Tuesday, 19 May 2009
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Donie Cassidy: The Order of Business is No. 1, the Adoption Bill 2009 — Report Stage (resumed), to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to adjourn at 7 p.m., if not previously concluded.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Last week I said we needed a debate on the scheduling of the work of this House for the remainder of the term. I called for a vote on the matter but, unfortunately, it was defeated. Today I shall move an amendment to the Order of Business proposing we have such a discussion. I raise this point because it is extremely important that we ask about the Government’s approach to the Seanad.
I wish to raise some issues. Previously there was a commitment that one third of all legislation would be initiated in the Seanad. What are the plans for further legislation? After all, that is our core job in the House and we are doing it today in respect of the Adoption Bill.
I raise the issue of Ministers attending this House and how they deal with amendments and the business of the House. I shall give an example to the Leader and ask him if he is satisfied with the approach highlighted. We have been discussing the Adoption Bill for a number of days and have had detailed discussion on its content, reflecting the significant concerns abroad. However, the Minister of State with responsibility for children and young people, Deputy Barry Andrews, has briefed The Irish Times on the detail of the problems he is encountering with the Vietnamese authorities before briefing this House.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: I raise, first the disrespect shown to the House; second, the lack of information given to the House; and third, the problems this causes for the many people involved in these adoptions who are greatly concerned about the matter.
If the Minister of State had brought that information to this House it would have been helpful and we might have discussed it. None of us wishes to exaggerate the difficulties or cause concern to the people caught up in this process. That said, we want the debates in this House to be meaningful. I believe the Minister of State should have briefed the House more fully, and not The Irish Times.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Will the Leader raise that with the Minister and other Ministers when they come to the Seanad? They must take this House seriously, deal with the issues we raise and respond to the debates and points made on this side of the House.
Some weeks ago we called for a debate on the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA. Unfortunately, that vote was defeated and it would have been a worthwhile debate, given what we heard last week from Dr. Somers in the Committee of Public Accounts.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: It is quite clear there should have been a discussion in the House on NAMA. Many Members of the House have a great deal to say about it. Fine Gael has a position on the Government’s recommendations in this area which we would welcome an opportunity to debate. That is a debate we need to have which would be very relevant and of enormous concern to many people who are seeking loans from banks and are unable to get them.
We hear today about €17 million being given to consultants for reports on the HSE. We have had discussions in the Seanad about the executive. Can we have clarity from the Government on the future of the HSE? There was talk about reform. Where is it at and can we have a debate in the House on it?
I could go on but the essential point is that I want a debate on the business of this House and how it is to be scheduled between now and June. I would like the points I have raised to be dealt with by the Leader.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: These are critical issues for the public, which we need an opportunity to debate so that we may talk in this House for the remainder of the term about the real issues such as unemployment and the health services.
Senator Joe O’Toole: I second Senator Fitzgerald’s proposed amendment because it is important to do so. In the last three or four sitting days the Leader gave a commitment to 22 different items for debate. I certainly want to see how the order of this House is set. Issues have been raised, such as Senator MacSharry’s last week or the week before on the need for us to discuss Standing Orders and the way we order the House and do our business. These are important issues.
This House is under intense scrutiny. Members should be mindful of the fact that today in the House of Commons, a man with a solid majority and in a safe position is having to resign. It is important for people to recognise that we can look at the criticisms made about this House, many of them unfair. We can talk about the number of days we sat, what we did, votes and all the rest and try to respond in a defensive manner. That would be a major mistake. We need to think strategically about this and deal with the big issues. We should make demands of members of the Government about their commitment to this House and ensure we address the issue of reform.
The Leader should appreciate that leadership is necessary in the Seanad to bring forward this initiative. There is no place for any type of so-called cute hoorism. We have seen and are seeing across the water that a political majority in a democracy may be swept away in a tide of public contempt or disdain, and we need to look at this. This matter needs to be examined with a certain element of humility and certainly more humility than hubris in terms of defending ourselves. Fair as well as unfair criticism is being made against us. We are in public life and we should be accustomed to that. We can take it and deal with it. We can deal with each criticism as it arises but this is not the way to do it. We need to look at the big issues and deal with legislation so that people may see us doing our work.
The issue of NAMA is important for someone like me who does not take a party position on this. I can listen to Deputy Richard Bruton and hear the sense of what he has to say. I can listen to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, and hear the sense of what he has to say. I can listen to outside commentators and hear the sense of what they have to say. I am a firm believer that there is rarely one right answer to serious problems. The Seanad needs to deal with this. I do not see why the Minister, who is doing fine work on his tour of Europe and on which I compliment him, cannot have a conversation with Members of the Seanad on the pros and cons of NAMA, who will run it and how it will be administered. I would like to ask Deputy Bruton who will run the banks if we take them over.
There is a story in today’s newspaper to the effect that extra people will have to be employed to run NAMA. The same, I presume, would happen if we took over the banks. Who would do these things? How would these things work? Where will the shareholders be after this? How will the risk be managed?
