Order of Business.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Seanad Eireann Debate
Vol. 199 No. 1

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Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  The Order of Business today is No. 1, Criminal Procedure Bill 2009 — Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, Labour Services (Amendment) Bill 2009 — Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 and resume at the conclusion of No. 3, if not previously concluded; and No. 3, Mental Health (Involuntary Procedures) (Amendment) Bill 2008 — Second Stage [2](resumed), to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2 but not before 5 p.m. and to conclude not later than 7 p.m. The business of the House shall be interrupted between 1.30 p.m. and 2.30 p.m.

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  Yesterday we saw one news media organisation claiming it had an exclusive on the Government’s approach to the budget — there would be a 10% cut in child benefit and a 5% cut in all social welfare payments. On the same day we saw the possible strike being averted, which I welcome, and a new proposal on unpaid leave being made. I have a number of questions on these issues.

It appears a briefing on the budget was given to one media organisation, which is in sharp contrast to the announcement made on the taking of unpaid leave. Is the aim of this kite flying exercise and media briefing to test backbench and Independent Member opinion? With regard to the proposal on unpaid leave, last week we saw the impact a one-day strike could have on public services, with the cancellation of outpatient appointments and hospitals struggling desperately to catch up. It appears the Government is now proposing staff in the public sector take 12 days unpaid leave. Serious questions which should be debated in this House arise about the impact of such a proposal on services. Front-line staff are already stretched in trying to provide a service. We do not want the wrong decisions to be made, as we must keep our international credibility in managing the public finances.

I am concerned also about the proposed 10% cut in child benefit which is used to help every family in the country. Many payments under the umbrella of child benefit are used to meet child care costs. I ask that the Minister be invited to the House today to discuss the matter. I, therefore, propose an amendment to the Order of Business to continue the discussion on these serious issues.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins  Zoom on Maurice Cummins  Hear, hear.

Senator Joe O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  In the past few weeks I have spoken on a number of occasions about the possible outcome of the negotiations in Government Buildings. The two main objects for everybody are to reduce the public sector pay bill by €1.3 billion and decrease the number of public sector personnel by 15,000. It seemed as if they were two impossible objectives but now it appears the Government has managed to convince the social partners on all sides that this will be done. It seems clear also that there will be agreement.

I will make two clear points. Reducing public sector numbers by 15,000 will have an impact on services and require the remaining staff to increase productivity and work longer or smarter. A reasonable question was raised by Senator Fitzgerald but how will this proposal work in the education sector which appears to be receiving attention? Every year approximately 10,000 primary teachers take a five-day course during their summer holidays. In return, they are entitled to three privilege days during the course of the year. In other words, they give up 50,000 days and are entitled to 30,000 back during the course of the year. In our experience spanning decades teachers never take more than two thirds of the leave to which they are entitled. As has been noted in the House, for the first one, two or three days of sick leave, schools are not entitled to bring in a paid substitute. I give this information in order that Members can understand schools are structured to deal with the occasional absence of individual teachers. This will have to happen if the arrangement takes effect. It is not the ideal — I do not love it — but it is not new or novel.

Nobody has said how the public sector will work with 15,000 fewer staff. This is the first time we have seen anybody try to make it work smarter. I do not know if it will work but there is an outline of the process. The Government has taken the first step towards reducing the size of the public sector which will try to work with fewer staff. This is what all parties have asked [3]for. The Government will save money and the strike has been averted. Pupils will not lose out and parents will not be discommoded but the service will be uninterrupted. There will be a reduction in public service numbers and we will arrive at the beginning of public sector reform.

This process squares a circle that in the past month or two people said would be impossible to do. The way forward is very difficult and it is a little unfair to call it a climbdown. Staff who would work for ten or 12 days without being paid did not see it that way last night when I spoke to them.

Senator Alex White: Information on Alex White  Zoom on Alex White  I am not sure about the particular media outlet which was briefed by the Government and I am interested in hearing more about the matter. It is interesting to read reports in newspapers which in the past stated — perhaps hoped — the public service unions would be beaten. They are now leading with headlines that the Government has caved in to the public service unions. It cannot be both; in my view, it is neither. One newspaper has stated trade union leaders were jubilant last night about this agreement. That is fanciful; the union leaders certainly do not look jubilant in the photograph carried beside the article.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  They never do.

