Order of Business.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 191 No. 8

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Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy Zoom on Donie Cassidy The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on unemployment to be taken at the conclusion at the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 2 p.m. Spokespersons may speak for ten minutes, all other Senators for seven minutes and Senators may share time with the Minister to be called upon ten minutes before the end of the debate for concluding comments and to take questions from spokespersons or leaders; and No. 2 statements on budget 2009 to be taken not earlier than 4 p.m. and to conclude not later than 7 p.m. [470] Spokespersons may speak for ten minutes, all other Senators for seven minutes and Senators may share time. The business of the House will be interrupted between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald Will the Leader clarify how the banking scheme and regulations debate will be dealt with in the House? The Dáil will deal with it between 10.30 a.m. and 2.30 p.m. on Friday. Senators would like the Minister for Finance to be present during the debate. Rather than pressing an amendment to the Order of Business, will the Leader clarify, either this morning or tomorrow morning, how it will be dealt with?

Every Senator will have an opportunity to speak on the budget but it can be said unequivocally that the Government is using every taxpayer in the country to bail it out of the bad decisions and mismanagement we have seen in the past ten years.

Senators: Hear, hear.

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald Every taxpayer is being asked to bail out the Government. Elderly citizens were promised medical cards, which are being withdrawn, and they are being asked to bail out the Government. Parents are being asked to bail out the Government through increased class sizes for their children. Small businesses were given nothing in yesterday’s budget and they are struggling to retain their staff but they are also being asked to bail out the Government. Everyone who drives a car is being asked to bail out the Government. All over the country people are bailing out the Minister and the Government.

We have witnessed U-turns on policy.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan There will be an opportunity later for all Senators to contribute on the budget.

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald On the Order of Business, I cannot let the day pass without mentioning the Government U-turns on policy, whether they relate to class size, decentralisation or the medical card for the over 70s, which bought the 2002 general election.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The Government Senators are quiet.

Senator Cecilia Keaveney: Information on Cecilia Keaveney Zoom on Cecilia Keaveney Senator Buttimer is not sitting in a council chamber now.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer They should be ashamed of themselves.

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald Taxpayers will bail out all of those decisions. There is no reform in the budget. It is unfortunate that we may again listen to the Minister using the same words to deal with the problems in the economy.

Worst of all is the lack of investment in the future and children. What will happen to the family in Lucan trying to pay for or find child care? Instead of having discretionary money to pay for child care or tutorials, they are being asked to bail out the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, and the Government because of its excessive spending and lack of reforms and value for money in the past ten years. Every taxpayer will bail out the Government of its poor decisions and management. Every Senator will have an opportunity to speak on this debate today.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Hear, hear.

Senator Joe O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole Zoom on Joe John O'Toole I feel wasted. I spent one career trying to reduce class sizes and another trying to keep the minimum wage out of the tax net. In one short speech yesterday, the Minister [471]turned on its head a large amount of good, hard, committed and energetic work done by many people over the years. It will return to haunt the Government.

There is nothing wrong with the 1% and 2% income levies. Asking people such as ourselves to pay more is fine and cannot be argued with. It is a question of the poor, the old, the lonely and the sick. People who had medical cards will no longer have them, older people will have more to worry about and younger people will be shoved into larger classes. As in the case of the Lisbon treaty, instead of dealing with an issue in a straightforward manner, the Government has created seven different oppositions in terms of the over 70s, education and so on. The fine print will return to haunt us.

When the budget’s provisions come into effect, a local school may lose a staff member. While people would get used to this, there will no longer be cover for teachers on sick leave until such time as they get doctors’ certification. That certification would not be a problem, but it would rarely be acquired on the first day. There will be chaos in schools for small money. It would have been better to take a cleaner approach. If a 2% levy is necessary above the minimum wage level, so be it. The Government should revisit some of the budget’s dafter parts, which will worry and upset people unnecessarily.

Senator Alex White: Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White Regarding the Budget Statement, many of us were hoping for a bold and innovative set of measures to rescue the country from its current economic situation. We got nothing of the sort. Instead, we got the launch of a number of liferafts by the Government to try to save the economy.

I will either disagree with Senator O’Toole concerning the levy or nuance some of his comments. While this matter can be dealt with during the debate, it is worth mentioning. Recently, the Deputy Leader’s party leader, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, appeared to advocate higher taxes for the higher paid, the rich and the super rich, with which I agree. He stated that he would try to achieve such in Government, in which respect I would have supported him. Regrettably, he did not achieve it. The levy represents the crudest, most regressive and most dishonest tax increase ever seen.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Hear, hear.

Senator Alex White: Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White In recent weeks and months, I wondered whether the inevitable tax increases would arrive before or after the final demise of the Progressive Democrats. The increases arrived just beforehand. It is a tax increase, yet the Government dares not speak its name.

