Seanad Éireann - Volume 196 - 18 June, 2009

Order of Business.

  Senator Donie Cassidy: The Order of Business is No. 1, Financial Services (Deposit Guarantee Scheme) Bill 2009 — all Stages, and No. 2, earlier signature motion. It is proposed that No. 1 shall be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and that on Second Stage spokespersons may speak for 15 minutes and all other Senators for eight minutes. Senators may share time by agreement of the House. No. 2, shall be taken at the conclusion of No. 1.

  Senator Maurice Cummins: On 3 February, through a motion in the Dáil, the Government formally corrected the public record to state that there was no evidence that the Stardust fire of almost 29 years ago was started deliberately and that the cause of the fire is unknown. This happened as a result of a report by Paul Coffey, Senior Counsel, which recommended that the Government should consider correcting the public record of the Dáil and Seanad. When is it intended to introduce a similar motion in this House and why has there been a delay in addressing the matter here? I seek an assurance from the Leader that the matter will be addressed within the next week or so.

  Senator Joe O’Toole: A half debate took place recently on the ownership of Catholic schools. Many people are of the view that he who is not with us must be against us and believe that [168]those who support State ownership of schools are in some way anti-Catholic, but that is not the case. We need a full debate on this matter so that people’s views are put on the record. A classic example in support of such a debate arose on yesterday’s Order of Business, when my colleague, Senator Mullen, brought to the attention of the House a Red C poll, conducted about a year ago, which indicated that 47% of parents were in favour of Catholic schools whereas 37% preferred mixed religion education and 11% said that religion should have no part in education. However, the difficulty with this kind of half information is that it is undermining, as is shown by the finding in the same poll that 72% of parents, in other words the majority, would prefer primary schools to be run by the State with equal status and opportunity given to all religions.

I raise this matter because my colleague, Senator Norris, has on two occasions in the past three weeks sought a debate on the question of equal status. The Leader raised the issue with the Minister for Education and Science but he cannot get the Government to support it. The people of Ireland are calling for equal opportunity and status for all religions, and that is very important. The recent Dáil na nÓg, which brings young people together to learn about democracy, came to the conclusion that while the doctrines and beliefs of various religions should be fully respected and tolerated, they should not be a barrier to appropriate sex education for young people. These issues can be debated in this House.

  Senator David Norris: Hear, hear.

  Senator Joe O’Toole: Let people express their views. It is not anti anybody to seek equality and tolerance. These schools were built with State money on land donated to the churches by local farmers or community organisations. This is the people’s money. State ownership of schools does not affect Catholic control. Of course there should be parental choice and if parents want Catholic education they should have it. As taxpayers we should own the buildings we fund. It is that simple.

  Senator Dominic Hannigan: I await with interest the outcome of the Council of Ministers meeting in Brussels. If reports are to be believed, at least some of the concerns expressed by Irish citizens in the last Lisbon referendum will be addressed. As someone who campaigned vigorously for the treaty, I was concerned about the issues raised with me on doorsteps and in supermarkets about taxation, neutrality and the loss of a full-time Commissioner. If the reports are true, the meeting will go a long way towards addressing the worries of many citizens. It is important that the information is disseminated clearly, preferably before the debate begins, because during the last referendum we were constantly chasing the fight in convincing people and countering misinformation.

As a new customer of Bord Gáis, I was very angry and disappointed to learn that my details and those of 75,000 other customers may have fallen into criminal hands because they were held without encryption on stolen laptop computers. It is not acceptable in this day and age that unencrypted data can be held on portable devices, but it is not the first time this happened. In April 2008, 10,000 records held on Bank of Ireland computers were stolen and last August a computer containing the records of 100,000 social welfare recipients was stolen from the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General. Last weekend we heard that 15 computers containing HSE data, two of which were unencrypted, were stolen in County Roscommon. Encrypting data does not take a lot of time or money, yet private sector organisations, semi-State bodies and State agencies are sloppy in their procedures for protecting data. If these organisations cannot get their act together, it is time for the Government to step in with fines or compensation. I call for a debate on this issue so that we can hear what the Government [169]plans to do in terms of cajoling or requiring companies to protect sensitive and confidential information.

  Senator Cecilia Keaveney: I raise an old chestnut by asking whether a date has been arranged for a debate on issues pertaining to the North and North-South co-operation. As we are approaching the end of the session, I suggest that we hold regular debates which would allow for formal feedback from the North-South Ministerial Council. Although those meetings take place very regularly, we do not have the opportunity to contribute to the discussions.

The closing date for the all-Ireland choir of the year competition is 3 September. Senators should encourage their local schools to enter the competition because RTE will cover the regional heats and the final, which will take place in Belfast. The competition is an example of how the arts can offer opportunities to reach hands across the Border so that young people can get to know each other.

