Seanad Éireann - Volume 190 - 10 July, 2008

Order of Business.

  Senator Donie Cassidy: The Order of Business is No. 1, Intoxicating Liquor Bill 2008 — Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business; and No. 2, Statements on the fishing industry, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1, but not earlier [922]than 2 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed seven minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes. Senators may share time. The Minister shall be called upon ten minutes from the end of the debate for his concluding comments and to take questions from spokespersons.

  Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Fine Gael opposes the Order of Business on the grounds that the Intoxicating Liquor Bill is being rushed through the Oireachtas, which does not make for good legislation. I propose an amendment that Committee and Report Stages not be taken together today. We should adhere to the principle of having time in between the different Stages of legislation to allow for adequate examination, consultation with interested parties and to ensure the best possible legislation is put through the Houses.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: Hear, hear.

  Senator Frances Fitzgerald: I object strongly to Committee and Report Stages being taken together today. The programme for Government has a section on Oireachtas reform, but where is the reform if we take these Stages together today? The Green Party said Oireachtas reform was a key principle for the party. Where is the reform when we handle legislation the way we are handling this Bill? I, therefore, propose an amendment to the Order of Business.

I wish to raise the issue of the situation at Dublin Airport today. The travelling public must be kept informed as attempts to rectify the situation take place. The big issue is the provision of information. As much information as possible must be provided. The inconveniences being suffered at Dublin Airport are unacceptable. I hope the Minister will raise the issue with the Irish Aviation Authority. It is not the first time this has happened. Apparently, it has been happening for weeks. My main concern is that information be made available to the public. People entering or leaving the country are suffering appalling inconvenience. I hope the Minister will take whatever action he can to ensure, at the least, that information is provided until the problem is resolved, which I hope will be as quickly as possible.

I return to economic matters because I am still very concerned about the vagueness and lack of detail in the Government’s economic policy. I never saw a more unconvincing and lacklustre performance than yesterday’s announcements of Ministers’ plans to address the current economic challenges. They spoke about the possibility of amalgamating agencies. What agencies will be amalgamated; when will it happen and where is the plan?

  Senator Shane Ross: Hear, hear.

  Senator Frances Fitzgerald: It is clear that the situation is out of control and the vagueness of their response was embarrassing to watch. Reforms of spending and project evaluation should have been introduced in previous months and years. The manner in which Ministers outlined their extraordinary list of cuts was unacceptable. The implication given at the public press conference was that spending on education and health would not be reduced, yet now we find that one third of the cutbacks will come from health. Some €85 million will be cut from supports to elderly people trying to meet the cost of nursing home care, €38 million will be saved through the slower roll-out of health projects and €21 million will come from what is described as other savings. Similar cuts will be imposed on education. The worrying reality is that cutbacks will hit front line services.

This morning’s edition of The Irish Times carried an article titled “Tanker-like ship of public finances heading for the rocks”, which reports: “This six percentage point deterioration amounts to the most rapid two-year decline of any euro area country at any time since the single currency was launched.” That is the reality of our public finances because of mismanagement by [923]the Taoiseach while he was Minister for Finance. The article also stated: “The surge in spending before the last election explains a large part of how an unusually big surplus in 2006 had all but evaporated in just 12 months.” I hope the public sees clearly the mismanagement that has been at the core of Government financial policy and public spending over the period of its term in office. The fruits of the Celtic tiger should have been invested in health and education and the growth in the economy should have been managed so that we could have proper public services. Instead, we are seeing cutbacks in vital front line services. That is unacceptable and extremely disappointing for the public.

  Senator Feargal Quinn: I second Senator Fitzgerald’s objection to the Order of Business for the same reason that we gave yesterday, namely, it makes a mockery of this House. The entire concept of legislating by means of Second Stage debate followed by Committee Stage and, after due reflection, Report Stage is being ignored. If we speak about Seanad reform while ignoring the basic principles on which legislation has been developed over many years, we must object to the system proposed today. If we make an amendment on Committee or Report Stage, it will not be heard by the other House. We have to reconsider this.

I draw the attention of the House to the in case of emergency, ICE, concept, of which I was made aware yesterday by the ambulance services. The vast majority of people carry mobile telephones but, if someone has an accident, the responder often does not know which number to dial. Everybody carrying a mobile telephone should have an ICE listing for the person who should be contacted in an emergency. The thought behind the concept came from a paramedic who came across a person injured in an accident but did not know which number on the person’s mobile telephone to dial. There is no cost or business model behind the concept but I would love to think we could promote it.

Given that we are approaching the end of term, I want to give Senators the homework of reading the Ombudsman’s report, which is fascinating. It found that public servants lack knowledge of disability issues. A number of cases arose where those who were disabled were not given public access or the attention they deserved. Many State bodies have not realised the onus of responsibility that falls on them. Individuals, and particularly those who are disabled, should not have to contact the Ombudsman to have their problems solved.

Another report published recently is The Business of Ability, which recognises that people who are disabled also have abilities. The organisation which recently changed its name from the Aisling Foundation to the Kanchi Foundation plans to encourage businesses and State bodies to recognise the talent and ability of people who might otherwise be regarded as disabled. We, as a nation, should give more attention to that matter.

  Senator Alex White: I concur with Senators Fitzgerald and Quinn on the Intoxicating Liquor Bill and I will support the proposed amendment to the Order of Business. Yesterday, I asked the Leader to stand up for the integrity of the House in respect of the manner in which this Bill is being forced through but he either decided not to defend us or he failed in his attempt. I ask him not to respond by saying, as he did in the past, that we can sit late tonight, tomorrow or next week because that does not address the problem. Senators need a judicious gap between different Stages of the Bill so that the issues can be carefully scrutinised and considered. It would be somewhat disingenuous of the Leader to propose a late sitting tonight because that will not address the issue raised by Senator Fitzgerald.