Senator O’Toole and others are correct regarding the 2% levy. If we want to go after higher earners, which I would advocate, we should do so in an honest way. Let us face up to the taxation system and the dishonesty and unfairness therein. However, the Government appears to want to have it both ways. The Government is telling us to leave the debate on equality and equity of tax, in principle, to the Commission on Taxation next year, but it then introduces an extraordinarily regressive tax, undermining any suggestion of equity in the taxation system. We should face up to taxation and to the questions of how to match the public services we want with taxation, how to levy tax and from whom.

Senator Fitzgerald referred to several measures in the budget, but we will have an opportunity to revert to them. The cuts in services for children and education are the most serious and regressive of the Government’s decisions. It will cut child benefit payments in half and then remove them in respect of people above the age of 18 years. It will increase university registration fees substantially, effectively re-introducing tuition fees by the back door. The decision to abolish the Combat Poverty Agency, which has done considerable independent [472]work in the past two decades to identify poverty in society, is outrageous. It appears that the Government does not want independent voices raised on poverty and related issues.

My colleagues opposite always look in a forlorn way and wonder whether I have anything positive to say.

Senator Terry Leyden: Information on Terry Leyden Zoom on Terry Leyden Exactly.

Senator Alex White: Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White I have two positive comments. Since it may be due to the input of the Green Party, given that it is a decision consistent with the party’s position prior to the election, I congratulate the Government on finally ending the sham of the so-called decentralisation programme. It is a welcome move and I congratulate the Government.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames Hear, hear.

Senator Alex White: Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White The Government appears to have embraced the notion of performance-related pay. Members of the Government have taken 10% cuts, presumably based on their performances in recent months. I hope that they will revert to the House in the coming months regarding proposals on the inevitable further cuts in pay that they will need to take. The ultimate cut that they should take is not 10% or 20%. Rather, it is 100%.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Send them packing.

Senator Cecilia Keaveney: Information on Cecilia Keaveney Zoom on Cecilia Keaveney Given the example set by the Opposition when it was in power, yesterday would have been an interesting story had we not been in Government. I say this despite all of the details of what the Opposition believes the Government did wrong yesterday.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer We did not squander the boom.

Senator Cecilia Keaveney: Information on Cecilia Keaveney Zoom on Cecilia Keaveney The Opposition did not create any boom.

Senator Alex White: Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White We did.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan Senator Keaveney without interruption.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The Government made a hames of the boom.

Senator Cecilia Keaveney: Information on Cecilia Keaveney Zoom on Cecilia Keaveney I did not interrupt Senators because——

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Government Senators should be ashamed of themselves.

Senator Cecilia Keaveney: Information on Cecilia Keaveney Zoom on Cecilia Keaveney ——I was not in a council chamber earlier and I am not in one now.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer If the Senator went back to a council chamber, she might learn something.

Senator Cecilia Keaveney: Information on Cecilia Keaveney Zoom on Cecilia Keaveney I had no bother learning in the council chamber.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer You should not patronise us.

Senator Cecilia Keaveney: Information on Cecilia Keaveney Zoom on Cecilia Keaveney And you should not heckle me.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I will.

[473]An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan If Senators do not stop, I will adjourn. They should listen to what people have to say. If I believe something is out of place, I will stop them. If they do not abide by this, we will adjourn. Senators cannot with argue one another across the floor. It will not continue. I will ask those who start arguing like that to leave. Senator Keaveney without interruption and on the Order of Business.

Senator Cecilia Keaveney: Information on Cecilia Keaveney Zoom on Cecilia Keaveney In welcoming the additional money for disability, mental health and suicide prevention services, I note the 125 additional therapy posts. Will the Leader invite the Minister of State with responsibility for the Health Professions Council, Deputy Moloney, to the Seanad this session? We could consider having creative arts therapies, including music therapy, officially recognised.

Recently, I read an international newspaper in which it was reported that the European Commission has made €120 million available to assist countries with a poor record in teaching second languages in school. We do not have a poor record in this regard. Will we be attempting to draw down some of this European funding in having our schools assisted in teaching foreign languages as indicated by the availability of €120 million from the European Commission?

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames I am delighted to welcome the increase in capitation to help with the day-to-day costs of running schools, a point every speaker made during the debate on the Fine Gael motion on underfunding of primary education. It is not as much as we would like but it is a step in the right direction. I am flabbergasted, however, by the increase in pupil-teacher ratio. It should have been an untouchable for a Minister with responsibility for education. Irish children are now officially in the largest classes of the 27 EU countries. It will mean no jobs for 400 new teachers, 200 at primary level and 200 at secondary level.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan Is there a question for the Leader? We will have statements on the budget later today.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames This is the cruellest cut of all because it affects children’s learning and their life chances in a highly competitive world. As a result of this cut in the pupil-teacher ratio, I ask urgently for a debate with the Minister for Education and Science on learning outcomes and the factors that affect it. This move shows he does not understand the importance of learning outcomes and the effects on the child and the nation. We did well on underfunding but clearly the Minister does not realise the link with learning outcomes.