I questioned on previous occasions the use of names such as that in “The Town I Loved So Well” — at this point it appears to be “Danny Boy”. Maps were issued in the recent leaving certificate geography examination containing the name “Londonderry” rather than “Derry”. If we must have “Londonderry”, we should also have “Derry”. As far as I am aware, the City of Derry Airport and the City of Derry Council are located in Derry and it is offensive and insensitive to the majority of people to use “Londonderry” at the total exclusion of “Derry”.

  Senator Paul Coghlan: I strongly support Senator Cummins regarding the Paul Coffey report. Both Houses of the Oireachtas passed a resolution establishing the inquiry into the Stardust fire. Mr. Coffey made clear in his report that the families concerned were wronged and left under a cloud. The report recommended that both Houses should correct the public record. It is lax of us not to have not done so given that the other House passed a motion to this end last February. I would like to hear the Leader’s opinion on how we should address the matter.

What is the House’s legislative programme between now and the end of this session? We are led to believe that we will be dealing with some important Bills. I refer in particular to the proposed National Assets Management Agency Bill, which is very urgent. The delay in producing this legislation is causing confusion and the ensuing volatility in the markets is not good for stability. Given the considerable amount of misleading information that has issued in regard to NAMA, perhaps the Minister for Finance will make a statement to the House. Some of the best information on the matter comes from independent analysts who know what they are talking about. The Minister should give a lead on this and he might make a statement outlining the legislative programme and remaining sitting days for this House.

  Senator Terry Leyden: I disagree with Senator O’Toole’s view on the ownership of schools. He has a bit of a hang up about the position.

  Senator Joe O’Toole: No, I have no hang up. I just gave the views of the people of Ireland, including Roscommon.

  Senator Jim Walsh: The Senator has a chip on his shoulder.

  Senator Ivana Bacik: Does Archbishop Martin have a hang up?

  Senator Terry Leyden: The State cannot afford to take over ownership of those schools.

  Senator David Norris: They can afford to pay €100 million though thanks to Deputy Michael Woods.

  An Cathaoirleach: Questions should be put to the Leader. There should be no interruption.

[170]  Senator Terry Leyden: I ask the Leader to put that item on the agenda for the autumn session of this House.

  Senator Joe O’Toole: Yes.

  Senator David Norris: Hear, hear.

  Senator Terry Leyden: I point out that in my local school, Fuerty national school, the manager of which is Fr. John Leogue, PP——

  An Cathaoirleach: There should be no names mentioned, Senator.

  Senator Terry Leyden: ——we built a €700,000 extension. The point I am making is this——

  Senator David Norris: More parish pump——

  An Cathaoirleach: The Senator does not have to mention names.

  Senator Terry Leyden: Where would one get a manager of the calibre of that man compared——

(Interruptions).

  Senator Terry Leyden: Of course Senator O’Toole and the union would like to have managers paid €40,000 or €50,000 a year to manage the schools.

  Senator Joe O’Toole: No.

  Senator Terry Leyden: We cannot afford it, and the Senator is trying to feather his own nest in that particular regard as far as his former members are concerned. I want to make clear that I am not speaking about the Senator personally but his friends might be involved in that.

  Senator David Norris: No. The Senator is only grandstanding as usual.

  Senator Joe O’Toole: Senator Leyden missed taking the pill again this morning.

  An Cathaoirleach: Please, Senators.

  Senator Terry Leyden: No. Senator O’Toole does not like to hear anyone disagree with him because he thinks he is always right.

  Senator Joe O’Toole: I am sensitive when it comes to this issue.

  Senator Terry Leyden: The new gaelscoileanna are managed by individuals and, furthermore, the new schools in new development areas should be under the leadership of the vocational educational committees. They have the right to take over because they have a management structure.

  Senator Joe O’Toole: At €60,000 a year.

  Senator Terry Leyden: The schools now in the ownership of and managed by the Church on our behalf should be retained. We cannot afford to maintain them and we could not afford to pay managers.

  Senator David Norris: I compliment the Green Party Members, even though they are not apparently present in the House, on the fact that——

[171]  Senator Donie Cassidy: Three of the Senator’s own are missing too.

  Senator David Norris: ——the Minister, Deputy Gormley, the leader, has apparently been moderately successful in assuaging some of the doubts of those of us who opposed the Lisbon treaty. I think I was the first person in this House to come out against the Lisbon treaty. I did so because of the military situation. I raised a series of questions that have never been answered and for that reason I welcome the fact that the heads of the European Defence Agency Bill have been prepared. Can the Leader tell us when that Bill will come before the House? It is a most important Bill. I very much welcome that our participation in defence measures will be limited to matters under the programme of the United Nations but the central point concerned the use of the European Defence Agency, formerly the Western European Armaments Group, for the development of the munitions industry for export in Europe. I look for that to be discussed and answered and then perhaps I can come on board and support the Lisbon treaty.

