Seanad debates

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

2:30 pm

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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The Order of Business is No. 61a, Private Members' business, to be taken at 3.45 p.m. and to conclude not later than 5.45 p.m.; and No. 1, Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill 2014 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 6 p.m. and to adjourn not later than 8 p.m. if not previously concluded.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome everyone back to the Seanad. I do not know whether Members met the group of former IBRC mortgage holders outside Leinster House today. Many of the 13,000 loans are performing and have no protection under Irish legislation. Those concerned have no protection under Irish legislation since their mortgages were sold on. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, stated that he would introduce legislation to protect such people in 2015. Our understanding is that legislation will not be retrospective and will deal with future sales of mortgage books to international vulture funds. I have raised this issue on a number of occasions in the House. Colleagues on both sides share my concern. There are 13,000 mortgage holders in Ireland who had the protection of the Central Bank and the watered down code of conduct on mortgage arrears. I would like the Leader to ask the Minister, Deputy Noonan, what his intention is in that regard, when he will publish legislation, and not to forget those who have already had their legs taken from under them because their mortgages have been sold on. We can do some work in this regard to ensure everyone gets the protection they need.

I raised the issue of the MS drug Fampyra a number of times before the recess and had hoped the matter had been resolved. I wrote on numerous occasions to the previous Minister for Health and raised the issue with the current Minister in the House. Hundreds of MS sufferers across Ireland were availing of the drug which improved their mobility and gave them back their independence. Since 1 July this year they have not been able to access the drug. I wrote to the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, and he said the drug company had sent a revised proposal to him on 22 July. We are now in the middle of September. I have received e-mails from people who are no longer working and I know of two women who cannot work because their mobility is so bad. The drug costs only €270 a month. I ask the Leader to use his good office to lean on the HSE to make a decision in regard to this drug immediately. I would welcome the intervention of the Leader.

I give a guarded welcome to the announcement yesterday from the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, on the civilianisation of immigration services in Dublin Airport. The Minister stated this will free up 125 gardaí for front line duty with the transfer of staff from her Department to look after immigration in the airport. My initial reaction is that this is a good move. I ask that the Minister come before the House to take questions on this issue.

We are all aware, however, that a large number of Garda stations, not only in rural locations but also in urban areas, have had their staff numbers reduced or part-time staffing introduced, while others have been closed. Within a short distance of Dublin Airport, for example, Malahide and Howth Garda stations close at 9 p.m., and Whitehall and Rush stations have been closed. In regard to the 125 gardaí the Minister has indicated will be released to core policing duties, it would be helpful to have details of the roll-out, including where and how soon they will be posted. It would be welcome if the Minister uses those resources to beef up Garda numbers in areas where the previous Minister reduced them. Will the Leader arrange for the Minister to come in at the earliest opportunity to outline her plans in this regard and answer questions on the proposed civilianisation of immigration services at Dublin Airport?

2:35 pm

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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I welcome colleagues back and hope they all had a refreshing break. Will the Leader facilitate debates in anticipation of the budget, which will be announced in four weeks time? This budget comes in the context of the positive economic figures we have seen in recent months, particularly the continued fall in unemployment, which everybody welcomes. I likewise welcome the publication today of the Government's new legislative programme, which focuses on job creation measures and securing economic recovery. In the course of this session we will debate industrial relations legislation, a credit guarantee (amendment) Bill and legislation relating to the European Stability Mechanism, among other Bills dealing specifically with supporting the wider economy. In addition, I hope we also will have extensive debates on legislation that is coming forward in the area of social recovery. For example, the Government will publish Bills on the Judicial Council, children and family relationships, gender recognition and climate action. A significant portion of this legislation deals with issues that were carried over from the previous Government - the climate change Bill being an obvious example - and which it will be good to see finally on the legislative agenda.

Notwithstanding our busy legislative schedule, I ask the Leader to accommodate a debate on penal policy in light of the launch today by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, of the final report of the strategic review of penal policy. That report is a culmination of a review of prison and sentencing policy initiated by the former Minister, Deputy Alan Shatter, and fed into by the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. It proposes overarching and very progressive reforms of penal policy and the prison system. We already have seen several positive steps in this area, with the moving of young offenders out of St. Patrick's Institution and so on. A full debate, now that the final report from the Department is available, together with the report from the Oireachtas committee, would be useful.

Photo of Jillian van TurnhoutJillian van Turnhout (Independent)
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In July, the fourth periodic review of Ireland's compliance under the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights took place in Geneva. On 24 July, the UN Human Rights Committee published its report of concluding observations on Ireland's record in fulfilling its treaty obligations. Several of the committee's recommendations relate to issues in respect of which colleagues and I have spoken about in this House and advocated for change, such as asylum and direct provision, trafficking, institutional abuse of women and children, symphisiotomy and a ban on corporal punishment of children in all settings by removing the common law defence of reasonable and moderate chastisement. Will the Leader facilitate a full debate on the committee's concluding observations? We are well placed to offer guidance on how best the State can follow up and comply with the UN committee's recommendations.

I take the opportunity to mark the wonderful news that the planned child beauty pageant to be staged in Belfast by Universal Royalty this Saturday will not go ahead. While the reason for the cancellation is unclear, I suspect that Northern Ireland did not afford Universal Royalty's boss, Ms Annette Hill, the warm welcome she had anticipated. The all-island consensus on opposition to child beauty pageants is a victory for common sense and people power. I warmly thank everybody on both sides of the Border, including Members of this House, who have been so vocal in their opposition. I thank, too, the hotels and venues that stood fast in tough economic times against the hosting of such pageants on their premises.

On foot of the report by the Inspector of Prisons and Places of Detention, Judge Michael Reilly, An Overview of Mountjoy Prison Campus with particular emphasis on the Separation Unit, which was published last Friday, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, has confirmed the closure of that unit. This is another victory for penal reform in Ireland and I look forward to further advances under the Minister's tenure.

2:45 pm

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I would like to strongly support the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly, in his decision to take on the bin companies, particularly in Dublin. Privatisation was a great mistake. If six companies, or thereabouts, can make a profit out of the bins, why on earth can the employees of the State not make a profit out of one company? That should have been insisted upon by the city authorities. One of the companies to which they granted a contract was found guilty of fraud and had to repay Córas Iompair Éireann, CIE, over €1 million. Its financial records are secreted in the Isle of Man so nobody knows how much profit it makes. The situation has become just like that created by the Neapolitan mafia with parks where collection vehicles are bombed and burnt out, yet nothing seemed to have been done until the Minister appeared to go in and act.