Senator Terry Leyden: Information on Terry Leyden Zoom on Terry Leyden We should put forward helpful suggestions for the finance Bill that will be published.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan Is there a question for the Leader?

Senator Terry Leyden: Information on Terry Leyden Zoom on Terry Leyden Arising from the contribution, or lack of, from the Opposition, it is fortunate that Fine Gael and the Labour Party did not get into government last May because we would have had great difficulties if they had. The country would have been broken.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer It is broken now.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Senator Leyden has got his tenses wrong, it is broken.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Senator Leyden is living in an Alice in Wonderland world.

Senator Terry Leyden: Information on Terry Leyden Zoom on Terry Leyden The suggestion I was going to make——

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan There should be a question, not a suggestion.

[474]Senator Terry Leyden: Information on Terry Leyden Zoom on Terry Leyden ——was that non-residents who are not paying tax in this country should be taxed at the highest possible rate. Let the airport tax be the method of finding out when they arrive back and we can slap a high tax on every one of them.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Barack Obama; Shergar.

Senator Terry Leyden: Information on Terry Leyden Zoom on Terry Leyden Furthermore, there should be a special tribunal tax for those who ripped off the tribunals — 25% for all the barristers and lawyers who ripped off this country.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The Senator’s own crowd.

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald The Government set the terms of reference. Senator Leyden should take responsibility for the terms of reference.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Could I ask for clarification? I could not hear with the interruptions. Did Senator Leyden say “lawyers” or “liars”?

Senator Terry Leyden: Information on Terry Leyden Zoom on Terry Leyden Lawyers.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I thought he said that liars should be penalised. I support that.

Senator Terry Leyden: Information on Terry Leyden Zoom on Terry Leyden Lawyers and barristers and some part-time actors.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I join with colleagues in welcoming the debate on the budget. One of the most critical issues is the one which Senators O’Toole and Alex White raised. I am perfectly happy to pay the 1% levy and, if my income goes over €100,000 to pay 2%. It is totally appropriate and I have no quarrel with it but Senator White is 100% right in saying that this is a vicious tax. There must be a lower limit. I applaud the higher limit but how can we expect people under €35,000 to pay 1%? This is cutting into what they pay on food, heating and education of their children. This House should urge a lower limit beneath which people pay nothing at all. If necessary, the tax should be raised for the rest of us. We can afford it, they cannot.

Senator Joe O’Reilly: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly Hear, hear.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I am glad to have received information from Dóchas that the 0.7% target in overseas development aid will be reached during the specified time. That is good but the problem is that this is dislodging attention from other issues. We are properly concerned with the international financial situation and its repercussions in Ireland but there are other matters around the world. I would like a debate on the situation in Zimbabwe. It is quite extraordinary but, alas, predictable that Robert Mugabe is doing what some of us felt he might. He is outflanking Morgan Tsvangirai by grabbing the three most significant ministries — defence, security and finance — and then offering to dump finance onto Morgan Tsvangirai in a trade-off. This is very serious and if we believe in democracy, we need to examine this situation.

Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: Information on Brian Ó Domhnaill Zoom on Brian Ó Domhnaill I welcome the debate on the budget later this afternoon and on the Finance Bill when that comes to the House. It would be remiss of me if I did not mention the budget in light of comments made by Senators on the Opposition side. I welcome the budget, which was a brave and decisive step taken by the Minister for Finance in challenging economic times. If an alternative Government had been in place which proposed to increase spending by €14 billion in the 2007 general election——

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan Is there a question for the Leader?

[475]Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: Information on Brian Ó Domhnaill Zoom on Brian Ó Domhnaill I refer to this because it was referred to by the Opposition. This figure is approximately——

Senator Joe O’Reilly: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly On a point of information, that was for employment creation.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer What did Fianna Fáil promise? The Senator is spinning.

Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: Information on Brian Ó Domhnaill Zoom on Brian Ó Domhnaill It was an additional spend proposed by the Fine Gael Party which would have incurred an additional cost of €10,000 per annum per taxpayer.

Senator Alex White: Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White Not for the builders.

Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: Information on Brian Ó Domhnaill Zoom on Brian Ó Domhnaill If that had been adopted, the Irish people would have been in a grave situation today.

Senator Joe O’Reilly: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly Is it in order that the speaker misinform the House?

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan Is there a question for the Leader?

Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: Information on Brian Ó Domhnaill Zoom on Brian Ó Domhnaill I welcome and call for a debate on the schools building programme. I welcome the additional allocation of €75 million announced in yesterday’s budget. It will assist primary, secondary and third level educational development. There is an opportunity to seek value for money in schools building projects for the years ahead. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Education and Science to address the issue of obtaining value for money from developers who have done very well over the past ten years given the economic circumstances? I welcome the €200 holiday homes charge for second homes.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan That is relevant to the budget and can be taken up later.

Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: Information on Brian Ó Domhnaill Zoom on Brian Ó Domhnaill I call for a debate on the fishing industry. We were to have a debate prior to the recess in the summer. My colleague from Cork, Senator O’Donovan, is anxious to have this debate. Not only should we consider salmon and sea fishermen but also inland fishermen, especially those along the River Foyle in the Lifford and St. Johnston areas who find themselves in a distressing position. I call for this debate in the next week or two. The industry is in a difficult position and we should discuss and support its position.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I wish to clarify a point of misinformation given this morning. When the rainbow coalition left office, there was a surplus, not a deficit. That fact must be clarified.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan I am asking for questions.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer In the interests of accuracy and honesty that must be put on the record of the House. There was a surplus.

Will the Leader apologise to the people this morning because the Government he represents has taxed the elderly? Is the Leader listening to me? Will he apologise for the cutbacks imposed on the ordinary person who must now bail out the Leader and his Government? That is the legacy of 11 years of greed——

Senator Geraldine Feeney: Information on Geraldine Feeney Zoom on Geraldine Feeney Oh now.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer ——from the Fianna Fáil party which has now killed the Celtic tiger.

As a matter of urgency can we have an debate on the cost of living in this country? This Government has had its Ernest Blythe moment. It has taxed people and made the cost of living in this country unbearable for people. It should be ashamed.

[476]I have a question for the Deputy Leader of the House. We have been promised in two——

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan Questions through the Leader.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer We have been promised in three successive budgets that the Cork docklands would receive tax incentives regarding the eastern gateway bridge. I welcome that the Minister, under pressure, included surveys of the site which cost the Government nothing.

Senator Dan Boyle: Information on Dan Boyle Zoom on Dan Boyle It did.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer There is no tax and no outlay for the Government in this. Therefore, can we have a debate——

Senator Dan Boyle: Information on Dan Boyle Zoom on Dan Boyle That is expensive.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer ——on the Cork docklands and the failure of the Government yet again to commit in the budget to the eastern gateway bridge funding, a key piece of infrastructural development.

  11 o’clock

Senator John Hanafin: Information on John Gerard Hanafin Zoom on John Gerard Hanafin We heard this week about a run of people taking food from the shops and worrying whether there was enough currency to meet import bills. This was not in Zimbabwe but in Iceland, a developed economy like our own. People in that country have a very high standard of living in one of the countries of the First World, a major OECD member and a first member of many organisations and groups set up to develop world economies. This country, however, has been affected by the crisis in the financial markets. If a country such as Iceland, or our jobs here, or those around the world, can be affected by people who make decisions, surely those decisions must be regulated.

Now that we have a global financial market, regulations must be introduced and we should have a say in how the global markets are run. Where did the simple principle go whereby a bank borrowed on the basis of the amount of deposits it had? From where did all the off-balance sheet borrowing come? It is not prudent lending and we must get back to the original principle. The practice has put at risk western economies and those throughout the world, including fragile ones. One would never have thought of Iceland as a fragile economy.

I ask the Leader to pass on our commendation to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Lenihan. His budget was one that many of us will be quick to claim in difficult times. The 8.4% increase in social welfare spending at a time when there is a shortfall of billions is a credit to this Government.

Senator Michael McCarthy: Information on Michael McCarthy Zoom on Michael McCarthy Like others I look forward to the debate we will have later today on the budget. We must have honesty in this debate and also an element of realism. Contrary to what the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, said this morning on “Morning Ireland”, we do not have a low-tax economy.

Senator Alex White: Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White Hear, hear.

Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy Zoom on Donie Cassidy We certainly do.

Senator Michael McCarthy: Information on Michael McCarthy Zoom on Michael McCarthy Let us refer to the income levy in terms of what it is, an increase in general taxation. It has been perpetrated on those who earn the lowest wage in our economy. It is an attack on the vulnerable and the lower paid and is a symptom, as Senator Buttimer said, of 11 years of greed.

[477]Now that the Government has increased taxation by 1% will the Leader prevail upon the Minister for Finance to be honest in how he approaches that? He must stop calling it an income levy and call it an increase in income tax. Does the Leader agree with the prevailing view on the removal of medical cards from those over 70 years of age? This is another attack on the most vulnerable. It was an initiative introduced——

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan We will have that later.

Senator Michael McCarthy: Information on Michael McCarthy Zoom on Michael McCarthy It was introduced in 2001 to win the election the following year. Is it fair, right and proper to take medical cards from pensioners? Does the Leader agree that the income levy should be referred to as an increase in income tax?

Senator Eugene Regan: Information on Eugene Regan Zoom on Eugene Regan I also have a question on the budget although I know we will have a debate. This budget is mean, nasty and sneaky. It is mean in terms of the 1% levy because this is regressive. It is nasty in terms of the increase in an array of health charges. It is sneaky in many respects, particularly the one by which one must qualify for health benefits. That is at the micro level. Many of the sneaky elements were not in the Minister’s speech yesterday but are found in the small print.

