Collapse in State revenue was well underway before international banking crisis

November 27, 2008 § Leave a comment

I was struck by the following curious point in regard to the reports today about the banks. A new group of investors have offered the Minister for Finance a solution to the problem. Last week, another group of opportunists, investors with international connections, offered a solution to the Minister for Finance. A picture comes to mind of the Minister for Finance sitting in his office, tapping his fingers on the desk almost waiting for people to come to him with suggestions. Surely, it should be the Minister who makes such bold moves. I do not agree that there is not a requirement for recapitalisation of the banks. Manifestly, there is such a requirement. There needs to be a debate on how it should be brought about and on the controls that should be put in place by Government in that regard.

I would like to hear from the Minister for Finance what he and the Government proposes to do other than waiting for others to come to them with suggestions. This seems to be the manner in which Government is being run in regard to these serious issues. The Taoiseach, when Minister for Finance, made a reasonably thoughtful speech a year ago at the Indecon conference.

I wonder if he would take out that speech, dust it down and read it again to see what it is he would propose by way of addressing the palpable sense of not alone uncertainty but real fear, which is increasing by the day and almost by the hour, across the community. Everybody is seeking a solution to the problem. We accept the Government cannot solve every problem. However, we are looking to it for some measure of inspiration and hope and for a plan, but we are not seeing anything of that nature. The budget was botched and there is a failure to face up to many of the problems that led us to where we are now. One cannot work out one’s future course until one is clear about how one arrived at where one is. We must face up to rather than dwell on the fundamental mistakes of recent years.

The extraordinary, treacherous and reckless priming of the property sector happened under the watch of this Government and this must be faced up to. Decentralisation – it appears it will be reversed in the public service reform document – was a serious mistake and a shocking proposal, one that ought never have been brought forward. We are now seeing it being at least partly reversed in the new proposals on efficiency in the public service.

The collapse in State revenue in this country was well underway before the international banking crisis emerged. That is a fact, not an opinion. We must face up to these facts and have a proper debate on them. I respectfully suggest that the Seanad is a good place to have that debate, a somewhat more relaxed and thoughtful debate than is possible in the other House.

More :: After the opposition’s repeated calls, it has just been announced that there will be an all-day debate in the Seanad on the state of the economy with the Minister for Finance present. It will take place on Friday 5 December.

Bill is not correct way to deal with stem-cell research question

November 27, 2008 § Leave a comment

Stem Cell Research
Last night the Seanad debated the Stem-Cell Research (Protection of Human Embryos) Bill 2008 . Below is my own contribution to the debate.
I would not, and do not support the Bill introduced by Senator Mullen. I do not believe it is the way to deal with this complex problem. A Bill that is, essentially, founded on criminal sanctions or at least includes such sanctions as a crucial component in respect of embryonic stem cell research is not the way to deal with this complex matter. I agree, however, with those who said that this issue must be wrestled with and dealt with by the Legislature.

I compliment the Minister of State, Jimmy Devins TD on the comprehensive treatment he gave to the topic. However, ringing in his ears and in the ears of all of us are the demands and very strong suggestions from a number of bodies for regulation to be introduced, and for legislation in this crucial area. As recently as this year, the Irish Council for Bioethics made such a demand. Regulation is the way in which we should approach this matter.

I am sure Senator Mullen has a continuing interest in this topic. However, it is probably true that this debate was triggered by the decision of UCC some weeks ago. Whatever one might say about the particular call made by the ethics committee in UCC and, ultimately, by the governing body of the university, at least they wrestled with this question and came up with actual decisions. Some people may believe it to be a good thing to be uncertain, as it were, about where they stand. This may not be something to criticise. From an intellectual point of view, I understand and appreciate someone who takes that viewpoint but ultimately it is the case that decisions must be made.

Senator Maria Corrigan referred to President Bush. I remind the House that President Bush vetoed a Bill passed in the Senate in respect of the promotion and funding of stem cell research. President-elect Obama proposes to reverse that veto. These are decisions made in a much more complex and wealthier country which, no matter what way one looks at it, is likely to be at the forefront of these issues more quickly than we ever will be. Americans have faced up to the fact that they must make decisions.

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‘Public service reform’ is a fantastic phrase – but what does it mean?

November 26, 2008 § Leave a comment

Are we wasting our breath asking the Leader of the Seanad to arrange a debate on the economy? We keep doing so but, as a child might say, “It keeps not happening.” Is there any point in our seeking it?

I have just come from addressing a group of school students on the south side of the city. They all want to talk about the economy and the recession and what Governments and politicians are doing about it, yet we cannot have a debate thereon in the House. We were supposed to have a rolling debate? What is a rolling debate? In any event, it is what we were promised two or three weeks ago. It certainly has not started rolling yet.

Today the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance are to announce a programme of significant public sector reform. I welcome the programme for two reasons, the first of which is that no reasonable person could object to a serious programme of reform in the public sector. The second reason I welcome it is that I hope it will put an end to the phoney debate on the public service.

Very often people make statements about the public service that are long on rhetoric and short on specifics. This will give us the opportunity and will provide the context for Members on both sides of the House to explain what they mean by public service reform. Public service reform is a fantastic phrase, like motherhood and apple pie. What do people mean by it? Where do they wish to see the cuts and the redundancies? Do they wish to see redundancies?