Will the Leader contact the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, and ask him to take an interest in the fate of Dublin Bay? There is a deadline of 7 July for submissions on the proposal by the Dublin Docklands Development Authority to infill a very large section of the bay with a potentially disastrous impact on the coastline, wildlife, the natural ecology and the enjoyment of the citizens of Dublin. It is important that we get the Minister’s report before the decision is made, and the Minister should request a delay until he gets his own full report.

This is a very sad day because it is the day on which the final report of the Combat Poverty Agency is launched. The independence of this body has been completely and ruthlessly extinguished in the middle of the worst economic circumstances this country has seen. It is a shameful day in that we, as an Oireachtas, have presided over the dismantling of the very agency that supports the poor.

  Senator Eoghan Harris: I note the opposition of my colleague, Senator Norris, to the Lisbon treaty. He claims he was one of the first against it on military grounds. I also note, in the same spirit and along the same seamless robe of bad politics, that he is going to a press conference after the Order of Business where he will give substance to the incredible claims of——

  Senator David Norris: The Senator has been misinformed.

  An Cathaoirleach: Please, Senator Norris. There should be no interruptions.

  Senator David Norris: The press conference has been cancelled.

  Senator Eoghan Harris: Senator Norris, you are incontinent. Please let me make my remarks.

  Senator David Norris: If I am, you are the perfect pad.

  Senator Eoghan Harris: I hate the cliche that I did not heckle you, but heckle away. The point is that the Senator is going to a press conference after the Order of Business at which he will give substance to the claim of Pat O’Donnell, who claims his boat, the Iona Isle, was sank off Erris Head by a group of masked men at 1.40 a.m. who stayed three hours in the area and then departed, with six miles of visibility. When the gardaí came out in their boat and the Royal National Lifeboat came out they could not see anybody of any sort and conveniently, one of Mr. O’Donnell’s relatives was standing by when the boat sank to take him off at the same time as Shell protestors were leaving in kayaks to attack the Shell installation. If the Senator believes that, he would believe anything.

[172]  Senator David Norris: Does the Senator believe Shell Oil was fined €7 million for murdering Ken Saro-Wiwa?

  An Cathaoirleach: There should be questions to the Leader on the Order of Business.

  Senator Eoghan Harris: The up-market The Sunday Times, which I reckon is one of the newspapers the Senator reads, quotes the gardaí as saying the sinking story is fishy. The Senator is a close reader. He reads Ulysses——-

  Senator David Norris: Not Murdoch’s newspapers.

  Senator Eoghan Harris: He reads the text of James Joyce. Surely he can read the newspaper stories, all of which agree there is something fishy about that story yet the Senator proposes to go to——

  Senator David Norris: Yes, it is a trawler. I am glad the Senator noticed.

  An Cathaoirleach: Senator Harris’s time has expired.

  Senator Eoghan Harris: The people of north Mayo have given their judgment on this at two elections. They took the seat from the former Deputy Jerry Cowley and from Tim Quinn of Fianna Fáil as well because he was against the development of the area.

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

  Senator Eugene Regan: I wish to ask the Leader about the empty chair policy of the Green Party in this House.

  An Cathaoirleach: That is not relevant. I do not want comments made about any Member of this House who may not be in his or her seat today.

  Senator Eugene Regan: I mentioned the party.

  An Cathaoirleach: I am taking questions to the Leader.

  Senator Eugene Regan: It is a question to the Leader.

  An Cathaoirleach: It must be relevant to the Order of Business.

  Senator Eugene Regan: It is an important question. I would have to blame the Leader because he went public on this issue about the Seanad nomination. It is important to this House because the question is whether the Green Party Members are operating an empty chair policy. Is it simply about this nomination or is it more fundamental about whether the Green Party is supporting the Government, be it on the Lisbon referendum, the next budget or whatever legislation will be forthcoming over the remainder of this period? This is important. I ask the Leader to respond and clarify the position because it is rather odd that during this entire week no Green Party Member has been in this House. Will that continue?

  Senator Paul Coghlan: They will be here next week.

  An Cathaoirleach: I do not want any Member to comment on a Member who is or is not in the Chamber.

  Senator Paul Coghlan: They should kiss and make up.

[173]  Senator Eugene Regan: I would add that if the Green Party has a problem we may be able to assist it. If it would vote for a candidate from this side of the House, we might be able to facilitate it and if its Members came back into the Chamber, we could discuss that.

  An Cathaoirleach: The filling of vacancies is governed by legislation.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: Tell the Leader that.

