Order of Business

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 208 No. 5

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Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins  Zoom on Maurice Cummins  The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on the jobs initiative and competitiveness, to be taken at 11.45 a.m and completed at 1.45 p.m, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be called upon to conclude not later than 1.40 p.m.; No. 2, Biological Weapons Bill — Second Stage, to be taken between 2.30 p.m and 5 p.m, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 12 minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed eight minutes and the Minister to be called upon to conclude not later than 4.50 p.m.; and No. 11, motion No. 1 on water charges, to be taken between 5 p.m and 7 p.m. The business of the House will be interrupted between 1.45 p.m. and 2.30 p.m.

Senator Darragh O’Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien  Zoom on Darragh O'Brien  This is a significant day for thousands of pupils all over the country who are starting the leaving and junior certificate examinations. On behalf of the Fianna Fáil group, I wish them the best of luck in their endeavours in the next few weeks. It is an examination I would not like to do, but I am sure they will excel.

On 17 June the Government will have been in office for 100 days. We appreciate that every Government needs to bed in, but many pronouncements were made before the general election on what would happen in that 100 days. A matter raised in the Lower House yesterday, the EU-IMF deal and the interest rate cut, caused me some concern. Several Ministers, including the Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, stated publicly that a cut in the EU-IMF interest rate had been agreed and that it was just a matter of when it would take effect. I have a number of questions for the Leader in that regard. The Minister for Finance made the comment that any cut would apply only to moneys not yet drawn down. On 3 May he said, “For illustrative purposes, the saving arising from a 1% reduction in the interest rate charged on the full €45 billion available from EU sources would be €450 million for each full year borrowed.” If we take an average of 7.5 years, it could be a saving to the Exchequer of €3.375 billion. There was much discussion of the rate cut prior to the election and much of this was overstated to act as a smokescreen. In many respects it is not the be all and end all. Having said that, we understand from the comments yesterday of the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, that the value of the rate cut is being exaggerated and in his view too much is being made of it.

Senator Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne  Zoom on Thomas Byrne  By the Taoiseach.

Senator Darragh O’Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien  Zoom on Darragh O'Brien  That is a complete sea change from the current Government parties’ position prior to the election and since. We were told by the Tánaiste that it would be “Labour’s way or Frankfurt’s way”, and it is clearly Frankfurt’s way. There has been no progress on the issue.

The worry is that we have been told that on the basis of the second Greek bailout agreement, any rate cut will relate to money not yet drawn down. When did the Government agree that the second Greek bailout has any influence on any Irish deal or the existing deal put in place between Ireland, the EU and the IMF? The Minister, Deputy Noonan, has stated that any rate reduction will probably net the Exchequer approximately €140 million, which is a major change from the €440 million per annum that the Government stated it had agreed already with the EU, the IMF and the troika. What is the current position and has the Government given up on getting a rate reduction on the full amount rather than moneys not drawn down? Is the Leader aware that the EU is actively seeking that Ireland draw the money down faster than is required? The reason is that the moneys will be paid back on the existing rate of 5.8% rather [199]than a reduced rate. This clearly shows that one of the main points raised by the current Government parties prior to the election - that they would get a deal on a rate reduction - has ended in failure. It is only because this matter was raised in the Dáil yesterday that the Minister has now told the truth about it.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik  Zoom on Ivana Bacik  I will begin by wishing all of those thousands of students sitting the junior and leaving certificate exams the very best of luck on behalf of the Labour Party, the Government and, I am sure, all of us in the House. We feel for them as they start exams today.

In response to Senator O’Brien, the Minister for Finance will be in the House next week and we can raise these issues and, I hope, have a robust debate on the economy with him.

Senator Darragh O’Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien  Zoom on Darragh O'Brien  Yes, I hope so too.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik  Zoom on Ivana Bacik  On behalf of the Labour Party, I do not take kindly to be being lectured by Fianna Fáil on the economy.

Senator Darragh O’Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien  Zoom on Darragh O'Brien  I was just stating the facts. Apparently it was “Labour’s way or Frankfurt’s way.” .

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik  Zoom on Ivana Bacik  The Senator may refer to the slogan used of “Labour’s way or Frankfurt’s way”——

Senator Darragh O’Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien  Zoom on Darragh O'Brien  It was a good election slogan.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik  Zoom on Ivana Bacik  ——but it was Fianna Fáil’s way that brought us down the road of the EU-IMF bailout last November.

Senator Darragh O’Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien  Zoom on Darragh O'Brien  What is the policy?

