Thursday, 3 May 2012
Seanad Éireann Debate
Senator Maurice Cummins: The Order of Business is No. 1, Animal Health and Welfare Bill 2012, Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude no later than 1.45 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed six minutes, and with the Minister to be called on to reply no later than 1.35 p.m.
Senator Paschal Mooney: The unemployment crisis is ongoing despite the efforts of the Government to present a scenario whereby it stimulates the jobs market and is effective in creating new jobs. While I fully accept the foreign direct investment dimension is very healthy looking with many announcements in recent months and a number of others in the pipeline — we have announcements on a weekly basis which is exceptionally welcome — the reality is that the unemployment rate remains stubbornly high and has not changed from month to month. However, it has changed on a year to year basis and since the Government took over it has increased. What is of most concern is that the number of long-term unemployed, those on the live register for more than a year, has increased by 15,000 people on a month to month basis. These are the statistics which remain stubbornly high. In this context it is incumbent on the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, to attend the House on a more regular basis. I appreciate he has been here and I know the Leader does his best to ensure Ministers attend the House, but I believe this is the most important issue facing people. In the context of the fiscal treaty it is also important that the Government continues to send out a message of hope and confidence to people, particularly those who are unemployed.
I would like to link this to the revelation made in the past 24 hours by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, that it is unlikely high-speed broadband will be distributed to rural parts of Ireland by 2015 because of the cost. What is revealing in the figures mentioned in the report yesterday is that 22,000 companies do not have Internet access. I find it astonishing in the modern era, when Ireland presents itself at the cutting edge of technology, that 22,000 companies have no Internet access. I am concerned the Government will take its eye off the ball in terms of examining these parts of the country which will now not only be at a disadvantage with regard to other parts of the country but because we are an export-led country they will suffer from international competition. Broadband is now as important as rural electrification was. This is its relevance. Admittedly it is the responsibility of a different Department but it is allied to the question of creating more jobs and confidence and in the context of the jobs initiative the Government continues to roll out, I call on the relevant Minister to come to the House.
Today is Alzheimer’s day and I commend those who established an Alzheimer’s tea day in the House. I commend to Members on all sides of the House that they contribute in their own way. It is significant that in today’s newspapers another significant breakthrough has been announced by a university in the United States and I am sure the Leader will join me in encouraging everybody to acknowledge how serious this condition is. We should continue to highlight it.
Senator Ivana Bacik: I echo Senator Mooney’s words of praise for those who organised the Alzheimer’s day coffee morning. I thank Senator O’Keeffe and others on the cross-party mental health working group in the Oireachtas.
Senator Ivana Bacik: I agree more must be done in this regard. During the previous session of the Seanad, the Alzheimer Society of Ireland was one group that made oral submissions to the Seanad Public Consultation Committee on the rights of older people. However, the Seanad can seek to do more on this in the future.
On jobs, I welcome the announcement of the creation of 250 jobs in Dublin and Galway by the SAP firm. This follows on from a series of job announcements, arising mainly from foreign direct investment, which is a sign of continued confidence in the Irish economy despite the great difficulties through which we are going and all Members will welcome that. In the same light, I welcome the resolution of the Vita Cortex dispute and pay tribute to the workers there, who have been trying to achieve resolution in this regard for such a long time.
Finally, the Seanad has held various debates on child sex abuse and institutional abuse, particularly within Catholic Church-run institutions. In this vein, Members might usefully have a further debate on what the State should be doing to ensure this does not happen again. There has been a great deal of focus in the last couple of days on Cardinal Brady’s personal responsibility and on what he should do personally. While that debate is going on, Members also should consider, in light of the BBC revelations, what the State can do to prevent this from happening again. I am delighted to note that next week, the Second Stage debate on the Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information on Offences Against Children and Vulnerable Persons) Bill 2012 will take place in the Seanad. The Bill is part of the package of Government measures to try to guard against this terrible evil of child sex abuse and to ensure that children are much better protected in our legal system in the future.