We have a job to do. We had better do it immediately. In seconding Senator Fitzgerald’s amendment to the Order of Business, I believe NAMA would be a good place to start. There are 20 items on the Order Paper. When will we deal with those issues? If we cannot deal with them we should say so. The beginning of a week is a good time to deal with these matters.
Senator Dominic Hannigan: I am glad the Leader has found time to talk about our overseas development aid programme. We need to have a discussion on this. The most recent budget cut a further €100 million off the aid programme. This was in addition to cuts made in the previous ten months. In that time, we cut the aid budget by €255 million. Despite Government promises on the international stage, we will not reach our targets unless the situation changes.
I have been contacted by representatives of organisations throughout the country, who are very worried about the impact of these cuts, not merely on staff numbers but on programmes. Last week, Concern said these cuts will lead to the cutting of 500 jobs. The impact of this will be felt worldwide. In Angola, for example, 20,000 homes will not receive training in food production. In Haiti, 6,000 children will not receive education on hygiene issues. The list goes on. Throughout the world, people will be affected because of cuts in our aid programme.
The programme for Government will be reviewed shortly. I ask the Leader to impress upon the Minister and his Green Party colleagues the importance of looking again at our aid programme and trying to meet the commitments we made not too long ago.
I agree with Senator O’Toole that we can learn lessons from this morning’s resignation of the Speaker of the House of Commons. The Speaker clearly lost the confidence of the people because of the expenses issue. This House is also in danger of losing the confidence, not merely of the people but also of politicians. Last week, we had a debate on the adjournment of the House to facilitate a golf match. This week, a Member of the House said on the radio that votes in the House were a waste of time and a joke, and a Dáil candidate said his party colleagues should consider shutting down the Seanad. Although some criticisms of the Seanad are valid, some clearly are not. Nevertheless, confidence in the House is suffering and needs to be addressed.
One person in this House can introduce legislation to reform the House, namely the Leader. Until he introduces a programme of reform I suggest that he, like the Speaker of the House of Commons, should consider his position.
Senator Ann Ormonde: I note the points raised and I agree with many of them. The Seanad is under intense scrutiny. I take umbrage at the suggestion that the Seanad is irrelevant and should be abolished. The majority of Senators do an excellent job. They are committed to their work on legislation at all stages. I reject the suggestion that we are irrelevant.
It is up to all of us, particularly the Leader, to review the situation, to make sure legislation comes to the Seanad and that Ministers are available to deal with it. Otherwise, we might as well go out of existence. I do not want that to happen. I have been here for a very long time and feel I have done a very good job. I speak for myself, as other Senators can speak for themselves.
Senator Ann Ormonde: The Seanad must fight for its role. I want this reform to take place as quickly as possible. We must show we are relevant, have a role to play and that we know our stuff. We are professional people when we go out there and discuss issues, whatever the subject matter. Members in the Seanad and the Dáil are as good as anybody when it comes to speaking on issues.
Senator Ann Ormonde: Let anyone out there deny that or take us on board because I am not in favour of stooping. I hold my head high and I know I can deliver. I intend to ensure the Seanad will hold, will be reformed and will be in existence for a very long time to come.
Senator Paul Coghlan: I strongly support the remarks of Senators Fitzgerald and O’Toole regarding the role of this House and the scheduling of work and legislation. As the Leader is aware, there was a time when more than one third of legislation was initiated in this House. As speakers noted, NAMA is perhaps the most important subject matter with which we could and should deal at the moment. Very serious and important matters are taking place. It seems that two of the most important arms of the State are not speaking with the one voice in regard to NAMA. It was proposed in the supplementary budget speech of the Minister for Finance that NAMA would be under the aegis of the National Treasury Management Agency, yet we now know from its leader, Dr. Somers, that it is outside the loop, when it is supposed to be at the heart of the process.
We heard Dr. Somers express very serious negative sentiments before the Committee of Public Accounts late last week. If the Government believes NAMA is the solution, it has a serious job to persuade and reassure the public, which is not of that mind. It is very serious when Dr. Somers states he has no idea how NAMA will work. He warned of the legal challenges which, he believes, are imminent. He has no details of how many staff will be involved and his staff are not geared up. He states they have no idea how to deal with bank restructuring and that they have not found a solution. He spoke of significant dilemmas. They have been taken by surprise. He stated that the Minister’s speech needs to be clarified. It is amazing that the head of the National Treasury Management Agency states on the record that he only knows what he had read in the newspapers. Where are we as a State? This issue must be urgently addressed.