I speak with some passion on this because I live in the heart of the city in a street that is 98% residential but for some reason is classified as city industrial. As a result there is a collection every day of the week until 1.30 a.m. with trucks that make an enormous noise and disturbance. I constantly listen to official spokespeople saying nobody lives in the city but here we are. We are not just the restorationists. What about their own bloody constituents? What about the people put in local authority housing all over the city? Are they not human? Do they not live in the city? Do they not have rights?

In the north inner city we have had enough. Enough is enough of being ignored and regarded as a dumping ground for every self-help organisation for people with alcohol and drug problems or who are homeless. I have spoken passionately on these issues and I am on the side of the underdog and this is not NIMBYism. I am not saying "Not in my backyard". I am serving notice on the authorities: our backyard is full.

Recently Dublin City Council planned to take over the Bunkhouse Hostel on the corner of North Great George's Street and Parnell Street to house homeless people. How much respect does that show for homeless people, that they can be put in tiered bunks in temporary accommodation? How much responsibility does it show towards people like us who live there? It is not NIMBYism. Our backyard is full. Let us see the next drug or alcohol rehabilitation centre, or the next homeless centre, located in Ailesbury Road. I understand there is plenty of property there as a result of the financial collapse that would be well able to accommodate some of these unfortunate people where they could get the kind of treatment they need in the kind of circumstances to which they are entitled.

Photo of Michael ComiskeyMichael Comiskey (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the appointment of the new Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Phil Hogan. This is very important for Ireland. The new Commissioner will be able to deliver for farmers in the future. I call on everybody to put on the green jersey and support the new Commissioner because it is important to do so.

I also welcome the farm safety initiative launched by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, on Monday in Athlone. Approximately 21 people have lost their lives on farms this year. That is 21 too many. The figure is up on last year. It is important to encourage farmers to become more aware of the dangers on farms. I especially welcome the grant for farmers who want to upgrade and put in place safety measures on their farms.

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Fianna Fail)
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We welcome the appointment of an Irish Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development. My colleague, Deputy Eamon Ó Cuív, and I went in person to meet with the officials there while on a trip to Brussels last week.

I would like to call for a debate on the beef crisis. Throughout the summer months, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, seemed to abdicate his responsibility, sadly, in order to focus on the important issue of the Golan Heights. The reality is that the differential between the price paid to producers and the price paid by consumers in supermarkets throughout this country is as high as 1,600%. There is no question that the Minister's decision to hold round-table talks among representatives of processors, producers and multiples was a welcome development. However, it is not good enough in itself for the Government to call for better communication between those interests.

When we visited the European Commission last week, we were reminded that Article 39 of the Lisbon treaty guarantees that farmers are entitled to a fair price in the market. They are not getting that. Through the Minister, Deputy Coveney, we will be calling from this House on the Commissioner-designate - I am sure Mr. Hogan will get through next week's hearings and have his appointment confirmed - to champion this cause and take a leading role in ensuring Article 39 is put into practice to assist farmers throughout the entire EU. Up to now, we have abdicated our responsibility to ensure farming families throughout this country get a fair price without official barriers being put up by multiples and processors throughout Britain and Northern Ireland to manipulate a scenario. The effect of this scenario is that farmers throughout the country, particularly in the Border counties represented by Senator Comiskey and me, are subsidising the profits of multiples.

2:50 pm

Photo of Aideen HaydenAideen Hayden (Labour)
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I welcome my colleagues back. I must say that some of them do not seem to be as relaxed as others.

Photo of Ned O'SullivanNed O'Sullivan (Fianna Fail)
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The Senator can speak for herself.

Photo of Aideen HaydenAideen Hayden (Labour)
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I would like to point out to Senator Norris that in my local area, the bins are collected at 5.30 a.m. While there is some chance of me being up at 1.30 a.m., there is no chance of me being up at 5.30 a.m.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Well if you like it, bully for you, honey.

Photo of Aideen HaydenAideen Hayden (Labour)
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I do not think inner-city dwellers are as badly served as the Senator might think.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I think we are.

Photo of Aideen HaydenAideen Hayden (Labour)
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I would pray for my bins to be collected every day.

Senator Norris also raised the issue of homelessness, about which I am very concerned, as Members know. I fully accept the Senator's bona fides about the location of homeless services. At the same time, there are 153 families living in hotels at the moment and the bottom line is that we need homeless accommodation.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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It is no use putting them in tiered bunks.

Photo of Aideen HaydenAideen Hayden (Labour)
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That is very unfair on the Dublin region homeless executive. The Senator spoke about the location of services for homeless people and others. The fact is that most of these services are located in the inner city because that is where the people who need them are located. It is not just a question of "not in my back yard", it is also a question of the fact that the people who need these services have to access them. Public transport is an issue in that context. There is a bona fide reason for locating these services in the city centre.

While I am on this point, I would like to ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the growing problem of homelessness and the growing difficulty with the whole issue of housing in this country. Indeed, this is linked to the shortage of housing. There is a need for a debate with the new Minister on housing, homelessness, the construction sector and the general issues we are going to have to tackle if we are to ensure homelessness does not become an even greater problem than it is at present. The President intervened on the issue during the week. I would like the Minister to come to this House to talk about his strategy for dealing with this problem in the near future.

Photo of Katherine ZapponeKatherine Zappone (Independent)
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I welcome everyone back. I hope everyone is rested. We have so much to do. There is not very much time to do it all. If we are to do it properly, we must see the deep thinking and robust debate that the people deserve from the Houses of the Oireachtas. Why are only two Bills scheduled for debate in the Seanad this week?

Photo of Katherine ZapponeKatherine Zappone (Independent)
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There has been a good long break since the last time we sat. Given that the budget debate is central now, I would like the Leader to ask the Minister for Finance to come to the House for a discussion. Last weekend, I participated in a great public debate at the Kennedy Summer School with the Minister, Deputy White, and Deputies Sean Fleming and Creighton. Such debates should be happening inside these Chambers as much as they are happening outside them.

All of the political parties have finished their think-ins and have significant resources available to them. Civil servants in various Departments have had the summer to focus on their work and on the legislative agenda without being too bothered by the work generated when both Houses are sitting. Notwithstanding the welcome that Senator Bacik gave to the legislative programme, I would like know where the long-promised legislation on immigration, residence and protection is. Where is the long-promised Bill to amend the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Acts?

Where is the long-promised legislation on gender recognition? We still only have a revised version of the draft scheme of gender recognition that was published this summer. It is not a Bill.

I suggest that the Minister for Finance share with us prior to the budget where the debate is at with regard to the international tax regime and whether we will be jumping first or at least that we would be first in the bunch of countries to get our house in order and to let go of the "double Irish" as it is termed. As Feargal O'Rourke said on the radio this morning, we do not yet have a full vision of the full facts so how can we represent the Irish public debate adequately on such a central issue if we do not have that?

