Tuesday, 25 January 2011
Seanad Éireann Debate
Senator Donie Cassidy: The Order of Business is No. a1, motion re Diseases of Animals Act, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business, and No. 1, Student Support Bill 2008 — Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No. a1.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: The last week in Irish politics has brought further shame and embarrassment to our political institutions. We have seen very dramatic events since the Seanad last met. We have seen Ministers resign, the Fianna Fáil leader step down, a botched Cabinet reshuffle and the effective end of this coalition Government. It has become clear that we are in the final days of this Oireachtas and we are about to begin a new chapter in political and economic life. Within weeks we will have a new Oireachtas and a new Government. The process of restoring confidence and rebuilding hope in the country can begin.
Everyone in this House will want to see that hope and optimism beginning again, and will want to see this country creating jobs for people and giving them opportunity. That is what matters. We must get the country working again. We must reform and we must ensure there is opportunity for our young people, and the emigration we are seeing, which has been forecast at 100,000 per year, will not continue. Instead, we must rebuild our political institutions and offer hope and opportunity to people.
We in Fine Gael have taken the decision that in the national interest, we should put in place a mechanism that will allow the finance Bill to be debated and voted upon in the next few days. Can the Leader outline the exact timetable for taking the Bill in the House? I understand it is to be taken on Friday and Saturday. The Government parties have said much about the importance of the Bill. We equally accept that, in terms of Ireland’s international reputation and securing funding for the country in the weeks and months ahead, the finance Bill is a very important part of that process. That does not mean, however, that we agree with every section of the Bill. We do not, but we recognise the importance of rebuilding the country and ensuring the availability of credit in order that we can continue to provide front-line services and, as I stated, bring hope back to the country.
Senator David Norris: I am a politician and hold the profession of politics in high regard, but I am ashamed and saddened by the unedifying spectacle of recent days. In a storm the captain and officers of a ship stay at the wheel and their concern is for the welfare and safety of the ship and its passengers. This weekend we were in the astonishing position where, apparently, we had no Minister for Justice and Law Reform, no Minister for Foreign Affairs and no Minister for Health and Children. That is extraordinary and it was accompanied by naked opportunism that was universal as, once again, the people were forgotten as the parties and individuals jockeyed for position to gain electoral advantage. I exclude no party from this criticism. Now the Finance Bill will be rammed through both Houses in a couple of days. There are masses of contradictions. What, for example, happened to the huge logistical difficulties about which the Minister for Finance told us recently with regard to the passage of the Bill? What about the position adopted on the other side of the House when we so consistently opposed the use of the guillotine and we are now offering ourselves for decapitation?
Senator David Norris: ——against which I spoke repeatedly in this House, but we are still leaving untouched the bonuses paid to the bankers which were to be taxed. Why is that? The important Climate Change Response Bill is being abandoned, while the financial provisions consequent upon the passage of the Civil Partnership Bill by this and the other House are to be left in abeyance. I understand there are 150 amendments involved in that regard. These are 150 daggers directed at the heart of discrimination against people involved in civil partnerships. I will call upon the incoming Government to make it clear immediately upon its election that it will honour the obligation to pass these amendments as rapidly as possible. When we were discussing these arrangements within the past two years, on one occasion I brought in three folders a foot thick of queries from my constituents and others who were very concerned about this matter. The position is very unclear. I will pass these queries directly to the incoming Government because it will be able to deal with them.
I welcome the announcement made by the Green Party on Sunday that it intended to withdraw from the coalition Government. It was not before time and it is something we all welcome, particularly the people. It signals the end of one of the worst Governments in the history of the country. I know the Green Party Members personally will be disappointed and while I have come to respect each of the Green Party Senators in this House in their own right and appreciate the work they have done as individual Members of the House, they will be disappointed that they have not managed to get the climate change legislation and the mayoral Bill through the House. They will be disappointed also that they have not managed to legislate for corporate donations. When they look back on this period, they will see it as a futile attempt to be at the heart of government. I am sure there are many disappointments in that regard, but the big news is that at last we will get a chance to go before the people to elect a new Government. I can assure Members on both sides of the House that when it comes to climate change legislation or issues concerning civil partnership, my party will place them to the fore of our policies. While we fully intend to put the country back to work, it is not just about economic development for us. It is about making sure we reform the whole system in terms of how we run the country. That is what we will do if given the chance.
