Seanad Éireann - Volume 194 - 24 February, 2009

Order of Business

  Senator Donie Cassidy: The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re Diseases of Animals Act 1966, to be referred to Committee without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2 statements on the report, Awakening the West: Overcoming Social and Economic Inequality, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 and to conclude not later than 6 p.m., with spokespersons having 12 minutes and all other Senators seven minutes and on which Senators may share time by agreement of the House, and the Minister to be called upon ten minutes before the end of the debate for concluding comments and to take questions from Leaders and spokespersons.

  Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Every Senator in this House is conscious of the very serious situation facing our country. As we visit our areas and speak to people, we find the public are deeply concerned, upset, frightened and looking for action, asking, “What is the solution?” They want to know who will come forward with a package of measures that will save our country, whether economically, politically or in banking. There is talk of a national Government.

When we have had a national Government in the past, it has been when there has been a minority Government and it has looked for support. This Government has a majority and can put forward whatever messages it chooses and whatever package of measures it chooses. However, what is required is decisive leadership.

As I said before, Fine Gael has put forward a package of measures which Members will see tomorrow night in the Private Members’ motion on banking. What is the Government’s response to that package of measures which Fine Gael has put forward to deal with the banking crisis?

We put forward proposals on public sector reform and decentralisation. We have talked about public sector reform over the past five years. Why has the Government not responded to these points we have been making, which would make a difference and would have meant we could have stopped some of the worst of the excesses we have seen in public spending and the serious financial situation in which the Government finds itself?

We will play our part, of that there is no question. The public wants every Member of the Oireachtas to play his or her part in leading our country out of this appalling abyss which we face in the range of areas I have outlined. I want to highlight the constructive nature of the proposals we have put forward and I ask for a Government response to them.

[3]I wish to raise the HSE decision. There will be a €1 billion cutback in the health service. This cutback, which is so enormous and which has such implications for frontline services throughout the country, should be discussed in this House. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that we ask the Minister for Health and Children to come to the House to outline to us the Government’s view on this €1 billion cutback in the health service. What will its impact be? What services will close? Where will the cutbacks be made?

We have talked about reform of the HSE, about administrative reform and about how badly the move to the HSE was handled. Where will the reforms be made? Where will the cutbacks made? Who will pay the price? I would like the House to discuss this before a decision is taken by an unelected body later this week or next week. I would like Members on both sides to have an opportunity to take part in a debate about the radical changes which will be necessary if we are to continue to provide frontline services across the health service, which we should continue to do despite this recession. Let us have the debate in this House and let us talk together about the changes which are necessary to save this type of money, if it must be saved in our health service.

  Senator Joe O’Toole: I note the CPSU will engage in industrial action on Thursday which will mean there will be a picket at the gates of the House. Obviously, it will not prevent Members of the Oireachtas from conducting their business under the Constitution. However, Members of the Oireachtas should show solidarity with those people who oil the wheels of business in this House. I will certainly not pass the picket on Thursday and I would like to hear the Leader’s view on that. I understand there will be a picket outside the gates of the House from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday.

I very much agree with the issues raised by Senator Frances Fitzgerald in regard to the responses put forward by the Opposition parties, in particular the issues raised in tomorrow night’s Private Members’ motion. However, I do not believe politics was improved last week by the insinuation by the main Opposition party, without a shred of evidence, that the Government was somehow involved in this golden circle. If there was evidence, it should have been shown. I was not impressed by it nor was I impressed by a Senator from the Government side waving a piece of paper like Charlie Haughey of old and telling us that there were ten names written on it. If people have that information, it should be made available to the House.

  Senator Terry Leyden: I did not say there were ten names on it. The Senator should get what he says right.

  An Cathaoirleach: Senator O’Toole, without interruption, on questions for the Leader.

  Senator Joe O’Toole: That is irresponsible. On the same issue, the names of some of the people involved were published in a weekend newspaper. I do not know whether the facts are correct in their regard, but if they are, I have a question to raise. One of the people mentioned is the owner of a company called Mount Carmel Medical Group. That company has received permission to build some of the hospitals to be built on the grounds of public hospitals as part of the supposed co-location initiative of the HSE. I want a clear commitment from the Leader that we will not be so stupid or foolish as to give this company more profitable work to do if it already owes us €300 million or €400 million. We should not give such companies more profitable work that allows them to screw us again. Anybody involved in the Anglo Irish Bank debacle who owes us money should not be allowed to tender for public works, no more than a non tax compliant person would be. I want a clear understanding on this matter.

Two years ago, when the Green Party was still in Opposition, it was very upset by the commitment of Government in the budget at the time to put a significant sum aside to buy [4]carbon credits. At the time the cost was $15 a tonne, but this is now reduced to $7 or $8 a tonne. Therefore, there is a major saving of moneys that have been earmarked and put aside by Government for carbon credits. The Government should use the money saved for industry in the green economy, for example for green growers or energy from waste, and support that economy to make these industries more profitable and efficient.

