Business of Seanad.
Order of Business.
Issue of Writ: Motions.
Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children: Motion.
Public Transport Regulation Bill 2009: Report and Final Stages.
Strategic Development Zones.
Long-Term Illness Scheme.
Chuaigh an Cathaoirleach i gceannas ar 10.30 a.m.
An Cathaoirleach: I have received notice from Senator Shane Ross that he proposes to raise the following matter on the Adjournment:
I have also received notice from Senator John Paul Phelan of the following matter:
I regard the matters raised by the Senators as suitable for discussion on the Adjournment and they will be taken at the conclusion of business.
Senator Donie Cassidy: The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re vacancy on the administrative panel; No. 2, motion re vacancy on the agricultural panel; No. 3, motion re Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children; and No. 4, Public Transport Regulation Bill 2009 — Report and Final Stages. It is proposed that Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, shall be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business and No. 4 shall be taken at the conclusion of Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive.
I remind colleagues that tributes to the late Senator Peter Callanan will be afforded to every Member of the Seanad at the appropriate time on which we shall consult his family in order that they can be present. I thank everyone who went to his funeral and who represented Seanad Éireann in such a distinguished way during the past two days.
Senator Liam Twomey: I would like to extend our sympathies to the families of the two serving members of the Defence Forces who lost their lives since the Seanad last sat. We should also express our concern for the wellbeing of Fr. Michael Sinnott who was kidnapped in the Philippines last week.
We should examine the issue of filling the vacancies in this House at this time. There is one vacancy on the Government side and one on the Opposition side. When regard is had for the fact that we are talking about saving money on behalf of the taxpayer and the concerns that have been expressed by the general public about us not being in touch in terms of how taxpayers’ money is being spent, perhaps those two positions should be left vacant for the foreseeable future.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Will we do that for the one in the Dáil as well?
Senator Liam Twomey: We should consider that as well.
Senator Donie Cassidy: So the Senator will consider that.
Senator Liam Twomey: We do not really have any say as to what happens in the Lower House.
We must bear in mind that there is huge anger and hurt and a perception that people in politics do not understand what the ordinary man and woman on the street is feeling right now. Regardless of whether it is true, people have a sense of anger about every politician representing the public. Such anger is expressed when they see €1 million payoffs and bonuses of €70,000. What really annoys the general public is when they hear the Minister for Health and Children state that she has no responsibility for how €15 billion worth of taxpayers’ money is spent.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: Hear, hear.
Senator Liam Twomey: It annoys the ordinary man and woman on the street when the Minister for Health and Children basically washes her hands of her responsibility for how taxpayers’ money is spent. I ask that she comes into this House and clearly states what her responsibilities are to citizens in regard to health services, as perhaps she is basically saying her Department is no longer relevant and, therefore, one would have to ask why she is there in first place.
We have to examine this because we will be voting on a budget in eight weeks. The hard decisions that need to be made to protect our economy are difficult political decisions. The easier political decisions that can be made could have a detrimental effect on the recovery of our economy. We are avoiding this hard debate on the economy but we need to have it. We also need to have a debate promised by the Leader of the House on ministerial expenses and on the excesses in terms of the waste of taxpayers’ money that were allowed to happen during the previous decade.
Senator Joe O’Toole: I note the revised programme for Government and offer my congratulations to the Green Party on attempting to add a human, caring element to the hard face of NAMA.
Senator Terry Leyden: It is a joint programme.
Senator Paul Coghlan: The Senator could have fooled us.
Senator Liam Twomey: He was only there for the picture.
An Cathaoirleach: Senator O’Toole to continue without interruption.
Senator Joe O’Toole: The provisions on education have given some hope to schools, parents and young professionals because, even if they did not include a lot, they showed somebody cared. The Government can learn a lesson from this. Concerns were expressed that Fianna Fáil might not play ball or that the Green Party would look a gift horse in the mouth rather than make progress. In the event, it was a master class in negotiation by the two parties.
Senator Donie Cassidy: As a past member of the family, the Senator would know.
Senator Joe O’Toole: We should learn from the experience by moving forward in other ways. A social contract is needed among all groups in society. The Government should give hard leadership by showing what needs to be done and sharing the problems with everyone in society in order to determine what our common objectives should be and agree a way forward. The space outside the gates of Leinster House will command high rents in the coming three months if the Government does not draw together the ordinary people who represent communities, interest groups, professional associations and the unemployed. All of us in the public arena have a responsibility to make that happen rather than leave it to a fight for survival of the fittest. Let us pull the people together to deal collectively with these issues.
Senator Dominic Hannigan: I offer my condolences to the families of the two airmen who tragically lost their lives earlier this week and the family of Stephen Gately on his tragic and untimely death last weekend. Stephen was a source of great pride and inspiration for many and will be sorely missed.
Yesterday a number of us were briefed by the Irish Dental Association on the cutbacks in dental services across the country. Tooth decay is preventable if services are available but because of the recruitment embargo, the crisis in this regard is growing. In County Meath clinics are closing, with the result that children are being denied access to dental treatment. I ask the Leader to impress on the Minister for Health and Children the need to reconsider the recruitment embargo on health professionals in dentistry because otherwise our children will suffer in the long term.
Earlier this week the Minister for Transport, Deputy Noel Dempsey, announced his intention to publish legislation to reduce blood alcohol limits. I commend him on his initiative which I am aware is not universally popular. However, we should consider his record in this area. Prior to the introduction of random breath testing in July 2006, on average there were 32 deaths each month on Irish roads, which figure subsequently fell to 25. Therefore, as a result of the introduction of breath testing, approximately 300 people are walking around towns and villages who would otherwise be dead. We ought to commend the Minister on his bravery and I offer him my support in dealing with the forthcoming legislation. It will not be popular but is needed. It will bring us into line with the rest of Europe and we will enjoy a further reduction in the number of road deaths.
Senator John Carty: I was disappointed to read in a newspaper yesterday that the country had only one paediatric rheumatologist. As a sufferer, I am aware of the pain rheumatoid arthritis can cause and it is damnable that we have only one specialist for the 350 children awaiting a first appointment. We read in the newspapers that additional payments are being given to HSE executives. That money should be put aside to recruit a second rheumatologist in Crumlin Hospital. I do not know how children can bear the pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis. If they are not treated in time, they can suffer lifetime damage due to wasted muscles and deformed bones. I urge the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Health and Children to explain to the House why there is only one paediatric rheumatologist. It is time an additional consultant was recruited. The money spent on benchmarking in the HSE should instead be invested in a proper service for children.
Senator Ciaran Cannon: On 18 June my colleagues and I highlighted the damage the travel tax imposed by the Government in its revised budgetary arrangements would cause to the tourism industry. Many months later the tourism renewal group has finally come around to our opinion. We were criticised in June for rowing in behind the allegedly spurious claims of Michael O’Leary of Ryanair but Aer Lingus, CityJet, the tourism renewal group and the Commission on Taxation have also recommended an immediate review of the travel tax. I suggested at the time that if the boffins and advisers within the Departments of Arts, Sport and Tourism, Transport and Finance wanted to encourage tourism, the last thing they should do was impose a tax on visitors to this country. It is time the decision was reviewed, although I do not have faith that the Government will do so. Even though the Minister for Finance described the VAT increase he introduced as a disaster, he has not yet reviewed his decision, with the result that we continue to forsake a significant amount of tax revenue. In an equally nonsensical response to the request made by the three airlines for a review, the Department of Finance stated that if the tax was discouraging people from coming to Ireland, it should also be accepted that it discouraged people from leaving the country, thereby offsetting in part the impact it might be having on the tourism industry. If that is the wisdom from the Department, I am not surprised it imposed this tax.
Senator Marc MacSharry: I join Senator O’Toole in welcoming the publication of the new programme for Government. While I welcome the changes in the education sector, they will not make the forthcoming budget deliberations any easier. It is welcome that third level fees will not be contemplated because education will become increasingly important as we navigate the difficult years ahead.
Given that it will be some time before the National Asset Management Agency Bill 2009 comes before the Seanad, it would be useful to hold a debate on the business plan for NAMA which was published yesterday. It is a good plan which offers accountability and transparency but we could contribute to the ongoing preparations for NAMA by further examining it.
I ask the Leader to raise with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the embargo on promotions within the Garda Síochána. It has come to my attention that issues have arisen in several divisions on foot of retirements in supervisory ranks. While the number of gardaí is adequate, there are insufficient numbers of sergeants, inspectors and superintendents. I ask that the issue be raised with the Minister.
Senator David Norris: When will the Leader give time to discuss in the House No. 31, motion 34 on the possible relocation of the Abbey Theatre? The Seanad played an important role in this. The idea was first floated here. It was enthusiastically supported by Senator Coghlan and, importantly, by the Leader of the House. Last weekend Senator Cassidy asked to see me and we had a discussion, and as a result of Senator Cassidy’s interventions, it is now part of the programme for Government. This is welcome.
We need this kind of thing in a period of retrenchment. I was contacted over the weekend by a woman whose grandfather fought shoulder to shoulder with Pádraig Pearse and she said that she thought this would be the best memorial to her grandfather and the others. Yesterday’s meeting of the arts committee placed a context in which we can locate this important theatre. I look forward to this being discussed.
I read an article by Mr. Patsy McGarry in The Irish Times about a leading comedian whom I will not name and remarks he made about the Holocaust in Auschwitz. I went back then and read what had been said and thought it was simply unspeakably awful. It was a real obscenity. I do not believe in censorship but this is not pushing the boundaries of comedy at all. It is something about which I, as an Irish man, felt deeply ashamed. Of course, I also deplore the use of the Holocaust for political reasons by the Israeli Government but that does not excuse this kind of thing. I hope the person concerned will find it in his heart to apologise.
My colleague, Senator Hannigan, mentioned the tragic death of Mr. Stephen Gately, whose name was mentioned. Everybody feels sympathy. He was a remarkably talented, decent and nice young man of whom everybody spoke well. I was saddened to note that in all the official condolences I read there was no mention of his partner. He had a legally contracted spouse and it is a pity that nobody found it in his or her heart to express compassion to him, particularly because I remember when the great actor Micheál Mac Liammóir died in the days when homosexual behaviour between males was criminal that the President, Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, walked across and shook hands with the bereaved partner, the late Hilton Edwards, and said, “I am sorry for your trouble, Hilton”. We all knew what that meant. That was the traditional greeting to the bereaved spouse. That was a great day for decency in Ireland and I hope that sympathy can now be extended officially to Mr. Gately’s partner.
Senator Dan Boyle: Noting comments made already by Senators O’Toole, MacSharry and Norris, I ask the Leader that an opportunity be taken in this House to debate formally the newly agreed programme for Government. I lack a certain critical distance from it, but the House and the Oireachtas would benefit from having such an early debate. While it has been presented with some new priorities, it is a document grounded in the sense and reality that we need in the current time.
Senator Paul Coghlan: It would make an interesting debate anyway.
A Senator: It is not grounded in anything.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: Grounded. They could not spell it.
Senator Dan Boyle: If the Leader is so minded, an early opportunity to have such a debate would be to the benefit of both the programme and the House.