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke  Zoom on Paddy Burke  Senator Bacik to continue, without interruption.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik  Zoom on Ivana Bacik  It is deeply ironic and hypocritical of Fianna Fáil to be lecturing us on the management of the economy when it was responsible——

Senator Darragh O’Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien  Zoom on Darragh O'Brien  I am asking relevant questions.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik  Zoom on Ivana Bacik  ——for the disastrous comprehensive bank guarantee of September 2008——

Senator Darragh O’Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien  Zoom on Darragh O'Brien  The Senator’s Government colleagues voted for it. They supported the Government on the guarantee.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik  Zoom on Ivana Bacik  ——and bringing in the IMF and EU last November. I cannot take such a lecture on the economy.

Senator Darragh O’Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien  Zoom on Darragh O'Brien  I was asking a question.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik  Zoom on Ivana Bacik  The Leader will indicate that we will have a chance to debate the matter next week with the Minister for Finance, and all of these points can be made.

Senator Darragh O’Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien  Zoom on Darragh O'Brien  I look forward to it.

[200]Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik  Zoom on Ivana Bacik  The points should be made fairly and we should accept that the Government which was in power for 14 years up to early this year was responsible for the bailout which the Senator is condemning.

I ask the Leader for further debate on child protection issues once the Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, has put in place an implementation plan arising from the report of the special rapporteur which we debated last night. There was an excellent discussion on the topic with some good contributions from Senators with real expertise in the area. I meant to mention last night the contribution of Senator van Turnhout as one of the people who brought real experience to bear on the issue. The idea of having a debate when we have seen what measures can be implemented from the plan would be really important and show the real strength of the Seanad.

I ask the Leader for a debate on constitutional reform. In the week of Mr. Justice Declan Costello’s death, we are reminded of the ambitious plans and proposals for constitutional reform in the programme for Government. We have made a commitment to debate the programme for Government in a thematic way and one of those themes is the key theme of constitutional and political reform. This place would be an appropriate avenue for that debate.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout: Information on Jillian van Turnhout  Zoom on Jillian van Turnhout  I agree with the Order of Business and echo all the good wishes to junior and leaving certificate students. There are parents in this room and for once we would prefer to be in this Chamber rather than going back to sit those exams. As a group we will make a statement tomorrow. Therefore, I will leave my comments at that.

Senator John Crown: Information on John Crown  Zoom on John Crown  I echo the good wishes to the leaving certificate students; I have one and I wish her and all the others the best of luck today. It is a sad day today as 47 doctors and nurses remain under detention in Bahrain. Many of these were trained in Ireland, delivered our babies, healed our sick and patched up our wounds. They have been placed under detention for committing no crime greater than treating wounded protestors in their country. Will the Leader bring to the attention of the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade these matters and urge the Tánaiste to use whatever influence he can on the Bahraini Government to see that justice is done by these innocent doctors and nurses, who are doing nothing other than upholding their sacred duty to sick patients? Will the Leader ask the Minister to bring pressure on those organisations in Ireland doing extensive business, including health care business, with the Bahraini authorities to understand the level of discomfort we feel about the issue?

As it is the stated intention of the Taoiseach to abolish our Seanad, I am not certain how much attention he will pay to recommendations on other matters coming from the House. I ask the Leader to bring to the attention of the Government, the Minister for Finance in particular, an alternative strategy for dealing with our need to raise money through funds locked into pensions. It is currently the intention of the Government to raid the privately held pensions of individuals who prudently and carefully saved over the years in response to Government advice. This will raise a derisory amount of money and there is a more fair and efficient way of utilising the money locked in pension funds for the benefit of the State, its citizens and the public services.

Will the Leader ask the Minister to consider amending current pension law in order that people currently harbouring a substantial burden of mortgage debt, including many in negative equity and who may lose their homes, would be allowed early access to the moneys currently held in pension accounts? The tax could be paid now rather than at some indefinite future date when the pensions mature. This would have the effect of reducing the burden of personal debt, providing equity to our banks and giving much needed funding to the Government for urgent [201]public services. This would raise far more money and it would also repatriate funds to the country as much of the privately held pension debt is currently held outside the State.

Will the Leader bring to the attention of the Minister for Finance concerns we have about the imbalance in the current taxation arrangements and future plans? There are people like me with high incomes and substantial debts through our homes, which were bought at a poor time in the real estate cycle. I cannot see the logic of imposing a property tax on a losing asset which may bankrupt people and which has no intrinsic value because of negative equity. Would it not make more sense to raise income tax on people who have substantial incomes?

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  Yes.

Senator John Crown: Information on John Crown  Zoom on John Crown  That makes far more sense than the nonsensical idea of imposing what would effectively be the world’s first capital loss tax on an asset which is of declining value.

