Thursday, 11 July 2019
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I thank 16 Members of the House for their contributions to the Order of Business. On my own behalf and that of the Fine Gael group and the House, I extend our deepest sympathy to the family of Brenda Grace - his wife, Eileen, and his four children - on his sad passing. As has been eloquently described here this morning, he was a gentle person, a person of huge compassion and a great entertainer. His tragic loss, as Senator Ruane eloquently said, is felt by his family more than anybody else. We offer them our condolences and sympathy. They are in our thoughts.
Noel Whelan was a person I got to know well and I spent many an hour in a radio studio engaging with him. He was an extraordinary person. His intellect was one of the best I ever encountered. His ability to mould a campaign, whether retention of the Seanad, marriage equality or repeal the eighth, was extraordinary. To his wife, Sinéad, their son, Séamus, and his family, we offer our deepest sympathy on their tragic loss, and at a very young age as well.
Senator Davitt raised the issue of councillors' pay and conditions. As the Senator will be aware, the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, commissioned Ms Sara Moorhead SC to chair a review. Publication of the review is imminent and we will have that debate in the new term. I join with Senator Davitt in recognising that there is a need for the pay and conditions of councillors to be improved.
The Senator made reference to the European Commission, as did Senator Bacik, in terms of the Commissioner appointments. Our country, as the Senators will be aware, has nominated the current Commissioner, Mr. Phil Hogan, to be reappointed. I note Dr. von der Leyen has asked for two. We all support the principle of gender balance. Unfortunately, it is well beyond my pay grade to give Senator Davitt the name of the person this morning, if there will be one. My personal view is that member states should retain their right to be able to nominate their own Commissioner and I would not like to see that being taken away from member states.
Senator Boyhan raised the issue of the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016. As Members will be aware, the commencement order was signed two years ago. Since then, we have seen 7,102 houses and 4,479 student bed spaces approved. Last year, An Bord Pleanála, within the 16 weeks, dealt with 39 cases. I note there was a case before the courts this week where the Southwood Park Residents' Association won a High Court decision against An Bord Pleanála. There is a balance to be struck regarding the fast-tracking of planning but there is also, as Senator Boyhan referenced, the need for an input from residents. We will have that debate in due course.
Senators Gavan and Higgins made reference to Shannon Airport. As Leader of the House, I have never ducked anywhere from anything. Senator Gavan has an opportunity in the Commencement debate to raise the issue of Shannon Airport any day he wants to.