Seanad Éireann - Volume 195 - 14 May, 2009

Order of Business.

  Senator Donie Cassidy: The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re the European Asylum Support Office, back from committee, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, Adoption Bill 2009 — Report Stage (resumed), to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 and to adjourn at 3.30 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 2a the Industrial Development Bill 2008 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] which is expected from the Dáil later today and will be circulated by way of supplementary Order Paper. It is proposed that this Bill will be taken not earlier than 3.30 p.m. The business of the House will be interrupted between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m.

  Senator Frances Fitzgerald: We have discussed a number of times in this House services for children. Yesterday we had the publication of the Monageer report, which was only published in part. Will the Leader take a message back from this House to Government that we want to see this report published in full? We had a similar situation previously when the Kelly Fitzgerald report was published. Initially, it was not published in full but then it was published through the mechanism of being sent to a committee of the Houses and it was then placed in the Oireachtas Library. The same should happen in this case. If we are to learn anything from [404]the lessons of the past about protecting children in this country it is that co-ordinated action is required between agencies. It is clear this family was known to the authorities over a long period.

A range of organisations, agencies and individuals were involved with the family from a very early stage. It is extraordinary that after ten years of the Celtic tiger, we do not have the basic child care services in place with the co-ordination that is necessary to give families such as this the supports they need to prevent the terrible tragedy that we have seen. We certainly need to debate that in this House and I ask for an early debate on child protection services.

There is a front page story in The Irish Times today which states that cases involving severe abuse are not being allocated because there is a shortage of social workers and that the files are remaining on the shelves of offices throughout the country. That is extraordinary. Where has the priority been for the past ten years of the Celtic tiger if we cannot provide basic child care services for vulnerable families? We have yet another report outlining deficiencies. Heads have rolled in England when this has happened. There is no accountability in this country for the lack of services to these families over the past ten years. The Government puts its money where its mouth is, and if it is not put into child care, that is an absolute dereliction of duty. I want this issue debated in this House as soon as possible.

We have a report this morning from exporters. I spoke yesterday about the report from small businesses. The key point is the lack of competitiveness in this economy. Senators from all sides of the House have called for a debate on competitiveness. There is an absolute necessity to become more competitive if we are to retain jobs.

I ask the Leader to convey to the Minister for Foreign Affairs the disquiet of this House about what has happened to Aung San Suu Kyi, with the continuation of her 19 year confinement in Burma and the trial she is undergoing once again. What is happening to that woman and the length of time she is being kept in isolation is an outrageous abuse of human rights.

  Senator David Norris: I support Senator Fitzgerald on what I understand to be a call for a debate on the rights of children and the services to support them. While there may have been some arguments for redacting some elements of the Monageer report, I find no justification whatever for editing out the seven recommendations. How on earth is this Parliament to exercise its role of supervision in assessing whether these recommendations have been fulfilled if we are not allowed to know what they are? That must be made known.

In a debate on children, I would like to include the situation in the children’s hospital in Crumlin, where wards are being closed and children with serious cardiac problems are placed on intolerable waiting lists. I have received representations on a number of cases, including that of a young boy, the optimum age for whom to undergo the second part of a serious operation — the first part took place when he was a small infant — is three to three and a half years, which means that it should take place between June 2009 and January 2010, but he may well not get a bed. This is intolerable, given that the Government claimed it would protect the vulnerable. There are other heart-rending cases, including one involving a special needs child.

I support the repeated calls that have been made for a specific date for a human rights debate. We could take in the trumped up charge against Aung San Suu Kyi. We could compliment the US Government on having taken its position on the human rights council of the United Nations, which is very important. We could raise cases such as that of Ezra Nawi, someone who is personally known to me, a human rights activist in Israel who has intervened in a non-violent way to try to prevent the destruction of Palestinian houses, who was arrested and is being sentenced in a case over which there is precisely the same doubt as there was regarding the Denning judgment. This is an appalling case about which I will circulate details and against [405]which I will ask members to join the international outcry. The Minister should be involved in this case.

In the general context of the two previous items, I raise the extraordinary situation concerning the cut in overseas aid. On RTE’s “Primetime” on 5 May, the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power, a very decent man, stated that “we are protecting short-term emergency and humanitarian aid because that is where our focus is. We want to save lives.” This was in answer to a question from Justin Kilcullen of Trócaire. When Irish Aid’s emergency recovery unit was contacted to confirm this, however, it stated that, despite what the Minister of State said, given the current economic circumstances, the earmarked funding for rapid onset humanitarian emergencies was cut from €20 million to €6 million. That is a 70% cut, which is a direct contradiction of what the Minister of State said. When it got back to the Minister of State’s Department, it was told that he meant to say that the reduced amount of humanitarian aid would be delivered. This is a nonsense. We need a debate on this and to get clarification from the Minister of State.