Senator Alex White: Information on Alex White  Zoom on Alex White  They have no reason to be jubilant and they are not looking for jubilation. They are not looking for humiliation and defeat either, which appears to be what some commentators and politicians want. It seems the only way some think we can make progress is through confrontation, with people being beaten and shot down. I do not agree with this or see it as the way forward for the country or the public service. As somebody who absolutely supports the need for radical reform in the public service, I know that nobody in his or her right mind believes it can be achieved in two weeks of negotiations. How could all of the issues we have debated here be addressed in such a short time? It is nonsensical or daft to suggest that was possible. There was no cave-in and the trade unions have not won a famous victory. In one newspaper report a trade union group describes what happened yesterday as “the greatest betrayal in the history of the Irish trade union movement”. Which is it? My party has called for negotiations with a view to reaching agreement. Yesterday’s developments represent a small but welcome advance. It is only an interim measure, not a solution to the problem and I do not know if it will work.

Senators Fitzgerald and O’Toole may be right in raising questions about how the 12 days unpaid leave proposal will work. Perhaps in a couple of years we will describe them as the 12 days of Christmas 2009. We do not know how the proposal will work. The idea should be considered further and thrashed out in the next couple of weeks. Do we want confrontation or to make progress? People must decide what they want: do they want to see people beaten or do they want to see a national recovery effort involving all of the people in order to see a turn-around of our current economic position? For that limited reason, yesterday’s developments are welcome. In the Labour Party we have argued that the public sector pay bill must be reduced. Serious efforts should be made to achieve this without cutting basic pay. The interim agreement seems to suggest this is possible. However, I do not know if it will ultimately be possible to reduce the public sector pay bill without cutting basic pay but I hope it will. This represents a small step forward in that regard.

Senator Dan Boyle: Information on Dan Boyle  Zoom on Dan Boyle  Most Senators will welcome the agreement with the social partners on how we can address the immediate budgetary position. It is an agreement to help us meet the €4 billion adjustment the Minister for Finance will address in the other House next week and which we in this House will have another opportunity to debate. I agree with Senator Alex White in his contention that it is an interim measure and an exercise to meet the immediate [4]problem of a €4 billion adjustment. We must be conscious that in documentation sent to the European Commission we committed to a further €4 billion adjustment next year and the following year. There shall be adjustments until 2014. On that basis, we can only see today’s agreement as an interim measure and must constantly examine the cost of the public service in terms of wages and the numbers working within it. The adjustment we will be making on 9 December will only be one of three or four to be made in subsequent budgets. On these grounds, we can only welcome the fact that there is some agreement and a sense of reality entering the wider public debate on our difficult budgetary position. We cannot avoid forever the more difficult decisions that lie ahead.

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan  Zoom on Paul Coghlan  I second the amendment to the Order of Business. I agree with other Senators that nobody wants confrontation, but we are entitled to know more. While this may be an interim measure, there must be more to it because it seems to leave us at least €500 million short in the plan to cut €1.3 billion from the public sector wage bill. It is only an interim measure and we hope it will work, but we are in the dark as to whether it will. Thank God, however, there will not be a strike tomorrow.

As Senator Fitzgerald said, we must have some concerns with regard to the impact of this measure on services, particularly education. It was good to hear Senator O’Toole outline how we may be able to get around some of the problems. Health is a more serious area of concern and I look forward to hearing what the Leader has to say on the issue. It is important that in taking this route we allow——

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan  Zoom on Paul Coghlan  Of course. Will the Leader explain to us how the unpaid leave system will work? What will happen in the case of good patriotic workers who continue to work? Some people do not want to be out of work and will be willing to continue working and take the hit — just as everybody in this House and the other are taking a hit. We must all put our shoulders to the wheel. No one can stand aside from the national effort. I understand there is a provision that people can defer the unpaid leave and obtain holidays in lieu down the line. Perhaps the Leader will explain how this will work. Does this mean we are getting into a never-ending deferral of the situation? We need more detail on the issues and for that reason, I second the amendment.

Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: Information on Labhrás Ó Murchú  Zoom on Labhrás Ó Murchú  I salute the trade union movement because it has demonstrated the maturity and responsibility we have come to associate with it through the years. In the bad old days, it was the trade union movement that stood up on behalf of the most vulnerable sections of society. As a result, we had the Celtic tiger period. Without the trade union movement, that would not have happened. I see what is emerging from the negotiations as an exercise in responsibility which will help ensure confrontation can be avoided. If we look back on the record of this House in the past few months at some of the many constructive comments made here, we will see many of our concerns reflected in what is now emerging from the negotiations. If we did not achieve the result we now seem so close to achieving, what would the alternative have been? It would not only have meant confrontation, but also loss of jobs. It would also have undermined any possibility we had of making progress. We are all aware of the crisis we are in and have discussed it here at length.

We should also salute the Government, not just with regard to this issue. If the word “compromise” is not central to every effort made, we will not succeed. We are all aware of and have met the different lobby groups. If we are to find any cohesion in the future, we must be prepared to look at our own position. We have all said it is necessary to have individual [5]sacrifices. In many ways, these individual sacrifices are inculcated in the representative groups involved in the negotiations. Many of those here have called for a return to social partnership. We have had virtual social partnership in the past couple of weeks and I would be very surprised if we did not return to full social partnership in the future, which is precisely what we want.

When we talk about a victor, we are not talking about trade unions, employers or Government. The country will be the victor. As legislators, that must be our main concern.

Senator Feargal Quinn: Information on Fergal Quinn  Zoom on Fergal Quinn  I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, namely, that non-Government motion No. 39, No. 21 on the Order Paper, be taken without debate before
No. 1.

I found yesterday’s debate very interesting and compliment the Leader on having that debate. A pre-budget debate eight days before the budget makes a great deal of sense. I am not sure I understand how we can stand up today and debate it again. However, as Senator Fitzgerald said, there has been a development with the publication in one medium of the results of the agreement yesterday.

I was rather honoured by Senator Alex White yesterday who referred to my thoughts as being fanciful. That is quite a compliment to me. I hope Senator White does not mind me returning the compliment by saying his thoughts today were a little fanciful. I am concerned by some of the details regarding the 12 days unpaid leave. Senator O’Toole said those 12 days could be spread over a number of years. Senator Fitzgerald spoke earlier about the importance of international credibility. I have a concern about international credibility with regard to the deal it appears was made yesterday. As I was coming to work this morning I heard someone on the radio speak about a company in the private sector whose employees took two weeks unpaid leave last year. However, they got paid unemployment benefit during those two weeks and came out better than they would have done. I would like my mind to be put at rest. I would like to know this will be a win situation for the State and it will save €1 billion, or whatever it expects to save, on the basis of agreeing to unpaid leave.

I have a concern about the service we will get if we are so overstaffed that we can do without the 12 days of work. I do not understand this. I have some grandchildren at school in France and have met some of their teachers there. They cannot understand the education system here and the number of days and hours worked in teaching in Ireland. I also have a huge concern with regard to the number of appointments that had to be cancelled when we had just a one-day strike last week. If it is such a benefit to have 12 days off, would it not have been better to have 12 days strike and save the money on that basis? I ask this with tongue in cheek.

Senator Alex White: Information on Alex White  Zoom on Alex White  That is fanciful.

Senator Feargal Quinn: Information on Fergal Quinn  Zoom on Fergal Quinn  Yes it is. I have a serious concern about the situation if we do not get international recognition that we are taking the necessary tough steps. If we say we must avoid confrontation at all costs, we will do ourselves damage, the amount of money we will have to continue to borrow and pay interest on will continue for years to come and we will not get out of our difficulty.

Senator Jim Walsh: Information on Jim Walsh  Zoom on Jim Walsh  We had a good debate on the budget yesterday. For the next week and beyond the main topic of discussion for people will be the budget. Nobody here is certain of what exactly has been agreed in the discussions. There are reports in the newspapers that there will be a pay cut of 7% or similar, which I think is too low, plus 12 days unpaid leave. If it is a case of unpaid leave with no pay cut, we are fudging the serious challenges facing the country. If that is the case, we are letting down good civil and public servants throughout the country. [6] Many of these people have talked to me about the situation. They work hard but they have told me they cannot take the already generous holidays they have because of the workload. To add 12 unpaid leave days to that achieves nothing for them. They expect and anticipate a pay cut and if we avoid that — for whatever reason — we are in a serious situation.