While I respect very much the Leader's efforts towards internal reform of Seanad Éireann, even if we follow all of his proposed reforms, most of which are in place, surely he could not argue that this is an adequate legacy of Seanad reform for the people. The people's "No" vote meant reform.

3:00 pm

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Katherine ZapponeKatherine Zappone (Independent)
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Let me ask, then, on behalf of the Irish people where is even the legislation for reform of the university constituencies of the Seanad? If we do not finish this within the next few months even the university community will not have been reformed when some very few Irish people, mostly politicians, vote for the 25th Seanad.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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The universities will be deformed.

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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I thank the Leader for organising the debate on Gaza during the recess. It was very well received. Justine McCarthy said in The Sunday Timesthat sitting beneath the Chamber's Wedgwood blue carved ceiling listening to some of the finest oratory ever to reverberate there, one could only feel grateful to the Irish people for saving the Seanad from extinction.

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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That was a commendable initiative by the officers of the House.

Could I also express sympathy to Eileen Paisley and Kathleen Reynolds on the loss of their husbands - two stalwarts of the peace process? We remember Albert Reynolds warmly in my constituency. He received us all in 1992 when it was the 400th anniversary of TCD. He and his family were most kind to us in Dublin Castle at a reception. His family also chose Brendan Kennelly's poem, "I See You Dancing, Father" for part of his memorial service. There has been some revisionism about the Reverend Paisley and I suppose that is inevitable, a Chathaoirligh, but as a biblical man himself he would appreciate that the labourer who entered the vineyard of the peace process at the eleventh hour was rewarded along with all those who had been there all the time, such as John Hume, President Clinton and Prime Minister Blair.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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Bertie Ahern.

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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People no longer kill each other for political reasons on this island and that is the debt we have to Mr. Paisley.

Could I also draw the attention of the House to the statement today that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport has written to the airport authorities in favour in increasing their charges. You might recall, a Chathaoirligh, that increases took place under the previous Minister, Deputy Varadkar, and we asked him that they would not happen. The regulator has decided the charges in Dublin Airport are too high but the DAA has gone behind the back of the referee and gone to the Minister to get them raised again.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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The airport is handling 3.5 million fewer passengers than in 2007. A new terminal was built to handle 15 million passengers. The DAA wants €30 million for a runway and €38 million for seating capacity at terminal 1. The airport needs passengers. The Government helped the DAA by abolishing the travel tax. It looks like the airport authorities have yet again achieved regulatory capture over the Department of the Transport, Tourism and Sport, which at this stage ought to know better, and participate in the national efforts to develop the country as a competitive economy attracting greater numbers of tourists. It is most regressive that the Dublin Airport Authority has reverted to its old ways of sneaking in behind a regulatory body which has a judicial function and that decided against it. I am sorry it did not like the decision but it was made in the wider national interest. Those charges should come down. They went up the last time by more than 40%. A 22% reduction was recommended and it must happen.

Photo of Michael MullinsMichael Mullins (Fine Gael)
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I rise today to seek the support of the Leader and the Minister for Foreign Affairs to have an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of a Galway man in Germany reopened. Matthew Fitzpatrick from Portumna in County Galway was aged 34 when he was found dead in his flat in Mannheim on 11 December 2010. The autopsy conducted by the German authorities indicated that he died by self-inflicted strangulation.

The family, however, had its suspicions and conducted its own inquiries and investigations. A second autopsy was conducted in Dublin on 18 December of that year when Matthew’s body was repatriated. It was carried out by the deputy State pathologist and raised several troubling questions which convinced the Fitzpatrick family that Matthew did not die by suicide but may have been the victim of a violent assault, given the range of injuries found on his body during the autopsy in Dublin.

The police investigators in Mannheim initially closed the case in December 2010 but, after much pressure from the Fitzpatrick family, the investigation was re-opened. In June of this year, the Mannheim authorities concluded there was no reason to change their view of what happened to Matthew. The public prosecutor in Mannheim disregarded most of the evidence submitted by the Fitzpatrick family but, more important, dismissed several aspects, including the autopsy conducted by the deputy State pathologist, Dr. Khalid Jaber.

The Fitzpatrick family want the Government to put pressure on the German authorities to further review the circumstances surrounding the death of Matthew who planned to be at home with his family in Portumna, County Galway, for Christmas 2010. The family is certain he did not take his own life in his apartment in Mannheim. They are determined to get justice for Matthew and would appreciate the support of this House and the Government in asking the German authorities to re-open this case.

3:10 pm

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Sinn Fein)
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I welcome all Members back after the summer recess. Much has happened over the past few weeks and months in many areas. We could raise a whole range of issues but the change in health policy by the Government is one that most merits debate in the House.

The big ideas and plans for health reform of the former Minister, Deputy Reilly, have been turned on their head by the current Minister, Deputy Varadkar. We seem to be rowing back on commitments made in the programme for Government and the centrepiece of the health reforms of Fine Gael and the Labour Party. The former Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, talked tough when it came to dismantling the HSE and replacing it with a more democratic structure. That has not happened. Now we are told it may not be possible at all.

Universal health insurance was also a priority for the former health Minister. Anytime he was questioned on its modalities and logistics, as well as when it would happen, we were told it was all a work in progress. Briefings given to the current Minister now show it is not progressing very well at all and may no longer be policy.

We were told in last year’s budget that there would be free-GP care for the under-fives. We are still waiting for that. How will it be rolled out? The medical card fiasco, on which everyone in the House was agreed before we left for the recess, has still not been sorted out with many people still left without their medical cards. There are uncertainties about how effective the hospital trusts and groups set up across the State are with some positions in them that have not been filled. There are a significant number of issues in the health services, most especially the change in policy and the direction the current Minister will take, which need to be discussed.

I am not going to move an amendment to the Order of Business today as it would be unreasonable to expect the Minister for Health to come into the House on the first day back. However, will the Leader arrange for a debate on health, as it is an important issue for everyone and it is important we hear directly from the Minister on all the issues involved?

Photo of John GilroyJohn Gilroy (Labour)
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Recently, we heard reports that some contractors working on the schools building programme are employing sub-contractors who are paid substantially less than industry-wide agreed rates. This morning there was a protest at the gates of Leinster House and many colleagues will have met members of the trade union involved. This is not a recent phenomenon and has been ongoing for a considerable time. Contractors have a responsibility, irrespective of who they employ as sub-contractors, to adhere to industry-wide agreed rates of pay and conditions. Will the Leader get a comment on this from the responsible Minister or Ministers? Contractors who do not pay agreed rates should not be awarded any contracts in the schools building programme.

I will be raising this issue with the Minister, along with many of my Labour Party colleagues. I would be more than happy if the Leader could facilitate the Minister for Education and Skills and the Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Nash, to comment in the House on this issue?