  Senator Dominic Hannigan: I give a guarded welcome to the publication this morning of the Property Services (Regulation) Bill 2009, which will come to this House, I believe, next week. It is the most important Bill regarding estate agents and particularly management companies for many a year and it is not before time. There are many families in Dublin and across the commuter belt, in places such as Dunboyne and Ashbourne, who are paying more than €1,000 per year to get their grass cut, if they are lucky to get it cut. I am glad this Bill will come before the House, but it is only a first step on the journey. I impress upon the Leader the need not just to bring this Bill forward, but to also bring forward other Bills relating to this matter.

The announcement last night that the Swiss owners of SR Technics are about to conclude a deal to sell equipment and relocate it from Dublin Airport is worrying news. It could lead to a loss of further jobs at the airport. We all heard the announcement earlier this week that the DAA is looking at reducing staff. This is very bad news for workers at the airport. We all know that it is a result of a downturn in the overall market. I ask the Leader to look again at the issue of the airport travel tax? Aer Lingus describes it as anti-consumer and claims that it will reduce passenger numbers. Ryanair has also asked for it to be examined again. Other governments have looked at this. The Dutch Government, for instance, did a study and noticed that although it raised over €3 million in airport taxes, it cost over €1 billion in lost revenues so it was scrapped. The Belgians have also looked at scrapping it. Senator Fitzgerald spoke about competitiveness, and it is important that our tourism industry is also competitive. I ask for a debate on airline policy, particularly the travel tax.

This week’s edition of the Lancet published an article on climate change. It was done in collaboration with University College London and it claims that climate change is the biggest threat to our health. It predicts more heat waves like the one in France a few years ago, where thousands of people died in the middle of the summer, more malnutrition and higher levels of migration unless governments do something about it. In 2007, Senator Ivana Bacik brought the Climate Protection Bill before this House, yet the Government has done nothing about it since. I ask the Leader for a clear commitment to introduce, as soon as possible, a Bill into this House to address the issue of climate change.

  Senator Cecilia Keaveney: I ask for a debate on crime. I welcome the proposal to have legislation to deal with serious criminals. I recognise that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, and the Garda Commissioner, Fachtna Murphy, are in Templemore to inspect 100 Garda reserves who are graduating today. The fact that there are only 300 such reserves in active service and 200 in training, or coming out of training, is something that we need to explore with a view to making greater progress, given that we were [406]looking towards a figure of approximately 4,000. Although there is a problem with serious crime, other types of community policing need a boost and I would like the issue to be addressed as soon as possible.

I call for a discussion on the implementation of the Children Act. That Act is there not only to protect the child, but also to encourage parents to be responsible for the role of their children. In some respects, this tallies with the discussion about social work. It is not just about being able to intervene to protect the child but, where parents cannot cope with a child, to be able to intervene in that situation. A broad debate needs to take place about this and about the implementation of the Children Act and its strengths and weaknesses. That will lead to a debate I called for previously in regard to sentencing and the role of the Judiciary in ensuring people receive adequate and appropriate sentences.

I draw the Leader’s attention to a matter I have raised in this House on a number of occasions, namely, the change in status of Magilligan Port from international to domestic to facilitate the continued operation of the Foyle ferry which carried more than two million passengers in the past two years. This move has been very much welcomed in the north-west region and is another sign of hands across the Border co-operation working at its best. It is a new dispensation for us in the north west under the British-Irish Agreement.

  Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: I want to refute the unfounded personal attack against me in this House yesterday by Senator Mary White.

  An Cathaoirleach: That matter is not relevant to the Order of Business.

  Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: It is very relevant on the basis——

  An Cathaoirleach: I am now allowing the Senator to raise it. She must put questions to the Leader.

  Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: I have——

  An Cathaoirleach: A Senator wishing to make a personal statement should notify me in advance of his or her intention to do so.

  Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: I have a question for the Leader.

  An Cathaoirleach: There is totally different procedure in that regard.

  Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: The record will show that I called for an urgent debate on foreign adoption——

  An Cathaoirleach: Yes.

  Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: ——last Wednesday, 6 May. The record shows that the Government voted against that debate at a time of crisis for hundreds of Irish families.

  Senator Ivor Callely: Gameplay.

  Senator Ann Ormonde: That is wrong.

  Senator Frances Fitzgerald: It is correct.

  Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: It is on the record.

[407]  An Cathaoirleach: Senators, please.

  Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: That is what the record shows.

  An Cathaoirleach: Senator Healy Eames must put a question to the Leader.

  Senator Ann Ormonde: This is a serious issue.

  Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Government Members, I realise the truth hurts——

  Senator Ann Ormonde: No.

  Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: The truth hurts and my e-mail——

  An Cathaoirleach: Senator Healy Eames must speak through the Chair.

  Senator Cecilia Keaveney: Senator Healy Eames is totally wrong.

  An Cathaoirleach: Senator Healy Eames to continue without interruption. The Senator must put questions to the Leader on relevant business today and not on what happened last week.

  Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: My question to the Leader——

  Senator Cecilia Keaveney: The Senator’s reports are wrong.

  Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: I would like the Leader to acknowledge that my reputation was tarnished yesterday in this House. I am seeking an apology from the Member who made the allegation against me.

  An Cathaoirleach: The matter is not relevant to the Order of Business.

  Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: I want the Leader to show leadership in that regard and to have the record corrected.

  An Cathaoirleach: Senator Healy Eames must put a question to the Leader.

  Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: I merely told the truth. The Government voted against an amendment for an urgent debate——

  Senator Cecilia Keaveney: That is not a question.

  Senator Ivor Callely: It is gameplay on an important issue.

  Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: ——on foreign adoption.

  An Cathaoirleach: The matter has been already discussed.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: On a point of order, Senator Healy Eames raised an issue that was relevant to the Order of Business.

  An Cathaoirleach: Yes.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: Yesterday, Senator Healy Eames’s character was impugned.

  An Cathaoirleach: No. That is not a point of order.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: I have a question for the Leader. How, therefore, can that be——

[408]  An Cathaoirleach: It is a procedural matter.

  Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Why then was Senator Mary White allowed to speak?

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: In fairness to Senator Healy Eames the accusation——

  An Cathaoirleach: No, Senator.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: An accusation has been made against Senator Healy Eames. What is her right of reply?

  An Cathaoirleach: I am not aware——

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: What is Senator Healy Eames’s right of reply?

  An Cathaoirleach: To be fair to me, I am not aware of any accusation being made against anyone.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: The Cathaoirleach is not being fair.

  An Cathaoirleach: The matter is not relevant.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: What is Senator Healy Eames’s right of reply?

  An Cathaoirleach: Senators wishing to make a personal statement will, if they come to me, be afforded an opportunity to do so.

  Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: I will take up the Cathaoirleach’s offer.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: Yesterday, an accusation was made which created no difficulty for the House. Senator Healy Eames is not being permitted this morning to reply to it.

  An Cathaoirleach: I call Senator Ó Murchú.

  Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: I compliment RTE on its effort to bring balance to the debate on the economy. For a long time there has been a view abroad that we have been having a one-sided debate. This is demoralising people at a time when we need to uplift and assist them in getting through the current recession. This morning, RTE interviewed a leading economist with a totally different story than we have been hearing. He was interviewed by RTE — I will not mention his name — on the basis that the media has in the past been accused of being somewhat less than straightforward in terms of providing a balanced report on the economy.

This economist, who is a leading economist in this country, predicted good news on the horizon for Ireland. He said that in the near future the recession will bottom out and that early next year there will be a return to growth in the economy. On exports, an issue on which a report has been issued today, he made the point that we are doing much better in the export area than most other countries.

I mention this because I believe there is a new realisation entering the debate. RTE is providing leadership, which is significant at this particular time. What I heard this morning should be put in print because it must be important reading for all people wishing to make a positive contribution to lifting us from where we are. At the end of the day, what is important is people, jobs and, above all else, ensuring we assist Ireland internationally by putting out a balanced picture to prospective investors and media gurus. I compliment RTE on that interview. It is an important start on the road back.

[409]  Senator Donie Cassidy: Well done.

  Senator Feargal Quinn: I support Senator Ó Murchú’s comments in regard to the interview, which I, too, heard this morning. There is a need to recognise that we can talk ourselves into a deeper recession. Let us not do that. We must recognise we are facing a challenge that we can handle. I am not sure that has been recognised.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that when in Dundalk I spoke to some people who had just lost their jobs. When I suggested they go to Newry, which is only a 15 minute drive away, to get a job they responded by saying employees in Newry are paid only one third of what they are paid in Dundalk. This brings to mind Senator Fitzgerald’s call for a debate on competitiveness. The Leader has promised regularly to provide time for a debate on the economy which, I believe, should be directly focused on competitiveness. We have a huge job to do in this regard.

I was surprised when I read of a €250 million pay increase by way of increments to civil servants and State agency employees. This is the type of issue we must be willing to grasp in terms of affordability. An article published this week by Lansdowne Market Research states that three quarters of private sector employees have agreed to take pay cuts this year. This is happening at a time when we are paying increments to civil servants and State agency employees whose jobs are secure. We must accept the need to address this issue.

11 o’clock

There is an interesting town in France called Beauvais wherein is located a 14th century Gothic cathedral which is being cleaned up by approximately 100 people, many of whom are not being paid for their work. They are job seekers who are willing to work to improve the area in which they live. They are being paid unemployment benefit or perhaps a jobseeker’s allowance. I believe there exists an opportunity for us to do similar work. A letter in a newspaper the other day referred to the untidiness in gardens and common areas. The article referred in particular to dandelions, of which I have seen a great deal lately. Job seekers who enjoy gardening would be happy to work for their job seeker remuneration if doing work they accepted needs to be done. A campaign similar to the once in France should be conducted here. The work being carried out in Beauvais is one of a thousand different projects being undertaken in France. Let us learn from what is happening elsewhere.