  An Cathaoirleach: I do not want Members speaking across the floor about a Member of any party who may not be in the Chamber.

  Senator Ivor Callely: I take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister for Transport on organising National Bike Week, which I hope will be a tremendous success. I encourage everybody to cycle a little more this week. That follows the previous speaker’s comments about the absence of the Green Party Members. This measure was done by a Fianna Fáil Minister.

  An Cathaoirleach: No——

  Senator Ivor Callely: I ask the Leader to indicate the success or otherwise of the cycle to work scheme introduced in the last budget. Will he put to the Department of Finance the view that the abolition of VAT on bicycles might encourage people, other than those who use them to go to work, to increase their use of bicycles?

Another issue about which I am concerned is bus services. My understanding is that Bus Éireann is considering making alterations to 100 routes. I ask the Leader to obtain information as to the impact of these alterations on services.

As it is in my area, I have a particular interest in the Stardust motion, which I have been pursuing and following and which I understand the is being prepared and will come to the House. I ask the Leader to ensure it does so before the summer recess.

  Senator Paschal Donohoe: Professor Kevin O’Rourke of Trinity College, Dublin has just produced a paper comparing the current global recession to the Great Depression of the 1930s. The conclusion he draws is stark, namely, that globally we are tracking even worse than during the Great Depression. Professor O’Rourke makes two points, essentially that the collapse of world trade in the past year has been greater than that experienced in the first two years of the Great Depression and that the decline in stock markets in recent years is greater than anything experienced in the Great Depression.

I make this point to emphasise what I said yesterday on the Order of Business. With a global outlook such as this, our small open economy is facing a number of decisions that are simply vast in the effect they will have on the people we serve. In the context of the debate we had on the emergency budget and the budget that preceded it, this country is facing at least two to three budgets of equal severity in the coming years.

I want to re-emphasise the call I made, namely, that in the September review of the salaries paid to senior figures in the public service, the Government would take this as an opportunity to reduce dramatically the salaries paid to Ministers to give Government and all politicians the credibility to lead the country through the huge difficulties we are in.

  Senators: Hear, hear.

  Senator Paschal Donohoe: It is appropriate that the Taoiseach would be paid an additional €30,000 on top of a TD’s salary, a Minister €20,000 more than a TD and a Minister of State €10,000 more than a TD. I cannot help but feel that if the people who founded our country, [174]from all political parties, were present and saw the way Ministers are treated now, they would wonder how everything went so wrong.

  An Cathaoirleach: The Senator’s time is concluded.

  Senator Paschal Donohoe: I want to conclude on a point raised by Senator Hannigan on Bord Gáis. Last night we were treated to what I can only describe as a sermon from the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, on the progress the Government is making on cloud computing, where quantities of data are held on the Internet as opposed to laptops. If even a fraction of this work was being done, the crimes being talked about earlier would not be happening because the information would not be on laptops.

  Senator Mary M. White: I express my sympathy on the death of Mrs. Sadie Walsh, the mother of the very respected Seanad reporter, Mr. Jimmy Walsh. She died yesterday in her 91st year and is being reposed from today until her burial on Saturday. The notice is in today’s Irish Independent.

11 o’clock

I draw attention to the report by Carl O’Brien in today’s The Irish Times headed “Severe literacy problems persist despite 25 years of programmes”. Almost one third of children who live in disadvantaged areas and one tenth of children nationally have severe literacy problems. Despite the Celtic tiger and all the money we have had, we have not got to the bottom of this issue. It is shocking to think of one tenth of our little children not being literate. Ms Maureen Gaffney describes being literate as being like the oxygen for engaging in society. The researchers at the National Economic and Social Forum state that children who do not read, write or communicate effectively at primary level are much more likely to leave school early, be unemployed or in low-skilled jobs and more likely to end up in poverty and in our prisons. Every child born into this world, no matter what social class he or she is in, starts off with the same dreams and aspirations. Sadly, along the way, these change owing to income inequality, and all the international research shows that this country has severe income inequality.

I draw the attention of my colleagues to a book called The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett.

  An Cathaoirleach: The Senator’s time is concluded.

  Senator Mary M. White: This major sociological study shows us why more equal societies almost always do better. If the society is more equal, everyone is better off.

Yesterday I spoke about the increase in suicide. There is a group of people in society who are now dying more frequently. The people who missed out on the Celtic tiger and were not able to participate in it fully are now being cast aside again——

  An Cathaoirleach: The point is made.

  Senator Mary M. White: ——and being disadvantaged further. From my time on the National Economic——

  An Cathaoirleach: My hands are tied with regard to time, Senator.

  Senator Mary M. White: I just want to finish.

  An Cathaoirleach: No, Senator.