Senator Marc MacSharry: I join others in calling for a debate on NAMA. We had a good debate during Fine Gael Private Members’ time the week before last, which gave us all an opportunity to put forward some thoughts on how it should be run. There is no question that in principle it is the best way out of this situation. It is ingenious that, with the issue of Government bonds, we will be able to buy the bad debts and those Government bonds can be exchanged for capital in the European Investment Bank. The principle is ingenious and is the correct one. I have discussed this with senior members of all parties and Independent Members in this and the other House and I believe that principle is correct. However, the detail of how it will be done is difficult and unknown. Our time would be best spent by bringing forward recommendations that should be included in that detail.
While it is not possible always to have a debate on the economy or NAMA, we should use opportunities such as the Order of Business to put forward ideas if we have them. Then, if appropriate, we could have an economic debate on a weekly basis. In principle the measure is correct.
In respect of the contribution at recent committees, it is a credit to the transparency of our political system that we have the privilege of being made aware of everything as it happens through the committees. Dr. Somers made us aware of the many difficulties he foresees in pulling NAMA together. I fundamentally believe the principle is correct and I think the international markets believe it is correct.
Senator Marc MacSharry: I also believe the detail will be very difficult. As Dr. Somers stated, there will be many challenges, including legal challenges. Just because something is challenging does not mean we should walk away from it. We should rise to the challenge. I know we can and will do that and this is what everybody in the Seanad and the Dáil wants to do. I am confident that if we use our time in these Houses to speak about the ideas we have to improve the detail and ensure it is correct, we will have made a valuable contribution.
Senator David Norris: I support the calls for a discussion on NAMA. It is extremely worrying that Dr. Michael Somers has said he does not know how it will work. He does not appear to have the staff or resources to deal with the role and appears to be pleading ignorance about it. That is very worrying from the person supposed to run NAMA. I would welcome the opportunity to talk on the issue because, on 10 February 2009, as the record will show, I suggested and gave some details of a proposed property management agency similar to NAMA. It took the Government six weeks to catch up, but it seems to be getting it backwards and wrong.
We need to be radical and nationalise the banks into one bank of Ireland and create the national property management agency to manage the property resources in the interest of the people. I explained how that could be dealt with and how any constitutional impediment could be overcome. However, now I hear it being said the situation will create a goldmine for lawyers. That is rubbish. Are the people in control of the State not aware we have an instrument in Seanad Éireann whereby two thirds of the Members can pass a resolution referring this to the President, who can refer it to the Supreme Court so that it is proof? Lawyers would then be wasting their time taking cases.
The Adoption Bill is important legislation and many of us, including Senators Fitzgerald, Bacik and myself, have worked hard on it. I do not agree with the trenchant criticism of the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews. I read what he said very carefully. He was circumspect in the Dáil, but he indicated the areas of his concern and the reason he was taking this Bill. He is displaying a cautious attitude. I do not see anything that he said in response to a query from The Irish Times that is substantially different or that provides substantial further information to what he put on the record here. Carol Coulter is a very fine writer and expanded much further, but what she wrote were her views. She pointed to the fact that both the United States and Sweden had also suspended relations because of the same kind of worries. Therefore, we cannot blame the Minister of State on that, although we might blame him for other things.
There has been a campaign of people writing to Members. I got 200 e-mails. I replied by circular to these e-mails, some of which were individual e-mails. Most people replied politely and positively, but I received some very vicious and threatening e-mails I do not appreciate at all. Nobody will get me on their side through this kind of bullying. When I said in my reply my secretary spent an inordinate amount of time dealing with the e-mails, I got a reply from a person in Montenotte saying “Good luck to your secretary who will be kept busy for the foreseeable future answering all letters and e-mails.” This is an abuse. People like that discredit their own campaigns. I wrote back and said my secretary would not be kept busy for the foreseeable future because she had received instructions from me that all such correspondence should go straight, unanswered into the bin.
Senator Terry Leyden: Last week I raised an important issue, namely, a worrying situation with regard to the position in which many tenants are finding themselves, where the properties they are renting are being repossessed by the banks from their landlords. I ask the Leader to arrange an early debate on the housing issue, specifically this issue.
In the case I raised, after court proceedings, a repossession order and an ejection order, the tenants were the last to find out. Arising from the attention I brought to the matter and having contacted Brendan Smith and James Barry at the Sheriff’s Office and Gartlan Furey, the legal representatives of the Ulster Bank, the bank has now decided to enter into arrangements with the tenants to provide a tenancy agreement for them. This is one way this House can be extremely influential. If I did not have parliamentary privilege and did not have this forum in which to raise this issue last week, these people would have been evicted from their house and their possessions thrown on the street.
As a former Member of the Dáil and a former Minister of State, I find this House a very good forum for debate and for raising important issues on behalf of our 4.2 million people. I make no apologies to the media or otherwise on the usefulness of this forum. It is elected by a distinctive electorate who put us here to do a particular task and is clearly and unambiguously included in the Constitution. Arising from my use of parliamentary privilege last week, it is no longer proposed to evict the young couple I mentioned from their tenancy in Dublin. I say to anyone who has a problem that it is worth raising it in this forum. Every Member of this House can and will raise issues pertaining to our electorate and to the people in general. I am delighted I received a positive response to my representations in this case. The Cathaoirleach allowed me to raise the matter last week and the Leader agreed to allow a debate on it in due course.