Senator O’Toole spoke about 15,000 people and it seems the 12 days would equate to losing approximately 15,000 or 17,000 people in the public service. McCarthy already mentioned cutting the public service by 17,000. This brings us to 34,000. However, I think we need to reduce numbers in the public service by between 50,000 and 60,000 people. Within the past 11 years public service numbers have increased by 150,000. It would be nice to think we could sustain that, but we cannot. I know of public service offices where the staff in them have no work to do. I have heard that from people working in the same area of those public services.

I can give an example from my area of public servants in the health services being entitled to go home if there is a power cut. A power cut occurred in a building they were sharing with others at 2 p.m. The generator was switched on and power returned but they were told the rule is if the ESB cuts the power, the workers are entitled to leave and so they went home. There is no place for this action in any organisation and particularly not in the public service given the serious difficulties facing this country.

  11 o’clock

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames  Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames  I am genuinely concerned that this move by the unions to propose 12 days’ unpaid leave for public servants is a financial exercise, a stroke of the pen that will work outside. It will work fine in theory but not in practice. I ask the House to consider the impact on children and on their classroom education which could be monumental. I disagree with my colleague, Senator O’Toole, on this issue. I am a teacher who qualified in the mid-1980s and who benefited from those three days’ personal leave arrangements. Whenever one of us teachers needed to take personal leave, it meant mayhem for the other teachers because my 35 children had to be put in on top of other teachers’ classes. With three days’ personal leave, sick leave which is now not covered by substitution and now 12 days’ leave on top, a teacher could genuinely be absent for up to 20 days a year.

Senator Jim Walsh: Information on Jim Walsh  Zoom on Jim Walsh  They could take those days in July and August.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  No interruptions, please, Senator. We do not want a Second Stage speech on that matter. We want questions to the Leader.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames  Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames  I beg the indulgence of the Cathaoirleach.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  The Senator should not mind my indulgence. It is questions to the Leader.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames  Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames  I wish to know from the Leader whether there has been a buy-in by principals and teachers on this issue. Unless there is agreement from front-line staff, this will not work and it is our children who will be hurt. There will be a lowering of standards. Ireland does not rank against the top countries in the OECD. We are just hanging in there about average. Other countries such as Finland are investing in their teachers. I have a great difficulty with this proposal. I support the Fine Gael amendment to the Order of Business that this matter be discussed because the practicalities of the proposal will affect our children’s education and this is my concern.

[7]Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: Information on Brian Ó Domhnaill  Zoom on Brian Ó Domhnaill  I refer to what has been said about the negotiations between Government and the trade unions over the past 48 hours. I join other Senators in welcoming the discussions and the commitment from the trade union movement to discuss with Government the seriousness of the situation. However, I seek clarification to ensure these proposals will not have detrimental effects on public services. I welcome the fact that strike action will not take place tomorrow and public services will be provided tomorrow. Many local authorities and departmental sections are under pressure currently to provide the services and a cut of 12 days in such areas may have a detrimental effect. I am not suggesting this would be the case but I seek clarification on the effects.

Foilsíodh an plean 20 bliain don Ghaeilge an tseachtain seo caite ag an Aire Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta. Leagtar amach straitéis ann 20 bliain idir na Ranna Rialtais i dtaca leis an nGaeilge ar fud an oileáin agus cuirim fáilte roimh an tuarascáil sin a thabharfaidh todhchaí láidir don teanga, ní hamháin sa Ghaeltacht ach ar fud an Stáit.

I welcome this 20-year strategic plan for the Irish language. I ask for a debate on that document as soon as possible and on the role of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, of which Senator Ó Murchú is a member. The first step would be to feed the moltaí or recommendations back to that committee and to the Minister. I hope that, subsequent to the work of the committee, this House would have an opportunity to discuss the document ahead of the Minister making any further decisions based on recommendations from the committee.

