Wednesday, 11 December 2013
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Credit Reporting Bill 2012 - Second Stage, to be taken at 11.45 a.m. and conclude no later than 1.15 p.m., with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister or Minister of State to be called on to reply no later than 1.10 p.m.; No. 2, Health (Alteration of Criteria for Eligibility) (No. 2) Bill 2013 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 1.15 p.m. and to be adjourned no later than 3 p.m., if not previously concluded; No. 3, Finance (No. 2) Bill 2013 - Second Stage, to be taken at 3 p.m. and to conclude no later than 6 p.m., with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed six minutes, the Minister to be called on to reply to the debate no later than 5.50 p.m.; and No. 4, Private Members' business, Critical Utilities (Security of Supply) Bill 2013, to be taken at 6 p.m. and to conclude no later than 8 p.m.
I call for a debate on sport and sport development in this country early in the new year. Specifically, this debate should focus on the areas of the sustainability of some of our sporting bodies, such as the FAI and the IRFU. It is important to have the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, in the House for a full debate on how sport in general is funded and on which areas are well resourced and which are not. It is important to provide time for this debate early in the new year.
In regard to the pyrite Bill, which will establish the pyrite resolution board on a statutory basis, I understand it is to be introduced next Monday. This House has done a lot of work in this area. I ask for adequate time to be provided for this Bill and for time to be allowed between the various Stages so that we may revert to groups like the Pyrite Action Group and others for feedback from those affected. It is important adequate time is provided over a number of days. I welcome the Bill, although I have not seen it yet. We need time to examine it properly to ensure it is right and that the board starts off on a proper footing. I ask the Leader to request the Minister, Deputy Hogan, to ensure this time is provided.
I also call for a debate on the issue of health. The Department of Health is in meltdown. We were looking at an overspend this year of €351 million, but putting it mildly, through some very questionable accounting measures the Government has now brought this down to a €219 million supplementary payment that will have to be made to the Department of Health and the HSE to balance the books this year. This is being put in the context that next year the Government, apparently, will cut between €666 million and €1 billion from the health budget. The Minister for Health has had the service plan for almost two weeks now, but he has not published it. He will not do so because, as I said weeks ago, this is being staged to ensure the Minister publishes the HSE service plan when neither House is sitting.
I guarantee Members that this plan will be published towards the end of next week or early the following week so that there will be no scrutiny of it and that the Minister and the Government hope people will have forgotten about it by the time the Dáil and Seanad return on 16 January. I assure the House we will not forget about it. This is one of the most underhanded measures the Minister for Health and the Government have taken to date. This plan is months in the making and the Minister has delayed it time and again, purely to get to the Christmas recess. That is the only reason it has been delayed. We could be debating the plan this week and assisting make improvements in areas where we believe savings can be made.
The health service will not function with €1 billion removed from it. It is in meltdown at the moment. The Minister has proven time and again that he is not up to the job. I want the Minister to come to the House in our first week back to stand over the service plan of his HSE appointees. All of the people who serve on the board of the HSE are his appointees. The HSE plan is his plan and his Government's plan and it needs to be debated in full in early January.
I wish to add to Senator O’Brien’s comments on the pyrite Bill. There is real merit in the points he makes. We all welcome legislation to address this long overdue issue. It is clearly preferable that we would be given time to consider a Bill at each Stage, even a Bill that is welcomed by both sides, particularly when we have not seen the text of the Bill. We will all take that on board.
Yesterday Senator Hayden called for a debate on direct provision in the new year and I support her call. It is an issue that we have raised many times across the floor of the House, most recently in Private Members’ time. We should return to it because in years to come people will question why we did not do more to stop the appalling conditions that some people in direct provision are living in and to address some of the issues that have arisen in the direct provision hostels and so forth. The Minister has been promising the immigration, residence and protection Bill and we will discuss the direct provision context in that context, but if the Bill is not due to come to the House until later in the first quarter of the new year, we might have a debate specifically on direct provision in advance of that.
May I request a debate on the findings of the Smithwick tribunal, about which there has been much comment since the publication of the report. Clearly the findings are a cause of concern. It will take some time for us to read through it. I have certainly had a look through it, but I would like to have more time to review it and that we would have a debate on it in the new year. I am sure my colleagues will share that view. We will have a meeting of the justice committee today and I think many members will raise it at that meeting also.