Senator Maurice Cummins: When I went into a reception centre for immigrants in Waterford city yesterday to canvass those in the building and to advise them of their right to register for voting purposes, I was stopped at the door and advised that a letter had been received from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to the effect that canvassing was prohibited in the reception centre. It seems that public representatives are not allowed to speak to the people inside and advise them of their rights. I would like the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to explain why such a letter was sent out. It is an absolute denial of democracy to prevent people from getting information about their democratic rights. I said I would raise the matter in the Seanad and I am doing so today. I hope the Leader of the House will let me know the situation in this regard.
Fourteen weeks ago, workers at Waterford Crystal learned that their jobs were gone. It was a devastating blow to the workers, their families and the people of Waterford. It is absolutely disgraceful that the workers in question have not yet received their statutory redundancy payments. I ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to address this wrong immediately. This should not have happened to the Waterford Crystal workers. They have been treated despicably by the Government since this issue first arose. The least they can expect is to get their entitlements within a reasonable timeframe. A period of 14 weeks is far too long. I ask the Tánaiste to address this issue as a matter of urgency.
It is regrettable that up to last week, the main Government party was the only party not to have submitted proposals for the reform of the Seanad. I welcome the Minister’s suggestion that proposals on Seanad reform will be published at an early stage. We would welcome a discussion on those proposals. I hope a number of my party’s Seanad reform proposals will be included when the Minister finally addresses this problem.
Senator Larry Butler: I would like to highlight the problems being encountered by small businesses when they try to get loans from the banks. I was glad to learn this morning that Bank of Ireland has made substantial provision for its bad debts over the coming year. It is important to welcome the decision of the chairman of Bank of Ireland to stand down and to take responsibility for that bank’s poor lending arrangements.
Senator Larry Butler: It is important that they have gone and that a new organisation is being put in place to deal with banking in the future. Now that we have substantial capitalisation of the major banks, can the Leader arrange for a monthly report on the percentage of lending to small businesses to be submitted to the Minister for Finance? That would be welcome. It is important for the directors we have put in place to find out where the lending is going. They should report to the Minister for Finance on the steps they are taking to ensure the money we have made available to recapitalise the banks is given to this country’s small businesses and used for productive purposes. That is vital. I welcome what Bank of Ireland has done this morning. The markets have reacted in a significant way to the honest approach that has been taken. That is what the markets will do if they know the bottom line.
Senator Rónán Mullen: I agree in general with Senator Fitzgerald that as a matter of principle it is important Ministers make announcements to the Oireachtas and not first to the media, although I take on board what Senator Norris added to her comment. Undoubtedly what Senators Fitzgerald, O’Toole and others have said about the Seanad being under scrutiny is quite right. We operate in a weak parliamentary system and if people see that our Parliament is weak at a time of crisis, when there is a struggle for resources, they will lose faith in our ability to make a difference. This applies not only to Seanadóirí but also to most Members of the Dáil. How often does Government substantially change direction on policy? There is the occasional backbench revolt which works only because it is rare. An rud is annamh is iontach. We need to examine our system to see how when amendments to legislation are suggested they might be given serious consideration. I am not talking about occasional tweaking but a serious intellectual engagement by Government with proposed ideas.
We know what happens when changes to the Order of Business are put to a vote. The Government must give leadership in this area by agreeing to have a debate on a specific date, at a specific time and entering that in a diary, rather than giving a general promise which in many cases comes to nothing. In the case of the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, there was a debate, thanks to Fine Gael, which is to be commended for that. I am sure, however, that as the proposal moves forward there will be further calls for debate which should be heard.
I agree with Senator Hannigan and compliment the Fianna Fáil Party on bringing forward the issue of overseas development aid on Private Members' time tomorrow night but we must hear something more than a recital of the Government’s achievements in the past. We will test whether the Government will give us chapter and verse on where the cuts are to be made because that is the critical issue. We must ensure the cuts are not made pro rata because that could damage the most deserving areas and some seriously good causes.
We have had very good debates in this House on stem cell research. Professor Colin McGuckin, a very well-regarded stem cell researcher, called today on the Pat Kenny programme on RTE for a public-private initiative to store umbilical chord blood. This would be a worthy topic for discussion in this House given that chord blood provides a one in four chance of a blood match for members of a family. This is becoming more important due to the increased number of inter-racial couples. Let us prove our worth and discuss such worthy proposals so these issues are properly ventilated not just in the media but in the Oireachtas.