Senator Ivana Bacik: I ask the Leader, as I have done many times, for a debate on prisons in light of the disturbing news that the Irish prison population has exceeded 4,000 for the first time ever. According to the Irish Penal Reform Trust, this exceeds safe custody limits. Indeed, one need not be told that by the trust. I urge any Senator who has not already done so to go into Mountjoy Prison, as I have done on many occasions — indeed, I have brought my students from Trinity College — to see the appalling conditions in which we ask people to survive. This is not in any way to excuse or to justify the crimes for which they are in there, but it is brutalising and dehumanising of individual men to place them five or six to a cell built for one or two men and to have them slop out, that is, to perform toilet functions, in front of other people. It is distressing to read that the prison population has exceeded 4,000 because that means Mountjoy Prison is full of overcrowded cells. I ask the Leader for a debate on this.
I also ask for an answer to the question I have asked many times as to what is happening with Thorton Hall. I have spoken against the idea of expanding the number of prison places because we need to look again at sentencing policy and why we are sending so many people to prison for minor non-violent offences. However, we need to see as a matter of urgency reform of prison conditions to ensure prisoners are not living in inhumane conditions. Thornton Hall is McDowell’s folly. It was a plan instituted by former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael McDowell, at a different time, and it should be moth-balled. Instead, we should see a commitment given to reform of the conditions in Mountjoy Prison and I ask the Leader for his answer on that.
I congratulate Senator Norris on his excellent article in The Irish Times today on the potential move of the Abbey Theatre to the GPO and I support his call for a debate on this. It is important we debate it. I fully support the idea that the Abbey Theatre should be relocated there but we need to preserve some sort of working post office function in the GPO because it is important the facade is not closed during the daytime and that on such an important street, the main street in the city centre, there is activity going on there during the daytime if the Abbey Theatre is located there. When we saw Hollywood coming to Leinster House yesterday we should be reminded of the considerable economic benefit of the film industry and the theatre industry.
Senator Terry Leyden: I ask the Leader of the House to have a discussion on the passing of legislation. I am having efforts to have the Registration of Wills Bill 2005, which I brought forward here as a Private Members’ Bill and which was passed by this House, heard in the other House to have it passed into law but I am encountering major resistance from the Law Society, which is doing its utmost to frustrate the passage of this Bill. It is frustrating the will of this House. The Law Society, which has had many difficulties with some of its members recently, is doing its utmost to ensure a registration of wills Bill is not passed by the Oireachtas. The society does not wish to be associated with or work through this system. It prefers to have a situation where all the wills books are held by individual companies. Even in those companies which have been taken over by the Law Society, some of the books have been mislaid and people have been deprived of their rightful inheritance. I demand the Law Society to represent, and solicitors throughout the country should ensure it represents, the good, decent, hard-working solicitors of this country who face enormous challenges and whose liability insurance has increased to €24,000 per member.
Not wishing to anticipate any other Senator’s contribution, the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings has been signed by Ireland but has not been ratified. Another Senator may have other views on that issue.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: I bring a serious matter to the Leader’s attention. Galway Rape Crisis Centre has informed my that men are hanging around direct provision centres and hostels, openly soliciting women and children for trafficking in prostitution. It has further informed me that 20% of its clients seeking counselling following rape and sexual abuse are asylum seekers and refugees. When one considers that less than 1% of Galway’s population comprises asylum seekers and refugees, this is completely disproportionate. I want the Ministers for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Health and Children to commence an immediate investigation into this. Clearly something is wrong here. It costs €27,000 per year to keep an asylum seeker in these direct provision centres. If the social welfare system was used it would probably cost approximately €18,000 only, plus they have no dignity and no privacy. It is not working. I want to prevent the need for another Ryan report in ten years’ time. From the facts I have received, we could be sitting on one, as it were.
I was delighted to see Mr. David McWilliams write in yesterday’s Irish Independent that farming is integral to the smart economy in Ireland. The Government is presiding over the strangulation of farming. When a 110-cow dairy farmer is now on farm assist, it is an outrage. Does the Leader know how difficult it is to qualify for farm assist? It is very difficult. I am receiving calls from farmers who are on the breadline, particularly in Galway and elsewhere in the west where there are disadvantaged categories of land. The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food must see sense. He must be brought into the House.
An Cathaoirleach: Is the Senator seeking a debate on agriculture?
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: We need an urgent debate on the matter. The REPS must be restored. It is co-financed by the European Union and it would make more sense than making payments from the Exchequer in the form of farm assist.
Senator John Hanafin: I ask the Leader for a debate on the economy. If anything demonstrates that this is a small open economy, it must be agriculture, in which we either benefit or suffer from commodity prices set abroad. It is a wholly international scene. There are food surpluses, which means the price of product is being driven downwards.
In the debate on the economy there are many practical aspects we might consider. One is the fact that we have encouraged people, as part of the drive towards a green economy, to build windmills. This has applied particularly to farmers. The repayment schedule for a windmill is 14 years with the current VAT rate. If the rate were changed to reflect the fact that the windmills are an integral part of the business, this would enable a farmer to make a return in less than ten years, making it viable for him or her to go to the bank to look for money to erect a windmill. The average cost is €54,000, a large percentage of which is accounted for by VAT. It would be a practical initiative. In addition, it would help to reduce our CO2 emissions and act as an import substitute, as we would need to buy less foreign oil to generate electricity.
Perhaps in the debate we will also consider other practical measures. Every so often it is timely to consider taxes that do not generate revenue and may actually cost money. In particular, we might consider the VAT rate in comparison to that in Northern Ireland. We might also consider whether there would be merit in removing the €10 tourist tax at airports if it would encourage more people to come to our shores.
Senator Feargal Quinn: I support the call for a regular debate on the economy. Yesterday it was reported in Brussels that the Irish Government had asked EUROSTAT, the European statistical body, to relax its rules on describing government debt. I will explain this. We have seen a tripling of the public debt in recent years. The Government has reportedly asked EUROSTAT not to treat the NAMA debt of perhaps €54 billion as public or government debt. I can understand the reason it is doing this, if it can get away with it. That debt would no longer be government debt, which would give us a better chance of reaching the figures we are supposed to reach. However, it seems very much like a cover-up. If the story is correct, I would like an answer from the Minister as to whether this is what it is hoping to achieve. If so, is it not an attempt to mislead us and the European Union?
On another point of news from yesterday, the US state of Colorado, for the first time ever, has reduced its minimum wage. This was not a decision of the Colorado Government. The minimum wage is linked with inflation and thus will come down in a time of deflation. I mention this because I believe some jobs are not available at certain minimum wage rates. I refer, in particular, to the hospitality sector, in which some jobs are threatened. If we have had deflation, this is perhaps the time to consider whether these jobs could be re-established if we were to consider once again the system by which we establish the minimum wage.
Senator Ann Ormonde: I too would like a debate on the economy, particularly with regard to the points raised by Senator O’Toole about the new programme for Government and the education sector. It is all about second-chance education. One need only watch the television to see the queues every day and evening for new courses. It is important to have co-ordination between the Departments of Education and Science and Enterprise, Trade and Employment because there is looseness and much duplication.
I would welcome a debate on the relocation of the Abbey Theatre to O’Connell Street, which is where it should be located. There is a major block development in one area of O’Connell Street; therefore, this is an ideal opportunity to find a place for the theatre between the GPO and Upper O’Connell Street. There is a whole area that could be developed. It is a magnificent site on which the Abbey Theatre should be located.
It has been mentioned we should have a discussion about the Irish Dental Association, the fees charged by dentists and how they do their business. I would welcome a discussion on all consultants’ fees. A person who spoke to me the other day said he had gone to see a consultant for five minutes and that it had cost him €150. There is something wrong with that at a time like this when we are all considering how we can cut back. Consultants have a golden opportunity to consider their position and how best they can help people, particularly vulnerable persons who may be members of the VHI but still have to pay to visit consultants. For both consultants and dentists, we should compare fees with those charged in other countries. Perhaps we now have an opportunity to open up a discussion on such matters, allowing the professional associations to come and talk to us about them.
Senator Joe O’Reilly: The wrong and brazen acceptance of a €70,000 bonus by Mr. Drumm in the HSE gives rise to my request to the Leader for a debate on the fact that we have, effectively, two Departments of health. We have the Department of Health and Children, a big Department based in Dublin, with a highly expert Civil Service staff whose members attained highly in school to achieve entry, and around the country, under the auspices of the HSE, an alternative health Department with equal or greater numbers employed. I ask the Leader to explain the differences in the jobs done by the two Departments. Could we have a discussion on the considerable waste that results from having a Department of Health and Children, staffed to the brim with the best of people, in Dublin and at the same time an entire Department outside Dublin in the form of the HSE which has a whole system of bonuses, even in a year when there was underperformance?
Senator Eoghan Harris: I commend Senator Norris, the Leader and everyone else associated with the proposal to relocate the Abbey Theatre to O’Connell Street. There is a serendipity, historical and cultural, about such a move. To know there is a cultural resonance about it, we do not have to be reminded of Yeats’s great line:
However, it is also a reminder of the men of 1916, about whose act I have my own reservations but who did not ask anybody to do anything they did not do themselves. They gave us a lesson in moral leadership. We are now facing a time of great choices as we approach the budget. It behoves every party in the House to face up to the fact that to get the public finances under control we will either have to tackle the poorest of the poor or the only class left with any money, the public sector. I accept that the members of the public sector have no moral obligation to carry the can, but, nevertheless, they must step up to the plate. To help them to do this, the political class has an obligation to give the same moral leadership; to lay themselves on the line first. We need a cut in the pay of the political class and to give leadership. It is disturbing to hear the leader of the Labour Party, Deputy Gilmore, has ruled out any cuts in public sector pay, since without them the public finances cannot be brought under control. Therefore, there is an obligation on the leaders of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, the Green Party and other parties to discuss with each other how they can give the moral leadership that the men of 1916 gave. It would be good if Oireachtas Members could leave behind two great monuments from a very grim, sordid and dreary time: the Abbey Theatre in O’Connell Street and a cut in their own pay to give leadership, as the men of 1916 did.
Senator Shane Ross: In light of what Senator Harris said, it was appropriate to hear the comments of Senators Twomey and O’Reilly about the bonus paid to the head of the HSE. It is completely and utterly indefensible at this time. With that in mind, I ask the Leader of the House what is going on in semi-State agencies. A year and a half ago I asked him for a debate on FÁS but he would not take up the baton. Look at what has happened since. I ask him and Fianna Fáil what is happening in the HSE and, particularly, CIE. Can we have a debate on what is happening in CIE? It has emerged that these semi-State and State agencies are independent republics that have run amok.
Senator Paul Coghlan: Absolutely.
Senator Shane Ross: There is no question that they are answerable to a Minister and these Houses but they do not seem to think so. We need a debate on CIE, in particular, because it receives €320 million a year from the taxpayer and I do not have the foggiest notion where that €320 million goes. Neither does anyone else in the House. A report on CIE was published last week and leaked. I have an interest to declare, but the report found there had been collusion on contracts — the word “fraud” was used throughout the document which mentioned the manipulation of contracts and theft. The report, made to the CIE board, was never given to the Minister. It was not even offered to him. We do not know how many millions of euro were lost, but I suggest it will run into double figures. The Minister has now received a copy of the report which CIE, as an independent republic, considered it was better not to give him. Perhaps we could take the lead in this matter rather than burying these issues, as we have in the past, and agree to talk about them because for some reason many State agencies and semi-State bodies appear to be politically protected. That is not acceptable and a way of removing that protection is to debate them openly in the House.