One of the key issues I hope will be raised continually in the House is the question of Oireachtas reform. The Taoiseach must look into his soul and decide which Chamber messed up this country.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  Hear, hear.

Senator Mary M. White: Information on Mary M. White  Zoom on Mary M. White  It was not the Seanad.

Senator John Crown: Information on John Crown  Zoom on John Crown  Was it the Seanad, whose worst offence was a sin of omission when it was asleep at the tiller, or was it the Dáil, which appointed a series of barely competent Ministers to the high offices of State and who subsequently steered us on to the rocks of financial ruin? We need a system that will allow us a greater talent pool in both Houses and we require fundamental Oireachtas reform. I thank the Cathaoirleach for the time and I hope the Leader will bring my concerns to the attention of the Taoiseach and relevant Ministers.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  Bravo, well said.

Senator Tom Sheahan: Information on Tom Sheahan  Zoom on Tom Sheahan  I compliment the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Simon Coveney, on how quickly he created 158 jobs in the aquaculture industry. I ask the Leader to bring the Minister before the House because the previous Administration failed to implement the operational programme for fisheries for 2007 to 2013. I hope that if the Minister comes before the House, he will indicate an intention to implement the operational programme for fisheries as quickly as possible. This is hindering the fisheries and aquaculture sector which has significant potential for job and wealth creation. I would be grateful if the Leader could arrange for a debate on the issue with the Minister.

Senator Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne  Zoom on Thomas Byrne  Yesterday the Leader suggested that we could discuss a range of issues with the Minister for Finance during our debate on the Finance (No. 2) Bill 2011. I am wary of that proposal because the Bill raises a number of important issues which deserve our attention in their own right. I would prefer for the Leader to arrange a separate debate on the economy, the finance portfolio and the EU-IMF agreement. I was concerned to learn that the figure changed from €440 million to €140 million yesterday. What has happened over recent months has been a sham battle on the issue of corporation tax. When Deputy Brian Lenihan negotiated the original EU-IMF package he was told to keep the interest rate below 6% and retain our corporation tax rate. Both those objectives were achieved. The Government is now fighting a sham battle over our corporation tax rate, even though it is aware it was already won last November, in order that it can say it managed to retain our 12.5% corporation tax rate. Nothing has happened. If the interest rate is to be adjusted, we are now being told it will only be worth €150 million, which is substantially less than the figure suggested by the Taoiseach [202]last week. We should hold a full debate on that issue separate from that on the Finance (No. 2) Bill.

It is time that various Ministers were held to account on health issues. During the course of the election a number of promises were made to the most vulnerable people in society. Senator Henry raised the issue of cancer services in Sligo, an area dear to my own heart because my wife is from the county. Promises were made to restore services within the first 100 days of this Government’s term. In respect of Navan hospital in my own constituency, a number of promises were made to sick and vulnerable people in advance of the election. Either these promises are delivered or else Ministers must be called to account for them. The Seanad would provide an excellent forum for that.

I join my colleagues in wishing leaving certificate students the best of luck today. They are being advised not to panic. Given that I panicked during the leaving certificate, I cannot give the same advice but they should not worry if they panic because it is natural to do so.

Senator Mary M. White: Information on Mary M. White  Zoom on Mary M. White  Hear, hear.

Senator John Whelan: Information on John Whelan  Zoom on John Whelan  I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Health to explain to the House his plans to resolve the chronic shortage of junior doctors which is affecting hospital services throughout the country. Although I defer to the superior knowledge of Senator Crown in this area, I understand the situation is reaching a crisis and will come to a head on 11 July when the new roster for junior doctors comes into effect. The shortage is putting a serious strain on acute hospital and surgical services and is a cause of concern for senior hospital consultants, front-line nursing staff and, of course, the public. I understand HSE managers are drawing up what they refer to as contingency plans to cope with the shortage of junior doctors, although this may, unfortunately, be a euphemism for cutting and scaling back services. I regard the Minister as having hit the ground running and he is not afraid to address the problems he inherited in the health service. While I am sure he will not be found wanting on this issue, the shortage of junior doctors is leading to unnecessary rivalry and tension among regional hospitals which must compete for doctors who are in short supply. Apparently it is more attractive to take up junior training posts in the UK and elsewhere.

