Tuesday, 5 November 2013
Order of Business
Senator O'Brien and others raised the issue of the water shortages in Dublin. The water shortages were caused by unforeseen circumstances and continue to be an inconvenience to householders and businesses. Senator Whelan, speaking on the same issue, was one of a number of Senators calling for a debate on water infrastructure. The development of the Garryhinch reservoir was also raised. We will endeavour to have a debate on the issue of water infrastructure.
Senator Keane mentioned rainwater harvesting. I will try to get the Minister to come to the House for a debate on the whole question of water. We debated the Irish Water legislation but, hopefully, we can have a more detailed debate in the coming weeks.
Senator Darragh O'Brien and several other Senators raised the property tax. I understand the Revenue Commissioners will clarify the situation in the newspapers and on the airwaves. Yesterday, the Minister for Finance clarified that nobody needs to pay the property tax before 2014.
Senator Bacik raised the proposed referendum on marriage equality. I have not heard the outcome of the Cabinet deliberations on the matter but I am sure it will be welcomed when the Cabinet decides on it. There have been a number of recommendations from the Constitutional Convention. Government and Parliament will decide whether to have referenda on those issues and I am sure that will be a matter for discussion in the House over the coming months. Senator van Turnhout raised child exploitation and abuse, especially the case outlined yesterday. As she mentioned, we had a very comprehensive debate on the EU directive. I will check the progress of legislation on that matter with the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter.
We welcome our colleague, Senator Norris, back to the House. He mentioned Seanad reform and property tax, which I have addressed. Senators O'Neill, Cullinane, Whelan, Kelly and Byrne and other Senators raised the EirGrid proposals. It is a matter of concern to citizens in many counties who will be affected by the pylons. Many people are bringing questions of health, farming and tourism to the attention of all Oireachtas Members. There was an Adjournment debate on this issue with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, a couple of weeks ago but I will ask him to come to the House to debate the issue. However, it is entirely a matter for him to decide whether he wishes to come to the House having been here only a fortnight ago for an Adjournment debate. Senator Cullinane has attended quite a number of meetings in Waterford and County Kilkenny, where he lives, and I note his points in that regard.
Senator O'Donovan raised the need for plain English in correspondence emanating from the Revenue Commissioners and all Departments and I could not agree more with him on that matter. Senator Hayden welcomed the setting up of a service for people in mortgage distress with AIB and called for an expert arm of MABS to deal with all lenders. We will raise that with the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, as I am sure will the Senator.
I would say to Senator Zappone that I am not aware of the Cabinet decision on the referendum on marriage equality but I am sure it will be addressed in the coming days. Senator Paul Coghlan raised the independence of the Revenue Commissioners and the prudence of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, in managing capital funding.
Senator Quinn raised the issue of Russian adoptions. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Fitzgerald, sought advice from the Attorney General and it is possible that retrospective legislation can address the matter.
I was contacted by the Minister on the matter. We would all welcome a resolution to the situation in which some families find themselves regarding Russian adoptions.
Senator Quinn referred to the €175 million allocated for start-up companies and how little progress there has been in the take-up of this funding. Senators have called on the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to be invited to the House to address the question of job creation. Hopefully, I will get him to attend in the coming weeks. However, legislation to deal with SMEs will be taken in the House in the next few weeks and that will give Members an opportunity to raise matters with him.
Senators Harte and Moran referred to the RTE programme "The Disappeared", which was broadcast last evening. It was an excellent production and our hearts go out to the relatives of those who disappeared. There are many questions to be asked of many people in this regard. Our heartfelt sympathies go to the families who have had to put up with this for many years. It is a dreadful situation.
Senator Whelan raised the matter of water infrastructure and the Garryhinch reservoir, which I have addressed.
Senator MacSharry referred to funding for professional sport. He mentioned soccer, in particular, and his emphasis was on the FAI. I share his concerns that players are hired on 40-week contracts and must go on the dole for the rest of the year, but I understand the funding for the new international team manager and his assistant will be primarily private funding rather than Government funding.
Senator Kelly raised the issue of discretionary medical cards. He should table the issue he raised as an Adjournment matter to get an exact response from the Minister for Health but I share his concerns about the withdrawal of such cards where they should not be withdrawn.
Senator O'Sullivan referred to the deaths of Denis Foley and Noel Davern. We would all like to convey our deepest sympathy to their families. I note the Senator's comments on a tax credit for people who have paid but I doubt that much attention would be given to that. They would probably not act on it.
Senator Moran also welcomed the announcement that HIQA will conduct independent inspections of residential homes and services for people with disabilities. Everyone involved will welcome that.
Senator Mooney called on the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to come to the House to address the issue of jobs and the need for greater balance in creating jobs in the regions. I agree that the vast majority of job announcements have related to Dublin, Dundalk, Cork, Galway and Limerick to a lesser degree and that there is a need for greater emphasis on the regions but, as Senator Mullins pointed out, 34,000 more people are at work now compared to this time last year, which is positive, and there are other positive aspects to employment issues.
I agree, however, that the whole question of regional balance where job creation is concerned should be addressed and debated in the House.
Senator Mary White referred to cuts in maternity benefit. We will have ample time to discuss that issue during the debate on the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill, with three hours allocated for Second Stage and as much time as is needed on Committee Stage tomorrow. I am sure the Senator will raise the points she has made today with the Minister when we come to discuss the relevant sections of the Bill.
We would all join with Senator John Gilroy in emphasising the importance of supporting women in sport, particularly women's soccer teams.
Senator Thomas Byrne referred to the appointment of the Ombudsman and Information Commissioner. As Senator Fidelma Healy Eames observed, that appointment was discussed by the relevant joint committee, the deliberations of which are available for examination by all Members. I note Senator Byrne's points regarding EirGrid.
Senator Cáit Keane spoke about water infrastructure, pointing out that the infrastructural deficiencies in Dublin were highlighted as a serious problem in 1997 but little happened in the intervening years. I hope we will see progress on that matter in the coming months and years.
Senator Healy Eames referred to anomalies in the provision of medical cards whereby the income threshold for a couple aged over 70 years is €900 while the threshold for a single person is €500. The Senator might table an Adjournment motion on that issue, which would allow her to discuss it with the Minister.
Finally, I note Senator Terry Brennan's advice on the issue of property tax payment.