Senator Camillus Glynn: Many small businesses are having difficulty and the banks primarily are the villain of the piece. Large businesses, some multinational, however, are using the downturn in the economy to cut wages. I have raised this issue before. I know of an individual working eight hours a day who is earning less than €70 a week. The person carries large responsibility in that employment. The few lousy cent the person received for travelling from one location to another has been discontinued. The extra pay on bank holidays and Sundays has been cut and the excuse given is that the company wants to preserve jobs. Who is that company fooling? It certainly is not fooling me. I am gathering evidence on this matter and when I have compiled and completed it to the best of my ability I will present it to the powers that be to take immediate and effective action against those people. It is bad enough that there is a world recession but when people use the recession to do down the small guy and gal I stand up and say “stop” because evil prevails when good men and women do nothing.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: It is great that Dr. Somers had the courage to say what he said during a committee meeting about the unworkability of the current National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, proposal. I hear every day on the doorsteps that people are sick and tired of the fact that the only recipients of money from the Government at present are the banks. Let us be straight and listen carefully to what Dr. Somers said. We need no more covering up or pretence. It is time the Government got it right and listened to all parties on this issue, including the proposal of Deputy Richard Bruton.
As I speak, there is a mother armed with psychologists’ reports walking around Galway with her 12 year old autistic son looking for a place for him next September. She is doing so because the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, has cut classes for those with mild learning difficulties. The child has no place to go and his condition is too severe for him to enter mainstream education. His psychologist has said his mother should look for a place for him in first year because he could not tolerate two changes in two consecutive years. Who is to help this mother right now?
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Where is she to get a place for her son? This is a severe educational injustice. I want an answer to my question because a mother cannot find a place for an autistic child with mild learning difficulties unless there is a special class. The Minister has cut such classes. I look forward to hearing the Leader’s reply.
Senator Ivana Bacik: I support calls for a debate on NAMA. Having campaigned around Dublin Central, it is certainly clear to me that the real concern of people in that constituency and others relates to the problems with the economy and jobs. They are very fearful about job losses and about their future and that of their children. This derives mainly from the considerable uncertainty associated with NAMA. Dr. Michael Somers has really contributed to this debate. We need a discussion on the issue. In particular, we need to discuss the potential for NAMA to be challenged by developers.
Senator Ivana Bacik: Many of us feel developers have some nerve if they are thinking about challenging NAMA when it is their own profligacy and greed that has led to the problems we face. We need to debate this.
We need to debate the role of the Seanad which has been coming under attack from all quarters, including Members of the House itself. Last week’s outing by the Oireachtas golf society constitutes a serious own goal — I hope this is not a mixing of sporting metaphors.
Senator Ivana Bacik: Can we have a debate on Seanad reform? It was unjustifiable that Members of this House were playing golf at Portmarnock Golf Club which has a notable policy against women at a time when many of us are trying to encourage more women to become involved in politics and enter both Houses of the Oireachtas.
Senator Ivana Bacik: I support what Senator Fitzgerald said about an adoption matter. One Bill on which the Seanad has had a particularly good and robust debate in recent weeks has been the Adoption Bill. A number of us have been very active in tabling amendments. The Minister of State has considered them seriously. I really appreciate his consideration of many of the important amendments tabled by those of us on this side of the House. While what the Minister of State told The Irish Times in today’s interview with Carol Coulter goes beyond what he was certainly hinting to us in last week’s debate, he was certainly hinting to us there were difficulties with Vietnam in particular, and that was the real reason for the delay. However, he did not state the difficulties. Many of us were sensitive to the fact that he might not have wanted to do so. However, given that he has stated the difficulties in public in any event, it is a pity we could not have debated them in this House last week. Irrespective of whether the issues concern the origin of the children, whether their parents have really given them up for adoption or whether they have done so under duress, they are very serious.
Senator Ivana Bacik: We all want to see adoption law that has the best interest of the child at its heart, regardless of the child’s origin. We are all very mindful of our own history, in which dreadful things were done to children by way of adoption and adoptions carried out without proper consent. I would welcome the Minister of State coming to the House to debate this further.
Senator Paudie Coffey: I, too, support the calls for a debate on NAMA, the proposal for which seems to be half-baked given that those charged with the operation of the agency are unsure of the criteria and terms of reference under which they are expected to work.
I ask the Leader to extend the debate to include the whole banking system and the manner in which the banks are demanding the mortgage repayments owed to them. I am aware of a young family who have had their home repossessed. They made an offer to the bank that they would rent the home from it. That was not listened to and they were put out on the side of the road. That is a very sad indictment of the system that has been allowed to develop where young families are becoming homeless on an almost daily basis.
I draw the attention of the Leader to the area of social welfare. The thousands of newly unemployed people who are filling the dole offices around the country are being forced to join long queues and are treated in a disgraceful manner. I appreciate that the staff are overloaded with work, but these people are being sent from Billy to Jack to fill in forms, sent back to their employers who let them go and then back to the dole offices, only to find they might receive no entitlement for months. These are people with young families who have bills to pay and have no income coming into their homes. It is degrading and distressing for the individuals involved and their families. There is major concern about this. I ask the Leader to bring the Minister for Social and Family Affairs to the House to tell us how she proposes to address these long dole queues and give people back some pride instead of having them degraded in such a humiliating fashion in public areas. We need to move on. Let us be positive and give hope to these people.