Across the midlands, Portlaoise, Mullingar and Tullamore hospitals are under duress. Even though Portlaoise hospital dealt with 41,000 emergency presentations, making it the country’s 11th busiest acute hospital, it is now facing the spectre of reductions in surgical and acute services. It is a matter of life and death to dice with hospitals that provide such a level of surgery and other activities. Portlaoise is the lead maternity, obstetric and paediatric hospital for a region which includes north Tipperary, Laois, Offaly and Kildare. It is positioned on the main road between Dublin, Cork and Limerick and is the only viable accident and emergency unit between these cities. It is also located across the road from two of the country’s largest prisons, Midlands Prison and Portlaoise Prison. So far this year, Portlaoise hospital has treated 11,000 emergency presentations. It is incumbent on the Minister to ensure accident and emergency services in Portlaoise and other regional hospitals are not reduced or restricted owing to the shortage of junior doctors. A sticking plaster will not solve this problem and I am sure the Minister will intervene with a solution.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  I ask that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport re-examine his decision on grants to Galway and Sligo airports, both of which I use comparatively frequently. The amount of money involved is comparatively small but its loss will be devastating for these regions. It will become more difficult to attract tourists and a considerable number of business people use these airports. The Minister suggested that the roads have improved but [203]I wonder whether he is aware of the speed limits on them. It takes 20 minutes to travel by air to these airports but if one attempted to make the journey that quickly by road, a very fast car would be needed and one would certainly end up in jail. I was saddened by the State’s defence in respect of the Magdalene laundries. As I have faith in our new Government, I will speak about a matter I have raised on numerous occasions, that is, the involvement of Protestant institutions in this area. They have been completely excluded and I have been a lone voice in raising the issue. On 30 September 2010, the most recent example, I pointed out that the State’s inspectors reported cases of serious medical neglect in Bethany House but the State deflected these claims and publicly directed that the institution should not be included in any circumstances with the investigation into the treatment of Roman Catholic children. The State, therefore, took a partisan and sectarian position to the disadvantage of the children concerned and it refused to accept the report of its own medical advisers. The previous Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. John Neill, issued a powerful statement of apology on behalf of the church which referred to grave concern and deep pain but the worst aspect was that the Church of Ireland has repeatedly petitioned the State to have Bethany House brought under the remit of the Residential Institutions Redress Board. I attended a service of remembrance in Mount Jerome Cemetery for 200 unnamed children. The State owes these children the same redress as this House advocated so passionately in regard to the Magdalene laundries.

Senator Michael D’Arcy: Information on Michael D'Arcy  Zoom on Michael D'Arcy  I wish to raise the issue of social welfare fraud. TV3 broadcast a very good programme on this subject last night which involved a top class level of investigative journalism. We continually speak about issues over which we have some control but we have full control over this one. It appears, however, that we do not want to grasp the nettle on this occasion. Significant sums of money are being wasted through social welfare fraud but the political will has not existed to address this problem, possibly because it appears distasteful to do so. It is the black and cash economy rather than the green economy which is dominant in Ireland at present. People who claim social welfare benefits are competing with those who operate legitimate businesses. They pay no VAT or other taxes and the legitimate business people are losing out. The Minister for Social Protection needs to outline to the House the Government’s proposals for ending the fraud of billions of euro every year because Joe and Josephine taxpayer are not going to facilitate it for much longer. I would like an in-depth debate on this matter as soon as possible.

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane  Zoom on David Cullinane  I welcome the commitment to a debate on the economy. The exchange between the Government and the main Opposition party is part of a phoney war being fought between the two sides because the present Government is implementing the policies of its predecessor on the EU-IMF bailout. I welcome the fact that there will be a debate and, I hope, Sinn Féin will have speaking time when it takes place.

This brings me to my second question, which I will continue to raise until we get a response. I was asked yesterday by the Leader to write to him and the Cathaoirleach in respect of the meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. I did so and I raised a number of issues of concern that we have. I hope they were addressed but it would seem from this meeting that at least one of the issues has not been addressed. I ask the Leader to respond to the concerns——

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke  Zoom on Paddy Burke  The Committee on Procedure and Privileges meeting is this evening.

[204]Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane  Zoom on David Cullinane  I apologise but I want an acknowledgement that the letter was received and that those issues will be raised.

I welcome the statement by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport that a review of the taxi industry will be commissioned. It is timely for us to have a discussion on the future of the industry. While the review will focus on unsavoury practices in the industry, which were highlighted in a recent “Prime Time Investigates” programme, issues of concern to taxi drivers across the State also need to be addressed. There are too many taxis on the road, particularly in County Waterford, and it is timely and proper for this House to be part of the discussion the Minister wants to have on the future of the industry.

I refer to the issue of housing. The recent CSO housing statistics highlighted a further 1% decrease in house prices in April. This points up the need to have a discussion on housing issues. There are major problems, which I am sure the Leader will accept, in respect of social housing because Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000 is no longer available to local authorities, funding for new building has dried up and long-term leasing has not been as successful as hoped because landlords are not buying into the scheme while debt forgiveness and repossessions also need to be discussed. It is timely for the House to have a full and comprehensive discussion about the future of housing, especially social housing.