On the macro level the big problems are not resolved, namely, the issue of public finances. We will still increase borrowing by €2 billion in 2009 and we will borrow for current spending. I remember the Haughey years of high spending before the Fine Gael Governments led by Garret FitzGerald came into power and put things right.

Senator Cecilia Keaveney: Information on Cecilia Keaveney Zoom on Cecilia Keaveney What about the shoes?

Senator Eugene Regan: Information on Eugene Regan Zoom on Eugene Regan I am sure the Leader remembers those years well. That was the cause of the problems in our public finances. We will have a doubling of the national debt over two years. We will also exceed by over 100% the 3% borrowing limit against GDP. We will increase inflation, reduce growth and increase unemployment. Does the Leader agree with this assessment of the impact of the budget on the individual and on the general economic level?

I raised a question last week regarding the guarantee scheme. Last week the Government stated that it could not return the guarantee scheme to the Oireachtas for debate because it first had to go to Brussels. Now that it has been agreed by the European Commission, the Government claims it cannot be changed and therefore we cannot have any meaningful debate in the Oireachtas. The Government bypasses the democratic process——

Senator Alex White: Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White Hear, hear.

Senator Eugene Regan: Information on Eugene Regan Zoom on Eugene Regan ——and the scrutiny by this House of decisions made which have European implications. The Leader should explain why the scheme was not brought back to the Seanad for debate last week. We might have pointed to further frailties in it as we did in respect of the State aid and discrimination aspects when it was first introduced.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik The budget is most regrettable and regressive, as other speakers on this side have said. There is an immense amount of hardship and pain to be suffered, much of it hidden in small print and in back door measures. There will be a slow burn of anger as people realise the true impact of the budget on them, their incomes and their family and household incomes. We will see a long-term impact, unfortunately.

One element has not been highlighted although some speakers have touched upon it. It deserved to be highlighted and we should debate it because it appears to be a new and especially regressive policy of the Minister and of this Government. That policy is to do away [478]with universal social benefits and instead to introduce means testing. The Minister has introduced means testing for those over 70 years of age in respect of health benefits and has effectively introduced means testing for other social benefits and separate elements. He abolished the child care supplements for children over five and a half years of age and child benefit payments for students over 18 and has introduced a vastly increased student registration charge.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan That is for the budget debate.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik I have a question and it is of particular concern. The Minister has asked the Commission on Taxation to examine more generally the payment of universal child benefit. Does this mean he will extend this apparent attack on universal benefit provision in a most regrettable way to child benefit payments? As legislators we deserve to know this and if it is the Minister’s intention we should have a debate on the matter. If that is the case, it should be a matter of grave concern to all of us. It is a most regressive measure to start means testing for all sorts of State benefits and it will lead to greater inequity and inequality.

I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on youth justice. At this time of cutbacks and closures it is important that the House should debate what will happen to young offenders who are a particularly vulnerable group. In that context, I and Deputy O’Rourke will co-host a seminar on youth justice tomorrow at 11.30 a.m. in the audiovisual room. The meeting will be addressed by a leading academic expert in the field from University College Cork and will be facilitated by the Irish Penal Reform Trust. All colleagues are welcome and I urge Senators to come along, even for a short time, or to send assistants if they wish to learn about development in the difficult area of youth justice or whether plans to build Thornton Hall and children detention centres will proceed in the current economic climate.

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Will the Leader outline the sitting arrangements for the remainder of this week and, if possible, next week? While I welcome the debate on the budget scheduled for this afternoon, the matter of crucial importance at this time, one which has been alluded to by colleagues, is the guarantee scheme provided for under Credit Institutions (Financial Support) Act 2008 passed by the Oireachtas several weeks ago. The continuing delay in this regard is creating uncertainty. When will we have sight of the details of the scheme and when will the House debate it? This matter cannot be put off. As Senator Fitzgerald noted, it is also important that the Minister be present for the debate. I ask the Leader, as the Government representative in the House, to outline his knowledge of the detail of the scheme. However, the sooner we have a copy of the document, the better.

On the budget, it will be important to make a suitable amendment in the Finance Bill to exclude all those earning the minimum wage from the levy on earnings. Government Members will share the widespread view that this group should have been excluded from this savage attack on incomes.

Senator Geraldine Feeney: Information on Geraldine Feeney Zoom on Geraldine Feeney I support Senator O’Reilly who called for a debate on nursing homes and the fair deal scheme on the Order of Business yesterday. If the legislation, which is ready, is not to be introduced to the House until the new year, will the Leader accommodate Senators by having a debate on the issue?

I welcome the additional €55 million allocated to the nursing home scheme in yesterday’s budget as an indication of the Government’s commitment to the elderly. I will elaborate on this during this afternoon’s debate on the budget.