  Senator Alex White: Whatever strategy the Government devises to address the public finances and economic downturn, it is clear taxation will feature as part of it. Will the Leader establish from the Minister for Finance when it is intended the Commission on Taxation will bring forward its report? While the basis upon which the commission was set up was laudable, namely, to look at the balance of various taxation measures across the community, the context has changed considerably, given the situation in which we find ourselves. The question of taxation in any community is political rather than technical and is not something that falls to be resolved by a group of experts. This is not a criticism of the experts involved, who are well qualified in their field. Ultimately, the level, type and mix of taxation, the sort of issues raised by Senator Fitzgerald — to sustain public services at the level we wish to see in our community and to address the unfortunate hole that has emerged in the public finances — should be dealt with in the political rather than the purely technical context. In the current context, it is not acceptable to put off the issue and debate any longer. Nor is it acceptable that the debate should be left to an expert commission in the manner proposed.

  Senator Shane Ross: Hear, hear.

  Senator Alex White: It is essentially a political question. Therefore, let us have the proposals to debate.

Senator Fitzgerald called for the Government to come forward with proposals on job creation. It is unfortunate that we must read about such proposals in the newspapers rather than hear about them in the House. Rather than come into the Houses with her proposals, apparently the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment proposes to bring forward proposals on job creation at the Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis this coming weekend, presumably in the forlorn hope that she will achieve some much needed applause there. However, the country needs to hear these proposals, not just those attending the Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis. When is the Government going to bring forward a set of persuasive, convincing and plausible proposals on job creation?

Will the Leader ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to come to the House to explain what measures he proposes to take to address a very serious issue that has arisen for owners and people living in apartment blocks throughout the city of Dublin and no doubt in other urban centres also? In circumstances where developers cannot sell a large number of units within apartment blocks the charges to management companies fall to be sustained and taken up by the remaining owners in those complexes. That is most unfair. Legislation was proposed in the past and a Law Reform Commission report was produced. What will the Minister do about this? Will we debate the matter in the House?

  Senator Eoghan Harris: In these hard times I ask that we take a moment to mark the passing of Christy Nolan. It is in no sentimental way that I say he is a metaphor for what we will have to do. He spent 43 years strapped in a wheelchair and with a device strapped to his forehead he tapped out three books, one of them a classic, namely, Under the Eye of the Clock. Yesterday, his sister, Yvonne, whom I know, wrote a very powerful tribute to him. I worked with her for a long time and she has the same tenacity and courage as her brother. Christy Nolan was what we would all hope to be in coming times. He was dealt a very hard hand, like the hand [5]this country has been dealt, through no fault of his own. He dealt with that hand with courage and tenacity and he did not rail or scream or behave badly. He took it and he got through it. At 43 years of age he died, with three books under his belt, with the help of his sister, Yvonne, and his parents. He was not institutionalised; the family looked after him.

We have been dealt a hard hand in this country and we can get some courage from a man such as Christy Nolan because he is a true hero. Yesterday, his sister, Yvonne, said that when she thinks of all the sweaty heroes in war films and of the way he, with his broken body, strapped to a wheelchair for 43 years, got through three books, he was the toughest, fiercest and bravest man she ever knew. All Senators in the House will wish to associate with me in taking a moment to pay tribute to a man who showed Hemingway’s supreme virtue of grace under pressure.

  Senator Joe O’Reilly: I second the proposition by Senator Fitzgerald that the Minister for Health and Children come to the Seanad to debate the proposed cutbacks by the HSE of €1 billion, an astronomical figure, which cannot take place without huge implications. We need to debate this because the focus of these cutbacks — this is why we need a debate — must be on the wastage with bonuses, inordinate salaries, consultants' reports and advisers and top-heavy administration wherever it exists. This time the focus must not be, as it always has been up to now — the Government stood by as this happened — on home help, hope care assistants and support systems for people in need. We need a debate so that there can be a democratic input to the decisions. It is up to us to ensure the weak are not made scapegoats on this occasion and that the vulnerable are not hit. We must ensure the people who need support in their homes receive it and those who require visits to outpatient clinics and hospitals can make them.

This House must be told by the Minister what hospitals will close and what services will be cut. Where will the €1 billion be cut? This is a democratic question and not an administrative one. If the people on the other side of the House want to know today why there is public anger it is not because people do not accept the need for cutbacks. Everybody on the street knows we need to trim the national sails — that is understood — but the anger generates from the fact that the cutbacks are directed at the weak and the poor, at the baseline. People across the board will accept a fair system. Will the Leader invite the Minister for Health and Children to discuss this matter so that we can put a direction on where the €1 billion cuts will be made? We should influence that decision. It is our decision and we are elected by the people to do so. It is the HSE’s function to administer our decisions. Our decision should be not to cut back on front-line services.

Senator Harris was correct to draw attention to the great man who was a hero and served as a role model for us all, Christy Nolan. His name is a very good one to which to refer but saluting his great life, tenacity and courage should make us realise that, in the process of making cutbacks of €1 billion, we should not hit the Christy Nolans throughout this country or future generations of Christy Nolans. That is our moral responsibility. The people on the street will back this House if we are cutting equitably but they are sick of cuts that are directed at the weak, poor and vulnerable.

  Senators: Hear, hear.

  Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: I want to raise a matter that has come to my attention in County Donegal, especially over the weekend. It concerns individuals from the North travelling across the Border once per week or month to collect social welfare payments. This is happening in Border counties, certainly in Donegal. Residents in areas such as Castlefin and Lifford in my constituency have pointed out that, in these stringent and difficult times, they have been moni[6]toring the phenomenon locally and have noticed people travelling across the bridge in Lifford to obtain social welfare payments from taxpayers in the Republic. This must be investigated.

The matter may have been raised in the other House but it is important that we raise it in this House. I call the Leader to arrange an urgent debate on this issue because it is happening at a time when individuals seeking to have carer’s allowance payments processed must wait more than a year because of delays greater than 12 months in the appeals office. I know individuals in Donegal who have been waiting more than 12 months to have an application processed.

If we are subventing people from outside the jurisdiction, it is costing the Irish taxpayer money. While I acknowledge that those from another jurisdiction who are claiming social welfare in the Republic may be under financial strain, it is not our responsibility to pay for them. This must be addressed and I call for a debate on it in this House. It is my responsibility, as a citizen of this nation and also as a public representative, to bring the matter to the attention of this House which, in turn, should bring it to the attention of the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Mary Hanafin.

  Senator Shane Ross: I want to say a few words on what was said by Senators Fitzgerald and Alex White. I do not know whether there should be a national Government — it is a difficult call to make and is a matter for political parties — but we should recognise that the Irish economy is at the eleventh hour. We now face very serious circumstances. This was stated in some media so it is fair enough to talk about it publicly. People are delicate about what they say publicly about the state of the fragile economy because they do not want to rock the boat. That is a responsible position for all members of the Opposition.

3 o’clock

Nobody should be in any doubt that billions of euro left this country for overseas destinations last week. Presumably billions of euro are still leaving as panic is beginning to occur in the money and currency markets. That is an indication of the kind of precipice we are now going over. There seems to be a lack of recognition of this on the Government side of this House because it does not want to face the true facts. The facts are really very serious. I do not say this lightly but believe there is an increasing number of warnings. If anybody goes overseas, he will hear the view of the Irish economy and note it is very different from the one conveyed by Members of this House, the Government and everybody else in Ireland. We are living in a fool’s paradise and are very close to a disaster nationally.

Senator Alex White is correct that it is simply crazy that we can somehow wait for a commission on taxation to report before we take necessary measures. Anybody who listened to Peter Sutherland today on the “News at One” will have heard his warning that there may not be money out there. It is all very well for us to say the International Monetary Fund will assist us, but there are two problems in that regard. First, the International Monetary Fund may intervene when it is too late. A perceptive article in the Financial Times today indicated the IMF may not have any money by the time we look for it. We are constantly looking for someone from overseas to rescue us who may not be there to do so.

Neither should we bank on Europe. Germany is not necessarily going to help out the Irish nation either, as it is looking to help out Austria and the east. We cannot sit back and say it will be okay, that Europe will help us, the IMF will help us, or somebody else will help us and it will be okay by Christmas because we will have a commission on taxation. The urgency of the situation is realised by every nation and every investor outside Ireland, but it is not recognised here.

I support the proposal by my colleagues, Senator Norris, Senator O’Toole and others, that it is essential that we should have at least a weekly debate in this House on the economy or [7]some recognition of the emergency situation if we are somehow to inject into the Irish people the urgency of the need to take action immediately not tomorrow.

  Senators: Hear, hear.

  Senator Mark Daly: I agree with Senator Harris’s description of Christopher Nolan as a true hero, a man who, despite his illness, managed to rise above it and produce great works of literature. One of the backers of Libertas, Mr. McEvaddy, described the ten people who got a free bet at the expense of the taxpayer as heroes. I suggest that he get a new dictionary because the current description of “hero” in his dictionary seems to be in error.

I also agree with the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, who described those who rode roughshod over law and order in this country when it came to the banking system as being guilty of economic treason. I welcome the fact the Garda has gone through the files at Anglo Irish Bank. I hope criminal prosecutions will follow and those who are guilty of economic treason will see the inside of Mountjoy Prison.

  Senator Nicky McFadden: While not losing sight of the banking issue I wish to follow Senator Fitzgerald who referred to the €1 billion that must be found for the health service. Professor Drumm is blaming the poor unfortunates who have lost their jobs who are now signing on the dole because they are now having to take up medical cards and the Health Service Executive is also at the loss of the 1% health levy. I find that extraordinary given the money that has been spent on spin doctors for Professor Drumm alone. What does the Department of Health and Children now do and how many people are employed in it?

I support Senator Fitzgerald’s amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister, Deputy Harney, would come to the House. I am always amazed at how she is able to speak off the cuff but I would like honest, straight facts from her this time. What about the children who have not been able to avail of the cervical cancer vaccine? What about the children who are ill and who have been taken out of school because there is no money for special needs or to employ a care worker to assist them at school? I admire the noble comments about the great author but these are the vulnerable people and it is not the directors of the banks who have to pay the price, it is the most vulnerable in society. I urge the Leader to take serious note of what I say.

  Senator Donie Cassidy: I always do.