Senator Jimmy Harte: Information on Jimmy Harte  Zoom on Jimmy Harte  I am delighted that Fianna Fáil Senators have brought the issue of the economy to the fore. Perhaps that would have been a better exercise if it had been done in the past few years. I am sure they will clarify issues the country is waiting to hear about.

Senator Darragh O’Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien  Zoom on Darragh O'Brien  We would be more than happy. I am only asking a question.

Senator Jimmy Harte: Information on Jimmy Harte  Zoom on Jimmy Harte  I am delighted the Senator asked it because we can follow it up at a future date.

  11 o’clock

Senator Crown raised the issue of the tax on pension funds. I was in business for many years and I have spoken to many retailers and small business owners throughout the country. They are not concerned about whether the tax is 0.6%, 0.8% or 0.1% on their pension fund but about whether they can afford to put money in. Many of them have stopped contributing to their pensions because they cannot afford it. It is a shame because they are not making profits and cannot pay into their pension schemes for their retirement. Certain occupations are not affected by the recession and those engaged in them feel aggrieved by the tax but if a small business owner is asked whether he or she would rather have his or her pension fund taxed at 0.6% to bring jobs on stream or have no tax on, they would prefer to have pension schemes contribute to stimulating job creation. Unless jobs come on stream, the small business man will go out of business and, therefore, it will be irrelevant to him whether he has a pension fund. It must be recognised that taking money out of pension funds may affect the pockets of some people but, in the overall scheme of things, if it generates jobs and brings people back into shops, hotels and other businesses, it is a good idea.

There is major demand for passports, particularly at this time of year. It might be an idea to stagger the renewal periods for passports. If my passport is issued today, it will be up for renewal this day five years or ten years. The renewal date should be deferred to October or November rather than having a glut of renewals in June and July when people are going on holidays. Will the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade consider the staggering of passport renewals?

Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: Information on Labhrás Ó Murchú  Zoom on Labhrás Ó Murchú  It is generally accepted that in times of war and social unrest those who provide medical services to the victims of hostilities should not be subjected to harassment or oppressive practices. This a humane principle to which all civilised admini[205]strations subscribe. Senator Crown raised an important issue in this regard because there is no doubt that medical staff in Bahrain are being subjected to oppressive practices. No democrat would accept that it is correct for any administration to use the caring professions in the context of a political agenda. We should not under-estimate the importance of this House giving a voice to such people when they do not have a voice of their own. Ireland, in particular, because it does not have international historical baggage is generally listened to much more carefully than states with baggage. Perhaps Senator Crown will consider tabling an agreed motion. We have used this mechanism in the past and we should use it much more often when we are all agreed on an issue. I compliment the Senator for raising the issue. I suggest that, with the permission of the Whips, we might come forward tomorrow with an agreed motion on thisissue.

Senator Paul Bradford: Information on Paul Bradford  Zoom on Paul Bradford  Yesterday, the Leader made an excellent suggestion on organising in the coming months a series of debates on the individual components of the programme for Government. Will he use that opportunity at an early date to debate political reform? The programme contains a commitment to set up a commission to examine our system of politics, including electoral reform.

I support Senator Crown’s comments on what we call politics. We have a political system and, in particular, an electoral system, which will always ensure constituency comes before country and nobody should be surprised that our economy is in its current dreadful position because we do not have a working political system. It is only lazy politics and lazy journalism which would somehow believe that the Seanad alone is the problem. We have a problem with the Dáil, local government and this House.

Senator Mary M. White: Information on Mary M. White  Zoom on Mary M. White  Hear, hear.

Senator Paul Bradford: Information on Paul Bradford  Zoom on Paul Bradford  A broad debate on urgent reform is needed. We are engaged in a great deal of introspection in this House but we need to consider the broader political picture, including local government, the Dáil and, in particular, the electoral system. We have to recognise that our electoral system, which may have been fit for purpose in the Ireland of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, is no longer fit to produce the governance and decision-making processes the country requires. I look forward at the earliest opportunity to a debate on political reform. The problems we have and improvements we can make in this House are minuscule in comparison to the problems in the broader political system.

Senator Mary M. White: Information on Mary M. White  Zoom on Mary M. White  Hear, hear.

Senator Feargal Quinn: Information on Fergal Quinn  Zoom on Fergal Quinn  While offering best wishes to those doing their examinations, I remind the House that the leaving certificate applied examinations are also taking place today. I mention this because a number of State bodies do not recognise this curriculum and there is a necessity to debate this issue.

Every Member received a copy of the Order Paper in an envelope in his or her pigeon hole. I do not understand this. I have raised previously the volume of paper used by the House for no purpose. The envelope was sealed, addressed and placed in my pigeon hole. We could make significant savings in this regard.