3:20 pm

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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Will the Leader arrange an early debate on the proposed water charges coming into force which will place enormous pressure on families? A Fianna Fáil Private Members' Bill will be discussed in the Dáil today which will elicit extra support. This morning on Shannonside radio the Fine Gael candidate in the forthcoming by-election, which I understand will be held on 10 October, informed the public that Fine Gael would not place charges on those with water unsuitable for human consumption-----

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Sinn Fein)
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Fianna Fáil is in favour of water charges.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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-----and that there would be a 100% concession over three months, but this has been retracted and only 50% will be allowed and there will be a charge for the discharge side.

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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Why was she not given that information by the independent regulator anyway?

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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Let her clarify whether she was, but we should clarify it in the House. I understand that when introduced, the charges could cost as much as €500 per house. It will be a major burden for families and we must deal with exemptions. Fianna Fáil has a Private Members' Bill on our policy in this regard. I am sure the Cathaoirleach will not mind me saying-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Does Senator Leyden have a question for the Leader?

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I have asked my question, but as he comes from rural Ireland, I am sure the Cathaoirleach will allow me to state that at the weekend, the farm of John Hanley in Kilbegnet, Creggs, County Roscommon, hosted the international sheepdog trials. He is chairman of the IFA in the county and of the committee which worked very hard. It brought 25,000 people to the area. It was real agritourism and everyone in the area benefited, including a certain establishment up the road. It created employment and opportunities in the area. John Hanley and the committee which ran the festival, held between 12 and 14 September which involved more than 150 stewards and saw every room within 25 miles occupied-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Is the Senator seeking a debate on dog trials?

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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We should speak about agritourism and its benefits for Ireland, including events such as the ploughing championship.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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The Senator is way over time.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the sponsors, Devenish Nutrition, FBD, the IFA and Roscommon County Council, who all deserve to take a bow. I was delighted to host the Fianna Fáil think-in in the Abbey Hotel on 14 and 15 September-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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We are not allowing political broadcasts.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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Unlike the other political parties we brought the think-in to our own town.

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Fine Gael)
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In light of last weekend's Red C poll, it is encouraging to see that 60% of the population now agrees the economic policies of the Government over the past three years were correct and the same percentage thinks the country is now moving in the right direction. Should that poll have been taken after the Government secured the refinancing of our IMF debt, I imagine the figure would have been higher. It is not a time for congratulations but for redoubling our efforts to put the economy on a sound footing. In this regard I call for a debate on the economy and more specifically on policies to ensure the old boom and bust cycle does not take hold again. Perhaps the Leader will invite either the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, or the new Minister of State, Deputy Simon Harris, to come to the Seanad to debate these issues.

Photo of John CrownJohn Crown (Independent)
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It is good to be back. Clearly, the most important, and from the point of view of the average citizen of the country the most far-reaching, development in politics and public governance over the summer was the announcement that the long-promised cup of health service reform has been dashed from the lips of people campaigning for this reform for many years. I have been campaigning for health service reform for 20 years. I lived through the old Department of Health, the HSE, the health boards, the Eastern Health Board, the regional health authority, the diversification of administrators and the centralisation of administrators, but every time there was a failure actually to grapple with the fundamentals of reform, something we need to do if we are to bring in a health service which addresses the three core issues of the health service, namely, its generally poor quality - it is not terrible but it is mediocre and not as good as it should be for a modern and fairly affluent north-western European country; its extreme degree of structural unfairness in the way it has been designed; and the extraordinarily inefficient way it wastes precious health service resources.

For those who are of a fiscal rectitude bent I have said before and I will say it again that our health service is not underfunded particularly, although it is in some areas; it is malfunded. The funding of the health service is applied in a way which does not encourage equity, quality and efficiency so we do need this reform. It was for this reason I felt I had had a near religious experience when we had an aspirant Minister for Health, who had a realistic prospect of ascending to the office prior to the last election, stating that regarding the policy of the incoming Government, one of the five Fine Gael points was that there would be a specific reform of the health service aimed towards the introduction of a model based on universal health insurance, which I hope to modify a little and get it more interested in universal social insurance. Is that bell for me?

3:30 pm

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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It is Senator, yes.

Photo of John CrownJohn Crown (Independent)
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A lot happened to me over the summer; I forget what the bell means.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Are you calling for a debate on this issue?

Photo of John CrownJohn Crown (Independent)
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I am more used to taking orders now.

When a Government stuffs a letter into every post box in a constituency stating that a hospital service will not be closed but then goes ahead and does it within the first six months of assuming office, and when it comes in here and states that one of the five key points of its policy is that it will bring in universal health insurance and then starts back-tracking and finally announces four years later that it found out three years ago it could never do it because the real Government, the permanent Civil Service, said it was not feasible, that is similar to a bunch of turkeys telling the butcher that Christmas dinner will not be feasible this year. This is a reform we were promised, that the Government was elected on and that people like me endorsed it on. Unlike my gentle colleague, Senator Cullinane, I will propose an amendment to the Order of Business so that the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, can come into the House to outline this one key failed reform, which would have had more of an impact on the lives of citizens than any banking inquiry.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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The Senator is not taking any notice of this bell anyway.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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The other one is a more effective bell.

Photo of John CrownJohn Crown (Independent)
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To show my docile temperament I will sit down but I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, would come into the House today to outline, first, the sequence of events in the Department which led to the decision being made that this was not feasible in the short term or at all and, second, his intentions to introduce it.

Photo of Denis LandyDenis Landy (Labour)
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Step 1, taking orders; step 2, acting on orders. I welcome everybody back to the Chamber. We had a great summer, and a great sporting summer. Last November I raised concerns about Hayes' Hotel in Thurles but I am pleased that, ten months on, Hayes' Hotel was purchased yesterday by a Tipperary man who intends to develop the hotel as an iconic building incorporating all the history of the GAA. During this summer we have seen what were probably the greatest GAA games in the history of the association. We also saw the opportunity given to people not living in this country to enjoy the GAA through Sky Television, etc. We marvelled at the comments of people across the water in particular about the meaning of hurling and how it is played.

We also witnessed during the summer what was probably one of the finest marketing achievements of this State, namely, the Wild Atlantic Way and the number of people it attracted to Ireland. I spent my summer holidays in Clare and in Galway and on one stretch of road, 90% of the cars coming towards me were hired cars being driven by visitors from America and various other parts of the world. The Wild Atlantic Way has been a success but I ask the Leader to request the Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys, to work on a new project - the GAA way. Across the country we have places such as Cusack's home in Clare, the Lowry Maher centre in Kilkenny, the Maurice Davin monument in Carrick-on-Suir, the museum in Croke Park and also the Rackard monument in Wexford, to name just a few.