[175]  Senator Mary M. White: The evidence on the ground, from what the National Suicide Research Foundation has told me——

  An Cathaoirleach: I call Senator Bacik.

  Senator Mary M. White: ——is that the people who are dying from suicide are those who have been left out by the Celtic tiger and cannot get employment.

  Senator Ivana Bacik: I am grateful to Senator Mary White for giving us the sad news about Mrs. Sadie Walsh. I am sure we would all like to express our condolences to Mr. Jimmy Walsh on his sad loss.

I support Senator O’Toole’s call, and the calls we have made in recent days, for an urgent debate on the ownership of our so-called national schools. The State cannot afford not to take national schools into ownership — that is the reality. Currently, the State is paying for the salaries of the teachers and the maintenance and physical upkeep of the schools, yet it does not have real control over the governance and governance standards within the schools or the retention and recruitment of teachers. We have enshrined in the equality legislation an exemption for schools and other institutions run by religious orders from certain aspects of the non-discrimination obligations, which is a scandal. Senator Norris has been very active in raising this issue and I have supported him on it. It is vital we have this debate with a view to changing matters.

I have examined the full Red C poll to which Senator O’Toole referred and I found it very interesting. It states not only that 72% of parents would prefer to see schools run by the State with equal status and opportunity for all religions, but the question was specifically asked whether parents want a school managed by and promoting the faith of a particular religion for their children and only 25%, or one in four, said “yes”.

  Senator Terry Leyden: I would not believe that poll. The Senator should not be fooled.

  An Cathaoirleach: There should be no interruptions.

  Senator Ivana Bacik: The poll is conducted by Red C.

  Senator Terry Leyden: They are trying to kick the church when it is down. There is an anti-church bias.

  Senator Ivana Bacik: We can quote selectively from polls but it is important to have the full details of the poll in front of us.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: It is the Fianna Fáil way.

  Senator Ivana Bacik: I understand it is the Fianna Fáil way to quote selectively. If we look at the full figures in the poll, we see clearly what parental choice and preference is in regard to schooling but they are not getting it. Some 95% of our national schools are run by the Catholic church.

  An Cathaoirleach: The Senator’s time is concluded.

  Senator Ivana Bacik: That offers parents no choice, especially in rural areas where there is only one local school.

  An Cathaoirleach: Please, Senator. I call Senator MacSharry.

[176]  Senator Ivana Bacik: I would like to finish by saying——

  An Cathaoirleach: The Senator’s time is up, end of story.

  Senator Ivana Bacik: With respect, I was heckled and prevented from speaking for a large part of my time.

  Senator Donie Cassidy: Senator Bacik is no stranger to it.

  Senator Ivana Bacik: Educate Together is the only education body that is currently offering parents the choice they clearly wish to have for their children.

  An Cathaoirleach: The Senator is way over time. I call Senator MacSharry.

  Senator Marc MacSharry: In line with our ongoing debates and discussions on the economy, I join Senator Paschal Donohoe in his suggestion that we are in for up to four very difficult budgets. If he gets his own way, it is within the bounds of possibility he will be delivering one of those budgets himself.

  Senator Paschal Donohoe: I do not think so.

  Senator Terry Leyden: Not if George Lee has a say.

  Senator Marc MacSharry: Notwithstanding that, I agree that the issue of public sector pay should be examined. Between an bord snip nua and the various considerations of public sector reform, this issue is being dealt with. However, I am fundamentally opposed to any gimmickry or tokenism whereby we focus on Ministers, senior TDs or otherwise and set to cut their pay. I agree that we should look at the entire area of public sector pay and, through partnership only, let us seek to reduce that pay in line with the renewed world in which we live, where inflation is in a downward trend.

I also seek a debate on the provision of energy options on an equal basis throughout the island of Ireland. As people will be aware the north west is not provided with gas currently. Anyone who has listened to me in the past seven years will be aware this is a pet issue for me and we seek equality in that respect as soon as possible. It is very important the Corrib gas resource, which effectively belongs to the people of the west and north west, is brought ashore in a safe and agreed manner. We have been through many procedures to ensure it can be brought ashore safely, the last of which followed from the Cassells report, is being adjudicated upon by An Bord Pleanála at present and the results of which I look forward to in September. I trust that works undertaken in the coming months can be done in a way which upholds the rule of law and which respects the right to peaceful protest which is neither obstructive nor obtrusive in the interests of the people of the west because, as all Members will agree, the good of the many far outweighs the good of the few or the one.

  Senator Dominic Hannigan: Hear, hear.

  Senator Ciaran Cannon: Let us imagine a meeting some months ago in either the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism or the Department of Transport at which Ministers and officials were deciding how to tackle head-on the challenge of diminishing tourism numbers. If someone had suggested the idea of charging everyone €10 extra to come and visit, one would assume that person would have been smacked down immediately. However, that is exactly what we are doing. The announcement by Ryanair today that it plans to cut flights further to a point where only three of its aircraft will operate from Shannon indicates what a nonsensical and utterly absurd decision it was to impose a travel tax.