As regards the reports of sex abuse against children in institutional care, yesterday the audits from the Catholic dioceses raised very disturbing findings, in particular in relation to the scale of allegations against Christian Brothers. I know we have had debates on the Murphy commission report and the Ryan report, but may I ask the Leader for a debate in a timely fashion in the new year to consider what has been done in the wake of those reports and in order to implement the recommendations of those reports and protect children against such abuse in the future.
I agree with my colleague, Senator Bacik, on the issue of direct provision. It is very important that we have a debate on matters relating to immigration and the relevant legislation, in particular about direct provision. Many people have a concern that the current system of direct provision and the way that people are being treated is an affront to human dignity. I would like to see it being debated in the Seanad as soon as possible.
Recently I spoke to an Irish language scholar and discussed the emergence of new words and phrases in various languages. Everybody is aware of what a "selfie" is, thanks to the antics of President Obama and others yesterday. We were trying to come up with an Irish phrase to cover the concept of a top-up and my friend suggested crúb sa phoca. I think that captures the greed in our society and the greed that seem to underlay the policy of paying top-ups to people who are already very well paid. This is a matter of considerable concern. I have been told in recent days that people have stopped their standing orders to certain charities. What is really damaging, and this has been pointed out by the head of Bóthar, is the loss of confidence in charities, which do not warrant this loss of confidence, because people are afraid the money they are donating is being wasted. That is part of the real harm.
It is important to send out a message that people should not stop giving to charity because of what has happened. They should certainly be more discerning but they should ensure that their level of charitable giving continues, in particular to organisations that do not spend a large amount of money on salaries and administration. We should welcome that the former chief executive of the Central Remedial Clinic has remitted a portion of his salary to the Health Service Executive. I wish the Committee of Public Accounts every success in examining this matter. There can be a time when it is appropriate to compel witnesses to come before the Committee of Public Accounts. The aim of the exercise should not be to humiliate anybody. I do not know if it is appropriate for Mr. Conlon to come before the committee of his own volition or to be compelled to do so.
I have no brief for anybody in this and I regret the culture of top-ups that seems to have existed but the people who must come before the committee are those who authorised such payments. I am certainly not interested in the humiliation of those who received excessive payments, if they did so lawfully but those who were involved in authorising such payments, either for themselves or for others, should certainly be called before the committee to give an account of their actions. We need the work of the committee to focus on ensuring that this practice does not occur in the future and that proper structures are put in place to make sure that is the case.
I welcome the fact that on Human Rights Day yesterday a very dangerous report on abortion, the Estrela report, which sought among other things, to try to pretend that abortion is some kind of human right and to close down conscientious objections of doctors and others, was defeated in the European Parliament. It was defeated narrowly, it must be said, which is a matter of concern, but it was defeated nonetheless, thanks to an alternative motion tabled by the European People's Party, among others. That was a very positive development on Human Rights Day, underlining the fact that these matters must be left to member states to decide and that there should be no attacks on the right to conscientious objection.
In the approach to Christmas, I draw the attention of the House to the fact that Ireland is the fifth worst offender in the world in terms of throwing out food. We throw out an average of 280 kg per person per year of food.
We waste around €700 per person per year, which is an awful lot of money. The level of waste is even more concerning in the context of the number of people in the world who are starving. I wish to compliment the charity Bia Food Bank which was established in 2012 and is deserving of help. I saw a television programme last week presented by Philip Boucher-Hayes, who discussed the issue of food waste with shopkeepers and restaurant owners in Cork. It was very interesting to see how much food waste could be prevented through awareness and education. We have a duty to ensure that we help Bia Food Bank in its efforts to alleviate food poverty in Ireland. The charity is only serving a small area in Dublin at the moment but is planning to expand into areas in Cork and Galway in 2014 and in Donegal and Sligo in 2015. It will not be able to do this on its own and the Government has a duty to help it.
The EPA is running a Stop Food Waste campaign but we do not hear enough about it. I am simply trying to raise awareness of the issue in the run-up to Christmas. I am asking people to think about food and about preventing food waste. Last week one of the Sunday newspapers published a graph showing average consumer expenditure at Christmas and Irish consumers were way off the scale in comparison with our European neighbours. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the subject of waste prevention in the new year.