Senator Phil Prendergast: Information on Phil Prendergast  Zoom on Phil Prendergast  With regard to the proposal for 12 days’ unpaid leave in the public service, I wish to comment on how it would operate in the nursing profession where there is a policy of summer closures in different hospitals, specifically in South Tipperary General Hospital where nurses routinely take unpaid leave and often at the end of a period of maternity leave. Therefore, this arrangement is already in operation in many places.

I was forced to cancel some of my clinics because of the flooding which continues to be an horrific experience for many people around the country. I met many clients who are very concerned at any intention by Government to cut child benefit as it will mean the difference between working and not working for such people. It is well documented that an unemployed person is more costly to the State than a person who continues in employment. The decision to stay working can hinge on as small a sum as €10 or €15. It has been proven by research that each unemployed person costs the State €20,000. I do not regard this proposal about child benefit as being progress and it will affect disadvantaged people.

I ask for a debate on a report in today’s newspaper which shows a 70% drop in the times of waiting for operations. I am being parochial in this regard but this statistic is not the case in the south east as yet because no one I meet in my clinics has experienced any lessening in waiting times. I suggest this drop only applies in Dublin or the bigger centres or the centres of excellence or whatever one wishes to call them but it has not reached the sunny south east just yet.

Senator Paschal Donohoe: Information on Paschal Donohoe  Zoom on Paschal Donohoe  Like my colleagues, I refer to the discussions that took place in Government Buildings last night and I have some questions for the Leader. Many of my colleagues have pointed out that these are interim measures and that nobody knows whether they will work or what their effect will be. It is bit late now for such questions. The discussions have been going on in different forms for the past six to 12 months. The difficulties faced by our economy are very well flagged in the OECD report. It is very late in the day for people to be standing up and saying they do not know whether these measures will work and that these are only interim measures. A person facing a cut in child benefit will know the effect this will have [8]on his or her income. A young person facing the effect of a reduction in social welfare and dole payments knows the effect this will have. Nobody is saying to these people these will be temporary or interim measures and we do not know what the effects will be.

I have two questions for the Leader. From what I have gathered from the media, people are saying there will be a 5% cut for everybody. Where is the equity in such a proposal? Does it mean that a person on €125,000 a year and another person on €25,000 a year will both face the same percentage cut? Where is the fairness, equity or justice, in such a proposal?

I heard people on “Morning Ireland” saying this will be a temporary cut. Nobody represented by these people believes this, whether these are union leaders or politicians. We know the difficulty we are facing is much deeper, more permanent and more structural. As much as I welcome ambiguity at times and know the role it plays in politics, we need clarity not just for the international markets but also for our own people. The consensus that has ill-served our country in the past three or four years is at grave danger of being repeated. I am terrified that not just the Government but everybody sitting around the table has bottled it.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Ronan Mullen  Zoom on Ronan Mullen  I second Senator Quinn’s amendment to the Order of Business. When that debate took place last year I was very pleased at the support which came from different sides of the House for that particular Bill. I would be hopeful if at some future date it is discussed in the House that we may have more support from both sides of the House and that people might like to join me in proposing the Bill.

An bhféadfainn a rá maidir le cúrsaí Gaeilge go dtacaím go huile agus go hiomlán leis an méid a dúirt an Seanadóir Ó Domhnaill? Is fiú lua go bhfuil lá oscailte ag Conradh na Gaeilge inniu maidir le tuairisc McCarthy agus mholfainn do mo chomhghleacaithe dul trasna an bhóthair agus dul i mbun cainte leis na daoine ansin.

It is good that a number of the unhelpful recommendations in the McCarthy have been set at nought by the 20-year strategy for the Irish language, which is welcome. It would also be good, as Senator Ó Domhnaill said, if people’s proposals on the strategy were discussed by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and forwarded to the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.