[177]  Senator Jerry Buttimer: Hear, hear.

  Senator Ciaran Cannon: Some 44 flights per week will be removed from Dublin and 36 from Shannon. It is not as if these aircraft are being taken out of commission. They are being moved to other locations in Europe in which there are governments with a little more vision and sense. Perhaps they are being moved to Belgium where the Government has scrapped the passenger tax, to Greece where the regional airport tax has been reduced to zero, to Holland where the €12 air passenger tax has been removed, or to Spain which is announcing a zero rate of tax for airlines which sustain or maintain traffic in particular locations. Something similar must be done immediately in this country. Will the Leader call on the Minister for Transport to come to the Chamber to explain this nonsensical decision and perhaps to take the enlightened route of removing the tax immediately before it impacts further on tourism numbers in the upcoming season?

  Senator Ann Ormonde: I would welcome very much a debate on the management of our schools and whether they should be State-oriented or under the domain of the religious. I have no difficulty with holding such a debate and the jury is out on which is preferable. There should be a detailed analysis of the boards of management which control schools and of whether they should be controlled by teachers or parents. There are many issues which must be teased out. I have scanned articles in the newspapers related to the percentage that seek State control but I do not take that view. The debate is very serious because many issues must be taken into consideration. We should not decide flippantly that this is the way the system should be run. A debate in this area is very important.

The matter of reform of the public service has been aired and whether there should be cutbacks in pay. I seek an examination of the terms of reference for the work of those concerned, how it is performed and whether it should be nine to five or take-home work. All such issues must be examined in terms of reform and I would welcome a debate on these two issues.

  Senator Rónán Mullen: I am always pleased to see good ideas taken up and I compliment Fine Gael and, in particular, Deputy Denis Naughten, for his comments on the need to criminalise the purchasers of sexual services from people in prostitution. As Members will be aware, last week I brought forward this idea as part of a more wide-ranging Private Members’ motion on the needs of victims of human trafficking. I am very pleased it is now Fine Gael Party policy and that we would see such legislation in this country following the model pursued successfully in Sweden, Norway and Iceland to help make the country a cold house for traffickers of human persons by tackling demand in the area of prostitution. I give credit to Fine Gael on this issue.

I listened with interest to the remarks of Senator Bacik on the ongoing debate on education. There are rumours that Senator Bacik might think of getting even closer to the Labour Party, if that can be imagined. If she does so she may wish to note Labour’s very sensible statement on the matter, as reported in The Irish Times, that “Labour is committed to the establishment of a genuine pluralism in our school system that would enable parents to make the choice they want for their children in so far as that is possible”.

  Senator Ivana Bacik: That is exactly what I said.

  Senator Rónán Mullen: It is wonderful to have such harmony because this is what Archbishop Martin was rightly getting at when he suggested it would be untenable for there to be such a predominance of Catholic schools in circumstances in which the same percentage of people did not wish for it. We must examine honestly and carefully at the issues of parental choice. I note and recommend to Members the comments of Archbishop Martin yesterday in which he warned of moving to a new education system by “single-issue plebiscite, a panic reaction or a [178]managed strategic action by one grouping ... Decisions based on the ‘polemics of the moment’ are less likely to be successful”. If we take a view that respects parental choice, recognises that national schools are good but nationalisation might not be so good and might not represent parents’ best wishes and desires, then we will arrive at the right answers to the questions.

  Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: I support the call for a debate on education which should take place in an informed and non-partisan way. If there is a perception abroad that the present debate regarding the Catholic church’s involvement in education has its roots in anti-Catholicism then we should ask ourselves why that perception is abroad. One reason may be that the question is generally raised at a time when the Catholic church, for one reason or another, is coming under the spotlight. We do no justice to the children of this generation or future generations by conducting a debate in that manner. Only for the Catholic church in this country we would not be in the position in which we find ourselves, that is, in which we can realise our full potential. Many people in the House would not be able to enunciate views, as they do, but for the excellent free education which we received from the various religious orders. I suggest we step back a little at this time and hold a debate for its own sake. There is not a single person in the House who is not committed to providing the best possible education system in the country. However, we contaminate the debate each time we try to link it to some other debate or issue. The Leader would do us all a favour if he could bring forward that debate at the earliest possible time.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: I call on the Leader to address two specific questions in his reply on the Order of Business. Given that we are celebrating the 90th anniversary of the first Dáil, have Members on the Government side adopted a new abstentionist policy to the House? When does the Government propose to hold a by-election for the vacancies arising in the membership of the Seanad? Is it the intention of the Leader and Senator Boyle to kiss and make up and to have an agreed candidate?