Senator Sean D. Barrett: I raise the issue of the Revised Estimate for the Office of the Attorney General, about which Members have received papers in the recent past. Its budget will increase by 12%, with increases of 11% and 9% on administration and pay, respectively, as well as provision for 5% more employees. I speak in the context of the difficulties being experienced by all offices at present and the worrying point concerns the comprehensive spending review on that office. The output statements state the office will endeavour to deliver in 2012 a level of output and quality of service similar to that in 2011. It also undertakes that the office will maintain the panels of counsel from which it will brief counsel on behalf of the State to provide advice and litigation services, as well as maintaining and updating of the electronic Irish Statute Book. There also are two references to the office’s role in the IMF agreement but that agreement states legal costs in Ireland are excessive and are part of the sheltered service sector.
Senator Sean D. Barrett: Moreover, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, is working to reduce such costs. I also note material is available that in the last review, the office created 13% fewer files and 53% fewer amendments, while Bills had 60% fewer sections. However, in the context of the comprehensive public expenditure review, the attempts to get value for money and the advice from the IMF that Irish legal costs are excessive, it seems strange that the State’s own legal bills are rising so rapidly. The comprehensive public expenditure review should examine urgently the rapid increase in the budget for legal services at a time when it is urgent for the country to reduce the cost of such services.
Senator Deirdre Clune: I paid tribute to the Vita Cortex workers, as I am sure will all Members, as their dignified but determined campaign appears to have come to an end. When light was shone on this issue, it revealed that despite all the employment legislation that is in place, one cannot legislate for respect. I refer to the respect an employer should have for his or her employees, particularly those who have turned up for more than 40 years, daily in many cases, and who had a major part to play in the successful company that was Vita Cortex. I also wish to acknowledge the fast-tracking by the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, of the statutory redundancy payments to the aforementioned workers and how the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, made available the services of the Labour Relations Commission. I am led to believe its services were instrumental in reaching this resolution. All Members will agree the dignified and determined campaign carried out by those workers has won them enormous respect and everyone wishes them well as they and their families attempt to return to a normal life.
Senator Thomas Byrne: I wish to raise the issue of the treaty referendum as I am greatly concerned by how the Government parties in particular are dealing with it. The Seanad must hold further discussions on the referendum in respect of the debate that is under way. There is a lack of information and the old adage, which I will not repeat, in respect of not knowing may well apply to some people. I note some newspapers have begun to fill this gap and while they may be good newspapers, some of them have an historical record of being on one side of the argument. The Seanad needs to do more in this regard. For example, I am not aware whether a report was ever produced or published on foot of Members’ long debate in this Chamber. It certainly has not been brought to my attention and I ask whether it will become available before the referendum date.
People are crying out for information and both the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste must take the lead in this regard. It was highly unfortunate that they did not take part in the television debate hosted by Vincent Browne on Tuesday night. My own party has stepped into the leadership vacuum but I urge the Government parties to stop the rhetoric about Fianna Fáil as this referendum will only be passed with its support. I do not refer to support from the parliamentary party but from its voters nationwide and in this context, I refer to how Ministers persist in nonsensical attacks on my party. I single out the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, in particular in this regard. Almost all replies to parliamentary questions that he issues in the Dáil refer to some political matter relating to Fianna Fáil and the last Government. He must stop doing this because Fianna Fáil voters will not take it. While Fianna Fáil wishes to do what is in the best interests of the country, I believe our voters are being provoked continually. I hope the Government has had a change of heart since Deputy Martin’s performance on television the other night. He has shown the leadership that is necessary——
Senator Thomas Byrne: He is not doing this for Fine Gael but is doing it for Ireland. It is about time each member of the Cabinet did the same and put aside their party political views for the duration of this campaign to do what is in the best interests of Ireland.
I wish to refer to an entirely different item, which is that yesterday, my friend and colleague, Senator Daly, made a serious and unwarranted charge with regard to NAMA. He spoke of approximately 450 acres of agricultural land, and so zoned, in a part of Cork. I understand he mentioned a figure of €100 million and how it was sold for €7 million.
Senator Paul Coghlan: I am rebutting something that was stated seriously in this Chamber yesterday. I put on record that two independent valuations of approximately €10,000 an acre were carried out by reputable firms in that regard. When NAMA acquired that loan, it reflected the state of the market at that time. It was sold in one lot at a price significantly above what the agency paid for it and consequently, a profit was made for the taxpayer.