With regard to one of these issues, I ask the Leader to accept an amendment to the Order of Business to allow us to publish the whistleblowers legislation. This issue will be at the heart of our programme for the next Government and we intend to give it an airing in the House tomorrow evening during Private Members’ time. I ask the Leader to accept an amendment in order that the Bill can be published.
Senator Dan Boyle: My colleagues and I regret the circumstances that have arisen in recent weeks. All of us, in this House and elsewhere, believe they reflect badly on the business and nature of politics and see the need to have a national conversation to restore faith which has been badly dented.
There were good points in our participation in government, to which my colleagues and I can point. We take pride in important legislation such as the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act, improvements to building regulations and significant social legislation such as the civil partnership Act. It is my understanding that at yesterday’s meeting of finance spokespersons there was agreement among all the parties represented that a finance (No. 2) Bill would be presented to deal specifically with the 150 amendments needed to introduce the financial provisions of the civil partnership Act. That legislation will be passed by 1 April. It is important that such an agreement be made.
Senator Dan Boyle: With regard to legislation included in the programme for Government which it has not been possible to enact, I am happy that much of it has been published. The Climate Change Response Bill and the Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill are both live and Bills an incoming Government might decide to progress. I am confident the incoming Government will take this challenge on board. The Bills are templates for useful legislation and my party will co-operate in that regard.
Our business until we rise at the end of the week is, more or less, defined. However, we should also suggest to the incoming Government that the House should be made work to the greatest effect, particularly in the interim period prior to the formation of a new Government, to allow other legislation to come through. There will be an opportunity in that two month period to progress much legislation that is still active and that might be advanced in the work programme of the new Government.
Senator Paul Coghlan: There is no doubt that many of the events in the period since we last met were a huge scata bullán. The rebuilding of hope and optimism will be of major importance and I hope the next Administration will be up to the task. I believe it will.
The three Green Party Senators have made a great contribution during their time in the House. Senator Boyle was an able Deputy Leader. When he handled the Order of Business, he was excellent in that role.
Last week the Leader gave us assurances about promised legislation, but much of that legislation has now fallen by the wayside. What legislation is it proposed to take in the remaining days of this Seanad? The Leader was adamant in his response to me on two occasions that all Stages of the Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill would be dealt with. So adamant was he that I thought the Bill had a priority above and beyond what was listed on the legislative priority sheet.
I refer to a serious matter, namely, the huge shortage in the mortgage lending area. We had hoped the property market was poised for something of a lift-off, having hit the bottom, so to speak, without further falls. Despite the commitment given on many occasions by the Government that a certain level of funding was to be earmarked for that sector, many people with genuine cases have been unable to get approval from any financial institution. The system is clogged up given there is so much availability and so many deserving cases await approval. What can Members or the Leader do, using his good offices, to ensure, in the dying days of the Government, a return to what was intended in respect of the financial institutions?
Senator Terry Leyden: This is an historical stage for this House and I wish Deputy Brian Cowen every success in the future, as he is an extraordinarily good Taoiseach. While the Cathaoirleach may not allow tributes, I sent him a text on Saturday.
Senator Terry Leyden: I do not tweet. I simply stated that it was a sad day for his family and friends in Fianna Fáil and that he will be a major loss to the party at this crucial stage. I also sent him my best wishes.