Senator Norris raised the threat to a number of regional airports. One issue was raised in the very good debate we had on tourism last week. The people of the island of Kyushu in Japan — businessmen, bureaucrats and academics — got together, not to subsidise the airport but to subsidise the passengers. They went to towns in China, Taiwan, Korea and elsewhere to encourage people to fly to Kyushu. They were offering for sale a €1,000 voucher that could be [206]used in shops, hotels or medical services on the island which has eight airports. The initiative has been a great success. The reason I raise it is because it was not the Government that did it. Some people say the Government should subsidise the airports but it was the people themselves, those in business who said they would encourage tourism by offering people the chance to buy a €1,000 voucher. That is the kind of thinking we need here. Let us stop saying the Government should do this or that. Perhaps it is time for us to get up and do something ourselves. This is a very good opportunity to do so.

I support Senator Crown’s point about Bahrain and the doctors there. I was horrified to hear what is taking place. Senator Ó Murchú agreed entirely with the point. He said the Seanad is the place where we can draw attention to what is happening there. The situation has been described very well. It is a tradition that those who give aid to those who have been injured in any sort of conflict are not criticised or put in prison for it. This House can do something about that. I support Senator Crown.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames  Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames  It would be remiss of me not to mention Galway Airport. I am grateful that the Cabinet has made a decision to fund the airport for this year but it provides us with a major challenge because to attract new airlines one must offer a three-year contract. I accept what was said about creative solutions. I listened carefully to what Senator Feargal Quinn said, that Galway Airport could be on its last legs. The airport contributes €31 million to the broader economy. The medical device sector in Galway attracts doctors from all over the world. They said that they would not have come were it not for the direct flights into the region. Last year alone one of those medical devices companies said it brought in 450 doctors to look at its new equipment. The medical devices sector is an injection into the arm of this country when it comes to exports. I encourage the Government to keep an open mind on Galway Airport. Locally, we will do everything to look at the issue.

I support what my colleague, Senator Bradford, said about the need for a rolling debate in the Chamber on electoral reform.

Senator Mary M. White: Information on Mary M. White  Zoom on Mary M. White  Hear, hear.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames  Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames  There is a commitment in the programme for Government that we look at the electoral system as a whole not just Seanad reform. I accept that Seanad reform is important but in and of itself it is just an easy target. It will not solve any of the problems of this country. The debate should begin on the electoral system as a whole. Will the Leader consider a rolling debate, be it one day a week for X amount of time until everyone in this House has had a chance to make a contribution? At the end of those contributions we could collate them into a report. The debate should be about how our electoral system should serve this country, not the Members of this House or the other House. We are at a watershed. A referendum is due in the next year or two. Let us offer something real. At the end of the process it would be great if, in addition to the report I propose, some of those contributions could be covered by the broadcasting unit and RTE. The people need to be truly informed to make the decision.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh  Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh  Ba mhaith liom dhá cheist a ardú le Ceannaire an Tí a bhaineann le cúrsaí tuaithe go bunúsach. Maidir leis an clár taistil tuaithe, nó rural transport programme, tá ráflaí sa timpeallacht go mb’fhéidir go mbeidh deireadh á chur leis an gclár sin. Tá sin ag cur an-imní ar mhuintir na tuaithe mar gheall ar an tseirbhís iontach a thugann an clár sin. Bheadh sé ar fheabhas dá dtiocfadh an tAire Iompair isteach sa Teach le ceisteanna a fhreagairt agus le todhchaí an chláir sin a dheimhniú dúinn.

[207]Will the Leader of the House ask the Minister for Transport to come to the House to discuss the rural transport programme because rural people are very worried about the possibility that it might be axed in the coming months?

Chomh maith leis sin, ba mhaith liom tacú leis na moltaí a rinne na Seanadóirí romham maidir le hAerfort na Gaillimhe. One of the interesting aspects about Galway Airport which seems to be overlooked is that 80% of the traffic is international; therefore, the argument that we now have roads that will get people here and there in a fast time does not count for the 80% of people travelling internationally.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  Hear, hear.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh  Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh  Tréaslaím leis an Aire as ucht an cinneadh a rinne sé inné dul siar ar an gearradh siar a bhí déanta ag an Rialtas roimhe. I commend the Minister on reversing the cut introduced by the previous Government to funding for regional airports. If the Minister were to come to the House we could put the case for Galway Airport in a vehement fashion in order that he might help it to come to a position of sustainability and viability within the next two or three years.