I also concur with the Senator in regard to her remarks about the extraordinary spectacle of the Government’s response to the current economic difficulties and its proposals for cuts in spending. Quite simply, it was all over the shop. We were told that the 3% cut on pay would not affect health and education but the Minister for Education and Science subsequently [924]appeared on television to say he would impose cuts in education. Did he do that off his own bat? We were told that health would not be affected but now we know it is the sector which will receive the biggest cuts. It makes a mockery of the Houses and the wider community to say the polar opposite of what was said hours earlier. The Government is clearly all over the shop and does not know what it is doing. It would seem Ministers are waiting for hourly briefings by Department of Finance officials before informing the rest of us. I would have thought they should be in the driving seat on these matters.

In respect of tax, I draw Senators’ attention to yesterday’s interesting and helpful submission by the ICTU on tax reform. I am aware that a Commission on Taxation has been established, but can the Leader confirm whether it will be possible for this House to address the issue in the autumn? We have heard the mantra of low taxation and that we have a low tax economy, even though only our income taxes are low. We seem to debate a range of issues, such as health, education and child care, almost in the abstract and without considering whether our tax base is robust enough to fund the public services we need.

We will adjourn for the summer today unless the Leader advises differently. Throughout the year, he has informed, educated and, from time to time, entertained us. I ask him to confirm that he will not take us down the road of our Romanian counterparts who recently passed a Bill, which thankfully has been shot down by the courts, requiring or instructing the radio and television stations to give equal air time to good and bad news stories. Apparently, this was motivated by a desire to improve the mental and emotional condition of the nation. I ask the Leader to confirm that he does not intend to bring forth such a proposal. I do not believe he will do so.

  Senator Rónán Mullen: There are no good news articles at the moment anyway.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: The Leader is going to bring out a CD.

  Senator Alex White: The reason I believe the Leader will not do so is that the situation obtaining in Romania is completely different. There is a suspicion there, unlike in this country, that the Bill was intended to reduce the number of unflattering stories about politicians who are notorious for corruption and incompetence and whose exploits often dominate national news broadcasts.

  Senator Eugene Regan: I am disappointed the Leader did not respond positively to the requests made during the past three days by Senator Fitzgerald and others in regard to the time allowed to debate the Intoxicating Liquor Bill 2008. The position is that no extra time will be allowed for adequate discussion on amendments. This is the situation with which we are faced in this House. In commenting on the Bill, we will not obtain a positive response on any quarter or amendment no matter how meritorious, which is disappointing. I believe the Leader is failing to stand up for this House and its procedures.

Following on from Senator Fitzgerald’s remarks on the economy, earlier in the week we received an indication of the Government’s proposals and yesterday sought clarification in this regard. Essentially, everything in the proposals is aspirational. The proposals provide for efficiency reviews, projects to be examined and prioritised and joint public procurement operation targeted schemes to reduce surplus staff. The only specific proposal which provides for a cutback is in respect of the €45 million in overseas development aid. We seem to be able to pick on the poorest abroad without a second thought. The other proposals are all fudge, confusion and contradictions.

[925]Senator Fitzgerald referred to a report in today’s The Irish Times. The article referred to is by Dan O’Brien, economist of the Economist Intelligence Unit, presumably an independent source in regard to the economy. A particular line in that article states, “... it will be obvious that its cause was not global economic conditions or some other misfortune, but mismanagement of spending, revenues and the wider budgeting process”, something we have been saying for some time. This statement comes from an independent source. It is important the truth of that statement is identified and accepted.

  An Cathaoirleach: The Senator has made his point.

  Senator Eugene Regan: I ask the Leader to comment on that specific statement. We have moved in the past year from discussions about corruption in politics to discussions on incompetence in politics. There is a serious economic cost to incompetence in Government.

  An Cathaoirleach: The Senator has made his point.

  Senator Eugene Regan: I ask that this be considered as we conclude our year of discussions in this House. The proper subject matter of debate is competence in Government. One Taoiseach has been already forced out of office because of corruption. We have a situation now whereby another Taoiseach may be forced out of office because of incompetence.

  An Cathaoirleach: That is not correct. Senator Regan should withdraw that remark.

  Senator Ann Ormonde: Senator Regan is out of order.

  Senator Eugene Regan: I ask the Leader to respond.

  An Cathaoirleach: It is not correct to say that anyone was forced out of office.

  Senator Ann Ormonde: It is very wrong.

  An Cathaoirleach: Senator Regan is wrong and I ask him to withdraw that remark.

  Senator Ann Ormonde: That is totally out of order.

  An Cathaoirleach: The remark is totally out of place. I ask Senator Regan to withdraw it. In my humble opinion, no Taoiseach was forced out of office because of corruption.

  Senator Eugene Regan: I correct the record. The discussions we had were on corruption. The former Taoiseach was forced to resign from office.

  Senator Ann Ormonde: He was not.

  Senator Mary M. White: He was not forced to resign from office.

  An Cathaoirleach: No, the Taoiseach was not forced to resign.

  Senator Paudie Coffey: They ran him out.

  An Cathaoirleach: I ask Senator Regan to withdraw his remarks in regard to corruption.

  Senator Ann Ormonde: The remark is totally out of order and Senator Regan should withdraw it.

  An Cathaoirleach: The remark must be withdrawn.

[926]  Senator Eugene Regan: The discussions in this House were on corruption in politics.

  An Cathaoirleach: No, I do not accept that.

  Senator Eugene Regan: It is emanating from those discussions——

  An Cathaoirleach: I am asking Senator Regan to withdraw the word “corruption”.

  Senator Eugene Regan: I cannot withdraw the remark about corruption in Irish politics.

  Senator Mary M. White: The Senator must withdraw it.

  An Cathaoirleach: I am not accepting that.

  Senator Ann Ormonde: Senator Regan should withdraw the remark.