I, too, came across the article on climate change in the Lancet, as referred to by Senator Hannigan. The figures published this week are amazing. It is stated in that article that our health will suffer if we fail to enact climate protection legislation. I urge the Leader to ensure the Bill tabled by Senator Bacik, or a similar Bill, is introduced shortly.

  Senator Ivor Callely: I support Senator Quinn’s call that we should not overstate our difficulties or underestimate our challenge and that we remain positive. Our “can do” attitude is vital at this time. We must work together to ensure we overcome our difficulties. Senator Quinn’s remarks on competitiveness are linked to Senator Fitzgerald’s call yesterday for a debate on the economy, an issue I too raised on the Order of Business yesterday. This is an issue that we need to address. I wholeheartedly support the call for a debate on competitiveness.

On the announcement in respect of SR Technics in north Dublin, which is in my constituency, I believe the Tánaiste is endeavouring to achieve the best result. I have had the opportunity of speaking with her. It is important for us to put on record, as Senator Hannigan has done, the importance of retaining an aircraft maintenance facility in Ireland. I ask the Leader to raise the matter through the avenues open to him.

[410]I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on procedures and processes on the operation of psychiatric services in the public and private sectors. Psychiatric patients are usually very vulnerable people and are known to the services. I was surprised at the Dunne case that was mentioned yesterday. In my constituency last night a man, not for the first time, started to do damage to the structure of his family house and possibly damage to his own person. On the one hand the services may wish to attempt to lock people up and on the other hand others claim there are civil liberties issues. At the end of the day a balance needs to be struck.

  An Cathaoirleach: I call Senator Coghlan.

  Senator Ivor Callely: A structure needs to be put in place——

  An Cathaoirleach: The Senator’s time is up.

  Senator Ivor Callely: This is a very important issue.

  An Cathaoirleach: I know it is, but my hands are tied on the time.

  Senator Ivor Callely: I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Health and Children and the HSE to put a structure in place providing for case conferences involving family members, GPs and the appropriate HSE officials to work out what is appropriate in such cases.

  An Cathaoirleach: I call Senator Coghlan.

  Senator Ivor Callely: It would avoid some of the difficulties we have experienced in the past.

  Senator Paul Coghlan: Now that the recapitalisation of Allied Irish Banks is in place in addition to that of Bank of Ireland, we understand this is meant to improve the vital credit line to small and medium-sized businesses. What is the Government’s response in this regard? As we know up to now approximately 60% of all such loan applications to banks are being refused. In line with what Senator Ó Murchú and others have said, although all the land speculation got us into the problem, if we are to have any hope of trading out of this recession it is of paramount importance to build at the ground level with the small businesses, including hoteliers and other good operators who have been the backbone of the economy and are trying to protect jobs never mind getting into job creation which I would also like. I want to protect what we have. Businesses cannot be suffocated and must be allowed to trade. I would like to hear the Leader’s comments on that matter.

When is the NAMA legislation expected to be taken? I agree with what Senator Hannigan said on the Property Services (Regulation) Bill, about which I asked recently. I also give it a broad welcome. We look forward to getting to its detail. When will that Bill come before the Seanad? When will the Seanad take the Finance Bill?

  Senator John Hanafin: All Senators are receiving e-mails from people on inter-country adoptions. I accept it is a very sensitive and difficult time for them. I wish each of them every success. I have spoken to the Minister of State and I know he is anxious to conclude bilateral arrangements with Russia and Vietnam quickly. However, the e-mails are misrepresenting the facts regarding this House. The fact is the Minister of State was not available to come in on the day the vote was taken. As the Minister of State was not available we were unavailable to accede to the request.

  An Cathaoirleach: I do not want to go back on what happened last week.

[411]  Senator John Hanafin: It has been misrepresented to these people and has become a charade.

I refer to the positive news that is still available to us. I wish to ask the Leader for a debate on transport with particular emphasis on the Dublin Airport Authority. We will shortly have the second terminal at Dublin Airport which will add at least €30 million in running costs alone, not to mention the retail aspect and the other positive aspects of being able to handle more traffic — up to 30 million passengers a year. There could also be the added value of metro north, which would become very viable with those sorts of numbers and more importantly a new development, Dublin Airport City, which is the new direction of airports to attract foreign direct investment and mobile finance, that is people who wish to have immediate access to do business with all the other areas with which they do business. Many thousands of jobs could be created and it would be well worth debating the positive developments in Dublin Airport.

  Senator Phil Prendergast: I ask the Leader to request the Minister to make a statement on those children who will be affected by the proposed closure of ward beds in Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin. While in some cases elective surgery might mean a planned cosmetic procedure, in this case it means life-saving surgery. It takes place in two stages because a little baby can only have so much done at one time and needs maturity of organs in order to proceed. Having worked down the country, I am aware of cases where a baby was delivered with severe problems that had not been diagnosed ante-natally. That baby would need to come as an emergency or hot admission to the hospital and would then take precedence over planned or elective surgery. One can understand the dilemma presented to people awaiting child-saving surgery.