Senator Mary M. White: I do not know if my colleagues think the way I do. Many serious topics have been raised and I am totally frustrated with Members calling for debates on these issues because I find debates in the Seanad farcical. The only time we have robust speeches is on the Order of Business. For God’s sake, will someone try to provide for some form of interactive discussion? We must talk about the economy. The country faces serious problems. Indigenous companies which are trading with Britain are in serious trouble because of the strong euro and it could be said we face bankruptcy. I am bored stiff when we have statements on the economy or poverty. I would love to have a proper discussion on suicide but I am pulling my hair out because I cannot get it onto the political radar. I ask the Cathaoirleach, the Leader and the Whips on all sides to bring this Chamber into the 21st century in order that we can——
Senator Maurice Cummins: On a point of order, the Whips have no input into the ordering of business.
Senator Mary M. White: I am making a serious point. Our reputations are gained as Senators, the Members of the Lower House can look after themselves. My reputation as a politician has been seriously sullied in the last few weeks and I want to see some response. Let us energise this Chamber and not just have debates where the Minister comes in and reads a script. Senator Ross called for a debate on semi-State bodies, while Senator Quinn raised the serious issue of the minimum wage. I hear Members of this House speak on the radio using political jargon, with cheap talk about the minimum wage and labour costs. They need to wake up.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: The Senator should come over and join us. We have a few seats.
Senator Mary M. White: This is not just about the Government, it is also about the trade unions. Will the multinationals stay here when labour costs are so high? We must wake up.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: I have been energised by Senator White’s remarks because she is absolutely right.
Senator Terry Leyden: Senator Buttimer does not need energising.
An Cathaoirleach: The Senator must be heard without interruption.
Senator Terry Leyden: He is a master at it. He is first in the class when it comes to interrupting and I can prove it.
An Cathaoirleach: I will ask the Senator to leave if he keeps that up.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: The people are angry, unhappy and astounded at the latest revelation that the head of the HSE will receive a bonus of €70,000. What is happening? Where is the accountability? Is anyone in charge? I want a debate on accountability in FÁS. The Tánaiste knew nothing, while the Minister for Health and Children is not in control of the HSE and tells us it is not her department. No Minister claims responsibility for the NRA, CIE or tourism. It is time we had answers to questions about who is responsible for the running of Departments and the agencies attached to them.
I also call for a debate on the programme for Government. I am sorry my good friend Senator Boyle is missing because I completely disagree with Senator O’Toole.
An Cathaoirleach: The Senator should not refer to anyone who is not in the Chamber.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: I have said I am sorry he is not here. The programme for Government is not the human, caring face of the Government; it is complete rubbish, a work of fiction aimed at one thing and one thing only, keeping Senator Boyle and the Green Party in government and preserving the life of the Government. I conclude by asking for a debate on what is now being called the three act play of the programme for Government. The negotiation is the beginning of the end, the signing of the agreement is the spin and we will soon have the future, the execution of the Government by the people. The sooner that happens the better.
Senator Paul Coghlan: Sadly, there is trouble in Paradise again. Yesterday pickets were place on the gates of our greatest national park in Killarney by the Muckross jarveys. This matter was before the High Court earlier this year.
Senator Eugene Regan: It is sub judice.
Senator Paul Coghlan: It is not; I am being careful in that regard. The recommendation of the High Court judge was that a mediator or facilitator be appointed. The facilitator has now given up. I have discussed the issue with my Fianna Fáil colleague, Senator Daly, who is also interested in it and we suggest a mediator be appointed instead of a facilitator. There is a subtle difference and both parties would have to engage with him or her. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government should ensure the National Parks and Wildlife Service which is responsible for management of the park allows for full and proper engagement.
Senator Terry Leyden: Why does the Senator not mediate?
Senator Paul Coghlan: Can we also have a debate on banking policy because of the trouble about which we have read this morning? I also call for a debate on the matter to which Senator Ross referred, namely, the scandalous CIE report which the Minister has now received.
Senator Eugene Regan: Senator Feargal Quinn referred to the national debt and how the Government bonds, which will be issued to finance NAMA, will be categorised. It is potentially an issue of false accounting and it brings the national debt back to the bad old days of Charlie Haughey in the early 1980s when the debt was more than 120% of gross national product.
That is a sad reflection on this Government given that the Taoiseach had as one of his objectives the elimination of the national debt. It was also Government policy. It shows how matters have deteriorated and how Government policy has led us to this situation.
I refer to another matter of potential false accounting, namely, the projection of a €5.5 billion profit from NAMA. I appreciate the Minister for Finance wants to put the best possible gloss on this operation——
Senator Liam Twomey: Spin.
Senator Eugene Regan: ——in particular to ensure the legislation is passed by the Houses of the Oireachtas and wins the support of the Green Party and the Independents. On the basis of the figure of €5.5 billion, the different assumptions made in terms of interest rates, recovery of property values and the development of the economy, the risks inherent in these calculations are self-evident at this point when one considers the value of one of the assets which will come within the responsibility of NAMA, namely, the Irish glass bottle site which has been reduced in value by 85%. These are the types of loans NAMA is taking on.
While the Minister has a political objective to put a gloss on this, is he falsifying the accounts in this way to avoid the strictures of EU state aid rules being applied to NAMA because of the inherent and significant subsidy to the Irish banking sector? Will the Leader address that specific question?
Senator Maurice Cummins: I join with Senator Ivana Bacik in calling for a debate on the Irish Prison Service. The number of prisoners in Irish jails has exceeded 4,000 for the first time. That does not include 500 prisoners on temporary release to ease overcrowding in jails.
The inspector of prisons, Judge Michael Reilly, stated that lives are being put at undue risk due to chronic overcrowding. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform needs to come to the House to explain what he intends to do to ease the overcrowding. What is the situation in regard to Thornton Hall? Is it moth-balled or no longer going ahead?
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform needs to come to the House to explain what he intends to do to deal with the chronic overcrowding in our jails.
Senator Paschal Donohoe: I join with my colleagues in calling for a debate on the revised programme for Government. It is essential we have such a debate because our country is broke and we are borrowing €400 million per week to stay afloat. We face the prospect of 500,000 people unemployed and negative equity becoming a reality for tens of thousands of homes. This programme for Government is grounded in the desire to stay in office for as long as possible.
I want the following questions answered in the debate which I ask the Leader to organise. How much money will this new programme for Government cost? We spent the first half of this year in convulsions because we had no money to spend but suddenly over a weekend money was found out of nowhere to do all that is in the programme. How will that enable us to lead our country through the harsh decisions which must be made in order for us to survive and for my children not to face the prospect of emigration which I, and my predecessors, faced?
From where will the money for this programme come? What taxes will increase? What will be cut? If those questions are not answered, the programme for Government is not only fiction but will set us back because it will add to the perception that this Government and those around it will do whatever is needed to stay in office for as long as possible.
Senator Rónán Mullen: I call for a debate on how we will prioritise cuts. I am sure I am like most Members in that I have met many groups which have asked for meetings because they are scared to death of what is proposed in the McCarthy report. I am embarrassed to say to them that the Seanad has not even discussed the report. Will the Leader organise a rolling debate on it because many good organisations are concerned about what will happen to the good work they do?
I met the Western Development Commission yesterday and today I note that Inclusion Ireland has made the very valid point that there must be no cuts in frontline services to people with disabilities and in the rates of social welfare payments to carers. There are many such groups and it is impossible to know what to say to them.
What Senator Eoghan Harris said is absolutely right. There is a crying need for leadership in this country. The top earners and those who have resources at their disposal must lead from the front. We will have to go where we would rather not go. That is the only way we will assuage the anger of many good people in this country.
Last week I believe Senator David Norris spoke about hearing the sound of the tumbrils in the streets. There is considerable anger. It is not only those who are looking for a row who are angry but it is good people who feel they have been done a massive disservice by the political class. The only way to lance that boil and prevent further social discord is for the political class, whether elected representatives or those in receipt of bonuses of various kinds, to start to show serious leadership. Then and only then can we even begin to contemplate cuts to services which are vital to the more needy in our society.
Senator John Paul Phelan: I join with Senators who have called for a discussion on the economy and, as Senator Rónán Mullen suggested, the McCarthy report. I also agree with my colleague, Senator Fidelma Healy Eames, who called for a debate on agriculture, especially in light of the fact so many people have lost jobs in the construction sector and are looking towards agriculture, at which they did not look for a number of years, for a viable future. That viable future does not seem to exist. The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has not come to the House for a debate and he has been correctly the subject of much criticism recently because of the savage cutbacks delivered by the Government on agriculture and the rural community.
Will the Leader arrange a discussion with the Minister for Education and Science or the Minister for Transport, whoever is directly responsible for school transport? Last year or the previous one, the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Haughey, gave a commitment that the catchment area boundaries would be revisited. They were established in the late 1950s to early 1960s. There have been significant cutbacks in funding for school transport, and there will be more. In my region, the south east, funding has been cut by almost one third this year alone. If catchment areas were updated, the Government might save more money in outlay and deliver a service for families and children who cannot get to the schools they attend because of the outdated catchment area boundaries drawn up in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I urge the Leader, as a matter of urgency, to ensure this issue is covered in advance of the budget.
An Cathaoirleach: The time for contributions is up. I apologise to the five Members who have not been able to make their contributions. I tried to take people who indicated early on the Order of Business ahead of those who came in later.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senators Twomey, O’Toole and Hannigan expressed their condolences on the death of the two serving members of the Defence Forces who lost their lives in that horrific air crash. I join with them and on behalf of the House send our condolences to the families of these two lovely young men with so much to offer our country whose lives have been cut off in their early years.
I also want to be associated with the condolences expressed on the death of Stephen Gately. He was a talented individual who had achieved much. I sympathise with the boys from Boyzone, his family, his partner, Louis Walsh and everyone in the world of entertainment who knew him. The world of entertainment is a small family, but it is a tremendous ambassador for our country. The success we have had per capita in this area over the years is the highest in the world.
I too hope, pray and wish that Fr. Michael Sinnott will be released at the earliest possible time.
Many Senators called for a debate on the economy, including Senators Twomey, O’Toole, Hannigan, MacSharry, Boyle, Hanafin, Quinn, Ormonde, Harris, Mary White, John Paul Phelan, Mullen, Donohoe and O’Regan. I have no difficulty with a debate on this issue and I welcome the programme for Government. I understand the disappointment on the Opposition benches at the prospect of another two and a half years and the progress that has been and can be made.
Senator Paudie Coffey: The disappointment of the people.
Senator Donie Cassidy: In the national interest, the last thing the country wanted was a botched put together general election.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: The Leader is out of touch, just like the Government.
An Cathaoirleach: The Leader, without interruption.
Senator Donie Cassidy: I fully understand and take into account when making my replies that 35% of the 60 Members of the Seanad are new Members.
Senator Paudie Coffey: We are around a while, all the same.
Senator Donie Cassidy: This is something with which we must be patient, but they too will have the experience and how uplifting it will be for the House when that happens.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: I hope the Leader is right.