  An Cathaoirleach: I am more than disappointed that anyone would draw the inference that the former Taoiseach was forced to resign over corruption. In my opinion, the former Taoiseach’s resignation did not relate to issues of corruption in politics.

  Senator Donie Cassidy: On a point of order, I respectfully request Senator Regan, who has made many great contributions in this House and is a valued Member of the House, to withdraw that remark. I do not think the former Taoiseach——

  Senator Mary M. White: I would like to put on the record that I have a problem with what Senator Regan said. The former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, fought for peace——

  An Cathaoirleach: We are not discussing the matter now. We are dealing now with the Order of Business.

  Senator Mary M. White: The former Taoiseach delivered peace in the North.

  Senator Paudie Coffey: Many others were involved.

  An Cathaoirleach: Senator Mary White must put a question to the Leader.

  Senator Mary M. White: Senator Regan lacks compassion. He must know that the former Taoiseach must be suffering at this moment in time.

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

  Senator David Norris: I am suffering.

  An Cathaoirleach: Senator White must direct her questions to the Leader.

  Senator Mary M. White: Yesterday, I met, accidentally, Professor Drumm in the corridor of Leinster House and spoke to him about my document in regard to what we can do about suicide in the new Ireland. I drew his attention, for the third time — I previously raised the matter in committee — to the fact that there are 11 suicide prevention officer positions in Ireland, three of which are vacant.

The role of the suicide prevention officers is to implement the national suicide strategy regionally and locally. The Government declared in June 2007 its intention to reduce suicide rates by 20% by 2012. How can it be expected to do so if the full complement of suicide prevention officers is not in position? I call on the Leader to ask the Minister for Health and Children and her Ministers of State to ensure these positions are filled. There are 113,000 [927]people working in the HSE at a cost of €14.5 billion per annum. Surely, the HSE can afford to fill these vacancies.

  Senator David Norris: I agree with the remarks made earlier by Senator Fitzgerald and others in regard to today’s Order of Business, although I accept this is not entirely the Leader’s fault. However, it would be useful if he took a stronger position on this issue. Today we are in the rather farcical situation of discussing amendments which we know have no earthly chance of being accepted by Government. This seriously undermines our constitutional function as the second Chamber of the Oireachtas, which is lamentable. Would it be possible to secure from Government a commitment that it will underwrite our constitutional position? I have no doubt but that this is a breach of the Constitution. We are required to scrutinise and amend legislation and are being prevented from doing so by the exigency of Government policies.

11 o’clock

I have just returned from the airport where I met quite a number of unhappy people, some of whom had spent the entire night there. I do not often agree with Michael O’Leary but am forced to do so on this occasion. There is no backup system. There is no fail-safe. That is perfectly obvious. The delays are unconscionable. Questions must be asked about the fact that €116 million was spent on acquiring this apparently sophisticated up-to-the-minute system for radar control from a French company. The company has let us down badly. There should be a fail-safe system but there is not. Mr. O’Leary is probably right in saying there will be a further backup in flights later this morning, with people being delayed and flights being cancelled. People have missed international connections and they will not be compensated. This has happened to me. The passenger, it seems, is almost always wrong.

I thank the Leader warmly for his support for the suggestion that the Abbey Theatre be relocated to O’Connell Street——

  Senator Mary M. White: Hear, hear.

  Senator David Norris: ——and probably to the GPO, which is a historic and iconic building and one of the finest works of classical architecture from the early 19th century in the city. I have received messages of support from some of the leading figures in the Irish theatre world and from some iconic names known from the events of 1916. I have also received support from groups of architects and from people representing businesses in the city centre. The matter is not closed. I look forward to meeting with the Leader and with other representatives in this area. It is important that instead of dismissing our national theatre out to some financial suburb down on the docks we should have it right in the centre of the city where it is accessible by metro, Luas, bus, bicycle and car and on foot.

  Senator Terry Leyden: I acknowledge a letter I received from the Cathaoirleach this morning about the redevelopment of Leinster House. I welcome the fact that this project has been postponed for at least 12 months and, it is to be hoped, longer. In light of the current circumstances of financial difficulty——

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: The Senator means cutbacks.

  Senator Terry Leyden: ——the last place we should be spending money is here in Leinster House.

  Senator Dominic Hannigan: The ceiling is falling in on the Senator now.

  Senator Terry Leyden: We have to give a——

[928]  A Senator: The money is being spent because it is not safe.

  Senator David Norris: We are going to be decanted. What a wonderful word.

  An Cathaoirleach: We circulated that letter to all Members. It is a health and safety matter and one for the board of works, and that takes priority at any time.

  Senator Terry Leyden: The building has been postponed——

  An Cathaoirleach: Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

  Senator Terry Leyden: We have received a letter from the Cathaoirleach regarding the deferment of this project. I realise it is a health and safety issue but in view of the present circumstances, I wonder whether it is really vitally important. This building was reconstructed some years ago and I cannot understand, irrespective of what the Clerk of the Seanad’s view is——

  An Cathaoirleach: We are having questions to the Leader.

  Senator Terry Leyden: In light of the difficulties we are facing, it would be a bad example to have cranes outside the building and the roof being taken off.

  An Cathaoirleach: The Senator’s point is made.

  Senator Terry Leyden: We should lead by example. I am delighted this project is being postponed and I hope it is postponed for another five years until the next Seanad election.

  Senator Mary M. White: Hear, hear.

  Senator David Norris: Hear, hear.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: What about Roscommon County Hospital?

  Senator Terry Leyden: That is built, but the way——

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: It is amazing how the Members opposite come in here and talk, despite how bad everything is in reality.

We in the House have been misled by the Government. I request that the Leader arrange a debate on this issue today. The debate we have had thus far on the economy has been based on false premises. Yesterday it emerged that the Minister for Health and Children will claw back vast sums of money from the nursing home funding scheme, A Fair Deal. Fair deal, how are you? What about a fair deal for the elderly who have been hurt by the Government?

