Wednesday, 13 January 2016
Order of Business
I join others in wishing you, a Chathaoirligh, your staff and all present a happy new year. I also congratulate Mr. Peter Finnegan on his new appointment. I thank the Leader for facilitating a debate on flooding next week.
I express sympathy to all those who have been affected by the terrible floods of recent weeks. I hope we will see some resolution of the difficulties with insurance cover. It is very important that insurance companies are made to play their part in ensuring that people are not so badly affected by the floods.
I look forward to today's debate on Innovation 2020. I welcome the launch today by the Tánaiste and the Minister for Education and Skills of the Pathways to Work programme setting out 86 actions with the aim of increasing the numbers at work to 2.2 million by 2020. It is an ambitious target but it is realistic and achievable, particularly in light of the targets achieved in job creation and, as the Tánaiste said, in light of the very welcome further reduction in unemployment in the past month, which has now come down to 8.8%.
I believe this will come up in this afternoon's debate. It is a concern to see high dropout rates, particularly in the STEM subjects, science, technology, engineering and maths, in third level institutions. I know Senator Barrett, in particular, will agree with me on that. We need to focus our debate on that aspect because clearly it has the potential to have a detrimental effect on job creation.
Senator Darragh O'Brien mentioned garda recruitment. I wish to raise a particular issue that I may well submit as a matter on the Commencement next week. A number of constituents have raised with me the upper age limit of 35 for garda recruits and I am sure it has been raised with others. I raised the matter with the then Minister of State, Mr. Brian Hayes, MEP, in 2013. At that point, he said there would be a review of the upper age limit to see if it could be raised. I understand the age in Northern Ireland is higher and it seems to be a somewhat arbitrary cut-off point for recruitment to An Garda Síochána, particularly now that recruitment has reopened, which is a very welcome development.
I commend those United Nations workers who have been engaged in delivering aid to the besieged citizens in Syria. I support the Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, who spoke today about the need to end war crimes in Syria, noting that 400,000 Syrian people are living under siege in 15 locations across Syria and that besiegement of civilian populations is being used as a war crime by a number of parties to the conflict, notably by the Syrian Government. I commend all those humanitarian workers engaged in providing such much-needed assistance.