  Senator Cecilia Keaveney: Senator Ó Domhnaill called for an investigation into the number of people making fraudulent social welfare claims in the north west. A total of €18 million was saved on such claims in the north west in 2008. Will the Leader confirm that was the beginning of an investigation into activities resulting in losses to the State’s coffers?

The number of Northern Ireland registered cars being driven in the State has increased significantly and this deprives the economy of taxes through vehicle registration tax. Greater focus is needed on this issue because our motor trade is under enough pressure without people being allowed to freely exploit the Border in this regard.

Following the concerns I raised last week regarding burglaries and vigilante activity in my peninsula, has the Leader arranged time for a discussion on the justice portfolio, the Garda Reserve, the neighbourhood watch and community alert schemes and the local authority public forums?

In welcoming the investigation into Anglo Irish Bank, which is overtly happening now, I refer to the issue of the HSE’s €1.4 billion shortfall. We tended to reward failure in the past. If a hospital had a long waiting list, it received more money. However, it is important that [8]patients are at the core of spending and if that does not happen, management should not be rewarded for mismanagement.

  Senator David Norris: I am glad Senator Harris mentioned the late Christopher Nolan who was a very remarkable writer. Approximately 20 years ago, I gave a course of lectures in Trinity College Dublin about Ulysses and I heard a snorting, choking sound from the back of the lecture hall, which I realised was the most wonderful of sounds — the human laugh. Christopher Nolan’s mother was there. He did not get very much from the State by way of support, services or anything else. What made the difference was that extraordinary, courageous and remarkable woman who saw, trapped in that damaged body, a real and sensitive intellect, and without her nothing would have happened. He would have remained trapped in that wheelchair. She deserves the thanks of the Irish reading public and of humanity for the wonderful way in which she supported her son. It cannot have been easy. That love and affection made all the difference to the life of this man. It is cause for celebration that, as Senator Harris said, he died at the age of 43. That is young but he lived longer than many people live on this planet and what a remarkable achievement he had to his name. His mother allowed him to bring that life to fruition. That was a completed life with a substantial achievement.

I would like a debate on the health services and I would also like a debate on the issue of the Combat Poverty Agency. I have a flimsy, tawdry, little report that confirms exactly what many of us thought would happen when the Government abolished the agency, which is that we would have a pseudo Combat Poverty Agency. When will we have a discussion on this matter?

I propose that we take No. 34 today, that is, the motion in the name of the Independents, which has the support of virtually all Senators. Senator Ross gave clear support for this and he is an authority on this matter. We should have a debate on the economy because, once again, it has consumed almost all the time devoted to the Order of Business. It is a very important issue, but this disaster or catastrophe, whatever one wishes to call it, is not a volcano, an earthquake or a tsunami. It is man made and it is, therefore, capable of human resolution. At its core is a lack of understanding of what has occurred in the money markets and to the concept of money. I would welcome an opportunity to give my views on it. Without a complete recalibration of the money market to bring the symbolic value of money back into alignment with human effort, we will return to the beginning of the cycle, namely, bartering. The one thing going for this island is that we can probably feed ourselves, but that is about as far as I would go.

I hope we will have a debate on the issue and I will not trespass any further on the time of the House. There was a debate on Iraq. We are facing an urgent issue and we must give ourselves the opportunity to debate it.

I respect my colleague, Senator O’Toole, and his decision not to pass the picket line, but I will pass it. Last Saturday, I marched in solidarity with the ushers and other officials of the House, but I am paid by the taxpayer to attend and try to address subjects. God knows, we do not meet so often that we could afford to waste one day. I will be in attendance and, while I hope that I will not need to pass the picket line, it will be the first picket line that I will have ever passed. It is what I am paid to do. In this serious situation, it would not be proper for me in all good conscience to stay outside the House.

  Senator John Hanafin: In light of what has occurred this morning in respect of Anglo Irish Bank, it is time we asked the Leader for a debate on regulation. In many respects, it might be late to do so now, but the matter must be addressed at national, European and wider international levels.

[9]The so-called Big Bang in London in the 1980s was not a question of deregulation, rather it was a question of no regulation. Captains Blackbeard and Kidd, the pirates of the Caribbean, were better regulated than some of the people who were mismanaging the world’s economy and caused the cataclysm with which we are dealing. The Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns and London’s finance houses have visited trillions in toxic debts upon the world. Let us be clear in that whatever problems we have are minuscule compared with the damage wrought upon us.

I wish to comment on the Combat Poverty Agency. I would prefer to see smaller reports and money going to people who need it. Were reports able to solve poverty, we would have won the war a long time ago.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: I join other Senators in paying tribute to Christopher Nolan and, in particular, to his mother. Their family epitomises the Irish spirit. One of his books, Under the Eye of the Clock, shows the depth of personality that is required of everyone in this time of recession. Christopher Nolan did not choose to be born the way he was. Likewise, the Government made political decisions that got us into this political and economic mess.

I ask the Leader for a debate on two issues, the first of which would be on the role of Government in society. Last Saturday, ordinary people wanted to be heard because they had not been heard or listened to by Fianna Fáil for the past 12 years. The lack of leadership is creating a political vacuum.