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

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: With respect, it is.

  An Cathaoirleach: No it is not. We are not seeking one-liners for “Oireachtas Report”.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: Will the Leader facilitate a debate on the issue of social partnership? Never in the history of the State have we required social partnership more. I agree with Senator Donohoe, who is spot on. It is absurd that Ministers are paid exorbitant sums of money, well in excess of what they deserve. The Senator is correct to say we should cap the salaries of Deputies because we cannot afford to pay some members of the Government who are under-performing.

Will the Leader organise a debate on tourism? He is involved in tourism and the industry is in great decline. We have an airport tax which is unjust and is a barrier to people coming to this country. Senator Cannon referred to other countries which have got rid of the travel tax whereas we have done the exact opposite and put a levy on people coming to Ireland. I hope the Leader will be succinct in his reply to the questions I asked at the beginning of my contribution.

  Senator John Hanafin: While I am cognisant of fact that Archbishop Martin has spoken on church-run schools, I am very conscious of the fact that in the current climate it is not the best time to have a balanced and reasoned debate and this might even be a time to remind ourselves how in other countries people are flocking to faith-run institutions. In the fullness of time and [179]in the clear light of day, the balance will be struck and it will be seen how much good has also been done in faith-run schools. It will be seen how necessary it is to keep them and how fortunate we are to have so many.

I wish to support my colleagues who have spoken about the pipeline from the Corrib gas field to north Mayo. This is a question of national sovereignty. The process has been completed, the planning procedure has been correctly performed, the planning requirements have been agreed to so why are people still attempting to stop a legally enforceable contract between the State and Shell? Why are people attempting to stop what is badly needed by the whole State which is our gas supply off the west coast? It has become quite apparent in recent weeks that there is the possibility not only of oil but the finding of oil indicates further gas deposits. We need this pipeline and when the laws of the State have been complied with, no individual group has the right to prevent it in any way it so chooses.

I ask the Leader to arrange a two-day debate at the earliest opportunity on how all the parties in this House intend to deal with the €20 billion deficit through cuts and taxation.

  Senator Donie Cassidy: Senators Cummins, O’Toole, Hannigan and Coghlan asked about the motion on the Stardust fire tragedy which is to come to the House. I am pleased to inform the House that will be taken on Wednesday, 8 July in the presence of the Minister and the relatives of those who lost their lives tragically on St. Valentine’s Day, 1981, which was one of the darkest and saddest days in the history of Dublin and I remember it well. The reason for the delay in dealing with this motion was to ensure we would be able to facilitate the next of kin and relatives of the deceased so that they could be present in the House when the motion is taken.

Senators O’Toole, Leyden, Bacik, Ormonde, Mullen, Ó Murchú and Hanafin asked for a debate on education, with the Minister for Education and Science in attendance, to deal with the subjects of equal status and respect for parental choice and the challenges facing our schools. I have already made that request to the Minister’s office. I have asked if the debate could take place before the summer recess but if that is not possible, it will be held in the first or second week in the autumn term. I join Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú and Senator Leyden in expressing our gratitude for the work of the religious orders in educating us all down through the generations. Fifty years ago, a total of 75% of all students leaving primary education went no further in education. That was the education in total they received and I can speak from experience about the years 1958 and 1959. This shows how much we have progressed in our country in the past 50 years.

I wish to acknowledge the great work done by Senator Joe O’Toole in particular who has given a lifetime of commitment to education. Every time he utters a meaningful sentence about education I know he is speaking from vast experience in this area.

  Senator Terry Leyden: He is not always right, though.

  Senator Donie Cassidy: However, we should not close our eyes and say that nothing has happened through education here. We have transformed our country through education in the past 50 years.

  Senator Paul Coghlan: Steady as she goes.

  Senator Donie Cassidy: The Stardust tragedy occurred in Senator Callely’s constituency and he has been asking me over recent weeks and months to endeavour to have the motion dealt with before the summer recess. I know this has been a very difficult time for anyone living in [180]the Artane area and especially in that constituency. Politicians of all parties have done their utmost to help and assist since the tragedy occurred in 1981.

On the EU Council of Ministers meeting and the Lisbon legislation, it is my intention to take the legislation in the House on Thursday, 9 July and the Taoiseach will be in attendance. Colleagues should put that date in their diaries.

Senator Hannigan outlined to the House his serious concerns regarding data protection and the mislaying or robbery of data. He referred to the importance of having data encrypted. I fully agree with him.

