
Another issue about which I am concerned is that relating to the reform of the planning legislation. I requested a debate on this matter on many previous occasions and I suggest that it be placed on the agenda and taken during the next session.
Yesterday, I complimented Senator Bacik on her efforts regarding the 90th anniversary celebrations. This morning, the Senator highlighted the fact that only 13% of Members of the Dáil are women, while 22% of the those in the Seanad are women. It is important we should discuss why there is such volatility in respect of these percentages. If we engage in a debate on this matter, we may highlight issues relating to why women should want to become engaged in politics and why they cannot follow their ambitions in this regard. Will the Leader make time available for a debate on this matter in the new year?
Senator Dominic Hannigan: Yesterday, the credit ratings agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded its risk assessment in respect of Irish banks. The agency is particularly concerned with regard to economic conditions for small businesses and stated that, while our guarantee in respect of the banks addressed short-term liquidity problems in the Irish market, it failed to take account of long-term issues. Will the Leader request that the Minister for Finance update the House on the current position in respect of the bank guarantee?
On the pigmeat crisis, it is great that a resolution was arrived at in the early hours of this morning. I wish to compliment the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Smith, on being so quick off the mark. I understand he will be visiting France and Spain and spreading the good news that the crisis has been resolved. There has been a great deal of negative press coverage in respect of this matter. For example, certain UK newspapers indicated that Irish farmers had been feeding pigs with plastic bags. Everyone will recall the stories relating to the Austrian wine scandal and difficulties with olive oil in Spain. It is important to ensure that confidence in Irish meat products be restored. I compliment the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on the swift action he has taken.
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: As the debate on the possibility of a second referendum on the Lisbon treaty gathers momentum, we must remind ourselves that the people decisively and overwhelmingly rejected the treaty in the previous referendum. It is important to recall that we are not dealing with some form of eccentric fringe group. Having listened to the debate on the treaty, the majority of the people made a decision. The question of whether the debate was properly informed is a different issue.
People have many concerns about this matter and we will be obliged to consider them. One of these concerns relates to the high level of bureaucracy we have experienced as a result of our membership of the EU. The bureaucracy to which I refer has not been spread evenly across the other member states.
Other concerns such as those relating to conscription and similar issues also arose during the referendum campaign. Those of us who canvassed on behalf of a “Yes” vote discovered that young people fear that at some point in the future their children would be conscripted into some form of European military alliance. The position was similar in respect of pro-life issues. Many people genuinely felt that Ireland’s stance on abortion would not be protected under the Lisbon treaty. There are other social issues about which, in the context of the treaty, people are concerned.
It would be wrong to believe that we must focus on persuading a small group. We are dealing with the majority of the people and, in that context, we must be open and transparent with them. The Government is approaching this matter in the correct way. However, what we obtain in addition to the provisions of the treaty must be legally binding. It will not be possible to consult the people again unless we can show that what we have to offer has a legal basis.
I agree with the approach taken in respect of Ireland’s Commissioner. This is a major issue, particularly when one considers that we need representation in order to protect our national interests. I urge caution in respect of this matter and suggest that people not fall into the trap of believing that we are dealing with a small group of people. We are dealing with a majority of the population and we must convince these individuals that being at the heart of Europe is vital to our future.
Senator Paul Bradford: I support previous speakers who expressed satisfaction at the progress made in respect of the Irish pork industry. However, I concur with those who intimated that it is a case that the battle has been won but that the war is far from over. We must focus our efforts on ensuring, not just domestically but internationally, that Irish meat can be returned to supermarket shelves as the greenest, cleanest, best quality food in Europe. The Government, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and Bord Bia will be obliged to do a great deal of work in respect of this matter. It is important that the House, in the form of regular motions and debates, champion the cause of Irish food and highlight that it always will be the best quality food available on supermarket shelves worldwide.