Will the Leader invite the Minister for Health and Children to the House as a matter of urgency? Like Senator Fitzgerald and others, I am asking for a debate on a matter raised in this morning’s Irish Examiner, namely, that some €16,000 per month is paid to an adviser.

  Senator Paschal Donohoe: Per week.

  An Cathaoirleach: The Senator must keep the newspaper down.

  Senator Rónán Mullen: No props.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: That money would pay for many nurses, special needs assistants and services.

  Senator John Paul Phelan: Hear, hear.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: Cutbacks amounting to €1 billion are not being taken from the top half of society, but from the lower half.

I remind the Leader and his friends on the other side of the House that the weak, the old and the handicapped will suffer. If they seek a national Government, they should take up the Fine Gael themes and ideas of responsibility and accountability. They should not hide behind the regulator or the banks.

  An Cathaoirleach: The Senator has made his point.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: They are the political friends of the regulator and the bank and this mess is on their political heads.

  An Cathaoirleach: The point is made.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: Members have heard nothing but comments from both sides of the Leader’s mouth for the past six months.

  An Cathaoirleach: Please, Senator Buttimer. Your point has been made.

[10]  Senator Jerry Buttimer: It is time for leadership.

  An Cathaoirleach: I call Senator MacSharry.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: I will finish by confirming that I will not pass the picket next Thursday.

  An Cathaoirleach: Please, Senator.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: I will stand in solidarity with the ordinary people of Ireland——

  An Cathaoirleach: I call Senator MacSharry. I ask Senator Buttimer to resume his seat.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: ——who want leadership.

  Senator Marc MacSharry: I join my colleague, Senator Hanafin, in calling for a debate on regulation. In particular, our European colleagues should take some leadership in developing a pan-European approach to regulation. While baby steps in several directions have been taken, nationally and internationally, it is clear that the definitive path that will lead the global economy out of the present turmoil has not been found. I ask the Leader to raise this issue with the Taoiseach, in order that, in turn, he can suggest to leaders throughout the European Union and globally that a global initiative should be taken immediately to come up with a regulatory agreement regarding the financial services industry. I refer to a few basic rules to which we will adhere globally into the future as we seek to emerge from the international recession.

Closer to home, as we continue to adjust the sails to deal with the winds we currently face, it would be most appropriate to hold an urgent debate on the Health Service Executive. The project of having 30% of the State’s finances under the control of a third party organisation has failed. This issue must be addressed urgently and the Leader should take it to the Minister for Health and Children as a matter of the utmost urgency.

This leads me to a third issue that I believe also is of the utmost importance. The HSE and similar organisations have been established because for some reason we sought to erode the democratic mandate of politicians, be they councillors, Deputies or Members of this House. I believe that, as the people’s representatives, regardless of whether they fail them, power rests with the Houses of the Oireachtas and local authorities. Simply because it has become the practice to take away from elected representatives the power to carry out work and expend money on services on the people’s behalf does not mean that it is the law. I seek a return to democracy.

  Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Hear, hear.

  Senator Marc MacSharry: To start that process, I believe it is unacceptable that 30% of the State’s purse is under the control of third party organisations which, as Members have seen, have €51 million to make people like Professor Keane maintain his celebrity status. I look forward to an urgent debate in this regard.

  An Cathaoirleach: I do not wish to hear mention of the names of those who are not in the House.

  Senator Marc MacSharry: I wish to make a point in this regard. While I have every respect for the Cathaoirleach, the names one can or cannot mention in this House are highly selective. When someone has a particular——

  An Cathaoirleach: That is a matter for the Chair.

[11]  Senator Marc MacSharry: My point is that when someone makes a specific point——

  An Cathaoirleach: It is a matter for the Chair.

  Senator Marc MacSharry: ——pertaining to a specific part of Government policy or action of this State and regarding expenditure that relates to that person, I believe it is absolutely appropriate to name that person.

  An Cathaoirleach: I do not wish to hear names.

  Senator Marc MacSharry: Under what Standing Order does it state that one cannot name an individual?

  An Cathaoirleach: A precedent has been set by the Chair not to name those who are not present.

  Senator Pearse Doherty: As Members meet today, a couple of hundred yards away gardaí from the fraud squad are carrying out raids on the headquarters of Anglo Irish Bank. I am sure this will be welcomed by the public because there is a clear need to move on the bankers and gangsters who at least partially got us into this mess. There also is a need to stop the drip-feed of information. Undoubtedly, carrying out the raid at this time will damage our reputation internationally. Last weekend, I read that Ministers stated that the names of the golden circle undoubtedly would be revealed in time and that the Government would welcome this. Again, this drip-feed effect will have a damaging impact on our economy and reputation. I suggest that Seanad or Dáil privilege should be used to let the people know exactly who was bailed out when this guarantee was given.

  Senator Joe O’Toole: Hear, hear.

  Senator Pearse Doherty: People should be informed as to who are the ten individuals. If the Government does not have the brass neck——

  Senator David Norris: It has that all right.

  Senator Pearse Doherty: ——or the liathróidí to do it, it should give me the names and I will use Seanad privilege to name and shame the people who have committed economic treason against the taxpayers of this State. The ordinary people demand it.