I also ask the Deputy Leader, who last year——

  An Cathaoirleach: Questions to the Leader, please.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: I am coming to it.

  An Cathaoirleach: To the Leader, not to the Deputy Leader.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: Last year, before the Deputy Leader’s party went into Government, its members lectured everybody about the economy. Now, all Senator Boyle can do is to say he welcomes decentralisation. I ask the Leader to raise with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the status of the decentralisation programme and the matter [929]of the e-voting machines which are now costing millions to store. It is important that we have an honest debate on the economy because people are being affected.

Finally, I join with Senator Norris——

  Senator Terry Leyden: The Senator’s party never favoured decentralisation. They scuttled it before.

  An Cathaoirleach: Senator Buttimer without interruption, please.

  Senator Terry Leyden: He is good at it himself.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: We did not make false promises.

  Senator Terry Leyden: We over here are getting very tired of Senator Buttimer.

  Senator David Norris: I would like to hear the matter on which Senator Buttimer is joining with me.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: Senator Leyden is being decentralised already.

I join with Senator Norris in stating that what has been happening in Dublin Airport today and yesterday is atrocious. It is incredible that we have no backup radar system. Furthermore, the lack of assistance to the travelling public by the airlines is not good enough. They have a responsibility to the travelling public.

  Senator Ivor Callely: I have listened with interest today to the comments to the Leader. I have spoken to many people in my constituency in the past few days who have acknowledged that the country has experienced an economic transformation in the past few years, achieved through the hard work and enterprise of the citizens and led by the good, sound economic policies of the Fianna Fáil-led Governments. Contrary to what is being said by the Opposition, it is the general view that our economy is strong and dynamic and is well placed to face the current international turbulence. Much has been said about the economy and I want to balance it by saying this country has a low level of public debt——

  Senator Paudie Coffey: There is a lot of personal debt.

  Senator Ivor Callely: ——a low burden of taxation and, most importantly, there are more than 2 million people at work.

  Senator Paudie Coffey: The ordinary people are exposed.

  Senator Frances Fitzgerald: There is rising unemployment.

  Senator Ivor Callely: This has all arisen from the careful stewardship of the economy in the past decade——

  Senator Paudie Coffey: The Senator is in denial.

  Senator Ivor Callely: ——which has positioned it well to weather the current economic climate. We should acknowledge that.

Senators have been stating that there is a lack of information. Anybody who looks at the Government’s website will see that an announcement was placed by Government on 8 July regarding public spending measures. A number of people asked about decentralisation. I presume the Cathaoirleach will not allow me to read out this information on the Order of Business, [930]but I am simply making the point to the Opposition that if Members want to speak they should ensure the correct information is available to them.

  Senator Frances Fitzgerald: We have read it. It is not detailed.

  Senator Ivor Callely: There are a number of points in this which would be very helpful to people who wish to raise issues.

  Senator Frances Fitzgerald: We do not need lectures. We have read the information provided and there is no detail.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: Did the Senator speak on the debate yesterday?

  Senator Ivor Callely: I support Senator Quinn’s comment about storing a telephone number on one’s mobile telephone in case of an emergency. I am delighted to say I have an ICE number on my mobile phone. I have been making the point for some time now, including in newsletters to my constituents, that it is important to have such a number. Everybody has a mobile telephone now, including young children. I make a special plea to people to put an ICE number in their telephones now if they have not already done so.

I ask the Leader to reply to me on two issues.

  An Cathaoirleach: There are many Senators who wish to speak.

  Senator Ivor Callely: People have condemned the operational problems in Dublin Airport today. I pay tribute to the IAA and to the many people who do tremendous work at the airports.

  Senator Paudie Coffey: The Senator should say that to the thousands who have been inconvenienced.

  Senator Ivor Callely: Contrary to what we have heard from the Opposition, the radar system is working in Dublin Airport today.

  Senator Paudie Coffey: People are sleeping on the floor.

  Senator Ivor Callely: The IAA is putting passenger safety first, which is the most important thing. However, it is equally important that the DAA inform passengers exactly what is happening.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: And the airlines.

  Senator Frances Fitzgerald: That is the point we were making.

  Senator Ivor Callely: Strike notice has been given by staff of the Dublin Port tunnel. It is my understanding that protocols and procedures were to be put in place and this now rests with the social partners. Would it be possible for the Leader to obtain for me a briefing on that matter?

  Senator Dominic Hannigan: Only a year ago the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, was against incinerators but one is soon to start functioning in Duleek, County Meath, and one for up to 200,000 tonnes is planned for north Meath, in Nobber. What are the views of the Minister and the Green Party on the number of incinerators needed by this country. How many should be built in County Meath? We need to [931]know because it is not clear that the Green Party has a policy anymore on this. Does the party favour sandals or flip flops?

I visited Dublin Airport this morning and saw banks of screens in the arrivals hall saying that flights will be delayed. In the departures hall flights are delayed by up to two and a half hours. This is the height of our tourism season and it is not clear that anything is being done about this issue. The Minister may be able to take off and land at will at Baldonnel but the rest of us must queue in the departures hall. This has been going on for five weeks and some action must be taken.

  Senator Mark Daly: The country is facing a huge financial loss that would make the Army deafness claims seem like a drop in the ocean. ComReg, the communications regulator, has confirmed to me that there is no requirement on mobile phone companies to indemnify the Government against losses caused by the potential health effects of mobile phones and mobile phone masts. This is particularly concerning because so many mobile phone masts are located on OPW land, Garda stations and hospitals. Lloyd’s of London, which can assess any possible risk, refused to insure mobile phone companies against the potentially damaging health effects of mobile phones and mobile phone masts. If Lloyd’s of London is not prepared to insure mobile phone companies the Government should require mobile phone companies to indemnify it against any potential class action suits. Employers could find themselves in trouble if employees develop cancer and brain tumours due to the use of mobile phones; the Association of British Insurers said as much in a recent report. I ask the Leader to ensure that the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources implements the recommendations of the report and sees that the Government is not held liable for the actions of mobile phone companies.