Senator Paul Coghlan: Savills, which is a highly reputable firm, acted on its behalf. It had checked the market and was in touch with all interested parties. I can only conclude that someone who did not get his or her own way——
Senator Paul Coghlan: I appreciate what the Cathaoirleach is saying and always have obeyed his rulings. I will await the Bill that Senator Daly has promised to sponsor and then I will comment further.
Senator David Norris: I join with Senator Bacik in suggesting a debate on State involvement in the institutional care of children and so on. I understand a Bill relating to the trust fund for survivors of institutional abuse is forthcoming. Perhaps the Leader will tell us when it will come before the Seanad?
I would like to comment briefly on a matter raised by Senator Bacik, namely, the current tragic situation regarding the children in the North of Ireland. It is clear that Cardinal Brady is under enormous pressure. No one can gloat over that. I certainly do not.
Senator David Norris: I regard myself as a Protestant Catholic because the Church to which I belong, the Anglican Church, never left the universal Catholic Church but protested against what it saw as abuses. I would like to put on the record——
Senator David Norris: Yes. I am looking for a debate on all these issues. To hear on the radio that a 14 year old boy who had been abused was separated from his parents and interrogated by three adult males asking about intimate details of his bodily functions, erections and whether he had relations with other boys was shocking.
Senator David Norris: Yes. Will the Leader permit a debate which will allow us includes these matters? I am not involved in the politics of personal condemnation or victimisation of anyone. It is a tragic situation for everyone involved. However, that was the last straw.
Senator Lorraine Higgins: I ask that the Leader invite the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, to the House for a debate on the ongoing situation in relation to farm inspections. I understand that in east Galway in particular inspectors are arriving on farms to conduct inspections without giving prior notice to farmers. While in normal circumstances this would be illegal the inspectors are arriving under the guise of the animal feed and hygiene regulations, in respect of which no notice is required under EU law. The problem is that inspectors are then purporting to carry out tagging inspections on cattle and sheep in respect of which by law a farmer is entitled to 48 hours notice and in respect of land eligibility in respect of which 14 days notice is by law required.
There is huge fear among the farming community in east Galway in particular in relation to inspections. Farmers are afraid to stand up for their rights for fear of detrimental action being taken against them by the Department. This is wrong. It is an unacceptable reign of terror on farmers. I ask that the Minister, Deputy Coveney, come to the House to outline the steps he will take to alleviate this totally unacceptable situation.
Senator Mark Daly: Senator Coghlan — my colleague, friend and fellow Kerryman — that Bill has been published. I can provide the Senator with a copy of the Bill, which is the NAMA and Irish Bank Resolution Corporation Transparency Bill 2011. There is no transparency in the manner in which NAMA or its agents are doing their business. No one in Cork knew the land was for sale.
Senator Mark Daly: I am asking that the Leader allow time for the introduction of the NAMA and Irish Bank Resolution Corporation Transparency Bill 2011. We are asking NAMA to sell everything on the open market in accordance with legislation enacted by the Dáil and Seanad. I have stated on numerous occasions that NAMA is, under section 35 of that legislation, supposed to sell land in accordance with the sale of State assets. The loans and lands are State assets and should be sold by tender or public auction. That is not happening.
Senator Mark Daly: Yes. Will the Leader allow Government time in relation to this issue? I have previously put that request to the Leader. I have also asked that the Attorney General be brought before the House to explain the reason NAMA is not selling these assets in accordance with the law laid down by this House?
Senator Martin Conway: As a practising Catholic I stand here today in utter amazement that the Primate of All Ireland, Cardinal Seán Brady, has not tendered his resignation for the sake of all Catholics in this country, including me, who believe that the Catholic Church has a future. It is regrettable that Cardinal Brady, who no longer retains the moral authority of practising Catholics in Ireland, has not moved on to allow someone new, who is untainted in any shape or form by what happened in the past, to take over. If the church is to survive and continue to play its important role in education and other areas, we need a complete and fundamental clean out at the top in terms of the senior management structures of the Catholic Church.
Senator Martin Conway: I call on the Leader to provide time for a debate, similar to the successful debate in this House developed by my colleague, Senator Michael Mullins, on jobs, on jobs in the IT sector. I agree with Senator Mooney’s comments in regard to the importance of broadband. I know of a gentleman in County Clare who, because his village is well serviced by broadband, works only two days a month in Dublin and the rest of the time at home. There is a need for a proper broadband service in rural Ireland to ensure it has the same job opportunities as the cities.