Let us consider the example of what happened approximately a decade ago when bankers advised people from my constituency and many other constituencies. These were people who cut turf for the local power station for a living and when it closed down they went to their bankers with the redundancy payment. What did the bankers direct them to do? They directed them to put it into offshore accounts. The Government imposed massive penalties and named and shamed each and every one of them. Pensioners and others with life savings were robbed by the State, and were named and shamed, yet the Government is hiding the names of the golden circle which is what is angering the public.

The sitting on Thursday does not deal with any legislation. It deals with statements on the Middle East, which is something we can do after 6 o’clock this evening. I am asking the Leader not to force people to have to make a choice to pass a public sector picket on the gates of this House. That should not be a choice asked of Members of the House or of members of unions in this House.

  Senator David Norris: Hear, hear.

[12]  Senator Pearse Doherty: Workers need to stand together in the public and private sectors. As a representative of workers and people who are not working at this time, I for one will not pass those pickets.

  An Cathaoirleach: I call Senator Cummins.

  Senator Pearse Doherty: I support the proposal for a debate on the impact of cuts on the health service. Senator Keaveney is correct. Bad management should not be rewarded. The €1 billion cuts will not be coming from the massive pay of Professor Brendan Drumm, Professor Keane or any others.

  An Cathaoirleach: The Senator should not name names.

  Senator Pearse Doherty: They will come from people who provide front-line services. That is where the cuts will be imposed.

  An Cathaoirleach: The Senator should not name people who are not here.

  Senator Pearse Doherty: The Government, as it has done for past year, is attacking the vulnerable, weak and the sick.

  Senator Maurice Cummins: Drug offences have soared by more than 75% in the past four years. There is a definite link between the drug trade and gangland crime. The Government has failed to tackle drug-fuelled gangland crime in recent years. People are regularly being assassinated on the streets. These people are terrorists and should be tackled as such.

  Senator Joe O’Toole: Hear, hear.

  Senator Maurice Cummins: If we need further legislation to tackle this terrorist crime it should be introduced earlier rather than delaying it. We need to give the authorities all the tools necessary to tackle these terrorists. I take the opportunity to pay tribute to the unarmed gardaí who tackled gunmen last Sunday in Westmanstown. It puts into focus the work the Garda is doing on our behalf every day. We need to give it the tools to tackle these terrorists.

  Senator David Norris: Well said.

  Senator Rónán Mullen: I wish to be associated with the words of tribute to the late Christopher Nolan, but I do not intend to link him with any of the current political controversy. When in secondary school I was very taken by his winning of the Whitbread award. Although I have not seen it in recent days, I remember a quotation of his when he said, “Accept me for what I am and I’ll accept you for what you’re accepted as.” Christopher Nolan and many like him are testament to the enduring dignity of the human person and also testament to the power of unconditional love. Especially in times of crisis when people are tempted to look out for their own interests alone to the exclusion of the interests of others, that man’s dignity, despite his disability and the great love of his mother, which was unconditional from the moment she welcomed him into this world, sends out a very powerful message to us all. I hope he is now enjoying the happiness for which he long aspired.

I would like to add a few brief comments to Senator Ross’s very sobering words earlier. Government is a difficult business because it must straddle the task of being transparent and honest in its dealings while at the same time ensuring in times of crisis that people’s confidence and morale is maintained. The approach of “don’t frighten the horses” has gone on too long and has not served us well as a society. Those who were warned about talking down the [13]economy or were described as whingers and naysayers were ultimately vindicated in their worrying analysis of the way things were going. People have gone into a rut in politics——

  An Cathaoirleach: We cannot have a debate now. We cannot have speeches. Senators should request a debate of the Leader.

  Senator Rónán Mullen: Does the Leader agree the time has come when we must find an alternative to oppositional politics and we need our television to provide this service? There have been television programmes dramatising the possible effects of a nuclear catastrophe and it is time that we had serious, exceptional television to take people through the very grim realities that face us. This will help us as a nation to reflect on issues of security, whether we can pay our gardaí and nurses, and that is why Senators Norris and Ross are correct——

  An Cathaoirleach: The point is made.

  Senator Rónán Mullen: I did not get to speak on the last day. They are correct to say that we need a rolling debate on the economy.

While I acknowledge that Senator O’Toole and others feel a need to pay their union dues, so to speak——

  Senator Joe O’Toole: It is respect for the workers.

  Senator Rónán Mullen: ——it would be a bad precedent if we were to refuse to pass some pickets while, every other day, we come in and leave other people picketing at the gate. We have a job to do and we sympathise with people in their concerns——

  An Cathaoirleach: Senator Mullen has made his point. It is for the Leader to order the business.

  Senator Rónán Mullen: ——but we do not think that striking is appropriate.

  Senator John Paul Phelan: I join other Senators in expressing my sympathy on the death of Mr. Christopher Nolan. I was in secondary school when he won the Whitbread prize for Under the Eye of the Clock. It was a remarkable achievement and I remember the national pride that an Irishman won such an award, particularly one who had overcome such difficulties in his life. I join Government Senators who seek a debate on regulation. We should have such a debate. I was a member of the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service for five years and the former Minister for Finance, Mr. Charlie McCreevy, who was in office for most of that period, was a firm believer that our financial sector was over-regulated. It is only in the past few weeks, as European Commissioner, that he seems to have changed that view.