It is three weeks before Christmas and, unfortunately, one of the country's most popular department stores closed last Saturday as workers embarked on a one-day stoppage over pension rights. I understand we will see another stoppage at Marks and Spencer tomorrow. This is a no-win situation for the workers, the company and the general public. The company has a reputation for quality, not only in its products but also in terms of its record as an employer. The general perception is that Marks and Spencer is a good employer which respects its workers and provides them with decent terms and conditions. However, its decision to close the workers' defined benefit pension scheme, which it is now arguing is discretionary, flies in the face of that general perception. In September of last year discussions took place between the company, the Mandate trade union, SIPTU and the workers involved. A number of proposals were put by the company to the unions aimed at saving money and an assurance was given to the workers that what was on the table at that time was the full entirety of the savings plan. The company then unilaterally decided to close the defined benefit scheme which was a bombshell for the workers. We must stand in solidarity with the workers involved here and indeed, with the many other workers who are facing a crisis in their pensions. We saw what happened with workers at the ESB and Waterford Crystal.
If the Senator from the Labour Party wants to take exception to anything I have said, he is entitled to do so but I stand in solidarity with workers who are seeing their pension rights attacked by companies. We are talking, in many instances, about workers in low-paid jobs. The vast majority of those in the retail sector are low-paid workers. We are having this discussion on the same day that one of my colleagues, Senator Quinn, is introducing a Bill to the House that would essentially criminalise workers and their unions for taking strike action.
It criminalises some workers and we will have that debate later on. The intent of the Bill is to open up a discussion about all of these issues and I will take the opportunity this evening to air my views on the Bill. In the context of the industrial action at Marks and Spencer, I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on pensions because both public and private sector workers are very concerned about this issue. It is important that we would debate the matter early in the new year.
I support the call by Senator O'Brien for a debate on the issue of sport and sports development. He spoke about funding for sport and we could also debate sponsorship of sporting organisations by drinks companies. We could have a wider debate on the potential of sport to create employment, which is an issue that merits further examination. I would welcome such a debate in the new year.
I also ask the Leader to organise a debate with the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, on the possibility of streamlining the Garda vetting process. We all appreciate the fact that the vetting process is vitally important in ensuring the safety of children and vulnerable adults. However, the system is cumbersome. Currently a person is vetted for a particular purpose rather than for a period of time. This means that an individual who is working with a number of organisations has to go through the vetting process several times. In the voluntary sector many people very generously give of their time to many organisations. In that context, it would make eminent sense to have a system under which a person is vetted on one occasion. That would bring greater flexibility and efficiency to the system. The individual could be vetted again after a period of two years. The volume of vetting in this country is very significant. It is expected that 350,000 people will go through the system this year alone. The current waiting time is about seven weeks. The elimination of duplication would bring much greater efficiency to the system and reduce the amount of bureaucracy involved. It is worth giving serious consideration to this suggestion and I hope the Minister will make himself available for a debate on the matter in the new year.
I wish to move an amendment to the Order of Business. I ask that either the Minister for Health or one of the troika of Ministers overseeing the Department, namely, Deputy Howlin, Deputy Noonan or the Taoiseach, would make himself available to the House today to discuss the spending overrun in the Department and the HSE service plan which was published a number of weeks ago.
It appears that the overrun now stands at €350 million, €199 million of which is being made available through a Supplementary Estimate which will be discussed by the Select Sub-Committee on Health tomorrow. I believe that Supplementary Estimate should be discussed by these Houses and not just by the Select Sub-Committee on Health, a committee which often sits at the same time as the Order of Business is taking place in this House, which is disrespectful to the primary business of the Seanad.
It will be discussed in the Dáil next week. I gather the remainder of the shortfall will be made up from, among other areas, €82 million in pension lump sums. Is this being taken from some pension scheme? Will this affect future superannuation payments? We have heard much talk in recent weeks about how pension funds are under-resourced and so forth. What implications will the taking of another €50 million from capital expenditure and the transfer of savings from the Department of Health have for the Health Service Executive?
I do not wish to be personal about the Minister for Health. However, it is simply unacceptable that this level of mismanagement is allowed to continue. It is not the Minister’s fault but it is somebody’s. Questions need to be answered. Meanwhile the chief executive officers of various hospitals have pointed out in writing that their hospitals are at breaking point, with budget overruns of €67 million. We have not even got to the position of trying to get the €666 million in so-called savings for next year. In its final assessment of the Irish position, the EU cautioned that, looking to the future, in view of the fact that only 30% of the Minister’s predicted savings were made, there were serious implications for the health budget.