  Senator Joe O’Reilly: I wish to add to the expressions of concern on the vagueness of the cutbacks that were announced in recent days. I appeal to the Leader to clarify these issues for the House at the earliest possible date. The suggestion that there should be cutbacks in expenditure on consultancy and public relations is so basic and obvious that it should have been implemented long ago.

We also need clarity on the situation regarding the fair deal for older people on subventions. I understand from making representations that at present, the Health Service Executive cannot pay subventions at the 2008 rate. Subventions are being paid at the 2007 rate pending the fair deal. There is a gap in the interim and people are enduring shocking hardships due to the questions surrounding subventions. This matter is arising at all of our advice centres so I ask the Leader to make a clear statement to the House in this regard and get clarification from the relevant Minister on when the fair deal will be put in place, what will happen to the money that was ring-fenced for it but has been lost through cutbacks and whether people can be paid 2008 subvention rates in the interim.

I appeal to the Leader for clarification on the position of the decentralisation programme, particularly regarding County Cavan. The site there has been purchased but we were disappointed by Teradyne some years ago. Can the Leader confirm that decentralisation to Cavan will go ahead, given the level of expenditure that has occurred there? It should proceed given the commitment that has been made to it already. It would be madness to reverse that kind of expenditure and I ask the Leader for clarification in this regard.

I ask the Leader clarify an issue I have been raising with him for some time that is of great concern to me and which is now very relevant given the current economic situation. A battery of inspectors is travelling around the country making assessment of non-contributory old age pensioners. This group of people, who do not make PRSI contributions, is very small and [932]consists mostly of married women who were debarred from working, small farmers and the long-term unemployed. Will the practice of assessing these people be abandoned due to the wasteful expenditure involved? I suspect that the cost of the administration of this process exceeds any savings it makes. This is a tyranny facing old people.

  Senator John Hanafin: I understand that in any court case the evidential burden will shift when one side has been heard and the other has not. Unfortunately, an unethical procedure in this House saw Senator Regan passing on evidence from one side of a case as a fact. As a senior counsel, this would be unethical behaviour in his own profession and it is unethical in this House. Under no circumstances, when the evidential burden has not shifted and a person has not had the opportunity to answer charges, should a person take the initial charge as a fact of the court and present it in this House as a court decision. This is unethical behaviour given Senator Regan’s position as a barrister and Senator.

  An Cathaoirleach: I asked Senator Regan to withdraw his comments and he refused.

  Senator Eugene Regan: May I speak on this subject? The Cathaoirleach did ask me to withdraw my comments and I have great respect for him and the Chair. My view is that——

  An Cathaoirleach: To be fair to me——

  Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Senator Regan wants to deal with this.

  Senator John Hanafin: Withdraw it.

  An Cathaoirleach: I want no discussion on this. Senator Regan should withdraw his remarks. I understood what the Senator said and I asked him to withdraw his comments. Whether the Senator withdraws his remarks is a matter for him to decide.

  Senator Eugene Regan: I wish to respond precisely to the Cathaoirleach’s request for a withdrawal of my remarks.

  Senator Ann Ormonde: Withdraw the remarks.

  Senator Eugene Regan: This is unreasonable. I made a statement to emphasise the issue of competence in politics and I do not want to be distracted from that by this matter.

  An Cathaoirleach: I do not want any distraction from it either. The Senator said he would not withdraw his remarks relating to corruption but I believe he should.

  Senator Ivor Callely: Hear, hear.

  Senator Ann Ormonde: Hear, hear. Withdraw the remarks.

  Senator Eugene Regan: When a request is made to withdraw a statement it is essential that an explanation of the statement be made.

  An Cathaoirleach: The word “corruption” was used and the Senator went into the matter in detail.

  Senator Terry Leyden: Senator Regan is not in the Four Courts now.

  Senator Ann Ormonde: We heard what he said and he should withdraw the remarks.

[933]  Senator Jerry Buttimer: Senator Ormonde should be quiet.

  Senator Larry Butler: On a point of order——

  An Cathaoirleach: I cannot hear what Senator Regan is saying due to interruptions from the floor on all sides. I ask Senator Butler to resume his seat.

  Senator Larry Butler: I wish to raise a point of order.

  An Cathaoirleach: I will take the point of order in a moment when I have finished with Senator Regan. As Cathaoirleach, all I want to know is whether Senator Regan is withdrawing his comments. If he wishes to withdraw them he may do so, if not I want no further discussion on this matter.

  Senator Eugene Regan: In deference to the Cathaoirleach, I withdraw the statement as I believe it was technically incorrect.

  An Cathaoirleach: Did Senator Butler wish to raise a point of order?

  Senator Larry Butler: I now withdraw my point of order.

  An Cathaoirleach: If there are interruptions from the floor we will adjourn until those making them leave the House.

  Senator Terry Leyden: We should adjourn for two months.

  An Cathaoirleach: I call on Senator Ross to speak on the Order of Business.

  Senator Shane Ross: I do not wish to spoil the crankiness that has broken out this morning and which is uncharacteristic on the last day of the session. I hope it is over and I congratulate Senator Regan for restoring peace to the floor of the House.

I wish to ask the Leader for a debate on State agencies. Senators Norris, Callely and others have touched on the issue of the Irish Aviation Authority. A very important point must be considered in respect of yesterday’s debate on cutbacks. Senator Norris rightly stated €116 million was spent on a radar system that does not work. It is not that it did not work once but that it did not work several times. This begs the question as to what on earth is going on in semi-State agencies. It is not only a matter of the radar system not working but of there being no backup system. I therefore suspect there is something wrong with the culture of agencies.

