Wednesday, 10 July 2019
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I thank the 20 Senators who contributed to the Order of Business. Senators Ardagh, Norris, Feighan and Mullen referenced the decisions in Westminster yesterday that affect Northern Ireland. I congratulate Mr. Conor McGinn, MP, on his stewardship of the marriage equality debate yesterday and the decisions arising from it. It is an important decision for the UK Parliament and one which I very much welcome. Senator Ardagh had every entitlement to come into the House today and give her view on this matter, as did Senator Mullen. To be fair to Senator Ardagh, she has long been a champion of equality and women's reproductive rights. Senator Mullen has a different viewpoint. The UK Parliament has now taken a decision on these issues as they operate in the North, as did the Irish people in respect of this State. There are people in the North today celebrating the granting of marriage equality, which was previously denied to them. Ironically, this comes at a time when there is a lacuna of representation in Stormont. We all recognise the need to have the Assembly back up and running as soon as possible.
Senator Ardagh referred to jobs in the HSE. I do not have the answers to her questions. I do find commonality with her point that if a person is given a job and the relevant process is followed from A to Z, it should not take an inordinate amount of time to implement that appointment. Every contract takes a period to be issued, but we need to look at the delays the Senator highlighted. The HSE has been recruiting staff in the first quarter of this year and it is my understanding that there is no public sector freeze on recruitment. If Senator Ardagh has an issue concerning a particular individual, she should take it up with the Minister, or I can convey her concerns to him.
I agree with the Senator that the delays on the part of Bank of Ireland in processing social welfare payments are not acceptable. They place a significant burden and strain on people waiting for those payments.
Later today, after a further two hours of discussion, we will have completed 102 hours of debate on the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017. I will say no more on that other than to point Senators to what is proposed in the Order of Business.
Senator Conway-Walsh referred to poverty among pensioners. To be fair, the Government has done more than its predecessors in respect of the restoration of social protection payments to elderly people. Everybody qualifies for a pension, with means and circumstances deciding whether one is eligible for a non-contributory pension or a contributory pension. The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, introduced the homemaker's scheme, which has afforded recompense to some women who look after children in the home. The social welfare budget has increased every year under this Government. I do not wish to be discordant but all of us in this House who are active in our constituencies understand the difficulties people are facing. There is an issue in regard to how efforts to reduce energy consumption may impact on elderly people. I will be happy to have that debate when we return in the autumn.
Senator Norris raised an issue yesterday regarding the schedule, which he clarified today. His proposal for the appointment of a member of the Traveller community to Seanad Éireann is deserving of support. The hearings of the Seanad Public Consultation Committee are an important part of our work in this House, giving us an opportunity to deal with issues that might not necessarily be debated in the normal course of business. Our ability to have those hearings enables people to serve as rapporteurs and to present issues that might not otherwise be to the fore in our deliberations.
Senator Kieran O'Donnell referred to the report by Mr. Justice Iarfhlaith O'Neill on victims of abuse. I understand the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, is in the Dáil later today and will address the report, which the Government has accepted. We all look forward to that work being concluded.
Senators Kieran O'Donnell, Lombard, Paddy Burke, Gallagher and Marshall raised issues concerning the EU-Mercosur deal. I facilitated a discussion on this matter last week in the House, which was attended by the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Heather Humphreys. It is important that we continue to have these discussions as there is a long way to go on the deal. The briefing yesterday by the Irish Farmers Association gave a strong flavour of the view from the farming sector. Others, such as Mr. Dan O'Brien, have a different view. We need a running debate on the issues, which I am happy to accommodate in the new term.
Senator Murnane O'Connor noted the one-year anniversary of the GDPR and pointed to several issues with the regulation. Third-party compliance is challenging and we have seen some €56 million in fines this year already. However, compliance must be a prerequisite for everybody. I am happy to have a debate on the matter.
Senator Lombard's proposal that a delegation from the Seanad might travel to France to discuss the Mercosur deal with colleagues there is worth considering. I hope we can have a discussion in the Committee on Procedure and Privileges on how that might be facilitated.
Senator Mac Lochlainn spoke eloquently about an important local issue in south Inishowen. I do not have information on this particular matter, but I am happy to convey the Senator's concerns to the relevant Ministers.
I join colleagues in congratulating Mr. Phil Hogan on his nomination for a second term as a European Commissioner. He has done an extraordinarily good job, notwithstanding the comments around Mercosur. I hope he will remain in his current position or receive an elevation. We congratulate him on the very good job he has done.
Senator Paddy Burke highlighted issues relating to Dublin Port. The port's readiness for expansion and the other issues to which he referred are worthy of debate in the House.
Senators Marshall and Humphreys referred to climate change. We should all reflect on Senator Marshall's contribution, particularly his comments on afforestation, and Senator Humphreys's points about the EPA's report on air quality in Dublin. The findings in the report underline the importance of implementing the recommendations in the climate change action plan regarding electric vehicles, cycling, park-and-ride facilities, public transport and the elimination of vehicles that run on fossil fuels by 2030.That is why it is important that the Ministers, Deputies Bruton and Ross, will return to the House in the new term to discuss the matter raised.
If I am interpreting Senator Devine correctly, she is proposing an amendment to allow for a debate on her Private Members' Bill.