Senator Jim Walsh: I was pleased that the Leader accepted full responsibility the other day for the ordering of business in this House. It gives me no pleasure to have to criticise this on a regular basis. Yesterday, we had a two and a half hour sos and the House adjourned at 6 p.m. Today we are adjourning at 1.45 p.m. and the House will not sit next Tuesday because Monday is a bank holiday. This is appalling. It is not what the Seanad should be about. We are making the case for abolition of the Seanad. I urge the Leader to bring about change in the Seanad and can provide him with some suggestions in this regard. Perhaps people are going to play golf in Faithlegg or somewhere else. A previous Leader was criticised for engaging in such activities.
Senator Jim Walsh: No. There is nothing that I have said that I need to withdraw. The growth forecasts have been halved. Earlier this year, I told the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, that we would not, between 2011 and 2015, achieve an increase in GDP of more than an average of 1% per annum. Our GDP now stands at 0.7% and was double that when the forecasts were made. The Government has forecast growth of 2.2% for next year, increasing to 3%, which is unachievable. This has implications for growth, employment and our sovereign debt.
Senator Jim Walsh: I am asking that the Leader allow time to debate this issues next Tuesday. I propose that we meet next Tuesday to discuss these issues, including public expenditure, over which there is currently no control, and public service reform.
Senator Jim Walsh: Yes, I am proposing an amendment to the Order of Business. I refer to an issue in today’s newspaper. A voluntary organisation had to bring to our attention the fact that we have failed to tackle the bias in RTE.
Senator Cáit Keane: We have discussed obesity in the House for some time and Senator Eamonn Coghlan is doing much work on it. I bring to the attention of the House a study which has found that children who are breast-feed for the first six months are less likely to be obese when they reach nine years of age. Growing Up in Ireland was a wide-ranging study of 8,500 nine year olds and 11,000 nine month olds. The study also showed that children who are weaned on to solids later have less chance of becoming obese.
We know what obesity is costing the State in health terms in later life and it would save the State money if it afforded the likes of the La Leche League, a voluntary body promoting and helping first-time mothers — I know men do not breast-feed, so this concerns women——
I ask the Minister for Health to consider setting up some facility in hospitals to educate first-time mothers. Some time ago, formula manufacturers could go into hospitals to promote their wares in little bags and hand them out to first-time mothers to disincentivise them from breast-feeding. That no longer goes on but what was not put in its place was an education facility to educate people.
Senator Cáit Keane: I have one question. Less-educated and poorer mothers are particularly at risk of not knowing the benefits of breast-feeding. I am not calling for a debate but for a report from the Minister for Health on what action he will take to ensure information is made available in hospitals and in schools and that the La Leche League, a voluntary body, is consulted and asked for its expertise, which it has offered.
Senator Cáit Keane: One second. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs has set up a new group on child care and this should be part of its remit because it will be dealing with preschool and will be making recommendations. I ask that it consider this issue.
Senator Colm Burke: I need to correct the record in regard to something I said on the Order of Business on 23 April. I quoted a figure of 4,000 instead of 400 and €32 million instead of €3.2 million. At my request, the Leader corrected it on the day but I understand that to correct the record, I need to do so myself.
I refer to the management companies of apartment complexes. Reading a report in the Irish Independent yesterday, I understand a number of companies are having difficulty collecting the standard charge each apartment owner must pay to maintain services in the common areas. In some apartment complexes, lights have been turned off because ESB bills have not been paid and major problems are arising. In some cases, there are genuine problems where apartment owners are in financial difficulty but in other cases, I understand landlords are paying these charges at the last minute.
Will the Leader consider inviting the Minister to the House for a debate on whether there is a need to bring in new legislation to deal with this issue? Where people buy an apartment in a complex, they have a legal obligation to pay the charge to facilitate all of the occupiers of the complex. Some people who are paying those charges are being disadvantaged. If one goes to sell one’s apartment, one will not be able to do so if there are difficulties in regard to managing the common areas. It is a serious problem which requires urgent debate and, if necessary, new legislation.