Senator Callely touched on the Dublin Airport Authority. It appears it is not providing the sort of information to which the public is entitled at this time. Considerable money is spent on the Dublin Airport Authority, the Irish Aviation Authority and all such agencies, yet the issues that arise in respect thereof are, for some reason, political taboos in the House. I have mentioned FÁS several times in the House but it is no coincidence that the matter has not been taken up by anybody. Everybody in the House knows damn well that FÁS is wasting money hand over fist in various areas, but ignoring this problem is embedded in the political system such that politicians are frightened of taking it on. One billion euro is being spent on FÁS every year, which represents a decrease by comparison with previous years.

  An Cathaoirleach: Is the Senator requesting a debate of the Leader?

  Senator Shane Ross: Although €1 billion is being spent, nobody raises a hand. They are frightened of the matter because it is embedded in the political system. If we are talking about cutbacks, let us stop messing around in regard to bogus minor savings of sums that would not [934]be spent anyway, as Senator Fitzgerald and others suggested. Let us tackle the taboos radically. Let us tackle the State agencies and ask what they are doing. Do we need to spend such sums on them? My point on making minor savings in respect of moneys that would not have be spent in any case is borne out throughout the document issued yesterday.

Yesterday this House was treated not with contempt but certainly with casualness. The Minister entered the House and read a statement, the facts of which were all in the public arena already. They were all in the newspapers yesterday. Why does this happen? There is another taboo at work, on which I request the Leader to have a debate in the autumn. Nobody really cares about what we say about the economy. Members of all parties have surrendered power to the social partners and have done so willingly.

  An Cathaoirleach: The Senator’s point is made.

  Senator Shane Ross: We all pay lip service to the social partners and let them decide what happens. What is said in the House falls on deaf ears. I refer to the Minister and everybody else. Unless we tackle the taboos in the political system — the semi-State agencies, the social partners and many others I could list — this House will become increasingly irrelevant and we will have more justifiable bellyaching. It will be our own fault. The untouchables, such as FÁS and the social partners, must be touched and tackled.

  An Cathaoirleach: I hope the Senator was not indicating I was cranky. I would not like to have to ask him to withdraw his remarks.

  Senator Shane Ross: I was not referring to the Cathaoirleach.

  Senator Paddy Burke: I ask the Leader for a debate on public private partnerships, PPPs, in the autumn in view of the recent problems at the Ringsend wastewater treatment unit and the amount of money that the relevant local authorities had to pay under the PPP, which amounted to €35 million. A number of PPPs are based on this model. The former Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Cullen, stated in the House that the Ringsend plant was based on best practice although there was no comparable PPP in the country. Not only should the debate I request cover PPPs but also the funding of local authorities. I am disappointed we have not had a debate to date on the Green Paper on local authorities. We should have this also.

  Senator Larry Butler: Senator Fitzgerald stated in her contribution this morning that she did not consider the debate yesterday to be of great importance. I want to take up this with the Leader also.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: She did not say that.

  Senator Frances Fitzgerald: I did not say that. I just said there was no——

  An Cathaoirleach: Please.

  Senator Larry Butler: I ask Senator Buttimer to be quiet this morning.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: She did not say that. The Senator is incorrect.

  Senator Larry Butler: The Senator interrupted 30 times——

(Interruptions).

[935]  An Cathaoirleach: Senator Butler, without interruption.

  Senator Frances Fitzgerald: I said the Minister’s performance was lacklustre and unconvincing regarding the approach to the cutbacks.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: They are all bad this morning.

  An Cathaoirleach: Please, Senator Butler without interruption. I ask him to ask a question to the Leader.

  Senator Larry Butler: I will speak when I receive co-operation from the other side of the House. On my contribution on the economy yesterday, I was interrupted on 30 occasions by Senator Buttimer. I have proof of this to hand. If the Members on the Opposition side tell me they want a constructive debate on the economy and yet interrupt a speaker on 30 occasions——

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: The Senator was waffling.

  Senator Larry Butler: If Senator Buttimer believes this was being smart and clever, he should note it was not.

  An Cathaoirleach: Please, Senator.

  Senator Larry Butler: I call on the Leader to speak to the leader of the Fine Gael Party regarding Senator Buttimer’s interruptions. Senator Buttimer certainly has no respect for Senators speaking on this side of the House.

  An Cathaoirleach: It is a matter for the Chair to control the House.

  Senator Larry Butler: I ask the Cathaoirleach to take this on board.

  Senator Maurice Cummins: The Senator is taking over the Chair.

  Senator Larry Butler: I am very annoyed about this. If we are to have a debate on the economy, let us have it without interruptions. Let us have a sensible debate.

  An Cathaoirleach: The Senator’s point is made.

  Senator Larry Butler: Let us all co-operate. I have a contribution to make and so does Senator Buttimer.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: Make it.

  Senator Larry Butler: I should be respected for mine.

  A Senator: Hear, hear.

  Senator Frances Fitzgerald: The Senator is respected.

  Senator Larry Butler: I was not respected yesterday and will not tolerate it any longer.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: What is the Senator’s point?

  Senator Terry Leyden: Senator Buttimer is the point.

[936]  An Cathaoirleach: It is a matter for the Chair to control Members. The order of the House is certainly a matter for the Chair and I ask Senators, as I have asked on numerous occasions, not to interrupt and to respect the opinions of others, irrespective of whether they agree with them.

  Senator Ivana Bacik: The last contribution sounded like a request to the Leader for a debate on interruptions, which would perhaps be unusual.

I echo the words of other Senators in calling for clarity on the cutbacks proposed by the Government. It is adding insult to injury to suggest serious cutbacks will be made while the House will be in recess for the summer and not tell Members the exact nature of those cutbacks.

(Interruptions).

  An Cathaoirleach: Ciúnas, please.