An Cathaoirleach: Please allow the Leader to reply.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senator Hannigan raised the matter of the recruitment of professionals. I will make his strong views known to the Minister. I will also pass the Senator’s views on to the Minister for Transport, Deputy Noel Dempsey, our colleague in our constituency, with regard to his achievements in his portfolio. The Minister will be in the House later this morning with the Public Transport Regulation Bill.
Senators Carty and O’Reilly outlined to the House the serious situation faced by 350 children and many sufferers who are on waiting lists. This is unacceptable, particularly if patients are in pain that may affect them for the rest of their lives. We will have the Minister for Health and Children in the House within the next two to three weeks so that we can deal with all requests regarding the health portfolio. We know the Minister is very forthright and in touch with her portfolio. From a statistical point of view, the House has been kept well informed during the period of her Ministry on the up-to-date situation. I know many Members are extremely concerned about the budget and the spending of €16 billion in the health portfolio. The Minister will be in the House within the next two to three weeks and we will have an open-ended discussion then on the health portfolio.
Senator Cannon raised the issue of travel tax and the views of the Commission on Taxation on that and on the importance of tourism. In the bad old days from 1983 to 1987 we were paying 65% income tax and a health levy. Hopefully, we will not return to those days. We must use the experience of those of us who were here at the time and in the other House to ensure that one of the three planks that brought the economy to the Celtic tiger days, namely tourism, has all the friends it can get. I agree with Senator Cannon on this matter and will organise a debate with the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism in the next few weeks so we can see what we can do to help an industry under siege, whether from bankers or developers. The tourism industry faces a serious challenge no-one could have foreseen as a result of the situation in which banks and builders have found themselves.
Senator MacSharry outlined to the House his concern with regard to the embargo on promotion in the Garda Síochána. I will pass on his strong views. Many other Senators have spoken to me about this and I fully support Senator MacSharry’s call for a debate. We will see what we can do and also have a debate on justice and all that pertains to prisons, as required by Senators Cummins and Bacik who have concerns with regard to prison services and Thornton Hall. I understand some 500 new prison spaces are being opened this year. The Minister was in Castlerea a few weeks ago where he opened a new facility. That said, our population has increased by 1 million and all areas and Departments are under pressure due, on the one hand, to this success and on the other, to scarce resources at a time of global downturn. I will ensure a debate takes place on prison services, promotion in the Garda Síochána and other issues raised in this regard this morning.
Senators Norris, Bacik, Ormonde and Harris welcomed the announcement in the programme for Government of the relocation of the Abbey Theatre to the GPO site, particularly with regard to commemorating the men and women who gave their lives in 1916 and the centenary celebrations. I assure the House that I worked hard to have this happen last week. I thank Senator Norris and other colleagues for the support they gave me so this could take place. There is never a wrong time to do the right thing. This would be something of which the people could be proud and we could all say we played our part in having it included in the programme for Government.
Senators Hanafin and Healy Eames called for a debate on agriculture and the challenges facing farmers. I will organise a debate with the Minister. I will also organise a debate on the green energy aspect, including on wind turbines. Senator Hanafin suggested the cost of green energy could be a serious deterrent due to VAT and the cost of setting up wind farms. Repayments could take 14 years, but if VAT was not included repayments would only take ten years. Wind energy could generate an alternative income for our farming community. Being an island nation, we should be an exporter of energy. What a turnaround that would be for Exchequer returns considering the challenges facing us due to the need to import gas and oil on a daily basis. Senator Leyden sought to be updated on the Government’s position regarding the Registration of Wills Bill and he had particularly strong views as regards the Law Society. The Oireachtas and the Judiciary have always adhered to separation of powers as regards the manner in which they carry out their respective duties. This is a serious statement by Senator Leyden and if what he says is correct, then this must not be allowed to happen. In fairness, it has not happened in the past. I fully support him and I shall seek to update the House in this regard and find out where the Bill is as at as regards the Dáil.
Senator Healy Eames referred to the Galway Rape Crisis Centre and the challenges being faced by the good people there who are trying to assist those unfortunate women who are in need of this service. Perhaps this might be included in Fine Gael Private Members’ time, which is scheduled to arise shortly. We shall see whether it may be debated as a matter of urgency in the next week or two.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: This is a national story.
An Cathaoirleach: No interruptions, please.
Senator Donie Cassidy: There is so much legislation coming before the Seanad including major issues such as agriculture and health that are before the House this morning that I will not have time in the diary from now until Christmas, unless we are to sit on Mondays and Fridays.
Senator John Paul Phelan: We have the most stupid debates.
An Cathaoirleach: No interruptions, please.
Senator Donie Cassidy: We have NAMA and social welfare and a great deal of other legislation coming before the House for our consideration. I am being honest with the Senator having regard for the sincerity in which the call was made on me for time to have this included. I make——
Senator John Paul Phelan: The Leader wants to take the one slot in the week that the Opposition gets.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senator Phelan might take it up with his leader and the Whip on the Fine Gael side.
An Cathaoirleach: The Leader without interruption.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senators Quinn and White spoke about reductions in the minimum wage. In fairness, these are two Senators with their finger on the pulse, given that their record as regards employment creation down through the years, as captains of industry, has been exemplary. The comments by those Senators this morning were not made without careful thought. I shall certainly pass the message onto the Minister as a matter of urgency in relation to the compilation of the budget and what has to be done to sustain employment and keep people in jobs, particularly as regards the leisure and tourism industries.
Senator Ann Ormonde raised the matter of consultants’ fees and called for this matter to be seriously debated. I believe this is a matter for a joint committee of the Oireachtas, to see what can be done. Perhaps we can discuss a short report on this from the joint committee in the Seanad to determine how we shall meet the challenge as regards consultants’ fees. They appear to be very high and under no circumstances have I heard of a consultant reducing his or her fees during this downturn. Senator Harris has already responded as regards the leadership now needed in the country, particularly as regards the men and women of 1916, and everyone in public life. He said we should lead by example as regards the challenges being faced by public servants, who are among the few groups to have jobs at present. We can discuss this during the debate on the economy, which I hope will take place in the next two weeks.
Senators Ross and Buttimer comprise a combination that I have always listened to attentively, as the House knows. They called for a debate on the semi-States, particularly in relation to CIE and the €320 million per annum as well as FÁS and all the other State-owned companies. This is a very good idea and I can confirm to the House that it will take place within the next couple of weeks.
Senator Mary White again highlighted the challenge facing society as regards suicide. I thank Senator White for all she is doing in this regard. Deputy Dan Neville, a former Senator, is doing everything he possibly can also, and I certainly will allow time for this. I shall discuss with the Senator after the Order of Business how this debate might be facilitated. This House should do everything it can as regards this major challenge for society.
Senator Regan raised the matter of the Department of Finance’s forecast of €5.5 billion in relation to NAMA. Everyone knows that the most conservative group of civil servants is the officials in the Department of Finance. If these officials agree there can be a €5.5 billion return on the NAMA challenge that is facing the Government at present, then it quite possibly can be achieved. If the economy recovers within the next couple of years, depending on what is happening in the United States, the UK etc., there will be an opportunity for major benefits for the Exchequer. Because so much property is scheduled to be involved in the setting up of NAMA, it has to be done on a structured basis. All of it cannot hit the marketplace at the one time. It is strongly believed in the business community that about 70% of all the holdings which are in difficulty because of the lack of demand may in some way or other still be taken on by the innovators, creators and risk takers who set them up in the first place. If such people were completely taken out of the equation and not allowed to participate and continue to employ the thousands they have employed over the years, there would be very few entrepreneurs left. The primary challenge facing the Government is to get funds into circulation. No one is lending money at present for people who want to buy cars, houses or anything else. I have no difficulty in arranging for a debate in relation to NAMA or banking, as has been requested.
Senator Coghlan raised the issue of Killarney and Muckross national park——
Senator Paul Coghlan: It is Killarney National Park.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Again, the Senator can take that matter up in Private Members’ time and get the up-to-date position.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: Giddy up, giddy up.
Senator Liam Twomey: Ask Deputy John O’Donoghue——
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senator John Paul Phelan called for a debate on school transport and catchment areas. I certainly shall request a debate and ask for the Minister of State with responsibility for this area, Deputy Seán Haughey, to update the House on the matter.
Question put: “That the Order of Business be agreed to.”
The Seanad divided: Tá, 29; Níl, 19.
|Boyle, Dan.||Brady, Martin.|
|Butler, Larry.||Callely, Ivor.|
|Carty, John.||Cassidy, Donie.|
|Corrigan, Maria.||Daly, Mark.|
|de Búrca, Déirdre.||Ellis, John.|
|Feeney, Geraldine.||Glynn, Camillus.|
|Hanafin, John.||Keaveney, Cecilia.|
|Leyden, Terry.||MacSharry, Marc.|
|McDonald, Lisa.||Mullen, Rónán.|
|Ó Domhnaill, Brian.||Ó Murchú, Labhrás.|
|O’Brien, Francis.||O’Malley, Fiona.|
|O’Sullivan, Ned.||Ormonde, Ann.|
|Phelan, Kieran.||Quinn, Feargal.|
|Walsh, Jim.||White, Mary M.|
|Bacik, Ivana.||Bradford, Paul.|
|Burke, Paddy.||Buttimer, Jerry.|
|Cannon, Ciaran.||Coffey, Paudie.|
|Coghlan, Paul.||Cummins, Maurice.|
|Donohoe, Paschal.||Hannigan, Dominic.|
|Healy Eames, Fidelma.||Norris, David.|
|O’Reilly, Joe.||O’Toole, Joe.|
|Phelan, John Paul.||Regan, Eugene.|
|Ross, Shane.||Ryan, Brendan.|
Tellers: Tá, Senators Camillus Glynn and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Maurice Cummins and Liam Twomey.
Question declared carried.
Senator Donie Cassidy: I move:
Question put and agreed to.
Senator Donie Cassidy: I move:
Question put and agreed to.
Senator Donie Cassidy: I move:
Question put and agreed to.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I welcome the Minister for Transport, Deputy Noel Dempsey. Before we commence, I remind Senators that on Report Stage a Senator may speak only once, except the proposer of an amendment who may reply to the discussion on the amendment. Also on Report Stage each amendment must be seconded.
Senator Brendan Ryan: I move amendment No. 1:
I welcome the Minister. We missed him the previous day because the Minister of State did not give us any leeway on our amendments. We hope for better things today.
In considering an application for a licence the adoption of the amendment would ensure the authority “shall have regard to the desirability of ensuring that operators of public bus services are not treated less favourably than operators of private bus services”. As I indicated on Committee Stage, the amendment does not seek more favourable treatment for operators of public bus services, only that they not be treated less favourably. The rationale for the amendment is that given where we are coming from in terms of the history of public transport, there might be a tendency to favour private operators at this stage. I am interested in hearing the Minister’s response.
Senator Feargal Quinn: The Minister is very welcome. I am pleased that he is present for the debate.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Is anyone seconding the amendment?
Senator Feargal Quinn: No, I am not seconding it.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Is there a seconder for the amendment?
Senator Paschal Donohoe: I second it.