Senator Terry Leyden: I compliment him and the Green Party Ministers in government. It was a very good one and I was satisfied to support it as a Senator. By way of illustration, I had intended to ask that the former Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, who has resigned from the Government, would be invited to the House in order that I could compliment him on and discuss with him the success of the energy savings scheme. A total of 60,000 applications were received and 40,000 grants were paid with an average value of €1,000 per person. As for the warmer homes scheme, work was carried out in respect of 24,290 completed grants and €20 million was paid out, while 5,950 applications were completed and paid out in respect of the greener homes scheme. This comprises a great tribute to the former Minister, Deputy Ryan and to——
Senator Terry Leyden: ——the participation of the Green Party in government. Its members have done the State a great service. I was delighted to serve in this House with the former Deputy Leader, Senator Boyle, as well as Senators Ó Brolcháin and Dearey.
Senator Rónán Mullen: Like many people, I watched in disbelief at the succession of events in recent days. Nothing pained me more then watching international news programmes and seeing the turmoil of our political events being featured in the manner they were. The only conclusion I can draw is that all the political parties put selfish, short-term political objectives ahead of the needs and interests of the people. The people were entitled to an orderly transfer of power but did not get that. When the Taoiseach announced that an election would be held on 11 March, there was the possibility that all parties, including the Green Party, could agree there was a programme of work to be got through and that this should happen first and foremost. Instead, one saw the weakness of the Green Party. While I have no issues with its members personally as people, their immaturity as a political entity has caused unnecessary chaos in recent weeks.
Moreover, I refer to the cynicism and opportunism of the Opposition parties which tabled a motion of no confidence, only to withdraw it in favour of a concertinaed Finance Bill, so to speak. The rushing through in a matter of a few days of a Bill of that importance sends out a message of what politicians, when the chips are down, really think about the processes of Oireachtas, which is very little.
Senator Rónán Mullen: How can Members ask the people to respect the institutions of State at a time of crisis when the people in charge of our political parties constantly belittle them and bring them into disrepute? We have no reason to be optimistic about the calibre of leadership entering Government if this is the manner in which they intend to treat the people and the institutions of this State by putting their interests second after short-term party political goals and advantage. These last few days have been days of shame, not just for the Green Party or Fianna Fáil leadership that perhaps precipitated a crisis but also for the Opposition leaders who did not put the people first.
Senator Jim Walsh: It has been a difficult time for everyone in government in recent years, including Ministers and members of both parties. They showed remarkable selflessness in supporting what were genuinely unpopular measures which were necessary in the interests of the country. Having said that, I find myself concurring to a great degree with much of what Senator Mullen said. People have consistently articulated their opposition to the guillotining of any Bill. We have a reasonable record in this House, with one exception, namely, the guillotining of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act, which was apparently done to facilitate a press call for the “Six One News” outside the gates of Leinster House.
Senator Jim Walsh: I asked the Leader two weeks ago for a debate on the system of politics in this country. There has been much talk about reform of the Seanad. Both Houses need significant reform. In that regard, the unseemly haste with which the Finance Bill is being passed is a fine example of putting partisan political party interests ahead of the national interest. If ever a Bill needed close and careful scrutiny, it has to be the most important Bill we enact in these Houses in any year. People such as chartered accountants and others have expressed their alarm.
It does not matter to the country whether the election is on 25 February or 11 March but I am told the election is all about who gets the opportunity to present the bowl of shamrock in the White House. It is a disgrace and discredits the people involved.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Nothing has moved me as much as the stories I have heard about the impact of the universal social charge. I am delighted to hear that the Minister has an open mind on this area. Today I received a telephone call from young woman who is a disabled professional and is still working. She developed MRSA in a hospital seven or eight years ago and was left paralysed on the left side of her body and has lost her sight in one eye. The universal social charge has meant her income has reduced by €400, which prevents her from having physiotherapy and counselling. She needs counselling to stay off antidepressants as a result of the impact of her acquired disability. She has said to me she is floored and facing a nervous breakdown. I am raising this issue in advance of the finance Bill being brought before the House because I want the Leader to impress upon the Minister for Finance the importance of rolling back on the universal social charge for people on medical cards, in particular those with a disability. The country has a national responsibility of care for people with disability.