We might consider any particular service that is provided for the people. In the Seanad, Members are constantly calling for improvements and expansions to services and opposing the abolition of different agencies and services. As politicians, we must face up to the fact that if staff numbers are reduced efficiencies can, of course, be brought about and it is good that such might be done. However, very often, when staff is reduced the service is reduced. It is not as simple as that but that is very often the outcome. Fewer staff means a service that is not as good for the public. Let us face up to that and let us all, on both sides of the House, face up to the fact that it is not good enough to come in here and make rhetorical snipes at the public service and public servants without being specific, by which I mean giving examples.

I welcome another aspect of the announcement that apparently will be made today, namely, that the Government feels it must take time to see which posts can be amalgamated, which ones should be abolished and, as a consequence, which services must be removed. It will take time. In the event of such a debate, I call on all my colleagues to be specific about what they mean, to be clear and to face up to the fact that if staff numbers are reduced very often service is lost.

Child protection investigation a very serious matter

November 20, 2008 § Leave a comment

The decision by Children’s Ombudsman Emily Logan to launch an investigation into the implementation of Child Protection Guidelines must be treated as a very serious matter indeed.

It must be a cause of major concern that Ms Logan feels that she has no option but to take this course of action. It is of particular worry that there seems to be some considerable weight of information, opinion and correspondence being brought to Ms Logan’s attention indicating that all is not well.

Once again, the operation of the Health Service Executive, the statutory agency responsible for the implementation of the Children First Guidelines, and the Department of Health and Children are to come under the microscope. References by Ms Logan to non-implementation by the HSE of the guidelines in some instances are alarming, and all the agencies involved must give every possible support to the Ombudsman in her investigation.

Ms Logan seems concerned that that these guidelines are being breached. If this turns out to be the case there is a strong argument that the guidelines should be established on a statutory basis.

Today’s development paints a bleak picture of the extent to which children are being failed by this government. We already know that social work teams are considerably under-resourced, and thanks to the HSE staff recruitment embargos and cutbacks just about every one of them is operating well below full staff complement. Local child protection teams simply don’t have the resources they require to make early interventions, in order to prevent a problem in a family escalating into a crisis.

When you consider the massive backlogs in many areas of the country, the lack of an out-of-hours service, and the lack of specialist residential places for children with challenging behaviour, the scale of the problem is massive.

More :: Read the statement from the Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan
More :: Ombudsman to investigate child protection (Irish Times)

Alex on the Radio

November 19, 2008 § Leave a comment

I have been on two radio shows in the past number of days, and these are now available online. On Sunday, I was a guest on Sam Smyth’s Sunday Supplement on Today FM. Other members of the panel were Fine Gael TD Lucinda Creighton and the Minister for Integration Conor Lenihan. You can listen to the show by clicking here.

Last night I was on The Late Debate on RTE Radio 1 with Senator Deirdre DeBurca, Michael Clifford of the Sunday Tribune and Aine Kerr of the Irish Independent. You can listen to the show by clicking here.

Strong arguments should counter Czech President’s views

November 12, 2008 § Leave a comment

I disagree profoundly with the position of the President of the Czech Republic in relation to the European Union but an issue arises in respect of the maturity of the debate we have.

If the President of the Czech Republic states his position in Ireland, surely the way to counter that is through the strength of the arguments against what he is saying rather than suggesting he does not have the right to speak. It has been suggested that it is outrageous that a foreign leader should come to Ireland and make such points. It is not deemed outrageous, however, if foreign leaders who hold the opposite view come here and make their case.

I disagree with the position taken by the President but we have more strength in us to deal with these arguments than to simply suggest that every time somebody such as Mr. Klaus opens his mouth, it constitutes interference in our process. The lesson of the Lisbon treaty debate, be it in the media or the political fora, is that those in favour of the treaty missed the opportunity to demonstrate a much more robust and self-confident approach and instead often seemed to want to exclude views with which they disagreed.

More :: Martin says Klaus comments on Lisbon ‘inappropriate’ (Irish Times)

Seanad relevance questioned with lack of Government legislation

November 12, 2008 § Leave a comment

There is an extraordinary absence of Government legislation in the Houses of the Oireachtas. We have debates on efficiency and relevance in respect of the public service and apparently the debate is bubbling away. Members have asked whether we should spend time considering efficiency in the public service but it may not be long before eyes start looking at this wing of the public service and deciding whether it is up to scratch in terms of its contribution. It is really extraordinary that, week in, week out, not a single Bill is brought forward. This draws attention to the debate on the efficiency and relevance of this House. We are to have statements on a number of issues this week but we do not have any opportunity to debate the issues that Members on this side of the House have been raising and on which they have been asking for a debate.

The Leader, Senator Donie Cassidy, told us we were to have a rolling debate on the economy. When will it start rolling? It has not happened yet. There is a very considerable debate taking place outside the Houses on whether the banks require capitalisation. It is taking place everywhere except in the Parliament of the people. Why can we not have scrutiny in the House and debate the various arguments for and against capitalisation? It seems the banking policy rests entirely on the guarantee that was given. The remainder of the policy is a matter of keeping one’s head down and hoping for the best. This is a fair definition of our national policy on the crisis that everybody else in the world recognises. We appear to believe it does not exist.

More :: Click here to see this week’s schedule in the Oireachtas

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