No facilities are provided for the parents of such children. Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin is the biggest referral centre for children from throughout the country. Its staff provide an excellent service. The relaying to parents of news that may not be so good — it can also be good — takes place in a corridor. This is an appalling indictment of the service being given to people at a time that might be very upsetting. The Minister should make a statement or at least agree to debate how best to prioritise without closing these wards as a money-saving venture. Although we are supposed to cherish all our children equally, this does not suggest we are.

  Senator Mary M. White: A study has just been published on the quality of life of older people in residential care. Choice, privacy and a sense if identity are some of the requirements of older people living in residential care in order to maintain a good quality of life according to research published in the May issue of the Journal of Advanced Nursing. Researchers from the National University of Ireland Galway spoke to 101 older people in long-stay care in private public nursing homes. The key findings include the following. Residents who took part in the research said that choice is important in their daily routine. For example, one resident was permitted to go to bed at any time and another person was woken up at 6 a.m. but did not get breakfast until 8.10 a.m. Residents would like to have choice in when they go to bed and get up. Privacy is also an important issue. Even people with their own rooms found that nursing staff walked into their rooms without knocking on the door. Others felt even more acutely that when they had to share a room they had absolutely no place to which to escape in order to have a little time on their own.

  An Cathaoirleach: Is the Senator seeking a debate on the matter?

  Senator Mary M. White: I would like the new Minister of State with responsibility for older people, Deputy Áine Brady, to come to the House to update us on the strategic plan for older people. It is not just about the efficiency and running of nursing homes. It is about equality of [412]life for older people. They should have a say in what happens to them. Their skills should be utilised by the owners of the nursing home. They should have a feeling of self-worth. We need to get away from the technicality of running them to making a good quality of life for older people.

  Senator Ciaran Cannon: Yesterday, the Leader rightly raised the issue of the punitive fixed interest rates that still are being applied to thousands of families nationwide. Last week, his colleague, Senator Wilson, highlighted the issue of the treatment of one such family by a lending agency, which bordered on terrorism. I asked the question last week, and will continue to do so until Members get a debate on this issue, as to the level of influence the taxpayers’ investment in the banking system has bought. I argue it has bought absolutely none. As for the €7 billion that has just been invested in the two main banks, not a single cent of it is trickling through to areas in which it is needed.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: Hear, hear.

  Senator Ciaran Cannon: It is not trickling through to families who are suffering such levels of indebtedness. We learned from the Monageer report yesterday that one such family’s level of indebtedness was a major factor in driving them to taking the sort of tragic action they did. Second, it most certainly is not trickling down to the businesses that need it. I argue that every cent that has been invested thus far is being used simply to shore up the balance accounts of these institutions and nothing else.

The issue raised by Senator Quinn whereby civic-minded jobseekers might volunteer their time, energy and efforts towards working to improve their local communities and facilities therein is a very laudable aspiration that I wish to see come to fruition. However, a number of weeks ago some such civic-minded people in my community offered their services to the local county council. They wished to enter an area that is used by our children, cut the grass, tidy it up and prepare it for what hopefully will be a good summer season. However, they were told that such activity simply could not be allowed by the local authority because they would not be covered by insurance. Were one of them to so much as cut a finger, major issues would arise. I ask whatever Minister is responsible, which may be the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, to consider the possibility of establishing a form of global national insurance policy, which has been done in other countries and which would allow people who, quite correctly, wish to spend some of their time in helping their local communities to be covered by such a policy. This would not cost a lot of money in the greater scheme of things and it is a measure that certainly should be explored to ascertain what avenues are open in respect of getting such work done.

  Senators: Hear, hear.

  Senator Larry Butler: I congratulate the company in County Galway that this morning announced an innovation in wind energy, whereby it has manufactured a component to deal with low wind speeds, which will run for 300 days of the year. That is a magnificent breakthrough in respect of wind energy production. Yesterday morning, Senator Mullen mentioned another organisation, Spirit of Ireland, which came together for the benefit of the country. It is wonderful to see such participation to ensure we become energy independent. This could take place over the next five years and it will mean that Members of the Oireachtas will be obliged to consider the legislation that obtains at present and which must be changed. I have invited representatives from Spirit of Ireland to Leinster House for an all-party meeting in two weeks’ time and Members of both Houses will be notified of that in due course. Members will [413]be surprised by the innovative ideas Spirit of Ireland has come up with on how to proceed over the next five years to ensure that, as Senator Callely noted, the economy becomes competitive again and that Ireland is able to provide clean, new energy at a cheaper price than anywhere else in Europe. It is most important that this is done. While necessity is the mother of invention, this is what is happening at present. It is important that people are thinking outside the box and Ireland has the people and the skills to do this.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: I ask the Leader in his response to intimate when it is proposed the House will sit next week and for the rest of May. I also ask the Leader to facilitate as a matter of extreme urgency a debate on social partnership. As we are in the middle of a recession, social partnership is needed more than ever and I appeal to unions and employers not to be entrenched. Social partnership is needed now more than ever to discuss our competitiveness, how to protect and create jobs and, in particular, how to communicate with the people, which is a matter to which Senator Ó Murchú referred. I wonder what planet the Senator is on. Is he again blaming George Lee for reporting on what is happening? Unemployment has risen——

  An Cathaoirleach: Questions should be addressed to the Leader and not to another Member.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: I have asked the questions. Our banks are in crisis, retail is in trouble, construction is dying a death, car sales have plummeted and, as can be seen if one walks around this city or Cork, shops are in trouble. RTE should not be blamed for the recession. Let us have a debate on RTE’s role, but it should not be blamed for reporting on the recession because it did not cause it. George Lee merely reported on it. There should be realism in this regard.