The young woman to whom I referred is willing to work, struggle and manage her disability when she could be a burden on the State. Now, however, she is, in her own words, facing a breakdown. Many things in the country are breaking down. Let us not break down our people. I am leaving the matter in the hands of the Leader. When the Minister comes to the House, he should know that we do not want a reduction from 7% to 4%. Rather, we want the charge rolled back to zero for people on medical cards with a disability and other exceptional cases.
Senator John Hanafin: Will the Leader make a direct representation to the Taoiseach? We have been through very difficult times in terms of finance, economic and social issues. I ask him to take the opportunity to give the people a proper debate in the coming election and go for the maximum possible term.
The last thing we need is soundbites, knee-jerk reactions and ill-informed opinion when voting. We need to have a full debate and be able to debate the differences between the parties which propose to establish a new Government. These differences will be in sharp focus. Therefore, I repeat my request to the Leader to make representations to the Taoiseach to allow us a proper amount of time to debate the issues involved.
We will continue to sit after the Dáil has been dissolved. This will present the Leader and other party leaders with an opportunity to set out a framework for the future that will make the Seanad more relevant in order that it will be given an opportunity and template to become better and more effective.
Senator Ivana Bacik: I second the amendment proposed by Senator Hannigan, that the whistleblower legislation be published, as we are anxious to have the debate on it tomorrow night in Private Members’ time. It will probably be the last Private Members’ Bill to be debated in the lifetime of this Seanad. I join others in asking the Leader for clarification on what other legislation will be dealt with this week. We know what will be dealt with today, but given the chaotic events of the past few days and the fact that we will now deal with the Finance Bill on Friday and Saturday, it would be helpful to know what legislation we will deal with tomorrow and on Thursday.
I welcome the Green Party Members to this side of the House. The recent chaos has placed an international focus on Ireland; The New York Times described the political turmoil as a circus, which was regrettable. On the other hand, it is welcome that we now have certainty, thanks to the motion of no confidence tabled by the Labour Party and the discussions yesterday, that the Government will not last beyond next Tuesday, at the latest. I do not know what others are hearing on the doorsteps, but what I am hearing is that it matters a great deal when the election will be held.
Senator Ivana Bacik: I am asking the Leader for clarity on the date. Others have commented or engaged in a long rant about political parties, but I would like to defend them, particularly the Labour Party. The imperative from our point of view and that of constituents was to ensure we would have certainty to bring to an end the political instability and chaos and that an election would be scheduled as soon as possible. It looks almost certain that it will be held on 25 February, but perhaps the Leader might confirm whether that is his impression. It is of great importance in the public and national interest that we bring to an end the shambolic events of the past few days and that for the sake of political stability we elect a new Government as soon as possible. That is the political imperative and we should not make any apologies for working to achieve this.
Senator Geraldine Feeney: I wish to refer to the civil partnership Act and how it will be affected by the political manoeuvrings of the Labour Party and Fine Gael and how the gun has been put to the head of the Government in dealing with the Finance Bill.
Senator Geraldine Feeney: The two main Opposition parties, the Labour Party and Fine Gael, neither of which supported the budget in December, now think we can push the Finance Bill through the House in one week.
Senator Norris is in the House much longer than me, but I had never before seen visitors stand and give a standing ovation to a politician, in the way the men and women from GLEN and their friends in the Visitors Gallery did at the end of June or early July. I am hurt and saddened that many of them who thought then that they would no longer be marginalised or victimised are now in limbo. While the civil partnership Act will take effect in April which will result in ceremonies to formalise partnerships, their financial and tax arrangements will be left hanging. I am particularly sad for couples who have gained recognition in other countries for their partnerships which are now legally recognised here. It was politically opportunistic for Fine Gael and the Labour Party to do what they did because they flew the white flag with the Government, my party and the Green Party, when we were all united behind such important legislation. It is remiss of them now to waltz off and state they will introduce the provisions in a finance (No. 2) Bill to be introduced by 1 April. There are 150 amendments with regard to civil partnership provisions and an extra one or two days would not have made any difference to the Fine Gael and Labour Party Deputies and Senators who will be candidates.