There is a fantastic opportunity now for this country to get working on utilising the benefits of the world opening its eyes to what the GAA is about. I would ask the Leader to ask the Minister to come to the House to discuss the development of Hayes' Hotel. The GAA at local level are fully supportive and will co-operate on this. I have been in discussions already with the organisation since yesterday. We need the help of the Minister and Tourism Ireland.

3:35 pm

Photo of Ned O'SullivanNed O'Sullivan (Fianna Fail)
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I also welcome everybody back to this term.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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It is good to see my colleague, Senator Ned O'Sullivan, flying again.

Photo of Ned O'SullivanNed O'Sullivan (Fianna Fail)
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I am sure the Leader, like many others, will have seen an article in Monday's Irish Independent- a front page and a two-page spread exposé-type article within - on the redundancy arrangements for retiring county, city and town councillors. The journalist in question described these payments as controversial, and he anticipated that there would be a public outcry about them. I fear that his prediction is unfounded because the people know quite well the level of work that former town councillors and city and county councillors do 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout the year and that they would not for one minute begrudge those redundancy payments to the recipients. In fact, I calculated that the redundancy packages, where some of the more senior and long-serving councillors are concerned, would amount to less than €30 per week for those who in some cases have given over 40 years' service. I doubt if any journalist or reporter in the country would accept that as a redundancy package.
However, it gives rise to an issue which I hope the Leader can address. We might be able to have the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government in the House in due course to discuss a revised regime of payments to the new county councillors, many of whom represent constituencies twice the size of those they had to represent previously. The workload has not got any lighter. The Minister also should look at introducing a contributory pension for serving councillors whereby they would make a contribution which the local authority would match in order that these councillors would get a meaningful and proper pension when they finished their long years of service instead of being held up to what is an attempt at ridicule of the aggregated sums of some of the bigger earners.

Photo of Michael D'ArcyMichael D'Arcy (Fine Gael)
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I want to raise the issue of the OECD report, that is, the base erosion and profit shifting, BEPS, report, that was published this morning. It is important we understand that it is part of a process that will not conclude until this time next year, and why should we move at an early stage until we know exactly where we are moving? The important point to remember about the taxation issues for some multinationals which trade in this way is that the issues are international tax issues. They are not merely an Irish tax issue. The so-called double Irish is an American tax code issue rather than an Irish tax code difficulty. It is really important that we have a full and open debate and people know and understand what is being discussed in relation to profit shifting rather than that on every occasion this matter comes up, the Irish taxation code is raised as a difficulty. It is not a difficulty. Everything that is done is correct and above board, but, unfortunately, we seem to be the poster boy at every level everywhere in this regard. It would be helpful if we could have a debate with the Minister for Finance on this matter in order that we can inform the Irish public of what is happening and what is due to happen this time next year. I also put on the record that whatever the Government is prepared to do to ensure that we are part of the solution, we should do it with every other country in the world, not on our own. We should not act unilaterally, especially when we do not know what will come this time next year.

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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I welcome back colleagues.

It is good to be back and it is time to start working. Over recent weeks and during the next month, there has been and will be much speculation about the budget and its contents. People will be worried and so on, and for this reason I seek to have No. 26 on the Order Paper debated in the Chamber. It is my own Bill on reform of the budgetary process and is called the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Bill 2014. This Bill has two key aims which are very simple, the first of which is that the Minister for Finance would lay one report before the Houses of the Oireachtas mid-year to lay out a clear plan and a clear account of the State's finances. The second aim, which is really important in view of the mess Members have seen with regard to health, is for each Minister to state his or her target outcomes and costings for the services and programmes he or she plans to deliver within his or her Department for the year in question. Had this been done, the fall-out experienced in respect of health would not have occurred, because the former Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, would have been obliged to be accountable for the promises he made with a clear roadmap and costings. Moreover, they would have been agreed by the Cabinet but obviously this was never achieved.

I have been refused Government time on this Bill, which as a parliamentarian in this House I consider to be a terrible shame. As Senator Zappone noted, the schedule of work this week is quite slack and there is no reason this Bill could not have been on the Order of Business tomorrow afternoon, for example. Moreover, were a division on the Bill to arise, I would be more than happy for it to be postponed until another day. I ask the Leader to have a word with the Minister for Finance and his Department with a view to having this Bill debated before the budget. I will not push a vote today and will wait to hear from the Leader tomorrow. Were he to agree to this, I would be most grateful because it is important to consider better ways in which to undertake the budgetary process. Moreover, because of a European Union directive and the IMF, there is a requirement on the Government that at least 50% of what is in my Bill be implemented by it. The Minister, Deputy Noonan, agreed with me in this Chamber on that.

3:40 pm

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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On this pleasant welcome-back day I am glad to join, I also wish to welcome a most exciting project. It perhaps is the biggest single tourism project in the State-----

Photo of John GilroyJohn Gilroy (Labour)
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Is it in County Kerry?

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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-----due to open next year, namely, Killarney House and gardens. This is a stunning venue-----

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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Wherever it is.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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-----located, as it is, within both the town and Killarney National Park, which is our foremost national park, and it will contain a comprehensive introduction to the national park. The gardens themselves, which are spread over 35 acres, will be a most attractive feature and I believe they will be Killarney's own St. Stephen's Green. I believe they will surpass it.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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Steady now. The Senator should not lose the run of himself.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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The house has a rich and interesting history and, of course, it was the home of the earls of Kenmare and Lord Castlerosse, and much of the history of the town and area is bound up with that family. It also was the home of Mr. John McShain, the man who built America. Many Members will remember him, as well as that horse, Ballymoss, and many others trained by Vincent O'Brien. He was associated with many outstanding buildings in Washington, including the Pentagon and others.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Does the Senator have a question?

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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Yes, but before I come to the question, I wish to state that he was the man who gifted to this nation Ross Castle and Innisfallen Island. It is thanks to Mr. McShain and others such as Lord Castlerosse's niece, Mrs. Grosvenor, and Arthur Vincent, from whom the Bourn Vincent Memorial Park Act 1932 followed, that we now have this foremost national park, namely, Killarney National Park. I look forward to the Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys, advancing this great project and this exciting work.

Photo of Trevor Ó ClochartaighTrevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Fein)
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Ba mhaith liom chuile dhuine a fháiltiú ar ais. Cuirim fáilte freisin roimh an gceapachán atá déanta ag an Rialtas go mbeidh Aire tuaithe againn.

I welcome the appointment of a Minister with responsibility for rural affairs. Having attended the Teagasc rural development conference this morning, it is quite obvious there is a great need for a Minister to work in this area because of the huge dichotomy in farm incomes, particularly in the west and Border areas.