While I appreciate that the Minister has made himself available to the House to discuss legislation - he will he here today to deal with legislation - the overall financing of health and its management needs a specific debate urgently.
The overall health budget is €13 billion. The amount we are talking about to balance the budget is very small in comparison. It is a budget that can be very variable. One cannot predict at the start of the year the demands on the budget by the end of the year. Is Senator MacSharry suggesting that we close down two or three hospitals to make up the budget? We have to provide a health service and that is what the Minister is doing very well. He has made services far more efficient, getting better value for the taxpayer.
As toys are purchased coming up to Christmas, an issue arises with regard to defective products. In 2008, the then European Commissioner went to China to make representations about the number of defective items coming from there. One problem was the use of lead paint in toys, which is dangerous for children. As a result of these representations, the Chinese authorities closed down more than 700 factories involved in supplying defective products. A good and robust system has been put in place to deal with defective items.
These days many people purchase toys online. People need to ensure that products they purchase outside Europe are safe and are not a risk to children. An advertising campaign may be needed to raise awareness of this issue. It is important that when a defective item is identified, the relevant authorities are notified so that it can be removed across the State and Europe through the Rapid Exchange of Information System, RAPEX.
I wish to correct something Senator Cullinane said earlier. While I am delighted that he will speak on my Critical Utilities (Security of Supply) Bill 2013, it is incorrect of him to suggest that it proposes to make it a criminal offence for utility workers to strike.
I was delighted to hear Senator Keane raise the issue of food waste and the efforts to reduce this in Cork, as well as the Bord Bia food bank. There are other similar efforts elsewhere and we should do everything to publicise them. The waste of food is sinful. The Crosscare agency in Dublin is doing a great job which could be repeated across the country.
Will the Leader consider a debate in the new year on human rights and older people? A policy document on this issue was launched yesterday in Dublin City Hall, based on the Seanad’s public consultation session on community health service held last year. We need to publicise how the Seanad brought this to the forefront. I know Senator White has spoken on the issue in the past. The Seanad initiated this policy document and its recommendations, which deserve much more attention. I would like to think the Seanad can continue in this regard and have a debate on the issue of human rights and older people in the new year.
I wish to remind students this morning that college application deadlines are coming up in January. It is important that they are aware of this and that they fill in their applications promptly. Agricultural courses are very popular again. Demand for agricultural engineers is very high. The Institute of Technology Tralee, ITT, has fielded weekly calls from prospective employers inquiring about graduates from its courses, which highlights the growth in the agricultural machinery sector. Up to 25,000 of the 58,000 jobs created over the past several months were in the agricultural sector. I urge students to consider applying for agricultural courses.
Will the Leader organise a debate on the seven reports published yesterday by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland? The debate should focus not just on reporting mechanisms in the past and the severe failures among religious orders and dioceses in that regard, but how they treat survivors of abuse now. They are survivors, as many people, because of the abuse they suffered and the cover-ups by the religious orders involved, took their own lives.
I would also like to have a debate on the report on the Christian Brothers and their current attitude towards survivors of abuse. They are continuing to abuse survivors. The way they treat them in the legal system is nothing short of abuse. Last month, there was a case in which the Christian Brothers admitted 450 different counts of abuse. They employed two senior counsels and two junior counsels and dragged the survivor in question through the High Court for four days, not contesting that abuse took place but fighting the amount of compensation the victim would get. Not only did they do this, but they also employed one of the most reputable - if one could use that word in this case - but notorious criminal lawyers in the State, who defends murderers, rapists and drug dealers.
Every person is entitled to a defence for whatever crime he or she may have committed. That is part of natural justice, so I advise the Senator to be careful in the words he uses. He cannot cast aspersions on people who are-----
I beg the Leas-Chathaoirleach's indulgence on this. The question the Christian Brothers and other orders must ask themselves is what Christ would do, what the Pope would do. When the Pope took the name of St. Francis he did so because he said, "Where there is darkness let us bring light, where there is despair let us bring hope." The Christian Brothers are bringing neither hope nor light but aggressively challenging cases.
The Leas-Chathaoirleach was over-indulgent and lenient with the preceding speaker. I will not go down that road except to agree that to indicate who an individual is by saying he or she is notorious by virtue of the defence he or she has been asked to give to somebody, is totally out of order.