  Senator Alex White: Hear, hear.

  Senator John Paul Phelan: Whether that was under pressure from Mr. Barroso or elsewhere, he seems to have done a U-turn. A number of months ago I attended a committee meeting where Mr. Pat Farrell, a well-known friend of Fianna Fáil and head of the Irish Banking Federation——

  An Cathaoirleach: I do not want names mentioned, no matter who they are friends with, if people are not present.

[14]  Senator John Paul Phelan: He is a former Senator and was a guest of an Oireachtas committee when he expressed the view that the financial sector is over-regulated. I welcome the fact that the Government belatedly thinks that we need some serious regulation in that regard.

I join my colleagues in asking for the Minister for Health and Children to attend to discuss the cutbacks in the HSE. In the constituency in which I live, I met a young man with four boys who are all aged five, with two sets of twins born in the same year. His wife died last year and he was given ten hours home help by the HSE. He received a letter two weeks ago, not telling him that his hours were to be cut back, but that they would be cut completely. That will force him out of his employment, as a self-employed haulier, to look after his four children. It is an absolute disgrace if that sector is hit. Mr. Drumm is supposed to advise the Minister, that is his role, and his advisers are paid huge amounts and huge bonuses. That is where we must seek economies in respect of the HSE.

Regarding the announcement, leaked or otherwise last week, by Teagasc, it seems, if these cutbacks come into practice, that only two of the six existing agricultural colleges will offer education to those who wish to get involved in agriculture. This is happening after thousands of people around my age took jobs on building sites. Those jobs no longer exist and the people want to come back into agriculture. The installation aid grant has been removed, as has the pension scheme for parents who may want to hand over the farm. Now, at the wrong time for the sector and the economy in general, there is talk of cutting places in agricultural colleges. There is a paltry amount of money involved.

  An Cathaoirleach: The Senator’s point has been made. I call on the Leader.

  Senator John Paul Phelan: The Government should look again at the Teagasc plan.

  An Cathaoirleach: I call on the Leader to reply. I apologise to Senators Glynn, Coffey, Donohoe and Quinn, whom I will call first in the morning.

  Senator Donie Cassidy: Senators Fitzgerald, O’Toole, Alex White, Ross, McFadden, Doherty and Mullen once again stressed the importance of debating the economy on a weekly basis. As I have indicated on the Order of Business since we came back in early September, this has been the case and this week is no different. We will have the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Bill 2009 all day on Friday and I am sure colleagues can make their contributions on the Bill with the Minister present. The assistance and advice that can be given by colleagues and Members of the House to the Minister, the Department and the Government has never been more relevant. This is particularly true with those who have vast experience in the banking area.

We have much difficulty because of the depth of the problem, which is being divulged on a daily basis. Until we get to the end of that we will not know when the corner will be turned. Much of the world will tonight look at television to see the first State of the Union address by the new US President, Barack Obama. There is also interest in the £500 billion that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown proposes to invest in the UK.

I have always been of the belief that until the US and the UK start to turn the corner and get their economies going again, we will not succeed in that regard as our economy is linked to theirs. We are learning on an hourly and a daily basis of the difficulties and operations that have occurred in the banks for a long time. That is being assessed and I hope that in the not too distant future, when all this is at hand, the master plan expected from the Government and the Taoiseach will be put in place, with corrective measures. How can one put a master plan in place until we know exactly the depth of the problem? We may know 80% of it but until such a plan is implemented, people must be realistic and reasonable.

[15]Listening again to Senator Ross today outlining his serious concerns about the plight we are in, I will look forward to his contribution on Friday when the Bill is in the House. As I have often said, he has much experience in this area of banking and finance in particular.

Senators John Paul Phelan, Fitzgerald, O’Toole, O’Reilly, Keaveney, Norris, MacSharry and Doherty called for an urgent debate relating to the HSE. I will endeavour to have this take place at the earliest time next week. As we all know, this is an urgent issue as there is a proposed reduction of €1 billion from the €15 billion budget. Some of us served on the former health boards — Senator McFadden’s father and I served with the Cathaoirleach and other colleagues in the House — which spent many days deliberating over budgets. Since the HSE took over, in the midland area there has been an increase in staffing levels of between 20% and 25%. If the difficulty is to arise in reductions, it should not be on the front line, with those who are working hardest or those who are most needed or serving the underprivileged. As has been stated this afternoon, reductions should target top-heavy administration. Why do we need top-heavy administration when there is high-tech computerisation? An in-depth analysis,which would take no more than a fortnight or three weeks, would provide answers. The Minister owes it to both Houses to have this done immediately.

There is to be a reduction, which should go back to the times when the former health boards did the work of the HSE with efficient staff and those on the front line at that time. The additional staff are doing good work but staff on the front line should be protected.

In a despatch yesterday a response to a question was that medical cards and the medical card scheme are very expensive. That sort of challenging talk will not be accepted by Government or anybody in either House of the Oireachtas. All that has been going on for some considerable time. Ultimately, we must look after those on the margins, the underprivileged and those who need it most. That message must go out loud and clear to the HSE.