The Minister stated in the media yesterday that she will send out thousands of letters to young people aged between 18 and 24 who are on the dole, calling them into State offices to assist them by offering them opportunities for retraining and reskilling. I welcome that development but I ask that a positive slant be put on the process. Young people should not be brought in and interrogated or put under further pressure but they should be given hope and assistance through our State agencies and educational bodies. That is the way forward. We must give people back some pride because they are being degraded. I ask the State to step in and I hope the Leader can help in that regard.
Senator Shane Ross: Unusually, I begin by congratulating the Minister for Finance. It is only fair to acknowledge that what he has been doing around European capitals in the past few days has been extraordinarily successful, perhaps surprisingly so.
Senator Shane Ross: The bond auction that was due for bidding this morning was extremely successful. It went down very well and it is over-subscribed. It is only fair, in these bad times, for which the Government must bear some responsibility, that, when the Minister takes the bit between his teeth, goes out to sell Ireland and gets a good reaction, we should acknowledge it. I ask that the first thing the Leader does when the Minister gets home is to ask him to come to the House and tell us what he has been doing. It is a good, interesting and important story. What the international markets think of us is the most important thing for our prosperity at present. If we cannot get money from them we are in serious trouble. It should be acknowledged that the Minister has done a very good job in the past few days.
Senator Shane Ross: The Governor of the Bank of Ireland announced his resignation, which is long overdue, at this morning’s AGM. However, the successor to Mr. Goggin said on the radio this morning that he had made mistakes. He represents more of the same. He lent irresponsibly to property developers. That is what happened and that is what we must acknowledge. I say to Senator Butler that while one or two heads have rolled, the culture is still absolutely rotten.
Senator Shane Ross: I promise I will not name anybody. The culture in the banks is rotten. I was at the AGM of AIB last week and those who were there had to witness ten or 11 dummies standing for re-election, and not only did they get re-elected——
Senator Shane Ross: ——they would not give a presentation to the thousand people on reasons for their re-election. The question that must be asked, and it is the reason I ask that the Minister for Finance be brought to the House, is why they were re-elected by 97% to 3%? How did that happen?
Senator Eugene Regan: The Seanad has come in for a lot of criticism lately, some of it fair and some of it unfair. In my experience, this House provides an excellent forum for exposing corruption and incompetence in Government, for scrutinising legislation and raising issues of public concern and public interest. It has stood the test of time and Irish democracy would be poorer if the Seanad was not to continue its work.
I support Senator Fitzgerald’s call for a debate on the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA. The Government has been receiving, at a cost of €2 million, professional advice on the guarantee scheme and the recapitalisation of the banks. Questions have been raised over the establishment of NAMA and how the Government thinks it will work but there have been no answers. We got an answer from Dr. Michael Somers, however, when he said last week that this was new territory and he was unaware of how it would be set up and operated or how it would interact with the National Treasury Management Agency. This is an indictment of the Minister for Finance.
We now find a notice, published by the NTMA and seeking a tender, was carried in the EU Journal. It was published on 12 May and the deadline for submissions was 25 May, a very brief period. The tender is for services on the direction of the Minister for Finance, stating that the NTMA wishes to retain banking and financial advisory services to assist in its preparatory work in the establishment of NAMA, including an analysis of eligible assets, development of an appropriate valuation methodology for the assets, associated securities and associated derivatives, formulating the parameters of and execution methodology for a viability review, and the suitability of the proposed solutions in an Irish context.
I am only referring to this because Dr. Michael Somers has admitted the NTMA does not know how to go about this. It is seeking advice and it appears to me that the Minister for Finance does not know because he has subcontracted it to the NTMA. There should be a debate in this House where the Minister for Finance can explain what is going on.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: Like other speakers, I call for a debate on NAMA. Like Senator Ross, I compliment the Minister on going on a tour of Europe and selling Ireland because it is the mess his Government got us into that he is now trying to rectify. I welcome the success of the bond issue because it is important to restore confidence in the market.
I want the Leader to invite the Minister for Finance in here. He has not come to the House for any debate since the first capitalisation Bill was before the House. What does that say about the Minister’s attitude to us? There are outstanding questions about NAMA.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: What is the status of the programme for Government now? What will it do about transport and about the roles of the different airports, for example, Cork versus Dublin? What will it do about agriculture and education? Senator Healy Eames mentioned children with special needs. Has the programme for Government been abandoned to the four winds?
Senator Nicky McFadden: I agree with Senator Ross and other colleagues that we should compliment the Minister for Finance on what he has done. It was a pleasant surprise to hear this morning that our Government bonds have done so well. I wish the Minister continued success today in Frankfurt and in Milan. A number of advisers have travelled with him. Perhaps they would be able to advise him as to how to set up the National Asset Management Agency. That might encourage him to set out on the right track in that respect.