I support Senator Bacik's call regarding the Smithwick tribunal report, if I have not done so already. I think I did last week. The judge and his team put a tremendous amount of work into that, not just the report but everything they did over the last number of years. It is unfortunate that some people who eventually came to them in private refused to submit themselves to be tested and cross-examined in the public sessions. In that report the judge made a vital recommendation on the wonderful co-operation that exists between the Garda Síochána and the PSNI that there be a more structured, focused and defined approach rather than an ad hoc approach. Because of the alleged smuggler mentality, with which Senator Wilson and others would be much more familiar than I, that is alleged to exist on both sides of the Border-----
I thank the Chair for his guidance, as ever. Because of that we need something further there. I propose, as I have done before, establishing some suitably located joint offices as an aid to the Garda and the PSNI in policing that allegedly difficult area on both sides. There are buildings along the Border that might be a little bit on one side or the other. That does not matter. Such offices or stations should be available jointly to the Garda and the PSNI to work from.
I commend the Justice for the Undocumented group, supported by the Migrant Rights Centre, who are doing a 24-hour vigil at the gates of Leinster House from now until tomorrow morning. I call on all Senators, if possible, to call out and talk to them about the issues they are raising about undocumented migrants in this State and the support they would like them to receive.
Tá an-díomá orm leis an fhreagra a fuair mé ón gCeannaire inné ar a gceist a bhí ann maidir leis an Coimisinéir Teanga agus go dtiocfaidh an tAire McGinley insteach le míneadh a thabhairt chun taca seo, faoin gcás sin agus ceard a dhéanfaidh an Rialtas faoi.
I was very disappointed with the Leader's reply yesterday on the issue of the Irish Language Commissioner. It is a very serious issue and has been raised with me again and again by Irish language groups. It is being debated in the media. The Minister, Deputy McGinley, is on radio stations discussing the issue ad nauseam. The Minister is always available for matters on the Adjournment and he was here last night to hear the Adjournment debate on matters which were not even related to his portfolio, so access to the Minister is not the issue. Rather it is the willingness of the Government to debate why the Irish Language Commissioner felt he had to resign because he felt he was not getting proper support from the Government.
This is the biggest issue that has arisen in Irish language circles in many years. It is also a much broader issue in that it is the first time such a commissioner has resigned in such a matter. That is a serious, urgent issue that needs to be debated. I call on the Leader once more to facilitate a debate on the issue with the Minister of State, Deputy McGinley, as soon as possible. The commissioner is to resign at the end of February. He has indicated that whoever takes over from him needs to have these issues addressed before then, and we will not be back until mid-January so I ask that this debate happens before Christmas.
Tá an cheist an-tábhachtach seo á phlé sa Dáil inniu, de réir cosúlachta, agus ní ceart go mbeadh an Teach seo in áit na leathphingine. Ba cheart go mbeadh díospóireacht againn ar an ábhar sa Teach seo chomh maith. Má táimid in ann é a phlé amuigh sna meáin, ba chóir go mbeimid in ann é a phlé anseo sa Seanad. Mura dtagann an tAire Stáit isteach inniu nó amárach leis an gceist seo a chur os ár gcomhair, masla a bheidh ann don Teach seo.
I have a question for the Leader which I would have raised on the Adjournment but I would like some advice. We are all aware that this is human rights week. I have some issues around how human rights are upheld at a national level here. Last year when the heads of Bill on the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Bill were published by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, he made a commitment to ensure that the body would be more effective, efficient and cohesive than the bodies before. He indicated that with the merger there would be saving of €500,000. He also admitted that the €4.4 million in funding made available for 2013 may not meet the new body's staffing and operational needs. Yet I understand that the new body's budget for 2014 has been cut again.
The Human Rights Commission operates on fewer than six staff members. The Equality Authority has 28 and during 2012 it operated with only one solicitor. That is unacceptable and unsustainable. The Minister, Deputy Shatter, recently said funding and staffing levels must be restored to a level which will allow the new commission to operate in an efficient and effective manner. At the recent launch of the two bodies' annual reports he indicated that some difficulties had arisen between his Department and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in reaching a consensus on the budget and staffing allocation for the long-awaited new body.
This is still going on but with the proposal from the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, that the funding should be cut for 2014 and Deputy Shatter challenging that. Perhaps the Leader could advise me. Should I request both Ministers to come in and address these issues? Maybe we could get the negotiations completed to ensure we do not have a cut for 2014 to ensure the beginning of that very important body will be sustainable.
