Order of Business (Continued)

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 228 No. 9

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Senator Cáit Keane: Information on Cáit Keane Zoom on Cáit Keane I would also like to hear a debate on wind farms. Senator Sean Barrett referred to a comment by Mr. Eddie O'Connor that he would not like to live beside a wind farm. Mr. O'Connor added, however, that he would not mind living 500 m from a wind farm.

Senator John Kelly: Information on John Kelly Zoom on John Kelly He was referring to pylons rather than wind farms.

Senator Cáit Keane: Information on Cáit Keane Zoom on Cáit Keane In fairness to Mr. O'Connor, his entire statement should be cited if consultations are taking place on wind farms or electricity pylons.

  Last July, I raised the issue of a pilot training college in Waterford that entered the liquidation process. Students at the college are still out of pocket to the tune of more than €80,000 and some of them had to raise more money to continue their training elsewhere. The Irish Aviation Authority licensed the training college in question. The Joint Committee on Transport and Communications was to carry out a forensic examination of the liquidation. I do not know the reason this examination did not proceed.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke If the Senator submits the matter for debate on the Adjournment, I will accept it.

Senator Cáit Keane: Information on Cáit Keane Zoom on Cáit Keane I will do so. I am bringing to the attention of the House the lack of any action on this issue since the training college went into liquidation in July 2012. I would like to find out if the joint committee did a report on the issue.

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane The Health Service Executive national service plan has been published. While next year's cuts have been reduced slightly from €666 million to €619 million, we can safely state that the HSE and hospital managers will find it very difficult and highly challenging to implement them. I am astonished that the service plan makes provision for a reduction of €294 million in expenditure on primary health care given that the Minister of State with responsibility for primary health care stated in this Chamber only weeks ago that greater investment in primary health care is needed. She also stated that primary health care was the focus of the Government. One of the core and continuing election pledges of the parties in government was to make free general practitioner care available to all by the end of the next Government term, presuming this Government will be re-elected. How does this commitment sit with the decision to reduce expenditure on primary health care by €294 million?

  The health service plan states that expenditure on health care has been reduced by €3.3 billion since 2008 and this figure is set to rise to €4 billion by the end of 2014. Under the plan, the number of whole-time equivalent posts in the health service will also fall by 2,600 next year, having been cut by 12,500 posts since 2007. How, in God's name, can hospitals and the health service continue to function and provide the services people need with almost 13,500 fewer staff and €4 billion less in funding? This is the reason wards and theatres are closing and hospitals are under pressure.

  The HSE will find it very difficult to implement its national service plan. The proposed adjustment in expenditure on medical cards has been rolled back already, which is a welcome decision. Sinn Féin stated it was not possible to implement the proposed level of cuts in the medical cards system.

  I seek a debate on the HSE national service plan at the earliest possible date. Senators signalled that the plan should not be published at the end of the session as Christmas approaches because it is one of the most important annual plans published by the Government. The Seanad and Dáil must have an opportunity to properly scrutinise each and every saving or cut that is proposed. I call for a debate on the service plan to be scheduled as soon as possible.

Senator Lorraine Higgins: Information on Lorraine Higgins Zoom on Lorraine Higgins Given what has evolved in the past two days in respect of the National Asset Management Agency, I am surprised the Minister for Finance has not been brought into the House to explain what precisely is going on. We have to remember that-----

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke An amendment to the Order of Business has been proposed on this issue.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien Senator Higgins should support the amendment.

Senator Lorraine Higgins: Information on Lorraine Higgins Zoom on Lorraine Higgins I wish to make a point. Earlier in the week, NAMA stated that if people had information, they should bring it to the attention of the Garda Síochána. It deliberately muddied the waters in the aftermath of contributions on the agency made by Senator Darragh O'Brien and me in the House. Less than 24 hours after the Senator and I had spoken, the agency reported individuals to the Garda Síochána. This begs the question as to why it sat on that information until political pressure was brought to bear. It is clear that NAMA not only misled Members but also misled the Minister for Finance through its initial inaction and subsequent action. An inquiry is needed into this matter. We must make the board of the National Asset Management Agency more accountable to the Houses of the Oireachtas and review the draconian powers available to the agency. The Minister for Finance must come into the House in the immediate future to restore some confidence in what is a State agency of which proper accountability is required. An urgent debate is needed on this matter.

Senator Mary M. White: Information on Mary M. White Zoom on Mary M. White Hear, hear.

Senator Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne I congratulate Mr. Eddie Downey on his election as president of the Irish Farmers' Association. Mr. Downey has proved himself to be a doughty fighter for the farmers of his area and nationally in his previous role as deputy president of the IFA. He will probably recall that one year ago today, he addressed a meeting I organised in his home parish of Slane with the Fianna Fáil Party spokesman on agriculture, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív. He put it up to the Deputy that day and I know he is strong enough to do the same to the Government and challenge politicians and other leaders on behalf of IFA members. I am sure Senators will join me in wishing him the best of luck in his duties in the years ahead.

Senator Michael Mullins: Information on Michael Mullins Zoom on Michael Mullins On the National Asset Management Agency, I welcome the statement by Senator Darragh O'Brien that he will pass on the information in his possession to the Garda Síochána. To restore confidence in NAMA, it would be appropriate for the Committee of Public Accounts to call in the executives and board of directors of the agency and question them on their stewardship of the organisation.

  I join Senator Byrne in congratulating Mr. Eddie Downey on his election as president of the Irish Farmers' Association. The IFA is a significant representative organisation of the farming community. I am sure Mr. Downey will follow in the footsteps of his illustrious predecessors and do an outstanding job for the agricultural community.

  Like my colleague, Senator O'Donovan, I extend good wishes to the Garda Síochána. It is appropriate that Senators acknowledge the significant achievements the Garda has made in combating serious crime in the past 12 months. People in our communities are safer in their homes at night because of the outstanding work done by gardaí. It is regrettable that a small number of elected representatives in the other House appear to be constantly attempting to undermine the force. If some issues need to be cleared up, it is incumbent on the Garda Commissioner to do so as a matter of urgency. The House should give its unqualified support to the Garda Síochána, which works on behalf of citizens 365 days of the year.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames I ask for three debates to be arranged in the early new year, preferably in January. The first debate I seek is on the Legal Services Bill. I am disappointed to learn that the Fine Gael Party is rowing back on its position on this Bill to keep the Labour Party happy. I also seek a debate on the proposal to reduce the age of consent from 17 years to 16 years and the potential effects any such change would have. The third debate I seek is on junior certificate reform as I wish to raise serious concerns about the introduction by the Minister of a school certificate which would reinforce inequality among schools.

  I echo the concerns expressed across the Chamber about the National Asset Management Agency. In the interest of openness, transparency and truth, the absence of which brought the country to its knees, it would be wise of the Minister for Finance if he were to make a statement on the issue before the House rises for Christmas. I have been receiving e-mails for a long time about secret deals, hidden facts and a lack of accountability to the House on NAMA's write-downs for developers. Data protection is to some degree mitigating against the truth emerging. NAMA is a State asset management agency owned by us, the taxpayers, and we deserve to know what is going on. If secret or hidden deals are taking place and people in the agency are under pressure, that is wrong.

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