I call for a debate on rural areas, rural affairs and how the Government is looking to implement the CEDRA initiative. I note that this morning the Minister said all policies and strategies by State agencies are to be rural-proofed. What I have called for, and what I call for again today, is that the Minister talks to her Cabinet colleagues to ensure all budget announcements are rural-proofed also because that is where everything starts.
Coming back today was likened by many to coming back to school, but at least during the break we got to catch up on some things we do not normally do like reading books. I would like to let people know about a book I read over the summer, called Abuse of Power: Because Councils Can, by Julie Grace. I recommend it to every Member of the Seanad. It is a very serious book which deals with the death of Bríd Cummins in Galway a number of years ago and the situation in which she found herself. It talks about the abuse of power of a council, in particular by unelected members. It is important we have a debate around the powers of CEOs, in particular, of the local authorities.
Bríd Cummins died in a very tragic circumstance. There had been issues around her being put out of a council house in the city. It was an absolute scandal. At the time, the now President said it was absolutely understandable in the light of the terrible event and the many unanswered questions which the family had that it should request a public inquiry into the distressing nature of Bríd Cummins's passing, and I would agree with him. There is a need for a public inquiry into what happened and anybody who reads the book will agree there are huge issues.
Has anybody in the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government read this book? What is being done about this? Has anybody apologised to the family of Bríd Cummins and what is the status of the whistleblower in this case, Julie Grace, who wrote the book?
The main question is whether the Minister has a role in investigating the issues highlighted there. The Leader might say it is a question for an Adjournment debate but the power of CEOs and unelected people in local authorities is the core issue we should debate because a number of the characters who appear in the book have gone on to much bigger and better things in Irish Water and have become CEOs of other county councils in this State whereas this poor woman suffered very badly at the hands of the local authority, as is alleged in the book. As was said, the people who instigated that have gone on to much bigger and better things and have been rewarded for their work.

3:50 pm

Photo of Jim D'ArcyJim D'Arcy (Fine Gael)
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Ba mhaith liom ar dtús fáilte a chur roimh ceapachán Phil Hogan mar Choimisinéir talmhaíochta san Eoraip. Agriculture continues to be a major part of life in Ireland and its economy, and especially with Food Harvest 2020 coming up, it is a great appointment.

Will the Leader invite the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to the House to discuss two items? Food Harvest 2020 is coming up but there is a statistic that we have more farmers over the age of 85 years than under 25 years. We must look at an enhanced system of land transfer so that the younger and more productive farmers can take over farms sooner.

Senator Comiskey referred to the launch of the farm safety initiative by the Minister in Roscommon yesterday. It is a tragic fact that for each of the past five years, on average more than 20 people have died on our farms as a result of accidents while many more have been injured. The main causes are tractors, machinery and drowning. We have identified the problems but we need the solutions. I spoke to Louth IFA farmers today and they are working in conjunction with the young farmers in Macra na Feirme on a county-based initiative. I would like the Minister to come to the House to discuss and brief us on those two very important aspects of farming.

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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Today in my local media I raised the whole issue of wheelchair provision by the HSE.

The House would do well to debate the matter. I have come across a significant number of cases, especially during the summer months, of wheelchairs not being provided or, where they have been provided, either after a long delay or without meeting the appropriate specifications.

I was saddened to meet two ladies outside today - I believe they are sisters named Kenny from Greystones, County Wicklow - who have experienced serious problems securing the correct equipment from the Health Service Executive. This is a major issue which is bubbling up under the surface. People in need of a wheelchair sometimes do not speak out because they are in a vulnerable position or have intellectual disabilities which preclude them from speaking for themselves. Earlier this summer, my office dealt with a case involving a five year old boy who was waiting for a new wheelchair having outgrown his old one. It is disgraceful that any child should be in such a position. It occurred to me when I met the two ladies outside the House today, as most Senators will have done, that this is a national problem which the House should debate.

When will the companies Bill be taken? A number of community groups have contacted me on the issue of audit exemptions, which are not yet in force. I understand the Bill has not yet been passed by the House. I ask the Leader to enlighten me on the position.

3:55 pm

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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I welcome Senators back to the House and commiserate with the Cathaoirleach and the people of County Mayo. The Mayo team gave a good performance but once again this was not its year.

The prospect of having a GAA way, as suggested by a previous speaker, is intriguing. If such an initiative were to enjoy even some of the success of the Wild Atlantic Way in generating tourism not only for County Clare but for the entire west coast, it will be a remarkable success. I ask the Government to increase the marketing budget for the Wild Atlantic Way in 2015 and subsequent years. The €10 million spent on marketing it abroad has had a significant impact on tourism. I am pleased to note that, for the first time ever, the Cliffs of Moher visitor experience in County Clare will have in excess of 1 million visitors this year. As one of our iconic tourism attractions, the centre's success is indicative of how tourism is performing overall. Surpassing 1 million visitors this year will augur extremely well for the tourism sector.

An action plan is needed to deal with a scourge that affects the Wild Atlantic Way from County Donegal to County Cork, namely, illegal dumping and the habit of leaving rubbish on beaches. The by-laws on litter are clearly not working. Either they are not sufficiently strong or they are not being enforced properly. It seems a high level of proof is required before prosecutions can proceed. We need to initiate a war on litter. I ask that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government address the House on what action he can take to strengthen the law on litter and what resources he will provide to identify the culprits who are destroying our beaches. We have a wonderful country and a great tourism product. We must ensure the countryside is not littered.

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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I compliment the United States Administration on announcing yesterday that it will send 3,000 military personnel to help fight the ebola crisis in Liberia and Sierra Leone. This initiative demonstrates the humanitarianism at the heart of the American psyche, which is sometimes undervalued internationally, particularly by people who constantly criticise the United States in other areas. In that context, the former Minister of State and current chief executive of GOAL, Mr. Barry Andrews, has written an article in which he calls on the Government to do more in this area. He has urged it to provide greater financial assistance as well as logistical support by seconding to the region more HSE staff, specifically clinicians, and sending military personnel. I ask the Leader to convey these sentiments to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Will the Leader indicate what response the Minister will have to what is now a growing international concern about the spread of ebola in east Africa?

Could I use the platform of these Houses to ask the Russian and Chinese ambassadors - from two of the major countries with representatives on the UN Security Council, which is trying to co-ordinate humanitarian assistance - to have their countries step up to the plate? I rarely see any reference to either China or Russia providing humanitarian assistance on the scale provided by the United States. Are the people in these countries any less human than the rest of mankind? Do people sit in Beijing and Moscow with their heads under the parapet while at the same time furthering their own national interests? This is particularly salient with regard to China, which has advanced its own interests on the African continent. Will these countries step up to the plate and provide humanitarian assistance internationally rather than remaining silent? I do not think anybody in this House can remember hearing of Chinese or Russian personnel engaging in humanitarian activities along the lines of what the Americans have initiated in the past 24 hours. I hope this issue might be conveyed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. It would be interesting to hear what Ireland, as a small country, can do. Like the Americans but unlike the Russians and Chinese - unless I hear evidence to the contrary - we have a big heart.