Senator Feargal Quinn: I have a problem with it. I would be happy if it were accepted, but if we do, we should also include something that states the opposite also. The amendment states one “shall have regard to the desirability of ensuring that operators of public bus services are not treated less favourably than operators of private bus services”. I am happy for that to be the case. I do not have a problem with it, as long as we also say the opposite, that one “shall have regard to the desirability of ensuring that operators of private bus services are not treated less favourably than operators of public bus services”. I gather that that is what the proposer has suggested. I do not have a problem with the terms of the amendment as long as one also accepts the corollary. I am sure Senator Ryan is proposing that there be no bias in favour of public or private bus services. Therefore, I do not understand the need for the amendment.
Senator Paschal Donohoe: I welcome the Minister. I am happy to support the amendment. The objective of Senator Ryan and his colleagues is admirable, to create a level playing field and ensure everyone is treated equally. A later amendment to be moved by Senator Ryan states competition must be sustainable and that there must be a degree of regulation. I fully agree with that approach. This amendment is in the same spirit.
It is worth emphasising two points in the discussion. First, I concur with the point made by Senator Quinn. We need to ensure there is parity, that everyone is treated equally, whether they be in the public or private sector. Everyone should be on a level playing field.
When one talks to private bus operators about the reality on the ground, they allege that the situation is at variance with the sentiment underlying the amendment. The majority of bus services are provided by the private sector. Allegations have been made in a number of cases in the past 12 to 18 months about the difficulty encountered with applications for licences to operate on routes and that the process is time consuming. It has been alleged also that if a route is secured by a private bus operator decisions are then made by the public bus operator to undermine the viability of the service.
The objective of delivering a level playing field for everyone, whether they be in the public or private sector, is very important and progress is made towards delivering on it in the Bill. We need to emphasise that both public and private transport operators must be treated equally. One would struggle to reconcile the inference that public companies are being treated less favourably than private companies, given the reality on the ground.
Senator Fiona O’Malley: As I indicated on Committee Stage, I do not agree with the amendment. I do not think any sector, be it public or private, should be selected for special treatment. The intention of the Bill is to ensure everyone is treated equally. It would be wrong to insert words referring to the need to ensure one side is not less favourably treated than another. As Senator Donohoe noted, this would infer that one group is treated differently and, as Senator Quinn pointed out, acceptance of the amendment would require us to insert a provision to protect the other side. If one wishes to protect both sides, why not leave out all such references and assume that everyone seeking a licence will be treated equally under the new regime and have access to a level playing field?
Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey): The primary purpose of the Bill, as several Senators noted, is to try to establish a modern system for the licensing of all commercial public bus passenger services, with the objective of promoting regulated competition in the provision of such services on a national basis and in the national public interest. The main basis of the legislation was the commitment in the 2007 programme for Government to reform bus licensing to facilitate the optimum provision of services by providing a level playing field for all market participants, whereby both public and private bus service providers would be licensed and operate under the same legislative regime. I am satisfied that the provisions of the Bill achieve this level playing field because they do not make any distinction between public and private operators. For this reason, I do not accept that it is either necessary or desirable to insert the words proposed in the amendment or to include a counter-provision, as suggested by Senator Quinn.
The inclusion of the text of the amendment would give the impression that one side was being favoured over the other. The purpose of the Bill is to make clear that we are not leaning towards either side, whether public or private, the playing field is level and the market is open to everybody to participate. The amendment does not find favour with me because it is contrary to the basic concept of the legislation, namely, to provide a level playing field for all parties. For this reason, I ask the Senator to withdraw it.
I apologise to Senators for my absence for the Committee Stage debate. As most people will be aware, I was otherwise engaged last week.
Senator Brendan Ryan: The motivation behind the amendment is to ensure we have a level playing field. The Minister indicated this is already the case. Perhaps the amendment is a statement of the obvious and is not, therefore, necessary. It is motivated by a fear that in the push to open the market to competition, the authority may favour private operators to demonstrate an accelerating pace of deregulation in the transport sector. For this reason, it would not do any harm to make a statement that is clearly desirable.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Does the Minister have anything to add?
Deputy Noel Dempsey: I have addressed the point. While I accept the motivation of the Senator in tabling the amendment, the inclusion of the text would have the opposite effect of that which he and I desire.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Senator Feargal Quinn: I move amendment No. 2:
The amendment proposes to delete the requirement under section 10 for the authority, in considering an application for the grant of a licence, to “take account of the demand or potential demand that exists for the public bus passenger services to which the application refers having regard to the needs of consumers and any existing public bus passenger services on or in the vicinity of the route to be served by the proposed public bus passenger services”. As the section stands, it gives the authority the power to decide whether there is demand for new services on a route. This does not reflect the spirit and ethos of what we are trying to achieve. To encourage risk takers and innovators to establish new services we must allow individuals to decide whether they wish to apply to provide a new service on a route, although the authority should, by all means, take into account whether a new service is required. Ryanair would never have been established if a particular authority had enjoyed the power to decide whether competition was necessary.
Section 10(1)(a) runs counter to the principle of competition. If our objective is to encourage people to take risks, we should allow those considering whether to invest in a service to decide whether it offers opportunities. The authority should not be in a position to decide whether to take demand into account. That decision should be left to individual entrepreneurs and risk takers who wish to establish a service. If, ultimately, the service fails, the risk taker will lose the investment.
Senator Paschal Donohoe: I second the amendment.
I strongly concur with Senator Quinn. We are striving to create an environment in which a choice of public transport is provided to passengers at the lowest possible cost. To achieve this objective we need a greater variety of providers operating on a firmer statutory footing. The amendment proposes to give individuals the power to decide whether a route is viable and commence a new service. If there is insufficient demand in the marketplace, the service will fail.
The other criteria by which tenders will be evaluated make clear that, in the case of applications to provide a service on an unprofitable route being served by Dublin Bus or a private company, the authority may decide not to grant a licence on the grounds that permitting a new service could give rise to predatory practices and so forth. This amendment will result in enhanced capacity and encourage risk taking.
Senator Fiona O’Malley: I have a certain sympathy with the amendment because in an entrepreneurial society such as this we should give people freedom to take risks. In what other professions is a regulatory mechanism in place to save people from their own desire to provide a service? We should not tell people not to enter a market lest they fail to make money. If possible, legislation should not be prescriptive.
Senator Quinn raises a valid point in asking why people should be required to tie themselves in knots to prove a service is viable. Given that customers will follow the market, services which operate at a loss will be withdrawn. The market should be allowed to dictate and we should not place obstacles in the path of those who seek to provide services.
As Senator Donohoe noted, we need a cost-effective as opposed to a cheap solution. The State needs to be in a position to get the best value for money and does not necessarily need to be the provider of all the bus services. That is why, where there are people who are willing to provide the services, we should encourage them and not put difficult obstacles in their way.
Senator Brendan Ryan: We will not be supporting this amendment. Section 10(1)(a) is a very important element of the Bill and while we might very well support the Bill, if the wording were to be deleted we might find we could not support it. Section 10(1)(a) states “having regard to the needs of consumers and any existing public bus passenger services on or in the vicinity of the route”. We are not looking for a free-for-all. We are looking for a regulated market. With reference to where we have come from, we have PSO obligations for various routes. Within that there are loss-making and profit-making routes, or a combination of both. In some cases some existing operators are getting by because there is a profitable element to their businesses as well as a PSO or an unprofitable element of a route. It is very important this is considered in the issuing of licences. We will not support this amendment and I ask the Minister not to accept it.
Deputy Noel Dempsey: When discussing this amendment it is important that we remember two things are in play, namely, competition and the consumer and commercial interests and the consumer. In some cases, despite what people might think, commercial interests do not always favour or take decisions on the basis of the good of the consumer. We are discussing, as Senator Ryan said, consumers who may not be very lucrative for the private sector to become involved with. There are PSOs and so on. The provision of services is not a simple, straightforward line. As I outlined during the debate on amendment No. 1, the primary purpose of this Bill is to try to establish a modern system of licensing of commercial public bus passenger services, with the objective of promoting regulated competition — I strongly believe regulated competition is the way we should go. We are doing it in the public interest, as well as in the interest of promoting integrated, well-functioning, cost-efficient public passenger transport services.
The main aim of section 10 is to establish the framework for the consideration of applications for bus route licences by the authority. The consideration of such applications has to be pursued having regard to the general objectives of the authority, which are provided for in section 10 of the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008, which is updated in section 29 of this Bill. Subsection 1(a) provides that in the case of applications for all licences, the demand or potential demand for the proposed bus service, having regard to the needs of consumers, must be taken into account. There is a balance between the interests of consumers and service providers. The interests of consumers are being placed at the centre of the consideration of the process for licences and the demand test is established as having specific regard to those particular needs.
Senator Quinn argued that there is no need for the retention of subsection 1(a) in a competitive bus market where it is a matter for individual bus operators to apply for licences based on their perception of the market and having regard to commercial decisions. On the original point I made, there is no guarantee that such commercial decisions will be made in the interests of consumers in all cases, which is an important point. The incorporation of this requirement regarding the consideration of all applications for licences will ensure there is a balance between the interests of the operators and consumers, and that the interests of the operators will not take precedence over the interests of consumers.
I share the sympathy Senator O’Malley expressed towards Senator Quinn’s amendment to a certain extent. However, we are regulating a bus market. It may prove the case that there is no need to invoke this section at any stage in the Dublin bus market, but we are not dealing with the Dublin bus market alone. The characteristics of and demand for urban, rural, intercity and provincial bus services are very different and fundamental considerations could be different in each case. The criteria which may be applied for the licensing of services have to reflect the fundamental differences across the different types of service and the incorporation of demand tests which are targeted at each generic service should be a fundamental feature of any consideration of applications. That is what we are attempting to do in section 10. I am satisfied that the particular provisions concerned are such that they afford sufficient flexibility and discretion to the authority in its consideration of bus licence applications, something everybody in the House seems to have accepted, while reinforcing the central aims and the consumer-focused policy which underlines the provisions of the Bill generally. Accordingly, I do not propose to accept the amendment.
Senator Feargal Quinn: I am sure to the Minister I sound like an out-and-out capitalist who has no interest in what is happening here. I am in favour of the Bill and I am attempting to improve it. There is regulation and a need for regulation. My father told me that, many years before I was around, when there was no regulation of the bus service in Dublin, battles went on for different bus services on the same route. From the customer’s point of view it sounded like a wonderful solution because those who gave the best service got the business and survived and those who gave bad service did not.
Anybody who does not take the consumer’s interests into account will not survive or be able to succeed. When the Minister refers to the public interest, it is best served by a form of competition and regulated competition. I do not believe this Bill is the correct way to go. If one is applying for a licence, it should not be up to the authority to make the decision whether to accept an application for a licence. It may well turn it down, but it is up to the investor, the creator of the service or the entrepreneur to decide whether it is in the best interests of the consumer because a service will not survive if it is not in the best interests of the consumer. I urge the Minister to accept the amendment but I understand his point and will not push it.
Deputy Noel Dempsey: In case anything I said implied the contrary, I understand exactly where the Senator is coming from. I did not mean to imply that he was an unmitigated capitalist or whatever else, although I do not think he would have any objection to that name in other areas. Demand or potential demand is a test against which all applications can be considered. To a certain extent, there may seem to be a presumption of refusal in most cases, but that is not the case here. Where there is a refusal, the person who applies for the licence will have an opportunity, under subsection (6), to contest it. We focused on whether the authority grants a licence, but the authority must have the capacity to ensure services address consumer needs in other ways. In other words, we do not want to have a situation such as the one mentioned where two bus services that operate from the one point would do so at the same time, having regard to the congestion that would entail. Consumer needs also have to be addressed.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Senator Brendan Ryan: I move amendment No. 3:
This amendment seeks to take account of the protection of the integrity of the national urban and local bus network. The motivation for tabling it is to prevent cherry-picking of profitable routes and leaving all the loss-making and more troublesome routes to State companies. This amendment is an important statement of intent which would improve the legislation.
