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Senator Bacik speaking on the Expenses Scandal, and Funding for Education

08 October 2009

Order of Business

Senator Ivana Bacik: It is clear we need a debate on expenses. This Order of Business has effectively turned into a debate on expenses and allowances and I echo the calls of others on both sides of the House to the Leader for that debate. I share the concern expressed by others at the way in which all Members have been tarred with the same brush as a result of the revelations in The Sunday Tribune in particular but I urge caution about attacking the media.

The Sunday Tribune and others have done a public service in doing their job as investigative journalists in seeking—information on abuse. We need to be clear about this. Of course, the majority are not abusing the system of expenses but, where there are unjustifiable claims, overspending and lavish travel, there is real and justified public anger. I disagree with Senator Leyden who said this was just a distraction. We must consider the matter in the context of the real world, in which people are losing jobs and facing pay cuts and house repossessions for defaulting on mortgage repayments. People are more angered in such circumstances than they would be at any other time by revelations of excessive spending in the Houses of the Oireachtas or Ministers' expenses. We should make it clear in a debate that a different regime applies to Ministers' expenses. They are not subject to the same scrutiny as those of Members of the Seanad.

I ask the Leader for a debate on education. I welcome, as others have done, the good news that both UCD and Trinity College are now ranked in the top 100 colleges in the world. Trinity College has moved up to 43rd place and is now ranked 13th in Europe. This is excellent news and tribute must be paid to all involved, both students and staff. This ranking is in the face of very severe cutbacks in the education sector.

I echo Senator Hannigan's call for a debate on overall funding, particularly in the light of the disturbing news that funds allocated for the schools building programme were not fully spent, despite the clear needs of so many primary schools nationally. We need to address severe deficiencies in funding at third level. Yesterday I attended a protest organised by the students' union of Dublin Institute of Technology, DIT, at which protest the impact of cuts at the institute was very clearly outlined by the large numbers of students present. The DIT which has 22,000 students is the largest third level institute in Ireland. It makes a considerable commitment to facilitating disadvantaged and second-chance students. The cutbacks have had a severe impact and the hours worked by both full-time and part-time staff have been cut. The staff complement has decreased and laboratories and libraries have been closed. Even rubbish disposal has been affected; we have seen rubbish piling up in DIT campuses because of the absence of sufficient funding. We need to address this issue. The DIT is ranked only 326th in the world and needs to raise its status. However, it cannot do so in the present climate.