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Meanwhile back at the Seanad… April 30, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in back at the Seanad, Uncategorized.
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Much to report since they returned? Nah, not really – and so this post is late this week. Indeed only one or two pieces that really caught my eye and so I present the newer slimline version of Back at the Seanad for your consideration… Yes, less truly is more…

A plea for optimism descends into… something else…

Senator Feargal Quinn: Information Zoom When I am on holidays, I sometimes ask the newsagent if he can give me a newspaper with good news only. That does not often happen. We have had two weeks away from the House and I worry there is a danger that we have forgotten how to talk about good news. We face serious challenges from volcanoes, financial attacks and everything else but there is a great deal of good news out there and I would like the Leader to arrange for one session in which the word “but” is not allowed to be used. In other words, one session in which we can send a message that we can do it.

Senator Donie Cassidy: Information Zoom One day a week. We could do it every Thursday.

Senator Feargal Quinn: Information Zoom One day a week or better.

An Cathaoirleach: Information Zoom No interruptions, please.

Senator Donie Cassidy: Information Zoom We should keep a balance.

An Cathaoirleach: Information Zoom No interruptions, please.

Senator Feargal Quinn: Information Zoom When I played rugby, on one occasion our trainer talked about the attacking and defending teams. I asked what he meant by the attacking team, whether that was when the ball was on the field. He said, “No,” but had to think for a moment. He said the attacking team was the team in possession of the ball, even on its own back line. I suggest that is a message we have to send to the rest of country. We have a lot of challenges, but we also have a lot of good news. To find out good news about this country one should read last week’s Newsweek magazine and the quotes from people such as Jean-Claude Trichet who referred to Ireland as being a role model. We have 750,000 people more working now than ten years ago. We have some very good stories, as well as challenges ahead of us. Let us make sure we regard these challenges as something we can overcome, but we will not overcome them if we continually and solely talk about the downswing rather than the upswing. Let us make sure we talk about the upswing.

Senator Terry Leyden: Information Zoom I doubt that even the Ombudsman would be able to achieve——

An Cathaoirleach: Information Zoom Does the Senator have a question for the Leader, not for Members across the floor?

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information Zoom Do you have good news, Terry?

Senator Joe O’Toole: Information Zoom Do not criticise the Government again.

An Cathaoirleach: Information Zoom Members, please.

Senator Terry Leyden: Information Zoom Senator O’Toole made a point about Goldman Sachs. Everyone in the House should examine their portfolios. Perhaps they will decide to resign, sell or get rid of them because the questions raised by the Senator are very important. I hope we will hear more about this in the future in the way we heard about other issues in the past.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information Zoom The Senator should not name Members of the House in their absence.

Senator Terry Leyden: Information Zoom A serious issue has arisen in terms of Mr. Fingleton and the Irish Nationwide Building Society. I ask him to give back the €1 million. We want the money — show us the money. People want the money back. The sum of €1.5 million for Mr. Boucher is obscene to say the least.

Senator Nicky McFadden: Information Zoom Hear, hear.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information Zoom We should get it back off him.

Senator Terry Leyden: Information Zoom One could ask whether the people concerned expect to live to be 140.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information Zoom The Minister allowed it.

Senator Terry Leyden: Information Zoom They are paying pensions of €355,000 per year at 55 years of age. This is obscene. Many difficulties are apparent. We are subsidising the banks and paying for them. We own them.

An Cathaoirleach: Information Zoom The Senator should ask the Leader a question.

Senator Terry Leyden: Information Zoom I ask the Leader for a debate on the matter. I am also disappointed that Irish Life-Permanent TSB, in which I have a small shareholding, was funding Anglo Irish Bank to the tune of €7.4 million, as exposed in Senator Ross’s book, The Bankers, a worthwhile publication.

Will the Leader arrange to have a discussion on the activities of An Bord Pleanála and the granting of planning permission for a mast at Dunamon within 30 m of a couple with three children aged under five years? I question the link between the company involved, Threefold, and Eircom and the workings of An Bord Pleanála. Something stinks in the state of Denmark. There is a need for a debate on An Bord Pleanála. There is collaboration or collusion in the granting of planning permission in this case.

An Cathaoirleach: Information Zoom Time.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information Zoom The Senator did not vote for it in the Bill.

Senator Terry Leyden: Information Zoom I will expose the matter in the House. I will table a motion on the matter which I hope the Cathaoirleach will accept. We will have a long debate on the matter.

An Cathaoirleach: Information Zoom We will consider the motion when it is tabled.

Senator Terry Leyden: Information Zoom Something is very wrong when An Bord Pleanála grants planning permission to destroy the health of three young children in my area.

An Cathaoirleach: Information Zoom I thank the Senator.