It was interesting to hear George Lee state this morning that the budget did not go far enough.

[479]Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald That is because the Government failed to reform.

Senator Feargal Quinn: Information on Fergal Quinn Zoom on Fergal Quinn I express my appreciation to the Leader for allowing a three hour debate on the budget within 24 hours of the Budget Statement. For this reason, I propose to be obedient for a change and avoid speaking on yesterday’s events. Until yesterday, I had not heard of “egging”, a form of anti-social behaviour engaged in, I gather, by people from all social backgrounds. I will cite an e-mail I received yesterday in which a man describes the effects of a case of egging. It states:

What happened was that a 16 year old youth threw an egg from a car at my wife in a totally random stupid act. The egg hit her in the face and the shell was propelled into her eye, splitting her eyeball and blinding her for life. She spent nine days in hospital where they were able to repair the damage to the eye without removing it. However, the eye, five months on, is shrunken and it is very possible that, within 6 months, she will have to have her eye removed. This is all because some idiots think it’s funny to throw eggs at people.

Anyway, the reason for my email is that they were able to throw the eggs because there is no restriction on the sale of eggs in shops. These kids call into shops and buy 24, 48 eggs at a go and nothing else. If shopkeepers took it upon themselves to refuse the sale in these obvious scenarios, it may do something to reduce the occurrences of these eggings.

Apparently, this practice is comparatively common and regarded as good fun among teenagers. I am not sure what the House can do about it other than to publicise the damage it caused in the case I describe.

To return to one of my hobby horses, Ireland should adopt central European time as it would give us one extra hour of daylight all year around. Progress was being made in this regard until Portugal decided some years ago to switch from central European time to Greenwich mean time. The reason I raise this issue is I read in a newspaper report this morning that Jersey will have a referendum on adopting central European time. I hope we will follow suit in the years ahead.

Senator Déirdre de Búrca: Information on Déirdre de Búrca Zoom on Déirdre de Búrca I will comment briefly on the budget, about which many Senators have spoken. We were all prepared for a budget that would not be easy. In difficult economic times hard choices have to be made. It will be helpful in the coming weeks and months, when various Ministers come before the House, to question them about the priorities they highlighted in their budget allocations and choices.

I emphasise the positive aspects of the budget because we are hearing a great deal of critical commentary. Most of those criticising the budget are aware of the difficult circumstances in which the decisions were made. It is important to balance their views by commenting on the positive aspects of the budget decisions. For example, in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government investment in water services has increased to the highest level ever.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames The Government was forced to act under EU regulations.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan Details can be discussed in the budget debate.

Senator Déirdre de Búrca: Information on Déirdre de Búrca Zoom on Déirdre de Búrca The Opposition would be much more credible if it showed a willingness to acknowledge the positive aspects of the budget in areas such as public transport, the roll-out of broadband to secondary schools and so forth as well as highlighting concerns about certain areas.

[480]Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer We do not have buses.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames Transport 21 projects have been delayed.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The Senator should ask the people of Grange who are waiting for bus services about public transport.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan Allow Senator de Búrca to continue without interruption, please.

Senator Déirdre de Búrca: Information on Déirdre de Búrca Zoom on Déirdre de Búrca Major public transport projects such as metro north are proceeding. This is welcome in the current climate and given the cutbacks we are facing elsewhere. I call on the Opposition to be more balanced in its comment.

Senator Joe O’Reilly: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly Is the Leader concerned that the many exhortations made by a number of Senators, of whom I am proud to be one, to resolve the financial crisis without harming those on lower incomes and the weaker sections of the community have been ignored? Will he raise this issue in government to ensure an amendment, as proposed by Senator Coghlan, is made to remove the income levy from the lower paid, that is, those earning less than €35,000 per annum?

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I made that proposal.

Senator Joe O’Reilly: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly Senators Norris and Coghlan both proposed that an amendment should be made. It is unthinkable that one would impose a 1% levy on the income of a home help working on virtually the minimum wage to provide a vital service that keeps people out of institutional care or on the outdoor staff of our hospitals and local authorities.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan The Senator can raise those issues in his contribution to the debate on the budget.

Senator Joe O’Reilly: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly These groups will also be adversely affected by the 0.5% increase in the VAT rate, which will diminish their income.

I have a specific question on an issue of immense concern of which the Leader must be aware. In rural areas, especially the area I represent, people do not have access to public transport infrastructure, for example, a railway or comprehensive bus service, to take them to work. An 8 cent increase in the price of a litre of petrol effectively amounts to a tax on work and will have serious implications. This decision must be reviewed.

Will the Leader consider having a debate on the Government’s failure to protect poorer members of the community in the budget? This matter needs to be addressed immediately.