  Senator Ivana Bacik: In that context, will the Leader consider a debate on violence against women and children early in the next session. One criminal justice case that received national attention in recent weeks, of which we are all very aware, concerned issues within family relationships. The high profile of the case should not detract from the fact that the majority of cases of domestic violence or violence in intimate or personal relationships are committed against women and children.

Some worthy progress has been made and the Government has established for the first time an agency, Cosc, whose function is to collect national data on domestic violence or violence in intimate relationships. I fear that, in this climate of cutbacks, there will be cutbacks in funding of this agency. Other Senators have referred to the review of agencies that is to be undertaken by the Government. In this regard, I am very concerned that there will be no cutbacks in this area. For far too long, groups such as Women’s Aid and shelters for victims have been starved of resources. Will the Leader consider a debate on violence against women and children, or violence in intimate relationships, early in the next term? The main focus on the debate should be on what can be done about such violence and how we can best ensure resources are well directed in this area. I hope Cosc will survive the cutbacks we expect over the summer.

  Senator Donie Cassidy: Senators Fitzgerald, Quinn, Alex White, Mary White, Regan, Norris, Buttimer, Callely, O’Reilly, Ross and Bacik referred to matters that concern them greatly. The Intoxicating Liquor Bill 2008, which was not initiated in this House and which was before the Dáil for some considerable time, has been ordered for today. It is a short Bill and the main Bill will be presented to Senators for their consideration in the autumn session.

On the difficulties being experienced at Dublin Airport this morning, I cannot understand, regardless of the cost, why there is no stand-by radar signalling system to ensure passenger safety. I hope the system will be repaired. However, it goes to show that no matter how expensive a piece of technology is, a standby system also must be in place. I wish everyone well, and it was alarming to hear radio reports this morning on the concerns of passengers who were missing flights to Australia and of a young couple with a three or four month old baby, who were obliged to spend the night at the airport. One’s heart went out to them. Moreover, it is not easy for the staff of the airlines, who are doing their best and passing on the information as they receive it.

I congratulate Senator Mary White on a wonderful publication, namely, her report on suicide that she published this week. She is a credit to the House and is to be complimented and commended highly on her efforts in this regard——

[937]  Senator David Norris: Hear, hear.

  Senator Shane Ross: Hear, hear.

  Senator Donie Cassidy: ——and I wish her well. I also will pass on her strong views to the Minister in respect of the matters she highlighted this morning.

Senator Fitzgerald and other Members again expressed their serious concerns regarding the economy. All Members are singing from the same hymn sheet in respect of doing whatever must be done regarding the challenges facing the Government. Members are aware that on Tuesday, the Government stated it was determined to achieve the savings that now are required urgently. To this end, each Minister will report to the Government regularly for the remainder of this year on the progress made in his or her area of responsibility towards achieving the specific savings required. The measures agreed by the Government are focused on saving on administration costs, economising on the services it buys, driving efficiencies, reducing the proliferation of agencies and squeezing consultancy and public relations spending, which is required urgently. All Members receive glossy publications that are not required because they all could be made available on a website. The cost of such publications is enormous.

  Senator Mary M. White: Hear, hear.

  Senator Donie Cassidy: Other measures include streamlining service delivery and reprioritising certain capital expenditure in the future. These measures seek to protect the vulnerable as far as is possible and all Members will agree with that sentiment. They wish to see senior citizens, children and those on lower income levels protected as far as possible. As for the low tax regime in place, one third of all who are in employment in Ireland at present do not pay tax, which is to the great credit of the Government and everyone concerned.

On the Seanad’s return in the autumn, I will have no difficulty in facilitating a lengthy debate on the economy, as well as an update at that time. The time for the preparation of Estimates will be at hand and the formulation of the next budget will begin to take place. It will be timely for the Seanad to express its opinion, as Senator Ross stated, and make it meaningful. As for Senator Ross’s specific request, I certainly intend to facilitate an all-afternoon debate on Government agencies and on the challenges facing FÁS, which is an agency that will be obliged to answer to the call in respect of retraining and reskilling. As Members are aware, great resources have been allocated to it under the national development plan. A total of 60% of those who are in employment at present will require upskilling or retraining. Members want that to happen and will wish to examine the areas of expertise.

Those Oireachtas joint committees that have an involvement in this field could be of assistance to both Houses of the Oireachtas. They could draw up proposals at their September sittings to bring before both Houses, where they can be discussed, deliberated on or enhanced. As Senator Ross noted, while the social partners have a role to play, the Oireachtas joint committees also have a great role to play. The expertise that is available to the joint committees from the membership of the Oireachtas can take centre stage in assisting the Government, in particular in those areas that have been outlined this morning.

Senators Quinn and Callely highlighted the importance of the in case of emergency, ICE, telephone number concept for the emergency services, which is a very good suggestion. I will pass on Senator Quinn’s suggestion to the Taoiseach after the Order of Business as it is something that everyone can easily do. Senator Quinn also stated his strong views in respect of the Ombudsman’s report on disability issues. I agree with the Senator in this regard and will pass on his views to the Minister concerned.

[938]Senator Alex White called for a debate on taxation and the Irish position thereon. I have no difficulty with such a debate taking place, possibly in tandem with the debate on the economy, on the return of the Seanad in the autumn. I take Senator Alex White’s point to the effect there should be a good news slot, perhaps for a half hour each day on radio and television, as well perhaps as a half page in the daily newspapers, to let the people of Ireland know the truth of the news and what really is happening.

  Senator Ivor Callely: Well done.

  Senator Donie Cassidy: It is not all doom and gloom and it really is exceptional. Members owe it to the constituents they represent and I thank the Senator for bringing this to my attention.

  Senator Alex White: I thank the Leader for rising to the bait.

  Senator Ivor Callely: One could fill the pages.

  An Cathaoirleach: Please, the Leader without interruption.