Senator Eugene Regan: We have had calls from Government Members since this Seanad commenced for agreements on progressing legislation. They have agreement this week; they have got what they wanted. There is agreement on passing one Bill. It is not an enormous Bill and we have passed lengthier legislation in a week. The Government has been adept at adopting emergency legislation and guillotining Bills. There is no reason to guillotine the Finance Bill, as we have a full week to agree it. However, this represents Fine Gael, the Labour Party and other Opposition parties acting in the national interest to agree that the Bill will be adopted to ensure there can be a general election within the shortest possible time and to end this terrible Government. That is what is at issue.
Senator Eugene Regan: The real problem is Fianna Fáil being joined at the hip with the State and believing it is all about Fianna Fáil and the interests of the country are about Fianna Fáil. We have had to wait for Taoiseach after Taoiseach to resign and the present Taoiseach has been hanging on and suggesting we cannot have an election before a certain date.
Senator Eugene Regan: We have called that bluff. We have been misled and the Green Party has been misled in the past few months that the finance Bill could not have been passed before Christmas. We have called the Government’s bluff in the national interest.
Senator Ann Ormonde: I am saddened that we have come to the end of our programme of work, which is not complete, and I am also saddened by the turmoil of the past few weeks. I wish the Taoiseach the best of luck. God knows if anybody has been deprived of luck, he has. I have spoken many times in the House about the character assassinations that are part of modern politics. I am pleading that we talk about policies during the election campaign and I ask the media to give a fair crack of the whip to everybody interviewed by them. I watch programme after programme with panels comprising three Independent or Opposition party representatives and one Government representative. The Government representative has no hope of completing a sentence. Halfway through, he or she is interrupted.
Senator Ann Ormonde: Those chairing the debates cannot achieve balance to give the Government representative an opportunity to get its message across. Let us rid ourselves of this kind of politics. Let us get down to discussing the policies outlined in this Chamber.
I wanted to debate many issues but it looks like they will not be debated. For example, where is Senator Quinn’s Bill relating to subcontractors? Another issue dear to my heart is a national house price register. That is not available to home owners. On some estates, one could pay a fortune for a house on one side of the road while, on the other side, a house could be on the market for a pittance. There is no transparency and I would love a debate on that but it will not happen now. I ask the Leader to put it on the agenda. I hope I come back to continue this work, which I hope will be about issues. I hope we cut out at long last the character assassinations which have been at the core of debate in this Chamber in the past two years.
Senator Eoghan Harris: Of necessity, any question I ask the Leader has to be rhetorical since his ability to do anything about any question I ask is limited. Is he happy with the way we are doing business on the Finance Bill? I think I know the answer.
I am of an age and I am around long enough not to care about anything much except authority. Confucius said the things that mattered in a state were an army, food for the population and authority. He was asked if one could give up any of these and he said one could give up the army, one could give up food but one could not give up a sense of authority. I intend to vote for authority because I see an abyss opening. In mythology there is a guardian of the gate. For 70 years or more Fianna Fáil has acted as a guardian against an armed doctrine — the armed doctrine of extremists in the IRA. It was a buffer. If it is about to disappear it is not a good thing for Irish politics and a certain duty devolves upon the other great parties of authority. I personally am going to vote for Fine Gael. I am going to vote for authority, but I deplore the incontinent manner in which Fine Gael and the Labour Party have behaved in recent days in rushing through this Bill. I see from the sensitivity of the Labour Party’s interjections that its members feel guilty about it. Why would they not? One of the few great things achieved by the Seanad is the civil partnership Bill. It is one of our monuments that will outlast all the rubbish and codology of the current time. There is no panic. I detect none of the feeling that was detected by Senator Bacik. People want an election soon but what does a day or two or a week or two matter? What is the incontinent, extreme rush about? It is like the January sales; a mob of people outside the door screaming to get in saying “We must have an election.” Inside the staff are making up their pension plans and going out the back door. Up in the boardroom they are all divvying up the divvies. That is the way we are. It is a squalid spectacle.