With regard to the emerging deal between the Government and the unions, while it is uncertain, I sincerely hope the Government is not fudging the issues. Pay cuts have to be part of the plan to get the economy back in order and the budget back in balance but pay savings at the price of productivity cannot be a good idea. This is not the way to go but I am conscious we are all making comments in a vacuum with great uncertainty. Let us hope the Government continues to recognise these challenging times require big, brave decisions, not compromises that could fatally undermine the recovery strategy.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  Will the Leader invite the Minister for Finance and the Taoiseach to the House to discuss this so-called agreement? It is a classic Irish solution to an Irish problem with obfuscation and confusion. I am sure the Leader will agree we have a Taoiseach who talks like Rambo and acts like Bambi while Mr. McLoone could not run FÁS, yet he can govern the country. Where are we going? Many questions need to be answered. For example, what are the implications for public services, the public and the budget? It is appalling that the Government cannot govern at all. The deal illustrates the fact that the Government has no coherent, joined-up plan. Does the Leader agree the sooner we have a general election to give a Government a mandate to govern the country, the better?

I refer to the upcoming budget. I have made a request to the Leader on numerous occasions because I am concerned that Ireland, as a sporting nation, will not be at the races and will be uncompetitive, which cannot be allowed to happen. The Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, [9]the Irish Sports Council and the Federation of Irish Sports must have a plan to fund our high performance athletes and sports for London 2012. I welcome the deal between the GAA and the GPA which provides for recognition of the GPA. It was a good day for Irish sport. Irish sport deserves to be treated with respect by Government but that has not happened this year. The Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism got rid of the sports capital programme while sports funding in general was cut. If we are serious about sport and those involved, a plan must be in place which should be matched by Government funding in order that the tricolour can be raised aloft in London and national pride restored.

Senator Maria Corrigan: Information on Maria Corrigan  Zoom on Maria Corrigan  When is it proposed to resume the debate on the Multi-Unit Developments Bill? Has a date been agreed for the debate requested by a number of colleagues regarding domestic violence? Would it be possible to hold it before the end of the session?

I refer to the comments of colleagues on next week’s budget. We do not have sufficient money for the next few years. The budget will represent an incredible challenge to the Government but if it cannot exempt people on welfare from cuts and the impact of the budget, then under no circumstances can any other sector of our community be exempt. I agree with colleagues that the challenge in the budget will be to achieve the most equitable solution while minimising the impact on the most vulnerable sectors of our community.

Senator Nicky McFadden: Information on Nicky McFadden  Zoom on Nicky McFadden  I welcome the deferral of the strike but, unfortunately, outpatient appointments and elective procedures scheduled for tomorrow were cancelled and, sadly, there is no time to reschedule these appointments. It is fortunate for the parents of schoolchildren that they do not have to take a day off work.

I am concerned about how under-resourced our health service has become. Today’s newspapers reported on the 17% increase in breast cancer deaths in the State while yesterday a significant report by St. James’s Hospital highlighted a striking increase in the incidence of HIV-AIDS. I seek an urgent debate on how the health service is being resourced. I refer, in particular, to Mullingar Hospital which has been subject to numerous bed closures. I have asked repeatedly for the Minister for Health and Children to be invited to the House and she has not attended. Why is that? When will she be in?

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik  Zoom on Ivana Bacik  I join colleagues in welcoming the deferral of tomorrow’s proposed strike. Following a bleak week, flood waters are receding just as the prospect of a strike has receded but we are still facing into the appalling vista of the budget next week. I would like a debate on a number of public services that are likely to be cut in the budget, especially those relating to early childhood care and education. We are opposed to the expected cut in child benefit. With a number of other Members, I was present at the launch of Start Strong, which was formerly the Irish Childcare Policy Network. It put forward persuasive policy papers on the need for investment in early childhood care and education. The Government is not willing to make such investment and we need a debate on how best to target funding in that area, just as we need to ensure child benefit is not cut.

I also seek a debate on the third level sector which is likely to face even more cutbacks. Students’ unions, particularly those in the Dublin Institute of Technology and Trinity College Dublin, have highlighted the severe effect of registration charges and the repeated increases in this charge. Such charges are fees in all but name. Other colleagues, notably Senator Healy Eames, have raised the issue many times. The disimprovement in facilities for students at the same time as the registration charge is increasing means we need a proper debate. Trinity College students have raised the way in which the registration charge is being spent.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Ronan Mullen  Zoom on Ronan Mullen  And UCD.