Tá go leor daoine ag guí deaghuí ar na daltaí atá ag déanamh scrúduithe agus ba mhaith liomsa an rud chéanna a dhéanamh. We also need to remember that there are 17,615 pupils in two-teacher schools around the country. The future of those schools is in jeopardy. The pupils attending them will do their junior certificates and leaving certificates in the future. We have great expertise in this House. I would like the Minister for Education and Skills to come to the House to debate the future of those schools so that it does not become merely an academic exercise, as such, in an office in Dublin where the number of pupils in a school is the only reason taken on board when we look at its future viability. Those schools have a vital role to play in their communities. Tá sé an-tábhachtach do phobal na tuaithe go mbeadh na scoileanna ann, ach tá gearradh siar á dhéanamh ar sheirbhísí faoin tuath. Mar sin, ba mhaith liom go dtiocfadh an tAire isteach le go gcuirfeadh muid ár dtuairimí in iúl faoin tábhacht a bhaineann leis na scoileanna beaga tuaithe ar fud an iarthair agus ar fud na tíre.

Senator Mary M. White: Information on Mary M. White  Zoom on Mary M. White  Yesterday in the Dáil another light was cast on the dark issue of suicide. I thank Deputy John Lyons of Dublin North-West, who asked the Minister for Justice and Equality about suicide among asylum seekers. A total of 49 asylum seekers died here in the past ten years while they were under the jurisdiction of the Reception and Integration Agency which is responsible for their care. Those who died did not die in the asylum centres but in hospitals and other locations. Eight asylum seekers died by suicide in the two years, 2003 and 2008. We must ask why.

Asylum seekers spend up to seven years waiting for a decision from the Government on whether they are to be allowed to stay. They have nothing to do all day and they have no social welfare payments. An adult gets a personal allowance of €19 per week. Because they are bored, with nothing to do but wait in vain, they get physically, mentally and psychologically sick. As a consequence, 49 asylum seekers have died. That has been brought to light just yesterday. I am sure nobody in this Chamber knew that asylum seekers were dying by suicide. I call on the Minister for Justice and Equality to urgently work with the Reception and Integration Agency to speed up decision making on whether people are to be allowed to stay here.

On the Arab spring and what is happening in many places, I commend the moral courage of the people in those countries. The Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland, which trains many of these doctors in Ireland as well as in its medical establishment in Bahrain, should show its moral courage and speak out on behalf of the 47 doctors who, in keeping with their Hippocratic oath, are giving humanitarian aid to patients.

[208]Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Ronan Mullen  Zoom on Ronan Mullen  Bhíáthas orm Seanadóirí eile a chloisteáil ag labhairt faoi aerphort na Gaillimhe agus aerphort Shligigh. The Government is being very short-sighted on this issue. The focus should not be on the number of passengers but the nature of the passengers and the importance of regional airports, Galway and Sligo in particular, to the national spatial strategy and to the cause of balanced regional investment. A senior manager with Boston Scientific visiting a plant in Galway which has several thousand workers will think in terms of travelling by plane. I think this is short-sighted and the proposal to pull the plug on the subsidy and funding to this airport is ill considered.

In congratulating students sitting the leaving certificate and leaving certificate applied examinations today, may I ask if it would be appropriate to have a debate on the school syllabus at primary and secondary level. That is the key to our ability to resolve our problems in the future. Perhaps we can discuss this at the leaders’ meeting.

I have a question for the Deputy Leader. Senator Bacik received deserved plaudits last week when she brought forward on behalf of the Labour Party legislation to prohibit female genital mutilation. I was astonished to read at the weekend, however, that Senator Bacik, at a World Atheist Convention, was reported as being approving of an Irish ban on what she called male genital mutilation. MGM has a musical ring to it, but I am not sure that it is an appropriate characterisation of circumcision and whether that is what she meant. We have medical expertise in the House and we can debate in due course whether there is a medical case for such a ban, but I did not hear that in what Senator Bacik said. Has Senator Bacik considered that such a proposal could be deeply insensitive towards the Jewish and Muslim communities? Has the Senator contacted the Department of Justice and Equality to determine its view on the question and will she consider if this is an example of some equality advocates losing their sense of perspective and proportionality in the blind notion of equality?

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik  Zoom on Ivana Bacik  That is a long question, Senator.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Ronan Mullen  Zoom on Ronan Mullen  We are all concerned about the impact of cuts, but this is one cut the Senator should leave well enough alone.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik  Zoom on Ivana Bacik  I do not think it is appropriate to make a joke about it, Senator Mullen.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins  Zoom on Maurice Cummins  I join the Leader of the Opposition, Senator O’Brien, in wishing well all pupils taking the junior and leaving certificate examinations today and I wish them every success for the future.