  An Cathaoirleach: The Senator should not mention the names of people outside the House.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: I apologise, but it is important to have realism. I am becoming tired of the Fianna Fáil mantra that we are causing ourselves to be in a recession. That is not the case. Government policy has got us into this position and those who will get us out of it are not the present Government.

  An Cathaoirleach: Questions to the Leader, please.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: Why have seven recommendations been blacked out from the Monageer report? What does that state about Members’ role in society regarding the protection of young children? Does the blacking out of 37 pages mean that next December, the Government will black out the pages of the budget that it does not wish Members to read? Is that what will happen next? I hope not because this issue pertains to children and, collectively, Members have a moral obligation to be responsible in this regard. The blacking out of recommendations is not the way forward. Why will the Minister of State with responsibility for children not allow the provision of an out-of-hours service for social workers? Surely emergency services, not cutbacks, should be put in place in that respect.

  Senator Eugene Regan: There was an example and an exhibition of gutter politics in the House last week when Senator Leyden attacked George Lee and RTE’s objectivity in respect of its economic reporting.

  An Cathaoirleach: That is not relevant to the Order of Business.

  Senator Eugene Regan: While Senator Ó Murchú is more polite, nevertheless it still is the same attack on RTE’s reporting and its objectivity in recent months. It also constitutes gutter politics even though it is more polite. When there is positive news on the economy, it is correct [414]to report it, but the reporting by one economist on RTE of some positive news, to which I referred in the House last week, namely, the issue of competitiveness and that our exports are holding up quite well compared to other industrialised economies, which is news the Government may welcome, is not the same as balanced reporting. There has been balanced reporting on the economy by RTE, which has not talked the economy into recession. The premise of Senator Ó Murchú’s entire attack and suggestion, namely, that there has been a lack of objectivity, is that we talk ourselves into recession.

Let us consider the headlines of this morning’s newspapers. According to Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, the world economy may face near-stagnation for ten years, similar to Japan’s lost decade. Under the headline, European Clouds Refuse to Part, the Financial Times reported on decline in industrial production across Europe. The only countries to exceed the decline in Ireland are Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Ukraine. Moreover, the Governor of the Bank of England has warned that the economy’s recovery——

  An Cathaoirleach: Time now, Senator.

  Senator Eugene Regan: ——will not be as speedy as was originally intended. While all Members wish to get out of the current economic mess, if one wishes to continue with the economic lie that we have talked ourselves into recession and if one has learned no lessons about attacks such as that by the former Taoiseach on those who should commit suicide——

  An Cathaoirleach: Senator, you time has expired.

  Senator Eugene Regan: He referred to those who talked about a problem in the economy and the unsustainability of economic policies. I will conclude by asking the Leader a question.

  An Cathaoirleach: No, Senator, you may ask it next week.

  Senator Eugene Regan: If we wish to change the heads of the banks because they have caused the problems in the banking system or the regulator who has failed to regulate, does it not follow that the leaders in government who have caused the problem in our economy and who have been part of the problem——

  An Cathaoirleach: Thank you Senator, but you are way over time.

  Senator Eugene Regan: ——are not the people to find the solutions?

  An Cathaoirleach: Finally, I call Senator Mullen.

  Senator Eugene Regan: I ask the Leader to respond to that question.

  Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: On a point of order, the record will show I did not make a point about objectivity. What I said was that RTE raised it this morning.

  An Cathaoirleach: That is clarification, not a point of order.

  Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: That is a point of order that should be on the record.

  An Cathaoirleach: I will not allow Senators to use the point of order as a guise for disorderly contributions or clarification. A point of order can only be used to clarify the procedure of the House and does not include making an objection to the content of any contribution by a Member.

[415]  Senator Rónán Mullen: I asked for a debate on overseas aid and proposed cuts yesterday. I was not present for the Leader’s reply but I gather there will be a debate. I draw the attention of the House to a report that Ireland will almost certainly miss its commitment to spend 0.6% of national income on overseas aid by 2010. Our target was to contribute 0.7% of gross national product to overseas aid by 2012 and because of swingeing cuts in the overseas aid budget, we have gone from 0.58% to 0.48%. We are going in the wrong direction.