Senator Maria Corrigan: Information on Maria Corrigan Zoom on Maria Corrigan I support Senator Quinn’s comments about the “egging” of people. I was struck by what he said about this behaviour. It highlighted that the activity known as “egging” has become a sinister and insidious form of bullying of people in their homes and neighbourhoods. It may be difficult to address it, but the Senator said that if a group of young people come into a shop to buy a large number of eggs, the retailer might use some common sense, particularly as we approach Hallowe’en. A number of people have approached me recently following their houses having been egged and told me of the damage caused by it and of their children having been egged on their way home. This is sinister, bullying and intimidating behaviour.

I wish to raise the issue of legislation on mental capacity. Our existing legislation is flawed and deficient. It has resulted in a number of citizens with intellectual disability and mental health challenges having their basic human rights infringed upon. It will increasingly become [481]an issue for us, particularly for people with age related disorders as they become older. It has become an issue in the context of the new Fair Deal scheme. We were promised the introduction of new legislation on mental capacity and I understand it is currently being drafted. Will the Leader indicate if it will be introduced in this session? I ask him to stress to the Minister the urgency of the situation.

Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy Zoom on Donie Cassidy Senators have inquired about the motion that will come before the House on the new banking legislation, which it is proposed to take on Friday. I will have a more definitive time for the taking of it possibly after the Order of Business this morning. I will come back to the leaders of the various groups and inform the House and seek its approval for it in the morning. I thank all Members, leaders and Whips for their co-operation on this Bill, work on which has been ongoing for three weeks.

Senators Fitzgerald, O’Toole, Alex White, Healy Eames, Norris, Ó Domhnaill, Buttimer, Hanafin, McCarthy, Regan, Bacik, Coghlan, de Búrca and O’Reilly expressed various views on the budget announced yesterday. As we all know it was a difficult time for the Minister for Finance and the Government and a challenge had to be met. I welcome certain parts of the budget.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Only certain parts?

Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy Zoom on Donie Cassidy I outlined to the House my welcome for the——

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The Leader is an à la carte member of the Government.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan The Senator must refrain from interrupting.

Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy Zoom on Donie Cassidy The Government yesterday indicated an allocation in spending of €55.8 billion or an increase of 3.6%, for the coming year. Of that allocation, an increase of 8.4%, or €1.5 billion or €1.514 billion, will be given to social welfare. An increase of 2.1%, or €329 million, will be allocated for health and an increase——

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer What about all the cost increases?

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan The questions have been put to the Leader and he is now trying to reply to them.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer He is doing a bad job of replying to them.

Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy Zoom on Donie Cassidy ——of 2.7% or €229 million will be allocated to education.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer What about the costs?

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan The Senator cannot continue to interrupt. I will ask him to leave the House if he continues to do so.

Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy Zoom on Donie Cassidy I welcome the increase of €7 per week for contributory old age pensioners, bringing their pension benefit up to €230 and up to €219 for the non-contributory pension. I welcome the increase in the qualified adult allowance of €6.30 for those aged 66 and over and the increase of €4.60 per week for those under the age of 66.

Coming from rural Ireland, I welcome that the fuel allowance is being increased by two weeks, bringing it up to 32 weeks from the end of September to the end of April. I also welcome the €2 increase in the rate of payment bringing it up to €20 a week. It may not be [482]enough but it is an increase. Some people maintain there were no increases announced in the budget.

I also welcome the increase of €6.50 per week in the carer’s allowance. This was very much appreciated by many people. More would be welcome but in these times there will be an increase in benefit.

Extra funding of €20 million will be allocated for therapists and other associated areas. An extra €55 million will be allocated to implement the fair deal nursing home scheme, an issue which Members from all parties have raised. We must welcome those increases. They are facts in terms of what was announced yesterday.

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald There is a huge reduction in what was promised.

Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy Zoom on Donie Cassidy I welcome the decentralisation to date of the 2,527 staff to the 14 different venues and areas. That aspect of the decentralisation process is now complete. I greatly welcome the new 21 areas confirmed yesterday and the allocations to be made to my town of Mullingar, to Portlaoise, which was mentioned by a Member, and to Roscommon, which was mentioned by Senator Leyden. All these were approved by the Government in the budget announced yesterday——

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer What about the other ones?

Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy Zoom on Donie Cassidy ——and they are to proceed immediately.

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald The advance parties will have to be brought back.

Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy Zoom on Donie Cassidy The 3,474 additional posts that will be decentralised to rural Ireland is a godsend.

Senator Terry Leyden: Information on Terry Leyden Zoom on Terry Leyden Hear, hear.

Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy Zoom on Donie Cassidy We welcome that process. Rural representatives in particular welcome it. Work in this respect will start immediately. These are the facts. When I, as the Leader, address this House, I must state the facts. I do not pull the figures——

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald Why does the Leader not admit the U-turn in the policy?

Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy Zoom on Donie Cassidy By 2010 some 6,000 staff will be decentralised.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The Leader will be long gone by then. The budget states it will be 2011.

Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy Zoom on Donie Cassidy I remind the House that the last time Fine Gael got a mandate to be in Government was 1983.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer We cleaned up the mess left by the Leader’s party.

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald What we are talking about here is the mismanagement of people’s money over ten years; they trusted the Government to manage their money and it did not.

Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy Zoom on Donie Cassidy The Senator is the leader of her group and the main Opposition party and she knows she is out of order.

[483]Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer She is not out of order.

Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy Zoom on Donie Cassidy When her party was in government from 1983 to 1987, it doubled the national debt——

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer What did the Leader’s party do after that?

Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy Zoom on Donie Cassidy ——some 1,000 people a week were emigrating——

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer What did the Leader’s party do after that?

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald We are talking about ten years of the Celtic tiger when the people trusted the Government with their money.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan Allow the Leader to reply without interruption.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The Leader cannot have it both ways.

Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy Zoom on Donie Cassidy We are not talking about 1% tax here this morning——

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald We are talking about ten years of unprecedented wealth.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan We cannot have such interruptions across the floor of the House. The Members are making a show of the House.

Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy Zoom on Donie Cassidy When the leader’s party was in power there was a 65% income tax——

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The Government is taxing the elderly.

Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy Zoom on Donie Cassidy During the term of that Fine Gael-Labour Government the lower income tax band was 35%.

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald The Leader should take responsibility for his party’s actions.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan We will have a debate on the budget later.

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald We have had ten years of unprecedented wealth.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The Leader is afraid to go home; that is what is wrong with him.

Senator Terry Leyden: Information on Terry Leyden Zoom on Terry Leyden The parties opposite took a schilling from the old age pensioners; do they remember that?

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The Government is taxing the elderly.

Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy Zoom on Donie Cassidy I have facilitated the House by arranging for a debate on the budget this evening by way of my party forfeiting our Private Members’ time——

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Get over it.

Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy Zoom on Donie Cassidy ——in order to enable colleagues express their views. The Minister will be present to let the facts be known in the House, given that some Members do not seem to have grasped——

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Will the Leader remind us of his reservations about it?

[484]Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy Zoom on Donie Cassidy ——the facts outlined in the budget.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer We have the statement.

Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy Zoom on Donie Cassidy That is correct. I only wish that the Senator would tell both sides of the story and not only tell one side all the time.

Senator Terry Leyden: Information on Terry Leyden Zoom on Terry Leyden Hear, hear.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The Senator will tell the other one.

Senator Terry Leyden: Information on Terry Leyden Zoom on Terry Leyden Does the Senator remember——

(Interruptions).

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The Government is taxing the elderly.

A Senator: There is an increase of €2 in the fuel allowance.

Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy Zoom on Donie Cassidy Senator Keaveney called for a debate on the creative arts. I have no difficulty in making time available for such a debate. I will raise with the Minister concerned the other matters highlighted by the Senator.

Senators Healy Eames and Ó Domhnaill called for a debate on education, including the issue of school building projects. I have no difficulty in such a debate taking place.

Senator Norris requested an update and further debate on the situation in Zimbabwe. I fully agree with the sentiments the Senator has expressed, and time will be set aside for this.

Senator Ó Domhnaill called for a debate on the fishing industry. I suggest that the views he expressed could be taken during the debate on the harbour Bill, which will be coming before the House in the near future.

Senator Buttimer outlined his strong views, as usual, on the cost of living. I am sure he will develop that point this afternoon in the budget debate. Senator Hanafin referred to regulations in banking, particularly with regard to the global markets. That can also be taken on foot of the motion before the House on Friday. The Senator has raised a very good point.

Senator Bacik called for a debate on youth justice and we wish her well. My colleague, Deputy O’Rourke, will be co-hosting tomorrow’s seminar, and I shall do everything possible to assist the Senator in this area.

Senator Geraldine Feeney called yesterday for a debate on obesity. There is no difficulty in having time left aside for this. Senator Feeney has called for a debate on the up to date situation with regard to the nursing home Bill and how it might be progressed. She welcomed the €55 million in the budget, as I have already outlined, and I fully agree with the sentiments expressed by the Senator.

Senators Feargal Quinn and Maria Corrigan outlined to the House some dreadful instances of anti-social behaviour and the difficulties experienced in different areas, by egg throwing, for example. We sympathise with the unfortunate person who lost the sight of an eye because of the activities of these young people. They do not realise, presumably, they are doing anything wrong, but hopefully when it is pointed out to them they can see the dangers that exist.

Senator Quinn also called once again for a debate on central European time. I believe time was allocated for this before and I have no difficulty in making time available for it again. The most appropriate time would be the first week in November when old time starts.

[485]Senator Corrigan has again called for a debate on the challenges facing mental health and the new legislation that is pending in this area. I have no difficulty in assisting the Senator in this regard.

Order of Business agreed to.


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