I welcome the fact that the Government appears to be in a position to make some degree of progress in respect of the Lisbon treaty. Previous speakers referred to the issues that arose during the referendum campaign that took place in the summer. However, Ireland and the world have changed in economic, social and political terms in the intervening period. Six to 12 months ago, people harboured a great many concerns. Now, however, our greatest concern must be for the state of the Irish economy and the position with regard to job creation, job losses and unemployment.
We can argue, without fear of contradiction, that if this country is to survive, thrive and succeed in economic and social terms, it must remain at the very heart of Europe. That is why it is important that a reasonable and rational debate takes place in respect of the Lisbon treaty. Members of the House should state that the second referendum on the Lisbon treaty will be of fundamental importance in the context of the economy and all the people who live on this island. We must champion that argument and not allow any sideshows or irrelevant views to cloud people’s perspective. The new debate on the Lisbon treaty must focus on Ireland’s future in Europe, the strength and growth of our economy and the creation of jobs for our young people.
Senator Nicky McFadden: There are some 56,000 people on the social housing list. The House engaged in a good debate on the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. The Minister of State with responsibility in this area, Deputy Finneran, is particularly good at his job. However, the bottom line appears to be the level of funding available for social housing. During the past year, the public-private partnership model has not worked. Clear outlines must be put in place with regard to how we intend to house people. In view of the number of houses being repossessed, I am seriously concerned about the poor unfortunate people who are on the housing list. We must address the scandal whereby 9,000 houses have been boarded up. Will the Leader, who is familiar with the position in this regard in Westmeath, indicate where we stand in respect of this matter?
Senator Paschal Donohoe: I concur with my colleagues in calling for a debate on the Lisbon treaty, on which I would like to make two points. There is an obligation on people when speaking about the Lisbon treaty and its impact on Ireland to be open and honest in respect of its implications. I am not suggesting Senator Ó Murchú was being anything less than honest in his contribution but we need to be clear that the high levels of bureaucracy from Europe result from decisions made in Ireland. Domestic politicians decide how European law is to be implemented and they are responsible for our experience of Europe.
Senator Regan touched on the following issue, on which I have strong views. On Tuesday, the Minister with responsibility for European affairs stated he could not tell us the content of the negotiating plan or agreement being sought from our European colleagues. That plan was available on the RTE news this morning. The Government will need the support of the Opposition in getting this treaty passed.
Senator Paschal Donohoe: I guarantee the Leader we will not be found wanting but we are not going to be treated like fools. I am not making a political point. The Minister of State, Deputy Roche, stated in this House that he could not tell us the content of what is being discussed with our European partners yet that plan was leaked on RTE news this morning.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senators Fitzgerald, O’Toole, Alex White, Ellis, Regan, Norris, Coghlan, Quinn, Callely, Ormonde, Hannigan, Ó Murchú, Bradford and Donohoe expressed serious concern in respect of a second Lisbon referendum. We should wish well the Taoiseach and Minister for Foreign Affairs at the summit this week, which is an important, and possibly one of the most crucial, meetings since before 1973. Ireland is facing a serious challenge. As Senator Bradford stated, we are and want to remain at the heart of Europe. It is the place where our nation has shown its mettle during the past 30 years in terms of what we can do and achieve when given an even chance. I wish the Taoiseach and Minister for Foreign Affairs well. I assure Members that at the earliest possible opportunity if at all possible I will arrange for the Minister for Foreign Affairs to return to this House to update us on the outcome of the summit.
I join Members in welcoming the successful conclusion of the negotiations between the Government and Irish pig processing sector. The pigmeat industry, which is worth €1.1 billion to the Exchequer and employs 6,500 people, is of great importance to our economy. As Senators Ellis and Carty stated yesterday in the House, agriculture was our number one industry before 1973 and for many years after that. At a time of economic downturn and global recession it is probably the one industry on which we can continue to rely in terms of keeping our economy going. It is currently the foundation and bedrock of our economy. I congratulate the Taoiseach and the Minister, Deputy Brendan Smith, who, along with the Ministers of State, Deputy Trevor Sargent and Deputy Mary Wallace, have been exemplary in conducting the affairs of our nation.