Senator Michael Mullins: I very much welcome the significant jobs announcement at SAP in Galway which is an indication of great confidence returning to our economy. We need to maintain that confidence and the best way to do so is for a resounding “Yes” vote on 31 May. I welcome Fianna Fáil’s support for the treaty but I am very disappointed that some of my former Fianna Fáil colleagues on Galway County Council have decided to come out against it and I ask them to reconsider.
I support the call for a debate and an update on child protection measures. I am sure the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs would be pleased to come to the House for such a debate. I feel a certain element of sympathy for Cardinal Seán Brady who is under enormous pressure because of incompetence and the fact people at a much higher rank than he was at the time did not do their duty.
What is really making me angry is that as far back as 1964, Brendan Smyth could have been stopped in his tracks if a young priest from my parish, a young novice, Fr. Bruno Mulvihill, had been listened to when he alerted the abbott of Kilnacrott about the behaviour of Brendan Smyth. He raised very serious concerns but when he got no joy or no action from the abbott——
I am calling for a debate but I want to put on the record that this whole Brendan Smyth affair could have been stopped if a young east Galway novice had been listened to. He was a fine young man. He was rewarded by being shipped off to serve in Germany where, unfortunately, he lost his life in a road traffic accident. There is an element of sadness around this whole sordid Brendan Smyth affair. I wish the authorities in the church had listened to good people who wanted to do the right thing.
Senator Jim D’Arcy: I was delighted to hear, as reported on RTE radio this morning, that Chinese culture and language will now be offered on the transition year course, in particular in the week when An Bord Pleanála has granted permission for the first phase of an enormous Chinese trading hub on the edge of Athlone in County Westmeath. I urge students to continue to study a second language at secondary school. It is very important for them and for this country. We are at a disadvantage in the employment market as we do not have a strong tradition of fluency in a second language. I look forward to the day when Irish students are able to speak Chinese and other languages fluently as a second language. The first Chinese firm, SATIR, to locate its manufacturing base in Ireland, located it in Dundalk on the edges of my area. I look forward to the day when I hear Chinese being spoken in Haggardstown.
Senator Catherine Noone: Senators need to be as quick to point out the positive contributions and changes being made in the House as we are to point out the negatives. In fairness to the Leader, we have had a radical rearrangement of the way in which business is conducted, given the constraints we are under.
I will single out no individual or party, but it is often the case that only two Members are present during debates requested by certain Senators. It is all well and good calling for debates, but people must be present and contribute when they are held. We were not meant to have such a long sos yesterday, but the matter before——
I welcome Fianna Fáil’s support for the upcoming referendum. We need to work together on this issue. I am puzzled and concerned by certain Opposition posters’ mention of water charges and other unrelated matters.
Senator Catherine Noone: It is outrageous. People have called it an austerity treaty, but we must get the point across that we are voting on a stability treaty. I would welcome a debate on the referendum.
Senator Aideen Hayden: This week has seen some excellent debates in the House. Sometimes, it is not about quantity, but quality. The debate on the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2012 was excellent. The quality of debate on Fianna Fáil’s Private Members’ Bill was also excellent. To be fair to the House, Senators enter the Chamber well briefed and make their best efforts to hold a healthy and worthy debate.
Will the Leader intervene in a matter that relates to the one raised by Senators Barrett and Bradford this week, that is, the housing market? The Central Statistics Office, CSO, has reported that property prices have overcorrected by as much as 26%. Doctors differ and patients die, but everyone in the real world is well aware that property prices have overcorrected. We have reverted to the situation that obtained in 1985, in that it is cheaper to buy a house on a piece of land than it is to build it. Anyone with a toe in the real world knows that this is a symptom of a market that has overcorrected.
It is just as wrong to overheat a market on the way up through the use of tax incentives as it is to allow it to fall below its natural level on the way down. As a matter of urgency, we must hold a debate with the Minister for Finance and ask him what measures he intends to take to “encourage” the two pillar banks to lend to the ordinary person on the street. The people who bought their properties at the height of the boom will be the greatest losers when they are forced into fire sales. This is an issue for them. What is more, 19% of people are renting from private landlords, an increase of almost 7%. This is a significant change in Irish culture. The bulk of the 19% are renting because they have no other option. Economists differ, but the facts on the ground are as we know them. Will the Leader invite the Minister for Finance to attend the House, please?