Is mian liom tréaslú leis an Seanadóir Ó Clochartaigh maidir leis an méid atá ráite aige mar gheall ar an gCoimisinéir Teanga. Tá sé ceart go bhfuil práinn faoi leith ag baint leis an gceist seo. Ag cruinniú den choiste Oireachtais inné, socraíodh go ndéanfar plé ar an ábhar seo. Tá sé i gceist ag an gcoiste cuireadh a thabhairt don iar-Choimisinéir, agus b'fhéidir an Coimisinéir nua. Ba bhreá liom a fheiceáil go mbeadh rud éigin déanta faoi seo roimh na Nollag.
On another matter, might the Leader find us even one hour to discuss the excellent work being done by charities in this country?
The country has a very proud record when it comes to supporting charitable causes. The recent controversies in the charities sector have not helped. We do not have all of the facts and are not privy to them. The goalposts keep changing and there is sensationalism, but those who will suffer are those who need help and support. There is no doubt that there is a degree of confusion among the public. I am not asking for an hour to discuss the controversies; I am asking for an hour in order that we can speak about the work of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Simon and the hundreds of other charities beavering away every hour of the day to help people who cannot help themselves. Whatever stand we take as a result of the controversies, we should not punish those who need help and support. We have had great debates in the House, but at Christmas time I cannot think of anything more important than an opportunity to publicise the good work of charities, to put people's minds at ease and to ask them to continue the generosity evident in the country during the years. I am very emotional about this issue when I see people who need our help urgently and immediately. They are not part of the great debate or the controversies. All they want to do is live and survive with dignity. If the Leader can help us by providing an hour to give us a chance to help these charitable groups by acknowledging and endorsing their work, it would be good for us as a people. It would be right to do it in Seanad Éireann.
For a long time many economists, including Colm McCarthy whom the Government is happy to reference and quote on a regular basis, have referred to the wind energy strategy as economic lunacy, a disaster and not financially viable. The previous Government was warned by the same economists that we were in a property bubble. It did not listen and it cost taxpayers €64 billion. The wind energy strategy has the potential to cause an even bigger crash in the very near future. Will the Leader bring the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to the House to prove to us that the wind energy strategy is economically viable? We need to see the figures and start listening to the same economists who tried to advise the previous Government.
I second Senator Marc MacSharry's amendment to the Order of Business.
Ba mhaith liom tréaslú leis an Seanadóir Ó Ceallaigh i dtaca leis an gceist sin. I support Senator John Kelly's call for a debate on the issue of the multi-million euro wind energy industry. Every citizen with an electricity bill pays for the wind energy industry through a public service obligation levy of approximately €10. Where does this money go? It goes to fund the wind energy sector. It is a bubble which is getting bigger under the watch of the European Commission and the Minister. We need a debate on the issue. International investors now see Ireland as ripe for pickings.
On rural development funding, there has been much discussion on Pillars 1 and 2 of the CAP and the co-funding requirements. Funding for rural development under Pillar 2 is split approximately 50:50. A total of €4.8 billion was available under the rural development programme from 2007 to 2013. At the end of November €800 million of this money had not been spent. Ireland will lose this European Union money if it is not spent. It is for rural Ireland which is losing out. The rural broadband scheme was launched by the previous Government and continued by the Government, but it is now off the radar. Ireland will lose €13.5 million because the Government has decided to scrap the scheme. A total of 12,500 properties in the State do not have access to broadband. Many of these are in rural areas such as Arranmore Island, Tory Island and Dunlewey in County Donegal. In reply to a recent parliamentary question the Government stated there was no demand. I contacted the companies willing to provide the service and they wrote to me to state they had not even been consulted. The Scottish Government has drawn down money and provided the service for 2,500 residents. It is outrageous.
Yes. I know time is tight before Christmas, but it would be unfortunate if the money was not drawn down or advances were not made between now and the new year. I appeal to the Leader to debate this issue, if not before Christmas, as soon as we return. Why should the country and rural Ireland lose out when the money is available?
It is very much welcome that the Minister for Justice and Equality will announce today in Templemore at the passing out of newly qualified Garda Reserve recruits that he will open recruitment for new members of the Garda Síochána. I hope an adequate number will be appointed fairly soon. I request the Leader to invite the Minister to the House in order that we can hear his plans for the Defence Forces. Since he took over as Minister for Defence, the numbers serving in the Defence Forces have reduced dramatically. He has closed Army barracks throughout the country and depleted the resources available to the Defence Forces to carry out their duties. Now he is reducing the numbers employed. This is not good enough and the issue requires to be debated urgently.