The objective of Government and everyone in the nation, from the time the test results were confirmed last Saturday, has been to protect public health, restore consumer confidence and return the sector to full capacity. This happened within four days. The decision taken on Saturday to recall Irish pork and bacon produce was the correct decision. It was the only responsible course of action open to Government. I agree with its decision in that regard.
I look forward to us playing our part in promoting once again our Irish produce. I agree that Bord Bia in this regard will require an increase in its marketing budget. We have an opportunity to market our produce throughout Europe through the medium of Sky television which broadcasts to many European countries. Those of us who have visited Spain and Portugal will have seen broadcast on television there the same advertisements as are shown in many areas of the UK and Ireland.
Senators O’Toole and Alex White informed the House that the leaders met yesterday and that tomorrow’s Order of Business is as outlined. On Friday week, 30 minutes will be allowed for the Order of Business, with the Leader having a further five minutes to respond. The Minister will then commence business at 10.35 a.m. I thank the leaders for their co-operation in ensuring business on Friday mornings — which may only happen four or five times during the year — commences at 10.35 a.m. I thank the leaders for their help and assistance in trying to ensure the House is more productive. As Senator O’Toole said, I have no difficulty in allocating time following the Christmas recess to listen to the views and proposals of all Senators following which, if any changes are necessary in terms of Members’ needs and the people we represent, the matters can be discussed by the Committee on Procedures and Privileges. I have an open mind on this matter and, under the stewardship of the Cathaoirleach, we can discuss what can be done to ensure this House is more relevant in terms of its proceedings.
TG4 broadcasts the proceedings of the Dáil on Thursday mornings. If the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges and Members believe the proceedings in respect of the Order of Business could be changed in such a manner as to make it more efficient, as is the case in other parliaments where each Member has only one minute to put his or her question, we could, perhaps, seek to have TG4 broadcast one hour of the proceedings of the Seanad, perhaps 9.30 a.m. to 10.30 a.m. or 11.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. on Thursdays. This may be the way forward. I believe the people would be uplifted and enlightened by the proceedings of this House.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senator Bacik called for a debate on women in politics. Almost 22% of Seanad membership are ladies. The percentage in 1918, the 90th anniversary of which was celebrated the other day, was less than 7%. I have no difficulty in making time available for such a debate.
Senator Buttimer again called for a debate on education. I am endeavouring to have this debate take place. I have never known any Cork man who was afraid to address any House of Parliament, Dáil or Seanad. I take this opportunity to acknowledge another great Cork man, the late great Jack Lynch——
Senator Donie Cassidy: Some 50 years ago the late great Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, was Minister for Education and at that time class sizes, on average, were 47. We have come a long way since then in reducing class sizes to 27 today.
Senator Ellis welcomed the Minister for Transport’s intervention to notify all county and city managers of the need to grit the roads, particularly those in the midlands that were seriously affected by weather conditions during the past four or five days. The condition of the roads there made it extremely difficult for motorists, with 5 mph being the speed at which they could travel. I had experience of that on some mornings this week. I thank the Minister for his intervention in this respect. The Senator also called for debate on transport and infrastructure, for which I have no difficulty in setting aside time.
Senator Hanafin requested that inquiries be made of the Standards in Public Office Commission in regard to its work, particularly on whether any funding from outside the State was made available to Libertas to fight its campaign in the referendum. I will pass on the Senator’s strong views to the Standards in Public Office Commission after the Order of Business.
The Senator also raised the issue of the publication of articles in newspapers that are not in good taste for their readers and do not show respect for the people of Ireland. I share his view on that matter.
Senator Regan spoke about his Bill that failed to pass Second Stage in the House last night when it was defeated by 33 votes to 12. The Minister pointed out here last night, and I was present when he spoke, that while he welcomed the Bill, there were aspects of it that were flawed. The principle underpinning it was welcomed in general by all Members, but in its current form, it could not have been accepted and neither was it.