Senator Keaveney outlined many issues relating to cross-Border matters. She asked that the House discuss the progress of the ministerial conferences. I know that all parties are in favour of such a discussion. The Fianna Fáil proposal for Seanad reform deals with this and the proposal will be given to the Minister in the next few days. The Senator also spoke about art, music and festivals and I completely agree with her. She referred to the song, “The Town I Loved So Well” and the name of Derry or Londonderry and all these issues that have been in existence for generations. I will pass on the Senator’s views to the Minister.

Senator Coghlan asked about the legislative programme up to the end of this session. I will inform the leaders of the groups before the House sits next Tuesday and inform the House on the Order of Business on Tuesday. There are eleven or 12 Bills which the House must pass before the summer recess on 10 July.

I will pass on to the relevant Minister Senator Norris’s strong views about the precious coastline of Dublin Bay and about the Combat Poverty Agency in the context of its report which is being published today. Senator Regan expressed his concerns about our colleagues in the Green Party. Senator Boyle is in the House today. He is attending a committee meeting now but he will be in the Chamber deliberating and assisting the House as he is a very enlightened person with regard to the finance portfolio. I know that Cork will be well looked after later on today with the Senator’s contribution.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: How is he on Seanad reform?

  Senator Donie Cassidy: There was no room at the inn on our side that is why Senator Buttimer is over there.

Senator Callely welcomed the national bike week this week. I congratulate everyone who has made this possible. We all know that a fit body means a fit brain and that a fit brain gives one confidence and when one has confidence, one can move mountains, as Senator Buttimer will know well.

Senators Donohoe, MacSharry, Ormonde and Buttimer expressed their views on financial matters. The Financial Services (Deposit Guarantee Scheme) 2009 is before the House today. I know Senators will be eager to make their contributions on Second Stage with regard to public sector pay reform. We should not fail to acknowledge that Ministers and Ministers of State have taken a reduction in their pay. Politics is not a 40 hour week, or even a 70 or 80 hour week, profession. Public representatives work for more like 100 hours per week and give a service to the public on all seven days. They are appreciated for it. No one I know in any political party is in public life for the remuneration. Politicians are prepared to play their part if everyone else does so too. Ministers and Ministers of State have already taken a reduction in pay, and this should be acknowledged and appreciated.

Senator Mary White referred to the education of children in disadvantaged areas. Senator White is doing all she can to help those who suffer the torment of losing loved ones through [181]suicide. This House should do everything we can do assist in that. The report she mentioned, to which Senator Keaveney and colleagues in the Dáil contributed, will be considered by the Seanad in the next session.

I join in commiserating with Mr. Jimmy Walsh and the Walsh family on the loss of their mother, Mrs. Sadie Walsh. Mr. Jimmy Walsh has been a trojan worker in journalism, reporting on the work of the Seanad on a daily basis.

Senators MacSharry and Hanafin highlighted the challenges and opportunities presented by energy options. Last evening, I was very impressed by the contributions of colleagues during the debate on sustainable economic opportunities and how they can help to turn the economy around. I hope to make time available during the next session to hold Ministers, Ministers of State and Departments to account on making opportunities available in this regard. Senator Larry Butler has been very vociferous in this area on this side of the House.

Senators Cannon and Buttimer raised tourism issues. I welcome the announcement by Aer Lingus of the €80 one-way fare from the United States to Ireland. This is a tremendous opportunity to boost the tourism industry, which is going through a very tough time. As we all know, it is one of the principal creators of employment in services at present. We must do everything we can to help the tourism industry. It needs all the help it can get.

  Senator Ciaran Cannon: Why not scrap the airport tax?

  Senator Donie Cassidy: When an eminent chief executive such as Mr. Willie Walsh asks workers in British Airways to work for free for one month one can tell that tourism is in serious difficulty.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: Will the Leader scrap the tax?

  Senator Donie Cassidy: The Senators can raise that matter with the Minister for Finance when he comes to the House later today. I have no difficulty in allocating time for a debate on tourism at any time.

I will pass to the Minister the views of Senator Rónán Mullen regarding the need for legislation on prostitution. Senator Buttimer referred to the 90th anniversary of the first Dáil. We congratulate all those who made that happen. Our forefathers put their lives on the line so that we could express our views openly and independently without fear or favour in this House. I salute everyone who made this possible. There is a one-liner “If you do not know where you came from you do not know where you are going”. We appreciate the men and women who gave their lives for the freedom we have in our country today.

Senator John Hanafin asked for a two-day debate on the challenges facing the economy and the €20 billion which must be found. I have already agreed to allocate time to this matter.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: On a point of order, I asked the Leader two questions which he has not answered. I asked about the abstentionist policy of members of the Government and about the date of the by-election.

  An Cathaoirleach: That is not a point of order.

  Senator Donie Cassidy: The by-election will have taken place before the first sitting day of the autumn session.

Order of Business agreed to.