[10]Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik  Zoom on Ivana Bacik  NUI students have also raised this. The money is not being spent on improved student facilities. Debates are needed on funding for the third level sector and early childhood education. I have called for a debate on early childhood education many times and I would like it to be taken as a matter of urgency.

Senator John Hanafin: Information on John Gerard Hanafin  Zoom on John Gerard Hanafin  Many colleagues have referred to the proposed deal between the public service and the Government. I would like a debate on this issue when it is finalised. The Taoiseach said no deal would happen unless public services remained unaffected. The deal is predicated on public services being maintained at their current high level. However, the public service has stepped up to the mark and I hope there is a deal. Whether it is through the pension levy or the unpaid leave proposal, the public service is playing its part well in our current circumstances. There is a great deal of criticism of different functions of the public service, politics and the church. The majority of people want to do their work conscientiously and well, whether they are in banks or wherever, and it does not serve us well to make broad statements about the church. They are not the church; they are the antithesis of what the church is and what it should be. Similarly, there are excellent public servants in the public service and I hope this deal goes through so that we may all benefit in these difficult times until we see better times. The Government is spending hours, days, weeks and months to ensure the current budget is fair. That is all we can ask of it.

Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  Senators Fitzgerald, O’Toole, Alex White, Boyle, Coghlan, Ó Murchú, Quinn, Walsh, Healy Eames, Ó Domhnaill, Prendergast, Buttimer, Donohoe, Bacik and Hanafin welcome that the strike has been called off. I welcome the good news and wish the talks and future deliberations well. The majority of people want to see as many jobs maintained as possible. Wages are not the be all and end all anymore; it is about having a job, having something to do and being able to make a contribution. Next Wednesday I will propose on the Order of Business that the House adjourns at 3.30 p.m. until 6 p.m. to allow colleagues to attend the budget debate. The House will return at 6 p.m.

Senator Buttimer was anxious to know when the next election will be held. My best guess is May 2012. The last thing the country wants is a general election because if we had one, we would have two.

Senator Alex White: Information on Alex White  Zoom on Alex White  It is the last thing the Leader wants.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Ronan Mullen  Zoom on Ronan Mullen  There is constitutional provision for an extension.

Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  I say this from my vast experience, having gained this over quite a long time. We need unanimity in respect of the challenges. Some €4 billion must be cut in the budget and however this is done we must protect those who are vulnerable in our society. I agree with colleagues’ serious concerns about certain areas. Senator Quinn proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, seconded by Senator Mullen, regarding motion No. 39, No. 21 on the Order Paper, and I agree to the amendment. Senators Ó Domhnaill and Mullen welcomed the 20 year plan for the Irish language proposed by the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív. I understand this will be presented to the Oireachtas committee for its views.

Senator Prendergast referred to child care benefits and I agree with much of what she said. We realise that in the past few years child care benefits have quadrupled. I welcomed that on many occasions here. Regarding the issue of waiting lists, I will pass on her concerns to the Minister.

I agree with the sentiments of Senator Buttimer that we should do everything we can to prepare our athletes for London 2012. We should do anything that will lift the spirit of the nation so that we are proud of the talents on the island. They should be given equal opportunity [11]with everyone else in the world. I concur with his good wishes and congratulations to everyone in the Gaelic Athletic Association and the GPA in respect of reaching agreement.

Senator Corrigan referred to the Multi-Unit Developments Bill. I will update the House on this matter tomorrow morning. It is at an advanced stage. We fully support Senator Corrigan’s views on domestic violence. I have no difficulty in doing anything I can to enhance the call by the Senator. Senator McFadden called for a debate on health. I have no difficulty in having the Minister for Health and Children come to the Chamber but we will leave it until after the budget. The social welfare Bill will be discussed the week after the budget.

Senators McFadden and Glynn and I speak in unison when doing everything we can to enhance the Midland Regional Hospital, Mullingar. The figure of note is that in 2006 the Midland Regional Hospital, Mullingar received €54 million and in 2009 it received €64 million. Major investment has been made in the hospital. Some 19,000 patients were treated in the hospital last year, which augurs well for the future of the hospital. Our concern is to ensure that nothing interferes with that. I agree with the Senator’s sentiments in this respect.