4:00 pm

Photo of Mary MoranMary Moran (Labour)
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I join my colleagues in welcoming everybody back to the Seanad today. I also welcome back the students, teachers and staff who returned to school, along with those who started in schools in the past few weeks. It is important at this time to call for the prioritising of newly-qualified and unemployed teachers when filling substitute teaching positions that may arise in the school year. I regularly raise this issue both in this House and at meetings of the education committee. I have done so with the former Minister, Deputy Quinn, and the current Minister, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan. At the start of 2013, schools were advised to prioritise newly-qualified graduates for substitute positions. Although some schools have taken this on board, the issue remains a major problem nearly two years on. In a tough but improving employment market, substitute positions are crucial for newly-qualified and unemployed teachers to gain and maintain their experience.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh referred to a list of books he read during the summer and I will add to the suggested reading list for Members. On holidays I read Sworn to Silence, written by a Dundalk man, Mr. Brendan Boland. He highlighted dreadful clerical abuse carried out on him by Fr. Brendan Smyth. I recommend that everybody read the book so they can understand how a young boy's innocence was so brutally robbed. Shortly after reading the book, Cardinal Brady offered his resignation and it was accepted by the Pope in recent weeks. Having read the book, I would argue the resignation should have come years earlier. It is a brutally frank and honest account of clerical abuse at its worst, and I publicly thank Mr. Boland for his honesty in coming forward.
The Special Olympics European Games are taking place this week in Antwerp, Belgium, with 46 special Irish Olympians participating in seven sports. The games are due to close on Saturday and the athletes will be returning home in glory on Sunday. Again, there has been little or no coverage provided of these athletes and their terrific achievements. I highlighted these problems for the national games in June. Since turning in my petition to RTE earlier this summer, I have continued to work on the issue of broadcast coverage, and I will continue to maintain pressure on the issue. I request that we have a debate on broadcasting of minority sports at the earliest opportunity.

Photo of Feargal QuinnFeargal Quinn (Independent)
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It is good to be back after the summer and it is good to have something to celebrate, particularly that we have had a wedding in the House. Senator Crown did not go outside the House to find his bride, unlike Senator Bradford, who did so a couple of years ago. I congratulate Senator Crown on this joyous occasion. We wish him very well. As a little wedding present, I will second his amendment.

4:05 pm

Photo of John CrownJohn Crown (Independent)
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On a point of information, a more traditional wedding present would also be welcome, but that is fine.

Photo of Feargal QuinnFeargal Quinn (Independent)
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May I also use this opportunity to urge the Leader to accept the Bill proposed by Senator Fidelma Healy Eames? I ask that we do not wait until after the budget because this is an important Bill that must be discussed. I urge the Leader to find time in the near future because the budget is only a month away.

I previously raised the issue of the amount of paper we use here and my annoyance continues. The Danish Agency for Digitisation has ensured that many government agencies there do not use paper and in Britain it is planned that all medical reports will be digitised by next year. Things that can be digitised easily include applications, reports, letters and much else. The Department of Finance is strongly urging the abolition of cheques and the Government is taking the first steps on this. If we are to move towards digitisation can every citizen have a formal State e-mail address? This would speed things up and help a great deal. It might not be a popular measure with An Post but that business will be helped by post codes, which are forthcoming. We can take these steps. We should discuss them to see what we can do. We should set an example showing the rest of the world that Ireland is a modern nation.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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I inform Senator Crown that in my younger days a clock was a great wedding present.

Photo of Paul BradfordPaul Bradford (Independent)
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I support the request made by Senators Healy Eames and Quinn that the motion on budgetary matters be debated at the earliest possible stage. It is fair to say that in the past decade every party and politician has raised the need for a more comprehensive budgetary policy. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, responded to an Adjournment matter raised by Senator Fidelma Healy Eames on this issue some months ago and they seemed to be at one. I am sure it is not possible to deal with it today but it would be useful for the budgetary process if it could go on the agenda.

I ask that the Leader request the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, come before this House at his convenience to discuss the situation in Northern Ireland. The Minister is engaged in dialogue with parties in the North but there is a concern that progress is slower than it should be. We must keep moving forward on the Northern Ireland peace process. The Minister has an extensive record of engagement with all parties across the divide in Northern Ireland and he could usefully address the House on the matter.

On an issue somewhat related to Northern Ireland, tomorrow the people of Scotland will vote on their future. We have no entitlement to encourage them to vote one way or the other and we will respect the decision made. It is worth noting, however, that if the people of Scotland choose independence nobody will have been killed, kidnapped or blown up in the process. If Scotland becomes an independent country it will have done so without terrorism and by democratic means. Perhaps we can learn from this. We should not look back in anger, because anger is a waste of time. We should look back in sorrow at the loss of the people who died in the conflict on this island. We can learn from what is happening in Scotland that politics, negotiation and dialogue work, whereas bombs, bullets and terrorism never work.

Photo of Jim D'ArcyJim D'Arcy (Fine Gael)
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Well said.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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I am glad nobody lost his or her voice over the summer recess. I believe 30 Senators spoke on the Order of Business today and I will try to address each as quickly as possible. Senator Darragh O'Brien raised the issue of Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, IBRC, mortgage holders and asked when there will be further legislation.

I will certainly try to find that out. The Senator also raised the issue of drugs for multiple sclerosis sufferers. I gave a very comprehensive report on that matter when he first raised the matter here but I will ask the Minister about the up-to-date position in that regard. The matter of immigration staff at our airports and the redeployment of gardaí was also raised by Senator O'Brien but he knows that such redeployment is a matter for the Garda Commissioner and not the Minister.

Senator Bacik welcomed the very positive economic indicators of recent weeks and months and commented on the Government's ambitious legislative schedule. She called for a debate on the review of penal policy which was announced recently and I will try to facilitate such a debate. Senator van Turnhout spoke about the periodic review of human rights in Geneva and called for a debate on its recommendations. I will make inquiries of the Minister in that regard. I note the points she made regarding child pageants and I join her in welcoming the fact that such pageants will not be held here or in Northern Ireland in future. The Senator also raised the report from the Inspector of Prisons and welcomed the announcement by the Minister for Justice and Equality of the closure of the separation unit in Mountjoy Prison.

Senator Norris welcomed the review of waste collection services announced by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and also highlighted the plight of residents in city centre areas in that context. Senators Comiskey and Jim D'Arcy welcomed the appointment of Deputy Phil Hogan as EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development. They also highlighted the importance of safety on farms and called for a debate with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine on the issue.