Senator Terry Leyden: Information Zoom It is a disgrace and a scandal.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information Zoom There has been good news about the weather.

Senator Dan Boyle: Information Zoom The Government did it.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information Zoom The weather has been phenomenal recently which has helped to lift morale. However, we need to be careful——

Senator Liam Twomey: Information Zoom Did it set off the volcano?

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information Zoom ——that we stay in touch with the realities of people’s lives. Many are experiencing difficulty owing to an inability to collect bad debts. A group of small and medium businesses in Galway indicated it was the single biggest issue facing its members. Subcontractors, in particular, are affected. All Members have probably received a letter from Mr. Seán Gallagher from “Dragon’s Den”——

An Cathaoirleach: Information Zoom I do not wish the Senator to mention names in the House or advertise correspondence.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information Zoom Subcontractors are badly affected.

The be-all and end-all is that they have little protection, if any, in law. I really want us to have——

An Cathaoirleach: Information Zoom Is the Senator seeking a debate on the issue?

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information Zoom ——an urgent debate in which we would invite the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to consider the supports and protection that could be provided in law to help people collect money they are due for goods and services they have supplied. I have a letter from a person who received money from the Department of Education and Science for work done on a school building. The goods subcontractor was not paid, yet the contractor was. This is wrong. We must provide some protection in law in order that subcontractors who are hiring many people around the country will not be left high and dry.

And for some even heckling is it’s own reward, or at least… er…

Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: Information Zoom I commend Senator Bradford for the relevance of his contribution on the challenges we face as a society. He mused that his comments might be seen as somewhat philosophical, but I regard them as exceptionally realistic. If there is shock in the body politic and society generally at what is happening, we have to find a reason for it.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information Zoom We know the reason. The Government allowed it to happen.

An Cathaoirleach: Information Zoom No interruptions, please.

Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: Information Zoom I find it particularly difficult to understand why we are not shocked that some individuals are expected to live on €200 a week when others can earn that amount in one minute. I do not wish to detract from specific issues because they are all important and deserve to be debated.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information Zoom The Government allows those salaries to be paid.

Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: Information Zoom There is no doubt in my mind that we have brought selfishness, greed and insensitivity from the Celtic tiger era.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information Zoom It is the legacy of Deputy Bertie Ahern.

An Cathaoirleach: Information Zoom Senator, no interruptions, please.

Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: Information Zoom We are like ostriches with our heads in the sand. We are not prepared to look at these issues. I cannot even hear the heckles because I am concentrating on a point which is heart-felt.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information Zoom I will repeat it for the Senator. It is the legacy of Deputy Bertie Ahern.

An Cathaoirleach: Information Zoom The Senator should not interrupt or I will ask him to leave the Chamber.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information Zoom He is right. Deputy Bertie Ahern created the environment.

An Cathaoirleach: Information Zoom Why is it that the same few Members keep interrupting?

Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: Information Zoom I do not mind. They can heckle; it is background music.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information Zoom I heard him speak on “Morning Ireland”.

Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: Information Zoom If somebody feels it necessary to shout down others in expressing opinions in this House, he or she must look into his or her own heart and ask why he or she is shouting. I am anxious to make a contribution. I hope I have an ear to the ground. I do not believe anyone has a monopoly of compassion or wisdom, but unless we are prepared to get back to old-fashioned ethics and having compassion, we will not get to the root of the problem.

Finally, a curious statement from one Eoghan Harris…

Senator Eoghan Harris: Information Zoom I listened with great interest to the long debate earlier which highlighted a number of issues and I want to touch on a few of those as they came up.

First, the notion of good news and bad news is very relative. Obviously, the newspapers’ account of increases in the salaries for bank staff or senior executives is very good news for Mr. Boucher. He gets his good news and other people get bad news from the papers.

In regard to the ash from the volcano, I am glad in many ways this has happened because it forces the media and the rest of us to face the fact that not everything in this life can be regulated, made perfect or controlled…

I do not know when this eruption will end. It might not end for months. We will soon be faced with the same questions we are faced with in all walks of life when we go out to drive a car, namely, what level of death are we prepared to face to live our ordinary lives. We do it every morning if we drive a car because there is a certain death rate on the roads. At what stage do we say that we will have to take risks and fly in planes? We are an island nation. We have got to trade. We are a species. We have got to survive. Our whole life is a constant risk. We will have to look at this practically in regard to staying alive as a community. We will have to accept a margin of risk on this, and we should face up to that fact.

Second, regarding the Press Council, it was mentioned that the chairman was a creature of the media. Anyone who knows John Horgan knows that he is a creature of nothing except the habit of speaking his own mind and always doing his own thing.

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information Zoom Hear, hear.