Senator Nicky McFadden: Information on Nicky McFadden  Zoom on Nicky McFadden  Beds are closed.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  Senator Fitzgerald has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: “That statements on the budget strategy be taken today.” Is the amendment being pressed?

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

Amendment put.

The Seanad divided: Tá, 18; Níl, 24

Information on Ivana Bacik  Zoom on Ivana Bacik  Bacik, Ivana. Information on Paul Bradford  Zoom on Paul Bradford  Bradford, Paul.
Information on Paddy Burke  Zoom on Paddy Burke  Burke, Paddy. Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  Buttimer, Jerry.
Information on Paul Coghlan  Zoom on Paul Coghlan  Coghlan, Paul. Information on Maurice Cummins  Zoom on Maurice Cummins  Cummins, Maurice.
Information on Paschal Donohoe  Zoom on Paschal Donohoe  Donohoe, Paschal. Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  Fitzgerald, Frances.
Information on Dominic Hannigan  Zoom on Dominic Hannigan  Hannigan, Dominic. Information on Fidelma Healy Eames  Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames  Healy Eames, Fidelma.
Information on Nicky McFadden  Zoom on Nicky McFadden  McFadden, Nicky. Information on Ronan Mullen  Zoom on Ronan Mullen  Mullen, Rónán.
Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  O’Toole, Joe. Information on John Paul Phelan  Zoom on John Paul Phelan  Phelan, John Paul.
Information on Phil Prendergast  Zoom on Phil Prendergast  Prendergast, Phil. Information on Fergal Quinn  Zoom on Fergal Quinn  Quinn, Feargal.
Information on Eugene Regan  Zoom on Eugene Regan  Regan, Eugene. Information on Alex White  Zoom on Alex White  White, Alex.



Níl
Information on Dan Boyle  Zoom on Dan Boyle  Boyle, Dan. Information on Martin Brady  Zoom on Martin Brady  Brady, Martin.
Information on Larry Butler  Zoom on Larry Butler  Butler, Larry. Information on James Carroll  Zoom on James Carroll  Carroll, James.
Information on John Carty  Zoom on John Carty  Carty, John. Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  Cassidy, Donie.
Information on Maria Corrigan  Zoom on Maria Corrigan  Corrigan, Maria. Information on Mark Daly  Zoom on Mark Daly  Daly, Mark.
Information on John Ellis  Zoom on John Ellis  Ellis, John. Information on Camillus Glynn  Zoom on Camillus Glynn  Glynn, Camillus.
Information on John Gerard Hanafin  Zoom on John Gerard Hanafin  Hanafin, John. Information on Cecilia Keaveney  Zoom on Cecilia Keaveney  Keaveney, Cecilia.
Information on Terry Leyden  Zoom on Terry Leyden  Leyden, Terry. Information on Lisa McDonald  Zoom on Lisa McDonald  McDonald, Lisa.
Information on Brian Ó Domhnaill  Zoom on Brian Ó Domhnaill  Ó Domhnaill, Brian. Information on Labhrás Ó Murchú  Zoom on Labhrás Ó Murchú  Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
Information on Francis O'Brien  Zoom on Francis O'Brien  O’Brien, Francis. Information on Dennis O'Donovan  Zoom on Dennis O'Donovan  O’Donovan, Denis.
Information on Fiona O'Malley  Zoom on Fiona O'Malley  O’Malley, Fiona. Information on Ned O'Sullivan  Zoom on Ned O'Sullivan  O’Sullivan, Ned.
Information on Ann Ormonde  Zoom on Ann Ormonde  Ormonde, Ann. Information on Kieran Phelan  Zoom on Kieran Phelan  Phelan, Kieran.
Information on Mary M. White  Zoom on Mary M. White  White, Mary M. Information on Diarmuid Wilson  Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson  Wilson, Diarmuid.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Maurice Cummins and Nicky McFadden; Níl, Senators Camillus Glynn and Diarmuid Wilson.

Amendment declared lost.

[12]An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  Senator Quinn has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, “That No. 39, motion No. 21 be taken without debate before No. 1.” The Leader has indicated he is accepting the amendment. Is the amendment agreed to? Agreed.

Order of Business, as amended, agreed to.


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