Senator Eoghan Harris: It is significant that all of us on the Independent side, ranging from the left to the centre to the right, are agreed that it is a squalid spectacle. The Bill should have gone through properly.
Senator Eoghan Harris: It should have gone through properly for the sake of the people. I warn the incoming Government to calm down those who are dizzy with success because it is in a state of semi-hysteria. We are going to have some kind of rainbow Government. What is their panic if the panic produces the kind of political meltdown that allows the armed doctrine to dominate the Opposition in the coming Dáil. That is not a good place for the people to be.
Senator Ivor Callely: It is regrettable that we are at this stage in the programme. The country is probably at the most critical stage in its history. The previous speaker mentioned one particular Bill passing through this Chamber but there are many other issues that require the attention of politicians. I refer to the thousands of commuters and hundreds of people employed in Aer Lingus. That issue must be resolved. Many other issues arise, such as the increase in suicide, whether NAMA is working, the financial implications in every parish and the difficulties in sustaining employment. So many issues warrant attention.
On the positive side there have been innovative developments. There is light at the end of the tunnel. There is growth in our exports. I am not too sure what role the Seanad will play in the coming weeks. Certain statutory obligations arise as to how many days the Seanad can sit once a general election has been called. My colleague, Senator Hanafin, called for a full debate. Because we are at a critical stage in the history of our country, is it possible that the Leader could explore the feasibility of inviting the leaders of each political party to set out their stall in terms of their manifesto to the nation? As the previous speaker, Senator Harris, indicated, the next Government is likely to be a rainbow coalition. Is it possible that those parties would set out their joint programme for government and cost it so the public would know prior to voting exactly what they are voting for——
Senator Maurice Cummins: When the institutions of the State were under attack by subversives 20 and 30 years ago, we took our eye off the drugs culture and gangs evolving at the time. Now gangland crime poses a threat to many communities the length and breadth of the country. The funding for Operation Anvil which has been very successful since its inception has been cut by 50%. This will pose a serious threat to many Garda divisions and communities. I earnestly suggest the Minister for Justice and Law Reform or the incoming Minister should restore the funding for Operation Anvil which has been very successful in combating and preventing gangland crime and in putting many dangerous criminals in gaol.
To take up from where Senator Coghlan left off, will the Leader indicate for the benefit of Members to enable them to organise their time what the full schedule will be for the rest of the week? I do not believe in rushing legislation, including the Finance Bill. The people are looking for an early election. Some Members on the other side of the House have mentioned that Fine Gael and the Labour Party are also looking for an early election. A possible future leader of Fianna Fáil, Deputy Martin, suggested the Bill could be dealt with by Thursday or Friday. That is what we are dealing with.
Senator Maurice Cummins: I do not know whether that was to get one up on his opponent, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, who said it should take longer to complete, but the Government is at sixes and sevens. The country and the people want to be rid of it and will be within three or four weeks.
Senator Mark Daly: The events of the past few days show that those in opposition which, according to all predictions, will soon be in government want to have their cake and eat it. They could have had an election if they wanted it. They could have pulled the plug and not agreed to withdraw their motions.
Senator Mark Daly: They could have had their cake and eaten it. They could have had an election. They could have turned around and said yesterday they would not support the proposals and the election would have taken place.
Senator Mark Daly: Will the Leader ask the Minister when he comes into the House to deal with the issues discussed yesterday how those in opposition who voted against the budget could have had the budget thrown out? They could have caused an election yesterday. They could have had all those issues which they said were an abomination and with which they disagreed dealt with. That could have happened yesterday, but they did not do it. That is why politics in Ireland, including those in government and opposition, is looked upon with such disdain by the public. Last week the Opposition parties wanted an election. They could have had it yesterday, but they did not pull the trigger. Why? They did not have the courage to do so.