I call on the Leader again for a debate on the Smithwick tribunal report. Very serious findings were made regarding the Garda Síochána and I would very much welcome a debate as soon as we return in the new year.
I agree with Senator Paul Coghlan and would also welcome more co-operation between the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Garda Síochána in tackling diesel laundering and other illegal activities which cost the State millions per year in lost revenue. I would not like to detract from the fact that communities in the Border area are law-abiding. Senator Paul Coghlan might not like to highlight the fabulous scenery and excellent tourist potential in the area.
I support the positive work charities do, following what Senator Ó Labhrás Murchú stated. I am relying on the Society of St. Vincent de Paul to help a man with a bill of €1,440 in order that he can have his electricity switched on. Without the support of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, we will be lost because there is no heart in the ESB to deal with such cases. Such positive work must continue to be supported.
I welcome the important independent Supreme Court decision to allow work on an ecological development centre to proceed in County Wicklow. It is a great decision for the nation and County Wicklow. The project will mean 2,000 construction jobs and 800 jobs in the ICT and horticulture sectors. It could have been lost to Ireland because of unreasonable delays in the planning process. The planning process for the project has continued for two or three years and I do not know how the entrepreneur involved stuck with it. He obtained planning permission in County Wicklow which was the subject of an appeal by An Bord Pleanála. That is fine and I have no difficulty with the process. However, he was brought to the High Court where he won, but he was then taken to the Supreme Court.
We are all interested in sustainable jobs. We are interested in an open and transparent planning process. I believe the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government will be in the House all next week. Can the Leader provide one hour for a debate on An Bord Pleanála? To whom is it accountable? Who oversees its decisions? What justifies it appealing a case from the High Court to the Supreme Court, with the loss this country could have experienced by such a decision? Misery has been put on Irish people over the last few years because of a lack of jobs, and the lost opportunity that has been here for at least two to three years. This is part of a much broader debate. An Bord Pleanála must be reviewed.
Senators O'Brien and Mullins are looking for a debate on sport with the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, so we will try to arrange that for early in the new year.
The pyrite Bill is due to come before this House on Monday. The Minister expressed the wish to deal with all Stages on Monday, but I will take on board the considerations of Senators O'Brien, Bacik and others that we should break that up if at all possible. I know it was the Minister's intention to bring it before the other House next week. We will facilitate him as much as we can, and given that it is such a small Bill, I think it can be dealt with together, but perhaps we should not deal with all Stages together. I will certainly take that into consideration when planning next week's business.
Senator O'Brien also called for a debate on health. I outlined last week that the Minister had until 16 December to accept or reject proposals that came from the HSE on the service plan. It is unlikely that we can have a debate on it, but hopefully we can bring the Minister before the House early in the new year. Senator MacSharry also called for a similar debate. I still must remind people that under Article 28.4.1 of the Constitution, the Executive is accountable to Dáil Éireann. I cannot compel Ministers to come in here. I can ask them to come in, and we have succeeded in having them in here on a regular basis, but it is not my in my remit to compel them.
Senator Bacik spoke about direct provision. We mentioned that yesterday in respect of the report from the Irish Refugee Council. I am sure that we will have a debate on that in the new year. She also asked when the immigration, residence and protection Bill will come into the House, and I will get back to her on that. Senator Bacik, along with Senators Coghlan and Wilson, also called for a debate on the Smithwick report. I have already agreed that we would have that debate early in the new year with the Minister for Justice and Equality. Senator Bacik also called for progress to be made on the recommendations in the various reports on child abuse. We have addressed this matter on several occasions, but this new tranche of reports certainly need to be debated as well.
Senator Mullins commented on the public accounts committee's examination of the CRC. That is a matter for the committee and I think it will deal well with that. Senator Keane raised the issue of food waste, which is something Senator Quinn has raised on several occasions, as recently as yesterday when he spoke about food provenance. I note her points on the issue. Senator Cullinane spoke about the dispute at Marks and Spencer. I hope that both sides can come together and reach agreement soon on the issue. The Senator called for a pensions debate. The Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2013 was discussed here last week and the week before, so I am not sure if we will have an another one in early course, but we certainly come back to it at some stage. Senator Mullins also spoke about the streamlining of the Garda vetting process. Considerable progress has been made to date in that, but I agree with the Senator that more needs to be done. We can ask the Minister for Justice and Equality for an update on that process.