Amendment No. 4 seeks to amend section 10(1)(b)(i), which relates to the need to provide a well-functioning, attractive, competitive, integrated and safe public transport system of services and networks for all users. We are focusing on the description of a competitive system in that paragraph. It should be not only competitive but sustainable. Consequently, we seek to amend the section to ensure the system is sustainably competitive. A statement that competition is regulated is a statement of fact, which does not take in any way from the provision. Given that ensuring the sustainability of the system is such an important element, I ask the Minister to accept this amendment and amendment No. 4.
Senator Paschal Donohoe: I second amendment No. 3.
In regard to amendment No. 4, on which Senator Ryan has spoken, I agreed earlier with the objective of creating a regulated and sustainably competitive market, to which this amendment refers, but the intent driving my support for an amendment such as this is radically different, I suspect, from that of Senator Ryan. I have two reasons for opposing this Bill, the second of which I will deal with later. Section 52 of the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008, to which this Bill relates, has too much influence and still does not create the diversity and competition that is needed.
When preparing for this debate, I checked what the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, said in response to Committee Stage amendments last week. He acknowledged that section 52 is a pivotal section of the 2008 Act and outlined why that is the case. He said it provides for the continued provision of existing public bus and rail passenger services. He went on to say that “To facilitate the making of the contracts in respect of the public bus services, the section [section 52 of the 2008 Act] establishes that Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann have exclusive rights to continue to operate their current funded services, subject to the granting of bus licences under the Road Transport Act 1932 and future legislative changes”. My simple question is why are we not using this Bill to make those legislative changes now?
Senator Ross referred on the Order of Business to a report that was discussed over the weekend. He made the point that public transport providers in Ireland receive approximately €300 million of taxpayers’ money. We do not have such money any more. We are borrowing €400 million per week. That is the reality with which we are battling. Why are we not using the opportunity presented by this Bill to ensure that as much value as possible is extracted from the money that is being spent? People who want to enter this market should be allowed to do so as quickly as possible and in a regulated manner to ensure that people who provide routes that are socially important are not the subject of practice that is not acceptable. We must ensure that an environment is created to allow people who have good ideas to compete for tenders that otherwise would be exclusively awarded to one company.
We were told last week that all of this is subject to future legislative changes. We have been operating on the basis of the 1932 Act for 77 years. Why are we not using the opportunity presented by this Bill to create a truly competitive and regulated environment?
When I was preparing for the Second Stage debate on this Bill, I checked the approach being taken by Transport for London. I pointed out to the Minister on Second Stage that it is producing reliability figures every quarter on how its different operators are performing, how many miles they are losing, if they are performing on time and if they are delivering on their contracts. We are a long way from having a similar environment here. The reason that environment is in place in London is that other operators want the business and are trying to get it. Why are we not using this Bill to move to that kind of environment where there is genuine competition and regulation, which ensures that operators deliver the best possible value for taxpayers’ money?
Senator Fiona O’Malley: I disagree with amendment No. 4. To a certain extent there is an element of tautology in having sustainable competition. In a competitive environment only the strongest survive, regardless of whether they are the best people to provide the best service, as Senator Quinn mentioned. We do not need to tie down the provision by including this amendment. The wording as it stands is clearer and better. To propose that a system is sustainably competitive is overdoing it. Such a term is overly descriptive and the existing wording suffices.
Senator Brendan Ryan: Presumably the Senator does not have a difficulty with the notion of sustainability.
Senator Fiona O’Malley: No but the inclusion of the term here is not necessary. It is a tautology in so far as competition will sustain those who provide the best service. That is why it is not necessary to insert the term here.
Senator Donohoe referred to section 52 of the Dublin Transport Authority Act. If we are to provide or renew existing licences, it will involve considerable public subsidy and in a five-year timeframe it would involve approximately €1 billion. That is a great deal of money and the Senator made the point that we do not have that kind of money to spend again. The screening regulatory impact analysis the Department provided for the Bill states the Department of Finance did not have much to comment on the Bill but, as Senator Donohoe pointed out, the Bill promises, if that is the right word, €1.4 billion of public subsidy to existing practitioners. The Senator pointed out that these are straitened times. We need to know that any money the Department is allocated to provide services to people is spent exactly where it is needed, namely, directly on routes that are not profit-making.
It is not clear where the subsidy is required. I was alarmed to see a sightseeing bus operated by Dublin Bus carrying the logo of the national development plan. It would be fair to assume we are subsidising sightseeing tours, which is not an appropriate use of public moneys. Given that private operators also provide sightseeing services, why should we put a public company in competition with them? I cannot see where the public service obligation arises in that instance.
We are about to exclude more than 70% of the bus fleet from public subsidies. The fleet operated by Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann is minute compared with the 6,600 private buses in the country. Is it wise to exclude them? I am surprised the Department of Finance had nothing to say regarding the regulatory impact analysis and I ask the Minister to comment on it.
I may have diverged from the amendments but I wished to respond to the points raised by Senator Donohoe on section 52.
Deputy Noel Dempsey: I will address the amendments before responding to the additional matters raised by Senators. The section establishes general provisions informing the consideration of applications for bus licences by the authority. Section 10(1)(b) sets out a range of matters which the authority may consider, having regard to the category of licence in respect of which an application has been made. In the case of certain categories, the consideration of any or all of these matters may not be warranted. This is a further example of the flexibility among types of services to which I referred earlier.
It is not entirely clear to me what is meant by the phrase “national urban and local bus network” in amendment No. 3. I presume it refers to the existing network of subvented services provided by Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus. The authority is already empowered to consider the impact of bus licence applications on such services where it deems it appropriate, having regard to the provisions of section 10(1)(b)(iii). I am satisfied that the provisions of section 10, combined with the structures established in section 52 of the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 for direct award contracts, offer adequate protection for the integrity of bus networks. For that reason, I do not accept amendment No. 3.
Regarding amendment No. 4, section 10 of the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008, as substituted by the amendment in section 28(1)(c) of the Bill, sets out the overarching principles for the authority and includes the objective of regulated competition in the provision of licensed public bus passenger services in the public interest. That objective is further developed by the provisions of section 10(1)(b)(i) of the Bill, which recognises the need to provide a functional, attractive, competitive, integrated and safe public transport system for all users. Section 10(1)(b)(v) refers to the national spatial strategy. I do not think these provisions would be enhanced by the addition of the wording proposed in amendment No. 4. In particular, the deletion of the word “competitive” at a time when national competitiveness is to the forefront of economic policy would send out a negative signal.
It is important to ensure the PSO contracts to which Senators O’Malley and Donohoe referred will be transparent. I understand they will be subjected to freedom of information requirements. They have to set out the service requirements from the companies in receipt of PSO subventions. All new PSO services will have to be tendered in open competitions and direct award contracts will be subject to a series of review provisions in this Bill and the Dublin Transport Authority Act. It is not the case that a blank cheque will be signed for five years. The figures on how the contracts are delivered will be available to everybody.
In the case of direct award public service contracts for transport by rail, the competent authority shall make public the following information within one year of granting the award: the name of the company and its ownership if appropriate; the name of the party or parties exercising legal control; the duration of the public service contract; a description of the passenger transport services to be performed; the amount of money paid in financial compensation; quality targets, such as punctuality and reliability, and the rewards and penalties applicable; and conditions pertaining to essential assets.
In regard to Senator O’Malley’s specific question on Dublin Bus sightseeing tours, these are not and cannot be subsidised. The routes on which PSO subsidies can be used are set out in the contracts.
Senator Fiona O’Malley: Does the Minister know that as a fact?
Deputy Noel Dempsey: I cannot know it as a fact but it will be made clearer in this Bill and the authority will be able to investigate behind the figures. I accept there are difficulties at present in going behind the figures because of the expertise required. However, this Bill will allow that to happen and because it is a much more transparent contract system, it will make it easier to know that the taxpayers’ money is being spent in accordance with the contract and that those who have the contracts are meeting the targets they have set out for themselves.
In response to Senator Donohoe on section 52, this is the future legislative change to which we are referring. The kind of things the Senator is looking for and referring to are contained in this Bill. That was the intent of ensuring that one Bill was not contradicting the other. This is the Bill that does the kind of things he wants.
Senator Brendan Ryan: On amendment No. 3, the Minister’s assumption of our intent in the case of the network is correct. I do not wish to say anything further on that one.
On amendment No. 4, the Minister stated it would not be useful to delete the word “competitive”, but the amendment does not seek to delete the word “competitive”. The word “competitive” would remain. In addition, the Minister did not really address the issue of sustainability.
On Senator O’Malley’s comment, it is not necessary always to state everything or the matters that we all assume are there, and many matters are understood. However, sometimes it is important to state the obvious to bring it out front where we do not have to look for it and we do not have to read one subsection in conjunction with two or three other subsections, or to read it in conjunction with previous legislation. Sometimes it is important to be upfront with some matters. In the case of sustainability, it is important to be upfront and state that sustainability is important. Let us have it stated clearly in the legislation.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 4 not moved.
Senator Brendan Ryan: I move amendment No. 5:
This amendment is about the authority. It recommends that the authority shall invite and consider submissions from any local authority whose functional area includes a place to which the application relates and also that it would become a reserved function. In becoming a reserved function, it would have to go before the elected representatives. It ensures applications for bus routes are considered by local representatives in the local authorities.
In response to this amendment which we tabled on Committee Stage, the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, responded that the Bill, under section 10(2)(b), already gives discretion to the authority to seek submissions and, as such, the Minister is not convinced of the need for such a provision because it might cause unnecessary delays and might not apply to one-off applications. However, it is my party’s view that the amendment would strengthen the Bill, is appropriate and would increase the democratic process in all of these matters.
Senator Paschal Donohoe: I second the amendment.
Deputy Noel Dempsey: Senator Ryan has done a good job of putting forward his own proposal and giving my answer to it. He summarised the arguments succinctly and I do not propose to go back over them. I certainly would not favour the idea of this being a reserved function of the members of a local authority because that would be a recipe for all sorts of vested interests preventing any licences being issued.
On the points Senator Ryan made on the section being wide enough to allow a local authority to make its views known, I will undertake for the Senator to have a look at this again to see whether I can accommodate the views in some way but I do not want to give a false impression that I will open this up to make it a reserved function. In the other House I will consider something that might put in the words “including a local authority” or something like that because it will not defeat the purpose of the Bill. As I stated, I would have my face set against any procedure where the members of a local authority would be able to delay an application for a bus licence ad infinitum because that would defeat the purpose of the Bill.
Senator Brendan Ryan: I thank the Minister for his response. On the basis that he has agreed to give some consideration to the issue without any commitment, I do not intend to push the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 are related and can be taken together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Senator Paschal Donohoe: I move amendment No. 6:
These amendments refer to the section of the Bill that describes how licences granted should be displayed and also refers to the section of the Bill which states that the timetables, which shall form part of the contract to which the Minister referred earlier, shall be displayed.