Senator Eoghan Harris: Information Zoom He will certainly not be bothered by anything that happened in that regard.

In regard to the banks, the banks are in all but name now part of the public service. The thing to do is benchmark them. Their top men should be paid the same as the top men in the public service are paid and the rest of them should be paid pro rata. They should be treated fundamentally as nationalised industries.

I congratulate the Labour Party on not proposing to abolish the Seanad but rather to reform it. The Labour Party should have had a very happy weekend because it seems to all of us who have been on the left in the past——

(Interruptions).

Senator Eoghan Harris: Information Zoom ——that the Marx and Engels notion that the capitalist system would wither away gently and that the state would finally find itself directing the economy is coming to pass in this country. We are now one of the purest communist states on earth.

A day or so later he returns to this theme…

Senator Eoghan Harris: Information Zoom I understand the reason Senator Buttimer must protect and advance his party’s cause. We all hold different views of the cause of the recession. Mine is well known — I believe it was driven fundamentally by low interest rates. Be that as it may, we are stuck where we are.

While I have no objection to the pursuit of the alleged guilty parties, in dealing with the issue and trying to roll back we need to cultivate a consensus across parties. A good contribution was made by Senator Bradford, on which Senator Ó Murchú attempted to amplify. We should build on it. In every survey it is shown that the public hates partisan politics. It looks for consensus across the board, as is being shown in the British general election campaign. A certain amount of anger is necessary, but we must balance it with good news, as Senator Quinn stated. While the guillotine is going, we also must remark that it is a fine morning.

I was struck by Senator Keaveney’s remarks about music therapy. Not all music is equal — the Tulla Céilí Band playing “The Salamanca Reel” is superior in terms of therapy if one is driving on a bad morning and listening to bad news than any other form of therapy.

Senator Donie Cassidy: Information Zoom It depends on one’s taste.

Senator Eoghan Harris: Information Zoom Be that as it may, there is significant consensus in Irish politics about our ideology. It is not generally remarked upon but in Ireland we agree the best system for economic activity is capitalism, mediated strongly by social democracy. In other words, capitalism is like hard players but there are also corrupt and dirty players. The business of the State is to act like a tough referee on the particularly dirty players.

I strongly agree with Senator Fitzgerald on the bankers’ actions in recent months. The old Irish proverb comes to mind: ní hí an bhochtaineacht is measa dúinn ach an tarcaisne a leannan í; it is not the poverty we mind but the insult that follows. What annoys the public is the bankers’ insulting behaviour to give themselves bonuses and top up their pensions on top of the structural problems they already caused.

One cannot stop people behaving badly. As the Chinese say, one cannot stop the blackbirds of evil flying over one’s head but one can stop them making a nest in one’s hair. I support the proposed amendment to the Order of Business. Will the Deputy Leader, Senator Boyle, and the Leader, Senator Cassidy, convey to the Minister for Finance in the strongest possible terms the cross-party consensus that the State needs to act as a tough referee, to stop pussyfooting and get stuck in there with the procedures and mechanisms available? Senators of all parties want the State to act in the toughest and hardest fashion on the banking sector’s bad behaviour.

And again the following day:

Senator Eoghan Harris: Information Zoom The philosopher Plato imagined the perfect republic. To ensure there was no back-sliding, he imagined a class of guardians. The Romans who were wiser people asked, quis ipsos custodiet custodes — who will guard the guardians? That question is apposite this morning in the context of two examples of failure on the part of our guardians. There has been much talk about the responsibility of politicians, Mr. Richie Boucher and other bankers. As Senator Hannigan said, Mr. Boucher did what anyone would do — try to improve his situation. The onus lay on the public interest directors to shout “No” when he tried to do this. Plato said a man’s character was determined by his ability to say “No”. The public interest directors who were sent there by us slept on duty. Senator Bradford spoke cogently yesterday about the absence of a standard or code of public morality in this country. Did anyone call in the two directors before they were sent to the bank, stare them in the eye and say, “You are being sent there by the Irish Republic to look after its interests, so do not sleep on duty”? Will the Minister now recall them, given that they have slept on duty? They have not done their duty by the State.

There is a second example. The Chief Justice, Mr. Justice Hardiman, has cast a doubt in the strongest terms on the judgment of another public servant, Mr. Justice Flood, in the tribunal. This is no surprise to me. Any judge who could sit down with Mr. Frank Connolly and set up a centre of public inquiry to carry on the habit of abuse by aged loons such as Mr. James Gogarty and bring that carry-on into the public domain has been suspect in judgment for a long time. It is time the State told its public servants that they must do their duty by the Irish Republic.

Incidentally, and on a tangent, note that the good Senator, like Christopher Hitchens uses the phrase ‘Irish Republic’.

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