It is regrettable we are joining the laggers when the Netherlands will meet its 2010 target of 0.56% and the UK, Spain and Luxembourg are likely to do so. Mr. Gordon Brown gave a commitment that Britain would reach 0.7% by 2013. Having commended ourselves and taken the international stage to extol our virtue by setting this commitment of 0.7% by 2012, we have lost the initiative and are moving in the wrong direction while other countries remain idealistic and make commitments. I hope this is a matter we can flesh out in the debate on overseas aid and take a new direction.

  Senator Donie Cassidy: Senators Fitzgerald, Norris, Hannigan, Keaveney and Buttimer expressed concerns about the Monageer report. As the Taoiseach has said, the Government was constrained by the advice of the Attorney General. The advice of the Attorney General must be taken and this is the reason a considerable part of the report has been blotted out. Next week I will discuss with the Leaders of the groups how we can facilitate a debate on the published part of the report at the earliest time. Also, Senator Fitzgerald referred to child protection and funding for vulnerable families. I agree with her sentiments and we will do all we can to support vulnerable people, no matter how bad the economy.

Senators Fitzgerald, Quinn, Callely and Cannon called for a debate on competitiveness. Senator Coghlan asked when the Finance Bill will be debated. Second Stage will take place on the last Thursday of this month, 28 May. The competitiveness debate will be timely. We must come to terms with competitiveness in the public and private sectors. The private sector has shown the way, as stated by Senator Quinn, because it is compulsory in most cases. If people do not lower income by 10% and 20% companies will not survive.

I refer to the expertise available at SR Technics to Europe and the airline business. If this expertise leaves our shores we will never see it again. It has taken 30 or 40 years for us to be recognised as a leader in this field. Workers in the private sector may have to take a reduced income to keep expertise and jobs here. Many of those men and women have been employed in the area for a considerable period and will find it extremely difficult to be retrained. Competitiveness is the single greatest challenge. I am prepared to offer an entire day’s debate, before the Finance Bill, if possible, where Members can make a 15 minute contribution with the Minister present. I will discuss this with the leaders of the groups at next week’s meeting.

I refer to the experience outlined to the House on the job seeker’s programme in France. We can examine this and see how we can encourage it. Some 1,000 projects have been given out in France and Ireland has been known for its voluntary work. The greatest thing a young person or an unemployed person can have in the morning is something to do that day. It is a contradiction to have nothing to do in the day after being educated in one of the best systems we have seen in the history of the country. We owe it to these unemployed men, women, boys and girls to have something in place. Senator Cannon referred to insurance. Surely this should not be a barrier placed by a local authority, when such a body can show the lead as it did during the 1980s with FÁS schemes. This was another time when we experienced a massive downturn.

Senators Norris and Prendergast expressed serious concern about funding for Crumlin children’s hospital. We all supported and subscribed to fund-raising for Crumlin children’s hospital over the past 20 years. If a child’s life is in danger and funding is the problem, the [416]people are never found wanting. I will take this issue up with the Minister, who is very supportive of Crumlin children’s hospital. It is very close to where she was reared.

Regarding human rights and other issues brought to my attention by Senators Norris and Fitzgerald concerning the unfortunate lady held in captivity for 19 years in Burma, I have no difficulty in having time left aside for this to be debated in the House. Regarding Senators Norris and Mullen on overseas aid, we have heard various percentages over the years. I saw the new Minister of State, Deputy Power, interviewed on television in recent weeks. He said that from 1997 to 2007, our allocation increased twentyfold, a statistic of which we can be proud.

  Senator David Norris: That may be factually incorrect.

  Senator Rónán Mullen: What about in tough times?

  Senator Donie Cassidy: If that is a fact, I would like it to be acknowledged in the House. We look forward to the day we will meet our target, as pointed out by Senator Mullen, and it is the intention that we would. If we have increased it by twentyfold in that 12-year period, we can all be proud of it.

Senators Hannigan and Callely asked when the Property Services (Regulation) Bill will be debated in the House. Senator Coghlan has been inquiring about this for some considerable time. The Bill will be initiated in the Seanad and will be before Members for their consideration on Thursday, 21 May.

Senators Hanafin, Hannigan and Callely referred to job losses and the potential and opportunities for airport activities, as outlined by Senator Hanafin. I wish everyone well with the new terminal currently being constructed. This shows a new vision as a gateway to Ireland. Senator Hanafin referred to the airport city, a new phenomenon coming to most countries in the world. With the metro being built in years to come, it could become a realistic opportunity to showcase our country, what we have achieved and where we are going. The first place everybody coming here arrives at is the airport and we were always told the first impression lasts.

Senator Hannigan spoke about climate change, an area where legislation is needed. I will check to see where the issue is on the Minister’s list of priorities. Senator Keaveney called for a debate on crime, which would be very timely, and I have no difficulty in allocating further time for the Minister to come to the House to update us in this area. The Senator also spoke on the port at Magilligan and we join with her comments on the success and status of that port.