Both amendments seek to change the wording from “may” to “shall”. The reason this was rejected in the debate last week was the Minister of State made the point that where one was to grant a licence for a temporary period, it would be onerous to suggest that such licence needs to be continually on display and the example given was a vehicle provided for the ploughing championships. I do not accept that. The Minister spoke earlier about the need for a review of contracts to ensure the conditions upon which the contracts are granted are being met. The most powerful way in which we can do that is by informing the public of what its expectation should be of a service. Having clearly and publicly on display the arrival time of the service and what the service should be allows the public to understand what it should expect and whether that service is being provided.
On my point on whether a licence should be on public display, I cannot understand why there would be a difficult in mandating that such licence should be on display. I hope this Bill will make progress in allowing a significant number of such licences to be granted and ensuring those licences are provided for legitimate reasons. Why should we not ask the person who wins that licence to have it on display?
There is a simple point to be made here as well. A major complaint made about the taxi industry in the past was that when one got into a vehicle, it was at times difficult and not always as easy as it should be to understand the terms upon which one was getting into the vehicle, who was providing it, etc. It is clear now because a large sticker is on display in each vehicle stating the terms upon which the service is provided and the person who should provide the service so that one may see if that person is providing it, and so on. I argue strongly in the case of this section of the legislation that using the word “may” creates the wriggle room or the expectation at some point in the future that that licence might be provided.
On the information on timetables, if we are looking for a powerful review and to ensuring these licences and contracts are delivered in the way we want, then we should provide passengers with the information they need to allow them to understand whether the service is on time or whether it is turning up with the frequency with which it should.
Senator Brendan Ryan: I second the amendment. My party supports both amendments.
Deputy Noel Dempsey: I do not want to rehash the argument as the Senator has made the case. With regard to timetables, I favour the retention of “may” rather than “shall”, precisely for the reason given by the Senator about one-off events and so on. However, I was just having a conversation — for which I apologise to the Senator — about the licence. The argument being used is that if we say “shall”, the provision becomes very inflexible from the point of view of the operator and perhaps the authority as well.
This is something I will consider further when the Bill goes to the other House. The Senator makes a good point with regard to having the information where people can see it so they can measure, in a sense, what is being delivered against what was licensed. I do not accept that it should be done in all cases with regard to the timetable, but I will certainly consider the issue again. It is important we have the maximum amount of transparency and openness.
Senator Paschal Donohoe: I wish to check something before I proceed. Is it the case that amendment No. 6 pertains to the timetable, while amendment No. 7 pertains to the licence?
Deputy Noel Dempsey: Yes.
Senator Paschal Donohoe: I appreciate the Minister’s response on amendment No. 6. It will make a small but meaningful improvement in the operation of the system. With regard to his comments on No. 7, I take the Minister’s point. It might be slightly prescriptive to say for whoever gets it that the full licence must be on public display. When considering the Bill for the next Stage he might consider mandating some form of panel or sign to be installed in vehicles, as was done for taxis when the changes in the taxi industry were implemented.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 7 not moved.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Amendment No. 8 will be accepted by the Government.
Senator Brendan Ryan: I move amendment No. 8:
It seems the Minister proposes to accept the amendment. I welcome his decision and I have no comment to make beyond the points I made the last day.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Is the amendment being seconded?
Senator Paschal Donohoe: Yes.
Deputy Noel Dempsey: I acknowledge the fact that this arises from discussion in the course of the Committee Stage debate on this section. At that stage it was suggested by Senator Ryan that it had never been the practice to authorise gardaí to prosecute summary offences because they have that authority in common law. The provision was without drafting precedent and accordingly it was proposed that the reference to a member of the Garda Síochána in this section should be removed. Having checked this, the Government allowed this amendment to take account of the point raised by Senator Ryan. I thank the Senator for bringing this to my attention.
Amendment agreed to.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Amendment No. 9 is out of order as it involves a potential charge on the Exchequer. Amendments Nos. 10, 11 and 12 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Senator Paschal Donohoe: I move amendment No. 10:
I suspect the intention of my amendments, Nos. 10, 11 and 12, is exactly what Senator Ryan was seeking to achieve in amendment No. 9 which has been ruled out of order. This goes to the heart of the difficulty I have with this Bill.
If we consider the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 which we debated in the House after its introduction by the Minister, we can see that the major progress made by that Act, leaving aside the work that was done with regard to the licensing of bus and transport services within the greater Dublin area, was to create the capacity to integrate the decisions that are made regarding the planning of land at local authority level with those made on transport planning. For the first time in our history, those two powers were integrated in the greater Dublin area. Probably the single greatest planning mistake in our recent history was the fact that these were not previously integrated. That is why we now find that cars are being used so much more than we want them to be.
My amendments seek to ensure the capacity of the new national transport authority to deliver such integration is exactly the same as that of the Dublin Transport Authority. The Dublin Transport Authority Act provided for these decisions to be integrated by allowing the DTA to become involved in the development of county and city development plans and make observations and recommendations on big planning decisions such as area plans. However, from my reading of this Bill, I believe such provision is not included in this legislation. The Bill will create a two-tier planning environment. In the greater Dublin area the DTA has the ability to make recommendations and observations at the level of county and city development plans and to integrate transport use and planning decisions, but outside the greater Dublin area this will not be the case.
The Minister’s colleague made two points in the debate last week. The first was that the resources might not be available to sustain such powers and the second was that the new national transport authority will have the ability to make observations on and get involved in regional planning guidelines. With regard to the first of these, we are talking about a power I hope will be used only sparingly anyway because I am convinced local and regional authorities throughout the country know more than anyone else the mistakes that were made in planning. This power should not really be used at all if we have got our act together, but the capacity to use it will exist. With regard to the regional planning guidelines, I can speak from my own experience as a member of a local authority. The regional planning guidelines take account of the county and city development plans and local area plans, but the real decisions, which affect the lives and quality of life of the people we are seeking to serve, are made at the level of city and county development plans and local area plans.
These amendments have two broad aims. They aim to give the new body the power the DTA has in these areas but they also flesh this out by providing that the national transport authority would have the capacity to get involved in county and city development plans if it so chose. Otherwise I fear the progress made by the Minister in the last Act, by setting up the DTA and achieving this level of integration, will be weakened because the authority dealing with the rest of the country will not have the same powers.
Deputy Noel Dempsey: The Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 provides that the authority can make inputs at all stages in the preparation and review of the regional planning guidelines, development plans and local area plans within the greater Dublin area. The expanded role that was given to the DTA in respect of those processes reflects the fact the authority is also mandated under the Act to produce a transport strategy, an integrated implementation plan following that strategy and a strategic traffic management plan in respect of that area.
Section 44 of this Bill proposes to give the national authority a role in the making and review of regional planning guidelines outside the greater Dublin area, although it is not proposed to expand the application of the transport strategy and the plans that flow from it to areas outside the GDA.
I mentioned this specifically on Second Stage. I am convinced of the robustness of the case for the establishment of a body to oversee the control and delivery of major transport infrastructure programmes in the greater Dublin area but I do not consider it timely to expand those roles on a national basis. Section 30, however, holds out the prospect of the expansion of the remit of the authority.
It is important the NTA should have a role in the planning process at a national level and I consider regional planning guidelines to be the appropriate level of involvement. Regional planning guidelines are strategic and the requirement that the county and city development plans must be consistent with the guidelines covers this area in a way that was not the case in the past. The NTA will be in a position to ensure the regional authorities incorporate national transport policies and objectives into their regional planning guidelines.
I have had ongoing discussions with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, who was very supportive of the DTA Bill, about this area. On 29 May he presented the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill, which requires development plans to contain mandatory objectives for the promotion of sustainable settlement and transportation strategies. Local authorities must take account, therefore, of transport issues when developing local area plans and development plans. I do not want to debate a Bill that was introduced by another Minister but I fully support the approach he is taking. It will address some of the issues the Senator has raised. That Bill also requires local authorities to follow the guidelines set in the regional plans as regards integrated planning for transport and land use.
This whole area is more properly dealt with in planning and development legislation rather than transport legislation but in the context of the Dublin Transport Authority Bill we had to set down clear markers that are now being followed. We all agree it is how we get to the end that is at issue and that transport policy is an integral part of any planning development in any area, inside or outside of the greater Dublin area. That is being catered for in this Bill, particularly in combination with the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill. For that reason I cannot accept that amendment.
Senator Paschal Donohoe: I thank the Minister for his response, although I am equally convinced that in this case he is wrong. Sometimes the need for this sort of integration tends to be most pressing in areas that have a low density of population. Areas with a high density of population can sustain the necessary transport services and usually have a critical mass to drive further development in the surrounding areas. This Bill would be further strengthened if the capacity that was made available to the DTA was expanded and offered to this body. I understand the Minister’s point but I disagree with it.
Why is the authority not being prescribed to develop a national transport strategy? If the Dublin Transportation Authority has the ability to do that for the Dublin area, why would the national body not have the same facility?
Deputy Noel Dempsey: As the Senator says, we will agree to disagree. I addressed the question he raised about the difference between the powers of the DTA and what we will give to the NTA for areas outside the greater Dublin area but I will do so further at a later date. Because of the urgency of the situation within the greater Dublin area, it is fundamentally different to the expansive countryside the NTA is going to deal with. I will try to ensure the national transport authority will focus on the major issues I want it to focus on immediately. There may be a case at a later stage for expanding those and duplicating the DTA provisions but at this time I prefer to focus attention on other areas.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 not moved.
Question put: “That the Bill, as amended, be received for final consideration.”
The Seanad divided: Tá, 30; Níl, 15.
|Bacik, Ivana.||Boyle, Dan.|
|Brady, Martin.||Butler, Larry.|
|Callely, Ivor.||Carty, John.|
|Cassidy, Donie.||Corrigan, Maria.|
|Daly, Mark.||de Búrca, Déirdre.|
|Ellis, John.||Feeney, Geraldine.|
|Glynn, Camillus.||Hanafin, John.|
|Hannigan, Dominic.||Leyden, Terry.|
|MacSharry, Marc.||McDonald, Lisa.|
|Norris, David.||Ó Domhnaill, Brian.|
|Ó Murchú, Labhrás.||O’Brien, Francis.|
|O’Sullivan, Ned.||O’Toole, Joe.|
|Ormonde, Ann.||Phelan, Kieran.|
|Ryan, Brendan.||Walsh, Jim.|
|White, Mary M.||Wilson, Diarmuid.|
|Bradford, Paul.||Burke, Paddy.|
|Buttimer, Jerry.||Coffey, Paudie.|
|Coghlan, Paul.||Cummins, Maurice.|
|Donohoe, Paschal.||Fitzgerald, Frances.|
|Healy Eames, Fidelma.||Mullen, Rónán.|
|O’Reilly, Joe.||Phelan, John Paul.|
|Regan, Eugene.||Ross, Shane.|
Tellers: Tá, Senators Camillus Glynn and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Maurice Cummins and Paschal Donohoe.
Question declared carried.
Question, “That Fifth Stage be taken now”, put and declared carried.
Question, “That the Bill do now pass”, put and agreed to.
An Cathaoirleach: When is it proposed to sit again?
Senator Donie Cassidy: At 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 21 October 2009.