Senator Mark Daly: We all have an interest in ensuring the civil partnership provisions are put in place. However, the Opposition parties demanded that the legislation be guillotined. If we had asked for it to be guillotined, they would have lambasted us. However, they now insist that it be guillotined.
Senator Phil Prendergast: The former Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, is on record as saying the buck stopped with her regarding any Health Service Executive decisions. Will the Leader ask the Tánaiste and acting caretaker of the Department of Health and Children to put a stay on all processes relating to the reconfiguring of the integrated service areas or the transferring of such services by the HSE until a new Government is in place?
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: I concur with Senator Cummins regarding gangland crime. It is one of the greatest threats to the State. Whether in Limerick, Dublin, Cork or any other large population area, there are bodies working with absolute impunity while they terrorise communities every day of the week. Those who take a stand against them and take cases to court experience overt intimidation which will ultimately undermine the whole judicial process. I have watched mothers, especially from the Limerick area, on television tell how they lost their sons callously to gangland crime, trying to come to grips with their loss while having the courage to speak out about it. There is no respect for life in that area. During the turbulence of the past 12 months resulting from the financial crisis, many real issues in the community have not been addressed. They may have got some type of cursory mention in the Seanad, but in the main they were sidelined. These are major issues.
Through the years I have been a Member of the Seanad, while I have never minded the cut and thrust of debate here, I have always acknowledged that this House gives an example of how democracy should be secured and promoted.
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: It would be a pity, however, if, in the usual frenzy at election time, we were to detract from this. I am also saddened by the suggestion that this House may be abolished. I do not know what the future holds but many people, when they get the opportunity to think about it, will realise the check this House has kept on many aspects of public life without fear, favour or any indication of partisanship. I hope this will form part of the debate on the role of the House.
The economy is like a wheel coming around. One never stays at the top; one never stays at the bottom. While we are at the bottom coming back up to the top, I hope we do not make the mistake of having a short-term solution of abolishing an arm of Parliament.
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: Removing this arm of Parliament would not be the right course of action in the long term. Future generations would not thank us for it. I hope all parties will take the opportunity, whatever their stance is now, to examine the role of the Seanad more closely.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senators Fitzgerald, Norris, Hannigan, Boyle, Coghlan, Mullen, Walsh, Healy Eames, Hanafin, Bacik, Feeney, Regan, Ormonde, Harris, Callely, Daly and Ó Murchú expressed their surprise at the events of recent days. It was unprecedented to say the least. Most of us who have been in the Oireachtas for some considerable time have never experienced this before.
Senator Donie Cassidy: I send our best wishes to the Taoiseach and thank him for all he did in the country’s interest. I know there will be another time for this but he made a major contribution. I also send best wishes to his wife, Mary, and his family. I acknowledge everything he has done in the most difficult times since the 1930s. The challenges facing the country are immense. Everything has been done in the national interest and has been about putting the country first. The Taoiseach faced the challenge of the banking crisis, a crisis which few other Taoisigh have ever had to face. If we were all being honest, we would agree that the fateful night on which decisions had to be made in order to allow the banks to continue to operate marked the beginning of an unprecedented crisis. It is certainly the most difficult period I can recall since the 1970s and the challenges faced by the then Government and Taoiseach.
Members made inquiries in respect of the finance Bill. I propose that Second Stage be taken on Friday and that Committee and Remaining Stages be taken on Saturday. The sitting on Saturday will be open-ended. The Seanad will be obliged to undertake major work in respect of the finance Bill which represents the third instalment of the Government’s four year recovery plan. As previous speakers stated, the finance Bill is always the most important legislation to come before the House. The version of the Bill that will come before the House contains 80 sections.