Senators Bacik, Leyden and Norris expressed serious concerns about the welfare of Ms Pamela Izevbekhai and her children. I have made known my views concerning them to the House. I hope that please God everything will work out okay for them.
Senator Keaveney raised the issue — she included Senator Wilson in her remarks as he has previously raised it — of the ban on party pills that is to be introduced by March and called for the Minister responsible to ensure this is done, if possible, prior to Christmas. We would all support the Senator’s call for that to happen.
Senator Coghlan raised the issue of the VAT differential between the North and South. I believe the Senator was incorrect in the differential rate he gave, the VAT differential is
6.5%, given that the rate is 15% in the North and 21.5% here
Senator Donie Cassidy: The higher VAT rate here is a disadvantage but, as I have heard people say, people must take account of the time it takes to travel to the North and the cost of getting there. In the interests of everybody, we all hope that people, whether they shop North or South, will buy Irish. That is what I encourage them to do. At this Christmas time we all want to keep jobs at home on the island of Ireland, North or South. We have been looking forward to the day that the North and South would prosper and together our people would achieve their goals and see a future generation with a better standard of living and better opportunities than the current or previous one.
Senator Glynn called for a debate on community policing and the county policing boards that are currently being set up, which I have no difficulty accommodating. It is timely for the Senator to have called for this issue to be discussed in this House.
Senator Quinn correctly made known his views on the announcement by the Revenue Commissioners of instructions for companies on the management of the 1% levy. They have to ensure the compatibility of software to facilitate this change and industries are also facing various challenges. The Senator’s proposal that the Revenue extend to companies some time to accommodate this change is worthwhile. The time allowed for this change to be made is tight as Christmas draws near and having regard to the ten-day closure of companies that usually takes place over Christmas every year.
The Senator called for a debate on Ryanair’s takeover bid of Aer Lingus. I must say I was very impressed with Mr. Dermot Mannion’s interview on “Morning Ireland” yesterday morning. Of course, we are also very impressed by the achievements of my good friend, Michael O’Leary. As I have often said, he has done more for tourism in Ireland than any other person I know in overcoming the challenges to reduce air travel to such an affordable level. I have no difficulty in setting aside time after the Christmas recess for hearing the views of Members on this matter.
Senator Callely raised again the issue of the supports that will be put in place by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to support Dublin city traders, particularly at this difficult time when commercial rates have increased and increases in various charges are being levied on them. This makes it extremely more difficult for these traders, not least with parking costing €3 per hour in the city centre. I agree with the Senator and will pass on his views to the Minister.
Senator Buttimer called for a debate on unemployment. I have already given a commitment to have a debate on unemployment and on the IDA and I have no difficulty in arranging for such a debate to take place.
The Senator also called for the Minister for Transport to come to the House to update us on the separation of the three major airports, Cork, Dublin and Shannon. I saw the newspaper article to which the Senator referred, but this change will not take place for at least three years.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senator Hannigan expressed concern regarding the banks facilitating the small and medium sized enterprises. The ten day period during which the banks were to inform the Minister for Finance in this respect will be up on Friday. The businesses of one of two colleagues have been under serious threat during the past 24 hours. I am pleased to inform the House that the banks have been forthcoming in understanding and facilitating businesses. It is good to hear such is the case from the SMEs. The priority in this period of economic downturn is that the banks and the Government must back the SMEs to the fullest possible extent. I look forward to this taking place.
Senator McFadden pointed out that there are 56,000 on the social housing list. I know that the number of people on the housing list in County Westmeath is fairly low. We both know the housing officer——
Senator Donie Cassidy: In the north of the county there is no housing shortage. Too many houses are available in Mullingar in north Westmeath, but Athlone would be always the exception rather than the norm in that respect. I will do whatever I can for the people of Athlone, the Senator and other colleagues in Athlone. I will make an inquiry about that and report back directly to the Senator.
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