Senator Dominic Hannigan: On a point of order, why are we not sitting until Wednesday? We generally sit on Tuesday.
An Cathaoirleach: The Leader has informed me the House is adjourned until 2.30 p.m. next Wednesday. Members may discuss the reason for that with the Leader outside of the House.
Senator Shane Ross: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, to the House. I am used to bellyaching here about getting the wrong Minister on a subject and not getting the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. However, considering the matter I am addressing is in the heart of or on the borderline of the Minister of State’s constituency, it is appropriate he is here. A large number of the people who have come to me on the issue live in the heart of his constituency and some of the 400 acres in question are in it also.
The issue concerns the need for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to outline whether he has received a request from Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council regarding a strategic development zone in Cherrywood and the need for him to make a statement on the matter. The residents approached me owing to their alarm that after a discussion at Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, the council has approached the Minister requesting him to rezone 400 acres, a large portion of land, as a strategic development zone. The people are very alarmed by this because the effect of such an order, which may now be on the Minister’s desk, will bar future third party objections. If this is the effect of such an order, it means the democratic planning process lacks popular input, which is important to those affected by this particular plan. I realise the plan may not come to fruition in the next few weeks, months or years. It may well be that commercial development of the sort envisaged will be on the long finger for a very long time. Nevertheless, once the zoning order is made, there is no rowing back and no real democratic process left in which residents can engage.
The Minister of State is aware that the valley in question, the Ballycorus area between Kilternan and the N11, is one of the few rural valleys left in south County Dublin because of the extraordinary outbreak of building of apartments and housing in the area in recent times. On environmental grounds, it would be a very dangerous step to permit this last remaining valley, which has great historical significance, to be developed or, as it appears to some people’s minds, destroyed in some bolt for development which is no longer necessary. I suggest the Minister should make a statement on the status of this particular order, whether he has been asked to make it, whether the local county council has sought it and what his intentions are in its regard.
Another matter has also been brought to my attention, namely, that Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council has already invested in and has ownership of part of the land in question. If that is the case and it has spent between €50 million and €60 million, the question must be asked whether the county council planning authority can be independent in making decisions on the matter in future. If it has a vested interest, we should know what that is. The process should be open and transparent and the Minister, if making an order, should make a judgment on whether the council is an independent body if it has a financial interest in the area.
There is also a question of whether this particular parcel of land is owned by a high profile developer who is already in a fair amount of difficulty because of the property development crisis. Can the Minister of State say whether this is the same developer, what the consequences for such a developer will be and whether this land is likely to be taken over by NAMA or placed in a liquidation pot which is looming in the near future? I ask the Minister of State to enlighten us about this in order that a public discussion may proceed and those residents who are concerned might be reassured that no such order for a strategic development zone is about to be made by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.
Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Barry Andrews): I am taking this Adjournment matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley.
I welcome the opportunity to discuss this topic and outline how key Departments have been working with Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council to progress the development of Cherrywood which represents one of the largest remaining undeveloped land banks in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, consisting of approximately 350 hectares, although some mixed residential and office development has taken place nearby at Loughlinstown. The county council estimates that, over a 15 to 20 year timeframe, Cherrywood has the potential to accommodate a resident population of 32,000, equating to 12,500 residential units, and a working population of 18,000, with 350,000 sq. m of commercial and business units. It can also provide for 140,000 sq. m of general services and retail development. Facilitating substantial development in Cherrywood is consistent with the national spatial strategy which seeks to consolidate such development in or adjacent to the metropolitan area in well-designed and integrated urban environments serviced by public transport. In addition, the regional planning guidelines for the greater Dublin area specifically designate Cherrywood as a moderate growth town within the Dublin metropolitan area.
Having regard to the scale of development envisaged and its strategic planning importance in facilitating the consolidation of the greater Dublin metropolitan area, it is considered that the sustainable development of Cherrywood is of significant economic and social importance to the further growth of the capital. The county council has invested considerable resources in developing a strategic vision for Cherrywood called the draft “Cherrywood Masterplan and the Common Infrastructure Implementation Plan”, based on the creation of a town centre and three village centres, each with an appropriate range of retail, commercial, community and other facilities. The plan sets out the type, location and scale of development envisaged and the way in which the delivery of the required economic and social infrastructure will be provided for. The council has also held consultations with key Departments and delivery agencies regarding, for example, the provision of transport infrastructure such as the extension of the Luas line from Sandyford, the extension of the quality bus corridor network to service the area and the provision of new schools to cater for the planned level growth.
Based on the success of the strategic development zone, SDZ, model in Adamstown in south County Dublin, the county council believes the SDZ mechanism provides the best solution to meeting the challenges in delivering the major servicing infrastructure and creating a sustainable, integrated and well-planned neighbourhood. Experience of the Adamstown SDZ has shown that this designation has proved very advantageous in creating an agreed planning context for development, a certainty and clarity of approach to development, in fostering co-operation between landowners and securing more “buy-in” from public sector agencies such as the Department of Education and Science and Iarnród Éireann. The phasing of the provision of both “hard” and “soft” infrastructure with the completion of new housing have demonstrated best practice which is being emulated elsewhere
The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has had ongoing contacts with the county council on the planning strategy for the Cherrywood area. A formal proposal has been submitted to the Department by the council for the designation of the area as a strategic development zone under Part IX of the 2000 Planning and Development Act. The request is under consideration and a decision on the matter is expected shortly.
Senator Shane Ross: I thank the Minister of State for his reply which I regard as unsatisfactory because it does not give any indication of when a decision will be made. Perhaps he can indicate when a decision will be made and what way the Minister is leaning in that regard. If it is true that a decision of this type can be made, no third party objections can be considered and any development the county council wishes to provide for in this area is eligible. In other words, it can do what it likes without anybody having his or her objections sustained or even considered.
Deputy Barry Andrews: I cannot speak for the Minister about what his view is as regards objections. However, if it is accepted by the county council, the matter will be considered in the same manner as it was dealt with in the case of Adamstown. I must point out to the Senator that Dún Laoghaire is the one part of Ireland that did not experience a population increase in the last ten years. In fact, the population has decreased which caused a reduction in the number of seats in my constituency from five to four, with very harrowing consequences of a personal nature that I do not have to outline. The point is Cherrywood is a place we want to see developed. While I accept as right and proper the Senator’s concerns about the need to ensure there is proper consultation with and input from those affected by the development, it is of such major significance in terms of the potential for growth in the area that designation of a strategic zone would be appropriate. However, I will convey the Senator’s concerns to the Minister.
Senator Shane Ross: Does it mean no third party objections will be considered?
Deputy Barry Andrews: I shall clarify that point for the Senator directly with the Minister.
Senator John Paul Phelan: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Andrews. My Adjournment matter is self-explanatory. My knowledge of fibromyalgia stems from the fact that a very good friend in Kilkenny suffers from this debilitating condition. In fact, a great number of Irish people suffer from it. It is something that causes muscle pain and fatigue in sufferers and not only leads to them enduring prolonged periods of pain but also forces them to be out of work most of the time. The man in question whom I know missed work two days out of five last week because of this debilitating condition. Sufferers are trying to get the Government to acknowledge the condition, as it has been by the World Health Organization since 1992, to ensure they will be in a position to offset some of the associated costs. My friend spends approximately €100 a month on medication. For a family on a modest income that is a considerable amount of money.
I am anxious to hear the Minister of State’s response. I know some consideration was being given within the Department of Health and Children to whether this condition should be recognised. I hope the Minister of State is in a position to give a favourable response.
Deputy Barry Andrews: I am taking this Adjournment matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney.
The long-term illness scheme arose from a non-statutory scheme, established in 1967, to supply free of charge certain products to persons for the treatment of diabetes. A statutory scheme was introduced in 1971 under section 59(3) of the Health Act 1970. It provides that a health board — now the HSE — may make arrangements for the supply without charge of drugs, medicines or medical and surgical appliances to persons suffering from a prescribed disease or disability of a permanent or long-term nature. The conditions which have been prescribed are: mental handicap, mental illness, for people under 16 years only, phenylketonuria, cystic fibrosis, spina bifida, hydrocephalus, diabetes mellitus, diabetes insipidus, haemophilia, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophies, Parkinsonism, conditions arising from thalidomide and acute leukaemia.
From 1971, a separate scheme was introduced to refund the cost of drugs above a certain threshold for non-medical card holders. This evolved into the drugs payment scheme in 1999. Under this scheme, no individual or family unit pays more than €100 per calendar month towards the cost of approved prescribed medicines. The scheme is easy to use and significantly reduces the cost burden for families and individuals incurring ongoing expenditure on medicines.
When the drugs payment scheme was introduced, it was decided to continue the long-term illness scheme for the conditions already covered. The list has not been extended and there are no plans to do so. People who cannot, without undue hardship, arrange for the provision of medical services for themselves and their dependants may be entitled to a medical card. In the assessment process the Health Service Executive can take into account medical costs incurred by an individual or a family. Those who are not eligible for a medical card may still be able to avail of a GP visit card which covers the cost of general practice consultations.
Fibromyalgia, sometimes called fibrositis, is a common condition associated with widespread aching, stiffness and fatigue and originates in muscles and soft tissues. Many patients have no underlying disorders, while others who develop fibromyalgia may have conditions such as rheumatoid or spinal arthritis. As the condition known as fibromyalgia is not a notifiable disease, its incidence is not monitored by the Department. Its cause is unknown, but there may be a link with immune or endocrine abnormalities or biochemical abnormalities in the central nervous system such as altered serotonin levels.
In 2008 the Department published its chronic disease policy which set out how chronic conditions, including musculoskeletal disorders, should be managed and how patients could be supported with self-care in managing their condition. In 2006 the Health Service Executive published the work of a national working group on arthritis and related conditions which is reviewing how services are provided and it is intended to make recommendations on the development of services in response to a comprehensive needs assessment. This ten-year development plan is near completion and will deal with current services, including how best to integrate primary and secondary care services for patients with arthritis and related conditions. A key element of this plan is the concept of supporting “self-management” which aims to develop the personal skills and self-management capabilities of the population who have arthritis or related conditions. This involves improving awareness of arthritis and related conditions and using self-management support strategies, including pain management and how best to live and work with these conditions.
The Department of Social and Family Affairs has advised that it recognises fibromyalgia as a medical condition as classified by the World Health Organization international classification of diseases. That Department is working with ATOS Healthcare to develop protocols for its assessment by its medical assessors. Fibromyalgia will be included in the protocols being developed at this time and which it is intended will be fully operational by the end of July 2010. The Department has also taken steps to increase awareness of the condition among its medical assessors. A presentation on fibromyalgia by a specialist in rheumatology was delivered recently to the medical assessor cadre.
Senator John Paul Phelan: The Minister of State’s response is positive, including his reference to the Department of Social and Family Affairs recognising fibromyalgia. Earlier in the contribution, however, he said the Department of Health and Children did not recognise the condition. Surely, if it is recognised by one Department, there is a case to be made that it should be recognised by the Department of Health and Children also. Perhaps I am misreading the Minister of State’s presentation but it seems an obvious contradiction. He might clarify the situation.
Deputy Barry Andrews: The Senator is not misreading the presentation. I am not unsympathetic to the point he makes and will bring it to the attention of the Minister.
The Seanad adjourned at 1.55 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 21 October 2009.