Senator Mary Moran: I will continue Senator Jim D’Arcy’s points about the teaching of Chinese in Haggardstown. This morning, I attended a breakfast meeting at which it was highlighted that there were more Chinese students studying in Dundalk Institute of Technology, DIT, than Northern Irish students. More students travel from the South to the North to study than vice versa and I would welcome moves to encourage greater cross-Border connectivity to turn the flow in the opposite direction.
I wish to highlight a charity event that took place in Dublin City University, DCU, yesterday. Two students, Colin Brennan and Ronan Ó Dalaigh, organised a successful 12-hour charity broadcast in the aid of the young people’s mental health charity Walk in My Shoes. They did this in conjunction with the St. Patrick’s Hospital Foundation on the campus radio station, DCUfm. I congratulate the young people involved for adding their voices to the debate, trying to end the stigma attached to mental health issues and encouraging people to discuss the matter. Their aim was to raise awareness among young people, particularly men, about mental health and the availability of services that provide a listening ear. A host of special guests took part. I commend a fellow Dundalk person, the DCU president Brian Mac Craith, on his support for the endeavour. The charity raised €803.69——
Senator Mary Ann O’Brien: I draw the House’s attention to new plans unveiled yesterday by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government that drew little or no attention from the media. I send a note of caution to Government officials to the effect that, while chasing big business and investment is important, it must not be done to the detriment of small local businesses.
Under the Department’s new planning guidelines, larger supermarkets and superstores will be allowed to be built in Dublin and the country’s largest cities. The new guidelines relax the caps on shop spaces imposed by the 2005 guidelines. The new floor space rules mean that new shops and extensions on existing premises can avail of the increased limits. The guidelines state that the cap on floor space in the four Dublin local authority areas is being raised from 3,500 sq. m, the size of a large factory, to 4,000 sq. m. In the cities of Cork, Galway, Waterford and Limerick, the cap will increase from 3,000 sq. m to 3,500 sq. m.
It is widely rumoured that the aim of the changes is to attract American hypermarkets such as Walmart and Costco. It is more likely to attract UK retailers like Asda, which is owned by Walmart. Sainsbury’s could now establish itself in Ireland.
Despite the relaxation, the new guidelines state that there should be a presumption against the further development of retail parks outside towns. The number of retail parks has grown substantially in the past decade. For example, little England exists outside Portlaoise. Senator O’Donnell did a radio piece on the subject. This could result in the closure of additional small, independent, Irish, local retailers, which are often run by families. These businesses are the heart and soul of our country.
Senator Mary Ann O’Brien: I draw the House’s attention to a statistic from the RGDATA report by Mr. Jim Power, which was published in November 2011. I thank the Cathaoirleach for bearing with me. Were the UK multiplier effect applied to the Irish situation, the report reads:
Senator Mary Ann O’Brien: Yes. This statistic highlights the value of the local economy to Irish society. At the Leader’s convenience, will he arrange for a debate during the coming weeks on the value of the local economy? Let us forget the word “globalisation” and think of “localisation” with a view to enhancing Government strategy in an effort to create jobs.
Senator Maurice Cummins: Senator Mooney rightly raised the issue of unemployment rates because they are certainly higher than any government would wish. Job creation remains the Government’s primary objective. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation will be bringing several Bills before the House prior to the summer recess dealing with key elements in restructuring the jobs and enterprise area of the economy. We will, therefore, have several opportunities to debate all aspects of unemployment. I agree with Senator Mooney on the importance of high-speed broadband to small companies. It is essential that all parts of the country have access to high-speed broadband at the earliest opportunity.
Senators Mooney and Bacik spoke about Alzheimer’s day. We should commend the people who organised tea mornings in Leinster House and throughout the country. They are doing an excellent job for a wonderful organisation.
Senators Bacik and Mullins referred to the creation of 200 jobs at SAP. This is one of a number of job announcements that were made in recent months. In view of the stability that now exists in the economy, I hope we will see a recovery and further job announcements.
Senator Barrett raised a question about the comprehensive public expenditure review. I understand the increase resulted from the additional legislation required on the part of the State as a result of the EU-IMF agreement. There was a knock-on effect on the Office of the Attorney General in terms of extra charges. I agree with the Senator that legal costs should be examined. The Government is committed to reducing legal charges and the legal services Bill is expected to come before the House in early course.