I know the Senator works very hard for the port at Magilligan and on each side of the Border. I wondered at various times whether the Senator may be contemplating a political career on the other side of the Border as well. It is great to see her strong representation for that area in this House and bringing such matters to our attention on a weekly basis.

Senator Healy Eames commented on the Order of Business. I can understand the Senator’s frustration if she wants something discussed on the Order of Business. On most occasions, the Order of Business is agreed by the leaders of the groups and myself and we have it outlined for the week. If there is something which the Senator, or any Senator, wants debated on that particular day but it is not, this does not mean the Government side is opposed to it. It means that on that day the business has been outlined and the Ministers’ diaries have been arranged so they will be here.

As long-established Senators in particular in the House will know, there is a long-established format where everything possible is done in communicating, consultation and negotiation. I hope this will continue and I do not want to depart from it. With regard to the Senators who [417]may have found themselves in a position to back me on the proposed Order of Business for that day, it does not necessarily mean they were opposed in any shape or form to Senator Healy Eames’s point on the Order of Business, which she is entitled to raise.

  Senator John Hanafin: Hear, hear.

  Senator Donie Cassidy: Senators Ó Murchú and Quinn offered their congratulations on the view of the economist this morning on radio. We have many experts in the world on the economy and very few can pinpoint how the economies of the world will recover. As we are such a small open economy, we will be one of the first and fastest countries to pick up economically compared to any other country. The light is starting to appear at the end of the tunnel in the United States of America. Until that country’s economy lifts, we will not improve either.

All reasonably minded commentators agree with the line of thought that this opportunity presented itself because President Barack Obama came to office. Many people around the world have confidence in his ability——

  Senator Mary M. White: Hear, hear.

  Senator Donie Cassidy: ——and in him making things happen again. We were fortunate he came to office at that time.

I look forward, as I know the Cathaoirleach does, to him visiting his native county with the Taoiseach.

  Senator Feargal Quinn: Any day now.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: The current Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen, will be gone by then.

  Senator Donie Cassidy: What a wonderful time it will be and what a wonderful honour it will be for the Cathaoirleach and the Taoiseach, as head of the Upper House and head of the Government, respectively, to be in the position to welcome President Obama home again to Moneygall.

  Senator David Norris: It would be an honour for President Obama too.

  Senator Donie Cassidy: The Senator would be welcome also.

  Senator Camillus Glynn: He could bring a packed lunch.

  Senator Donie Cassidy: Senator Callely called for a debate on psychiatric services; I have no difficulty in that taking place and I will allocate time for it. Senator Coghlan again pointed out his serious concerns regarding banking and related issues. I will come back to the House next week to update it on the proposals relating to NAMA. As I have already said, the Finance Bill will be taken on the last Thursday in May.

Senator Mary White brought to the attention of the House something which everybody here, regardless of political shades, would have to agree upon. That is the quality of care for older people in the autumn of their lives, particularly quality of life, choice of long-stay options and privacy in rooms. All of these matters give quality to our senior citizens in their retirement years. I congratulate the Senator for all she is doing in this area in helping and assisting people. Whenever time is requested, we will be able to have the new Minister of State, Deputy Áine Brady, come to the House.

Senator Cannon expressed strong views, as I did yesterday, on the 20% of mortgage holders who are caught in fixed interest rates, which are currently penal. This is particularly so where [418]one of the income earners in the house, or perhaps the only income earner, is unemployed. There should be some strategy for this, such as a 12-month or even a two-year moratorium. If people have a loan over five or ten years and have made the constant repayments every month on the button, those who have worked hard to gain this reputation should certainly be considered again.

We are playing our part to keep banking alive in the country, as has been pointed out by the Senator, and there has been significant investment by the taxpayer. In their hour of need, surely we must have an influence if we have 25% of the shares of the two major banks on the island. I will inquire further on this and perhaps we can discuss it with the Minister for Finance when the Finance Bill comes before the House in two weeks.

Senator Larry Butler outlined to the House the good news on wind energy innovations which are taking place through two or three consortia. I know Senator Butler has taken the spirit of Irish innovators through the House for all Members to hear and to witness their inventions in the near future. We have an opportunity in Ireland and in a short time — perhaps ten years — we could become a user of clean new energy and perhaps even export it in coming years. It could be a significant asset, as the raw material costs nothing. From that perspective, I welcome the Senator’s announcement and we can have a debate on that when necessary.

Senator Buttimer called for a debate on social partnership and I have no difficulty in having time left aside for this also. The matter of sitting days next week will be decided by how business progresses today. We will come back to the House this evening on that matter.

  An Cathaoirleach: Is the Order of Business agreed to?

  Senator Frances Fitzgerald: On a point of order, will the House meet on Tuesday? The waters are muddied on this given yesterday’s developments. At this point, Senators do not know if the House is meeting on Tuesday, despite a meeting of leaders earlier this week.

  An Cathaoirleach: That is not a point of order. The Leader indicated that as business progressed, he would be in a position to clarify the matter.

  Senator Donie Cassidy: Absolutely.

Order of Business agreed to.