I was upset to read today, as I am sure was every other Senator in this House, that €17 million has been spent by the HSE on private consultants. We have all received letters from parents who have sick children and who have been trying to ensure their children are allowed attend Crumlin hospital. We have heard that two wards in that hospital are to be shut. Some of the intensive care unit beds have been closed. These parents have been told that only children who are to have emergency surgery will be accepted and that elective procedures are to be postponed. One such procedure is an operation for a child who has only three chambers in their heart. That operation has been called an elective procedure. To my mind, an elective procedure is a hip or a knee replacement and not a procedure, the postponing of which will affect the life of a child. This child will die if they do not have this operation.
Now we have had the disgusting overspend of Professor Drumm on consultants. I was outraged to read of that this morning. A hospital unit in Athlone is funded by the people and no money is available to staff it. There is an embargo on the recruitment of nurses and various therapists, while Professor Drumm is being allowed continue with this. I passionately ask the Leader to ensure this is stopped and to find a way to get the Minister, Deputy Harney to listen. This has to stop.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senators Fitzgerald, O’Toole, Hannigan, Ormonde, Coghlan, MacSharry, Norris, Cummins, Mullen, Healy Eames, Bacik, Coffey, Ross, Regan, Buttimer and McFadden expressed serious concern about issues concerning the future scheduling of the business of this House. I am pleased to inform the House that the Fianna Fáil submission in this respect will be made to the Minister concerned within the next seven days. Our submission is at an advanced stage. We consulted widely on it with all the Members. As I have said previously, almost 50% of the membership of this House comprise members of the Fianna Fáil Party. I have undertaken to consult widely with all colleagues in the group. Work on the submission is at an advantaged stage. I am pleased to inform the House, as I did the Minister last week, that we will ensure the submission is forwarded to him within the next seven days.
I understand the Minister is also at an advanced stage in making up his mind on bringing before this House for our attention and before the Government for its attention a proposal on meaningful Seanad reform. We all welcome that. We have been looking forward to it for the longest time. Such reform will ensure the workings of this House are moved forward into the 21st century in terms of meetings the necessary requirements.
As Seanad colleagues have said, this House has done the State a great service over the years. It was not the Upper House of the Parliament for a one-liner, as I have often said previously. Our predecessors worked very hard in it. I am proud to say that last year 30% of all legislation enacted was initiated in this House and that 1,201 amendments proposed to Bills and legislation were accepted by the Ministers of the day. This House has sat only two days fewer than the number of days sat by our colleagues in Dáil Éireann. To put everything in perspective, there has never been a more productive Seanad in the history of Seanad Éireann than this Seanad. I thank and congratulate colleagues on all sides of the House on their co-operation in making this the hardest working Seanad in this history of the State. I have served in these Houses for 27 years.
Regarding legislation that is to come to the House, quite a number of Bills will be brought forward for our attention. Senators Coghlan and MacSharry have called for the bringing forward of a Bill on everything related to the practice of auctioneering, and that is to be initiated in the House next Thursday.
Today is the seventh day of deliberation on the Adoption Bill. I congratulate very many colleagues who have spent many long and hard working hours to assist those who depend on them regarding the urgent issues that are being discussed and debated. In any parliament, seven days is a large amount of time spent on deliberation, consultation, negotiation and communication with the Minister. We in this House are proud to be able to assist the families who depend so much on the Adoption Bill by debating it on the floor of the House.
I have given a commitment that we will have an all-day debate on NAMA. I join Senator Ross and other colleagues in the House, including Senators Buttimer and McFadden, who have congratulated the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, who has had a serious challenge since becoming Minister for Finance, on meeting that challenge and getting the confidence of the financial markets, which is crucial for the uplift of our economy. It will gain from the experience and the endeavours of his hard work.
Every Member on all sides of this House can agree on that. There are people here who are far more experienced in the banking world than I am, but I will give the longest amount of time that is required by colleagues to debate NAMA at the earliest opportunity. Next week we will have the Finance Bill in the House and that may be an opportunity for people to make points. After the Finance Bill has gone through the House I intend to propose to the House that we have an all-day debate on NAMA and all the challenges facing it.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Yes, we will. It is too important an issue for the people, the future of Ireland and us as parliamentarians who are responsible to the people, and I guarantee that the Minister will be present here for all the spokesperson’s contributions at the beginning of the Bill.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Last week, Senator Leyden made a statement to the House which we were all very concerned about. I congratulate the Senator on bringing it to our attention. I am pleased to see there was a successful outcome and that there is a humane section in some of the banks regarding the issue that was brought to the attention of the House. This shows the importance of the House in matters of urgency, which the Senator pointed out.