Senator Hannigan referred to the publication of the whistleblowers protection (No. 2) Bill. Unfortunately, I will not be able to have that legislation dealt with as I had originally intended. The Senator has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business in respect of the matter.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Earlier Senator Boyle took the opportunity to announce his resignation as Deputy Leader of the House. The Senator and I have worked well together in the national interest during the past three and a half years. He has been of major assistance and has provided great support to me in my duties as Leader. I fully appreciate and I am extremely grateful for the understanding, assistance and courtesy the Senator has extended to me in respect of our work on the Order of Business and other matters.
Senator Coghlan referred to mortgage lending or the lack thereof. I fully agree with the sentiments the Senator who is an extremely experienced Member of the House. I am obliged to inquire as to where stands the commitment the Government obtained from the two major banks in respect of the €12 billion that was going to be made available to them over twoyears.
Senator Donie Cassidy: The Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service and the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Innovation have a serious job to do, regardless of the general election and must call to appear before them those who are responsible for the money to which I refer. The committees must obtain from the people concerned up-to-date information on this matter.
Senators Feeney and Harris congratulated everyone in the House and the staff of the relevant Department for the passing of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act. This was one of the most important items of legislation processed by the Houses during the lifetime of the Government. I agree with the sentiments expressed by the Senators. Senator Boyle states it is expected that the finance (No. 2) Bill which will deal with the various matters relating to the implementation of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act will be introduced by 1 April.
Senator Callely has stated that a number of major issues must be discussed and acknowledged the great growth that has been experienced in the area of exports. He also referred to the role to be played by the Seanad in the coming weeks. As Senator Ó Murchú stated, the Seanad has a major role to play. When the House discusses the Finance Bill at the weekend, I hope many people will witness the role played by Seanad Éireann as a watchdog which operates on behalf of taxpayers. I took note of Senator Callely’s suggestions in respect of the parties’ proposed manifestos and his observation that in future the various leaders could come before the House to discuss their manifestos. Perhaps the House could be assisted by staff from the Department of Finance in having the proposals in those manifestos costed before they are put to the people for approval.
Senators Cummins and Ó Murchú referred to gangland crime and the Garda’s Operation Anvil. They congratulated the Garda Commissioner and everyone involved with the latter but also remarked on the fact that the budget relating to it has been cut. I hope that whatever funding becomes available will be given to the very successful Garda unit involved which is in place to protect every one of us and to ensure people respect and fear the law which we, as legislators, have created. It is a serious situation in which people find themselves.
Senator Prendergast referred to health issues. The Senator has played an important role as spokesperson on health. With regard to her current proposal, I will certainly pass on her views to the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children.
|Bacik, Ivana.||Boyle, Dan.|
|Bradford, Paul.||Burke, Paddy.|
|Coghlan, Paul.||Cummins, Maurice.|
|Dearey, Mark.||Donohoe, Paschal.|
|Fitzgerald, Frances.||Hannigan, Dominic.|
|Healy Eames, Fidelma.||Mullen, Rónán.|
|Norris, David.||Ó Brolcháin, Niall.|
|Prendergast, Phil.||Ryan, Brendan.|
|Brady, Martin.||Butler, Larry.|
|Callely, Ivor.||Carty, John.|
|Cassidy, Donie.||Corrigan, Maria.|
|Daly, Mark.||Ellis, John.|
|Feeney, Geraldine.||Glynn, Camillus.|
|Hanafin, John.||Harris, Eoghan.|
|Leyden, Terry.||MacSharry, Marc.|
|McDonald, Lisa.||Mooney, Paschal.|
|Ó Domhnaill, Brian.||Ó Murchú, Labhrás.|
|O’Brien, Francis.||O’Donovan, Denis.|
|O’Malley, Fiona.||O’Sullivan, Ned.|
|Ormonde, Ann.||Walsh, Jim.|
|White, Mary M.||Wilson, Diarmuid.|
|Last Updated: 28/06/2011 19:02:54||Page of 9|