Senator MacSharry called for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to come to the House to debate the beef crisis. The Minister is certainly doing everything possible within existing laws and regulations to address this matter and will continue to do so. Senator Hayden spoke about the need for accommodation for the homeless. She pointed out that there are currently 153 families in hotels and other temporary accommodation and called for a debate on housing and our housing strategy. I will certainly invite the Minister of State to the House to discuss that matter, which is a very pressing one. I understand that the Government will be making a policy announcement in that regard in the coming weeks.

Senator Zappone raised the matter of legislation in the House. She pointed out that we have only one Bill before us today and another one tomorrow. We will have three or four legislative items to deal with next week. She asked for a progress report on several Bills in particular. She also called for a debate on international tax regimes and the OECD report, as did Senator Michael D'Arcy. On the university legislation, we had a debate on the heads of that Bill before the recess and I have been assured that the legislation dealing with the Seanad elections will be ready early in the new year.

Senator Barrett commented on our recent debate on Gaza which was very constructive. The Minister indicated to me yesterday that he was willing to come back to the House and report progress on the matters we debated and I have asked him to slot such a debate into his diary as soon as possible. Senator Barrett also expressed his condolences to the Reynolds and Paisley families and I am sure all Members of the House would wish to be associated with that. The Senator also raised the issue of the airport authorities and what he described as the "regulatory capture" by those authorities. He called for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to come to the House to address the matter.

Senator Mullins outlined the disturbing circumstances surrounding the death of a Galway man in Germany. I would urge him to consider tabling an Adjournment motion on the matter so that he can get a clear response from the relevant Department.

Senators Cullinane and Crown referred to universal health insurance. Legislation was introduced to provide free medical cards for those aged under six years and there will be legislation, as outlined in the Government programme, for those aged over 70. I assure the Senators that universal health insurance has not been abolished, rather these are moves towards that.

Senator Gilroy referred to contractors employing subcontractors for the construction of a school in Dublin who are paid only €5 an hour. If that is correct, it is absolutely disgraceful. I am sure the Minister for Education and Skills will take this matter up with the contractors. Paying workers that type of wage is totally unacceptable and any right-thinking person would consider it unacceptable for contractors to be allowed to get away with it.

Senator Leyden called for a debate on water charges. We had a very comprehensive debate on Irish Water in the House over a number of days. I remind the Senator that people would have paid a €400 charge for the past two years if Fianna Fáil had managed to get back into power. That is what it signed up to.

Senator Naughton outlined progress on the economic front, on which I am sure we will have debates in the coming weeks.

Senator Landy referred to the sale of Hayes Hotel in Thurles. It is good news that the history of the GAA will be maintained, as outlined by Senator Landy. He also outlined the success of the Wild Atlantic Way and the need for a GAA way as a means of progressing tourism in other areas of the country.

Senator O'Sullivan referred to retirement payments for county councillors. As he correctly pointed out, the long-serving members received an amount equivalent to €30 a week. They do not receive a pension, contrary to what was said by some commentators. We will invite the new Minister to come to the House to discuss revised payments. Conference payments have been almost totally abolished by the Minister. It is something we should discuss with the Minister in the House.

Senator Michael D'Arcy referred to the OECD report on taxation issues and called for a full and open debate in the House. I will inquire as to the availability of the Minister to come to the House to discuss the matter.

Senator Healy Eames has tabled a Bill on the Order Paper, namely the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Bill 2014. The normal process is for Private Members' Bills to be done through groups. I understand the Senator will try to do that and she also indicated she will contact the Minister, Deputy Noonan. It might help me if he said he would like to take the Bill.

Senator Paul Coghlan outlined, as is normal, the benefits of Killarney House and gardens, the tourism aspect of Killarney and how beautiful it is. We will have to make him an ambassador for Killarney. I am sure the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, who is in the Gallery, will take on board everything the Senator said.

Senator Ó Clochartaigh welcomed the appointment of the Minister of State with responsibility for rural affairs and called for a debate on the CEDRA initiatives. We will try to arrange that. As regards the powers of the CEOs in local government, it was part of the local government Bill which we recently debated comprehensively in the House.

However, I take on board the Senator's comments in that regard. If he wishes to raise the case he mentioned on the Adjournment, I am sure the Cathaoirleach will accommodate it.

Senator Jim D'Arcy referred to the importance of Food Harvest 2020 and the need for a system of transfer of land to bring more young people into the agricultural industry.

Senator Thomas Byrne raised the provision of wheelchairs by the Health Service Executive. My understanding is that when a person is fitted for a wheelchair, it can take up to 11 months before such is delivered by the HSE. That is crazy. A person expects to receive a wheelchair within a reasonable timeframe once his or her needs are identified. Having to wait 11 months is not in any way reasonable. I certainly will bring this matter to the attention of the Minister.

On Senator's Byrne's query regarding the Companies Bill 2012, Report Stage of that important Bill will be taken in the coming weeks.

Senator Martin Conway outlined the success of the Wild Atlantic Way initiative and the huge increase in visitor numbers to the locations it incorporates. He also called for a war on litter and emphasised the need for greater enforcement and the introduction of new laws, if necessary, to tackle litter problems.

Senator Paschal Mooney called for more logistical assistance from Ireland to combat the Ebola virus and complimented the United States President, Mr. Obama, on his country's efforts in that regard. The Senator referred to the need for a better international response and mentioned other countries such as China and Russia in this regard. I am sure GOAL will be in contact with the Minister to outline its concerns on this issue. I am sure, likewise, that the Government will be forthcoming in its efforts in that regard.

Senator Mary Moran referred to newly qualified and unemployed teachers and the necessity of their being allocated any substitute work. This is an issue the Senator has raised on previous occasions and we would all agree that such teachers should be prioritised. I also note her comments regarding a book on child abuse. She referred, in addition, to the need for more coverage of minority sports. Senator Moran has referred in the past to the Special Olympics and the Community Games for people with special needs and disabilities. I agree there should be better coverage of these sports.

Senator Feargal Quinn spoke about the need to reduce paper usage by Government agencies and Departments. As he noted, the Department of Finance is taking action in that regard in respect of cheques. The idea of allocating an e-mail address to every person resident in the State is a very good one.

Senator Paul Bradford asked that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade come to the House for a debate on the situation in Northern Ireland. I will try to facilitate that debate. The Senator referred to the importance of democratic debate, as we have seen in action in Scotland. We all anxiously await the result of the referendum there.

4:20 pm

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Senator John Crown has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That the Minister for Health come to the House for a debate on the sequence of events leading to the decision that it was not feasible to introduce a universal health insurance policy, which is one of the Government's five key reform promises, and his present policy on this matter." Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put:

The Seanad divided: Tá, 20; Níl, 27.


Tellers: Tá, Senators John Crown and Feargal Quinn; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.

Amendment declared lost.

Order of Business agreed to.