Senator Cummins brought to my attention an issue regarding the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and candidates not being allowed to canvass. This is very serious and I will contact the Office of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform immediately after the Order of Business and will return to the House on Thursday morning with an update. I thank the Senator for bringing it to the House’s attention. Senator Cummins raised the fact that Waterford Crystal workers have not received their statutory redundancy benefits 14 weeks after they finished work. This is unacceptable. I fully agree with the sentiments and I will contact the Minister for an update on the situation in which these unfortunate workers find themselves.
Senators Butler and Glynn brought to the House’s attention the issue of banks lending to small and family sized businesses, banking for the future, and asked for a debate in the presence of the Minister for Finance. In regard to the investment the Government has made in the banks, Senators Butler asked — Senator Ross also alluded to this issue — that the Government publish on a monthly basis the percentage of loans to small, medium and family businesses. As we all know, those in small businesses give employment to 800,000 people. That is a very good suggestion and I will pass it on the Minister.
Senator Mullen welcomed the debate on overseas aid that will take place during Private Members’ time tomorrow night. Senators Glynn and Coffey spoke on wage cuts, the elimination of bank holiday pay, small travel allocations for workers and the fact that employers use the downturn as a reason not to give a reasonable day’s pay for a hard day’s work. Second Stage of the Finance Bill will be taken here on Thursday, 28 May and that will be an opportunity to point this out to the Minister. I know Senators will avail of the opportunity to do this.
Senator Healy Eames raised the issue of the mother and child. I agree with the Cathaoirleach that if this matter were raised on the Adjournment Debate perhaps an update on this unfortunate, hard-pressed issue could be ascertained in a very speedy way.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senator Coffey called for a debate with the Minister for Social and Family Affairs on entitlements and particularly the long wait and queues by unfortunate people for the dole. The Minister is doing everything she possibly can in her power in this regard. Yesterday’s initiative to retrain and upskill 18 to 24 year olds is essential. This is another very important issue on which the Minister could come to the House. The Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Hanafin, is very supportive of coming to the House and I will pursue a debate on this matter in the coming weeks. Senators Ross, Buttimer and McFadden congratulated the Minister for Finance on his great success in Europe and I have made a commitment on that.
Senator Buttimer inquired about the proposed mid-term review of the programme for Government, the successes and challenges. I have no difficulty in having that debated in the House, possibly after the Government has deliberated on it over the summer. On our first or second day back after the summer recess there may be a very good opportunity for an all-day debate when we can express our opinions on this very pressing issue. Regarding Senator Buttimer’s comments on party names and logos, as the Senator knows, this is down to the directors of elections for the various parties and I do not want to get involved in that. I have enough on my plate at present.
|Bacik, Ivana.||Bradford, Paul.|
|Burke, Paddy.||Buttimer, Jerry.|
|Coffey, Paudie.||Coghlan, Paul.|
|Cummins, Maurice.||Fitzgerald, Frances.|
|Hannigan, Dominic.||Healy Eames, Fidelma.|
|McFadden, Nicky.||Mullen, Rónán.|
|O’Toole, Joe.||Prendergast, Phil.|
|Regan, Eugene.||Ross, Shane.|
|Brady, Martin.||Butler, Larry.|
|Callely, Ivor.||Carty, John.|
|Cassidy, Donie.||Corrigan, Maria.|
|Ellis, John.||Feeney, Geraldine.|
|Glynn, Camillus.||Leyden, Terry.|
|MacSharry, Marc.||McDonald, Lisa.|
|Ó Domhnaill, Brian.||Ó Murchú, Labhrás.|
|O’Brien, Francis.||O’Donovan, Denis.|
|O’Sullivan, Ned.||Ormonde, Ann.|
|Phelan, Kieran.||Walsh, Jim.|
|White, Mary M.||Wilson, Diarmuid.|
|Brady, Martin.||Butler, Larry.|
|Callely, Ivor.||Carty, John.|
|Cassidy, Donie.||Corrigan, Maria.|
|de Búrca, Déirdre.||Ellis, John.|
|Feeney, Geraldine.||Glynn, Camillus.|
|Leyden, Terry.||MacSharry, Marc.|
|McDonald, Lisa.||Ó Domhnaill, Brian.|
|Ó Murchú, Labhrás.||O’Brien, Francis.|
|O’Donovan, Denis.||O’Sullivan, Ned.|
|Ormonde, Ann.||Phelan, Kieran.|
|Walsh, Jim.||White, Mary M.|
|Bacik, Ivana.||Bradford, Paul.|
|Burke, Paddy.||Buttimer, Jerry.|
|Coffey, Paudie.||Coghlan, Paul.|
|Cummins, Maurice.||Fitzgerald, Frances.|
|Hannigan, Dominic.||Healy Eames, Fidelma.|
|McFadden, Nicky.||Mullen, Rónán.|
|O’Toole, Joe.||Prendergast, Phil.|
|Regan, Eugene.||Ross, Shane.|
|Last Updated: 15/12/2010 21:20:00||Page of 7|