  Senator David Norris: It should go to the Leader’s Government for a start.

  An Cathaoirleach: The Leader, without interruption.

  Senator Donie Cassidy: It is our Government, the Senator’s and mine. Senator O’Toole mentioned carbon credits and I will pass to the Minister the Senator’s very good suggestion. It is a budgetary issue that will come forward in the next budget.

Senator Alex White spoke of the Commission on Taxation report, which is due. I intend to give the fullest time in the House in the coming weeks for Senators to make submissions on the proposed commission report. Why should we not have the opportunity to let our opinions be considered by those who are compiling the report? Senators referred to the Tánaiste and job creation efforts. We look forward to announcements by the Tánaiste, no matter what forum it is in, this week.

Senators, Daly, Norris, Buttimer, Mullen and John Paul Phelan joined Senator Harris, who brought the matter to the House, in expressing condolences on the death of Christy Nolan and noting his genius. Mr. Nolan’s mother is possibly one of the unsung heroes of modern times. I wish to be associated with those comments and, as somebody who has been closely associated with the arts for many years, I know this man has been incredible. We all feel a huge loss at his passing. He served the arts and his stay on earth with remarkable distinction.

Senators Ó Domhnaill and Keaveney called for a debate with the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Mary Hanafin, on social welfare, particularly the savings in cross-Border activity and the difficulty and challenges meeting the Department in this area. Senator Keaveney highlighted some good work, where €18 million was saved in the north west in the past year. I will have no difficulty in having time left aside for this.

[16]Senator Keaveney also spoke of the big increase in the number of northern-registered cars on our roads in the Republic. The Minister is considering the issue as a matter of urgency and we had a long debate on it last week at the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting. We all stressed the importance of addressing this matter.

Senator Mary White’s husband, Padraic White, who was born on the Border, was on a wonderful programme on television last night with Brian Cody on Sunday. It is another example of good television about the unsung heroes and great achievers of our country. Mr. White explained that when he took over the IDA in the 1970s, the roads around the Border were all blocked. Thank God they are now open and whatever challenges that now have to be met, we will look into the matter and meet them. I have no difficulty in passing this on to the Minister after the Order of Business today.

Senators Hanafin, MacSharry and John Paul Phelan called for a debate on regulation. This is timely and coincides with next Friday’s debate. I hope the Senators will bring the issue to the attention of the Minister when he is in the House on Friday. Senator Buttimer called for a debate on the role of Government in the economy, which can also be discussed on Friday in the all-day debate of the Bill.

Senator Cummins drew to the attention of the House the increase in crime arising from what appears to be drug related offences and gangland crime and to what must be done to assist the Garda Síochána in tackling it. If legislation needs to be amended, this House, the Dáil and the Minister will not be found wanting. Five Bills under the justice portfolio are on the Government’s legislative programme for this session, which is the maximum number a Department can bring forward. Successive Ministers in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform have been to the fore during the past ten years in meeting the challenges presented and updating the legislation as required.

I join other speakers in paying tribute to the young garda who, on coming off the hurling field in Westmanstown last Sunday, courageously put his life at risk to apprehend the person who committed that dreadful crime. I also congratulate the retired officers from the force who assisted him in doing that.

I have taken on board Senator Mullen’s views on this House getting its message across on television. I agree with many of the sentiments he expressed.

  An Cathaoirleach: Senator Fitzgerald has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: “That statements on the €1 billion cutbacks to be made in the Health Service Executive be taken today.” Is the amendment being pressed.

  Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Yes.

Amendment put.

The Seanad divided: Tá, 17; Níl, 28.

    Bacik, Ivana.

    Burke, Paddy.

    Buttimer, Jerry.

    Coffey, Paudie.

    Cummins, Maurice.

    Doherty, Pearse.

    Donohoe, Paschal.

    Fitzgerald, Frances.

    Hannigan, Dominic.

    McFadden, Nicky.

    Norris, David.

    O’Reilly, Joe.

    O’Toole, Joe.

    Phelan, John Paul.

    Ross, Shane.

    Ryan, Brendan.

    White, Alex.


    Boyle, Dan.

    Brady, Martin.

    Butler, Larry.

    Callely, Ivor.

    Cannon, Ciaran.

    Carty, John.

    Cassidy, Donie.

    Corrigan, Maria.

    Daly, Mark.

    de Búrca, Déirdre.

    Feeney, Geraldine.

    Glynn, Camillus.

    Hanafin, John.

    Harris, Eoghan.

    Keaveney, Cecilia.

    Kett, Tony.

    Leyden, Terry.

    MacSharry, Marc.

    Ó Domhnaill, Brian.

    Ó Murchú, Labhrás.

    O’Brien, Francis.

    O’Donovan, Denis.

    O’Malley, Fiona.

    O’Sullivan, Ned.

    Ormonde, Ann.

    Phelan, Kieran.

    White, Mary M.

    Wilson, Diarmuid.

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

Amendment declared lost.

[17]  An Cathaoirleach: Senator David Norris moved an amendment to the Order of Business that No. 31, motion 34 be taken today. The amendment was not seconded and the amendment subsequently falls.

Order of Business agreed to.