Senator Clune referred to the plight of Vita Cortex workers and welcomed the co-operation between the Ministers for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and Social Protection in addressing the issue. The Senator also commended the workers’ dignity. All of us wish them well and welcome that the situation has at last been remedied.
Senator Byrne raised the issue of the stability treaty. Every household in the country should have received a copy of the treaty by next Tuesday. The Government will be devoting all its efforts to getting a “Yes” vote from the people. We will be providing more information on this treaty than was the case in any other referendum. Decisions will not be made on the basis of a lack of information because everybody will be sufficiently informed to make the appropriate decision. We welcome the support of any party, including Fianna Fáil, in seeking a “Yes” vote.
Senators Paul Coghlan and Daly raised a specific issue regarding NAMA. I do not intend to discuss the specific case to which the Senators referred. Senator Daly raised the same issue several months ago and he has had ample opportunity since then to table a Bill during Fianna Fáil Private Members’ Business. It is up to his party to decide whether to treat the issue as a priority. Given that it has not yet been prioritised, perhaps he might take it up with Senator Walsh.
Senator Maurice Cummins: In regard to Senator Norris’s question, I understand the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Bill 2012 was only published on 13 April. It will be debated first in the Dáil and we will consider it once it passes through that House.
Senator Conway offered his opinion on Cardinal Brady. I mentioned this issue on the Order of Business yesterday and I watched the programmes which aired last night and the previous evening. The names of children who were being abused were revealed to the investigation but nothing was done to protect the children or those who were abused subsequently. Many more children were abused because of the lack of action subsequent to the investigation. That was the most damning revelation on the programme but I am sure there will be further developments.
The Senator also raised the issue of jobs in the IT area. As I have noted, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation will be in the House on several occasions to discuss job creation in the IT sector and elsewhere in the economy.
Senator Walsh appears to have a bee in his bonnet about the ordering of business. The business of the House depends on the availability of Ministers and other factors but we have sat on Fridays and Mondays and have organised our business in conjunction with the leaders of the various parties. I will not rise to the Senator’s reference to playing golf in Faithlegg. For the Senator’s information, I do not play golf.
Senator Maurice Cummins: I will treat Senator Walsh’s remarks with the contempt they deserve. He seems to involve himself in personal attacks. If they are not personal attacks against the Leader they are against civil servants but that is par for the course for Senator Walsh.
Senator Maurice Cummins: There certainly is a need for education in this regard. I agree that we should educate young mothers about the benefits of breast-feeding. The La Leche League should be consulted in this regard. I will bring the issue to the attention of the Minister for Health.
Senator Burke corrected the record regarding figures he mentioned on a previous occasion and outlined the problems that have arisen for apartment complexes and the payment of charges. He questioned the need for legislation in that area. We could possibly arrange a debate with the Minister, Deputy Hogan, or probably with the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O’Sullivan, who might be the most appropriate person to deal with the matter. Senator Mullins called for a debate on child protection matters. I note his comments on the Brendan Smyth affair and a young priest in his diocese who brought these matters to the attention of the abbot in question, but they were not acted upon.
Senators Jim D’Arcy and Moran welcomed that Chinese culture and language was now on the transition year course, which will be welcomed by all. The need for fluency in a second language is important in allowing our children to advance their future careers. I thank Senator Noone for her support. She rightly pointed out that many people who call for debates end up not being present in the Chamber when those debates are subsequently held. We have had to conclude debates on a number of matters that were requested because Members were not here.
Senator Hayden pointed out that the quality of debates is more important than the quantity of debates, with which I agree. She mentioned property prices. I agree with her that it is very important for us to encourage the pillar banks to lend to first-time house buyers, and indeed all house buyers at this stage. She pointed out that 19% are now renting from the private sector which is significantly higher than in previous times.
Senator Crown moved an amendment to the Order of Business and I have no problem in acceding to his request to allow him to publish his Bill and have it on the Order Paper for next week. Hopefully we can deal with the matter at that time.
Senator Moran congratulated the many young people promoting mental health issues, which is a very important issue for young people in particular. Senator Mary Ann O’Brien spoke about the new planning guidelines, which were raised at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment, Transport, Culture and the Gaeltacht. I understand the committee had a debate on that issue. The value of the local economy is also very important. I will try to have a debate with the Minister on that matter before the summer recess.
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