A number of Members requested debates on finance, the economy and the EU-IMF bailout. The Minister for Finance or the Minister of State at his Department will come to the House next week. The time for the Second Stage debate has been extended to three hours, which is unprecedented. There will be an opportunity to raise many of the topics and questions that were raised.

Senator Bacik requested a further debate on child protection. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, yesterday agreed to come to the House for a further debate when the recommendations are considered and implemented.

A number of Senators, including Senators Crown, Bradford and Healy Eames among others, raised the issue of constitutional and political reform. Members will be aware the Government is committed to constitutional reform and we can arrange to have a debate on the subject.

Senators Crown, Ó Murchú, Quinn and White raised the suffering endured by doctors and nurses in Bahrain. We are in favour of a motion on the issue and would be prepared to facilitate such an all-party motion if it could be of help.

[209]Senator Crown raised the question of the Taoiseach abolishing the Seanad. Let me remind him that the Taoiseach cannot abolish the Seanad. The people of Ireland will decide on its abolition.

On the issue of the pension levy, which can be raised in the debate on the Finance Bill next week, it is ironic that the pension industry prior to the election recommended a 0.5% levy. When the Minister introduced a 0.6% levy, all hell seemed to break out. That is a matter that can be raised. Perhaps the companies and the fund managers could take the opportunity to absorb some of the costs in order that they are not passed on the people to whom Senator Crown referred.

Senator Sheahan requested a debate on fisheries, and a number of other Senators also requested such a debate. Fisheries provide great potential to create jobs and I will facilitate a debate on the issue at an early course.

Senator Thomas Byrne raised issues relating to the Finance Bill. I assure him that if we do not have sufficient time to debate the Finance Bill, I will arrange time for further debates on specific areas of the economy and topics such as NAMA. The Senator also called for debates on various aspects of health services. I advised Members that both Ministers of State at the Department of Health will come to the House next week to deal with primary care and the fair deal.

Looking back at last week’s business, I note that the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, and the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, came to the House. The senior Ministers have spent time in the Seanad and I hope that will continue.

Senator Whelan raised the issue of the shortage of junior doctors. That is a matter that must be addressed and it could be raised with either of the Ministers of State at the Department of Health when they come to the House next week.

Senators Norris, Healy Eames, Ó Clochartaigh, Mullen and Quinn raised the issue of regional airports, Galway Airport in particular. It is a problem. I know from experience of Waterford regional airport, which is the only regional airport that does not have public service funding, that there is a difficulty. When Members speak about the volume of business, we must create a situation where regional airports are financially viable as well. There is a need for Government funding, the Minister has reversed his decision in respect of Galway and perhaps he will come to the House at a future date to deal with the wider area of aviation policy in respect of regional, national and international airports.

Senator Norris raised issues relating to those who were in Bethany House. I agree that these people deserve the same redress as envisaged will be provided for those who were in Magdalene homes. The recommendations arising from the report into this issue will be discussed by Cabinet and I hope the debate in the Seanad will be just after that.

Senator Michael D’Arcy raised the question of social welfare fraud and the development of the black economy. The social welfare Bill will come to the House in two weeks time and that will afford the Senator an opportunity to raise with the Minister questions about social welfare fraud.

I assure Senator Cullinane that the matter he raised will be considered by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. I did not receive his letter but the matter will be dealt with. I have emphasised the point that the Members concerned are not a group and therefore cannot be afforded the opportunities provided for group membership, but we will try to facilitate the party as much as possible.

[210]Senator Harte raised the questions of the pension funds and passports. We can raise the issue of passports with the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Senator Feargal Quinn mentioned the practice of placing the Order Paper in an envelope. This matter has been raised on several occasions and was discussed by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. I see no reason every Senator should be given each day’s Order Paper in a big brown envelope which is probably thrown in a bin. There are savings to be made in this regard. I note the Senator’s Japanese experience of regional airports and business people subsidising other passengers. This is something we should consider in this country.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh also mentioned rural transport, which is something we can deal with at a later stage. Senator Mary White referred to the suicide rate among asylum seekers. The previous Seanad held a debate on suicide, to which the Senator contributed. It is a subject to which we can come back. I am sure every Senator has received representations relating to the delays in processing asylum applications. This issue needs to be addressed in the Department of Justice and Equality. I am sure the Minister is working to expedite the matter. This is something we would all welcome.

Senator Rónán Mullen referred to the school syllabus. The Minister for Education and Skills will be in the House next week for statements on special educational needs and other aspects of education. The Senator may raise this matter on that occasion. Male genital mutilation is a matter he can discuss with Senator Ivana Bacik at a later stage. I am sure she will be well able to answer his question.

Order of Business agreed to.

Sitting suspended at 11.35 a.m. and resumed at 11.55 a.m.


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