Senator Burke spoke about toys, the importance of safety and risk of purchasing online from countries outside the EU. It is important to highlight that coming up to Christmas, when people may be inclined to buy on the Internet. They should remember the importance of health and safety when purchasing toys in particular. Senator Quinn spoke about the policy document on human rights for older people in Ireland. As he rightly pointed, our first public consultation committee contained a very comprehensive report on that issue. This House initiated that and we can certainly have a further debate on it in the new year.
Senator Comiskey spoke about growth in the agrisector and encouraged students to take up the many courses that are in place in our institutes of technology and universities. Senator Daly spoke about the fourth tranche of reviews on the safeguarding of practice in the Catholic dioceses and religious congregations, and he made references to the Christian Brothers. We will arrange a debate on that whole area in the new year. Senator Ó Clochartaigh spoke about the resignation of an Comisinéir Teanga. This is the third time the issue has been raised by the Senator. We dealt comprehensively with it on the Order of Business last week. He raised it yesterday and he has raised it again today. It is a very important issue and it is important that a new commissioner be appointed in early course to replace the person who has resigned. Last week we thanked him for his efforts.
Senator Zappone raised the issue of the amalgamation of the Human Rights Commission and the Equality Authority, and said that it must be run in an efficient and effective manner. That is what the Minister for Justice and Equality actually stated. We have had cuts in many areas, and that is a matter for the Minister, Deputy Howlin. He has dealt with every Minister on the issue of cuts in expenditure, which is absolutely necessary. We can have a discussion on it, but I think we should request the Minister for Justice and Equality to come in and discuss the matter.
Senators Ó Murchú and Healy Eames spoke about the work of the charity sector. There is no doubt that many worthy charities, such as the St. Vincent de Paul and Simon, are hit by recent events. It is very important that these charities be supported. We have a very comprehensive list of Bills to get through over the next week and we will be sitting until Friday week, so I do not know if I can get in an hour's debate on that subject. People have called for several items to be debated. Senator Kelly called for a debate on wind energy and the economic viability of such a strategy. We will ask the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, to come before the House in the new year. Senator Ó Domhnaill called for a debate on CAP and Pillar 2 co-funding. I can assure him that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine is working hard on that and that we should have an announcement on it very soon.
Senator Wilson welcomed the Garda recruitment notice and asked for the Minister for Justice and Equality to come in and outline his future plans for the Defence Forces. I am sure the Minister will be quite willing to do that. Finally, Senator Healy Eames spoke about the ecological centre in Wicklow and called for a debate on An Bord Pleanála. I doubt if we can have that before Christmas. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government will be here with the local government Bill, the pyrite Bill and the water services Bill between now and next Friday week, so there may be an opportunity to discuss An Bord Pleanála under the first of those Bills, but I cannot have a particular debate on the issue before then.
Senator MacSharry has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister for Health, Finance or Public Expenditure and Reform on the health budget overrun and the HSE service plan be taken today." However, the amendment was not seconded in the debate and consequently falls.
- Thomas Byrne
- David Cullinane
- Mark Daly
- Terry Leyden
- Marc MacSharry
- Rónán Mullen
- Darragh O'Brien
- Denis O'Donovan
- Ned O'Sullivan
- Trevor Ó Clochartaigh
- Brian Ó Domhnaill
- Labhrás Ó Murchú
- Averil Power
- Feargal Quinn
- Kathryn Reilly
- Diarmuid Wilson
- Ivana Bacik
- Terry Brennan
- Colm Burke
- Deirdre Clune
- Eamonn Coghlan
- Paul Coghlan
- Michael Comiskey
- Martin Conway
- Maurice Cummins
- Jim D'Arcy
- Michael D'Arcy
- John Gilroy
- Aideen Hayden
- Lorraine Higgins
- Caít Keane
- John Kelly
- Denis Landy
- Mary Moran
- Tony Mulcahy
- Michael Mullins
- Hildegarde Naughton
- Catherine Noone
- Mary Ann O'Brien
- Susan O'Keeffe
- Pat O'Neill
- Tom Shehan
- Jillian van Turnhout
- John Whelan
- Katherine Zappone