  Senator Donie Cassidy: Senator Norris expressed his strong views, which I share, in favour of a review in order that the Abbey Theatre should be located on O’Connell Street. As massive savings are being sought at present, several million euro could be saved, were the suggestion to use the GPO to be furthered.

  Senator David Norris: Hear, hear.

  Senator Donie Cassidy: Senator Norris has received great support for such a proposal from those who have been associated with theatre life for many years and have had great achievements in this regard. I will assist the Senator and colleagues in the theatre world to achieve this in any way possible. Ultimately, the main reason to so do is to satisfy the demand of the customer. Everyone in Ireland knows the location of O’Connell Street in Dublin. However, in respect of many other locations in the capital city, while one’s friends and relations might agree they sound great and should be visited sometime, they never do so. Members want the theatre to be for everyone in Ireland. It should be easily accessible at a location with which everyone is familiar. Moreover, I refer to the various transport links that are available when an O’Connell Street location is centre stage.

Senator Leyden raised the redevelopment of Leinster House, where health and safety are extremely important issues. I wish the Office of Public Works well in its undertaking. Its performance and expertise have been exemplary through the years. I look forward to working with the Cathaoirleach and other colleagues in the House to make this possible as soon as possible. The health and safety of all, including Members and the working staff of the House, is included in this regard.

Senators Buttimer and O’Reilly expressed their concerns regarding decentralisation. The Cavan decentralisation project was mentioned, which Senator Wilson has assured me is already lined up and in place.

  Senator Diarmuid Wilson: It already exists. I will bring the Senator there some day to show him around when he visits Cavan.

  Senator Donie Cassidy: I ask Senator Wilson to keep Senator O’Reilly updated regarding the progress taking place during the summer recess.

[939]Senator Callely raised the issue regarding Dublin Port tunnel and the difficulties that may be experienced there. I will pass on the Senator’s views to the Minister to ascertain the position and will revert to the Senator. Senator Hannigan expressed serious concerns regarding incineration and the challenges facing the people of his constituency. I also can have inquiries made into this matter.

Senator Daly pointed out to the House the ComReg position in respect of health and mobile telephone masts, and referred to the ongoing debate on health and safety in respect of those who use this facility on a daily basis. I have no difficulty in referring this matter to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources for its sittings during the remainder of July or in September. It could respond with a short report to be discussed in the House in the early autumn.

As I noted in respect of Senator Ross’s request, I have made a commitment to hold an afternoon’s debate on the State agencies, the social partners and the great responsibility in respect of the enormous sums of money, such as the €1 billion allocated to FÁS, that are being spent annually. This debate will take place in the early autumn.

Senator Burke called for an update on the value of public private partnerships with particular reference to waste water treatment plants. I have no difficulty in allowing time to facilitate such a discussion.

Senator Larry Butler outlined to the House his difficulties in making his contribution here yesterday evening. With the permission of the Cathaoirleach, I will take the Senator’s serious concerns to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges to see how we can improve and assist the Cathaoirleach, the Leas-Cathaoirleach and those who face the challenge of this difficulty.

Senator Bacik called for a debate on violence. I have no difficulty in providing time for this.

As this is the final day before the summer recess, I thank the Cathaoirleach for his patience, courtesy and understanding of the difficulties we are experiencing. I thank the Leas-Cathaoirleach. I thank the Leaders of the various parties, the Whips in the House, and all colleagues and Senators. I wish them all well for the summer.

Senators should take a nice break in the month of August. The committees are sitting right up to the end of July and at the start of September we will be back to work again. They need to take a good hard look at our workload because it will be difficult. With the economy being difficult, our constituents will need all the support they can get, and with our hard work and endeavour, and experience, when our batteries are recharged we will have no difficulty in facing them.

I thank the Clerk of the House and the Clerk Assistant. I thank the Captain of the Guard, John Flaherty, and the Superintendent, Paul Conway, and all the staff of the House for their kindness, help and courtesy. I thank Mr. Jimmy Walsh, our correspondent from The Irish Time, and “Oireachtas Report”, for bringing to the people of Ireland the affairs of this House and letting them know the high level of debate that takes place here, and the hard endeavour and work, and the serious concerns, of us all.

I look forward to meeting the Senators again at the end of September on the next sitting day.

  An Cathaoirleach: Senator Frances Fitzgerald has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: “That Report Stage of No. 1 be deferred to a later date.” Is the amendment being pressed?

  Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Yes.

Amendment put.

The Seanad divided: Tá, 18; Níl, 22.

    Bacik, Ivana.

    Burke, Paddy.

    Buttimer, Jerry.

    Coffey, Paudie.

    Cummins, Maurice.

    Fitzgerald, Frances.

    Hannigan, Dominic.

    McFadden, Nicky.

    Mullen, Rónán.

    Norris, David.

    O’Reilly, Joe.

    Phelan, John Paul.

    Quinn, Feargal.

    Regan, Eugene.

    Ross, Shane.

    Ryan, Brendan.

    Twomey, Liam.

    White, Alex.

Níl

    Boyle, Dan.

    Brady, Martin.

    Butler, Larry.

    Callely, Ivor.

    Carty, John.

    Cassidy, Donie.

    Corrigan, Maria.

    Daly, Mark.

    Ellis, John.

    Feeney, Geraldine.

    Hanafin, John.

    Leyden, Terry.

    MacSharry, Marc.

    Ó Domhnaill, Brian.

    Ó Murchú, Labhrás.

    O’Brien, Francis.

    O’Donovan, Denis.

    O’Malley, Fiona.

    O’Sullivan, Ned.

    Ormonde, Ann.

    White, Mary M.

    Wilson, Diarmuid.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Maurice Cummins and Feargal Quinn; Níl, Senators Fiona O’Malley and Diarmuid Wilson.

Amendment declared lost.

[940]Order of Business agreed to.